This is a historic kopitiam / coffee shop that comes straight out of yesteryear, one of few remaining kampung coffee shops in Singapore "398 canteen", named after its address located at 398 Piccadilly near Seletar Camp. The address itself is a throwback to days now long forgotten when the area was part of the Royal Air Force’s RAF Seletar. Hidden in a corner near an army camp is a rundown coffee house, this place is totally like a relic from the 70s, when Singapore still housed a number of kampungs / rural villages. In this age of urban Singapore, this is a rarest sight that not many have seen, especially the younger generations.
398 Canteen's owner, Mr Toh in his early 60s, has been operating out of this shack since late 1960s. In its earlier days, it served drinks and food, snack bites to British army personnel and, later, to the Singapore Armed Forces staff. Now, it serves workers from the nearby Seletar Aerospace Park. It is a real treat to be drinking traditional coffee under the trees to the whine of cicadas and far from the noise of traffic. Coffeeshops are a tradition older than Singapore in this part of Asia. A cup of "kopi-O" was often revitalizing and the drink has even been immortalized in the song of a Chinese TV serial in the past.
The outside of 398 Canteen.
The canteen sign painted on a corrugated zinc sheet exterior wall. On the exterior, 398 Canteen is clad in zinc sheets that has browned over time with rust. Grass had the freedom to grow that added to the nostalgia in the air. You won't be able to find a signboard anywhere as there is no need to. The name of the place had been written big and bold across the front of the metallic wall, in graffiti-styled.
The canteen sign painted on a corrugated zinc sheet exterior wall.
The inside of 398 Canteen.
Stepping into the kopitiam, you are greeted by a sense of tranquility and time seems to move at half the pace.
At the side of the 398 Canteen, seats are abundant and you can just get your food and drinks and dined out alfresco. The canteen gets its business from the workers around the vicinity, as well as the army camp located beside it.
The price for a cup of the traditional coffee still remain at 70 to 80 cents while a plate of Nasi Lemak is priced at just S$1. One can probably never be able to find such cheap yummy food in Singapore nowadays.
The owner of 40 over years old 398 Canteen, Mr Toh being seen happily chatting away with his customers at his stall.
The customers can also choose to sit outside, under the trees and surrounded by sounds of cicadas. Little has been changed in the appearance of this forgotten place for the past decades. The decoration, shelves and tables are vintage.
398 Canteen is surrounded by concertina wire at the sideway which is a reminder of the former military site on the fence of the canteen.
Despite the imminent fate of the place, there is no time for grief or reminisence as Mr Toh and his wife had worked tirelessly to serve the crowds that dropped by to drink coffee or savor the food, brought about by media coverage of the impending closure of the canteen. The canteen might face an inevitable demise with the site's redevelopment plans in the pipeline. This place will be sorely missed and will become a part of Singapore’s history when gone. But life being what is it, changes are inevitable and the old does go away and make way for the new, perhaps far too often than necessary.