No stopover in Singapore is complete without a visit to the forty-year-old Lucky Plaza shopping centre right in the heart of Orchard Road. Lucky Plaza is and always has been like an undercover market with lots of small shops, their ceilings low and passageways narrow. The shops sell everything from real Rolex watches to junk jewellery, electronics, and an amazing assortment of goods and services, like laundries, dry cleaners, and hairdressers. Lucky Plaza is grubby, smelly, and an absolute delight despite its ritzy surroundings. I’ve never had time to explore all eight floors of the building, and I still don’t have the time to do so today.
However, this visit brings with it a big surprise! Lucky Plaza has been cleaned up, new tiles, new paintwork. The lobby is now bright and spacious and many of the temporary stalls that previously cluttered any spare space, have been removed. We look for Watsons, a type of discount pharmacy and as we walk away from the sparkling lobby through the labyrinth of walkways, I realise that not even a lick of paint can fix low ceilings and the claustrophobic corners of the building.
Deep inside the airless basement area, I finally find what I am looking for; an old-fashioned Chinese pharmacy that, despite having new shelving and better lighting, still sells the prickly heat powder that I cannot buy in Australia.
We leave Lucky Plaza with a silent promise to spend more time there next visit. No sooner are we on the street, but huge raindrops fall; slowly at first then rapid torpedoes of water lash us as we dash into the Paragon shopping centre to escape the deluge. Paragon’s lobby is wide and open and modern. Its high-end designer shops are light and airy and without a hint of a roller shutter or souvenir shop. The difference between the two centres is stark; one representing ‘modern’ Singapore of forty years ago, whilst the other displays what 21st century Singapore has to offer to the retail aficionado. I hope that Lucky Plaza can survive the onward march of progress.
Reluctantly we return to the hotel to finalise our packing and to call a cab to take us to the cruise port. The lobby appears to be full of people waiting to check out of the hotel and to get on their way, many of whom are heading in the same direction as us.
Our cab driver is delightful. As he takes us through the streets, I am acutely aware that Singapore is far greener than it ever has been. Quick-growing native trees line the streets, and the driver explains that they are trimmed regularly to prevent branches or leaves causing safety hazards. Everything is chipped and composted; recycled and reused.
Taxi drivers are also a great source of local information; they are an authority on history politics, and social mores and this driver is no exception. Very proud of his country of birth, he provides a brief history of Singapore’s success as a nation that has deep-rooted respect for the ethnic cultures of all their citizens, and the difficulties the first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, faced as he built the nation from a colonial backwater to the powerful and progressive nation it is today.
We say goodbye to our taxi driver and roll our luggage into the cruise port. Our ship, Azamara Quest, is waiting on the quay for its passengers as they dribble in from all parts of the city. Sentosa Island is just across the water, cable cars bring people into the resort, whilst little trains carry passengers from one place to the next. Here is another place to add to our list of places to visit – next time.
Meanwhile, we need to check into the ship and relax for the afternoon.
Title Quote: Waterman, Stock, Aitken