The Verge Mall: Faux Flowers are Forever

Faux Flowers The Verge Mall

Fresh is fleeting, while faux is forever.

“Forever flowers”, “everlasting blooms”, “permanent botanicals” or whatever you call them, artificial flowers today look amazingly lifelike and have become a legitimate alternative to Mother Nature’s originals.

Faux Flowers The Verge MallThe Wall Street Journal in fact recently proclaimed faux flowers “chic”, reporting that “the seemingly uncool craft of simulating nature’s blossoms has stealthily become chic. Brilliant faux blooms that defy preconceptions and last forever – the handiwork of artists and inspired floral stylists – have begun popping up everywhere from Kate Spade stores to high-end weddings”.

Closer to home, the Straits Times in a write-up earlier this year titled “Fake and Fabulous”, stated that “fake flowers and plants are enjoying a resurgence”.

I had wanted to add a display item to my plain TV feature wall, and felt I could use some colour as well to liven up my predominantly white themed apartment. Not being much of a green thumb, and not wanting to deal with the bugs that real plants attract, I thought I would look to artificial flowers instead.

No longer the cheap plastic abominations we remember from the ’80s, today’s artificial blooms are very realistic looking and, are practical longer-lasting displays than fresh flowers. So off I went to The Verge mall where there are a few shops on the 5th floor retailing these faux flowers and plants, at reasonable costs to boot.

THE LOWDOWNFaux Flowers The Verge Mall

In the ‘80s and ‘90s Blanco Court shopping centre along Ophir Road was the go-to place to buy decorative items at wholesale prices – party accessories and gift wrappers, as well as artificial flowers and plants. When Blanco Court made way for the Raffles Hospital in 1998, many of the retailers moved to The Concourse along Beach Road. In 2008 the retail part of The Concourse was acquired to make way for service apartments however, and some of the retailers relocated to The Verge mall in Serangoon Road.

There are 4 shops on the top floor today selling artificial flowers, adding a burst of colour to an otherwise dowdy mall. Pretty floral displays cram every inch of the shops, in readymade potted arrangements or as individual stalks.

Artificial flowers are primarily made of silk, however nowadays many are made using the cheaper polyester, with the stems and other bits made of plastic. The techniques and technology used in making these flowers have improved by leaps and bounds in recent years with better prints, colours, and materials to mimic the look and feel of the real McCoy.

All that’s lacking perhaps are the sweet floral scents.

VISITINGFaux Flowers The Verge Mall

The artificial plant and flower shops on the 5th floor are:

There is also another shop wholesaling toys and a shop selling party and festive supplies.

At this time of the year the floral shops have cleared some of their regular flower and plant displays in favour of Christmas trees (fake of course) and other yuletide décor items. In fact the shops switched over to Christmas sales mode as early as October. Great for Christmas bargain hunters, not so great unfortunately if you’re looking for non-festive plants.

Faux Flowers The Verge Mall

http://www.madehow.com/Volume-5/Artificial-Flower.html

There’s still plenty to choose from though, and it’s fun to wander among the cramped aisles of the shops admiring the multi-coloured creations. Just remember to be careful walking among some of the precariously displayed pots and vases though, lest you break something (as I did..!).

Some plants and flowers are more realistic looking than others, and to be honest many of the plants, as compared to the flowers, still look pretty fake. The large potted plants aren’t cheap though, and in fact, the faux flowers do cost a pretty penny too – although if you amortize their costs over their longer life spans than they are definitely better value buys than genuine flowers.

Faux Flowers The Verge Mall

I bought 2 black glass vases with potted purple orchids in the end, paying $68 each. Faux Orchids look very real (if you stay away from the strange electric blue coloured ones), and since they are local plants will be more convincing than say a pot of too-perfect Tulips or Gerberas in our climate. I had also been admiring the display of what looks like white orchids on Ellen’s set for a while; am pretty sure those aren’t real flowers.

Faux Flowers The Verge Mall

LOCATION

5th Floor, The Verge Mall, 2 Serangoon Road (Juction of Serangoon Road and Sungei Road)

HOW MUCH TIMEFaux Flowers The Verge Mall

I picked out my flowers in about a half hour as I knew what I wanted, although you might want to allow yourself more time to admire the beautiful blooms and select your choice of what to take home.

TIDBITS

  • The Verge used to be known as Tekka Mall as it is opposite the famous Tekka Market and Food Centre, before it upgraded itself and adopted a fancier name in 2009. A sleepy mall with not much else happening apart from the 5th floor floral shops, there is a huge Sheng Siong supermarket in the basement levels though (Sheng Siong incidentally is where you can get a wide variety of fresh local fish).
  • The old Blanco Court mall had a food centre connected to it, and was known for its delicious “Kway Chap” (Teochew rice noodle soup dish featuring pig offal) stalls. One of the stalls is now located in the Old Airport Road Food Centre, and is called “To-Ricos Guo Shi (“guo shi” is Mandarin for “kway chap”) with a signboard highlighting its “Blanco Court Food Centre” origins. Just look for the long queue really.

TAKE NOTEFaux Flowers The Verge Mall

  • The Verge Mall has 2 buildings linked by a walkway – the smaller “main” building, and the larger Chill@TheVerge housing food and beverage, and entertainment outlets geared towards the younger set. The mall carpark is in the annexe building, and the entrance to the carpark is pretty hard to find as it’s tucked away among a warren of one-way lanes on a side street called Dalhousie Lane. Follow the signs carefully.

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Golden Mile Complex: Step into Little Thailand

With Thailand’s political unrest culminating in its coming under martial law in May of this year, Singaporeans have been putting off visits to one of their favourite destinations. For anyone having Thai withdrawal symptoms however there is always Golden Mile Complex, a.k.a. Little Thailand, for a quick fix of all things Thai.

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Photo by the Straits Times

THE LOWDOWN

Amid an endless stream of gleaming new shopping malls in Singapore lie a few older, derelict almost shopping centres, untouched by time and development.

One such centre is the Golden Mile Complex, which over time has evolved into an ethnic enclave for the Thai community in Singapore.

Golden Mile Complex - Little ThailandOpened in 1973, the mall boasts none of the trappings of its young, glitzy Orchard Road brethren. Dark, dingy even and dotted with small shops and eateries, many with signage only in Thai, the centre looks like a provincial Thai shopping mall. And it certainly sounds and smells like one too, with the strains of Thai pop music and the scent of Thai cooking and spices wafting throughout the centre.

Golden Mile Complex - Little ThailandThe Golden Mile Complex did have its glory days when it first opened however. Back in the late 1960s the strip of land between Nicoll Highway (completed in 1956) and Beach Road was conceived as Singapore’s “Golden Mile”, a wonderfully romantic name for a shopping and residential high-rise belt fronting the Kallang Basin. The 16-storey Golden Mile Complex (first named Woh Hup Complex, then the Golden Mile Shopping Centre) opened soon after, a grandly touted integrated commercial and residential complex with full bay views, and boasting of an innovative stepped architecture that was a first of its kind in Singapore.

As to how Golden Mile Complex became a Thai hub: The stretch of Beach Road in front of the complex has long served as a terminal for coaches operating the Singapore-Haadyai (Southern Thailand) route. As business grew the travel company opened a Thai eatery in the complex. They gradually expanded their travel and dining services, and also opened a provision shop, all catering to their Thai clientèle. Soon other Thai businesses opened there too tapping into the opportunity.

Golden Mile Complex - Little ThailandFast-forward to recent times however and the increasing crowds the centre draws has unfortunately created a problem for the complex. With the Thai community in Singapore largely made up of blue-collar manual workers, the complex gained a reputation as a sleazy haunt particularly on weekends, with rowdy intoxicated men and working girls frequenting the complex. In 2006 a member of Singapore’s parliament went so far as to describe the complex as a “vertical slum”, a “terrible eyesore” and a “national disgrace”. Residents and owners have since made several attempts to cash out and sell their building “en bloc” to a developer to tear it down, however all unsuccessful.

In spite of its rawness Little Thailand does have its charms though, especially if all you want is authentic Thai food in an unpretentious setting. Just look past the grittiness and tuck in.

VISITING

My friends and I go to the Golden Mile Complex every so often when a craving for “cheap and good” Thai food strikes. There are numerous small eateries offering all manner of Thai cuisine that are popular with the Thai nationals, however the non-Thais usually go to Diandin Leluk, prominently located around the open centre of the mall and the most fancy of all the restaurants at the complex. The eating place my friends and I go to however is the other sizeable restaurant in the complex, the BeerThai House Restaurant tucked away in the back. The food here is no-frills, but definitely authentic. There is an English menu and some of the servers do speak a smattering of English. The restaurant’s extensive menu is interesting and offers uncommon regional Thai fare, in addition to all the usual favourites.

In recent years with the popularity of “Mookata” combination Thai barbecue and steamboat dining in Singapore, the eateries offering Mookata at wallet-friendly prices in the centre of the complex have also been drawing the crowds.

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Sai Ooah Northern  Thai Spicy Fermented Sausage

After a satisfying meal you can amble up the stairs to the large well-stocked supermarket on the second floor. Even if you don’t cook and have no use for the abundant fresh and packaged native Thai produce (they actually also stock Vietnamese and Filipino produce), chances are you will find some tantalizing Thai munchies to take home. There are also fresh fried banana fritters, grilled sausages and the “kanom berng” mini crepes on sale, all popular Thai street snacks.

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

There are different brands and types of Sriracha hot sauce apparently

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Ready-packed green preparations

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

I have no idea what this is – some kind of tripe??

If you are male and enjoy the charms of Thai ladies then you might be tempted to linger at any of the cafe/pubs after dinner over a few bottles of Singha, the ubiquitous Thai beer. If you are a party animal to boot then check out the action late night/early morning at the Butterfly Thai disco. Thai discos have become “hot” in Singapore in recent years, and the Butterfly Thai Disco at the complex (previously named Pure Thai Disco, and before that Thai Disco 2) is one of the biggest and oldest. Open till 4am and sometimes later, you can listen to a live Thai band belt out cover songs, as well as sponsor garlands of plastic flowers or more expensive sashes to shower your appreciation on your favourite singers. This is clearly for generous (and gullible) free-spenders only.

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Kanom Berng mini crepes

LOCATION

5001 Beach Road (Near Crawford Street)
Open:  Late morning till late night

HOW MUCH TIME

About an hour and a half for a meal and a quick stroll through the ethnic supermarket.

TIDBITS

  • Golden Mile Complex was designed by local architectural firm Design Partnership, which has since grown to become Singapore’s preeminent architectural firm DP Architects.
  • Conservationists have started to clamour that the building, viewed by most as an ugly monstrosity, is actually an architectural wonder with too much historical merit to be torn down.
  • Songkran, the Thai/South East Asian new year “water festival” is also celebrated in Little Thailand each April. Revellers douse each other with water in a symbolic cleansing ritual that is fun if a little messy. The celebrations this year were muted however as Singapore experienced one of its worst droughts earlier this year.
  • The Golden Mile Food Centre across the road has a few notable local food stalls. Upstairs, the Army Market is also fun to trawl through.

TAKE NOTE

  • The complex is super crowded on Sundays when scores of Thai foreign workers get their day off and throng the shopping centre. Visit during the day or early evening, before the atmosphere turns rowdy.
  • Don’t get confused with the neighbouring Golden Mile Tower, a far more prosaic looking office and retail building. Although there are some Thai cafes in that building too including Beer Thai Restaurant’s more upmarket outlet, the tower is better known for its Golden Digital Theatre which screens Indian movies.
Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Water Mimosa – great stir-fried

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Haw Par Villa:  Haunting Memories

There’s nothing quite like this anywhere else in the world – a wildly bizarre, macabre even theme park devoted to ancient Chinese legends and fables. The park has been described by some as “grotesque”, “gruesome”, and “garish”, a fantasy world borne of a trippy imagination perhaps.

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Many a middle-aged Singaporean would remember a trip as a kid to the then Tiger Balm Gardens during its heydays in the ’70s and ’80s. Few however ever returned to the park, so disturbing were their memories of their childhood visit.

I re-visited the theme park recently, some 30 odd years after my one and only visit to it in the 1970s.

THE LOWDOWN

The original theme park was built as part of a large residence by the wealthy Myanmar-Chinese Aw family in 1937, on a prime hilltop plot of land overlooking the Pasir Panjang harbour. Haw Par Villa, named after the brothers Boon Haw and Boon Par, was a huge circular motif mansion featuring 7 domes with gold-plated ceilings, and was quite the architectural delight of the time. Larger-than-life elder brother Boon Haw was a fan of Chinese culture and history, and decided to build a garden featuring life-sized statues of famous Chinese figures in the grounds of the mansion. He envisioned the park as a way to impart Chinese morality and values. He opened the gardens to the public in 1937, calling it Tiger Balm Gardens after the famous camphor-menthol rub his family made their fortunes on.

Aw Boon Haw villa - Raymond Morris

Haw Par Villa circa late 1930s – colourised photo from Raymond Morris

Although the mansion was a gift by Boon Haw to his beloved younger brother Boon Par, neither of the brothers stayed in Haw Par Villa for long. When the Japanese wrested Singapore from the British during WWII they also forcefully took over the mansion, using it as a strategic lookout to watch over the southern coast. The brothers fled Singapore, and after the war much of the mansion and its gardens were destroyed. Boon Haw did return in the later years, and painstakingly rebuilt the gardens together with Boon Par’s son.

In 1985 the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) bought over the gardens, expanding the park to 5 times its size, adding Disney style rides and making it a ticketed attraction. Over the years however the popularity of the park waned, seeing fewer and fewer visitors as the park fell into disrepair.

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In March of this year the park saw a comeback of sorts, part of a larger campaign by the STB to revive interest in local attractions some of which lay forgotten. The park’s 1,000 statues were repaired and re-painted, and free talks and tours were organised in an event called Reliving Haw Par Villa.

VISITING

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You climb up the slope and enter the iconic grand entranceway. Once inside, you’ll come across a little museum with some history about the Aw brothers, and the mansion that used to stand on the site. There is also a replica of the bizarre tiger-headed car the flamboyant Boon Haw used to drive through small towns in Malaya promoting his brand.

Further ahead however is the star attraction of the park, the infamous Ten Courts of Hell. After entering a cave-like structure, you walk through a sort of “House of Horrors” on a meandering path lined with tableaux depicting the punishments in hell for various sins committed in one’s life time. These range from having your “head and arms chopped off” for murders, robbery and rape, being “thrown into a tree of knives” for cursing, having your “body sawn into two” for wasting food, and your “intestines and organs pulled out” should you demonstrate a lack of filial obedience. All of this is depicted in 3D gruesomeness in the darkish cave. Shudders. If you want to scare your kids into good behaviour as parents of yesteryears did, this might be an effective method, although adults will probably find the tableaux amusing and somewhat comical even. The depictions do provide an insight into traditional Chinese ethics and moral values however – making for a morality theme park if there is such a thing.

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Apart from the Ten Courts of Hell cave the rest of the park is open-air. Statues and more dioramas pepper the sprawling grounds. Unless you are well-versed in Chinese mythology, you will probably find the figurines bizarre and baffling – human-headed animals, or just humanized animals in general. And more gory scenes galore.

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Other tableaux depict scenes and characters from renowned fables Journey to the West, Madam White Snake, and the 8 Immortals.

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LOCATIONkP1060954

262 Pasir Panjang Road
Open daily: 9am – 7pm (admission is free)

The Circle Line MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) goes right by it and you can even alight at the (no surprise) Haw Par Villa station.

HOW MUCH TIME

About an hour and a half to 2 to tour the whole place. If you’re really interested in Chinese mythology however and want to read all the explanatory signs, you’ll need a little more time.

TAKE NOTE

  • The park is set on a slope, not wheelchair friendly at all.
  • The carpark charges $5 per entry.
  • The Hua Song Museum, off the side near the carpark, is now closed.

TIDBITS

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  • Boon Haw’s name means “gentle tiger”, and Boon Par’s means “gentle leopard”. The brothers were originally from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).
  • The original Haw Par Villa mansion was designed by architect Ho Kwong Yew, one of the leading architects of Singapore’s Modern Movement in the 1930s.
  • There was also a Tiger Balm Gardens Aw Boon Haw had set up in Hong Kong. Equally garish, this was demolished in 2004 however. Another Tiger Balm Gardens exists in Fujian province, China.
  • Aw Boon Par’s daughter, Datin Aw Cheng Hu (Datin is a Malaysian honorific title) died quietly in an HDB flat (government housing) in 2010. She was also the widow of the founder of Chung Khiaw Bank, which is part of today’s United Overseas Bank (UOB).
  • Lee May Chu, great grand-daughter of Aw Boon Par, wrote a controversial expose about the family’s fall from riches, Escape from Paradise.
Haw Par Villa

A Mannish Woman in a Bikini Reading her iPad?

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