Friday, June 24, 2011

Everything But The Progress

While planning to take some wow-Singapore-is-Monocle's-15th-most-liveable-city out-of-towners around Singapore during the Great Singapore Sale (see Foreign Policy Design Group-curated Great Singapore Stores), was amused to notice how closely Singaporean society resembled the American counterpart studied (albeit rather anecdotally, but that is the way of sociologists) by Bryant Simon in Everything But The Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks. Which may be why we even make it onto Tyler Brûlé's Monocle list.

It interests me both as a resident of this country and as someone who wants to speak truth to its people to know where the hearts and minds of this nation are headed. Bandying about terms like "post-modernism", "post-post-modernism", "liberalism" i find don't quite encapsulate ground-level observation.

Starbucks, Coronation Plaza Everything But The Coffee, Starbucks, Frappuccino
Amongst the hodge-podge of races and religions that is touted as multi-culturalism, Singapore has also embraced Starbucks the way America did in the Noughties. I call the approximately 70 outlets on the island as witnesses.

Why the appeal of Starbucks? Because the zeitgeist would have us believe that what we consume has meaning for us and (or because) it tells others what to think about us. What are customers really buying when they grab a white cup with a round green logo? Simon's conclusion is that what Starbucks consciously sells and what their fans buy is/are one or more of the following:
- cheap shots of status
- reassuring predictability
- opportunities for self-gifting
- simulacra of community, belonging
- veneer of discovery
- currently fashionable badges of supporting social justice, environmental protection, fair trade, world peace!

Perhaps this too is endemic in Mr.
Brûlé's world and the quirky but nebulous indie universe.

Part 1 of the plan for entertaining the tourists. Along the way, we met friends who had just come from the Pink Dot event at Hong Lim Speakers' Corner, grumbling that the organisers claimed 10,000 turned up when it seemed much less than that:

Little India MRT
- Tekka Market - history of name, Chia's Vegetable Supply where proprietor Victor Chia plays jazz and sells vegetables to aunties and ang mohs alike as example of search for authenticity but familiarity, leaving vegetable stalls within surrounding shophouses to be frequented mostly by Indian and Chinese foreign workers
- Post Museum + Food #3 - "independent cultural and social space in Singapore, serving as an open platform for examining contemporary life, promoting the arts and connecting people"

Punjabi suit shop, Niven Road
- Exit A: head towards Niven Road - refurbished shophouses here sell now for several million S$. What top dollar would you pay to live somewhere that looks historical (but is hopefully not haunted)? Spot Sikh ladies on the way out from the Sikh Gurdwara Khalsa Dharmak Sabha temple up the road stopping to shop for punjabi suits
- cross through Wilkie Edge past a Starbucks

David Marshall Building, Selegie, Middle Road David Elias Building
IMG_8221 Le Cafe Confectionery
- the yellow neo-classical David Elias Building at junction of Short Street and Middle Road houses Le Cafe Confectionery which is famous for its golf-ball pineapple tarts. Notice the prominent six-pointed Star of David. The Jewish community used to hang out around these parts.

Macau Egg Tart, Selegie Soya Bean Rochor Original Bean Curd, Dough Fritters
Rochor Original Bean Curd Rochor Original Bean Curd
- the very popular Rochor Original Beancurd and neighbouring Selegie Soya Bean are round the corner along Short Street. Like many other popular foodstalls in Singapore, there is a backstory to competing neighbours. Stop for a drink and a nibble on fried dough fritters and Portuguese egg tarts
- along parallel Prinsep Street, the red brick Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church, the oldest existing church
- further up Prinsep Street, LASALLE College of the Arts designed by RSP Architects to "emulate the porosity of the city streets permeating through the campus, and to provide many platforms for design interaction and inspiration. The campus green, city court and the four alleyways that weave into the campus give rise to opportunities for diverse art forms and cultural exchanges between the students and the public, and to enable public access and interaction with the students and the art they produce". We were stopped by security from taking wedding photos on its grounds.

Noodles, Old Kim Guan, Sunshine Plaza IMG_8223
- double back and cross Middle Road to Sunshine Plaza for dim sum at Victor's Kitchen, or slightly dear old school delights at Old Kim Guan where the barbecued chicken wings and noodles taste like they used to decades ago.

Aroy Dee, Sunshine Plaza
There's also the excellent Aroy-Dee Thai, decorated with portraits of the Thai royals

Pop by the Camera Hospital to pick up vintage cameras or manufactured vintage from thirtysix.

Space Furniture Singapore, Prinsep Link
- across Prinsep Link is Space Furniture Singapore newly housed by Syddal Wee in a renovated conservation building. Why are Singaporeans now willing to spend more than S$10k for a butt-holder?
- round the corner of the Elections Department and walk along another row of conserved shophouses - with facades masked by large signboards and garish neon lights

Chicken kebab, Sultan Kebab, Peace Centre Chicken kebab, Sultan Kebab, Peace Centre
- dash up the overhead bridge to PoMo and head to Peace Centre where you will find Sultan Kebab run by two Turks who make simple but decent kebabs. Nothing like the wonderful kebab vans in Oxford but what to do.

- back along the bigger Prinsep Street is the School of the Arts designed by WOHA, which also designed two favourite MRT stations - Stadium and Bras Basah - an experience in themselves. Singapore's push towards design-consciousness - deliberate or merely another follow-the-West trend?

egg3, The Cathay Woodwould, The Cathay
Forest + Trees, The Cathay
- cross Zubin Said Road to The Cathay, once a grand old building, now literally a shell of its former self, an example of begrudging conservation. Inside, check out the history gallery for an idea of how it used to be. Indie-ness is represented by egg3 (near another Starbucks), Woodwould, Forest + Trees

- cross Orchard Road to Orchard Road Presbyterian Church, walk past YMCA (yes we have one of those too)
- explore the National Museum whose delightful re-development was drawn up by W Architects and CPG Architects
- cross Stamford Road to Singapore Management University. Cox Architects and Planners and DEG Architects were in charge of the Administrative Building, and Edward Cullinan Architects and KNTA Architects designed the rest. Really quite lacklustre use of the former civic space.

Maghain Aboth Synagogue
- cross Bras Basah Road to Waterloo Street. The oldest Jewish synagogue in southeast-asia, Maghain Aboth Synagogue, also sporting a prominent Star of David, is painted a beigey-yellow. Any attempts at close-up photography will be quickly resisted by very strict security guards
Campers' Corner, 51 Waterloo Street
- at 51 Waterloo Street, pick up travel necessities from Campers' Corner, relocated here from the historic Stamford House now undergoing further redevelopment. Outdoor Research Seattle Sombreros now at half price.

51 Waterloo Street (old annex to Church of St.s Peter and Paul on parallel Queen's Street?) is also stuffed with The Private Museum (set up by Daniel Teo for private collectors to showcase their hoards - example of public/governmental functions being increasingly taken over by privates?); Yavuz Fine Art for more contemporary stuff; Fine Palate - Heather Barrie's gourmet catering kitchen and showroom. Few Singaporeans cook for crowds, most preferring to cater in food instead; "enrichment" classes for kids - drama, music, ballet etc

- while it still exists, visit pop-up coffee shop The Steeping Room, purchase beans, implements, a earth-saving Keepcup and coffee authenticity. I doubt the good folk at TSR would say no if you brought in some cake from Room for Dessert, also at 261 Waterloo Street

Artichoke, Waterloo Street Artichoke, Waterloo Street
Artichoke, Queen Street
Moorish Dips, Artichoke, Queen Street Beetroot Tzatziki, Artichoke, Queen Street
- where Waterloo Street meets Middle Road is Sculpture Square (redevelopment has obscured almost any indication that this used to be the Baba Methodist Church). Now the only thing of regular interest there is mediterranean at Artichoke Cafe & Bar

Singapore Art Museum Singapore Art Museum
- back up Waterloo Street to the neo-classical Singapore Arts Museum (the former site of St. Joseph's Institution - one of the oldest Catholic boys' schools)

Walter and the Singapore Art Museum
Walter, Singapore Art Museum Walter Merchandise, Singapore Art Museum
- debate existence of Walter as art, purchase Made for SAM merchandise

Trans-cool Tokyo exhibition, 8Q Trans-cool Tokyo exhibition, 8Q
- on 8 Queen Street is 8Q, the extension of the Singapore Arts Museum. It is housed in the former primary school section of Catholic High School (another old boys' school)

Food for Thought, Queen Street Chinese Chicken Caesar, Food for Thought, Queen Street
Chai Spice Brûlée Salmon, Food for Thought, Queen Street Really Good Steak with Blue Cheese Butter, Food for Thought, Queen Street
Peanut Butter & Jelly Pudding, Food for Thought, Queen Street Cappuccino, Food for Thought, Queen Street
- drop off at Food For Thought along Queen Street for good food and social cause agenda
- across the road is the neo-gothic Church of Sts. Peter and Paul

For a proper history of all these national monuments (Singaporeans love to categorise - the problem with lack of official status though, is that historical buildings get the wrecking ball in favour of spanking new buildings), join a MONUMENTAL walking tour by the Preservation of Monuments Board.

- further up Queen Street, cut through St Joseph's Catholic Church and cross Victoria Street to the National Library Building designed by a consortium led by TR Hamzah & Yeang

Swee Lee Company, Bras Basah Cat Socrates, Bras Basah Complex
Cat Sorcates, Bras Basah Complex Cat Socrates, Bras Basah Complex
Cat Socrates, Bras Basah Complex
- across Bain Street is Bras Basah Complex, a place to buy used books and musical instruments. Representing indie folk (but from a slightly Taiwanese perspective) is Cat Socrates. They now have a little sit-down area for tea.

- cross North Bridge Road to Seah Street where there is the MINT Museum of Toys,

Actually, Seah Street Actually, Seah Street
industrial-chic Actually...,

Supermama Supermama, Seah Street
Supermama Supermama, Seah Street
and retro + minimalist = hip Supermama

Front Row and A.P.C., Raffles Hotel Long Bar, Raffles Hotel
- in neo-Renaissance Raffles Hotel, fash-hag A.P.C. and Front Row. Do the touristy thing and order a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar :-(

Kate Spade, Raffles City
- re-cross Bras Basah Road to Raffles City mall to gape at some conspicuous consumption. The building is owned by a real estate trust - increasingly popular concept in derivative investment

St Andrew's Cathedral Singapore Flyer, Esplanade, Marina Bay Sands from The Padang
- exit from the opposite side to St. Andrew's Cathedral with view of the iconic Esplanade (DP Architects) and Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort (Moshe Safdie Architects) and the Singapore Flyer (Dr. Kisho Kurokawa of Japan and DP Architects) in the distance. These make it easier to identify where your hairpins are in Formula 1 game

IMG_1770 IMG_1792
- head down Coleman Street past Peninsula Plaza (example of early 1980s architecture) where several Burmese shops and restaurants now nestle to cater to increasing number of workers from Myanmar. Say "mingalaba" at Inle Myanmar (resto) or Loi Nine (hole-in-wall). Paan (betel nut) for trying.

Vintage fashion at Granny's Day Out, Peninsula Shopping Centre.

IMG_1326 IMG_1330
- across Hill Street is The Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator, the first Christian church to be built in Singapore

Macbeth, Fort Canning Macbeth, Fort Canning
- behind the church is Fort Canning. With so few mounds of height in this country, not surprising that loads of stuff happened here. Now, one slope is used mainly as a stage for music and theatre events

Central Fire Station, Hill Street Central Fire Station, Hill Street
- Central Fire Station, across from the church, is Singapore's oldest surviving fire station. There are open house sessions on Saturday mornings.

MICA Building (Old Hill Street Police Station)
- near the Singapore River, the old dame with rainbow eyeshadow is the MICA Building (or the Old Hill Street Police Station)

- back down High Street, you'll see the new Supreme Court building (topped with what looks like a UFO) designed by Foster + Partners just beside the classical old one

- modernist? Parliament House was, well, designed by architects from the Public Works Department...

Part of Singapore skyline
- walk to the Singapore River, gawk at the skyline and wave to tourists on bumboats

IMG_8365 Song Fa Bak Ku Teh
- upstream, past Riverwalk, slurp up some pork rib soup at Song Fa Bak Ku Teh: the old Chinatown "traditional" interior assumedly enhances authenticity of experience, then take a walk upstream to Clarke Quay, site of has-been nightlife. Further up is Liang Court, home of Japanese supermarket Meidiya and other Japanese stores to cater to the Japanese expat crowd. Even the advertisements are in Japanese.

Laurent Bernard Chocolatier, The Pier at Robertson Quay IMG_2299
- head up to Robertson Quay for the more generally expat - eg. chocolate at Laurent Bernard's

Boomerang Bar, Robertson Quay
and watch some rugby at Boomerang Bistro & Bar

Kith Cafe, Watermark, Rodyk Street Vanguard Designs, Watermark, Rodyk Street
- further upstream, mark the cycles for rent at The Watermark @ Robertson Quay ("conserved" warehouses backed up to a modern condominium development). Grab a picnic basket from Kith Cafe and then cycle one of the Vanguard Design rentals along the river until it gets dark. This rehab workshop for classic old cycles is also only place i know where Yakkay helmets and made-in-China Brooks saddles can be had. Up-river, there are some next riverside eateries and whistle-wetters at Robertson Blue - Indian and Thai at Bar Bar Black Sheep, The Merry Men Kitchen + Bar. You can also visit Timothy Oulton if you want to finger some "eclectic elegance".

That which used to be known as The Warehouse Disco, Havelock Road The Watermark @ Robertson Quay
- head over the Saiboo Street bridge towards the warehouses which were once home to the creatively-named Warehouse Disco, then get a bus from the opposite side of Havelock Road to Tiong Bahru estate, about 3 bus-stops away

Rojak, Tiong Bahru Food Centre
- chow down at the recently-constructed Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre built with similar Bauhaus sensitivities as surrounding flats

The Big Bang hot dog, Forty Hands
Flat White, Forty Hands, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Double chocolate chip cookie, Forty Hands
- indie enclave at Yong Siak Street consists of Forty Hands,

Strangelets and BooksActually BooksActually, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru
BooksActually, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru
Strangelets, booksactually

On to Part #2... Orchard Road to Joo Chiat/Katong and Part #3... Arab Street/Haji Lane

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