GV Katong, from a Westie's point of view

Back in the old days, the joke was that if you went to Katong, you'd see cinemas along the road, along with big, open carparks and people named De Souza.

Yes, there's no denying that, generally, when you mention Katong, you think of Katong laksa, then something Eurasian and, after that, everything Peranakan.

Which is why the new cinema multiplex GV Katong, housed in the refurbished shopping centre 112 Katong (the five-storey mall located at the junction of East Coast Road and Joo Chiat Road which enjoyed its soft launch last week), is kitted out in Peranakan-style decor.

Think shophouse motifs, flowery wallpaper and carpets, and decorative tiles. There's even a mini-showcase with a nonya kebaya displayed in it.

Heck, about the only thing Baba that's not there is an autographed photo of Dick Lee.

But Katongites, Katongnians, or whatever the Katong folk call themselves, don't really give two hoots about the fancy-schmacy theme.

They're cheering because finally - finally! - there's a cinema in the area since the closing of Marine Parade's Republic Theatre in the 1990s. And one with a GV Gold Class theatre, the first in the eastern part of Singapore, mind you.

For me, a Westie who lives in Holland V and who's not even an MParader, the opening of the cinema gives me a reason to visit Katong and soak up the atmosphere.

You see, I'm Jurassic enough to remember Katong as a kind of mini-Las Vegas Strip mall, in the good old days when neon lights shone, makan stalls abounded, the shophouses were busy, and drivers could park freely along the road without putting 100 coupons on the dashboard.

Then, people flocked to Odean-Katong, Roxy and Palace cinemas, all located in close proximity to one another.

I remember, as a kid in the back seat of my parents' car in the 1960s, the wide open spaces around the theatres and a shopping centre called Tay Ban Guan (Katongites called it TBG for short) which you had to walk through an alley to get to. The cake shop there had the best pineapple boat-shaped pastries and old-fashioned butter cakes.

Today, Katong has changed a lot. Things have fancied up. There's an Astons Prime within walking distance of 112. There are hip little eateries called Everything With Fries or Naive.

And at 112 itself, formerly Katong Mall (where nobody, not even Katongians went), you can find things like carrot-flavoured noodles in the food court.

Times, they are a-changing.

But Katong hasn't lost its flavour. Walking around, I felt that the laidback, easygoing, everyday-is-a-Sunday Katong vibe is still in the air.

Everyone seems to wear flip flops and the gals all seem to be friendlier and cuter than where I live.

I'm a movie fan, so I love travelling to far-off, exotic lands to see films. Especially to places so foreign that they don't even have MRT stations (or trains that break down) within walking distance. Marvellous!

Now, the joke about the coconut, the kebaya and the Katong dude with a guitar goes like this... Oh, never mind.

Come find me in the new theatre and I'll tell you about it.


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