Before it was Funan
Before the days of mobile broadband and high speed connectivity, people conversed in the streets or connected over meals in makeshift spaces set up by mobile hawkers. Two famous food streets once stood on the site of present-day Funan DigitaLife Mall until the 1980s. Just as Funan has been the go-to hub for its specialty in computer and electronics-related goods and services, Chin Nam Street and Hock Lam Street – the two expunged streets buried under the six-storey mall – were the go-to eating spots for many who lived or worked in the area. Hock Lam Beef Noodles and Funan Weng Ipoh Hor Fun are living examples of food borne of Hock Lam Street fame.
Of street scenes encapsulated in the 1960s, that of Hock Lam Street was the most dramatic. Hawker carts, pedestrians and motorists shared a busy one-way street flanked by two rows of shophouses with businesses and five-foot-way traders sitting cheek by jowl. The brick-faced Central Fire Station stands beyond the laundry-draped bamboo poles sticking out of shophouse windows.
Itinerant hawkers once plied their trade on the streets of Singapore. An islandwide census in 1968 registered a total of 18,000 street hawkers. In a bid to move the hawkers off the streets as part of the big street clean up, hawker centres were built in the 1970s. 54 hawker centres were built between 1974 and 1979 alone.
In the late 1970s, the hawkers at Chin Nam and Hock Lam streets were told to relocate because of impending urban redevelopment works in the area. Some of them relocated to a temporary hawker centre behind Capitol Shopping Centre. The demolition of the shophouses in the area began in 1977. Chin Nam Street and Hock Lam Street were expunged and Funan was built on the new site in 1985 – Funan itself is a translation of Hock Lam.