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It’s eerily quiet. Corridors once full of life, are now dim and dingy, filled with drawn metal shutters.
Few stores remain open; those that are, have bare shelves and “closing soon” signs in their shopfronts.
It’s less than two weeks before Golden Mile Complex closes in May. The venerable shopping mall at Beach Road, dubbed ‘Little Thailand’, was a haven for the Thai community and a popular nightlife scene among locals.
Today, it’s a ghost town.
“Last time, come here for supper, eat mookata with poly friends,” Eric Ng tells The Pride.
I met Eric, 41 and his friend Ashley Tan, 31, scouring the complex for architectural shots against the evening sky. Both photographers, the pair were there to reminisce and take photographs of the place before it shuts for good.
Last May, Golden Mile Complex was sold to a consortium comprising Perennial Holdings, Sino Land and Far East Organization for $700 million. The consortium said at the time that the existing 16-storey conserved building will be “sensitively restored”, and the main building’s key features and signature terraced profile will be retained in the new “mixed-use integrated development”.
That isn’t stopping photographers like Eric and Ashley from trying to capture the iconic building’s final moments.
“We are trying to capture the emptiness of the space… back then when you come here, it’s always full of people, and the metal shutters are always up,” Ashley says.
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Another photographer, Joash Lee, 33, was also there on a site recce. He was there before his community of photography friends arrived at 7pm for a night shoot.
He says: “I thought it’d be nice to document the place before it closes… I’m organising a photo walk with a few people… but it’s quite dark and empty.”
Many of these photographers do not have such close personal ties to the building, but they can see its unique architectural beauty.
Like Eric, Joash also remembers the mall through makan: Thai mookata.
Closing down, hurry hurry. While stocks last!
With the closure looming, most businesses have vacated – or are vacating – their premises.
Among the last few stores still in operation, chain outlet D&C (Design and Comfort) is an anomaly, with rows of shoes and accessories still on sale.
I approach a lone employee sitting at the back of the store. Yuoh Kok Wong, 62, has been working at this outlet for seven years now. Throughout his years of interacting with Thai customers, he has picked up some of the language. But he laughs when I ask him if he could speak Thai.
“Nid Noi, Nid Noi! (little bit, little bit),” he tells me with a chuckle.
Kok Wong says that nearly all of the customers he meets are foreigners. Though he is Singaporean, he says he’s sad to see the shopping mall go as he wonders what would happen to ‘Little Thailand’.
“It’s wasted lah because this is a place for Thai people”, Kok Wong says, “ next time I don’t know where they can find such a place to shop.”
Beside D&C sits Na Na Original Thai Food, a popular eatery for Thai food. It’s 6pm but the tables are empty.
Women servers huddle in the back, chatting away in Thai.
One of them, 50-year-old Nett, has been working there for four years as a server. She tells me that the restaurant will be moving to Aperia Mall this weekend (Apr 23).
And though she is a little sad to leave the building, she’s glad that the relationships she has built with her co-workers remain intact.
“I’m happy we’re moving together,” she says smiling.
On the second level of the shopping centre, a beauty store remains open amid the maze of closed shutters.
Two women are packing products on display into cardboard boxes. I approach them, uncertain if they can understand me. One of them yells in Thai to the back of the store, and shortly after, a head pops up.
“Yes, what do you need?” she asks in Mandarin.
My Mandarin is not much better than my Thai, but I chat with her as she continues packing.
I find out that Thai-born Wan Dee, 65, has been living in Singapore for more than 30 years. She learned Chinese after she met her Singaporean husband in Thailand. The couple moved here in 1985 and the place they chose to live in was Golden Mile Complex.
They raised their daughter in one of the strata malls’ residential units. In 1994, Wan Dee’s husband died and she continued to live there with her daughter till today.
In 2018, the mother and daughter started their store (named after her late husband) selling beauty products at the shopping complex where their family grew up. Even as she was telling me this, Wan Dee was close to tears.
Once GMC closes, Kok Wong and Nett will move on to new jobs. But for Wan Dee, Golden Mile’s closing means that her whole life will be uprooted.
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“It’s very sad and very painful… the more I talk about it, the more I want to cry,” she says sadly, “once I leave here, I won’t be doing anything already… I’ll just stay at home.”
She and her daughter have moved to Pasir Ris, but Wan Dee says she misses her neighbours at Golden Mile. Over the years, they had become close.
She says: “I don’t have any Singaporean friends… I’ve always been here and my friends and neighbours are all Thai.”
Saying their final goodbyes
As the sun starts to set, the day winds down.
In the past, Golden Mile would come to life with neon-lit Thai discos and nightclubs jostling with pubs and other businesses that thrive in the dark.
But now, the once vibrant building sits, darkened, quietly.
Just last month, a farewell party was held at Golden Mile Complex for one last hurrah. Titled ‘The Last Mile’, party-goers raved to music performances by a collective of local electronic DJs. The event was held in various locations across the mall and lasted till 4am.
“The thing about Golden Mile is that people like it because you feel that it’s different from (other parts of) Singapore,” Eric says.
“But it is part of Singapore though… maybe we shouldn’t think of it as an anomaly, but as something we celebrate instead of treating it as an outlier.”