"YUE liang, dai biao, woh de xin... (The moon represents my heart...)", singer Teresa Teng's sweet and silky-smooth voice echoes from the lounges of the KTV centres in Peace Centre, reverberating across the hallways and filling the entire building with a happy resonance.
It's made even headier with the generous serving — and drinking — of various spirits. The company of well-dressed and well-manicured ladies, with their elaborate make-up and colourful costumes, adds to the enchanting and captivating appeal of these lounges.
Unlike its namesake, Peace Centre, known as the "KTV Capital" of Singapore, is actually full of exciting night life. The inviting smiles of beautiful hostesses, as well as the smell of alcohol, cigar and perfume, contribute to the intoxicating atmosphere. It has a propensity to draw patrons in and carrying them away into a fantasy dream world of wine, women and song.
It's not uncommon for generous male patrons to spend RM50,000 a night at these KTV lounges. Not left out are the mamasans who will bring a whole troupe of ladies for the men to choose from. Some of these mamasans are rumoured to earn a six-figure pay, although much of it goes unreported.
The merry-making continues into the wee hours. When the door finally closes at 2am, a long line of shiny BMWs, Ferraris and Maseratis could be seen queuing along Sophia Lane, just outside the centre. The KTV lounge hostesses and songstresses will then hop into these luxury cars, heading off into the night for supper and rendezvous.
PLENTY OF STORIES
Besides fun and entertainment, Peace Centre has also had the misfortune of being caught up in an international incident.
After a bout of drinking and entertainment in one of its lounges, a Romanian diplomat was rumoured to have been involved in a hit-and-run, which resulted in the death of one person and injured two others in 2009.
Despite the outcry, he quietly fled to his home country before charges could be brought against him.
Despite several requests to extradite the diplomat, Romania has repeatedly declined to return him to Singapore to stand trial. This created a public furore in both Malaysia and Singapore as the dead victim and one of the injured were Malaysians. In the end, the diplomat died before he could be sent to jail.
Before the opening of KTV lounges in the past 20 years, a different kind of music filled the corridors of Peace Centre. Swirling to the music of waltz, rhumba and cha cha, hundreds of enthusiasts would dance their evening away happily.
Many of these dancing couples eventually ended up as life partners. Perhaps, that's why some bridal studios are also located in the centre. Until today, some dancing studios are still operating in the building.
Together with other Singapore landmarks, such as the Golden Mile Centre and People's Park Complex, Peace Centre was among the first shopping malls to open in the early 1970s during the city-state's post-colonial construction boom.
In the beginning, Peace Centre had a more staid and less salacious reputation. It was well known as the centre for private schools and printing shops. Many students and businesses would queue to print all sorts of materials, including whole textbooks, as copyright rules were less stringent then.
The ensuing boom in computer usage and education in the mid-1980s resulted in the mushrooming of computer schools. Well-known computer and management schools, such as Informatics and BMC, had their first branch located here.
Before or after their classes, many students would browse and buy their computers and other related peripherals in nearby Sim Lim Square, which is still the hub for cheap cameras, computers and technology products.
Just beside Peace Centre is Mount Sophia, a middle- and upper-class enclave during Singapore's colonial times. Among the well-known residents were Eu Tong Sen and Captain William Flint, the latter being Singapore's first master attendant.
Eu was a famous tin miner who made his fortune in the Kinta Valley of Perak in Malaya. Famous for his big bungalows, fast cars and many wives, Eu was reputed to be the richest and most colourful man in Malaya before the war.
Sophia means wisdom in Greek. Rightly so as Mount Sophia boasts several respectable educational and training institutions. Two of the most established schools in Singapore — St Margaret's School and Methodist Girls' School — had their first campus here dating back to the 19th century.
Other famous institutions include the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) and Trinity Theological College. Nearby is the Kaplan Business and Management School, which has thousands of students, many of them from overseas.
Behind Peace Centre and Mount Sophia is the Istana, the official residence of the president of Singapore. Although the higher-floor apartments at the centre overlooked the Istana, special structures were erected to block the palace view for security purposes.
Peace Centre is a popular hangout due to its central location. It is within five minutes' walk to three mass rapid transit (MRT) stations — Dhoby Ghaut, Bencoolen and Rochor.
Diagonally opposite Peace Centre is the old Middle Road hospital, which has since closed down. It used to be called the "skin" hospital as it specialised in treating venereal diseases.
Many old prostitutes from nearby Rochor Road and Bugis Street used to seek treatment there. Some of these women are believed to be survivors who served Japanese officers in World War 2.
However, since the 1990s, these women and some transvestites who plied the area are all but gone. Bugis Street has since been transformed into a bustling mall, which features an air-conditioned sky-lit shopping street flanked by rows of historical shophouses.
However, the old bus station remains in Rochor Road. It offers the one and only route "170", which the buses transport thousands of commuters across the Causeway daily.
People say these passengers go to Johor Baru with empty hands and stomach, but carrying a thick wallet. Later, they will return happy with a full stomach and hands loaded with shopping bags.
Despite being stuck in the notorious Causeway jam, they don't mind seeing the journey as a worthwhile exchange of their hard-earned money for cheap food and goods in Johor.
Another landmark close by Peace Centre is the famous Cathay Cinema, which opened its doors in 1939, just two years before the war came to Malaya and Singapore. The adjacent Cathay building was Singapore's first skyscraper. The Japanese military took over the building and used it as their propaganda headquarters.
Tragically, its Cambridge-educated owner, Datuk Loke Wan Tho, the son of the late tycoon Loke Yew, died while pursuing his lifetime passion. He died in an air crash in Taiwan in 1964 after attending the Asian Film Festival there.
Opposite Cathay Cinema is the infamous YMCA building, which the Japanese Kempetai used as its headquarters. Many victims were tortured and executed in the building in its most gruesome history. Stories of strange sounds and wailing of the victims are still being told today.
Over the decades, many different businesses and their owners, as well as patrons, had come and gone. But amid the changing times, one feature remains constant in Peace Centre.
The kacang putih man has been faithfully selling his snacks at its entrance for over 40 years, ever since he was a child. His "window seat" allows him to observe all the comings and goings at Peace Centre and its surroundings for almost half a century.
There used to be many kacang putih sellers operating their stalls at the entrance of Cathay Cinema and others around the island. Sadly, they're all gone and Moorthy is the last of his kind in Singapore today.
However, it won't be for long as Peace Centre has undergone an enbloc sale, which is part of the Singapore government's urban renewal programme to maximise land usage in the land-scarce island.
In recent days, many businesses in the centre have closed and the residents moved out. Those that remain are experiencing dwindling sales and declining customer traffic.
In a few months' time, Peace Centre will be due for demolition. Sadly, another of Singapore's famous landmarks will be consigned to the dustbin of history. With it will be gone the many stories and memories associated with the centre in over half a century.
The writer is a retired academic from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Singapore. He's a visiting professor to some universities in Asia and Europe. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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