I’m sipping beer at an izakaya in Golden Mile Tower, a place which has long been an enigma to me.
Most people may be familiar with the bigger Golden Mile Complex just a stone’s throw away, known for its plethora of Thai food restaurants. But the mysterious little cousin is much lesser known and is home to the weirdest juxtaposition of businesses.
On one hand there is the indie cinema The Projector, a popular haunt of millennials, and then there’s Rex Cinema which caters to a Tamil-speaking audience. On the other, there is a mix of Thai amulet shops, tattoo parlours, civil engineering companies, and a whole bunch of unnamed businesses.
It’s also a popular starting point for coach journeys to Kuala Lumpur. In fact, it might be the only thing that most Singaporeans know Golden Mile Tower for.
“Well it’s true that this place is dirty. I’ve never seen anything of the paranormal before, but some of my customers have told me they have.”
While I’m referring to the KTV scene through which Golden Mile Tower has earned its shady status, our conversation takes an unexpected turn when he replies.
My curiosity is instantly piqued, but at the same time I’m slightly worried. It’s half an hour to midnight – do I really want to spook myself unnecessarily or, worse still, draw the attention of any lurking spirits, should they truly exist?
“You know, the usual. Strange noises, shadows, that sort of thing.”
“Once, a regular customer brought his wife here for the first time. She never returned after that because she said she saw something scary. Her husband still comes back to drink though,” he adds nonchalantly.
Ah Zhen then reassures me, “As long as you don’t actively disturb whatever is in the building, there is no need to be scared.”
I down the last of my beer and make payment. Unfortunately, I can’t bring our conversation back to the original topic of KTVs, as Ah Zhen has rushed off to attend to a table of drinkers who are playing blackjack.
Upstairs, business at the KTV lounges seems less brisk. As the lounge girls make a rare trip to the washroom, I spy from the corridor a quiet atmosphere inside the dimly lit clubs, save for the cheesy Chinese and Thai EDM tracks blasting in the background.
I suspect nothing too scandalous is happening on a Thursday night.
In fact, I spot a couple of girls loitering in the common areas eating supper or talking on the phone – another sign that business has been slow tonight. Their fashion differs from lounge to lounge, ranging from the skimpy tight spaghetti tops and hot shorts to the more elegant long dresses which would have fit right in at a cocktail party.
One thing remains consistent – the heart-shaped number tags pinned on their waists.
She turns her head and brushes her hair aside to reveal a pair of sapphire earrings, which he bought for her last year.
We then get interrupted by Mei’s colleague who promptly sidelines me from their conversation, and I take that as my cue to leave. I never get to see Mei’s client that night.
I do not want to know who or what lives in there.
It doesn’t help that the fluorescent lighting in the building is faint and only accentuates the eerie vibe that the grey depressing-looking corridors emit. The smell of incense smoke coming from the offerings placed outside certain shops is also gradually overpowering my senses, and I’m starting to feel slightly nauseous.
A ceiling light flickers, and Ah Zhen’s words immediately return to me.
Barely half of the establishments here are open, and plenty of them have either a generic, suspicious-looking name, or no identifying sign at all.
One of the oddest is a large jewellery store – it takes up two full units – whose displays are completely empty, where behind the roller shutters a group of elderly men is having a little chit-chat.
Those that remain closed typically have a “By appointment only” notice put up, further shrouding these businesses in secrecy. I wonder if any of these businesses are actually legitimate.
The clientele is curiously diverse. Inside the shop, two middle-aged women are watching a Thai spiritual programme on the television, while a couple enquires about an amulet. Then there is a group of three teenagers, decked out with colourful tattoos, waiting outside.
Laws are non-existent in Golden Mile Tower – one of them lights up a cigarette in full view of everyone else who does not seem to mind.
“She is ready to see you now,” the shop owner tells another man waiting in line, who promptly takes off his shoes before entering.
I later learn from the couple that this mysterious woman in question is a spiritual leader from Thailand who is here to visit and offer “advice” to customers. They said they consulted her for “financial wisdom”, but declined to say more.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been attracting eyeballs from curious shop-owners as I circle round the mall repeatedly, day and night.
When the lunch crowd disappears, the building reverts to its graveyard state, the tranquility periodically broken by the KL-bound coach and its passengers.
There is little purpose to its existence. And given the gentrification that is occurring along Beach Road, where a new shopping-hotel complex situated opposite is currently under construction, I don’t see how Golden Mile Tower might remain standing in its current form for much longer.
A strange nauseous sensation grows the longer I stay in the building and, remembering what Ah Zhen had told me the night before, I decide that it’s probably time I went home.