How do they celebrate Christmas in Singapore? The facetious answer is: with great efficiency. How many other countries in the world prepare for the festive season as early as in Singapore? Over here, you know that Christmas is on its way round the corner when you see lights being strung across façades and trees on the main shopping strip of Orchard Road towards the end of October.
Make no mistake about it: admiring the lights and decorations on the shopping strip of Orchard Road is all part of the festive experience in Singapore. But for some, when it comes to Christmas shopping, the real secret lies in the shophouse boutiques of Ann Siang Hill and Club Street. A heritage district that’s home to a disparate mix of media agencies and traditional clan associations, here you’ll find coffee merchants selling authentic kopi luwak from Indonesia, independent bookshops, too-cool-for-school fashion designers and art galleries mingling with Parisian bistros and stylish cafes.
Singapore’s growing clout as a cultural destination now attracts big touring bands and ensembles, and one of the things that locals can look forward to is the line-up of concerts at the Esplanade. While you can find street carollers performing in front of shopping landmarks along Orchard Road, it’s always a treat to be able to catch a festive concert by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra – a longstanding tradition that captures the spirit of the festive season far better than any celebrity Christmas CD.
But perhaps one of the best part of celebrating Christmas in the tropics is the weather. For many, snow is overrated, especially if you have to spend the next day shovelling it from your front porch. To make the most of a tropical Christmas, head down to Sentosa’s Tanjong Beach – which many locals claim to be the prettiest and most tranquil stretch of sand in the country. It’s also home to the retro-chic Tanjong Beach Club, a restaurant, bar and club which is modelled after a ‘50s beach resort. It doesn’t take much to picture a young Sophia Loren lounging by the pool working on her tan, but order the signature lemongrass-infused Tanjong Martini at the bar to aid your imagination – who says you need to limit your choices to eggnog this season? And if you get tired of the beach, you can always make your way to the nearby adrenaline- pumping playground of Universal Studios. In that sluggish week following Christmas when everyone is still recovering from their holiday stupor and making half-hearted New Year’s resolutions, head to Lantern, the Andre Fu-designed rooftop oasis at The Fullerton Bay Hotel. There’s something fitting about contemplating the future in a place where the country’s first immigrants disembarked from their ships after braving months of unsavoury conditions to make their fortunes in a new country. In fact, Lantern is named after the red oil lamp that used to guide the country’s seafarers as they approached the now-defunct Clifford Pier.
Once known chiefly for its hawker food, Singapore has reinvented itself as a global gourmand’s capital, with superstars such as Mario Batali and Daniel Boulud setting up outposts on the island. Don’t miss these young local chefs who are giving the country’s cuisine a new spin:
YOUNG TURK – Serious gastronomes should head to Restaurant André in Chinatown. Helmed by Taiwan-born Andre Chiang, who honed his skills working in the kitchens of Alain Ducasse and Pierre Gagnaire, the restaurant is one of the top 100 in S. Pellegrino’s list for 2011.
MIXED SING-NALS – One of the rising chefs featured in the book Coco: 10 World- Leading Masters Choose 100 Contemporary Chefs, Willin Low whips modern concoctions such as cannelloni with braised pork and belly laksa pesto linguine in his Wild Rocket restaurant.
SWEET NOTHINGS – Antoinette, the bijoux patisserie at Mandarin Gallery, is the best place to sample Parisian-style confections. It is opened by award-winning pastry chef Pang Kok Keong, who recently set up his own company, the cheekily monikered Sugar Daddy Group.
This festive season, swap mulled wine and chilly nights for great food, unbeatable shopping and cocktails by the beach
Photos: The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore