Singapore turns 50 this year as an independent nation, and it’s the perfect reason to celebrate. It’s also the perfect time to take a nostalgic trip down memory lane to see how far we’ve come – and re-discover a thing or two we miss having around, and where we like to go to reminisce…

Looking back, here are some things we miss among our favourite memories growing up in Singapore, and some modern alternatives to check out today.


National Library / Borders at Wheelock


Noel Perlas

It might not seem fair to group these two icons together, because each was special in its own unique way – the National Library, with its brick façade, was reminiscent of a time when Singaporeans from all walks of life, across all age groups, came together as a community, bonding over books; while Borders practically defined Wheelock Place when it occupied the first level of the shopping mall. We miss the days when we could while away an entire afternoon in silent company of fellow book-lovers.

Our SG50 fix:

Kinokuniya at Takashimaya. Recently relocated to the fifth level, up from the fourth level it occupied previously, Kinokuniya is shaping up to be the “last” remaining big bookstore. Visit to feel actual pages between your fingers, a change from swiping through ebooks – and to stand amongst shelves of glorious reads.


The Heeren


Rob Young

Reading was fun, but remember Neoprints? These were instant, polaroid-esque photo stickers that you could instantly plaster your notebooks and mobile phones with? We remember the days when The Heeren drew the teenage crowd like bees to honey, making it the go-to-be-seen pitstop. Back then, CDs, pop bands and Neoprint machines were the rage, and Heeren had it all. It disappeared, past its prime, when mp3s and smartphone selfies took over.

Our SG50 fix:

The Heeren wasn’t just another shopping mall – it really captured the essence of teenage culture. These days, we’re taking note of the numerous pop-ups and flea markets that have begun to surface all around the city to stay updated on what’s hip with the youth. We like the Public Garden market.

The rise of cafe culture, underground cafes and alternative music scenes, pop-up stores and the likes are all pretty cool.


Old-School Local Snacks & Mama Shops

Haw Flakes, classic Singaporean snacks


Mama shops, neighbourhood bakeries, and ice cream uncles. What do these have in common? They all bring to mind local foods and experiences that are certainly some of the most comforting.

These days, you’d be hard-pressed to come across a mama shop (so-called after the Indian men, affectionately called “Mamas”, who typically own these small provision shops at housing estates); a kachang puteh man selling peanuts outside a cinema, a neighbourhood bakery selling freshly baked soft buns, fresh cream cakes and their own version of “waffles”; ice-cream uncles peddling their scoops of raspberry ripple ice cream folded between pillowy-soft slices of bread; or shops that had tin upon tin filled with old-school biscuits and snacks (wafers, jam-filled biscuit sandwiches, lemon cream-filled crackers)…

Our SG50 fix:

Look close enough and you might just spot one of these fast-disappearing local favourites. Have a little Singapore-nang throwback tea party serving Ka Ka keropok, Ding Dang, Haw Flakes, putu mayam, red bean ‘potong’ ice cream. Serve some teh halia, kopi cino and milo peng, and gather round to watch Army Daze.

If all else fails, get pack of Khong Guan biscuits from an NTUC supermarket, a pack of Twisties for the Mama shop memories, some raspberry ripple ice cream to wash it all down with, and reminisce.


Pasar Malams

Singapore Pasar Malam

Zhao !

The pasar malams of the day were loud (some might even say noisy) and full of fun. You could hear them a mile away, typically recognisable from the hit pop/techno beats that were topping the music charts back then – there were always CD shops selling the latest albums and pop singles (NOW! That’s What I Call Music 36) ; clothes shops selling anything from pyjamas to knockoff sportswear and wrestling prints; and of course, standard pasar-malam fare. Who could resist sticky-sweet muah chee coated with crushed peanuts and sugar; buttery steamed corn; sweet, fluffy peanut or coconut-filled tu tu kueh; piping hot curry puffs and yummy Ramli burgers?

Our SG50 fix:

Pasar malams these days aren’t nearly as boisterous as they used to be, and frankly, they’ve lost that fun vibe (the absence of blaring hit 90’s music might have something to do with it?). You can still get kueh tutu and steamed peanuts and Ramly burgers. But many of the more traditional snacks have been replaced by new ones, and in place of CDs and DVDs, you’re more likely to find smartphone covers and accessories.

We wouldn’t pass up pasar malams still, but something new you can consider is trying out one of the many new food pop-ups or markets that are gaining popularity, such as Pasarbella at Turf Club Road.


Open grass fields & Playgrounds filled with sand

toa-payoh-playground.jpg sand-playground.jpg

Back in the day, after-school activities tended to take place in open, glassy patches of land – or playgrounds filled with swings, slides, see-saws and lots of sand. They were where kids used to have fun and make new friends while adults sat by keeping and eye and catching up on the latest neighbourhood gossip. For teenagers, there were always new scores to settle – on the impromptu soccer fields, that is.

Our SG50 fix: 

Nowadays, kids, teenagers and adults alike are all more preoccupied with smartphones and virtual reality – and playgrounds, open grass fields and sand are fast disappearing. To rekindle the sense of casual camaraderie, we recommend a similar local stalwart that hasn’t quite disappeared yet – the humble coffeeshop, where the atmosphere is just as relaxed and conducive for a fun, casual gathering. The only difference is, instead of sharing a game of soccer, you could be sharing a plate of delicious carrot cake.


TCS5 Classics

Phua Chu Kang, Under One Roof, Masters of the Sea Triple 9, Gotcha!, The Pyramid Game – these dominated the airwaves back before the days of cable TV, Korean dramas and Netflix. Local television was all the rage, and local celebrities were the talk of the town. We remember ending the day catching up with these for a quick laugh, or sitting around the TV with the family for dinner to share a meal and a good chuckle.

Remember Beauty World (Cha Cha Cha!)? And when Margaret Chan threatened to “crush you like a cockroach!” ? Don’t pray pray.

Our SG50 fix:

The local productions just aren’t the same anymore, and neither are our TV-consumption patterns. But technology means that a quick Youtube search is all it takes to get your fix of these local gems. You should of course tune in to Channel 5 to catch up on new shows and discover new favourites. Fighting Spiders and The Noose for example are newer local programs that are pretty good!

Feature image: Dragon playground. Image by Jimmy Tan under CC2.0 license.