Pawn alley at Clementi Central

Pawn Shop

Wad you get in exchange for your family heirloom (everything but the girl)

I am back in London after spending the last two and a half weeks in Singapore. It’s been pretty hectic catching up with friends and families and sorting out other matters in the short time I had, which explains the lack of postings here!

During my time back, I was at Clementi Central on an almost daily basis, either to eat at the hawker centre there, to pick up some necessities from the odds-and-ends shops, or simply to visit the local Singapore Pools outlet for my ticket to eternal financial well-being and material happiness via the $10 Million Hong Bao Draw. This is the shopping equivalent of the Singaporean core that we have been beating ourselves up trying to define. In contrast, I only visited Orchard Road once during my entire time back.

It is no exaggeration to say that Clementi Central is turning into quite the “financial services hub”. In the short 2-minutes walk from Clementi Mall to the hawker centre, over a distance of no more than 50 metres, there are no less than six or seven pawn shops and licensed moneylenders. I thought pawn shops were dying out in modern day Singapore, but it looks like they are making a big comeback.

Some of these shops are even fronted by bright signboards and trendy looks, unlike the traditionally more subdued pawn shops that you can only distinguish by the 當 logo. Maybe they are trying to look like banks so you won’t feel embarrassed walking into one. These pawn shops and moneylenders have likely sprouted up over the past two years, but it still comes as quite a shock to see so many of them clustered in close proximity over such a small area. Very soon, this stretch will be known as the “pawn alley”. To reach out to Generation Y, I suggest they set up websites as well to facilitate the process. I’m sure “online pawn” will one day become as popular and lucrative as its sound-alike.

There are also more cases of loan shark harassment in the heartlands. During my first few days there, I saw a big sign put up at the pedestrian sidewalk along Commonwealth Ave West. Typically this would be an appeal for witnesses to some road accident, but instead it was appealing for witnesses of loan shark harassment in the area. I don’t know if any witnesses will come forward, but a huge, prominent sign like that would surely scare away the loan shark runners. And of course, many of us are already used to seeing security camera screenshots of persons suspected of engaging in harassment at notice boards of HDB flats. Strangely, many of these persons look like rather harmless uncles and aunties. Even more strangely, they always carry a plastic bag as if they had gone groceries shopping at Clementi Central just before coming to harass someone.

Though I’m wary of reading too much into things, it’s hard not to associate the rise of these pawn shops and loan harassment cases with the establishment of the Integrated Resorts. This is probably too sensitive a topic but it would be interesting to find out more about the profiles of the customers of these pawn shops and moneylenders and if by any chance they are regular visitors to our swanky casinos. Or perhaps more folks are running into financial difficulties due to the rising costs of living. In either case, the signs are worrying.