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Things to Do: Orchard Road/Shopping

I won't say too much about Orchard Road, because it is likely right outside the hotel you'll be staying at and if not, just go there and wander around and soak up this monument to consumerism.

If you have ever, ever in your life thought that shopping might cheer you up, then you have found your homeland. Welcome.

Every store is here that you have ever heard of, and many new ones. If you are from the US, you'll learn about British department stores like Marks and Spencer; never been to Japan? Takashimaya has a flagship store big enough for its own zip code and weather systems. Near the Orchard MRT station is a Border's Bookstore the size of the Library of Congress with chairs and a coffee bar. Some stores are large enough to issue their own postage stamps. Some stretch across multiple time zones (handy for later night shopping). Check out Tang's, a Chinese brandmark, plus every other consumer-fueled dream nightmare acid trip money using product offering candy coated credit card deck stacked wild eyed thing. I am now dizzy just typing without enough punctuation.

Be careful crossing streets. Traffic runs on the opposite side of the road from North America, and weird things happen with traffic signals that allow turns from roads you didn't see a moment ago. Plus, you'll be looking all around at stores and the masses purchasing their own body weight in goods all around, and likely miss incoming cars. Remind your kids that just because there is a fast food place every three steps does not mean you have to eat in all of them.

One neat thing you might miss is the traditional Singapore ice cream vendors. They sell real ice cream sandwiches, by which I mean ice cream served between two slices of actual bread. The prices are lower than the nearby chain stores, and come on Mom, it is a historical thing and traditional and cultural and you are always saying those are things we should pay more attention to instead of just watching videos all day, so get the kids some ice cream already.

After you walk all the way from your end of Orchard Road to the other end and your feet hurt and you are hot, you will recognize that the road is one way and the taxis are not obviously headed back to your hotel. Walk over to Somerset Road, behind the MRT Orchard and Somerset stations you'll pass, and you'll see it goes the other way, back home for you.

Keep and Eye Out For…

Down near a dumpy place called Lucky Plaza is a store called House of Condoms that has a sidewalk-level window display you may want to bypass.

A place called Orchard Plaza is slimy, with massage parlors that look like places you can get more than a massage at. We were told that pickpocketing is an occasion issue in crowds but never had any trouble at all ourselves.

Singapore has some very straight forward ideas on social engineering, and many bus shelters and MRT stations have photos of people who used drugs that are meant to shock kids into not messing with the stuff.

Sim Lim and Funan Computer Centers

If you are into computers, game consoles or just about anything the uses electricity, Singapore is a great place to buy stuff. There are two main shopping places, each very different.

Funan IT Center is the most promoted, and is very clean, modern and shiny. Stuff you buy comes in sealed boxes with warranties, and the clerks are knowledgeable and most stores take credit cards. If you are not sure what you need, want buying advice and opinions and prefer to know you are buying only legitimate software, this is the place. Be sure to check the voltage/electrical stuff, as most products that are not multi-voltage won't work in the US. The nearest MRT station is City Hall, NS25/EW13.

Sim Lim center is pretty much the opposite. If you are a knowledgeable buyer, its chaotic, street market atmosphere can be fun and while you won't get the deal of the century, you will save money. There are supposedly some 400 small shops inside the main building, some selling things as specific as only the metal back plates for PCs, some larger mini- mega-stores. Illegally copied software and DVDs comes and goes in Singapore, but if it is on sale in Singapore while you are there, Sim Lim is the place to find it. Most of the pirate stuff is obviously priced as pirate stuff, and I did not see anyone trying to pass off copied discs as the real thing. Be advised that buying and importing fake goods back into your home country is illegal. The nearest MRT station is Bugis, EW12.

Lastly, you will see ads for Mustafa Centre in Little India, proclaiming it to be an electronics superstore and that it is open 24 hours a day. Well, it is open 24 hours a day but unless you are in the market for a 220V rice cooker or a new cell phone that works only in Singapore, spend your IT money at one of the places above instead. If you don't believe me, or you really need a rice cooker, the nearest MRT station is Farrer Park, NE 8.

If you visit a Singapore Tourist Center, be sure to pick up their pamphlet “Your Guide to Electronics and IT Shopping,” which has maps to the places mentioned above.

Hobby Shops and Toy Stores

On Orchard Road you can find a large Toy ‘r Us store, at the Tangs Department store end of the Road, second floor, green glass building. It has everything you'd find at home in a Toys ‘r Us.

For hobby items, at the other end of Orchard Road, try Centre Point Hobbies, located in a huge shopping complex called Centre Point. They have a lot of plastic models, some dollhouse things and some R/C. Sort of next door in the sleazy Orchard Plaza complex is a smaller R/C-only shop. The Centre Point Hobbies branch that used to be down near Toys ‘r Us has closed.

Specialist's Center, kind of across the street from Centre Point and next to the Somerset MRT station, has a large John Smith department store with some toys. Buried upstairs and in the back is a rude hobby store with a poor selection and few marked prices not worth your time.

For plastic models, especially military stuff, your best bet is Miniature Hobbies in the Marina Bay shopping center. They have a nice selection, decent prices and staff that is just in love with what they sell and will enjoy talking your ear off. If you are in town for awhile, they also offer weekend airbrushing lessons. One of the guys who works there has his own web site

Another decent choice right off Orchard Road is Hobby Focus, in the Far East Plaza. They have a good selection of plastic kits and paints, and a nice rack of catalogs and Concord publications in English.

Everybody said the best hobby shop on the island is out of town somewhere in the Katong Shopping Center and accessible only by bus or car, but we never got there, sorry people.

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