Welcome to the Eat, Shop, Play, Love blog. This is a writing experiment that aims to lend a voice to the millions of Asians around the world who have left their native countries to live their lives in a different place, for whatever the reasons may be. Read the authors' profiles here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lady J on Shop: Buying second-hand

I’ve always had this belief that “One’s man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. The concept of buying second-hand goods sounded a little foreign to me when I was growing up. If the shelf-life of our household equipment comes to an end, we simply buy new ones to replace. And what do we do with the old ones? We sell them to the neighbourhood Karung guni man. Same goes with our newspapers and magazines. We just bundle them up and pass them on to the Karung guni man who gladly takes them in exchange for a couple of cents.
The resident Karung guni man in the 80's

What’s Karung guni? It’s a modern form of rag-and-bone men that visit residences door-to-door. They used to be pretty common in Singapore in the 80’s and early 90s. These days, there are a little of a rarity but I still spot some of them making their rounds in my neighbourhood.
So what do they do? They make their visits in carts collecting old newspapers and other unwanted items. These items are then resold at specialised markets to be recycled and reused.
The term “Karung guni” came from a Malay phrase for gunny sack, which was used in the past to hold newspapers. The karung guni men would haul these heavy sacks on their backs ringing their hand-bells and shouts of this particular phrase - "karung guni, poh zhua gu sa kor, pai leh-lio, dian si ki..." [meaning “Rag and bone, newspapers, old clothes, spoilt radios, televisions, etc” in Singlish and Hokkien] can be heard from a far.
A common site at my neighborhood when growing up

Mom has sold many things to the local karung guni man and she’s often pleased that she made a couple of bucks from the sale. I guess Dad is just happy that the house is not cluttered with too many unwanted items.
So what happens to these second-hand items? If they are in good condition, they are usually being resold at flea markets or even sold on online auctions. Apparently, there are people who trawl these places in search for a good bargain. Well, Mom has always told me to steer clear of these places preferring that I don’t pick up more junk to mess up the home.
I probably tried my hand at bargain-hunting when I visited Melbourne with my friends after graduation. Armed with really little cash then as a student, we ventured into a thrift-shop just wanting to browse but walked out of the store some hours later with huge sacks of ‘treasures’. We found used clothes, jewellery and handbags for as little as 5 AUD. We were thrilled as we combed through the piles of racks happily in search of cheap bargains.

Off to the local Brocante store for some second-hand shopping
I’ve often griped that some of the things in Geneva are a little more pricey compared to what I could get back in Singapore. Some of my expat friends felt the same way too having relocated from the US. But one of them got round to scoring some really cool furniture and household appliances at the local broccante store. I later learned that Switzerland has an active second-hand (gebraucht, occasion) market, particularly in antiques, motor cars, gold and gem stones. There’s also a local second-hand furniture and junk store (Brockenhaus, broccante) in most towns. These items are usually in really good condition because many expats come and leave Geneva in a couple of years, and prefer to leave these items behind instead of bringing them back to their home-country.
So us girls made the trip to the local broccante store one afternoon. I had wanted to browse and possibly get some vintage cutlery and silverware. My friend S wanted to a raclette grill and/or fondue machine. While she didn’t get the item, I went home a happy gal with the desired plates that will be put to good use when we have guests over.

A gorgeous traditional fondue set up for grabs
There you have it, “One’s man trash can really become another man’s treasure”. You never know what you can get while hitting the thrift-shops, so keep your eyes peeled open for treasure may just lie beneath that layer of dust. Just wipe it off, brush it clean and it may just be a brand new item for you.

[Some images taken off the web]


  1. Hey this is really so nice post i am so inspired here.
    Thanks for sharing..

    what is the purpose of my life

  2. @ What Should I Do: thanks! Glad you liked it! ;)