Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's that magical time of the year

Bart Simpson observed that "Christmas is the one time of year when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ."

This is especially apparent in a global culture like Singapore where citizens and tourists of different ethnicity are busy preparing to celebrate Christmas their own way. Orchard Road, in particular, is all dressed up in dazzling dancing lights to welcome this distinctive season. As Norman Vincent Peale puts it, "Christmas waves a magic wand over this world and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful."

As usual shopping favorites such as Ikea, Giant, Vivo, Daiso, Sim Lim, Funan, This Fashion and others are teeming with shoppers and they are really buying!

One unique shopping experience is 24-hour Mustafa Centre. It is huge—150,000 square feet of shopping area in four levels of a six-story building along Syed Alwi Road. My traveling companions, Susan Valencia-Samaco, Berna Ronduen and Zeny Rivera, and I spent six hours in two evenings there and, yet, we had not seen all supposed 75,000 different products on display. People traffic rivals that of Orchard Road—they serve 15,000 shoppers at peak times—it was difficult to walk around without bumping into another shopper, mostly Hindi, or knocking some goodies off the shelves.

They sell every imaginable product and service one needs for the house, office, for a lazy or busy day, for the garden, backyard, farm, for casual or formal occasion, for all seasons of the year, etc. These are sourced from different parts of the world. I had to look at several rows of eight-foot tall shelves just to look for Pearl Drops toothpaste.

There are check out counters all over, not just at the exit points. They take precautions against theft by sealing shopping bags really tight, you couldn't even insert a toothpick inside. As one Singaporean concludes, they don't trust their own. And I am sure there are CCTV cameras all over because there are very few visible store workers though they claim to have 1, 270 employees. I wanted to buy a beautiful cashmere muffler that has no price tag. I walked the entire 3rd floor, but the only one store worker I saw dismissed me like, "I don't know, that's not my department." The cashiers shrugged me off and told me to find help somewhere.

They also offer travel, hotel, remittance and foreign exchange services with their shop and stay business model. The Centre houses a hotel with 130 furnished rooms. They continuously monitor their customer needs and try to cater to them. I was told that the owner of Mustafa started by peddling ready made garments from a "kariton" and now is the 8th wealthiest Singaporean. Mustafa makes SGD302 million (aboutPhP10 billion) annual volume.

Talking of volume, Mustafa is relatively quiet despite the number of people around. There is no blaring music or announcements; you can still chat in whispers. Surprisingly, prices of most goods are much lower than our local shops offer.

Having experienced Mustafa, I remember the last time I checked out some malls here in Metro Manila. They are very noisy with their ear-piercing music broadcasts and usual noisy chatter of Filipino shoppers. What I like about shopping here, though, are beautifully displayed products, tasteful interior designs of stores, wide lanes and alleyways and the nice-smelling shoppers.

Nonetheless, Singapore is a shopping paradise. Singaporeans are generally respectful and helpful to tourists. And you have that feeling that nobody is taking advantage of your being not from there and not speaking their language. At Sim Lim and Funan, for example, you could get a variety of original electronic items at very low prices and guaranteed quality. At Pek Kyo Market along Owen Road, they offer some of the same goods sold in Mustafa, but of smaller volume and lower prices.

Well, as we go on this Christmas shopping frenzy, let us all remember what Roy L. Smith once said, "He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree."


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