Sunday, 17 December 2006

Viva Las Vivo

Vivo City is the latest in a long line of Singaporean shopping complexes. It was officially opened shortly after we arrived in Singapore and well before it was actually completed.

Biding our time we waited until today to visit the complex to see what all of the fuss was about.

The MRT goes straight to Harbourside and a subterranean maze guides the unwary to the shopping mecca.

Am I alone in thinking that there is something very sterile about shopping malls? What ever layer of glitz is applied they still are built to the same formula and visiting one brings on a rapid feeling of deja vu. Vivo City is designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito and the design claims to focus on nature and open spaces. Being Saturday, I cannot in all honesty say that I saw any open spaces - there were droves of Singaporeans in all directions.

By comparison, I slipped down to my local bau shop on Killiney Road this evening . The pungent mix of balachan (or belacan if you prefer) and other spices were in the air; the sound of a youngster practising the cello in the upper reaches of a shop house and there was a steady, but not oppressive bustle along the footpath. All in all a pleasant and relaxing encounter and the food is not the sanitised variety that one finds in the malls. Give me the genuine smell of 'smoking woks at dawn' any day!

Vivo City has one thing going for it and that is its strategic location. Being situated directly opposite Sentosa Island it stands to benefit greatly from the new 'Integrated Resort' that is about to be built there and opens in three years.

The term 'Integrated Resort' is PR spin for 'casino'. The selection of the consortium to build both casinos has been the subject of much speculation in the local media. I was hoping that the Gehry design might win through as visitors would have come from around the world just to view the iconic architecture but this was not to be.

If you ask Singaporeans about the building of casinos in their country you will get a very mixed response. Many are really worried about the social problems that will inevitably follow the opening of such venues. Others are more pragmatic and appreciate that the country needs to provide more attractions to make Singapore the tourism destination of choice that it once was.

The reality is that Singapores status as an electronics hub is under serious threat from China. Another factor is that modern aircraft can go further without stop-overs or refuelling and combined with the rapidly increasing competition of countries such as China and Dubai, Singapore has to reinvent itself for destination and convention / incentive tourism. An example of this is the cessation of services to this country by Air New Zealand, an airline that had been travelling here for forty years and now has moved its hub further North to Hong Kong.

Dubai is religiously copying Singapore's style as a hub and using copious amounts of oil money in the process so clearly Singapore faces many challenges in the immediate future.

The country will however overcome these as it has a very procative and pragmatic government, one that is thankfully not prone to the endless vacilation and political corection of many western democracies.

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