From Hock Lam’s Beef Noodles to Funan’s Computers

The older generation of Singaporeans would remember Hock Lam Street and its delicious beef noodles, fried kway teow and char siew rice. To the current generation, the name Funan is more associated with computers and information technology (IT). When the 30-year-old mall eventually closes for redevelopment in mid of next year, perhaps the next generation of younger Singaporeans will have a different set of memories of this iconic place.

The now-defunct Hock Lam Street was famously known for its street food and crowded lanes. Flanked by two rows of century-old pre-war shophouses, the street was located just opposite of the distinctively red-and-white-striped Central Fire Station.

hock lam street 1972

The sixties saw severe overcrowding and hygienic issues at Hock Lam Street. Tenants, sub-tenants and squatters, and very often in large families, squeezed into single rooms above the mouldy stores of the double-storey shophouses. It was also a common sight to see hundreds of laundry hanged out to dry on bamboo poles, above the busy street filled with street hawkers selling dishes, fruits and other goods. During the day, canopies were set up by the hawkers to shield against the strong sunlight.

By the mid-seventies, hundreds of street hawkers plying their trades at the side streets and lanes at Chinatown and city were requested by the government to clear their mobile stalls and move into the newly built hawker centres. The roadside hawkers at Hock Lam Street, and the nearby Chin Nam Street, were not spared, even though they had been the favourite eating spots for those living and working at the vicinity.

hock lam street map 1969

The beef noodles and beef kway teow at Hock Lam Street were extremely popular. In Singapore, there are generally two versions of beef noodles; the Teochew and Hainanese versions.

hock lam street hawkers 1970s

The Hainanese styled beef noodles are typically served dry with beef tendons and beef balls. Two pioneering Hainanese beef noodle hawkers Lee Suan Liang and Kian Teck Huan were credited in popularising the dish before the war. On the other hand, the Teochew beef noodles are generally soup-based, topped with slices of beef and innards. Tan Chin Sia was one of Singapore’s earliest beef noodle hawkers when he set up his stall at Hock Lam Street in 1921.

By the mid-seventies, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) had unveiled the redevelopment plan for Hock Lam Street. Its shophouses, under the urban renewal scheme, began their demolition in 1977. The Hock Lam Street hawkers were relocated to a temporary hawker centre behind the Capitol Shopping Centre. Some of them were later given allocated stalls at the Food Paradise, an air-conditioned food court located on the 7th level of Funan Centre when it opened in 1985.

hock lam street sign 1977

From Hock Lam to Funan

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) expected the facelifting of Hock Lam Street to be completed by 1979. The street had been expunged, its shophouses demolished, and in its place, a three-storey shopping centre with 127 shop and eight eating houses was proposed. Space allocation for 64 stalls on the ground floor at the back of the shopping centre was also catered for the original Hock Lam Street hawkers.

The plan, however, did not materialise and the redevelopment of the vicinity was dragged on for several years. A seven-storey retail shopping mall-cum-computer bazaar was proposed instead, with the belief that one-stop shopping idea and a centralised mart would be beneficial to consumers. Finally, in January 1985, the new Funan Centre was completed and opened. The name Funan, the hanyu pinyin-isation of Hock Lam, reflected the history of the vicinity.

funan centre 1989

funan centre2 1989

The new mall did provide new shopping experiences and better convenience to shoppers by putting all the shops in the same trade mix on the same floor. The first floor was occupied by the fast food restaurants in A&W and Big Rooster. Shops selling pens, watches, cameras, photographic and optical equipment lined up on the second level. The third storey were reserved for shops that dealt with retail apparel and ladies’ fashion wear, such as handbags, shoes, leather products, luggage and textiles. An annex also linked up the third floor to the new Cortina Department Store.

Funan Centre’s fourth level was catered for families, where they could find products ranging from household appliances and electronic goods to music and records. The fifth and seventh storey of the mall were occupied by hair and beauty saloons and a food court respectively. But the mall’s most popular destination among shoppers was its sixth level, where more than 40 computer shops became collectively known as the Computer Mart.

funan centre food paradise 1985

The shops at Funan had changed hands in the past 30 years, but there were several that had left impressions in many Singaporeans, such as the Peacock Trading Company, which specialised in beadwork, Kimaries Hairstyling, Roxy Records, DaDa Records and the popular Carona Chicken Rice stall at the food court.

The focus, however, was still on computers, which coincided with the rise in the popularity of PC games in Singapore in the late eighties and early nineties. Students often took buses to Funan Centre after school to try out new PC games such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the Bandit Kings. Before IT shows became regular events in Singapore, computer fairs were held at Funan Centre by Atari, Lingo and Amtech to showcase their latest computer models.

funan centre 1994

Over the years, Funan Centre was given several major renovations. In 1992, it underwent a $44-million makeover. The mall was also renamed twice. It became known as Funan The IT Mall in 1997, and had its name changed again in 2005 as Funan DigitaLife Mall. It is expected to close by mid-2016 to be redeveloped into an “experiential creative hub”.

Previously it was well-known as Hock Lam and for its beef noodles. Then it represented computers and IT. What will Funan become next time? We shall know in the future.

Published: 13 December 2015

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7 Responses to From Hock Lam’s Beef Noodles to Funan’s Computers

  1. Finding love and growing up in Funan

    21 December 2015
    The Straits Times

    The year was 1985. Mr Elvin Tan and Ms Doreen Teo crossed paths every day at the newly opened Funan Centre. They were retail assistants at different IT shops on the same floor of the mall.

    Mr Tan, now 56 and co-owner of an electronics shop in the same mall, which has been renamed Funan DigitaLife Mall, says Ms Teo used to walk by where he worked every day.

    Ms Teo, 50, who now works with her husband, says: “I walked by your shop every day because it was in between my shop and the toilet.”

    Soon, they began taking notice of each other and Mr Tan worked up the courage to get to know her. They would take lunch breaks together and their favourite hangout in the mall was an A&W fast-food outlet on the first floor. Three years later, they started dating and, today, they are married with four children aged between nine and 22.

    Mr Tan says: “We worked for different shops, but somehow, love found a way to blossom. I will miss this place when we have to leave. When the renovations are complete, I want to reopen a shop here because of all the memories I have here.”

    The couple are not alone in their affection for the nondescript- looking 30-year-old mall, which is expected to close in July for three years of redevelopment. The mall, which has seen better days as a computer and electronics shopping centre, has been an important part of the lives of long-time tenants, both past and present, and their memories of the place remain fresh.

    The family that ran Da Da Records at the mall from 1985 to 2003 looks back on their time in Funan with tenderness too.

    The now-defunct shop was widely known in its day as the unofficial headquarters of the alternative music scene. It imported albums by alternative groups such as American rock band Sonic Youth and also carried music by local indie bands such as Malay rock group Anesthesia .

    The shop was run by Mr Peter Quek, his wife Madam Yong Moi Lee and their two sons. Elder son Victor, 35, now a civil servant, says: “The shop was my whole childhood. It was open from 8am to 8pm, 364 days a year, and I’d usually be there helping to open boxes of new stock and tagging new records and CDs.”

    His favourite memories are when American rock band Nirvana visited the shop in 1992 and when Hong Kong-born balladeer Wakin Chau held an in-store autograph session in 1994.

    The shop eventually closed due to rising rents and falling revenues caused by music piracy. Mr Peter Quek, 67, now works as a part-time waiter at the A-Roy Thai restaurant in Funan while Madam Yong, 64, is a housewife. Their younger son, Eddie, 33, is an engineer.

    Another former tenant, Suntronics, sold computer accessories and data cables at the mall from 1987 until last year, when dwindling crowds forced it to close there. Its shop in Sim Lim Tower remains open. Suntronics’ administrative executive Jean Loke, 28, remembers Funan warmly. She says: “We were fond of the laksa at the foodcourt at the top level and the Carona Chicken.

    “Sadly, we probably won’t be moving back to Funan when it reopens because the IT business is getting more competitive.”

    Funan’s owner, CapitaLand Mall Trust, says it is targeted to reopen in 2019 as an “experiential creative hub”.

    The developer is identifying spaces in its other malls, such as Plaza Singapura and Bugis+, for existing tenants at Funan to relocate to. Most businesses are weighing their options.

    GamePro Shop, which has outlets on the third and fifth storeys of Funan selling computer and video games, is considering a move to another mall, such as Bugis+.

    The general manager of Passions Watch Exchange, Ms Annie Tee, 48, says it plans to open a new shop in the central area, but has not decided on a location.

    The Straits Times understands that Challenger Technologies, the mall’s anchor tenant, will not reopen its flagship store in another location for now. Until the mall closes, however, it is business as usual. Its calendar for the new year is packed back-to-back with events, including an electronic and gaming expo in March and an anime and cosplay festival in June.

    Long-time tenant Mr Tan hopes the mall will have “a good last stretch”. He says: “And when it reopens, I hope it will retain its charm as an IT mall, one that has been a part of our lives for so long.”

    • YongCY says:

      Saying Hi to Mr Peter Quek,( the man with the big spectacles).

      I grew up in Hock Lam Street (such fond memories, how I could wish I could take a walk back in time).
      In the photo with the big spectacles, I remember you.
      I was a very young school boy in the early 70’s, you had a record shop at Hill Street (opposite Chin Nam St) where I dutifully visit to look for the latest releases of L.P records.
      You would bring out the latest Led Zepplin, Deep Purple ,The Who, Rolling Stones albums and whenever i have enough to buy another album, I will be visiting your shop.

      Nice memories.

      Thank you Mr Quek,
      Best Regards to you & your Missus too.
      From: Yong CY

  2. Timothy says:

    Is the Carona chicken rice stall still around? I recall it was on the 6 or 7th floor before they move the food court to the basement and then up to 6 floor again.

  3. Farewell Funan: Last game launch before final curtain falls

    11 May 2016
    The Straits Times

    Monday night was a bittersweet one for freelance writer Darren Chew. He was among the first in the world to get his hands on the latest Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End action-adventure shooter game after spending about eight hours in line at Funan DigitaLife Mall.

    But it is also the last time he would get the chance to do so, as Monday’s event organised by game publisher Sony Computer Entertainment marked the last game launch at Funan before the mall’s shutters fall for the last time in July.

    “It feels like part of my gaming life has been taken away from me,” said the 38-year-old. “I’ve queued here for so many games I’ve lost count.”

    Funan has long been the location of choice for big product launches. Over the past 10 years, the mall has played host to about 30 major game events, which are among the biggest events that have taken place there, said Funan’s centre manager Tan Pei Cheng.

    These include huge fan favourites like Blizzard Entertainment’s Star- Craft II and the Halo franchise by Microsoft Studios, and Microsoft’s operating systems Windows 95 and Windows 7.

    Such events would draw thousands of fans, who lined up in snaking queues that would stretch out of the mall and across the road to Peninsula Plaza.

    More than 10,000 gamers stood in line for the bigger titles. For instance, the launch of Blizzard’s Diablo III at the CapitaLand-owned mall on May 15, 2012, attracted the mall’s highest footfall of 55,000 shoppers on a single day.

    One of those fans was Mr Ng Koon Yu, 27. The equity research analyst queued for the release of military science fiction strategy game StarCraft II and action role-playing game Diablo III in 2010 and 2012 respectively.

    Aside from wanting to play the game early, Mr Ng also wanted the in-game goodies that were being given away at wthe launch.

    While such dedication may seem crazy to some, Mr Ng said: “Other people queue up for Hello Kitty or Tim Ho Wan (a popular chain of dim sum restaurants), so I guess queueing up for the release of some of the biggest franchises in gaming history is my thing.”

    At Microsoft Studios’ Gears Of War 2 launch in 2008, more than 2,000 copies of the Xbox and PC exclusive were sold.

    Mr Ben Tan, former general manager of retail sales and marketing at Microsoft Asia-Pacific, said the wait was so long that fans started to get tired and hungry.

    “I told my guys to buy as much food and water as they could get their hands on,” he recalled.

    “They went into Macs, and tried to order 100 burgers at a go, but they couldn’t process that. They processed about 50 burgers for us, and we bought biscuits and packet drinks from elsewhere.”

    Ms Chia Pei Siang, senior manager of group communications at CapitaLand, said: “It helped that the game developers made the deal sweeter for fans with fringe activities and freebies.”

    Mr Kwan Yan Wei, 28, queued up for several Microsoft Studios titles including Halo, Ninja Gaiden 2, Gears Of War 3 and the Xbox One console.

    “Many of us queued up not just to be the first to play, but also because of the exclusives that were given out,” said the teacher.

    “I will miss the atmosphere at the launches. There would usually be an emcee hyping everyone up, and they would give away prizes in lucky draws or quizzes.”

    But the glory days of such large launches are potentially over, even if a timeout had not been called on the 30-year-old mall, which will be revamped over the next three years.

    About 388,000 sq ft will be added to the mall’s current 482,000 sq ft gross floor area, and CapitaLand is inviting the public to contribute ideas for the mall’s redevelopment.

    Mr Marc Einstein of market research firm Frost & Sullivan said the ease of downloading a game over the Internet has contributed to declining box sales.

    “It’s just so much more profitable to distribute digitally as opposed to physically,” said Einstein.

    “There’s not as much money to be made from physical sales, and it makes more sense to invest in digital.”

    When the mall closes in two months’ time, gamers say they will miss the sense of community created through eager anticipation of new products, and the related events, ranging from tournaments to free gameplay booths, at these game launches.

    “There was always this feeling of excitement for a new game,” said student Juan Miguel Rodriguez, 19.

    Funan was also where he first cut his teeth on the competitive Halo circuit four years ago, when he got a taste of winning his first tournament at a launch event for Halo 4.

    “I’ll miss the place. Not having tournaments there is just so different,” said Mr Rodriguez, who represented Singapore at the Halo World Championship in California two months ago.

  4. A final look at good old Funan Mall before it closes for good…..

  5. NICKOLAS says:

    A trustworthy collection of IT focused shops bites the dust.
    What’s left ? Sim Lim Square ? No thank you.
    I guess the ‘try before you buy ( somewhere else online )’ crowd has taken it’s toll again.

  6. Concept illustrations of Funan Mall 2019

    (Picture credit: CapitaLand Mall Trust)

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