It’s the smell that gets me. Every time I step into a bookshop (most bookshops anyway), I feel like I’m snuggled in between the pages of a book. (You know, when you buy a new book and you bury your nose in its pages, and even run your thumb across the pages to fan the smell of book paper–I love that!) And for anyone who loves books, what could be more satisfying than stepping into a small shop that just smells of books and have shelves and shelves of it.
On my last day in Singapore a few days ago, while my friend K and I looked for a place to have lunch with the girls, we explored Duxton Road in the Tanjong Pagar area. As the past trip to Singapore last year proved, I am a slut for shop houses, and when I saw that Duxton was lined with lovely shophouses, I made sure to explore it.
I was told that the conservation shophouses along Duxton used to be occupied by a number of seedy bars. Well, after it cleaned up its act, different businesses have opened up shop, including Littered with Books.
Littered with Books in a conservation shophouse along Duxton Road in Singapore
If shophouses could sing, the ones in Ann Siang Hill would be happily singing the West Side story ditty. In this curvy, sloping road and the other nearby streets, many shophouses beautifully line the area. Fortunately, the day before we left Singapore, our three friends who were living and working there decided to take me and P to a walking tour around that part of Chinatown.
Rows of elegantly-restored shophouses
Love the colors of these two shophouses
According to a Singapore travel guide, most of the shophouses in this area used to be occupied by Chinese clan associations and groups. While some still remain, most of the shophouses we saw have been turned into chic boutiques, bars and restaurants. We went inside several shops and it was no surprise that inside such lovely shophouses were lovely things for sale–from Scandinavian furniture (in Style: Nordic) to books (The Picture Bookshop, Books Actually) to racks of knick-knacks you never thought you needed.
I was prepared not to like Singapore. I have been holding a petty grudge against it a few years back, since it started luring a few of my close friends to work there. (What with the promise of higher salaries for the same work you do in your own country, yeah most people would bolt.) It didn’t help that when I first went there more than six years ago for an overnight work-related trip, all I saw was Orchard Road and what seemed like a long stretch of shopping centers and high-rises. As first impressions go, it appeared like a sleek city of shopping and I wasn’t much of a shopper. But two months ago, when my brother-in-law was invited to have a photo exhibit in White Canvas Gallery in Singapore, I took it as an excuse to finally see my friends in the country they now call home and spend more than a night (four nights, to be precise), getting to know the small city-state that travel guides tout packs a lot of attractions.
Among its attractions, what I was most interested to see were the districts that possessed culture and character in every corner. Singapore had been criticized for the lack of both when it began to prosper back in the 1970s and 80s. But it does have them, albeit too gentrified for some. And the charming shophouses definitely boast both culture and character in its history and architecture.
Shophouses were the one thing I immediately loved about Singapore. Heritage buildings from the 19th and early 20th century, they stand at two or three stories, typically narrow, and often restored with its intricate curves and arches and lovely combination of colors. Originally, the structure of a shophouse featured a work space for the ground floor and residential quarters for the upper levels. Thankfully, they still line (or dot) several areas, Chinatown, Kampong Glam, Emerald Hill and though not as well-restored (and it seems the least gentrified), a few in Little India.
First stop: Little India. Can you say colorful?