Take a trip down memory lane as we list all the things we miss about old Singapore.
As Singapore celebrates its 56th birthday, we’re feeling a tad nostalgic. Blame the Covid pandemic. But seriously, as a young nation, we’ve seen significant changes in the last decades. From the ever-changing skyline (which boasts a mix of new and old architectural marvels) to short-lived local brands to simple joys like night markets and the neighbourhood ice cream man, we look back at old Singapore. Nostalgia awaits…
What we miss about old Singapore
1. Studying at Shaw Centre’s McCafe
Who else remembers the alfresco area of McCafe? A popular hangout spot for students and adults alike, we can still recall the scene as clear as day. Psst: we also miss the huge Borders bookstore located across the road at Wheelock Place.
2. Pasar malam (night markets) in the heartlands
The equivalent of Shilin Night Market in Taipei, pasar malams are a rare sight these days. We’re thinking of Ramly burgers, steamed rice cakes, putu piring (a popular Malay snack with gula melaka filling and grated coconut topping), and prawn vadai (a savoury Indian donut). They’re where you can find a smorgasbord of local snacks and food under one roof.
3. Watching local TV series like Growing Up, Under One Roof and PCK
While we can now view these local gems on Netflix, there was a certain feeling of simplicity when we watched these 90s shows back then. But hey, if you’re feeling nostalgic, you know what to do.
4. Going to Escape Theme Park
Before Universal Studios Singapore, we had Escape Theme Park. And with Wild Wild Wet right around the corner, it used to be THE place for fun times with friends and family. Who remembers screaming their lungs out on the indoor Panasonic Alpha 8 roller coaster ride? Good times.
5. Fighting for the window seat on non-air conditioned buses
If you’re Gen Z, you might not recall. But way before buses were fully decked out with aircon, charging ports and announcement systems, we had regular buses. And by that, we mean no aircon. It might seem like a total nightmare in our muggy weather, but you could open the windows and feel the strong breeze – especially on the second level of a double-decker bus. (Alexa, play Wind in my Hair by Mandy Moore.) Don’t forget, we used to have actual TVs on buses!
6. Studying for O-Levels at Starbucks past midnight
What comes to mind when you think of O-Levels? For the uninitiated, every student in secondary school has to run the gamut of GCE O-Levels before graduating. Back to the question: do images of Ten Year Series pop up in your head, against the backdrop of a 24-hour Starbucks? You’re not alone. Unlike now, where we have an array of late-night cafes and restaurants to choose from, the most convenient choice back then was the double-tailed green mermaid sign.
7. Saving our pocket money for old school snacks
For sure, we love our dessert cafes. But we still have a soft spot for old school snacks. We’re talking about rows of gold tins filled with sweet treats like jam biscuits, iced gem biscuits and wafer biscuits. Oh, and who can forget the addictive white rabbit candy and haw flakes? You can find them at retro snack shops — yes, they still exist.
8. Good old bubble tea shops
Before Koi, Gong Cha and other fancy brands popped up, we had the ever-reliable Sweet Talk creating concoctions like blue coral and Oreo ice-blend. Run-of-the-mill bubble tea shops were common back then, and if you were lucky, they’d even dole out waffles and sushi. The best part? The drinks would only set you back about $2.50!
9. We scream for ice cream (uncles)
In the 90s, when you heard a bell ringing in the afternoon, it could mean only one thing. The ice cream man was here to cool you off from the merciless heat with icy treats. The best combi? A slab of ice cream sandwiched between a slice of rainbow-coloured bread. Though the flavours were basic, we totally miss the whole experience being a regular occurrence in our lives.
10. Sentosa, but in the 90s
Sentosa has gone through its fair share of facelifts. Back in the day, attractions like the Mayan-themed Volcano Land and Fantasy Island were widely popular. If you didn’t know, the latter’s site is now taken over by Universal Studios Singapore. Oh, let’s not forget the memorable monorail that brought us around the island. And S.E.A. Aquarium is the successor of Underwater World. Plus, in 2019, the iconic 37m-tall Merlion statue was demolished to make way for a themed linkway. So much has changed!
11. Playing retro games in school
Country flag eraser wars, card games like Donkey and Snap, and even good old hopscotch during recess. There was no such thing as WhatsApp or Netflix back then. Also, hands up if you brought retro phones to school and frantically stashed them in your school uniform during spot checks because they were prohibited items.
12. Neoprints were the OG IG filters
Who can forget those loud, colourful photo booths? Admit it: in a dusty drawer somewhere, we all have a pile of cheesy photo stickers of us with our friends doing poses we thought were cool.
13. Finding nemo at Wisma Atria
You read that right. There used to be a huge aquarium (1.5m-tall, to be exact) in Wisma Atria. Located in the basement and built in 1986, the tank was home to over 100 fishes across 12 different species. After more than two decades, the aquarium was removed in 2008 and the fishes were transported to the now-defunct Underwater World.
14. A moment of silence for local brands that folded
If you were cool, you would’ve heard about 77th Street in the 90s. It was our one-stop shop for streetwear fashion and accessories. Unfortunately, due to manpower shortages and high rental fees, the brand closed for good in 2016. Other popular names like Canele (known for its French desserts), Page One (a homegrown bookstore) and Sembawang Music Centre (the local version of HMV) also met with the same fate.