After a quiet morning of present opening, breakfast and a long day of cooking and dinner, Ravi and I decided to head out to Orchard Road, which signs informed us was closed to traffic. Due to many late nights of work, and hurrying home to put Ellie to bed, Ravi also had not had the chance to see Orchard Road in its full Christmas glory.
For some time, it seemed as though our plans would be thwarted by the weather. Around six pm a storm blew in that brought new meaning to “torrential downpour.” Around 8:30 though, things had quieted down to a drizzle, and we decided to take our chances.
We walked to the nearest part of Orchard Road, which among other stores, houses one of the two Borders Bookstores.
Borders was not only open, but bustling. Ravi enjoyed buying me the most last minute of last minute gifts (a travel anthology and a humorous novel about a couple in marriage counseling who end up fighting zombies and fighting to save their marriage at the same time—I have strange taste in literature). The problem with wandering around Borders is that it didn’t feel very “Christmasy.” After 30 Christmases of stores being firmly closed on Christmas (and one in Mumbai/Bombay India) I simply can not wrap my head around the notion that stores are open as usual on Christmas.
We made our way to Orchard Road, which was closed to cars. I was thoroughly puzzled, though, to see that people were not being allowed to walk on Orchard Road proper. Tons of police were keeping people on the sidewalks, and only allowing crossings at designated spots.
I find this perplexing because on the rare occasions when Boston shuts down streets (on First Night–New Year’s Eve, for example) it’s usually for the express purpose of allowing people to walk on the road as well as the sidewalks to better manage the larger than usual crowds. In the picture above, you can see the police in reflective jackets keeping people on the sidewalks, as the road stood empty.
Well, not quite “empty” as Singapore being Singapore, I saw a truck and city workers stopping to plant some fresh plants along the strip of vegetation that keeps the pedestrians on the sidewalk. Waste not, want not and all that.
The crowds were a bit overwhelming, as they are on every public holiday. By the time we reached Orchard Road, most stores were starting to (or had) closed for the day. From what I understand, some stores were closed, but the vast majority were open. The only thing that seems to slow down Singapore’s lust for shopping is Chinese New Years (and even then, you can always count on Mustafa in Little India to be open–24/7/365–think building 19, for the Americans as a reference point). Christmas, is, after all a Christian holiday, and Christians make up about 14% of the population, roughly the same percentage of the population that is Muslim (according to Wikipedia), which isn’t anything close to a majority.
It seems to me that Christmas is an amusing diversion for locals. An excuse to shop (any excuse to shop, after all), a fairly secular holiday with tons of trees and lights and presents.
The Christian Churches do try to play the “Jesus is the reason for the season” card. There were several fairly heavy handed religious displays on Orchard, a little book of all the Christian churches in Singapore available in most malls, the mini parade of floats that we encountered on several occasions, and plenty of religious carols being sung…but it all seemed no more serious to the locals than the girls dancing on the other side of the street or the secondary school bands playing outside Ngee Ann City (aka Takashimaya).
As it was a public holiday, B had the day off for Christmas. She had planned to come home to join us for dinner and then to walk Orchard Rd (at her request/our offer), but she was trapped with her friends by the storm, and instead hung out with them. However, I got the impression from her, that many of her friends had to go back to their homes to make the Christmas dinner or to serve their employer’s extended family at a party. Ravi and I gave her a cash bonus for the holiday. Elanor gave her a radio/cd player (and I burned her about 40 cd’s of music as cd’s are a bit beyond her spending money after she sends cash home for her family).
Ravi, E and I walked some of Orchard Road before stopping at Friday’s for strawberry lemonade. E had fallen asleep in her stroller, so Ravi and I made phone calls to friends and family in the states as we waited for the rain to lighten up again. We walked home, and put an unhappy Ellie to bed with her 8 million Sesame Street characters (she was less than thrilled to be moved from the stroller) and finished the night off with a viewing of “Elf,” which Ravi had never seen and I’d only seen while also trying to keep an eye on middle school students eager to get on with their winter break.
Overall, while it was amusing to shop on Christmas–what a strange novelty!–it ultimately detracted from the holiday.
While Ravi and I are big fans of the Christmas getaway vacation, it’s deeply ingrained in me to think of it as a quiet day for family (and maybe a strip club on Bourbon Street the year we were there for the holiday), not retail therapy. The crowds on Orchard are more than a little overwhelming (and were for the entire week prior to Christmas as well), and I don’t know that it’s something we’ll do regularly. But it did make for a nice way to walk off the Christmas feast I’d made, so we’ll see how things go next year.
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to wearing shorts on Christmas, or seeing holiday lights in palm trees. It’s just WEIRD.