Bras Basah Complex is my favourite place for wandering alone. It is heaven for loners, a paean to the joys of spending time alone, a refuge for those still learning to do so, but also a reminder of how being alone is a necessary part of growing (up or old).
Which is why Bras Basah Complex is - at its heart - a Complex of bookstores. The old timers bear such heroic and hopeful names: union, friendship, youth and the younger Basheer. The newcomers speak a language naturally closer to today's desires: popular, Socrates, or rather, cat(s). You are alone but never lonely in the worlds that books contain, and in the knowledge - of self, others, the world - that you gain.
Surrounding the bookstores are other shops that promise self-improvement. Not of the financial kind, but of the spirit, mind and body. There are the old art supplies stores that smell of ink, paper and stone, hidden by the ever-expanding Art Friend. And stationary shops that supply not only the office but retail harmonicas, ukuleles and fountain pens. Because these are the tools you need to create your own worlds and champion your rebellions - resilience and resistance.
Of course the function of commerce necessitates the presence of printing shops and event collateral suppliers today at the Complex. But even with these shops there is a sense of DIY.
Then there are the opticians. Because the greatest hazard of reading is looking like a nerd.
The last kind of shops at Bras Basah Complex bear a similar fate as bookstores, battling the digital stare! On the Complex's ground floor are a handful of watch and clock shops. The watch, like the fountain pen, was the mark of the learned and accomplished man, and today, the wealthy man. Perhaps even more so today, time, like knowledge, is a commodity, a luxury, and a function of the economy. But Bras Basah Complex gives us other experiences of time. The cuckoo clocks and Casio alarm clocks allow the romance of time as memory; in music time as rhythm; and books the suspension of time. Still they are illusions all. As is my illusion of being alone in a crowded lunchtime Bras Basah.