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Photos Reviews

ION Orchard

ION Orchard front view

ION Orchard panorama

ION Orchard interior

Basement 3 & 4
ION Orchard interior

(Full photo set on Flickr)

I went to have a look at the new ION Orchard shopping mall on Tuesday, its first official day of being open. I’ve talked about it resembling the Bullring mall in Birmingham, UK before, from its sprawling promenade flanked by two-storey shopfronts to the curved sides of the building. The same architectural firm designed both, although I think they did a much better job with the Bullring. The ION’s curves are too slight, giving the whole building a strange form not unlike a dented pillow – I know for a fact they were hoping to elicit words like “organic” from onlookers. Not quite, in my opinion.

The interior layout of the four above-ground shopping levels also resembles that of the Bullring’s central arcade, which is a good thing. It’s easy to see where you’re going and where you’ve been because the shops don’t occupy fixed boxes of space, which gives them more identity, and better spatial recognition for shoppers. The roof design does a good job of letting in lots of natural light in the day, which, along with the use of predominantly white surfaces throughout and contrasting angular/curved elements like escalators and pillars, gives the whole affair a look of modernity that should last a decade, at least.

Basements 1 & 2 were a little darker, although that may change when all shops are open (currently about 70% are). The walkways are also narrower, which will probably cause some congestion problems. I was afraid, on the way down, that four similar basement levels were going to feel quite oppressive, but B3 & B4 smartly mixed things up with a different layout and more open space.

High points were the ThreeSixty Marketplace (link to another blog), with loads of imported food products that you’ve probably wanted but could never find locally before; a Korean gelato cafe that felt like it had been transplanted from some other country’s sidewalks; the return of the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, which means good, cheap coffee and passable donuts for me; and a raft of new Japanese restaurants to try out. I’m downplaying it a little here. If you’d seen me there that day, it would be pretty clear that I love this place and am very excited to have it as a part of our landscape (physical facade notwithstanding) from now on.

I also want to mention the large Epicentre outlet (they are a third-party Apple retailer) directly across from a Nokia flagship store and a SingTel mobile shop. Epicentre makes a few mistakes now and then, but they largely play it safe and therefore well by following the design language of official Apple Stores around the world. That includes placing large, round tables with lots of flashing, animated iPods and iPhones near the front of the space, for passersby to play with. People are always standing around and fiddling with them.

When you walk into the Nokia store, you’re greeted by a small table with maybe four working phones (I went in to look at the N97 flagship model, and the one I picked up wasn’t functioning), and then a very long wall of all the phone models they currently offer. It would have been very impressive, had any of them been real and not a plastic dummy. Move over to the adjacent SingTel store and you’ll find the same thing in each of the dedicated brand zones. LG, Samsung, Sony-Ericsson… not a single REAL phone to be had. Getting customers into your store is half the work done, so why let it fall apart with a non-existent product experience? It’s one of the simplest things in retail and marketing, and you don’t appreciate how Apple does it right until you see others get it horribly wrong.

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As much as I’d like to go back several more times now, I expect the ION Orchard to be a total mosh pit for the next few weeks. There’s probably going to be a massive ground effect that wrecks the whole of Orchard Road for anyone who needs to find parking too. So while everyone comes down to town this weekend for a glimpse at the new hotness, my plan is to go shopping in the heartlands. Maybe I’ll finally get a place in line for that other Uniqlo.

Categories
General

Mad about our English

20090317-IMG_0093.jpg

Sign in photo reads: This Way to “Bus Stop”

Sorry I didn’t get a photo of the bus stop in question, but it was a really awesome “massage parlor”.

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In the 2008 Singapore-produced documentary, Mad About English, well-meaning residents of Beijing are shown preparing for the arrival of Olympic Games tourists by learning English phrases, often unsuccessfully, which is where most of the somewhat mean-spirited comedy comes from. Seen uncynically, the film has its merits, but it is hard to shake the idea that its producers believed the earnest efforts of the Chinese would ever amount to more than very awkward (mis)communication. I could be wrong, basing this on a single viewing, but the repeated images of fervency followed by failure, as well as the film’s title itself, sets off some alarms. The film features no voice-over narration, which is a problem in two possible ways.

By explicitly saying nothing (with words) in a documentary format, a director invokes the powerful semiotics of neutrality; it’s a dumbshow of backing off with upheld hands and sealed lips. But, of course, film is not a medium that depends on words for meaning, although we are conditioned by the bulk of documentary features to think that because narration is either truthful or biased, a filmmaker/agenda is powerless without it. Sometimes, the absence of narration can be a red herring. Defenses down, some viewers will inevitably take selective and non-linear editing at face value.

What does that leave those listening to Mad About English with? English mangled by foreign accents, accompanied without exception by subtitles. The screening I attended was regretfully punctuated by enthusiastic laughter whenever someone pronounced badly. You’d never see that kind of behavior outside a language classroom, but in a theatre, oh why not? They didn’t need to pay a man with a gravelly voice to ridicule the Chinese students, because you’d notice that, of course. They let them do it to themselves, is the next point.

The second implication of a film like this having no commentary, where commentary is especially needed to contextualize and humanize the trials of a culture struggling under the burdens of learning a foreign language, as a matter of upholding national pride, is that it does not speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. One shouldn’t expect common people to eloquently hold forth on the significance of several million people simultaneously taking an interest in English. Or to effectively defend their efforts and point out how they may yet make a difference to visitors’ experiences or perceptions of China, however small.

The movie suffers for this, mostly depending on one character near the end (Li Yang aka Crazy English Teacher) to provide analysis. Policies of non-interference are all well and good when a lion kills a zebra on camera, but expecting cab drivers to acquit themselves with grace after a few weak lessons is kinda cruel, and a little too American Idol: Auditions for my tastes. Instead of reading this choice as the filmmakers not having anything to say, it can be argued that they’re choosing to stay silent – an important distinction.

I’ve just read that the film was marketed as a “docu-comedy”. I guess that’s that.

But every time I walk down Orchard Road and see a badly written sign or advertisement, I think the joke’s on us now. There are just too many examples of English gone wrong in Singapore, and I face them with a combination of anger and embarrassment. No longer apathy. It shouldn’t be tolerated, and maybe something can be done about it. There’s a gwailoh (foreigner) character in the aforementioned docu-comedy who walks around Beijing in a black trenchcoat, correcting instances of bad English wherever he finds them, talking to store owners and giving them advice. A grammar nazi turned vigilante.

I had an idea that we could use something like that here, maybe in the form of a non-profit organization that offers proofing services to anyone producing something for public display, from simple signage to one-sheet flyers. I’m talking about making it easy for anyone to get quick, professional advice (as easy as sending an email?) on whether or not the copy they’re about to print is ready for public display.

Considering that we’ve got Integrated Resorts, the F1 night race franchise, and other tourism-heavy initiatives in the pipeline, the net effect of having “clean streets” can be huge for Singapore. Likewise, you can’t expect the standard of English use amongst children to improve when they’re surrounded by poor examples. These services would have to free, of course, so we’re talking either volunteer work, sponsorship, or government funding.

This is something I’m going to think about more over the next few weeks and maybe do some plausibility research on. If you think it’s a good idea, I’d appreciate you letting me know. Thanks.

Categories
General

On the prediction of weather in Singapore

Feeling rather tired in the afternoon and with no work to do, I thought I’d hit up Starbucks for the usual triple venti low-fat iced latte and an hour with William Gibson’s so-far-enthralling Neuromancer.

I’ve gotten into the habit of relying on the local NEA (National Environmental Agency) website for weather forecasts, despite having been burnt – perhaps ‘soaked’ is the more appropriate word – on a number of occasions. Still, I checked the website before leaving and was guaranteed by a minutes-old analysis that the good weather would last the rest of the evening.

It takes less than half an hour to get to the nearest Starbucks. Barely a minute after making it here, it started coming down; a fact I could not have anticipated with any of my bodily senses, but perhaps should have with some basic pattern recognition and Murphy’s Law. Photographic proof is enclosed.

The question I’m leading up to is this: what does it take to be a government-employed meteorologist in Singapore? Do our tropical conditions make the job more difficult? Is it more guesswork than science? If you go to the site, you’ll see an animated rain map which charts the movements of storm clouds over time.

In the past, I’ve had a lot more success than the “experts” in predicting the spread of rain just by watching which way the winds appear to be moving, but in today’s case the storm hadn’t started yet. Why can’t we get accurate weather reports? Will someone hire me to do this without some sort of degree in making shit up?

Actually, I do have an English degree.

— Posted from my iPhone