Your whole life flashes before your eyes upon death. For 1970s’ Singaporean malls nearing the end, this is the moment when they remember that Thais found community in a place that didn’t want ethnic enclaves; that incomplete signs are a sign of birth, as much as death; that static elevators and hollowed out stairwells can take you to the same place; that sin lives, that sin thrives, that sin evolves, and that some Sin, the first three letters of our name, is in all of us; that handwritten notebooks and TikTok videos can levitate on the same glass plane of salvation; and that a space you hold dear today can be wretched tomorrow, wrinkles of loss and guilt scraped across your soul like those empty lines on the building directory.
Photographs by Woon Shyue Jiun, commissioned and licensed by Charmaine Poh. Introduction by Sudhir Vadaketh. Peace Centre text by Jean Hew. Golden Mile Complex text by Tsen-Waye Tay.
Crystal Optical Co, located on the first floor of Peace Centre, is a 40-year-old spectacle and sunglass shop. It’s unassuming and somewhat hidden. That is, until last year, when Gen Zs discovered its wealth of vintage sunglasses and created TikToks that brought a new generation to an outdated mall. They’ve now nearly wiped out Crystal Optical’s entire collection.
Just in time. After a few failed attempts, Peace Centre and its adjoining apartment complex Peace Mansion, built in the 1970s, were sold for S$650m in 2021. Its 232 tenants, including Crystal Optical, were asked to leave by June. In the hour that I spent speaking to Anne, who has worked there for as long as the shop’s been around, I sat between a grandma in flower pyjamas and a teenager decked out in baggy jeans and Air Force 1s. Now that their renaissance is coming to an end, Anne tells me early retirement is inevitable without a new space.
Yet, their long-time customers hold a flicker of hope that she’ll find one. On the counter, above rows of spectacle frames, is a notebook filled with a list of numbers. Their older, less tech-savvy customers want a phone call in the unlikely chance the shop moves to a new location. “I don’t know where I’m going to make my glasses now,” the grandma told me. “All the other shops I’ve been to—it’s just not the same. They know me here. I can trust them.”
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