With the economy being what it is, I thought it might be a great idea to recommend alternative holiday locations that are cheaper. Hence this new 4-parter on Holidaying in Singapore. What better way to spend your vacation cheaply and meaningfully -- okay, cheaply -- than to spend it here in Singapore? Part One covers the Central District. Enjoy.
Chinatown is famous in Singapore for its great population of Chinese. Many Chinese reside here, selling Chinese food, Chinese aphrodisiacs and Merlion souvenirs.
Chinatown is a source of rich cultural and historical heritage. The (Singapore) River runs through it, and it used to have many bumboats plying its extremely putrid waters, carrying migrant labourers and goods into Singapore. But today, after a major clean up, the River only has bumboats that just float on its mildly smelly waters, carrying seasick tourists who are eating in these floating restaurants.
In its bid to bring culture and the arts to the many elderly who live here, especially the old men, the government has allowed the old cinemas here to screen culturally enriching R(A) movies (Restricted but Artistic) such as "Hot Devil Woman" and "Sex Life of the Belgians" and "Sex Life of the Belgians 2". These old cinemas rival the famous Picturehouse art film cinema in Orchard Road in terms of artistic range, but offer cheaper tickets. Currently, the theatres here are showing "The Dentist", an R(A) flick that is not a medical documentary from the looks of the movie poster.
If Joo Chiat is the underbelly of Singapore, Geylang must be the entrails. Its rich historical heritage can be found in the fact that it is one of the premier Red Light Districts in Singapore. By this I do not mean that it has a lot of traffic lights, like Lorong Ah Soo does, but that it is the place where oldest profession takes place. Yes, that's right, Geylang sells great food.
It is also a place where many reservists, after they have served their mandatory yearly military service, go en masse to participate in camaraderie-building activities, like looking for prostitutes.
That said, my buddies and used to come here for late supper sessions. This is what real-men "al fresco" dining is all about, none of that wussy stuff you get at yuppie restaurants. The only thing is that you have to resist the urge to say to those guys asking you if you want a lady, "No, but do you have any domesticated animals?" That would be hazardous to your health.
Orchard Road is a vibrant and bustling shoppers' paradise teeming with tourists and Singaporeans who should know better. Everything is costlier in Orchard Road -- the shopping, the food, the public toilets. Everyone wants to come here to jostle with everyone else for stuff they can get cheaper elsewhere. It is that happening.
Recently, Planet Hollywood, Starbucks Coffee and Borders Bookstore opened here as well, making it even more happening. And as I write this, school holidays have just begun, so the place is teeming with (gack!) school kids and their purple hair, nipple rings and JPG bags.
There is a sleazy side to Orchard Road too, where watch touts harass tourists and people who look like tourists (like moi) to buy their copy watches. The problem is less pronounced these days, since the crackdown, and many of these shady characters have moved on to other more respectable work, like selling porno Video CDs to locals at bus interchanges.
Orchard Road also has a lot of hotels, most of whom don't have day rates or hourly rates, so they are mostly swanky. There is one particular hotel that stands out in Orchard, with its Chinese motif and distinctive Chinese-style roof. It is called The Marriott.
Getting to Orchard is easy, with many buses and the MRT making their stops here. And shopping is easy even in bad weather, because of an underground network of pedestrian tunnels linking some of the major shopping centres in the area, created by the Viet Cong in the late 60s. Heheh, just kidding. The tunnels were created by giant alien moles.
So it is possible to get from Tangs to Wisma Atria to Takashimaya S.C. (which got its name from the Cantonese phrase "Dai Ka Sei Mai Yeh", meaning "Everybody Keeps Shopping and Shopping"), via these tunnels. Occasionally, you will see buskers performing in these underpasses, and I am obliged to inform you, they are not officially licensed controlled performers of the State. This is because they did not audition for their license, agree to donate their takings to charity and are not performing in a State-selected spot. I am not making this up.
You will also see, in these tunnels, the finest collection of semi-nude billboard advertisements for branded clothes and lingerie. So make sure you make the time to stand in front of these tasteful ads and admire the artful photography and posing. Singaporeans walking by will appreciate your taste in fine art.
During Christmas, Orchard Road really lights up. I mean, really. The place is decked out in lights and tons of useless Styrofoam facade designs that are erected outside and around the major hotels and buildings along the street. Usually the designs are artfully dual in purpose and might feature a Santa Claus riding a Monkey, so that in a few weeks' time, the owners can change it (with some clever costume redesign) into the God of Fortune riding a Monkey, in time for the Chinese Lunar New Year.
Oh, and Christmas in Orchard Road starts early, like in May. So come early to avoid disappointment.
The financial hub of Singapore, larger in land area than Wall Street I am told, Shenton Way is a bustling hive of corporate activity in the day, and dead as a door nail at night. You could play football in the streets at night.
It is the only area in Singapore where it is against the law to dress casual. Executives there must wear a minimum three-piece power suit, and the rules are even stricter for men. The women, though, frequently flout this rule by wearing their power skirts two feet above their knees (there is a Hokkien joke here about breasts that will probably be lost on our international readers). The men mostly do not flout the dress code as not many wear mini-skirts to work often.
Despite this gratuitous show of leg and thigh, with obvious dangers to traffic safety, strangely, nobody complains about this short skirt violation, except maybe when the men break it. It is also here where baffled university scientists study the suspension of the laws of gravity and physics, as many women here wear skirts so tight that a normal human being would not be able to breathe, and yet these women can walk in them.
Shenton Way is not all business and corporate boredom. It can get pretty wild and crazy on Fridays, when most companies have Casual Day, and the execs really cut loose, coming to work in blue long-sleeved shirts, instead of white long-sleeved shirts. Some really adventurous ones even come in coloured socks. That is the kind of party place Shenton Way can be.
Parking is a real problem in Shenton Way during office hours. You have to sell blood to pay for the hourly rates at the car parks there ($87,575 for the first half hour, then $313,749 for the subsequent half-hour or a pound of your flesh, whichever is worth more).
Shenton Way is also a common location for those obnoxious Citibank ads, featuring obnoxiously good-looking bankers speaking in an obnoxious Western accent. Citibank, as we all know, is that bank with the slogan "We All Very Stylo One".
Marina Bay is a new shopping and hotel area sitting on reclaimed land. It is rumoured that the Government is planning to keep adding land to this southern tip of Singapore until it reaches the Indonesian archipelago, effectively creating a land bridge for our favourite happy-spending tourists from Indonesia.
Marina Bay has many world-class hotels, fine shopping centres and a really good minced-pork noodle stall in its foodcourt.
The Bay is also the site of the Singapore International Convention Centre (SICC) but you can call him Suntec City. Don't ask me, I don't know why either. Major exhibitions and tasteful conventions are held here, like the recent World Trade Organisation meeting (which effectively killed shopping in this area during that week for the locals, because you had to be strip-searched to go to the toilets) and the World Fish and Carp Lovers Convention (affectionately known as The World Carp).
There is also a DFS (Duty Free Shopping) here, where throngs of teeming Japanese tourists are transported here by the throngs of teeming coaches to buy stuff from smiling Japanese-speaking sales staff who have problems connecting with the local gentry.
The Bay area architecture is supposed to complement the surrounding buildings in Shenton Way and Beach Road to create a Feng-Shui-friendly motif, if you look at the layout from the air. It is supposed to look like a Hand or a Plate of Fried Rice, I can't remember which. But it is supposed to be for good luck and prosperity for our nation's economy. So if your flight happens to pass this spot, be sure to open your airplane window or emergency door and look outside to catch a glimpse of this marvelous area.