I know how to shop. This we know. But…
Singapore overwhelmed me. God, did it overwhelm me. I think I’m still recovering from shop shock. And, outside of two beautiful tea sets and a magnet for my dad (he’s charting my route on his garage fridge – for those of you who frequented the Massapequa house/garage, you’re familiar…), I didn’t buy anything. It was just too furious a pace, too frenzied an atmosphere, too wild a spree for, yes…even me.
Singapore is the squeakiest, cleanest city in the world. There rumors are true, well…some of them (they don’t cane you for gum-chewing in public), and the ten-second rule in Singapore is EASILY the ten-minute rule. You can drop ice cream on the floor, let it melt a bit, slop it up with a spoon, and eat it. It’s THAT clean here. It’s mind-boggling. I got to the Singapore airport and immediately had to don my sunglasses. First of all, it’s enormous. But it's also SO bright and shiny and seemingly, new, it’s all glass and chrome and lights and modernity. There’s a spa, a gym, a swimming pool, gardens, hundreds of food courts, and about 200 stores per terminal. There’s Gucci, Prada, Hermes boutiques IN the airport.
Finding my way to my friend Pam’s, an old Harper colleauge who lives here with her husband, Rich, the roads are immaculate, landscaped with gardens, flowers, greenery. There is nary a candy wrapper to be seen lying roadside, no roadkill, no postings about apartments for rent, music shows coming to the area, lost children or kittens, just concrete and metal and shrubbery. The cabs smell lemon-fresh, the toll booths are devoid of exhaust residue, the city air is (gasp!) highly breathable. When I arrived at Pam’s apartment complex, Emerald Green, it’s Melrose Place-ian, only nicer. The streets, hilly at points, full of colorful low-rise colonials housing shops and lounges (the whole lounge thing, they’ve got it down pat – everything is Bond Street-esque, it’s great) and cafes, are quaint and inviting. You can hear a pin-drop in Singapore, no one yells, no horns honk, no babies cry. IS THIS REALLY PART OF ASIA?
I spent two days in Singapore, Disney-land for city planners, the wet dream of good government. Part Jetsons, part Chicago, part DC, there’s no traffic, people wait for cabs at stands throughout the city, democratically, PATIENTLY. The gleaming office buildings shine over the Singapore River (I wonder, briefly, how many window washers, garbage men, bathroom attendants, street cleaners, etc… the city employs to keep it so damn sanitary), leading down to Riverside Point, a bit Michigan Avenue lake front, only…yep, you guessed it, cleaner. But, back to the more important stuff. The shopping….
Orchard Road is Sing’s main thoroughfare for shops. It’s like an odyssey of indoor malls with mirrored outsides and formica insides. Floors upon floors of stores, restaurants (all restaurants are in malls, very weird), doctors offices, food courts. And, I’m not talking 4-5 of these malls, there’s HUNDREDS of them. Same stores, over and over again. On both sides of the length of Orchard Road, (and it’s not the length of, like Vanderbilt Ave, it’s more like 2nd Avenue), I probably saw 8-10 Louis Vuittons, 5 Chanels, 5 Dior, 5 Ferregamos. This isn’t your friendly neighborhood Gap kind of shopping (though Gap, Old Navy and Banana are coming to Singapore this fall), this is the real deal, intensified. In addition to the French Connections, the Betsey Johnsons, the Nine Wests (THESE ARE the $$ shoes here...go figure!) the Diesels and Stussys, it’s fast food central, as EVERY mall has a food court. So, you see Starbucks signs on EVERY corner, Burger King next to McDonalds, next to Dairy Queen and Orange Julius. KFC lurks next to Subway, next to the Coffee Beanery and Haagen Daz. It’s consumerism exploded, it’s a nightmare of spending. And, you’d think that because there are so many stores, it wouldn’t be so crowded, right? WRONG. DEAD WRONG. It’s like the Friday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, I think they call it, EVERY DAY. Asian style. A million tiny Asians, shopping, fiercely pushing, clawing through the racks, buying and charging, and running from mall to mall. Everyone carries a shopping bag, two, four, eight. I, with my measly tea sets and magnet, am appalling to them. I suck at their national pastime. I am a shopping novice in Sing. I bow my head, ashamed at my own failures, and leave Orchard Road (but not before indulging on a DELICIOUS half-BBQ chicken salad chopped at California Pizza Kitchen). Me and my lone bag, defeated.
Spending money gained (for once!!), I head back to Pam’s for a great authentic Chinese meal on a backstreet of Sing’s Chinatown, and then, off to Bali for a final dose of SE Asian culture before returning home to the consumer world I know, love, and can shop oh-so-well . . . NYC.