Singapore has shot up in the last few years. It has gone from an obscure Southeast Asian country to a skyscrapered powerhouse. With this boom, some of the most outstanding Shopping Malls in the world have also appeared - and locals have adopted these wonderful, air-conditioned boxes of fun like no other country in the world. Now we would happily concede that there is so much else to see, such as the colourful temples and tropical gardens, but If you are a Mall fan, one could easily argue that Singapore is currently the place to be if all you want to do is spend your time Mallratting!
While most are found in and around the famous Orchard Road area of the city - and no-one would blame you for spending all of your time checking out all 22 Malls which line the main road, but tucked away in the fantastic and incredibly tasty Little India district (just pop off at Farrer Park station if you’re going by MRT) of Singapore is a gem of a Mall, to which locals and tourists alike flock just to see the sheer utter absurdity of it all.
The Mustafa Centre, found in the Little India area of the awesome, Mall-stuffed city-state, is a magical place which looks as though the god of Malls threw up on it. Want a carrot? No problem! Mayhaps seeking a business suit for a four-year-old child? Follow me! Searching for an ‘I love London’ mug? Fifth floor, Sir! The best description we could give is to take the biggest Mall you can possible imagine. Now take away the walls separating the stores. Now add more stock than the stores could possibly carry without losing walkways (we recon about twelve times more stuff). There you have the glorious Mustafa Centre!
It all began in 1971, when Mustaq Ahmad bought a little store on Serangoon Road and began selling home-made textiles. He then expanded into electronics and, as he added more and more products, eventually began assimilating surrounding stores into his expanding collective. Eventually his budding Shopping Centre began to struggle for space, and when his rent shot up significantly in the nineties, he decided it was time to build his own Mall, which opened in 1995. He decided on Syed Alwi Road, which was far cheaper because it was away from the main shopping street of Little India.
To stay popular, he made some moves which sealed his success. He realised that he could position himself to cater to the locals as well as the tourist industry, which began to boom in the late 1980’s. Firstly, he fixed all of his prices - something completely contrasting to the rest of the area, which worked on haggling and lively negotiation; this was great for locals, but left tourists quite frankly confused and embarrassed. Secondly, he realised that tourists had only a short amount of time so went out of his way to sell every product available on God’s green earth to make them have to go nowhere else for food, supplies and souvenirs. Thirdly, he expanded his opening hours.
The Mall is open 24-hours a day; wandering through the eight levels of seemingly random goodies at three o’ clock in the morning is surreal, especially when you cross paths with another jet-lagged Mall wanderer, who is mirroring the glazed and befuddled expression you have on your face. At this magical hour, and in this hypnotising environment, combined with total lack of sleep, suddenly buying a six kilogram bucket of Ferrero Rocher chocolate bonbons seems like a perfectly reasonable proposition.
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Mustafa Centre is an absolute behemoth, housing over 300,000 products over its eight floors. Whilst it seems like a single unit, the building actually contains two separate Malls, one concentrating on groceries, souvenirs and appliances, and the other selling books, movies, music and electronics. Despite this division, the Mall is as wonderfully confusing as all hell; if you want to find something specific, you’re going to have to work for it! If you get peckish during your travails, on the roof of the Mall you will find a giant restaurant, predictably with a menu the size of the Mall itself. You can get goodies such as kebabs, biryanis, curries, and of course the classic Singaporean chicken rice - the dish locals long for the most when they are away from home.
The Mall is a well-oiled machine. You see very few staff members mulling around, but the shelves are always full. Each level has endless banks of tills, so you will never be stuck in a long queue. Because the prices are set, there is none of the wrangling and pushy salespeople you can sometimes get in the smaller stores in and around Little India. Apart from the walkways getting a tad narrow in places, especially during busy periods, the whole thing whirrs away beautifully. Prices also vary, you will find some incredible deals and some not-so-great offers. You will see genuine big-named products as well as obscure names of which you have probably never heard.
The Centre continues to expand rapidly - it has swallowed up the building opposite, which now houses a similar setup to the main Mall, just on a slightly smaller scale and includes things such as a post office and supermarket. Whether you’re a local looking for a 24-hour store in which to buy some essentials, or a tourist looking to do some last minute souvenir or gift shopping, the Mustafa Centre is the place to go; and distance is no excuse. Just about everything in this tiny country is completely safe and easily accessible on foot (unless you begin to wilt in the disabling Singaporean humidity, in which case hop on the cool MRT!), so you will invariably find yourself in Little India, and if that happens you will invariably find yourself drawn to the Mustafa Centre!