The Not So Fragrant Fragrance Hotel

Last year when I first came to Singapore to visit, we had to find a place to stay short-term.  My first thought was hotels.  So, I got online and started searching around for where we could stay.  I didn’t mind spending a little money, but I figured we would be outside most of the time, so I didn’t want to spend so much on the hotel room.  I’d rather spend the money at the destination.  Looking through the internet for deals I came across a package for a flight and a few nights at a place called The Fragrance Hotel.  I asked my then fiance about it and she cracked up!

She told me right away that it would be a bad idea to stay at one of those hotels.  According to her, the Fragrance hotels aren’t very fragrant (cheesy right?).  She said someone she knew stayed in one for a few nights and it wasn’t very comfortable, clean, or hospitable.  On top of that, they have the reputation of being a hotel for one night stands and for hook-ups with prostitutes.  I was surprised, because the image I had of Singapore in my mind was a pristine one.  Singapore’s only reputation in the US is that it’s a place with hard laws and upright citizens, so the idea of a sleazy hotel where you take prostitutes didn’t occur to me.  Regardless, I quickly crossed it off my list.

Monday night I got to see one of the Fragrance hotels firsthand.  My wife and I went to the Geylang area to look at a place for rent.  I had never been there and we arrived just as it was getting dark.  Geylang is everything it’s rumored to be!  Geylang is the gritty underbelly of an otherwise polished Singapore.  The buildings are a montage of new and old, decrepit structures, some worse than shanties I’d seen in the Philippines.  Even so, there were people living in them.  There were newer structures here and there, but the further we got from the Aljunied area and the deeper we went into the Geylang area, the worse it got.

To clarify, when you travel to Geylang on public transit, the quickest way is to get off the train at the Aljunied station and then take a bus or a cab.  We were running late so we took a cab and as we entered Geylang proper I could see quite a few of what the area is most famous for: the Chinese hookers!  They were easy enough to pick out of the crowd and most were wearing cheap, slutty looking outfits and had hair dyed in unnaturally bright colors (for an Asian anyways). 

We weren’t too sure of where we were going and we wound up getting out of the cab a block short.  We didn’t mind though.  It gave us a chance to stretch our legs and get a feel for the neighborhood.  We called up the agent, got our bearings, and started walking towards the apartment building.  As we walked down Lorang 14 we soaked up the sleazy atmosphere, and, unfortunately, quite a few lungfuls of what smelled like stale sweat, rotting garbage and raw sewage.  It definitely wasn’t a very attractive place.  This is also where I got my first view of a Fragrance hotel, and where I took the photo above.

Once we reached the gate to the apartment complex we had to stand and wait a while, as the agent hadn’t arrived yet.  As we stood there waiting, more Chinese hookers passed in and out of the complex.  I don’t know what it is about hookers exactly, but they’re just so damn easy to pick out.  Maybe it’s because I’m so used to seeing decent folk around Singapore that they give off a negative vibe.  They have that cheap way about them.  They look cheap, smell cheap, and, even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, even sounded cheap.

Regardless, it gave my wife and I one more thing to talk about while we waited to view the apartment.  We chatted about how much like the Philippines Geylang is, and about how it feels a bit dangerous there, like you’d have to watch your wallet and watch your back while you were out.  We talked about how the place seems more lively than Tampines, though not necessarily in a good way.  Geylang definitely has an exciting atmosphere to it, and it might be quite an adventure to live in a place like that after having lived in Tampines for a year.  Tampines is much quieter, and very upscale, especially for a “provincial” area.  I say provincial, but nearly all of Singapore is becoming built up into more of a city-type area.

The oddest and most out of place thing I saw while standing there waiting was a young girl, maybe 12, in a school uniform come through the gate at about 7:30pm.  She was alone and it seemed wrong given the surroundings.  If I had a kid I don’t think I would live in Geylang in the first place, and I definitely wouldn’t let him or her walk around alone after dark.  Not in that area.  It just doesn’t feel safe.

I suppose you could call it a bonus experience, but one other thing of note is that as we were walking to and from the apartment we were viewing we got to see a man sleeping on the floor of the hallway.  He was around 40 to 45, shirtless, shoeless, and probably passed-out drunk, sleeping first face down and then on his side on the hallway floor.  That, more than anything else, was our quality of life indicator for that part of Geylang.

I suppose it’s not what’s outside your door that counts though, so even with all of that ‘excitement’ just a few steps beyond the elevator, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to live in Geylang.  If you maintain your home, it can still be comfortable, and given the area, the rent is a bit lower than usual as well.  Besides, there is one other thing Geylang is well known for, and that’s the food.  My wife and I both love to eat, and we’re tired of the choices available to us in Tampines, so the lure of fresh feeding grounds is a big one!

Don’t Pee in the Lift

From country to country you find a lot of laws and rules that don’t seem to make much sense to you at the time, but they’re usually laws like women having to cover themselves in public (Saudi Arabia), or it being illegal to step on the local currency (Thailand).  They even make sense, given the cultural background of the area, or in the sense that stepping on the currency could be construed as a gesture of stepping on (disrespecting) the leader whose image is on that currency note.

Don't Pee in the Lift
Don’t Pee in the Lift sign in an elevator in Singapore

I found a law in Singapore that kinda just blew my mind though.  It is unlawful to urinate or smoke in the lifts (elevators), and there are signs posted by most lifts to remind you of the fact, as seen above.  Reminding people to not smoke in an elevator is something I can understand.  It’s a matter of common courtesy to non-smokers who have to share those same elevators, possibly with children, to get home.  On the other hand, urinating in an elevator is just something that never crossed my mind.  It’s just not something I’d ever even thought of.  Are people’s mentalities really that different from country to country, that something as basic as only urinating in a toilet (or maybe in the bushes) is something a person has to be reminded of?

When I first saw these signs I was more amused than anything, but I recently stumbled across a forum where an instance of a person urinating in a lift was actually recorded on camera.  And, to top it off, it was a woman.

Saw this in Xin Ming Ri Bao (17th Nov 2008).

A Gril was caught urinating in a HDB lift and it’s caught by the hidden camera.

The girl is believe to be in her 30s.

It happen in Sembawang GRC, but not sure where. Because the offender is facing away from the camera, they can’t identify her. The newspaper report that the town council is going to put up notice with her picture beside lift of HDB (Most likely Sembawang GRC) to warn others not to do it….

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I thought only boys or some dogs will do such thing in HDB lift… didn’t know girls also so daring….

I’m actually at a loss for words on this one.  Is this just a cultural thing, or is it an individual fault?  I would typically lean towards the latter, but the fact that there are signs up means that this must happen, or must have happened before, quite often.

New Business Flower Arrangements

Yesterday, the new mall, Tampines 1, was packed with these flower arrangements to the point that they had to be shifted around constantly to make room for customers.

In fact, the store that seemed to be drawing the largest crowd, UNI QLO, actually moved their arrangements to a column in the center of the walkway in front of their store to make way for a line of people waiting to get in. I’m not too sure what the deal is with UNI QLO, except that it’s supposed to be a premier fashion line in Japan and people seemed particularly excited to get in. I’ll have to take a look around there soon, but I’ll wait until it’s not so crowded.

Apparently these flower arrangements are significant enough to keep on display even though it impedes customer traffic. Most are marked with cards from other business, or perhaps financial backers, offering “best wishes” and “luck.” Maybe that’s all it really boils down to? The concept that having these arrangements in front of your business on opening day is good luck? Sort of like how most Singaporeans and Filipinos I’ve met have a fear of black cats?

The last US business I went to on opening day was quite a few years ago. It was a Johnny Carrino’s in Columbus, Georgia.  I don’t recall seeing anything like this there, so I’m wondering if it’s particular to Singapore, to Chinese culture, to Asia, or if I’ve been living under a rock and just never noticed them in the US before.

Cosplayers at Tampines 1

I’m not entirely sure what they were advertising, but their outfits were really great, so I took some photos.

Toy Soldier and Toy Maid
Toy Soldier and Toy Maid
Toy Soldier and Toy Maid Routine
Toy Soldier and Toy Maid Routine
Toy Soldier and Toy Maids
Toy Soldier and Toy Maids

They were even acting the part!  They would only move when someone “wound up” the key on their backs and then after a while they would stop again.  It was very fun to watch for a while!

By the way, in that third photo, the guy is totally checking out that girl’s “buttons”!  Ha ha ha!

Tampines 1 Open For Business

Singapore has a heavy shopping culture. Imagine your high school days when you had to wear the right clothes to be part of the “in” crowd. Now imagine that experience on crack. You’ll sort of get the picture. Most of the younger Singaporeans pride themselves on their handbags, mobile phones, shoes or having the newest Mango apparel. They crave the latest and greatest items and pursue the hottest fashion trends. I suppose there’s nothing inherently wrong with the Singaporean love for shopping, but it definitely takes some getting used to. Keeping that in mind, imagine the chaos that surrounds the opening of a new mall, especially one in a prime location.

The mall was packed tight with people and everyone was excited to explore the mall and see all of the new shops. While walking through the mall I saw people of all ages, as if elderly mothers and fathers had been dressed and dragged out of the house for the big event. I also saw quite a few foreigners wandering around, which is highly unusual for an area so far from downtown Singapore. In fact, the people were almost as fascinating and entertaining as the mall itself.

Unfortunately, it seems that there was such a rush to cash in on the excitement and newness factor that the mall was opened before it was completely finished. With the interior of the mall not quite polished, the “Wow” effect wasn’t as great as it could’ve been. For example, the tile flooring was still a bit dusty and the fountain on the bottom floor seemed more like it was leaking than running. While I was walking around the mall I sneezed frequently and I was happy to be able to blow my nose when I got home later.

Besides the incompleteness of the mall itself, not all of the stores were open. In fact, some were still under construction, including the HSBC bank pictured below, which is on the lower level. Hope you brought cash with you, because these ATMs are still down for the count!

Handling all of these minor (and in some cases major) issues, work crews were scattered throughout the mall, hurriedly trying to apply their finishing touches. Still, they did a great job getting the place ready before opening the doors today. Just a week ago I would have said that the mall couldn’t have been opened any earlier than the end of the month, judging by the exterior and what I could see through the windows. They must have been pulling all-nighters to make sure they met their opening deadline, or at least partially met it.

Still, those minor eye sores didn’t detract from the overall appearance of the mall. Have a look at the shot below, which was taken from the top floor near the Petstation store.

The overall effect of the mall and the quality of the decor in the shops is reminiscent of the malls you find along Orchard. When the interior of this mall is actually completed, it should be fantastic!

Also, as a side note, if you take a close look in photo above (click it for a larger image) you’ll see an information panel on the ground floor near the round railing that lists the stores in the mall. Going a step beyond the average poster board, this little marvel is completely touch screen and interactive. Despite its lonely appearance in this photo, every time I tried to get near it there was a mob of people trying to play with it, so I couldn’t really dig into it to see if it went further than just listing locations. It does feature a nifty “You Are Here” arrow though!

One of the special things about Tampines 1 is that the building designers seemed to have recognized peoples’ desire to just hang out at the mall and incorporated it into their building plans. Tampines 1 has multiple outdoor viewing decks that you can relax on. The lower viewing deck offers a very nice, mostly unobstructed view of the Tampines Central area as well. As with the rest of the mall, these areas seemed a bit unfinished, especially in the lack of benches, but there’s definitely potential in these areas for cart vendors and perhaps an outdoor coffee shop.

Also, here’s a shot I took of the Tampines MRT station from the lower viewing deck:

One of the great things about this mall is the variety of stores. I was somewhat concerned that this mall would be just a rehash of what was already available in the two existing malls: Tampines Mall and Century Square. Thankfully, this didn’t turn out to be the case. There are a few stores that seem to have migrated over, Times being the one that sticks out most in my mind. It was a good choice for them to make the move. One of the problems with Century Square and Tampines Mall is that the store spaces were just too small. Tampines 1 is generous with its floor space and Times took advantage of that to bring in a wider variety of books, which will be better for their business in the long run. Like I said, though, there are plenty of new stores, or new to Tampines anyways, and I’m glad that I have one less reason to have to venture all the way down to Orchard just for shopping.

Something my wife and I love to do is eat out at good restaurants. The few that were previously available in the malls in Tampines were starting to get old, so I’m glad to see that there are some new options. Here are some I’m very excited to try in the near future:

This first one is called Manpuku, and is a Japanese food restaurant. In the second photo you can see some of the menu items. The wall to the right of the restaurant entrance is a glass display area that showcases their offerings. It’s really a great way to encourage people to try the food and keep coming back for more.

This second restaurant is called Sushi Tei. Looking into the restaurant, the first thing you’ll notice is the conveyor belt of sushi dishes sliding past the bar. It’s a very entertaining and engaging setup and reminded me of the sushi restaurant located near the gym and pool just a short distance from Century Square. I took a look at the menu and the prices are reasonable for most of the items, though the food at the sushi place by the gym looked better and is better priced. I wish I could remember the name of the place.

There were a few other restaurants I noticed but most of them were generic.

The last place I want to mention is called “teadot”. My wife and I enjoy having tea in the evening sometimes, so I’m excited to try this place out. Coffee Bean and Starbucks serve tea, but more as just an option than with any real focus. “teadot” should be a nice treat, and besides that, look at the furnishings. It would be cool just to sit there.

Overall, Tampines 1 is a fantastic addition to the shopping scene in the Tampines area and I’m sure my wife and I will be spending a lot of time there in the future, window shopping and actually shopping too!

I hope you enjoyed my review of Tampines 1 and I hope you enjoy your first trip there!