Designer Handbags and Neatly Contained Vice
Orchard Road is noisy in the evening. It is not just the traffic and the people. Come here when the sun is setting and your footsteps will be followed by a raucous, incessant, unsettling screeching. It is the noise from the Mynah birds nesting. The road is Singapore’s main shopping boulevard. It is a long straight road lined either side with shopping malls. Designer brands, high-street fashion, and discount shops all compete for space.
On the day I visited Cuscaden Patio, I had just come out of a job interview and was headed to the Kinokuniya on the fourth floor of Takashimaya. I wanted to buy the new Hilary Mantel book. In the first floor atrium, there was a short, polite queue of face masked shoppers outside Hermes. I have never bought a designer handbag, but – suddenly isolated from the noise of the traffic and the birds – I felt that I could understand the appeal of that quiet, dignified shopping experience. I could appreciate the protection offered by the cool, empty space, one of the pleasures of the high-end consumerist experience.
In Singapore the word ‘Orchard’ collocates with both ‘Road’ and ‘Towers’. And while the two are very different, they do rub shoulders geographically. It is possible to walk almost entirely indoors and underground from the Louis Vuitton in ION to Orchard Towers’ infamous four floors of… You can finish that sentence yourself.
At this rougher end of the road, there are cheap bars, karaokes, and brothels. It is a small patch of Singaporean-style vice neatly contained by the malls and offices and condos surrounding it.
I like the dive-bar vibe, but I wouldn’t spend time in a girly bar. If that sounds like you, then make your way down the stairs to Cuscaden Patio in Ming Arcade. This bar occupies the first and second floors of the shopping mall. It is hard to explain what that means. During the day, Ming Arcade is home to tailors and seamstresses. But at night, tables are laid out on the walkways and communal spaces of the first and second floor. It has a dystopian vibe in a Judge Dredd Megacity One kind of way. This is what we’ll be doing when the air becomes unbreathable, when the climate gets too hot. And I guess we won’t mind as long as the bars still serve good chicken wings and play Led Zeppelin.