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Far East Shopping Centre: We will miss Shashlik's Borsch soup – Singapore News

Sense and Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

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The rejuvenation of Orchard Road is picking up momentum. The action is now at a part of Singapore’s most iconic shopping and tourist belt, a part which really started the whole modern Orchard Road story. While old boutique shops and other buildings around MacDonald House up to just after Bideford Road were making way later for hotels and big new shopping centres, the early story was largely about Ng Teng Fong, the Orchard Road king who owned the Far East Shopping Centre which has a mix of shops and offices. FESC’s just announced sale triggers some personal memories for me as a journalist who somehow finds himself linked to the road at different junctions of his career.

Chinese steel tycoon Du Shuanghua, through his investment vehicle Glory Property Development, has paid $910 million for the 999-year lease centre, the Business Times reported on Thursday (Sep 28). Built in 1974, the 15-storey building was the one which signalled the early years of Orchard Road’s post-independence emergence as Singapore’s premier shopping street.Next to FESC, voco Orchard hotel is being rebuilt along with two adjoining properties into “a massive mixed use hotel, office, retail and residential complex that analysts estimate will cost as much as $2 billion to construct”. Nearby, the  Business Times said, the “Royal Group – controlled by Singapore billionaire Asok Kumar Hiranandan –  is redeveloping the Ming Arcade, an aging shopping mall on Cuscaden Road …into a boutique hotel. Next door, Indonesian tycoon Sukanto Tanoto also plans to redevelop the Tanglin Shopping Centre, which his Pacific Eagle Real Estate bought last year for $868 million”.Not since Ng Teng Fong entered the Orchard Road scene has there been such a flurry of activities. Because FESC was successful, Ng’s Far East Organization went on to build Lucky Plaza, Orchard Plaza, Far East Plaza and Claymore Plaza. By 1984, FEO had developed eight buildings and malls along Orchard Road.Lucky Plaza was FEO’s emblematic building in Orchard Road. When I became a journalist for Singapore Business, a Times Periodicals magazine, I wrote the first ever story on the shopping centre. I knew Robert Ng, the elder son of Ng Teng Fong, who gave me an interview and a sketch/diagram of  Lucky Plaza which I duly reproduced in my magazine. Ng proudly told me there would even be a bowling alley in Lucky Plaza. For some reason, the alley did not materialise.The interesting thing was that I saw Ng at the top floor of FESC which served at that time as the humble headquarter of one of the major property development organisations in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Bear in mind that the majestic Fullerton Hotel belongs to the group.Robert Ng went on to head Sino Land, the Hong Kong operation of Ng Teng Fong’s outfit. The last time I saw him was at the opening of the Fullerton in 2000 which was a marquee occasion as it also marked the start of a new millennium. Then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong opened the hotel in a countdown ceremony assisted by singer Olivia Newton-John, no less.I wished to talk more about Lucky Plaza which became the subject of a film called Unlucky Plaza starring Adrian Pang and Epi Quizon. But I will not.This column is about Far East Shopping Centre where on the eighth floor I once had a company offering journalism and writing courses. That project was fairly promising but could not be sustained financially. There was a lot more creative buzz in the area then than now. I chose the place because Border’s was drawing the crowds in the adjoining Liat Tower. Today, not only has Border’s disappeared. So has MPH. I am not talking about reading. Where are our young Singaporeans interacting with one another face to face in a noisy and happy crowd in a bookstore cafe?As for FESC, it’s another closing of an era which includes, sadly, the vanishing of Shashlik Restaurant which, I hope, will reappear elsewhere. Or life would sadly never be the same without Shashlik’s Brussels sprouts and Borsch soup.Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company.

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