Goodbye Golden Mile: Inside the Closing of Golden Mile Complex
Take a look inside the closing of Golden Mile Complex. With its successful en bloc, we explore its abandoned hallways and offices, before bidding it goodbye.
I didn’t notice it. Then again, I didn’t know what to expect. But as I stopped in front of Golden Mile Complex, by the mangrove tree. The shops were all closed. The shops facing the main road had their cream-yellow shutters rolled all the way down. Inside one of the hallways leading into the main atrium, the lights were off, like a tunnel leading to nowhere else.
It was a hot Saturday afternoon. Above the sky painted a picture of coming rain, but my skin singed. I was at Golden Mile Complex for a photography walk and poetry workshop by Marc Nair and Sploosh. Marc, a Singaporean poet and photographer, was to take us through its now empty spaces. Once most of the participants arrived, we stood by the main entrance, the lobby at the western end. The lights were off, and the sunlight could only go so far. I was still shell-shocked.
There, he laid out the assignment, as simple as it is broad: you could try and document the space and its current state. Then, afterwards, we could try and write something that either reflect the state of affairs, or something a bit more abstract. We are to look at what’s around, to take stock. But, he also asks, to take a closer look at the signs, the things that have been left behind. He points to a sign, the banner above the shuttered stall. It read: EN MILE. ‘So you see now, the ‘Gold’ has been blocked. What does it say?’ He asks.
Standing at the side, I noticed the elevators. One of them, the one in the middle, had its door open for the longest minute. I didn’t see it close.
Golden Mile Complex Closing: The Isolation Within
The complex was due for redevelopment come May 2023. Tenants had to move out by 11 May. I had already heard news of it. From afar, it looks like nothing changed, that nothing’s going to change; maybe you have to see it to believe it.
We started our walk with the letterboxes beside the lobby, where there were empty cups and leftover flyers on top of them. The huge, unobstructed 3-story window gave the space plenty of light, lending this jarring sight of isolation in absolute clarity.
Marc was standing by the display window of a closed karaoke lounge. ‘Now, see, there were still posters here when I came by for the site recce.’ he said. ‘And now the poster is gone, just like that. So I want you to see what has changed.’
In the days before, I tried to remember what it was like, why was I there. I mean, the most obvious thing would be having Thai food there. There was one mookata restaurant tucked away from the main atrium, where the hallways felt as dark as it is now. That was where I decided, on my own, to anoint my four closest friends as people I would spend the rest of my life with.
In another memory, I walked through the Thai Supermarket, in search of that sweet soy milk drink that one of my classmates loved. That was at least eight years ago, when the shopping complex was still buzzing. Tour and travel agencies lined most of the shops outside, where coaches and buses would take travellers to Malaysia and all the way to Thailand.
The Lives Then
Inside, there were phone shops, grocers, money changers, remittance offices, karaoke lounges, and of course, the crowd-favourite inside Golden Mile Complex: Thai mookata restaurants. The weekends would come alive here. People would be talking, laughing, even if nights here can get violent. I was hearing remnants of that as I took photos of the letterbox and of the atrium, and I was relieved. That, at least, I wasn’t facing total desolation on my last visit there.
As we continued down the atrium, I saw a produce stall still buzzing with customers, still lush with fruits and vegetables. And I noticed some parts of the floors had water sloshing around. I thought a pipe had burst. But another participant offered a more plausible answer: the Songkran Festival only happened the day before.
I walked past empty units, one after the other. The ones I could look into were all hollowed out. There was nothing but dead air. I imagined all the lives the walls had seen, and I wondered where did they all go? Where else can they go?
Before the Golden Mile Complex Enbloc
When you search Golden Mile Complex on Google now, you can find articles showing where the Thai restaurants and shops are moving. Instead of the ‘Little Thailand’ they once had, the restaurants are now spread across the island. A few settled in Aperia Mall, as did the famous Thai Supermarket. Others were lucky enough to find a space in the vicinity, like the nearby City Gate Mall, or Golden Mile Complex’s sister: the Golden Mile Tower. But one minimart had to move all the way to Boon Lay.
This begs the question, what should decide who gets to stay? Yes, Golden Mile Complex is a complicated icon. Fights would break out. Its managing agent had difficulties maintaining its facilities. The toilets were old and dirty. Members of parliament even went so far as to call it a vertical slum. Its reputation hit so low that the owners of Golden Mile Complex failed to sell the building in a collective sale.
But the people here lived on. The Friends of Thai Workers Association set themselves up in Golden Mile Complex. Founded by the Thai Office of Labour Affairs in Singapore, the association ran courses, recreational activities and a helpdesk for Thai workers within the building. Large crowds of Thais beckoned at Golden Mile Complex to watch the live soccer match between Singapore and Thailand in 2007. Never mind that some of the establishments were seedy. This was where the Thais of Singapore, transient or not, came together. This was where they could feel at home, at least for a while.
The Meteoric Beginnings of Golden Mile Complex
Little Thailand could only come to be because of the Thais. In the 1970s through to the 1990s, contractors and developers shepherded an influx of low-wage Thai workers to fuel Singapore’s construction boom. They settled in and around the vicinity, as the government envisioned the area around Beach Road as the stage for the next level of commercial and urban renewal, hence its namesake Golden Mile.
But the Golden Mile did not emerge, even as some buildings, like the Golden Mile Complex, adopted the moniker. Its architecture was hopeful too. Initially called the Woh Hup Complex, the whole development was intended to catalyse the planned urban renewal. Designed as a vertical city, it was one of the first public-private, mixed-used developments in Singapore to integrate residential homes with offices and shops.
It rose in a time of experimentation within the realms of architecture and urbanism. With the Golden Mile Complex, its architects envisioned it as a vertical city, filled with all the amenities needed for urban life. Besides the commercial ventures, there was even an outdoor communal concourse.
The Golden Mile Complex was designed with people in mind. Even its iconic stepped terrace served that purpose. With the terrace, every apartment could have its own balcony with a panoramic view of the sky and the sea. The sloping slab could also reduce the impact of noise from road traffic, all the while offering natural ventilation and shade on the outdoor communal concourse. The design earned praise from architects worldwide, before inspiring similar buildings across Europe and the United Kingdom.
We moved up the floors, to where most of the offices used to sit. The sun continues to blare its rays outside, a pristine picture from the windows of all the dimmed empty offices. A lone, rugged rainbow rug hangs dry. Then we walked up to where the outdoor communal space was. It’s there where you can see the pillars and the skeleton that holds the building together. I looked up, feeling the weight of the concrete, the terrace like stairs of gods, offering a way to a higher plane.
The apartments were mostly empty, though I saw someone closing their window. The blue of the outdoor space still feels fresh, as is the golden yellow that shades the pillars, harkening back to its name. It still doesn’t feel like things are going to change. It still feels like there’d be children playing badminton here in the next hour, when the sun begins to set and the air would be cooler.
Then I saw these trees growing out of the drain covers. I didn’t expect to see that. I didn’t even know that they could grow there. But, afterwards, I realised it could only grow because someone opened the drain covers, letting the seed emerge from below.
We retired to the Golden Mile Hawker Centre, just across from the building. And I set out to write the poem. I have to confess: I already had a couple of lines that came to me before I slept the night before. But I tried coming up with new scenes. But the same story still came to me: two lovers running on the bright blue tiles on the concourse. One of them was terrified of the impending end of their life as they knew it.
Things always change here, don’t they?
About the Writer: Benedict Lim
As the resident punmaker, Benedict is really bad at making people laugh. They’re much better at diving into the nuances of the things they write about.
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