If you love all things retro, ‘13 ‘throw face’ things 90s kids in Singapore did as teens’ is the first in a series of articles about things that are uniquely Singaporean to commemorate National Day.
Ah, the teenage years – a confusing time when it was all about self-discovery, rebellion, and making sweet memories. Being a teen in the early 2000s was an awesome experience, what with technology becoming more accessible, and the internet finding its way into many Singaporean homes.
But let’s face it, 90s kid or not, we’re sure every generation of teens has some things they feel a little embarrassed about. As a 100% Singaporean tech start-up, AutoApp is all about speeding things up for convenience. But we’re also big on taking time to appreciate the journey. Even if that journey is made up of some truly throw face things…
1. Zhng-ing the heck out of your handphone
‘Handphones’ served an important purpose in the early 2000s. We’re not talking about calling your parents, SMS-ing your crush or playing Snake under your desk in class. Phones were integral in showing your personality! Whether your weapon of choice was the staple Nokia 3310 – everyone’s favourite brick of a phone, Motorola Razr, Sony Ericcsson Walkman phone, or even the various Samsung flip and slider phones, many felt that phones were not made to live a plain ole’ boring existence.
So you made sure to customise it to the T. For the most part, accessorising your phone was perfectly fine. But then there were some who went ALL OUT with orbiang looking phone cases, keypads in different colours or textures, light up handphone charms that blinked when people called you. Well, at least everyone (miles away even) could tell the phone was yours.
90s kids in Singapore would also comb the newspapers looking for ads advertising ringtones based on popular songs that you could buy for a few cents. Of course, the more talented (or diligent!) among us would just customise their own ringtones. #effort
These days, there are some who miss the Nokia 3310 so much that we’re pretty sure there’s been a glitch in the matrix.
2. Feelin’ fly in surf or skate clothes
Ever gone surfing at East Coast Park? Yup, neither has the rest of Singapore. But still, that didn’t stop 90s kids from donning surf wear (colourful board shorts anyone?) or saving up cash to buy wallets from the likes of Ocean Pacific, Billabong, Rip Curl and Quiksilver. And if surfing wasn’t your thing, perhaps skateboarding was. Again, it didn’t matter much if you couldn’t tell an ollie apart from a kickflip, because Stüssy t-shirts were cool. Not to mention DC, Ethnies, Vans, blind, Volcom, etc. Don’t pretend like you don’t know what we’re talking about, Tony Hawk.
Also, not a skate or surf brand, but this:
3. Trying to be ‘smart’ about the arcade’s dress code
The arcade was is always a cool place to hang out after school. And in the early 2000s, it was pretty common to see groups of teens watching others enthusiastically dance-battle it out on the DDR or Para Para machines. For petrolheads in the making, we’d probably find you at the racing simulator machines like Daytona or Sega Rally.
But you were only bad ass enough if you drove in Manual mode so you could feel the mechanical vibrations from the gearstick as you tried your best to “drift” in whatever capacity the game allowed. Of course, there was a strict policy that no kids in school uniforms were allowed. But if you were a GeNiUs, you probably just threw on a random t-shirt over your school shirt and you were good to go! 90s kids in Singapore: 1, Arcade staff: 0.
4. Being an mIRC boss
Most 90s kids in Singapore were probably way too familiar with the (then) most used 3 words on the internet:
“Hi intro pls”.
You’d likely spend several minutes trying to get on the interwebs. All while listening to the gargling noises coming from your dial-up modem and warning the rest of your family that no one could call in for the next hour or so. And when you finally did, it was straight onto the mIRC chat client on your desktop!
You’d join channels based on your interest (#cars, #Singapore, #MapleStory, #Neopets) or even school-specific channels. Remember when a # was more than just an Instagram hashtag? You’d also key in lyrics from your favourite song or some emo poetry that would appear in the chat room when you logged out. And if people were fun enough to talk to, you’d probably add them on to your MSN list.
And if you were one of the many wHo TyPed LyK diS lOrXx, we won’t tell if you won’t.
5. Proudly slipping on ‘Trail’ slippers
Remember those colourful slippers that were (sometimes) deemed acceptable enough to wear to Orchard Road to lepak? Yup, okay quick question – how on earth did they get popular here and what ever happened to them? And is Trail even an actual brand? Mind-boggling.
In some cases, to cement your friendship, you may even have exchanged one slipper of your pair with a friend who had a different colour. Of course, fingers (and toes) crossed your friend’s feet were the same size as yours! Though the slippers were pretty affordable, “pirated” brands such as ‘Trial’ also eventually surfaced, of course. Y tho.
6. Getting creative with school uniforms
When you’re a teen, somehow doing the opposite of whatever an establishment asks you to do sounds all the more appealing! Perhaps that’s the reason why some of us made pretty questionable decisions when it came to wearing our school uniforms.
These included (but were not limited to):
Pulling full-length socks with logos down so they looked like ankle socks
Using shoelaces and safety pins to give your shirts/blouses a baggier look without having to tuck them in
Wearing your school belt on your hips instead of your waist
One thing’s for sure – there’s no denying that 90s kids in Singapore went all-out MacGyver with their uniforms.
7. Destroying your PC keyboard with racing games
Couldn’t afford a new PS2? No worries, your favourite racing games were easily available on CD-ROMS or illegally on Limewire for PC! From older versions of Need for Speed, Gran Turismo, Midtown Madness, Ridge Racer to even Crazy Taxi, it’s difficult to describe the feeling of energetically slamming on your keyboard to manoeuvre your cars. All the fancy controllers of today ain’t got nothing on WASD, Spacebar and your arrow keys. RIP keyboard.
8. Leaving testimonials on Friendster
Do you even remember life before Facebook? Well, for 90s kids in Singapore, there was Friendster. The now defunct social networking site used to be where you could personalise your own profile, add friends, post photos and even add your own background for feels. One of the features teens loved the most were Testimonials. Pretty much like a digital ‘autograph book’ from the Primary School era, your friends could leave nice little snippets about you so that other kids would know you were cool, legit, and not some creepy perv masquerading as a teen online. Aww.
Of course, Facebook came along and it was the end of Friendster. The now defunct social networking site eventually became some sort of casual gaming site before disappearing into oblivion.
9. Making that ger or boi yours
Ah, young love! These days, Gen Z has a whole bunch of different terms to describe appealing people or people in relationships. There’s, “Oh, he’s her ride or die”, “I totally ship them”, or “Wow, he’s such a snacc.” At the risk of sounding like a senior citizen, back in our days, life was simpler. You see a pretty girl or handsome guy, go on a few dates and it was:
“ai stead mai?”
Some alternative sentence uses included “Do you want to be my stead?” or “She’s her stead.” or the more wistful, “stead me please?”. As you probably guessed, ‘stead’ was a play on the phrase “going steady”. Unfortunately, just like 50-cents McDonalds ice-cream cones, the use of this phrase seems to have vanished over time.
10. Channelling the emo or punk
Move over hipsters and hypebeasts because the sub-culture of our time was emo. Fashion-wise it was all thick black eyeliner (even on guys), black clothes, layered hair with long fringes, studded belts, and piercings. On that note, do you remember how you had to hide your piercings from your Discipline Master/Mistress with transparent ear sticks?
And when it came to music, there was a whole plethora of bands who ranged from emo, punk, pop-punk, emocore, in the form of Taking Back Sunday, Dashboard Confessional, MCR, Jimmy Eat World, Brand New, Deathcab for Cutie, and more. Of course, you’d get your accessories from 77th Street, clothes from Far East Plaza, and music from HMV at the Heeren or Napster.
You’d also likely spend your time on your Easyjournal, Livejournal, Deadjournal or Blogspot (the only site that still happens to be around) writing about your feelings or posting emo song lyrics. As a side note, if you thought your blog was lost for good because the website shut down, try typing in your old URL here! You can thank us later!
And if you happened to wear various colourfulplasticbands around your wrists… well, that’s another story for a different time.
11. Drooling over celebs in teen magazines
Remember when good stuff wasn’t just on the internet? In the late 90s and early 2000s, Singaporean magazines such as LIME (defunct), Teens (defunct), Teenage, Seventeen Singapore used to be a common sight at newsstands and convenience stores. Every month, eager teens would grab a copy, read up on their favourite bands or TV/movie stars and of course pluck out that centrefold to blu-tack it to their walls. For kids with more cash, they’d head down to Tower Records at Suntec City, or HMV at Heeren and grab copies of international mags like Top of the Pops, Smash Hits and more.
12. Getting cute for neoprints
Remember life without fancy cameras? Most of your memories were likely recorded with the 2MP camera at the back of your handphone, if you were lucky enough to have one. And then there were neoprints which were basically photo stickers with cutesy patterns and things. A great date activity with your stead (see point 9) or with friends, most of the neoprint machines were found in Orchard Cineleisure, Far East Plaza or the Heeren.
For about $10 (obviously split between fellow broke teens), you’d cram yourselves into a neoprint machine, awkwardly or enthusiastically pose for the cam, and then spend some time ‘designing’ your personalised stickers by drawing or writing your names on them. After which, you’d use the scissors provided to cut and divide them among yourselves. Super kawaii, can?!
13. That little issue about boybands and girl bands
To truly understand each generation, you should look towards the excellent music that was produced during that time. Of course, you have some amazing music, and then… you also have boybands and girl bands. It’s not that their music sucked, it’s just that they served up music with a healthy dose of good looks too!
We’re not complaining.
Okay so we may not have had One Direction, the Jonas Bros, Blackpink or BTS, but we had the Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, Westlife, A1, and O-Town. And closer to home, there was no K-Pop, but Taiwanese pop idols ruled the hearts of many a teenage Singaporean girl. There was F4 with their luscious locks, 5566, S.H.E… okay I could go on but I better stop. You’d download their songs over Napster buy their CDs from CD-RAMA (at Popular) or HMV and memorise every lyric even!
Tech has definitely come a long way since the late 90s! Sure, the Nokia 3310 brings back the feels but phones have also gotten way smarter. It’s now even possible to care for your car with just a few taps on your mobile. Find out how here!
For more stories about things that make us uniquely Singaporean, explore other articles from our Going Stun series here!