On 12 July 2014, I followed Tony Tan's (of Betelbox Hostel fame) walk in Chinatown. He gave us a good narration on the People's Park Complex. This brought back many memories.
I remember the days when I would save money on the bus by taking the No.9 (Tay Koh Yat?) bus from school via River Valley Road that terminated by the side of Majestic Theatre. With 5 cents saved, I would take a bowl of "Wan-Tao-Long", a kind of banana jelly (I was told) from one of the two stalls just outside the gated old people's park opposite to where the Majestic is. Around the corner was also the pickup point of the "pa-ong-chia", the pirate taxis(?).
Once school was over by 1968, things just went by in a flash, busy with work and earning a living. What happened to the old people's park (where I probably had one proper meal inside, after going to a "holiday-on-ice" show in the then Happy World I think, thanks to my school-car driver who paid for everything) was vague in my memory.
Until when the People's Park complex was built in 1970. I remembered going to the complex to check out this probably the first big shopping centre in Singapore. Even before the shops open, many were checking out floor by floor. Ah, the escalators were also somewhat new to us.
Many shops have probably opened and closed in the span of the last 40 years or so. I am curious to find out if there is any shop that lasted all these while. (^^) I remember the inexpensive Chinese emporium (Overseas Chinese Emporium?) where I could go in an check out all the items. There were also numerous books, with some in English but mainly translations of Russian (?) books on subjects like Marxism. Too difficult to read.
There was also a coffee house, the new in-thing of that time. I remember bringing a visiting German couple there for breakfast one day. We had an interesting time trying to understand the different taste with regard to soft-boiled eggs. They preferred 3-minute eggs. In Singapore then, and probably now, it is aga-aga (estimation based on the experience of the coffee uncle). Coffee was expected to come without sugar, but in Singapore, the default is with sugar. Talk about cross-cultural understanding or misunderstanding. (^^)
Fast forward to present day, the shopping scenes inside the Complex have changed, rather drastically. The Chinese emporium probably still hold court, but the rest have come and gone. On the outside of the Complex, new northern Chinese food started appearing. On the inside remitting office fronts for money to be sent back to China sprung up. There was also a tattoo shop that seems to be doing a roaring business.
On the ground floor, another change of scene. Small shops selling smart phones and pads grew from no where. Some customer complaints started to appear from the notices posted on the doors to the Complex. Another set of shops started with offering of trimming of facial hair using threads. This reminded me of the old practice when Grandma used to engaged someone to do it. Apparently it was not a painless process. Over the months, another transformation. Less of the facial skin trimming but more of the eye brow tatoo-ing and other facial applications, both for men and women, and of all ages.
Somewhere upstairs are the foot reflexology parlours. And there are still the traditional luggage and shoe shop. There is also the ubiquitous smell of the Chinese medicinal oil for muscle relief that permeates one section of the shops.
If there is anything that lasts, tradition and custom must be the ones. This is one that is observed every year. Paying respects to the "Good Brothers" (the wandering souls believed to visit the realm each 7th Moon of the Chinese Lunar Year).
All in all, a colourful and ageing complex that sees changing lives, leaving behind memories of yesteryears. If you were there, that is.