Memories of Singapore’s Oldest Shopping Centre

If wormholes made time travel possible and a four year old me visited the future Singapore, Plaza Singapura would be one place that would be totally unrecognizable. Plaza Singapura opened way back in 1975. It’s anchor store used to be Yaohan, which got into debt due to overexpansion and sadly closed down in the 90’s. To me the mall has lost it’s charm after it’s complete renovation.

In the 80’s, I recall being able to get Whirla Whip (which was the olden day version of the Marble Slab or Cold Stone ice cream places). M&Ms and Oreos were blended into your ice cream and it was a favourite of ours. The foodcourt at level one also had the best carrot cake (the black version made with sweet soya sauce).

It was also the place where I was terrified, because it was where I had to take all my practical piano examinations by the Royal School of Music. I would be a bundle of nerves and my hands would be like icicles. My dad used to try to rub them to keep them warm, but they would turn back into ice again. I was a six year old nervous wreck.

Back to my nightmare – the examiner was usually a grizzled white haired elderly British man and that scared the heck out of me. My piano teacher always told me that they would get mad and yell at me if I got any note wrong, so she greatly contributed to the fear. I don’t know what kind of motivation that was supposed to be. As Kirsten of Funny Little World did, I too take issue with the parenting methods of Amy Chua. Go read it to see what I mean.

What I do also recall is that after the exams, I was so relieved and estatic and also got a treat of a real nice meal after. Did anyone out there have the Piano exam nightmares as well? I hated piano lessons, but don’t regret them. I am happy that I can read musical notes and they feel like another language to me. They also say that playing the piano helps you utilize both sides of your brain – the mathematical and creative side as you need to coordinate your left and right hands. Having said that, I would have been much happier as a child to have learnt the piano playing songs I love and without any exams.

I was impressed by the huge Chinese New Year Decorations today. There is a Giant supermarket which was selling mandarin oranges for Chinese New Year. The most expensive ones being those from Taiwan that cost about S$25 a box. The cheapest ones cost about S$8 a box.

photo by bookjunkie


photo by bookjunkie


photo by bookjunkie

photo by bookjunkie


photo by bookjunkie


photo by bookjunkie


photo by bookjunkie


photo by bookjunkie

I don’t quite like Bread Talk buns as I find them dry, but they are just so creative with their designs.

photo by bookjunkie

I was surprised to see a fish store selling baby stingrays as pets. I guess they are off the endangered list for now?

photo by bookjunkie


photo by bookjunkie

I haven’t been here in quite a while and see there is a Paper Market here as well. Scrapbooking must be really catching on. I have never done it and all the pretty papers makes me want to. I wonder why Singapore has so many chain stores. Perhaps for economies of scale? I feel sad for the small, unique mum and pop stores that can’t survive in competition with the chain stores. It can also be quite annoying to see them everywhere, although I end up patronizing them as well.

photo by bookjunkie

About bookjunkie

Blogging about my daily life in Singapore helps with my mid life crisis.
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14 Responses to Memories of Singapore’s Oldest Shopping Centre

  1. kirsten says:

    Those piano exam rooms were just UNREASONABLY cold. How was I supposed to play if I could barely bend my fingers?

    • bookjunkie says:

      You too huh? I wonder why they made them so cold. Perhaps for the benefit of the elderly British examiners who were always in suits? My nerves made the cold even worse. I always played so badly and was trembling by the time I went in. It felt like entering the dungeon of doom.

      • kirsten says:

        I just couldn’t really feel my fingers. But then again I never really practised very hard so I can’t completely blame the fact that I never got Distinction on the cold. Hehehe.

      • bookjunkie says:

        hahaha I never got a distinction either..and I too practiced only just twenty minutes before my lessons in a state of panic. My teacher was very scary.

  2. I never had the pleasure of piano exams. I’m sure in some useful way it made you into a better adult!
    I love the ad in the bread store! So cute!

  3. lynnette-net says:

    *laughs at the way that you all are talking about piano exams!* yes they were unreasonably cold and I remember my mum always dressing me up in some recital dress that’s usually sleeveless! But once your fingers hit the keys, they just take off!

    • bookjunkie says:

      Oh no! sleeveless dresses must have turned you into a popsicle. I always worse a cardigan over my dress.

      I am so glad I am not in school any more. No more exams please.

  4. J says:

    I had organ lessons there when I was a punk. I remembered wanting to learn piano, but my parent’s plonked me in an organ class. (??!) Which very much explained why I never made it any further after a few months! 😀 Then I was back there again in my late teens for drum lessons. Got a cool instructor who used to jam in one of the Jazz pub in Cuppage Centre back then. That was much more interesting compared to the organ lessons I had way back.
    Ohh… and Yaohan was such a classic childhood memory! I must have my fish balls and that Icee drink (the blue stripy cup with a polar bear) whenever I am there. It was also in that basement food level that I had my first exposure to Japanese food.

    • bookjunkie says:

      I did the organ for a very short while but found it so hard to coordinate my feet as well!! I think the piano is easier although with the organ you can play pop music better.

      I always yearned to play the violin but was told by my piano teacher that it was for boys?!!. In my teens it was the guitar or drums 🙂

      Glad someone else has a Yaohan memory too.

      • J says:

        I thought the violin was cool, but only for a short while. I wanted to learn double bass, but the instrument is too big for me. Then I think the cello is sexy… In the end, I realised classical was not quite right for me. 😀
        If any teacher is to tell me this is for boys and not for me, you bet it will be the next time I am picking up!

      • bookjunkie says:

        I think the Cello is incredibly sexy too!! especially in that movie The Witches of Eastwick. The scene with Jack Nicholson and Susan Sarandon.

  5. miss ene says:

    Your entry struck a deep chord because I used to go to (the old) Plaza Sin for organ lessons at Yamaha too! Remember that old school cafeteria-style food court on one of the top floors? I still remember the cream-coloured plastic trays! I also remember calling Thomson Plaza “Yaohan Thomson” because I spent a good part of my young days taking piano lessons at Kawai. It was almost always followed by lunch at Swensons (ice-cream!!!).

    I also totally remember the piano exams I had to take with ’em British examiners. I really hated practising the piano and mum would force me to sit at the piano and tinker a couple of keys. I actually made it till Grace 7 (!!!) and then stopped.

    The only distinction I remember scoring was for Grade 2 because mum put me in a pretty floral dress (ribbons, lace and all) and the examiner was a kindly old grandfather type who seemed quite taken by my cuteness. I don’t remember playing particularly well (freezing + nervous to bits) but I think the dress (and being quite cherubic then) helped.

    Like you, I am glad to have had the opportunity to learn how to read music but boy, they were tough days!

    • bookjunkie says:

      Oh yes, I called it Thomson Yaohan and it was my favourite place to go too. But these days it looks dismal.

      I made it to Practical Grade 7 but failed my Grade 8 twice. Then, because I had O Levels and no time to practice and my parents being more concerned about O levels, finally then let me quit. I made it to Grade 8 Theory though – I really hated it more than the practical – felt like Math! Especially the composition section which I found the hardest. The benefit was I could make use of all the torture I went through, because Music was one of my O level subjects and grade was supplemented by the exams I had already taken.

      My teacher actually made me curtsey to the examiner was I was in grade 1 and 2. I too recall a kindly examiner when I was very little and he loved the curtsey. So I guess that’s what my piano teacher was going for when she said it was a requirement to curtsey. She made the boys in her class bow.

      I think you must have been a real cutie in your pretty dress.

      I did organ lessons for a while at Selegie, but I just could not coordinate my feet as well and gave up. I think my sister was much better than I was.

      It really seems like part of the ritual for kids growing up in Singapore in the 70’s and 80s was piano lessons. Usually forced huh?

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