Tuesday, 15 November 2011

What you always wanted to know about S'pore and were afraid to ask

Real Estate in S'pore in a misnomer; well only in the sense that coming from a huge country, large houses and freedom to sing naked in your shower with no fear of the neighbours seeing you, it is a a misnomer. Don't get me wrong, there are thousands of properties to buy or rent, if you enjoy living in a $1.5 M closet. Maybe it is just me, but I can't find enough space in 400 sq. ft. for my king-sized bed and my shoes. For an adequate rental, you can expect to pay $4,500 and beyond.  Many properties are $12,000 plus. Not in my price point!

We searched for months online before we set foot on the island. What the photos didn't tell us is that many properties are photographed new, then never changed. You might be looking at a property that is four years old but the photos are brand new. We also learned that homes deteriorate quickly in the tropical weather. Rust, mold, mildrew and of course, bugs can be found everywhere.
Too hot for hot tub

Luckily I found not one, but two wonderful real estate agents to help us find our little haven, away from the hustle and bustle. We are only renting, but I will make this penthouse condo our own with lush palms trees, orchids and I intend to fill our fish pond with koi once I return.

"A penthouse," you say?  Don't think we are the Trumps; a penthouse merely refers to the top unit of any building. Rahmad, our agent found this diamond in the rough and managed to talk the landlord down about $1,200 per month from the original price. While it is a nice property with what I refer to "rockstar" features, it is smaller than most North Americans are accustomed.  The condo is 3,000 sq. ft., however in S'pore, they count the deck as living space. We have a couple of terraces that give an amazing view, and if the hot tub is ever fixed, we are going to enjoy wine while boiling under the open sky.

I will endeavour to answer the top ten question I have been asked over and over since returning:

This towel never dried

  1. No, we don't have a car. My Nissan at home would run about $120,000 (which is $100,000 Canadian). Our mode of transportation is the wonderful MRT. It will take you anywhere, fast and cheap...except when you get lost which I have done a few times.
  2. We have no oven, no dryer, no microwave, and I use a little shopping cart to haul groceries just like the maids in S'pore. The dryer is a pull-out hanger on our top terrace, because ovens and dryers are just too hot in the house.
  3. There is air con in each room, except the kitchen because that is where the maid is supposed to hang out. In our case, I am the maid, so a huge fan follows me.  Not so good when you are cooking with gas; also a new thing to learn. I have managed to singe my eyebrows once or twice.
  4. We have a beautiful barbecue on the upper terrace and surely this can't be a learning curve? Yes, it is...they use real charcoal here...not briquettes or propane. Why is it so black?
  5. Our neighbourhood is predominantly Muslim so trying to contain the short shorts and small tank tops in this heat is always a challenge but I am certain R2 will find something to wear.
  6. We live a mere 20 minute walk to the beach with mile and miles of bike baths for exploring the shoreline.
  7. S'pore has more millionaires per capita than anywhere in the world. I am not in a dangerous, third world country. This island is far more advanced in technology, shopping, the government, personal safety, to only name a few. You see young women walking alone, all over the island at night. You still have to use common sense but this country is clean, the people are formal and polite and there is always something going on that will amaze and amuse you.  If you find it boring like some expats do, you need to leave turn off your Facebook and TV.
  8. People in S'pore speak English in most places, however, sometimes it is difficult to understand.  They have their own language, referred to as Singlish.  I liken this to Patois in the Caribbean.  Eighty per cent of the people are Chinese, about ten per cent are Malay, then it is the Indian culture, and the expats bringing up the rear making this population 5.5 M all fighting to get a seat on the MRT.
  9. The weather is the same each and everyday; something that is also called boring. To this cold Canuck, I relish boring. There is a rainy season, which unluckily, I have traded for -20 with the windchill in November. It is still hot, just wet and hot at 30 C.
  10. Rain and BBQ don't mix
  11. And the final question, I am asked.....Why Singapore?  Why not!  It is warm, the shopping is to die for, there is every type of food you can imagine to eat, Universal Studios, the beach, theatre, cheap flights to other countries, safe and secure, and high paying jobs for top-notch professionals.  What is not to love?
We are here to stay, at least for two years. While our home isn't huge, we have a spare bedroom and three baths for visitors. If you want to really rough it, camp on the roof, or better yet, sleep in the maid's quarters.

(Follow Layna in Asia on Mexico on My Mind site for her perspective of travels in Mexico)

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Stars of "Froggers" take on Ho Chi Mihn City

I never believed that I could be the main target in the classic 80s arcade game called Froggers.  The only object of Frogger is to navigate your amphibian home by avoiding cars while crossing a busy road. I surmised, like scrunchies, mullets and big shoulder pads, Froggers was a distant memory. That was not the case in HCM City.

It was our first time to Viet Nam and we were excited about going to a Vietnamese/Portuguese wedding. We knew we were in for a feast for the eyes with the lavish costumes and a feast for palate with the countries' flair for gastronomic wonders; the shark fin and abalone soup while politically incorrect, did not disappoint.

What we were not prepared for was the hundreds of thousands of scooters zipping and dodging precariously in and out of traffic.  We were not prepared to see mopeds and bicycles taking on trucks and buses, often time, not winning the battle.  The masks worn from pollution was another shock. We were not in Kansas anymore, or our beloved Singy!

After checking into the hotel we wanted to wander the streets and get a quick feel for the city. We got a quick feel all right, nine at night probably isn't the best time to explore in a strange city.  We ended back at the hotel bar having peculiar drinks of enormous alcoholic proportions.  The killer alcohol did little to soothe the traffic culture shock we witnessed. You must keep in mind that R2 is from Mexico City and even this gridlock made his mouth hang open in astonishment.

The next morning, with a wee hangover, we hopped on the wedding bus with people from various countries.  The groom, like R2 is a IT consultant with ties all over the world and it showed by the guest list. Like us, everyone was stunned at the "gangs of scooters";  the insane way the drivers carry trees, jugs of water, tables, building material and their entire family on these machines, while daring traffic to stop them. Red is just another shade of green when it comes to traffic lights.

After witnessing the early morning ceremony, we had several hours to kill before the evening festivities. We decided to tour the downtown markets and shops.  Easier said than done. Trying to cross the roads, with lack of lights, sidewalks or anyone noticing you was treacherous.  We thought crossing with other tourists would make it easier -- yes, easier for them to hit you because you became a bigger target.  I wonder if they are gunning for you on purpose or if they even see you; local pedestrians are rare.  We noticed that when the drivers couldn't get down the main road quick enough, all laws be damned; they headed for the sidewalks and took them over as well. It resembled hordes of ants streaming from an ant hill, in organized confusion.

I would like to say this annal has a happy ending, like the massage parlours in HCM City, but alas, it does not. After one more try on Sunday morning to do a little walking, we gave up and headed to the comfort of the airport where we went to Singapore Airlines First Class lounge.  That is where I had my Pho, rolls and strong Vietnamese coffee.  It was in the safety of the lounge, I told R2 that if he ever is transferred to HCM City, he is on his own.  I am certain once you leave the city, you will find breathtaking sites and a serene countryside, however, it make take some time before my heart palpitations lessen from our "real life" game of Frogger.