Something Is Missing

Rows and rows or cascades after cascades of fairy lights on holiday leave at Christmas Light-Up 2019

 

Orchard Road Xmas 2019.jpg

By Ray Zhang

After 35 years, perhaps the novelty of the Orchard Road Christmas light-up has worn off. I look forward to it as I would the arrival of noon-day heat or the opening of another bubble tea shop. Still, it is the only Christmas draw that Orchard Road can offer, and even that increasingly borders on the lame. It is not clear what purpose the Light-Up now offers other than obligatory decorating of a street that otherwise would have as much pull as Far East Plaza.

A week before the Light-Up was officially switched on, I was in Orchard Road. Seeing just the lamp post decorations up, I thought perhaps, the work was incomplete. Last night, when I was out to catch the festive lights in their full glory (“A Great Gift”, as this year’s theme will have you believe), I was quite surprised—shocked would have been a better word, but I resist—to see emptiness directly above Orchard Road itself. There was nothing, not even a string of fairy lights. You could see the blackness that was the dark sky clearly. Unobstructed.

This year, for reasons not entirely clear, Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA, ) and its design company opted for a noticeable change: just road-side adornments, mostly lamp-post decorations and scant ornaments dangling from the trees that line both sides of the “great street”. This year’s decoration, however colourful pedestrians think it is, looks half-done.

 

Orchard Road Xmas 2019 P2

ORBA’s executive director Steven Goh told The Straits Times that “The Christmas street light design is refreshed in a new showcase format with the objective to create a more immersive pedestrian experience designed for visitors who walk along Orchard Road during this festive season.” If, in addition, there were no decorations from the buildings on both sides of the street, I wonder how immersive those one-dimensional “great gifts” up there can be.

As with window displays, street light-ups during this time of the year are notoriously unable to please everybody. I would be the first to admit that I’m not at all easily thrilled, especially when the embellishment and trimming look like they need more work—and lights (even when we’re told that the exact length of LED lights are the same as last year’s, some 60,620m of it)—to complete. A street light-up just has to have lights strung across or along the road. Call me old-fashioned.

I am baffled, too, as to why Mr Goh thought that the “light design is refreshed” when it looks to me a total break from last year’s much-maligned Disney theme-park blandness. The “commercialisation” of Christmas—as new as Santa itself—upset quite a few last year, rather that the light-up’s aesthetic value. Some, for whom Christmas must not move away from tradition, took umbrage at the crassness of Mickey Mouse enjoying Christmas. It was as if Be@rbrick characters were doing the nativity scene.

 

Orchard Road Xmas 2019 P3

I sometimes wonder if there’s a need for complete design change to our light-up every single year. Would that not result in eco-unfriendly waste? Could we not have recycled past decorations with thematic variations? If we don’t put up new ornaments on the same plastic tree every year in our living room, why should Orchard Road boast a new festive wardrobe every November/December? Some argue that the same light-up every year may be repetitive. But in other cities, where street illumination is festive necessity and tourist draw, recognisable consistency is not necessarily unvaried or uninteresting.

In London’s Oxford Street, light canopies of one colour have been used for many years, yet each time, the light-up seems different as the themes are changed (this year, it has been reported that there will be an upgrade to “LED light curtains”). And, the Oxford Street light-up has not seen a decrease in visitors. Similarly, closer home, the decorations on Tokyo’s Marunouchi Naka-Dori Avenue (just across from Tokyo Station) has remained somewhat identical through the years, yet the queues to get into the stretch with the most dazzling lights in the days leading up to Christmas have not, as I am aware, shortened.

Orchard Road’s aspirational days are, sadly, left behind like the fairy lights in this years Christmas light-up. Its feeble display is a lady of a certain age togged in finery that are no longer fine. Even the christmas.orchardroad.org website strains to convince us to “revel in the gift of the holidays at this wonderland of light and colour”. Wonderland. No characters or avatars except jolly Santa. This year, Orchard Road is carefully staying clear of controversy.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

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