Finding love and growing up in Funan

Mr Elvin Tan and Ms Doreen Teo (both right) at their shop in Funan DigitaLife Mall. They met in the mall in 1985 when they were shop assistants working a few units away from each other. They are now married with four children. Mr Peter Quek (centre)
(Above from right) Mr Peter Quek, his wife Yong Moi Lee and their sons Victor and Eddie ran the popular music shop Da Da Records at Funan from 1985 to 2003. Also shown are Victor's wife Jolene Tan and their son Ryan, one, and daughter Ryanne, three.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Mr Elvin Tan and Ms Doreen Teo (both right) at their shop in Funan DigitaLife Mall. They met in the mall in 1985 when they were shop assistants working a few units away from each other. They are now married with four children. Mr Peter Quek (centre)
Mr Elvin Tan and Ms Doreen Teo (both above) at their shop in Funan DigitaLife Mall. They met in the mall in 1985 when they were shop assistants working a few units away from each other. They are now married with four children. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Mr Elvin Tan and Ms Doreen Teo (both right) at their shop in Funan DigitaLife Mall. They met in the mall in 1985 when they were shop assistants working a few units away from each other. They are now married with four children. Mr Peter Quek (centre)
Mr Peter Quek (centre) with members of American band Nirvana - Krist Novoselic (in green and black), Dave Grohl (in dark blue) and Kurt Cobain (in black) - and two other visitors at Da Da Records in 1992. PHOTO: COURTESY OF QUEK FAMILY

Long-time tenants of Funan DigitaLife Mall, slated to close in July for a revamp, have warm memories of the place

The year was 1985. Mr Elvin Tan and Ms Doreen Teo crossed paths every day at the newly opened Funan Centre. They were retail assistants at different IT shops on the same floor of the mall.

Mr Tan, now 56 and co-owner of an electronics shop in the same mall, which has been renamed Funan DigitaLife Mall, says Ms Teo used to walk by where he worked every day.

Ms Teo, 50, who now works with her husband, says: "I walked by your shop every day because it was in between my shop and the toilet."

Soon, they began taking notice of each other and Mr Tan worked up the courage to get to know her. They would take lunch breaks together and their favourite hangout in the mall was an A&W fast-food outlet on the first floor.

Three years later, they started dating and, today, they are married with four children aged between nine and 22.

Mr Tan says: "We worked for different shops, but somehow, love found a way to blossom. I will miss this place when we have to leave. When the renovations are complete, I want to reopen a shop here because of all the memories I have here."

The couple are not alone in their affection for the nondescript- looking 30-year-old mall, which is expected to close in July for three years of redevelopment.

We worked for different shops, but somehow, love found a way to blossom. I will miss this place when we have to leave.''

MR ELVIN TAN, who met his wife Doreen Teo while both were retail assistants at different shops in Funan in 1985

The shop was my whole childhood. It was open from 8am to 8pm, 364 days a year, and I'd usually be there helping to open boxes of new stock and tagging new records and CDs.''

MR VICTOR QUEK, who helped out at Da Da Records, which was run by his parents, during his childhood

The mall, which has seen better days as a computer and electronics shopping centre, has been an important part of the lives of long-time tenants, both past and present, and their memories of the place remain fresh.

The family that ran Da Da Records at the mall from 1985 to 2003 looks back on their time in Funan with tenderness too.

The now-defunct shop was widely known in its day as the unofficial headquarters of the alternative music scene. It imported albums by alternative groups such as American rock band Sonic Youth and also carried music by local indie bands such as Malay rock group Anesthesia .

The shop was run by Mr Peter Quek, his wife Madam Yong Moi Lee and their two sons.

Elder son Victor, 35, now a civil servant, says: "The shop was my whole childhood. It was open from 8am to 8pm, 364 days a year, and I'd usually be there helping to open boxes of new stock and tagging new records and CDs."

His favourite memories are when American rock band Nirvana visited the shop in 1992 and when Hong Kong-born balladeer Wakin Chau held an in-store autograph session in 1994.

The shop eventually closed due to rising rents and falling revenues caused by music piracy. Mr Peter Quek, 67, now works as a part-time waiter at the A-Roy Thai restaurant in Funan while Madam Yong, 64, is a housewife. Their younger son, Eddie, 33, is an engineer.

Another former tenant, Suntronics, sold computer accessories and data cables at the mall from 1987 until last year, when dwindling crowds forced it to close there. Its shop in Sim Lim Tower remains open.

Suntronics' administrative executive Jean Loke, 28, remembers Funan warmly. She says: "We were fond of the laksa at the foodcourt at the top level and the Carona Chicken.

"Sadly, we probably won't be moving back to Funan when it reopens because the IT business is getting more competitive."

Funan's owner, CapitaLand Mall Trust, says it is targeted to reopen in 2019 as an "experiential creative hub".

The developer is identifying spaces in its other malls, such as Plaza Singapura and Bugis+, for existing tenants at Funan to relocate to.

Most businesses are weighing their options.

GamePro Shop, which has outlets on the third and fifth storeys of Funan selling computer and video games, is considering a move to another mall, such as Bugis+.

The general manager of Passions Watch Exchange, Ms Annie Tee, 48, says it plans to open a new shop in the central area, but has not decided on a location.

The Straits Times understands that Challenger Technologies, the mall's anchor tenant, will not reopen its flagship store in another location for now.

Until the mall closes, however, it is business as usual. Its calendar for the new year is packed back-to-back with events, including an electronic and gaming expo in March and an anime and cosplay festival in June.

Long-time tenant Mr Tan hopes the mall will have "a good last stretch". He says: "And when it reopens, I hope it will retain its charm as an IT mall, one that has been a part of our lives for so long."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2015, with the headline 'Finding love and growing up in Funan'. Print Edition | Subscribe