Monday, August 27, 2007

Teen Territory

26 Aug 2007, ST

Forget Orchard Road - teens prefer to hang out at certain malls that cater to various 'clans' and activities

By Emily Lek

THESE malls may not be as swanky as Orchard Road's Paragon.

But they are home grounds for teen clans, who cluster there the way Centrepoint Kids did the downtown mall in the 1980s.

Meet today's teen territories: Sunshine Plaza, Katong Shopping Centre, Paradiz Centre, Peninsula Plaza, Queensway Shopping Centre and Serene Centre.

Their clans: Young 'otakus' - anime fans - at Sunshine Plaza at Middle Road. 'Emo' teens at Peninsula Plaza at Coleman Street.

Along Farrer Road, Serene Centre's Island Creamery is 'chill out' headquarters for students after - and during - school hours.

And for teen operators with class activities to organise, Queensway is the place for deals in class T-shirts and sports jerseys.

Darren Wee and Dominic Chua, both 15, are among those who prefer the low-profile Sunshine Plaza to mega malls.

The self-confessed 'otakus' go there just to ogle the Japanese models and figurines at the mall's five anime shops. The two Ngee Ann Secondary school students even travel from Tampines to Middle Road - and back again - thrice weekly.

They laze on the couch of Anime House, reading manga - which they rent for $1.50 each - for up to five hours each time.

Dominic says: 'We always come here to celebrate the end of our exams, even though this mall may not be as 'happening' as those along Orchard Road.'

Over at 'emo' central - or 'Penin', as its kohl-eyelined regulars call it - rockers unite especially on Saturdays, when gigs are held at Home Club at The Riverwalk.

Among them is 20-year-old Mohammad Aliff, a Millenia Institute graduate. He is there by noon on weekends to check out guitar shops that leave him 'spoilt for choice'.

He then trawls shops for 'emo' outfits - skinny jeans, all-black T-shirts and must-have hooded jackets - and leaves the mall only after seven in the evening.

But he does not loiter outside the plaza. He wants to avoid conflicts with the skinheads and metalheads who hang out there.

Buying is not the main reason for making trips - this is the teen budget, after all. But the teens may spend a few hundred bucks each on coveted items when they do make purchases.

Mohammad says: 'It's a one-stop shopping destination for us emos. It's what we can call home. All the other shopping centres look the same to me.'

Other clans are there for activities.

Teen pool players head to Paradiz even though glittering Orchard Road is just minutes away.

Pan Rui Hua, 19, spends two to three days a week, including weekends, at its arcade-cum-pool place Snookerium, where a pool-table booking costs just $8 per hour.

The first-year Republic Polytechnic student says: 'Whenever someone in school mentions pool, everyone will start talking about this place.'

Teen-friendly eateries have sprung up to cater to the pool hall teens, with Subway and Suki Sushi offering student promotions - ranging from $17.90 for a lunch buffet on weekdays to $18.90 for the same on weekends.

But why pay at all? Free food, even a sliver, is what gets the likes of Ryan Colond, 17, to Serene Centre.

Specifically, the free Pocky, Milo and Horlicks powder for topping sundaes at Island Creamery.

The Catholic Junior College student helps himself to a large serving of the toppings to go with the blackforest and brandy cherry ice-cream that he enjoys with his friends up to three times a week.

The mall, in fact, is a favourite haunt of 'ponners' - teen parlance for those who skip or ponteng classes - from schools nearby.

Ryan, a first-year student, says: 'Sometimes I skip lessons to study here with my friends. Besides being a great place to relax at, Serene Centre is also our fave study spot.'

Then, there is Katong Shopping Centre, whose five LAN gaming cafes have no shortage of teen gamers.

Not only do they come from nearby schools still dressed in uniforms, some even work in the cafes, holding down part-time jobs as cashiers there.

St Patrick's Secondary School students Sean Lee, 17, and Manfred Woo, 16, go there at least twice a week, spending three hours each time. They prefer hanging out there rather than at malls in Orchard, which they dismiss as 'boring and crowded'.

Says Manfred: 'There's nothing to do in Orchard besides looking out for chicks.'

The presence of teen clans these days does not bother operators, unlike the shopowners of the 1980s.

Says Mr Tay Eng Keong, owner of anime shop Latendo in Sunshine Plaza: 'The mall operators never planned for it to be an 'otaku' hub. But we're happy that it has evolved into such a place - because more people will come to know about our mall.'


Hot hangouts

Peninsula Plaza, aka 'Penin', the Emo Hub

Who goes: Rockers of all kinds, including emos, metalheads, skinheads.

The attraction: Jamming studios that bands can rent for practice, guitar shops and 'emo' fashionwear. The best time to catch them? Saturdays at around 8pm, when gigs at the nearby Home Club start.

Sunshine Plaza, aka Otaku Hangout

Who goes: Teen 'otakus', those with an anime obsession.

The attraction: A cluster of five shops selling Cosplay figurines, anime and Made-in-Japan aircraft and railway models. The teens rent mangas for $1.50 at Anime House, #01-50. No couch rent.

Queensway Shopping Centre, aka Teen Operators District

Who goes: Teens on a mission to get the best T-shirt bargains for their classes.

The attraction: T-shirt and jersey-printing shops with the lowest prices, as well as budget-friendly sportswear. For those eating in a hurry, finger food from small eateries on the ground floor costs little more than a dollar.

Paradiz Centre, aka Teen Pool Central

Who goes: Teen pool players who go in groups weekly.

The attraction: Pool table rentals for $8 per hour at Snookerium, which also houses an arcade. After a budget pool game, go 'budget' for dinner at a food court, Subway or Suki Sushi.

Serene Centre, aka Ponners Hideout

Who goes: Stressed-out students who need to 'chill out' after school, or in between classes.

The attraction: Ice cream at Island Creamery, with Pocky for free, is just the thing to order.

Katong Shopping Centre, aka Gamers Paradise

Who goes: Student gamers who are too lazy to change out of their uniforms.

The attraction: Five cybercafes, most of which are lax about rules on school uniforms. Plus, being able to get examination papers photocopied on the second level - whether you use them or not.

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