HCMC Dining Guide

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Shopper's Dream

If you have a shopping addiction, or any credit card debt, avoid this place like the plague.
Two subway stops away from Singapore's downtown sits Orchard Road, which is basically one massive temple to consumerism. There are over a dozen malls in a two-mile stretch of shopping bliss, selling everything from cheap electronics to the latest styles from Armani and Gucci. The malls themselves also vary in style - some are older, rather ugly high-rises, while others, like the new ION, are high-tech, sprawling displays of cutting edge. I'm not even the biggest fan of shopping, but this street still amazed me. I honestly can't think of a way that shopping areas in any other city in the world could possibly beat Orchard.

Ngee Ann City, yet another mega-mall

Orchard is also the perfect place to get your fix for some subterranean shopping, since many of the malls are connected by underground walkways packed with even more stores. At times it can be hard to tell what mall you are even in, since they all just run together in the amazingly expansive passageways. Even with good signage it's easy to get lost.

There was one mall on the street that I found especially interesting: Orchard Central. This hulking mass of a building is the city's tallest shopping center, and the rooftop views of the city certainly are impressive. Even more impressive is the building itself, which looks like something out of the movie Minority Report. The elevators are completely see-through, the exterior is clad in LED displays and electronic advertisements, and everything looks amazingly futuristic. This place is apparently in some financial trouble, but that doesn't mean one can't be awed by its size.

Inside Orchard Central
The incredible number of stores on Orchard Rd. got me wondering exactly how much demand there could possibly be for so much clothing: on that street alone there were two Gucci stores, two Gaps, two Marks & Spencers, and tons of other duplicate outlets. How do these places stay in business when a twin store is right down the street? Not to mention, there is loads of shopping available in the rest of Singapore. For example, the Marina Bay Sands has a mall that you could probably fit a couple of 747s in, and there are two more underground malls beneath the Financial District. I know Singapore is very wealthy, but the bewildering array of shopping options seems to have gotten a little out of hand.

This is representative of the main thing I don't like about Singapore: the country's rapid rush to modernity has, by and large, left its character crushed under high-rise malls and condos, or paved over by new roads. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of new things, and the orderly, clean streets of Singapore were a welcome relief from the barely contained chaos of Saigon, but sometimes the madness is what becomes alluring. This problem is most evident in the city's ethnic neighborhoods: Singapore's Little India and Chinatown, with the exception of a few blocks in each area, are practically indistinguishable from the rest of the city.
Hey, a little slice of a temple in the middle of urban modernity!

One of the few streets in Chinatown that actually looks the part. Of course, there are skyscrapers nearby.
Sadly, Saigon doesn't have much of a Chinatown anymore, thanks to the fraught historical relationship between Vietnam and China, but such areas in cities like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are still distinctly Chinese. You can feel the difference when you wander their crowded streets and cramped alleyways. The Singaporean government, in its quest to create a spotlessly clean, hassle-free country, has inadvertantly (well, maybe they did it on purpose) created a place that can be extremely sanitary at times. Sure, its nice not having to worry about crossing the street amidst thousands of motorbikes or bloodthirsty taxi drivers, but that adds character to a place. (Or perhaps I'm just going crazy.) Singapore has very exciting dining and shopping scenes, and it gets by far the most international music tours in Southeast Asia, but it doesn't evoke the same visceral reaction one experiences in the other big regional cities.

I don't mean to sound like I don't like Singapore; it should be clear by now that I do, a lot, in fact. However, I'm not sure if I would want to live there - it's almost too clean and perfect, not to mention rather expensive. I'd like to use it for the purpose I have thus far: an escape to the developed world, where I can use actual public transportation, enjoy public bathrooms with toilet paper, and walk down a sidewalk without nearly being run over by a motorbike every 30 seconds. The rest of the time, I'll take my developing world insanity.
Your country might be too perfect if a major concern is keeping durians (a smelly fruit) off of the subway.

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