The first is the Orchard Mall, filled with Tai-tais, TWGs, and price-tags which can blind you.
The second is the Strata Mall; a little shabby, a little eclectic, with the forlorn air of an impending en-bloc.
The last is the Capitaland Mall, designed for mass appeal and precision-engineered for profit. They are, by far, the most ubiquitous, but also the most formulaic. There’s a McDonalds squatting by the entrance, a Gongcha in the basement, and a flock of claw machines high above. On the second floor, there’s either a MUJI, a Uniqlo or a Challenger selling power banks on discount. In B2, you will walk past a Boost Juice, a GNC, a supermarket, and probably a Breadtalk. After a while, the different malls blend into one. You feel as if you’ve spent half your life in their arms, without ever developing any real affection for them.
Funan is a Capitaland mall, and for this reason, it is unreviewable. Reviewing it is as pointless as reviewing the SMRT gantry or the Food Court Drink Stall. They are not attractions/things per se, but features of our landscape, as necessary and as unchanging as the tides.
I said as much to my Editor, Julian, who basically told me to go fuck myself in reply. The opening of a new mall is a sacred event in our national calendar, he pronounced—I’m paraphrasing here—and people WILL be talking about it. Hence, we MUST show up, if only to show that RICE is as relevant and as facile as the next digital media outlet.
I contemplate stabbing him with a pair of blunt scissors—Et tu, PJ? —but what’s the point? Another company. Another OT. I set my alarm for 7.30 AM Saturday and fall asleep dreaming of ‘Work-life Balance’.
Funan is a Capitaland Mall. Temasek’s tagline calls it ‘a creative intersection’ and ‘a new paradigm for live-work-play’, but that’s just overwrought copywriting. Peel away its neon-crusted makeup, and you will find your acne’d adolescence staring back.
They’ve swapped out the Uniqlo for a Sonos, and added self-service kiosks to the Kopitiam—sorry—‘KopiTech’, but it still bears the indelible marks of a Capitaland production. Follow the ‘cycling trail’ which bisects the mall and it will lead you to a crowded McDonalds by the entrance. Climb down the indoor rock-wall and you will find an NTUC right around the corner. This NTUC only has self-checkout counters, but that’s beside the point. Once you’ve bought your snacks and hidden them inside your bag, you can smuggle them into the Golden Village on level four.
My photographer describes it as a blend of Jewel/Cineleisure/Bugis+. I think it’s more like Westgate/Plaza Sing. Between our half-baked descriptions, there’s some measure of truth to be found—every mall resembles every other mall.
However, there are changes. Whereas the old Funan mall was an IT mall, the new Funan feels more like a mall for people who work in IT. There are no more shops selling laptops with juiced-up SSD memory, or with a free gaming mouse thrown in. Whereas the old Funan was built for gamers too lazy to visit an Expo IT show, this brave new Funan is a Disneyland for newly-hatched Elon Musks; budding Silicon Valley types who work in startups and do mysterious things with the cloud.
It’s a mall for women who Lean In, consume $13 grain bowls and attend Barre classes in the evening; it’s a playground for men who ride foldable bicycles, work in Fintech, and possess tedious opinions on where to find the best single-origin coffee. You know who I’m talking about, those affluent Ann Siang types with GuavaPasses and Noise-Cancelling Bose Headphones for their open office.
I’m not joking here. It’s that sort of place. There really is a Barre studio (02-25), a Bose outlet (03-24), and no less than 3 grain bowl joints offering sous-vide cai png (02-04). The foldable bicycles are found at Brompton Junction (01-26), and for your next Fintech conference, can I interest you in some Samsonite luggage? (01-24) Starting price: $240. As for hipster coffee, there are no less than 5 options—PPP, Dal.komm, Workspace Espresso Bar, Sinpopo and Tiong Bahru Bakery—each one more chic and crowded than the last.
Tedious opinion par excellence: Unless you are a caffeine anthropologist like my erstwhile editor—who knows every washing station between Nyakizu and Huehuetenango—they taste the same and cost the same.
Hence, the gym, the eco-friendly ‘collectives’, the WeWork franchise, the office-friendly casual-wear clothing retailers, and the insta-friendly neon backdrops. Hence, the many many shops selling tiny desk-bound succulents—plants that can survive even the most distracted Gen-Z Gardener.
The food was delicious, but it’s not as sumptuous as the view outside. Make no mistake, I may laugh at the retail offerings, but Funan’s rooftop urban farm is something else altogether.
It is lovely to behold, even with the Supreme Court hovering above like a benign alien overlord.
Talking at a breathless pace, she tells us that Love, Bonito can be summed up in just three words: Confidence. Change. Community. A crowd of Chinese OLs cheer her on as she declares: “Confidence empowers us to take on the next C, which is Change.”
The Love, Bonito community—captioned as #LBcommunity—goes wild.
It struck me then what this hashtag-heavy space is all about. For some years now, our government has been trying to will #SmartNation into existence. Physical banking has all but disappeared, and we’ve been nagged—ceaselessly—to go cashless, to embrace disruption, to future-proof our lives with #innovation #skillsfuture #creativity. To survive the world’s changing, we must become a nation of outward-looking tech-entrepreneurs with an ever-growing number of hyphens in our job description.
Funan 2.0 is perhaps the purest architectural distillation of this vision. It is Minister Chan Chun Sing’s wet dream writ large. If Jewel Changi projects an image of Singapore as Garden-Oasis to travellers, then Funan represents—in physical form—the government’s vision of what Singapore ought to be in 2025—a Tropical outpost of Silicon Valley; a nation of budding Tan Min Liangs and Jack Mas. In short, Funan is not just a mall, it is also a manger for the messianic Singaporean tech giant, yet unborn, whose tax revenues will redeem us from irrelevance.
Funan’s other tagline—It’s Gonna Be Lit.—already sounds dated and cringeworthy. Let’s just hope that the mall doesn’t meet a similar fate.