“Aunty 有没有英文的歌?” (do you have English songs)
“有啊, 有 Justin Bieber ah.” (yes yes, we have Justin Bieber)
So began my conversation with 75-year old Mrs Wong, owner of the institution that is Foo Leong Record Store (富 良 唱片), a mainstay that has called Chinatown its home for over 40 years.
Foo Leong (富 良), which means ‘prosperity and good nature’, also happens to be the name of Mrs Wong’s son. It was formerly located as a street stall along Pagoda Street before moving in to Chinatown Complex in 1983.
Mrs Wong, who prefers conversing in Cantonese, counts the likes of Hu Yin Yin and Zhou Xuan as her favourite singers of all time. Though I had no idea who these two superstars of her generation were, the resonance of that distinctive Cantonese classic tune (think Jacky Cheung) around the store provided a glimpse of her acquired taste in music.
Like many older shopkeepers, Mrs Wong’s store is a surprisingly compact space filled with foldout CD racks and shelves that fit neatly into an area no larger than a traditional HDB balcony.
Here you won’t find CDs nestled chronologically into billboard charts or by alphabetical order, rather, its neat but rather confusing layout forces an intimate browsing on the part of the customer, most of whom spend at least ten to fifteen minutes idly picking up CDs, just like how most of us used to.
I naturally gravitated to the English section which seemed like a mimicry of my bad taste in 90s music, filled with Sugababes and a young Miley Cyrus. Thankfully, a quick step over brought some much-needed respite in the form of Miles Davis and Santana standing side by side.
Many former customers have noted that despite rising costs, Mrs Wong has managed to keep the prices of her CDs low, which made her quite an icon in the glory days of music when album releases actually meant a boom in business.
Like many music wholesalers, Mrs Wong laments the digital age of music, though it’s pretty obvious that she hasn’t caught up to speed with the likes of Spotify. Like the estimated 700 stall owners located within Chinatown Complex, the friends made and memories built are perhaps the only thing that keeps her going, a goal that she says she’ll stick to till she can go longer continue running the business.
Foo Leong Record store is located at 01-229 Chinatown Complex. Operation hours are estimated between 11am-7pm daily.