Temporary Food Centres

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The other day I realised that from the top of the National Library, I could actually see the empty site of the four faced buddha food centre that used to be on Victoria Street. Nick-named because of the large four faced buddha statue that stood in front of it, I thought it was a pity when the parcel on which it was situated on was acquired back by the state, as it had been a very central place for people to congregate and its removal meant that cheap food was going to be further and further from the museum area and The Substation.

Looking deeper into the records, it was apparently always going to be nothing more than a temporary food centre, so its removal was inevitable although we hadn’t known it was only there temporarily. At the time, it seemed reasonable to assume it was permanent, because “it had always been there”, and why would one question if places should all be temporary? Until one day when it was suddenly not there.

I don’t know why one would have a temporary food centre without a plan for a more permanent one. Or where did all the stalls go to? I couldn’t seem to find information on whether it had been relocated or simply evaporated one day when the lease was up. But searching for “four faced buddha” on my flickr threw up these old photos that I had taken in the last few years….

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Renovations/repainting the four-faced buddha in 2006/2007

four face buddha panorama

September 23, 2010

four face buddha

December 18, 2010

So what happened to the temporary food centre then? Searching for “Temporary Market at Victoria Street” is rather confusing, on google it throws up mentions of other temporary food markets in the area such as the Albert Court Temporary Market that apparently recently moved back to Queen Street. Is that related to the Victoria Street Temporary Food Centre then? Or was there some other temporary market nearby that I forgot about, that also just moved back into Albert Street? SINGAPORE! WHY ARE THERE SO MANY TEMPORARY FOOD CENTRES?

I was also reading up about the fate of the Victoria Street Wholesale Market, which until recently was also along Victoria Street until it was relocated.

On their website, they write the following:

“The history of VSWC dates back to 1891 when vendors of dried seafood products gathered together in a marketplace in Tew Chew Street by the Singapore River (now the site of Merchant Court Swissotel) to do their business. Tew Chew Street then came to be known as a marketplace with the widest variety of reasonably priced dried groceries. However a fire broke out in 1968 and burnt down the market. In 1978, a modern three-storey wholesale centre was built at the same location to house the original tenants. This became the Ellenborough Market. When plans for the construction of the MRT Northeast Line were announced, the wholesale centre was affected and had to relocate to its current premises at Victoria Street on a temporary lease agreement, ending 2003. HDB then agreed to extend the lease of Victoria Street Wholesale Centre for another three years until December 2006. After much campaigning by the members of Victoria Street Wholesale Centre Merchants’ Association, HDB has once again extended our lease till September 2009.”

According to a CNA report this year (2012):

“The Victoria Street Wholesale Centre will be relocating to Kallang Road on April 1 this year. The new building, which costs S$30 million to build, was completed in December last year. The eight-storey centre will be able to accommodate 60 shop units, 50 percent more shops than before. However, more than 10 wholesalers have decided not to move to the new building. This is partly because at 600 square feet per unit, the shop space is 30 percent smaller than before. Rent is also three or four times more expensive, at about S$4000 to S$5000 a month.

A shopkeeper said: “The rent is higher and it’s less convenient. It’s very convenient here. Over there, you’ll have to walk quite a bit.” Another said: “I’m old, my children don’t intend to take over my business, so I’m not moving….”

Interestingly, in another article:

“Despite the move, the association said the wholesale centre will continue to keep its name.”

This retention of the original road name is also something that is mirrored in the names of hawker centre food stalls, which are also equally transient in nature yet often oddly retaining some “road name” or geographical reference – like the Johore Road Porridge Stall on Veerasamy Road, or the Katong Laksa in Holland Village. There must be hundreds of other examples of hawker stalls keeping the name of their original location, despite moving over and over again. But if all the things that we remember on Victoria Street are no longer in Victoria Street, then where or what is the meaning of associating oneself with Victoria Street, now that everything that was once there is replaced by something other?