Featured News Can Singapore be a bit more like Mustafa Centre?

Can Singapore be a bit more like Mustafa Centre?

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Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

I am a fan of Mustafa Centre. Singapore cannot claim to be a city that never sleeps if there are no 24-hour outlets or long-hour ones like the Syed Alwi Road shopping department which never closed before the Covid-19 pandemic. It now operates until 2 am. I see no reason why it would not return to 24-hour when business picks up.

Mustafa will be opening its first department store in Capital Mall, Johor Bahru. Well done.

I fully understand that commercial enterprises survive only when there is enough business to keep them going. But there seems to be a reversal or deterioration in Singapore’s case.

Remember Yokoso in Geylang Serai and Jurong? These two were full-service stores which late-work workers could conveniently patronise, long before FairPrice and Cold Storage came into the picture in a limited way.

There was a 7-Eleven type chain called MyShop which actually sold meat and vegetables.

When Mustafa came into the picture in 1971 – at first in Campbell Lane – it made shopping, especially night shopping, a totally different experience. 

It added something substantial to Singapore’s attraction as a tourist as well as lifestyle place to be.

For me, it reminded us of what Singapore used to be. A happening place which never slept.

Just take Orchard Road which has now become one big shopping centre – and nothing else.  

Once upon a time, having a meal at a restaurant or coffee house in a hotel after a night out was the thing to do. Now, you go back to your flat to make your own latte and sandwich. Not the same thing.

Hardly any hotel has a 24-hour coffeehouse.

Everything adds up.

No place to go after a night out means a night out itself becomes less interesting.

Having “a night out” itself, particularly on weekends, may have become almost impossible. No Mohamed Sultan Road. No Planet Marina/Marina Village. No Rumours, no Scandals, no Fire. No splashy big-time nightclubs along Orchard Road.

I have this feeling that Singapore’s city planners must have had a rather dull life when they were young. They have absolutely no idea what “joy of life” or hanging out means.

This city does not have any night life whatsoever. Strange that it is not because it never had. Singapore had a vibrant night scene not that long ago. Even before the Europa, Mohamed Sultan Road and Planet Marina era, the city was filled with so many night spots from Seletar to Pasir Panjang to even two ships  – Singapore Lady and the Junk – off Clifford Pier. Entrepreneurship there certainly was. Think of this  – one night spot called Kelong in Cathay Building and much later a real night kelong converted into a night club called Kelong off Punggol. Amazing

Were our planners getting out of touch with what real Singaporeans want, stuck in some kind of nanny state of mind or a preconceived idea of how they believed the country’s citizens should behave? Something must have gone wrong along the way.

Mustafa Centre is somewhat messy, if you have ever been there.

But it has a charm and a vibrant life all its own. It is a happening place.

Think Tokyo’s Shinjuku or New York City’s Time Square. 

Can Singapore be a bit more like Mustafa?  

Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.SG, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company.

Send in your scoops to news@theindependent.sg 

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