My wife once told me that Christmas comes early in the Philippines. She didn’t mean that the date it’s celebrated is any different than any other place, but just that people get into the Christmas spirit earlier than usual.
Where I’m from, the shopping spirit hits a bit early, but that real Christmas spirit doesn’t seem to catch on until at least the day after Thanksgiving. Obviously, there is no Thanksgiving in the Philippines and while Halloween (trick-or-treating) is celebrated in some posh villages, Christmas is something that most every Filipino gets behind quickly and early. I think it’s probably because it’s associated with the birth of Christ, and the Philippines has the highest population of Catholics of any country in the world. It may also have something to do with the poor conditions in the country. I’m sure a lot of families are looking for an excuse to feel cheerful about something.
As early as last week, we’ve been hearing Christmas songs playing on the speaker systems in some of the malls. I even saw Christmas decorations for sale already, including plastic trees.
My wife says the rule of thumb in the Philippines is that if the month ends in “-ber”, then people will start looking forward to Christmas and set up decorations, some of which will remain up until February, if not all year round.
Last year my wife and I missed out on seeing Chinatown at Chinese New Year’s completely. Somehow, I got the date mixed up and we wound up going down there the day after the celebration. This year I made sure to mark my calendar correctly.
We’d originally planned on eating at Bugis Junction, at the Pastamania in the food court. We didn’t realize the place would be shut down. In fact, almost everything was shut down. Yoshinoya was open but I don’t care for the way the food there tastes.
We decided to take our chances and headed on to Chinatown. There was a hawker open across the street from the MRT exit so we walked over to it, using the pedestrian bridge to go over the road. At the base of the stairs, hiding by the edge where the plants are, we saw this kitten:
This is the year of the Tiger and a tiger is basically a big cat. Maybe this means luck will come our way this year? We like cats, so my wife carries around a little cat food to hand out to strays that look hungry. We gave some to the kitten before going into the hawker to have our dinner.
The reason we went down to Chinatown was to see the decorations. The atmosphere was very lively so we wound up staying a bit longer than we’d planned. I was really impressed with the decorations. They were very nice looking. It put us in a great mood and we even stopped for ice cream. There was a guy there selling ice cream from a push cart. He cut a slice (literally) and put it between two wafers and handed it to me wrapped in a plastic. It was really good and only cost me 1 SGD.
Here are some of my favorite photos.
There weren’t as many decorations as there were at Christmas, which surprised me, but the decorations that were there were really nice.
For a short while, we considered staying for the main event, but the crowds were starting to press in real tight. We could hardly walk. The crowds kept bottlenecking in certain areas which made it hard to get around. Also, having so many people in such a small area was cutting out the breeze. The place was starting to get hot, sticky, smelly and just plain unpleasant.
The stage was set up in such a way that unless you were a special person, a VIP, and had access to the privileged seating area, you could barely see anything. There were very few vantage points that would offer a decent view and they were packed.
I have to wonder why the stage would be set up in the center of the road like that. It offers such a narrow viewing area. Wouldn’t it make more sense to set it up caddy-corner in an intersection? A LOT more people could get a good view then, rather than just the few VIPs that were likely sitting comfortably across from the stage.
If you’re going to have a public event, set it up so the public can actually see it.
We decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle and moved off into the side roads to look at the stuff for sale. The crowds there were horrible too, so after fighting our way free to a major road we headed back to the MRT station and went back to Pasir Ris.
I forget the name of the mall just outside the MRT exit in Chinatown, but they had a clever scheme set up. I really can’t blame them because it makes sense from a business perspective, but it was still annoying. When we were leaving we stopped in at the mall to use the restroom. The female restroom on the lower level was conveniently closed for cleaning. So, we searched further into the mall and found another restroom. The difference was that it was a pay restroom.
Like I said, I don’t really blame them, because there were a lot of people going into the mall just to use the toilet. They have to cover the cost somehow. But still… obvious scheme was obvious.
The hawker we ate at on CNY Eve didn’t charge us anything extra for our meal. When we got back to Pasir Ris and had roti prata and beer, we weren’t charged extra.
Yesterday though, on Sunday, we went to Bedok to look for something to eat at the hawker. We were hoping the New World Mutton stall would be open, but it was closed. There was a chicken rice hawker stall open though. Great Wall chicken rice I think. We ordered two plates and after our food was ready the guy told us there was an extra .50 SGD per plate as a holiday surcharge. Thanks for letting us know up front. At least the food was good.
Sunday evening after jogging we passed through the hawker to get dinner. We ordered two plates of roast pork rice. 2.50 per plate. After the food is ready the guy says, “7 dollar”. I asked him what he was talking about and point at the sign. 2.50 and 2.50 is 5 bucks. Turns out this jackass wanted to add 1 SGD to each plate as a holiday surcharge. I told him he should’ve put up a notice.
Well, turns out he did. He pointed to a tiny sheet of paper, covered in Chinese characters and prices which I had assumed was another menu, or the same menu but in Mandarin. I just gave him a look. I’m white. The chances of a random white guy being able to read Mandarin are pretty damn slim. I’m sure that there are people from a lot of other countries in Singapore that don’t read Mandarin either, which is why English is the business language. Nice calculated way of trying to pressure people into giving up more money.
Well, I didn’t have 7 dollars on me. We had literally just finished jogging and we brought just enough for what food usually costs plus 1 dollar for either a fee or in case I felt like having an iced kopi. So, I told him sorry, that I only had 6 bucks, and turned and started to walk away. Of course, the guy called me back and said 6 dollars would be ok. I figured he would say that. 6 bucks is better than him throwing the food away. So… haggling win for me.
I understand the point that they’re working on a holiday, but something tells me the workers aren’t getting paid any extra. Also, with only a few stalls open, I know they’re already making a killing picking up business from all of the other stalls that were closed. The .50 SGD extra from earlier I can accept, but 1 SGD extra on a 2.50 plate? That’s about a 30% markup. Seems greedy to me.
I don’t remember this kind of surcharge being added to food last year. Hopefully they don’t try to drag that out for the full 15 day holiday.
All in all, it was fun to get out of the house and look around and we had a real good time seeing the decorations in Chinatown. It reminds me of when I used to go to Chinatown in New York City as a kid. I regret not seeing any dragon-lion dances but I’m sure they’ll be other times. I’ve seen quite a few since being here in Singapore, especially with the opening of so many malls over the past year and a half. Lion dances seem to be a tradition to bring luck to a newly opened store here.
Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all have good fortune this year!
Back in November, I made a post with photos of the Christmas decorations on Orchard Road for this year. Since then, quite a few have been added, but I didn’t get shots of them all. There’s just too many! Orchard Road really turns into a sea of lights at this time of the year and helps you to forget about the hot weather and the lack of snow. It helps get you in the ‘Christmas spirit’.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been snapping photos with my iPhone and camera when I saw things that stood out to me. Here are a few more decorations from around Singapore:
This giant ball that opens and closes is in Terminal 3 at Changi International Airport.
This is the outside and inside of the Christmas tree in front of Ion Orchard mall on Orchard Road.
These are photos of the Christmas tree at Bugis Junction. I really love the white and blue combination!
There were a series of dressed up deer characters along Orchard Road (including a creepy one with no eyes). I had to wait a while, but managed to get this great photo taken!
Oops! Someone dropped this tree in upside down! This is at Tampines 1.
These three Christmas trees were walking around Tampines 1 offering up great photo opportunities to shoppers!
I think this will be my last Christmas in Singapore, so I was happy to have the chance to see so many of the decorations. Christmas isn’t just about decorations, but it really sets the mood, and I’ve never seen it done better. Bravo Singapore!
On Saturday night at 7:30 PM the Christmas lights along Orchard Road were officially lit. I wasn’t there for the ceremony, as I was laid up in the house with a mild case of food poisoning, but we can’t have everything right? I decided to tough it out and get my butt up to Orchard Road on Sunday evening at least to have a look at this year’s decorations.
Last year the decorations were awesome! I remember how impressed I was, and how incredible everything looked. I had never seen such a huge display of Christmas decorations. I don’t know if anyone does it as big as Singapore does when it comes to setting up lights. If you’re not familiar with Singapore, Orchard Road is what you would call the ‘Main Street’ of Singapore. It’s in the heart of the city-state and is home to the biggest, poshest malls Singapore has to offer, carrying brands like Docle & Gabbana, Prada, Lous Vuitton, etc. It’s a popular place to go, even if you’re not planning on buying anything. You could literally spend all evening cruising the malls and never go through the same place twice, unless you have to to exit the mall again of course.
Like I said, last year’s decorations were stunning, especially to me, since I’d never seen Orchard Road in all its Christmas glory before. This year was no less thrilling. In fact, I think the decorations this year were far more elegant and classy looking than last year’s. I have no clue if it’s true or not but I have a feeling that the decorations are rotated, and that there’s a stock of them somewhere, so that each year there’s something different. Who knows? Maybe there are no ‘repeats’ and the road is decorated with fresh stuff every year? I have a feeling that this year the planners were really pushing for that classy, elegant look, especially considering the fact that the APEC meeting is happening here in Singapore from the 5th through the 18th (?) of November. There will be a lot of important political figures in Singapore during those dates, and the city-state has really ‘dressed to impress’.
Before continuing on, you may want to take a quick look at this post to see some of the decorations from 2008.
The photos below aren’t in order, exactly. I matched some of them up according to decoration type. We exited the MRT at Dhoby Ghaut Interchange and walked all the way down to Orchard Towers before turning back and using the Orchard MRT station under Ion to go home.
And now, a sample of 2009’s decorations (click for larger image):
The tree in Tampines Mall. I know that’s not Orchard Road, but just thought I’d throw it in there, since it looks so nice.
Like I said earlier, everything has a real classy, professional, elegant look to it. I wonder if everything is set out yet, though. I seem to remember there being more displays last year. Of course, it’s only early November, so perhaps more will be added as we get closer to Christmas. We’ll definitely be making another visit to check! Also, the place was crowded, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as when we went last year. The atmosphere was somewhat subdued as well. It didn’t feel overly cheerful. On our next trip down there I think we’ll buy some ice cream and hot chocolate to get more into the spirit of the season. ^_^