What I Learned From The Thieves Market.

by Patrick Liew on October 30, 2013

The love story I’m about to share with you started with a smile. A smile that stayed in my mind for a long time.

It came from a dream girl of my past life. She had stared right through me and given me the sweetest dimpled smile.

At that very moment, I felt like my heart had stopped beating. My legs were about to crumble to the knees right in front of her.

The girl that refused to come into my life and leave my mind had finally taken note of me. She had finally responded to my unrequited puppy love.

That incident happened in 1968 and I was barely 11 years old then. I was a teenager with almost uncontrollable hormones raging through my skinny frame.

The romantic experience happened at Sungei Road, or what some people of old might call the “Thieves Market.”

At that point, I had to do different jobs during school days. I had to earn extra pocket money as I came from a poor family.

That was the good side of child labour. Without it, I might not be able to have an income to live and study properly.

During some school vacations, I would go and work for an unforgettable grand aunt. I remember her because she would eat a bowl of rice for lunch.

Nothing strange about that – except that she would pour a bottle of Guinness Stout over the rice. She would make sure it was stirred, not shaken before eating it.

My grand aunt ran the second dinghy stall at the fringe of Sungei Road. In the old days, there was a flea market in that area.

It was also known as the trading hub for petty thieves, pickpockets, and purse-snatchers. Those were exciting times.

If you lose the hubcap of your vehicle, you could buy one at the Thieves Market for a fraction of the price. You would also get it within a short period of time.

After you have fitted the hubcap on your vehicle, when you go to the other side, guess what? The other hubcap might be missing.

At the Thieves Market, I got to know many ethical and creative hawkers. They struggled to eke out a living by offering different wares and services.

Some of them were successful. They made a good living for themselves and for their loved ones.

These entrepreneurs have honed their craft to an art. More importantly, they were willing to work hard to secure their future.

I remember a 17 year old orphan. He was a student from Beatty School who supported his siblings by selling second hand shoes.

He made anywhere between $1000 to $3000 months per month. It was considered a princely sum of money during those days and was equivalent to the salary of a senior executive.

I was helping my grand aunt to sell jeans and all kinds of clothing. They were generic brands and the only selling point was that I could sell it cheap or cheaper.

When you walked into my shop, the first question I would ask you was, “What is your size?” In my stall, there were only three sizes of jeans: small, medium or large.

If you had replied, “Small,” which was the most common size for people from the lower socio-economic class, I would have given you a pair of medium-sized jeans.

The reason was simple. After you washed the pre-shrunk jeans, it would be reduced to a small size.

If you continue to wash it, the long pants would become a pair of shorts. The last line was a joke that I used to tell my customers. (Please laugh. Thank you).

At the beginning, I was less interested in the business. I was more keen to ‘hook’ the girl who worked for the third stall along the same road.

You could imagine I pulled out every trick to catch her attention. I would have stood on my head if that was what it took for her to give me a fleeting look.

If she would only give me a smile, my life would have been completed – or finished, depending on the outcomes.
I might be able to fly to the sky and explore the expanse of the universe or at least, that was what I dreamt I would do.

Then the fateful day came. The passers-by had suddenly dwindled to a trickle and the marketplace became almost like a mini ghost town.

In the twinkling of a moment, I had turned and came face to face with her. It could have been destiny that made her stare in my direction at the same time.

The world around me just disappeared. Time stood still.

Then, she smiled right through me. The stars converged above my head.

No, there were no birds chirping and circling around my head. What?! You think this is a scene from a cartoon?

In the next moment, she started to open her mouth. I waited with abated breath for the moment of truth.

I was hoping that she would say something like, “I can’t hold myself back anymore. My heart, my mind, my soul have been captivated by you.

“I can’t live another moment without you. I’m ready to elope to the ends of the galaxy with you.”

No, those were not the words that came out of her mouth. In fact, it was completely contrary to it.

She said the most unromantic words, “You’ve got a great new shipment of jeans?”

Then it hit me. There was no new shipment to my stall.

I turned around and saw the boy behind me. He was smiling quite clearly at her.

That boy worked at the first stall. He
was my biggest competitor in more ways than one.

His look?

From the green eyes of an 11-year old, he looked like his face was caught on fire and someone had tried to put it out with a fork. He was so ugly that when his mama dropped him off at school, she had a fine for littering. Lol!

Ok, that’s not true. I had to say that and you would soon find out why.

The boy replied to my princess, “Yup! Just arrived an hour ago.”

I realised she was smiling at him all these while. Looking at their body language, I could tell there was something going on between them.

There and then, I felt all the embarrassments of the world pouring down on me and soaking through every part of my being. I quickly turned back into the stall.

At that moment, I wanted to dive through the floor. I wanted to bury myself in the deepest and the hardest-to-be-found part of the earth.

I thought that I would never want to see another human again in my entire life.

The business you could imagine went down the drain for the entire day.

Fortunately, as a kid, it was not difficult to get over the failure and disappointment. I did not carry them in my heart for long – maybe for about one day – and I was back on my feet again.

I was glad I did not marry out of puppy love. I would be living a dog’s life.

After burying my romantic defeat, I decided to unleash my passion to help out at the stall. After making the commitment, I gradually discovered the thrill, the excitement, and the possibilities of business.

Through it, I could learn an infinite amount of new knowledge and skills to achieve better results. I could have
many wonderful initiatives and experiences that could also enrich my life.

My elderly grand aunt eventually set up a mini operation to produce jeans with our own brand, Cote d’Or. I went to make the first sales call to one of the biggest emporiums in those days.

Even though the venture did not succeed, my grand aunt did not lose a lot of money. For me, it was a great learning experience and I was better for it.

Looking back, the experience at the Thieves Market was an important part of my life. It opened up a new world of dreams and opportunities for me.

That’s why you could take me out of Sungei Road but you could never take Sungei Road out of me.

It was there that I first fell in love with entrepreneurship. It was a love story that survived the ebb and flow of life and the romance with it remains strong in my heart.

In the process of going through the entrepreneurial journey, I crafted my own version of the Law of Attraction:

What You Get In Life

Depends On

What You Desire, Deserve, And Do.

Success does not just depend on IQ or EQ but also on DQ. DQ stands for desperation quotient.

The more desperate I am to achieve my dreams and goals, the faster I will turn them into a reality.

Desire alone is not good enough. I must be deserving of the success. I must know what our Creator wants me to do with my life.

I have to invariably earn the rights to enjoy the sweet and tasty fruit of success.

For example, I must learn to cultivate the right knowledge, attitude, skills and habits (KASH) to achieve success.

Finally, I must do the things that our Creator wants me to do. That’s the difference between successful people and others – Action.

I know if I do nothing, I will achieve nothing. If I keep walking on the same pathway, I will end up in the same destination.

Once I have crafted my plan, strategies, and required activities, I must take massive action. That’s the crux of entrepreneurship.

That’s why, you will always hear me say, “Go4It!”


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

Visit my Inspiration blog at http://liewinspiration.wordpress.com/

For my opinions on social affairs, please visit my Transformation blog at http://hsrpatrickliew.wordpress.com/

Please visit my website, www.patrickliew.net

Please read my reflections and continue to teach me.

Life is FUNtastic!


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