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SINGAPORE    High & Low Tides


    Monday with the Editor: Gluttons Square feeds on Singaporeans' nostalgic whims



The temporarily resurrected Gluttons Square in Orchard Road Carpark opposite Centrepoint has reeled in the crowds, far exceeding the organisers' expectations. Local papers* have it that 12,000 people visit the place every night, well in excess of the 3,000 expected daily. The bulk of the diners seem to be locals, rather than tourists.

Is the good response because of cheaper hawker food not normally found in upmarket Orchard Road? Or is it because of the Singaporeans' hunger for memories of things past?

At S$3 for a plate of char kuay teow, the price is the same as that offered at the air-conditioned Cuppage Food Centre behind Centrepoint Shopping Centre, a stone's throw away. So, it can't be that people throng the new Gluttons Square to save money. Also, present-day Singaporeans prefer the ambience and comfort of air-conditioned food courts to open-air hawker centres.

In the 1970s, when the original Gluttons Square was operating at the same place, each plate of char kway teow cost only 70 cents. Singaporeans frequented the place as it offered hawker fare at prices which were at a great discount to those charged in shopping centres in the area. I rather think those of us who have been visiting the new Gluttons Square do so because of nostalgia. We long for things of the past which have been obliterated in the name of progress.

In my teenage years in the 1970s, I ever paid visits to Gluttons Square. It certainly wasn't clean or hygenic. Street hawkers were already disappearing from the roads then as the Government had embarked on a campaign to move hawkers out of the streets into hawker centres. I remember, then, my schoolmates and I weren't keen on eating hawker food when we went out during weekends.

As teenagers then, our favourite haunts were coffeehouses where we paid something like S$4.50 for a decent western lunch set. In fact, if I remember correctly, there was a proliferation of coffeehouses in the HDB estates such as Toa Payoh. Going to coffeehouses was the fad then for young people, like us. We wanted the ambience, and of course, the air-conditioning which we didn't have at home or in the coffee shops.

I remember frequenting the open-air Medo restaurant which was located in the open space between Plaza Singapura and Singapura Shopping Centre. It's long gone now. We would meet at the bus-stop outside Supreme House (now Park Mall), then step into Metro department store in Supreme House and later adjourn to Medo for lunch. And when Plaza Singapura opened in 1974, we added it to our itinerary. We were soon attracted to the offerings of Yaohan supermarket and department store in Plaza Singapura.

You see, I find myself writing more about the past, about the 1970s when I was young. So, it's likely that those of us who have been descending upon Glutton Square recently have been having nostalgic cravings.

But, it is one thing to bring back memories of the past, and quite another to resurrect the past. I think you can only bring back memories of the past. People will inevitably find themselves comparing the new Gluttons Square with the original of the 1970s. Then, when they have had time to digest the food and feed their nostalgic pangs, they will realise the new place isn't quite like the old. Their memories of things past will come to the fore and hinder their efforts at reconciling the present Gluttons Square with the past.

So, you see, there is no way to bring back the past. You can only try to bring back the memories of the past. My point is simply this. Things which we have removed in the name of progress are gone forever. We can't rebuild such things, try as we may. These things remain only in our memories. We just simply can't come down to Orchard Road to touch the past. The real thing isn't around anymore; it has become part of our history.

But, the new Gluttons Square is a good idea in that it allows Singaporeans, as well as tourists who have savoured the original Gluttons Square, the opportunity to reminisce the past.

The newspapers* have it that the new Gluttons Square is "such a hit that it might well become a permanent fixture". I think that once the nostalgic amongst us have had our fill, the crowds at the new place will dwindle. We will return to the air-conditioned comfort of the food courts in Orchard Road to partake of hawker food at prices equal to if not lower than those at the new open-air Gluttons Square.

It's a Singaporean thing that we do - we make a beeline for every new shopping centre, department store or local attraction that opens on the island, jostling among thousands of others to take in the sights and then disappearing just as quickly as we had arrived.

Then, the new place may still appeal to tourists and expatriates - the same people whom the new Gluttons Square may hope to attract in the long run to sustain itself, that is, if it becomes a permanent fixture. Who knows, the new Gluttons Square may even become another Newton Circus Food Centre!

Have a good week!

* Straits Times 11 Jul 2004 (9)

Gluttons Square returns to Orchard Road Carpark