Category Archives: Singapore

Singapore Shopping

Singaporeans often joke that shopping is their national sport. With more malls and stalls than pitches and courts and with shops and stores a popular playground for Singaporeans during every tiny window of leisure time, this is easy to believe.

A Singapore Mall
A Singapore Mall

But joking aside, and Singaporeans aside too, the tiny island state is the serious international shoppers’ paradise. Millions of tourists pour through every year, stopping over for a couple of days, or shuttling in from Changi Airport for a few brief hours of retail therapy in Singapore’s 150 fabulous international shopping malls and in its scores of ethnic markets and bazaars.

Probably the best known and the busiest of Singapore’s shopping streets is Orchard Road It also has the highest concentration of international super-centres, among them Wisma Atria, home to the Japanese department sensation Isetan; Centre Point, boasting “sophisticated buys to sporty buys, all time favourites, to the hottest trends off the cat-walks”; time-swallowing Indochine with its convenient bored-man-sitting bar, The Sanctuary; Palais Renaissance, palace of grand marques like DKNY, Etro and Gianni Versace; exotic Far East Plaza; Ngee Ann City with a host of big brand boutiques as well as the brilliant Kinokuniya Bookstore. Last but certainly not least among Orchard Road’s top shops is the wonderful old Singapore institution, Tang’s, in business here since 1932.

Not to be overlooked either are the further-flung centres (or closer in centres, depending on where you’re lodged) Riverside Point, overlooking the river is home to high-fashion and the world’s great names sit side by side. Raffles City, on North Beach Road, Asia’s own British India sells cool confections in soft cottons and colours which smack of Somerset Maugham, the Raj and the Empire, while Debenham’s and Marks and Spencer fly a valiant flag for old mother England. The Peninsula Plaza is the home of the bargain in absolutely everything from jeans to hand-held electric fans. On ill Street, Funan Digital Life Mall’s title speaks for its cybertronic self. At Bugis Junction, between Victoria Street and North Bridge Road, alongside the 3-for-one bins of internationals like Giordano and Dorothy Perkins, refreshingly different local boutiques such as Lver sell beautiful stand-out dresses in fabulous fabrics

For the Marketeer, the bargain hunter, the shopper who has seen the $1000 European designer bag of his/her dreams and seeks its $10 Asian clone, or for those in quest of authentic local treasures, Singapore has a wealth of fascinating bazaars and markets. Bugis Street Bazaar is one of the best. Once the haunt of flamboyant transvestites and famed for its vibrant night scene, it still pulses with life and colour, day and night. Side by side with hawker food stalls, tiny boutiques sell souvenirs of every kind, from incense to indigenous art, designer knock-off bags, shoes and clothes, ethnic Indian, Chinese and Malay outfits as well truly extraordinary creations from bold young local designers. Tucked away in corners are little shrines with fresh offerings of incense, oranges, sweets and garlands of flowers.

Chinatown, south of the river, Little India, beyond Bukit Timah Road in the North West and Kampong Glam in the North east are also rich in bargains, souvenirs of every kind, along with the latest in electronic and digital wizardry. But their real shopping prizes are in their ethnic treasures. In Chinatown you’ll find cheong sams, embroidered slippers and bags, tea sets and tableware. In Little India there are exquisite hand-woven Saris, beautiful brassware, carved wooden furniture, embroidered bed-covers and tablecloths. Kampong Glam has basketry from Borneo, Indonesian wall-hangings, Middle Eastern carpets and silks, exquisite traditional Malay and Peranakan garments as well as antiques from all over the Malay Archepelago. Then, last but not least Kamping Glam’s Arab Street is one of the last of the world’s great fabric centres.

Shopping is not just plentiful it’s painless in Singapore too – no racing to meet closing-time curfews, no parcel-laden, cross-city steeple-chases, there’s always somewhere open to trade, just nearby, or ridiculously easily accessible by MRT. From some hotels, like those down in Marina Bay which connect to the fabulous Suntec City Mall, City Link Mall and Marina Square by skywalk, there’s no need even to tread Singaporean soil to shop. In others, like Raffles, with its own exclusive cluster of exquisite boutiques, selling Jim Thompson Silks, designer jewellery, teas and accoutrements, accessories and designer threads, high-class collectibles and souvenirs of the house, there’s really no need to step outside at all.

Singapore nights; Chimes

In its last life Chimes was the Convent of the Sisters of the Infant Jesus, dedicated to the education of young Catholic ladies.

Chapel and cloisters at Chimes
Chapel and cloisters at Chimes

Some years ago the Convent closed and was reborn as a centre of pleasure and leisure. The former chapel is a now a chic reception centre. The cloisters are taken up with souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes. The courtyards and lawns are given over to outdoor dining areas. The classrooms have become clubs, discos and bars which boom with house music and bands.

This is the place to end a Singapore night, with a romantic dinner in one of those courtyard restaurants, then dancing out the demons until dawn in one of the discos or nightclubs.

 

Singapore Nights; The Divine Wine Society

The Divine Wine Society Bar, in the lobby of ultra-modern Parkview Square, offers a completely different and totally 21st century experience.

The Divine Wine Bar
The Divine Wine Bar

Sunk in deep leather armchairs we drank in the grandeur of the place; the lofty vaulted ceiling, the screened gallery with the grand piano, the art deco bronze balconies, thick with decoration; the art nouveau murals and frescos where formations of stylized deer on the hoof and streamlined birds on the wing speed through groves of fantastical trees; the mighty-temple pillars in bleached-stone white; the carpet like a deep, pink rolling cloud; the towering three storey wine chiller, silhouetted with thousands of supine bottles.  

An angel, in diaphanous white, with glittering wings and halo, floated silently across on ethereal ballet-slippered feet, with a gold-emblazoned drinks list of biblical proportions, to take our order. We watched in wonder as she soared on the end of a wire, higher and higher, buzzing backwards and forwards, up to the very top shelf of the giant fridge, in quest of our champagne.

Had she been accompanied by celestial choirs, rather than a piercing mechanical whine, we might well have believed that we had died and gone to heaven.

 

 

Singapore Nights; The Long Bar at Raffles

Clean, green, well-behaved and law-abiding it may be, but Singapore is far from lifeless and Singaporeans are far from dull. The city has a plethora of bars, clubs, pubs and party places where its people love to let their hair down and live it up.

Singapore Slings in the Long Bar at Raffles
Singapore Slings in the Long Bar at Raffles

Most famous of Singapore’s watering holes is the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel. It is a slice of old Singapore; all polished teak tables, green lamps, wooden beams, heavy ceiling fans and worn brass, with narrow French doors opening onto wide verandahs and with the long curved bar which gives it its name, as its focal point. Steeped in a century and half of history, it whispers with stories of times past and of old colonial characters long gone.

The traditions of the Long Bar, however, are very much alive and dutifully observed by the steady stream of visitors who flock to it, like pilgrims to a shrine. The Singapore Sling, invented here almost a century ago by barman Ngiam Tong Boon and whipped up now by the fridge full, is almost a holy obligation. The potent pink pineapple-coconut-cream-tasting concoction is ritually sipped, accompanied by peanuts in their shells, which are, according to custom, dropped on the floor and crunched underfoot.

Still, is something lost in the loudly marveling voices, the ankle socks with sandals, the pantacourts and the tank tops of today’s Long Bar, we wondered? And we found ourselves thinking wistfully of white linen, panamas and voile, with the occasional crisp comment tossed from behind the Straits Times.

Art Deco meets Gotham city in Singapore’s Parkview Square

On North Bridge Road, stands Parkview Square, a grand towering monolith on an expanse of vivid green, with the doll-sized shop houses of Kampong Glam on one side and the squat grey blocks of Bugis Junction on the other. Aptly described by one critic as “art deco meets Gotham City”, it harnesses classical deco flourish to bold, powerful, futuristic lines.

A corner of the courtyard at Times Square
A corner of the courtyard at  Parkview Square

Parkview Square was the swan song of Taiwanese Tycoon, Mr C.S. Hwang, chairman of the Chyu Fwu Group, who, for his last project, wanted something “imposing and monumental, yet stylish and elegant”

Designed by American Architect James Adams in partnership with DP Architects of Singapore, the $87.93 million edifice was inspired by New York’s 1929 Chanin Building.

The streamlined exterior of Parkview Square is clad in brown granite, bronze lacquer and glass. It is heavily ornamented with motifs and sculptures. Gargoyles keep watch over its walls and four massive fibreglass men, holding light balls, stand guard on the points of its roof. The building sits in a Venetian-style piazza, ringed by statues of inspirational world leaders and artists, including Sun Yat Sen, Abraham Lincoln, Salavador Dali, Mozart, Chopin, Isaac Newton, Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt, Shakespeare, Plato, Dante, Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein.

In the centre of Parkview Square’ Courtyard is a statue of a mythological golden crane, a talisman of prosperity for the building. A Chinese poem on the pedestal describes the bird’s return to its temple in Hubei.

Inside, Parkview Square’s cavernous 15 metre high lobby has art deco pillars, balconies in cast bronze, walls with murals and ceilings with frescos in art nouveau style. But despite the stunning décor, centre stage in the lobby is seized by the Divine Wine Society Bar’s Gotham City-scale, 3 storey wine chiller.

Primarily, Parkview Square is an office block, which seems me rather a pedestrian purpose for a building which speaks so volubly of boundless creativity and limitless skies. But then, who knows what inspired visions and bold dreams are born on those infinitely re-configurable floors?

Raffles, Singapore’s most famous Hotel

Raffles Hotel, named after the founding father of the city state, is one of Singapore’s most recognizable landmarks and arguably its most famous institution.

Raffles Hotel by night
Raffles Hotel by night

The original Raffles Hotel, opened in 1887 by the Armenian entrepreneurs Martin, Tigran, Aviet and Arshak Sarkies, was a simple colonial bungalow with ten rooms. It stood on an auspicious site, however, beside the sea, at the corner of Beach and Bras Basah Roads, where, in 1842, Maria Dyer (wife of the Missionary Samual Dyer) had established Singapore’s first girls’ school.

In 1899 the Sarkies’ modest bungalow was replaced by architect Regent Alfred John Bidwell’s grand colonial palace, which forms the core of today’s hotel complex. In time, a verandah, a ballroom, a bar and a billiards room were added, along with new wings and out-buildings. In 1989, Raffles closed for a $160 million dollar refurbishment. It re-opened on September 16, 1991, restored to the standard and style of its 1915 heyday. An extension, true to the building’s original colonial design, houses the Raffles Museum, the Jubilee Hall and the exclusive Raffles boutique shopping arcade, which includes Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s and the local Bespoke Tailors CYC. Over the years, as the expanding city has reclaimed more and more land, the distance has grown between Raffles and the sea. Today, it stands 500 metres from the shore, in the heart of downtown Singapore.

But grand and commanding as they are, Raffles is more than the sum of its buildings and position. Since its beginnings as a ten-room bungalow beside the beach, it has seen heydays and survived doldrums, it has been the backdrop to some of Singapore’s bravest and darkest history and to some of its best stories. It was in Raffles’s Long Bar, according to one of those stories, that the last surviving Singapore Tiger was shot. The first Singapore Sling was mixed in the Long Bar, by bartender, Ngiam Tong Boon, sometime between 1910 and 1915, in the glittering heyday of colonial society and of Raffles (when, incidentally, Asian patrons were excluded from the hotel)

 

During the Great Depression, Raffles dropped into the doldrums and went into receivership. It was rescued in 1933, by the newly formed Raffles Hotel Ltd. When the conquering Japanese stormed Singapore on February, 15, 1942, they found Raffles’ guests dancing a last brave waltz. During the occupation the hotel was home to the Japanese army and was renamed Syonan Ryokan, Inn of the Light of the South. Raffles saw its darkest moments, when, after the liberation of Singapore, 300 Japanese soldiers detonated hand-grenades and ended their lives in its rooms. After the war, the hotel was used a transit camp where allied prisoners of war recovered from their ordeals.

 

Raffles, too, recovered from the ravages of the war. On 16 September, 1991 it celebrated its 120th anniversary with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who celebrated his 84th birthday on the same day.

Today, Raffles is managed by Raffles International Limited and is one of the world’s great hotels. It is a national monument and a Singapore tourist icon. A Singapore Sling in Raffles Long Bar is de rigeur for any visitor to the island state.

 

The church of St Gregory the Illuminator

The Armenian Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator on Hill Street is Singapore’s oldest Christian Church and one of its finest architectural landmarks.

The church of St Gregory the Illuminator
The church of St Gregory the Illuminator

The Government donated the land for the church of St Gregory the Illuminator in 1833. Half of the 5,000 Spanish dollars for the building was raised from within the Singapore’s small, but wealthy and influential, Armenian community. The rest was donated by Armenians in Java and India and by local Chinese and European merchants. The building was completed in 1835. In 1836 it was consecrated by Reverend Eleaza Ingergolie and dedicated to St Gregory the Illuminator, Patriarch of the Armenian Church.

St Gregory’s is  the masterpiece of architect George Dromgoole Coleman, overseer of Convicts and Superintendent of Public Works. It is built in the British Neo-Classical style and is modelled on the original St Gregory’s church in Echmiadzin in Northern Armenia.

St Gregory the illuminator
St Gregory the illuminator

Although St Gregory’s incorporates influences from the classical architecture of Rome and Tuscany, with suggestions of some of the old British churches (London’s St Martin in the Fields and Cambridge’s Round Church), it is also uniquely Singapore. The wide porticos provide shelter from both sun and rain, the louvred windows allow ventilation and diffuse the sunlight and lastly the pews are backed with cool, light local rattan.

The beautiful two storey parsonage in the church grounds was built by Nanajan Sarkies in memory of her husband. Beside it is the Memorial Garden to Singapore’s Armenians. Among those remembered here are Agnes Joachim, mother of the Singapore orchid and the Sarkies brothers who built Raffles Hotel.

Sadly, St Gregory’s last Parish Priest died decades ago and was never replaced, the congregation has diminished and the Armenian orthodox services have ceased.

The Armenian Church of St Gregory the Illuminator was gazetted as a national monument on July 6, 1973.

The Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay, a great Singapore building

One of the most string things about Singapore is its architecture.

The Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay
The Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay

Colonial mansions, Gothic and Neo-classical churches, Georgian and Victorian public buildings, modern high rise towers, twenty-first century creations that, as yet, defy classification and, of course, its very own native sons, those exquisite shop houses, Singapore has them all. Among this panoply of great buildings, there are, however, some absolute stand-outs.

The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay is, arguably, Singapore’s most eye-catching modern landmark and on its commanding Marina Bay site, at the mouth of the Singapore River, it can’t be missed from land or sea.

Designed co-operatively by London-based Michael Wilford and Partners and DP Architects of Singapore, it consists of two great glass cones clad with thousands of little aluminum sunshades. Some liken the gleaming multi-faceted edifice to the eyes of a giant fly, others to a Durian.

It was purpose built as Singapore’s centre for performing arts and under those enormous domes are; a 1,600 seat concert hall with state of the art acoustics, a 2000 seat theatre modeled on the classical opera houses of Europe, a public library devoted to the arts scene, an intimate 250 capacity recital studio, a small 220 seat theatre for experimental theatre and dance presentations, an exhibition space, Jendela, or window, in Malay, with a panorama on Marina Bay, two outdoor venues, the Waterfront Stage and the Stage @ Powerhouse, for free avant garde performances, a large rooftop garden terrace, leisure courtyards, open spaces and a mall with retail outlets and eateries.

The 600 million dollar centre opened on 12 October 2002. On July 5, 2005, it seized the world stage when 117th session of the IOC opened here with concert showcasing Singapore’s multicultural heritage.

And, yes, it does look like a giant Durian, tossed casually down among the skyscrapers of Marina Bay

 

Singapore’s Little India

Singapore’s Little India is a flourishing centre, alive with colour, noise and constant activity, where ancient traditions fit harmoniously into ultra-modern life, where diverse cultures blend and different religions sit comfortably side by side. It is unmistakably India but uniquely Singapore.

A fragment od temple
A fragment of temple

In 1925, the British brought a contingent of Indian convicts to Singapore to work as construction labourers on the rapidly expanding settlement. For the duration of their sentences they were confined in coolie lines between Stamford and Bras Basah Roads. Once freed, they were given buffalos and land, in the city’s North West, and dispatched to begin new lives in their own India away from India.  Thus, Singapore’s Little India was born.

There are parts of Little India which are all India – bright, bold, extravagant and exotic. In the Arts Belt on Buffalo Road, the walkways are hung with Hindu emblems and paved with painted tiles of Indian design. Sensational souvenirs abound – statues, brassware, homewares, jewellery and silks, not to mention very special photos for those who wish to don a sari or a turban. There are demonstrations of traditional performing arts – Gamelan, Silat and Angklung. Across Serangoon Road, the Little India Arcade offers more; beautiful saris and sari fabric, stunning hand embroidered vests and slippers, shawls, trinkets, incense, ayurvedic herbs, wonderful authentic henna hand tattoos of ancient, mysterious design and the strange, mouth-numbing potions of the paan wallah or betel nut seller.

Nearby Campbell Road is the home of age-old businesses; the medicine shop, traditional provisions stores and furniture stores with elaborately carved wooden wares. Here, too, are the Flower Garland shops, where men and women ply the oldest surviving traditional Indian trade, threading jothi, or garlands of marigolds, jasmine and roses, (symbols of peace, purity and love) as temple offerings or tributes to dignitaries. Further down Serangoon Road are the gold stores, selling dazzling and much-coveted   yellow gold jewellery in a thousand and one elaborate designs. Deeper into Little India, in Cuff Road, is Singapore’s last traditional spice grinder, the only survivor from the days when spices were ground on the day they were used.

Absolutely everywhere, in Little India, there are eateries; restaurants, diners, cafes, stalls and carts in every street and on every block, offering every imaginable dish and drink from every region of India. The air is alive with seductive smells, they permeate every corner, every nook and cranny; curries of every kind and strength, chapati, thosai, puri and naan breads with lassi of every flavour to wash them down and of course, teh tarik.

Nowhere is timeless and traditional India more evident than in Little India’s houses of worship. The Angullia Mosque was built in 1898 on land donated by the wealthy Gujerati Angullia family, who are still its custodians. The Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple in Petain Road is dedicated to Kaliamman, the protective mother-spirit. The Sri Srinivasa Temple in Serangoon Road which began life as a shrine in 1855 is dedicated to Lord Perumal, preserver of the Universe and God of mercy and goodness. The most famous and the oldest is the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. Built in 1855, it is dedicated to Kali, the many armed Goddess of power. Fittingly, during Japanese bombing raids World War II, the people of Little India sought refuge beneath the richly adorned turrets of Sri Veeramakaliamman.

Then, there are areas of little India which strongly reflect multi-cultural Singapore, like the houses of worship of other denominations which sit alongside its temples and mosques. The architecturally plain Anglican Church of True Light in Perak Road, built in 1952 for a congregation of Chinese tri-shaw operators now holds services in Tamil, Mandarin and English. The Art Deco Kampong Kapor Methodist Church was built in 1929 to serve the local Peranakan Chinese Community. The Leong San Buddhist Temple, in Race Course Road is known as the Dragon Mountain Temple because of the sculpted clay dragons on its roof. The Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple houses a 15 metre tall statue of Buddha surrounded by hundreds of lanterns. A blend of Moorish-Islamic and Southern Indian architecture, the Masjid Abdul Gafoor Mosque, completed in 1907, is famed for the spectacular sundial, decorated with 25 rays depicting the names of the 25 prophets, at its entrance.

Singapore’s blend of cultures and styles is stamped on Little India’s secular architecture, especially on its beautiful old houses and shops. The House of Tan Ten Niah, on Kerbau Road, with its carved swing doors, or pintu paagar, is one of the area’s last surviving stately Chinese villas. Little India is rich in Singapore shop houses, from the early style in Dunlop Street to the transitional in Madras Street, to the blend of Peranakan-Chinese and Malay in Upper Dickson Road to the stunning Art Deco examples along Race Course Road, in the Arts Belt.

There are glimpses in little India, too, of modern, cosmopolitan, commercial Singapore, in places like the gleaming multi-storey Mustafa Centre, in Alwi Road. Crammed with floor after floor of merchandise from around the globe it is packed 24/7 with shoppers from every corner of Singapore as well as tourists from all over the world. The Tekka Wet Market, edged by Buffalo Road, where once long ago, snake-charmers, astrologers, palm-readers and numerologists held sway, has long been a Singapore institution. Rebuilt now, with Housing and Development Board flats above, it is a shiny, clean, up-to-the- minute Singapore place. With its fresh vegetables and meat, the sumptuous fare at its hawker centre and the lively, colourful atmosphere it is always crowded with people – locals shopping for their daily provisions or grazing at the food stalls, tourists browsing and snapping pictures and hopefuls queuing to have their fortunes told by the one last Chinese Fortune Teller.

The full splendour of Little India is revealed at Festival time; Thaipusam, in January or February when men process through the streets with decorated arches attached to their bodies with spikes; Navarathiri, where after nine nights and ten days of fasting, a chariot carrying a statue of the mother Goddess processes through the streets attended by song and dance; Deepavali, the Festival of light, marked by gaily coloured street ligh s and festive bazaars. At these times, ancient rituals and traditions are played out against the backdrop of the 21st century city and modern Singapore comes out to watch.

Thanks to; Uniquely Singapore, Little India Walking Guide.

 

Cuisine and spas in Kampong Glam

Kampong Glam restaurants and cafes offer as much variety and interest as its shops.

High Tea in Kampong Glam
High Tea in Kampong Glam

The North Bridge Road Muslim Indian establishments like New Victory, Mina and Islamic which have featured in the Good Food Guides of Singapore and Malaysia are famous for their roti prata, murtabak and nasi briyani. Further down, Warong Nasi Pariaman, with its brilliant ayam baker and beef redang, is a favourite with the Malaysian Royal family. Alaturka Turkish and Mediterranean Restaurant in Baghdad Street is distinguished by delicious apple tea but also does pretty mean kofte, kebab, and moussaka. Ambrosia, also in Baghdad Street, not only features an eclectic menu of Egyptian, Moroccan, Spanish, Italian and French fare, but has belly dancing with lessons for patrons who wish to join in. An absolute Kampong Glam, and indeed Singapore, gastronomic must, is Teh Tarik or pulled tea which is tea sweetened with condensed milk and poured back and forth in a long stream between pot and glass to make it thick, frothy and cool enough to drink..

Last but most certainly not least of Kampong Glam’s great attractions are its spas. In an Indonesian resort setting, the women only, Wayan Retreat Balinese Spa offers traditional treatments, including the Javanese Lulur scrub with spices and powdered rice and the Balinese Urut strengthening and renewing massage. The House of Traditional Javanese Massage welcomes both men and women. Its specialty is traditional Javanese treatments to soothe both body and soul.

The best time to see Kampong Glam in all its cultural glory, is during one of the festivals; Hari Raya Puasa, or Aidilfitri, at the end of Ramadan (October) Hari Raya Haji or Aidiladha, at the time of the Haj (December) when everyone flocks to the Mosque in their best and most festive dress, for special prayers and rituals, when the streets are strung with lights, the Malay Heritage Centre is alive with sensational music, dances, plays and dioramas, the endless stalls of the Ramadan Food Bazaar line the street outside the Sultan Mosque and the Kampong Glam Street Bazaar is full of festive treats.