Since we stay at one of its service apartments, we are allowed to use the facilities at Singapore’s Shangri-La.
And as soon as you step into its lobby there’s no mistaking the time of the year you’re in. As you head towards the gymnasium amidst the Christmastide and its inimitable carols, you almost forget there’s a pandemic about because of the normalcy of the scene: families taking photographs under the towering, bauble-bedecked tree stretching up to the roof.
There’s a smell of chocolate in the air and it’s strongest near the escalator that takes you down to the gym. The reason isn’t immediately obvious and then you get it: the tableaux of three dazzlingly white polar bears playing with presents amidst the snow and ice next to the escalator is fashioned entirely out of chocolate.
Only when you’re on the escalator do you realise why the scene isn’t completely normal: everyone’s wearing a mask.
We decided not to go back for Christmas this year after cases in Malaysia began spiking four months ago. It prompted Singapore to tighten its rules. Previously, when we went back, we only needed to quarantine for a week at our apartment when we returned. Now we had to do it for two weeks at some government facility and, being foreigners, we had to pay for the privilege.
In any case, with Malaysia under movement control and our daughter in Amsterdam it wasn’t hard decision to make.
If you had to be somewhere else during the Yuletide season, Singapore’s the place to be with some additional advantages. Like many Malaysians, both Rebecca and I have family here and my niece, for example, has kindly invited us over to her place on the 23rd.
The other is that the island republic can seriously put on a show when it comes to Christmas. Only 20% of the country is Christian but the statistic belies the spectacle the nation puts on.
Carols were already being played on radio stations by November, while glittering, trees in tinsel and twine began sprouting in shops all over the place by early December.
It’s clearly a transactional Christmas in these parts and they make no bones about it. Even before Deepavali rolled around this year, the Christmas lights began blazing along Orchard Road on November 13.
We were out for dinner two nights ago and the lights along the 2.2- kilometre road were something else. Spectacular is one word that comes to mind. Over the top are three words more.
And then there’s the Botanical Gardens where a loop-around is about 4 miles. That was too long so we just cut through diagonally. Volunteers have done a fantastic job trimming every other tree along its length in Christmas splendor. You can imagine how the gardens might look like at twilight. It gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling.
Rebecca’s baked her pineapple tarts and thrown in some panettone for good measure. So, we’re all set.
We’ve invited four friends – all Malaysians as well – for dinner on Christmas Eve which is just nice as our dining table only seats 6.
Merry Christmas everyone!