April 19, 2009
THE EX-PAT FILES
Mustafa and more must-sees
By Nilanjana Sengupta
Whenever friends from India tell me they are coming to visit for a few days, I draw up a list of places they should go to.
It would include the usual suspects like Sentosa, Jurong Bird Park, the Night Safari and Orchard Road.
If time permits and my visitors can be distracted from the call of the malls, I try to include in their itinerary some of the places that have grown on me since I came to Singapore.
The list would include the steps overlooking the calm waters of the Singapore River at Clarke Quay, East Coast for the feel of sand and the scent of the sea and even CityLink Mall, where you can enjoy a cup of teh C while watching shoppers whiz by frantically.
However, even if a few of these places are left out because of a tight schedule, their visit must absolutely include a trip to Mustafa, the 24-hour shopping centre in Little India.
But then I don't need to specially include a stop at Mustafa in their itinerary. It is an unspoken given.
For Indians living in Singapore, Mustafa is a treasure trove of the things they were so used to back home but weren't sure would be available here.
From Indian spices and the latest Bollywood DVDs to coconut oil and snacks, the store carries all the items they might need.
Indian expat families make at least one visit to Mustafa every month to stock up on that particular masala or on that particular brand of flour.
For visitors, especially budget travellers, the store is akin to Aladdin's cave. A trip to Mustafa would satisfy all their shopping urges, they feel.
Well, they are not far wrong. It is the one place where they can get great deals for brand-name items like perfumes, as well as pick up made-in-Singapore coin purses, coasters and other souvenirs to take home as gifts.
Although Singapore is not lacking in malls, people from the sub-continent are strangely drawn to this multi-storey store.
They go there armed with shopping lists from people back home and requests to get a particular Chinese sauce or some electronic item.
When I was a student in Mumbai and my parents were bound for Singapore, I too would scour the pages of Seventeen magazine and hand them names of creams and perfumes to pick up for me. My first and last epilator was from Singapore.
I was a tourist myself when I paid my first visit to Mustafa about six years ago.
Back then, I too walked around the aisles with a glazed look in my eyes, picking up this and that and dropping the items into my plastic shopping basket, unmindful of how heavy it was getting or how tired my legs were.
But now, I'm smarter. I make a short, tight list of the items that I need and that I'm sure I cannot get anywhere else. That way, I just look at the list and head straight for the right section, turning a deaf ear to the call of other goodies lined up along the way.
I also try to avoid weekends when the store is jam-packed with shoppers.
I follow the same drill with my guests, keeping them confined to the essentials on their visits to the store.
Some of them have expressed their unhappiness about it, but I can't help it.
After all, Singapore is not just about shopping. I want to show them that there is so much more to do and see outside the air-conditioned malls. I'd also like them to spend some time in places other than the usual tourist spots like Sentosa or the Night Safari.
As I discover more places that warm my heart, I find myself adding to the special must-sees that I highlight on my itinerary for visitors.
The next time people tell me they are coming for a visit, I plan to take them walking under the bridges in the city area, from the Esplanade to Boat Quay. I also plan to pick a bus at random and take them on a long bus ride - which I find is a great way to see the city. Next is a trek up the green jungles of Dempsey Hill.
The writer is an assistant to the editor at The Straits Times Foreign Desk. She has lived in Singapore for two years.