River Place: It’s a Place Near a River

My condominium complex is called River Place, so named for its proximity to the Singapore River. If the word “river” brings to mind the coursing magnificence of the Hudson or the Potomac, you may need to readjust your expectations. This river is more like a canal; it’s a narrow, brown waterway that seems in no hurry to go flow anywhere. Nearly motionless, no river breeze blows off its banks. In fact, there are no river banks to speak of. Urban development has built up right to its edge, so you could be forgiven for not even realizing the river was there.

Its humdrum qualities aside, this waterway has actually attracted much of Singapore’s new wealth along its pathway. Follow it East a few blocks, and there’s Clarke Quay, a playground for tourists and locals. On weekend evenings they light up its restaurants, pubs and nightclubs with their displaced smiles and money. Further down are shopping arcades and high rises, teeming with banks and exchanges, all built to reflect the city’s enormous ambition.

Given this context, the architects of River Place didn’t allow the meager reality of the river to limit their imaginations. What they imagined is a thoroughly Westernized housing complex to match the restless wallets of the expatriate population. This complex has "yuppie" written all over it. The units are mostly owned by wealthy Singaporeans, but the tenant population are nearly all expatriate professionals: Japanese, Americans, Australians, Dutch.

There are half a dozen buildings here, all composed of highly-priced condominiums built in a tastefully anonymous, neo-Modern style. In lieu of balconies and terraces, most units look out on the world (or the rest of the complex at least) through large plate-glass windows, tinted dark and smoky. The complex nearly has the feeling of an office building at times. At others it nearly has the feeling of a place where people live.

“If the word “river” brings to mind the coursing magnificence of the Hudson or Potomac, you may need to reset your expectations here.”

The towers are clustered around a swimming pool, which is, for all intents and purposes, River Place’s centerpiece. Large and organic in shape, the pool meanders throughout the grounds. Swimmers and waders can wander from one side of the complex, beneath one of the towers and past a small workout room, and emerge on the other side. Along the way, they’ll encounter waterfalls, fountains and mist-sprays that come alive at night and flood the grounds with a bizarrely dramatic artificial fog. Strange, vaguely useful nets and tropical vegetation provide shade at poolside. Though the complex is still new, the palm trees and exotic plants are tall and mature. For the kind of people that live here — highly paid itinerants, basically — no one has the time to wait for foliage to grow from scratch.

The pool comes most alive on the weekends, when families come out to enjoy the water and Westerners come out to work on their tans. During the weekdays, only a handful of residents can ever be seen out and about. Many of the units aren’t sold or rented yet, which accounts for some of this. But even then, it would be hard to imagine this area as bustling. Despite the nightlife provided by nearby Clarke Quay, River Place feels oddly still and suburban. I’ve never much liked that quality about places I choose to live.

If swimming isn’t quite your thing, you can take the elevator in Tower B3 to the roof, where you’ll find two full-size tennis courts. Seriously, tennis courts! On the roof! The absurdity of River Place as an ensconced reality had struck me before; it’s an unapologetically bourgeois compound that’s a world away from the government-subsidized housing that most Singaporeans live in. But finding tennis courts on the roof…! That seemed to break some limits of reason.

Admittedly, the tennis player in me brightened considerably at this revelation, and no one ever twisted my arm to live here. I’ve probably crossed over some kind of line towards pampering and amenities, and I’ll likely make similar demands for comfort so long as I’m in Singapore. Part of this I’d like to chalk up to the grim compromises in living standards I made while residing in New York. When I came here, I had a list of requirements I’d been denied in New York: first, to have a kitchen, and second, to be able to say that the place where I live is somewhat nice. River Place fits the bill but – okay, it does so in kind of an extreme manner. Given my penchant for urban noise and chaos and this area’s lack thereof, I can’t see myself here for very long. So it’s not forever, but for the time being it’s where I live.