Odyssey-ing about town on a rainy and gray Saturday…

The day started ordinarily enough, a typical wet and cold January morning thoroughly rained through from the tail end of the late north-east monsoon. [aside: hope to see waterspouts over the seas off the east coast this year; a usual occurrence during the end of the NE monsoon in Jan/Feb from the extra rain and changing winds; but sadly last year I didn’t catch any].

Little did I know that behind the sleeting rain and gray skies, Chance was hiding its sly grin and already has its capricious hand upon me, directing me to my eventual Wislawa Szymborska-ian like encounter… Parallel lines do meet someday after all…

I had arranged to meet some people for a late weekend lunch, so despite the rain I still gamely stepped out in the wet and cold, taking my white umbrella along with me.
The late lunch at Rendezvous Hotel extended into tea-time at The Courtyard, but even by the time it finished, the rain had not let up. I said my goodbyes and decided to take a walk in the rain with my sleek umbrella in the surrounding always-pleasing cultural civic district, with its museums, monuments, and in recent years, rather funkily-designed art schools and business schools.

I made my way past the still-new SOTA (School of the Arts) building with its interesting textured facade cladding and decks, steps and domino slopes. The rain got heavier and I ducked into the transformed Cathay building to take shelter. Have not been here in a while, looks like it finally livened up after the slow start with its reopening some years back, with an almost full offering of stores now besides the bespoke cinema theaters. The Gramophone music store on the ground floor is still there…reminds me of the original old Gramophone store tucked away in the basement of Specialist’s Shopping Center in the late 90’s with its very avant-garde offerings of alternative music and its own in-house DJ and music guide who would talk with you and recommend music (very much like in John Cusack’s High Fidelity), and which then was known only to a handful of die-hard alternative music fans who guarded our music haven jealously, but that’s another story…

Gramophone seems to have regressed over the years, ever since it had the main bulk of its business hijacked by its come-lately but more glamorous ‘brother’ store, of a certain this or THAT CD shop, proving once again that blood may be thicker than water, but it can also stab you hard in the back.
Anyway, the store looks a little dated and tired now, more like a warehouse having a perpetual fire-sale of old dusty music CDs and last season’s Hollywood blockbusters, an anachronism in today’s world of digital online music stores and mobile accessibility…perfect for an anachronistic misfit like me. I headed straight for the ALT MUSIC section. Pitiful selection. I even found a Chemical Brothers album lumped in together there. Sigh. I did find some old Hotel Costes and Stéphane Pompougnac albums, was tempted for a moment to grab it all, just for old times sake, but…nah.

I left Cathay and wandered down towards Orchard Road, passing by the old and now new again Plaza Singapura with the attached Atrium glasshouse where our swf managers roll and play dice, oops I mean judiciously manage, our reserves and re-hypothecated assets of our national assets and pension funds. Walked on past the Istana and into the Orchard Rd shopping district proper, now filled with many new malls and buildings whose names I have a hard time remembering and distinguishing. Did I just walk past 313@Orchard or was it Somerset Central? The Hereen’s all boarded up with hoardings, must be a major renovation. Memories of browsing at the huge HMV music store there, having drinks at the little cafes on the top floor, and interviews higher up still in the office tower with one of the largest independent oil traders in the world. Ha.

Got tired walking in the rain and getting my shoes splashed on by the jostling and seemingly largely foreign crowds. Ended up in one of the now considered older shopping mall on the strip, Ngee Ann City, or what my architecture professor and feng shui consultant, Dr Evelyn Lip, called The Grave Mound and Tombstone building, complete with the joss-sticks/flag-poles out front, and even the two strangely located at the sides escalator access structures leading to the basement levels and underpasses serving as the 后土 slabs of traditional chinese graves.

And naturally found myself in the Kino bookstore. Browsed through some interesting titles. A new large coffee-table pictorial on Geoffrey Bawa, one of my favourite and one of the most renowned Asian architects who came into the field as a late second career (some thoughts there). A compilation of the complete axioms of Frege, whose work I used a long time ago to teach myself propositional logic for an ‘extra-curricular’ math class, before I was told he was not mainstream and so, unusable. A new translation and commentary on Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks; Gramsci is always interesting and frightfully seductive.

But the day was getting late and I had been out for too long. And I needed a drink. I needed my reduced sugar fresh soy milk with 20g of protein in each carton. And I just couldn’t find it in Ngee Ann City. Decided to cross over to Paragon and try the basement supermarket there. They were closing but I managed to find my soy milk and get into one of the two parallel lines behind the only two checkout counters still open. Made a quick game theoretic calculation and decision to skip the express line for the other line. Good decision. The shopping baskets ahead of me cleared a lot quicker than the longer express line of people holding single items. Two customers ahead of me a lady had just finished her purchase, picked up her bagged groceries and turned around. Surprise. Recognition. On both our faces.

I have just met my Lin Yan-mei 蔺燕梅 from high school.


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