The Digital Shift: Livestream Retailing

Brands selling through platforms such as Facebook Live are on the rise, but must each session be such a by-the-way and pasar affair?

Uniqlo on Facebook Live on 11.11, with hosts Fauzi Aziz (left), Felicia Poh (right), and model (centre). Screen grab Uniqlo/Facebook

As shoppers are spending more time online and staying away from physical stores, more brands are bringing the store to the shoppers via social media. Digital consumerism is truly becoming the heart of civic life. Livestream retail, while not a new way of selling, is fast gaining traction on our island. This primarily involves a host or more—brand owner(s), staff, or their friends—introducing or recommending products in a live video through platforms such as Facebook or Instagram, presently the two most popular. The shows are often productions with budgets so low, they’re probably zero, shot in a corner of an office or a store, even a warehouse with what, in many cases, appears to be a smartphone. As they are streamed live, editing is virtually absent and what you see is what you get. And, what you often do see and get are not exactly examples of polished videography or even compelling selling, nor funny jokes. In the age of TikTok videos, we are constantly told, no one cares about finish or finesse.

These endeavours are not the moving of mountains, but perhaps they should be, given live commerce’s increasing importance as a sales channel. Most of the selling via livestreams that we have viewed in the interest of this post are not even an uphill hike; they are no better than the majority of the crappy posts seen on TikTok, which is now so influential in its visual aesthetics that even television commercials are mimicking them. One TVC producer told us, “these days, anyone with a smartphone can be the host and the director. Who bothers with script and pre-pro?” Which explains why many retail livestreams appear to be conducted extempore, with hosts often asking each other what to do or show next, or struggling to describe what they are wearing or have in their hands. Is this really the appeal: as if you have just met the sales persons in Zoom, and they are—lucky you—willing to do a lame song and dance just to sell you a dress.

One of the latest brands to join the preferred platform, Facebook Live, to sell their wares is Uniqlo. Two nights ago, they streamed a 24-minute session to “celebrate” 11.11, but it bore little celebratory oopmh. The show was video-recorded on a selling floor of their Global Flagship Store at Orchard Central, but looked like it could have been at any of their smaller suburban outlets. The host, Felicia Poh, “who handles public relations” appears, but it was after a palpable one-and-half minute wait before we could be acquainted with her yoo-hoo exuberance. She was then joined by Fauzi Aziz, marketing lead of The Smart Local, who gushed about how much he loves the brand. Both were so bubbly, they practically frothed. But nothing they announced was especially new or appealing, despite the promise of sharing “a lot of exciting stuff”, not even the news that the +J collection, already trending, will launch next week. What worked in their favour was that they did not have to go off-screen to change into what they wanted to sell. Rather, they had the best-looking members of the Uniqlo staff to model the looks, which, admittedly, were well styled, even when a binder clip could be seen clasped to the ribbed hem of a sweatshirt one of them wore, to tighten it over his waist. This model was put in an uncomfortable position when he was subject of ill-considered humour. Mr Aziz had said about the outfit: “I saw him from afar and I was like saying, ‘I could work this.’” Before he was able to complete what he wanted to say, his co-host outed him with “like your new crush“!

The indefatigable three of Mdada: (from letf) Pornsak Prajakwit, Addy Lee, and Michele Chia. Screen grab: Mdada/Facebook

Not all brands have the advantage of attractive-looking staffers to strut during a livestream or to excite the hosts. So for most, the girl/boy-next-door presenters, usually a pair, slip in and out of outfits between inane banter, and not always with the finesse of professional models or hosts who know what to do before a camera. But these livestreams are not television broadcasts. Anything goes, and it usually does. Typically, the videos appear and nothing really happens until minutes later. It is not clear why they can’t start at the scheduled time. As with most livestreams, the hosts would move about, pretending they are not videoed yet. And when the show does begin, peppy is often the way to start. The best example of this is Mdada (达达开播), the e-commerce company of former TV comperes Michele Chia and Pornsak Prajakwit, and hairstylist Addy Lee that generated S$15 million in “unaudited revenue”, according to The Straits Times. Mdada’s success is largely based on grassroots vibes and the rawness of hold-the-smartphone-in-front productions, from which viewers are pulled into their loud and goofy, but artless charm.

Started in September last year, Mdada illustrates that selling online the way they do is best conducted as if a bunch of friends got together for some boisterous fun. Gentility and grace are not part of the company. Typically, the hosts kick off with mindless banter so that you would get used to their raucous presence. A necessity as each livestream can go on for hours, up to a staggering twelve, according to the trio. This is sustained via what Mr Lee, also the CEO of Mdada and the godfather of Quan Yifeng’s daughter Eleanor Lee, described to the media as “engaging hosts” (he is one of them—about seven, including Shane Pow), delivering “engaging product demos, exclusive deals, and limited-time auction”. To engage, they seem to, crucially, grate: each of them need only be themselves, Bengness and Lianness to the hilt, with a body of words—Mandarin (primarily), English, and Hokkien—in a din that could be used to lelong anything from massages to Moschino. And the livestreams must also contain, what Mr Prajakwit told CNBC, “info-taintment”. It is not known if their audience—close to 35,000 followers on FB—are truly informed or entertained, or both, while the peddlers often perform in the presence of a sloppy pile.

Nor are we told of the demographics of their shoppers. It could be companionable to watch the Mdada hosts go about their business of silly-talk selling, but it is amazing that one does not feel the effects of the tight space in which the sales are conducted and, especially, when the hairdresser’s face frequently fills the screen. Who, we wonder, are inspired or aroused to shop when they see, for example, Mr Lee and his co-host hold up crumpled Prada paper bags in a dim hotel room, as seen on a recent teaser of their livestream from Italy? It is also not known if the selling that takes place on the opposite side of sophistication (merchandise in a mess before them, for example) is endorsed by the brands they so enthusiastically hawk. Mdada (or MLux, as the platform for selling luxury goods is called) certainly provides an experience contrary to what a shopper is likely to meet in an actual designer boutique (their livestreams from Italy appeared to be conducted in stores of an outlet mall). The days of experiential purchases are over? A former fashion buyer told us, “It is possible that most of the shoppers on Mdada are intimidated by the thought of walking into a luxury store. Buying on livestreams is less daunting and less likely to cause anxiety.”

Two is the company: Fayth Live. Screen grab: Fayth/Facebook

It is understandable that there are those who would not have the confidence to enter a Prada store, but would anyone be too anxious to walk into, say, Fayth, the SG brand with an unmistakable blogshop aesthetic? Founded by Ryan Ng and Janis Gan in 2012, Fayth’s physical shops are happy friendships between pastel shades and accessible prettiness. Still, their livestreams on FB can be a draw. In their last, posted in July, hosts Sarah and Yvonne attracted 284 viewers to their 42-minute show. Nothing really happened and the selling did not attempt to whip things up. As they bantered and giggled, and giggled, someone unseen (presumably the videographer) would ask them questions that viewers had presumably posted. The bespectacled duo tried their best to answer, as well as to offer personal opinions. They would move nearer the camera to show the details on their outfits (a particular favourite is the “concealed zip”—“can’t really see, that’s why it’s called concealed zip”) or bring a dress on a hanger closer to fill the screen so that those watching them would know “there’s also elastic band inside” or what shade ivory is: “so it’s a bit like creamy colour”.

As the one-take production did not benefit from the input of a sound engineer, their giggly voices tended to echo through the relatively empty and surprisingly neat space. Sarah had the habit of dragging her feet, so the cluck-cluck of her short block-heels would interject her selling, even when she went off-screen or as she came back on. This continued even when she was in a pair of slides and, later, sneakers (since Fayth does not sell footwear, it is possible the hosts wore their own. The effort looked like an afterthought). Everything they tried was perfect: not too long, not too short; and all the dresses kept to one silhouette: tented. The girls changed and showed off the clothes with palpable delight, sometimes shaking their bodies, as if to prove that what they wore were truly hanging loosely. And if that was not enough, they encouraged each other to twirl. In fact, any dress that was not form-fitting was described with one word—“flowy”.

In most of the livestreams we have watched, the lack of fashion literacy is startling. You’d think that individuals hosting shows to sell clothes would know at least the basic terms relating to what they would be putting out for sale, but that is frequently not the case. For Uniqlo, Felicia Poh described a notch (similar to a fishtail parka’s) at the hem of the centre-back of the dress she wore as a “flap”, while Fauzi Aziz, who told the viewers he was “decked out” in +J, went rather blank over a grossgrain tape that covered the rear seam of the yoke of a sweatshirt, referring to it as a “thick woven fabric on the back detail”. To Mdada’s Addy Lee, who hawks with the resonance of a Hungry Ghost Festival auctioneer, every pair of footwear was a xie (鞋) or shoe, whether sneakers or Wallabees, and every bag a baobao (包包) until it became enough to kaishi baobao (开始包包) or “start bags” when the selling commenced. Sarah from Fayth was more informative, so much so that she pointed to you that a dress was made of “polyester material”, in case you’d think polyester is a vegetable or that the dress came with “inner lining” so that you’ll not mistake it for outer lining. And to help you further, a skirt over built-in shorts was called a “skort”, even when it’s not shorts pretending to be a skirt. And just as delightful, the invisible bearer of viewers’ questions asked earnestly, “what is the material of this fabric?”

In Good Company Live offers the company of five hosts (three seen here). Screen grabs: In Good Company/Facebook

The need to use relatable rojak language is understandable. As one marketing head said to us with a hint of regret in his voice, “we are not exactly sophisticated consumers.” It’s not just our irrational love of “actually”, “never” or “got”, used indiscriminately, but the disregard of words conveying information crucial to the appreciation of what we consume, in this case, fashion. That these hosts would inaccurately describe the clothes and the details that set the pieces apart from the competitor’s (there are, after all, so many tiered sundresses out there) or employ strange expressions with conviction is really rather curious communication. Their ebullience concealed nothing. When more retailers—even mass labels such as Uniqlo—are providing the right terminology on hang tags and sign holders on racks, it is regrettable that there are brands, even the really respected ones, that are not bothered by hosts of their livestreams using peculiar or made-up words.

What took us by surprise was In Good Company’s sales session, livestreamed from their Jewel store just four days ago. In a forty-one-minute broadcast, triteness was really the main show. Hosted by four women and a guy, Suwen, Maggi, Azrin, Jean, and Ning, it was as much a mutual admiration club as it was a selling opportunity. Less than three minutes into the livestream, Suwen described a cowl neck as a “boat neck… that’s not your normal (as it turned out, her favourite expression) boat neck neckline”. It was not difficult to see where they were taking the viewers. “It has very interesting sleeves,” she progressed to talk about a top with multiple diagonal panels, but did not explain why they were interesting, only that they were “slightly different”. Her hosting partner Ning would not be outdone. Of a pullover, he informed the viewers that “it’s made up of three different fabric pieces… stitched together”, possibly out of fear that potential shoppers might think that the panels were glued together. The two loved to suggest that tops could be worn “both tucked out or tucked in”. It would be more helpful if either of them showed the audience how he or she would “tuck out”. We like to believe that both meant untucked! But, “tuck out” was a clear favourite.

It is understandable if they struggled to talk fashion, but they strived to talk clothes too. They were not able to provide sufficient occasions or places the separates could be worn to, so they kept repeating how the ensembles could be “worn on a plane”, happily oblivious that travelling is still somewhat limited, even when Vaccinated Travel Lanes have been introduced between our island and some nations. But what truly made the broadcast for us was when Suwen called a romper a “shorter-length jumpsuit” and Ning specified seersucker as “corrugated cotton” (puckered cotton, yes, but corrugated?), possibly thinking of zinc roofs! To be certain, we do not expect these part-time hosts to be fluent in the language of fashion or textiles. Even a professional such as DJ Rosalyn Lee struggled while she presented on IG, the live preview of the autumn/winter 2020 collection of Comme des Garçons. Still, it was really surprising and disappointing that In Good Company’s marketing department did not provide the hosts with the knowledge necessary to make their presentation credible. And, in turn, more watchable.

Not The Finest Cut

Yet, as of now, Jewel is dazzling the masses—massively


Control towere in the rear OPOnce synonymous with Changi Airport, the control tower (in the rear) is now upstaged by Jewel and its rain vortex

Two weeks after the media introduction, eight days after the opening to the public, and three visits amid the crazy crowd after, we are still unsure if Jewel is a passenger terminal mall spilled out of the airport; a suburban shopping centre adjoined to T1, T2, and T3 like a sparkling pendant to a dulled chain; a giant, multi-storey fancy food court feeding the perpetually hungry; Gardens by the Bay II with lower-cost foliage; a rain-vortex geek’s wet dream, or a striking set for the next Jurassic Park film. Even the Oracle Garden Pavilion at the Stark Expo!

Don’t get us wrong. Jewel is a fine example of extraordinary building design, probably up there in the top-ten works of its expensive, headlining architect Moshe Safdie, alongside his equally curvilinear Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City in the US. Jewel is stunning outside in, inside out, top bottom, bottom top. Approaching the engineering marvel via Airport Boulevard, you can see how it lives up to its name, making the surrounding terminals looking like they were built by the HDB. As you come near it, even a quarter of a dozen times later, you sense you are venturing into the deeply spectacular.

HSBC Rain Vortex OPThe rain vortex that most visitors to Jewel come to see

That feeling, however, rather quickly dissipates when you walk in. Our first encounter with Changi Airport’s new engorged protuberance was, in fact, at the beginning of April when we had returned from a trip and had landed at T1. As we left the baggage carousel, we could see just ahead, beyond the palm trees in the foreground, that the gleaming gem of a mall with horticultural exuberance was ready to open. The must-see and, by now, probably the most-Instagrammed indoor waterfall was audible, beguiling and emphatic enough, but something else made us think we would not be here for the shopping: Kate Spade and Coach.

Even clearly not opened, they stared at us like a couple of menshen (door gods) deterring intruders. There is, of course, nothing wrong with having American ‘masstige’ brands in a mall, but it did make us suspect that Jewel isn’t going to be the sparkler of a retail destination the way the five-months-old Iconsiam in Bangkok is, for example. Singaporean shopping centres are not known for their leasing flair, specifically their desire for the unexpected or the truly new, and Jewel is no exception. It’s predictable, it’s cautious and unenterprising—it smacks of a suburban mall with The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (interestingly, another Safdie building, also with a water feature) pretension.

Kate Spade & Coach OPA pair of American brands passively welcome those arriving at Terminal 1 to Jewel

Fashion retail in Singapore, we have repeatedly been told, is difficult. It’s not just the selling of clothes, but more specifically the selling of fashion—a category that covers what most Singaporeans do not really buythat seems to be met with hurdles. A ‘cool’ T-shirt and a couple more do not fashion make. Yet, that is what most retailers prefer to sell. Jewel, despite its fashion-y and ‘cool’ (not hipster) projection, houses mostly brands that are associated with clothing easily deemed casual. That it is unable to be a magnet to attract real fashion names is understandable. Even Design Orchard, the conceived-as-bastion of Singaporean designs, has an inventory that cannot appeal to cultivated tastes.

On the afternoon of the first Saturday after it opened (admittedly a bad day to visit), we overheard no less than five visitors expressing disappointment at Jewel’s retail offering, with one woman—clearly annoyed—loudly asking her companion, “We came all the way here for Uniqlo?” To be sure that these people, among heartlanders looking through heartlander eyes, were not exaggerating, we surveyed every shop that is not selling food, on all seven leasable floors of the ten of this 135,700-square-metre behemoth.

Muji duplex OPMuji’s duplex store that is less impressive than the Plaza Singapura flagshipTokyu Hands duplex OPOne of the cheeriest at Jewel: the Tokyu Hands duplex store 

Unsurprisingly, the retail jumble is classic Capitaland, specifically CapitalMallAsia, Jewel’s co-developer. This could have been Tampines Mall transplanted into a puffed-up, precipitation-in-the-middle doughnut of glass and steel-plus-aluminum. We’re not, except perhaps tourists, asking for LVMH brands to be here (actually, not even Sephora has taken up space), but there is little that can seduce the fashion consumer, only, perhaps, the undemanding. Some of the brands, such as Muji and The Footlocker take up duplex units, but that does not necessarily equate to twice the fun or double the desirable merchandise.

This is regrettably Jewel’s one setback: retail plays second fiddle to the “Insta-worthy” (as the mall’s own marketing material describes it)—literally—central attraction. Everyone we spoke to, across three mornings we were there, came for the 40-metre tall (or long? The ceiling of the recently burnt Notre Dame de Paris is, in comparison, only 30-metres high) never-dry funnel flow, funded by the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, hence the HSBC Rain Vortex (even the encircling terraced garden is sponsored—by Japanese cosmetic giant Shiseido, which resulted in the Shiseido Forest Valley that, frankly, sounds like a makeup collection for fall). That’s where visitors first make the beeline for, the watery pull so strong that it drags you to its downward rush like the water sucked to the unseen bottom. One tourist from Nakhon Sawan, Thailand, who had asked us to take a photo of her against “the most beautiful namtok (waterfall) in the world”, told us that the shops “in Bangkok are now better” and that shopping isn’t a priority for her here unless she sees something she “can’t find back home”.

It is arguable then that, without the rain vortex, Jewel is, as one airport staff said to us, “just another mall”. Or, Sentosa without the casino, Mandai without the zoo. When the rush of seeing the main attraction fades, one needs the rest of the complex for a modicum of anticipation in order that interest in its content can be generated and, consequently, prolonged. For us, this is not so. To be sure, there are those who need only a cup of coffee to be contented—and there are enough coffee places to even satisfy those who know their kona from their luwak—but there are those who do come, expecting to shop, to put Apple Pay to good use. The rain vortex, opaque as it is, blinkers many visitors from so much that really borders on the blah.

Foot Locker duplex OPAlthough Foot Locker has a store in Tampines Mall, just 5 km away, they are still keen on a duplex in Jewel

Out of 280 shops or stalls (excluding the cineplex, the hotel Yotelair, and “general services” such as banking) already opened or soon to, only 85 (minus children’s and maternity wear) deal with apparel, footwear, and accessories. That is just 30 percent of the total number of tenants. Food outlets comprise 140 units, making it the largest category at 50 percent. If you look at just clothing (excluding undergarments), which would have to include sports labels since brands such as hot-again Fila and cool-yet-not-quite Kappa consider themselves fashion apparel brands and take up large and highly visible stores, only 37 are apparel-strong. Of these close-to-three dozens, it is debatable which is truly a marquee name.

In the booklet guide to the mall, visitors are told that, among the “10 Things to Do in Jewel”, you can “Shop at the ‘World’s Marketplace’. From international marques to local labels, you’ll find the unusual, the novel, and the popular in this one-of-a-kind urban marketplace”. In that one paragraph of their contrived listicle, we could see what Jewel is or isn’t. They may have hit the “marque”, but we sure did not see a single automobile for sale. To us, “world” is Capitaland speak that in marketing parlance is mere puffery, but perhaps in keeping with Changi Airport’s world-class standing, Jewel has to be a “world’s marketplace” and an “urban” one too, in case there are tourists who think we are still an island of kampongs. “Unusual” could be the two-and-half-hour queue (“at least”, according to those who have braved it) at A&W, but then again, in Singapore, getting in line for food is not that unusual. “Novel” could mean dining next to the rain vortex even if this is not that novel since a similar idea is seen at Suntec City around its Fountain of Wealth. “Popular” appears to be the only apt description: the place is conceived to please the throng.

Oysho OPOne of the two new ‘fashion’ labels at Jewel: Oysho from SpainMotherhouse OPJapanese bag and accessory label Motherhouse debuts in Singapore at Jewel

Jewel also touts the “many firsts-in-Singapore”—24 of them new-to-market names, of which only two are ‘fashion’ brands, the Inditex-owned Spanish label Oysho, a seller of mainly lingerie and lounge wear (which debuted in Southeast Asia in Jakarta in 2016), and the motherly Motherhouse, 13-year-old, Japanese-owned vendor of Bangladeshi-made bags. Mall operators of considerable experience would know that there are good firsts and why-bother firsts, and, between them, better-to-have-them-than-leave-the-space-empty firsts. We met an “experience concierge”, one of a large detail that Jewel avails throughout the space who “helps visitors find their way around” and also to tell them to have “a sparkling time”. We asked her if there is one store among the firsts that we must not leave without visiting and she said somewhat apologetically, “I have not seen all the shops here.”

That only two new fashion brands are willing to open in a potentially successful retail destination with global exposure could be indication that market penetration is—or perceived to be—low. With major labels already in the three terminal buildings in Jewel’s immediate vicinity, such as Louis Vuitton, with their unmissable duplex store in T3, there is perhaps less incentive to venture beyond the departure and transit zone of the airport. Or, could it be because fashion retailers are not able to decide if Jewel caters to departing/transit passengers or the Singaporeans who come to see something new, but would soon tire of it the way they have with, for instance, another mall whose name is also inspired by precious stones: Jem? So dismally lean is the list of fashion names that even Changi Airport’s own blog-like website Now Boarding recommends only three labels under the fashion crosshead of the “shopping highlights” of Jewel.

Jewel mall OPThe bland interior of Jewel

Another anticlimax: after the eye-opening sight that is the rain vortex, the design details of the mall is on the side of humdrum. Many parts not close to the column of rain could really be anywhere in, say, ION Orchard—just shop after shop after shop, between which no distinctive feature that can be considered decorative or senses-arousing. Walls are just walls, ceilings are just ceilings, pillars are just pillars: they are as dressed up as the average Singaporean visiting, well, a mall. Some perimeter areas are decorated with plants to go with the indoor garden theme, but beyond that, you’d be hard pressed to find anything visually engaging.

This is compounded by the lack of effort on the part of brands when it comes to how they design their shopfronts to grab the visitors’ propensity to spend. In fact, many don’t—not compellingly, not in a way that encourages shoppers to stop in their tracks to ponder what is before them. The way we see it, brands in Jewel have taken the concept of “marketplace” quite faithfully. Many have not only dispensed with an entrancing facade, they have done away with window displays. It is probable that the thinking is, when dealing with the hordes, brand recognition is enough to draw the people in.

Nike store @ Jewel OPThe best storefront in the whole Jewel?

There are a couple of exceptions. The SUTL Group-operated Nike store here has the simplest facade, but one so strikingly spare, you are inclined to go beyond its entrance—identified only by a Swoosh and the subtly designed catchphrase Just Do It—to uncover the store’s merchandise, reportedly “the most extensive in Singapore”, as well as a custom service that Life, in a cover story two weeks earlier, mistakenly reported to include “personalised shoes”. It offers only limited customisation for T-shirts and dubraes (decorative lace locks). This is not Nike’s most exciting outlet, even if it’s touted as Southeast Asia’s largest, not quite like the Harajuku flagship in Tokyo, nor is it the most unique, such as the Kicks Lab concept store, which debuted in SEA in Bangkok last November. But on our island, this is their best yet.

One Singaporean store that has remained true to its aesthetic strength, and is unconcerned with what others are doing to lure shoppers is In Good Company (IGC). Their third free-standing store now, IGC here is—not incorrectly described by parent company Produce—“a moment of calm within Jewel”. What a welcome calm too. Those who have experienced the crowd and the massiveness of the complex will appreciate the space that IGC has created—so restful that it echoes the seductively quiet designs of the clothes. IGC continues to prove that not only do they not need to go the blogshop-turn-physical-store route typical of local fashion retail, they are able to hold their own with a distinctive, ‘open’ store that can hushedly tug at our heartstrings and, consequently, our purses.

In Good Company OPLocal fashion label In Good Company’s inviting ‘open’ front

At Jewel, the Rain Vortex is going to be the first stop for most visitors, even the would-be regulars. Once that obligation is fulfilled, sightseers-turn-shoppers may find, as we did, the shopping experience that the complex had indicated lacking. Jewel has, in the lead up to its opening (and the preceding three days of by-ticket-only previews) projected itself to be a destination of immense distinction, unique by every standard so far accorded to airports of the world, and breathtaking, but it is not quite the mall for the fashion cognoscenti, except for those, including the deciders in leasing, who think fashion is Calvin Klein Jeans—now as exciting as Gap.

Without counting, it is obvious that Jewel is overwhelmingly more food stops than fashion shops. No matter where you turn, eateries won’t let up. And the lines at some of the makan places are so amazing (or ridiculous, depending on who’s asked: the eager-to-queue or the can’t-be-bothered) that it is clear curiosity rather than hunger waiting to be satisfied. At Shake Shack, a twenty-something chap told us he started queuing at 7.30am (two and half hours before the shop opens), not for sustenance, but to be first in line. Does he think it would be worth the wait? “If it’s good, then it would be,” he said smugly, adding, “Anyway, it’s fun.”

The only line seen outside a non-food shop is at the Pokémon Centre (the first outside Japan), where a twelve-year-old, who had queued for 40 minutes with his equally-a-fan father, said he did so because he was told “it’s fun inside.” That word again. Fun, it would seem, is what most had come for. The fun element was further affirmed by a mainland Chinese tourist from Guizhou, who delightfully volunteered to us, “在这里, 迷路也好玩!” In here, even losing your way is fun.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji and Chin Boh Kay