One month ago, the wheels of a Cathay Pacific plane touched ground at the Singapore Changi Airport. It was early afternoon and the sky was white and bright, like a blank canvas, full of expectations. As I walked out of the cabin and inhaled my first gulp of tropical air, a rush of emotions sped through my mind. Did I make the right decision by moving here? What happens if I don’t find a flat or a job by the time my hotel room and tourist visa expires? Goddamn it’s hot.
One month on, it’s still too early to tell where this adventure is going to take me, and I’m yet to find a proper job, but at least I’m starting to find my feet around this little red dot. I’ve settled into a nice little room that’s right beside the river, and I’ve just about cracked the code of bus numbers and untangled the colourful MRT lines.
Some of the rumours I’ve heard about Singapore are absolutely true. Chewing gum is illegal. As is graffiti. As is taking durians onto public transport. As is protesting. Drug use will get you spanked and imprisoned, and drug trafficking will cost you your life.
Sometimes it does feel a bit like a jungle of red tape here, especially when they ask for your passport number for everything, from booking theatre tickets to renting a Segway. Sometimes I feel like the government is stricter than my own mother (although to be fair, I am fortunate enough to have a very easy-going mum so perhaps I’ve just been spoilt).
And I guess I can see why some people call this place ‘Singabore’, amongst many other nicknames. In many ways the people here live extremely sheltered lives: the weather remains warm all year round; the food is cheap; the crime rate is low; the economy is relatively stable. But as I put on my explorer’s hat and start to discover the Real Singapore, I’m finding that there is much more going on here than people are initially led to believe.
Here are a bunch of things that I’ve managed to achieve in my first month here, and I look forward to digging even deeper into what this place has to offer. Enjoy!
1. Found a home.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the road to finding a roof over our heads was unnecessarily long and twisted. Rent is extremely high in Singapore. As my boyfriend and I are living on a tight budget, we can thus only afford to rent a room. After an arduous search, however, our efforts paid off in the form of a nice big ensuite master room in a maisonette at the Potong Pasir HUDC (Housing and Urban Development Company, i.e. semi-public) estate. It’s not the most luxurious place, but it’s clean and safe and spacious – and most importantly, it’s home.
2. Sniffed out cheap shopping places.
Toa Payoh, one of the larger residential districts in Singapore, is only a 15-minute bus ride away and is home to one of my favourite stores for home appliances. Courts is essentially the local version of IKEA, selling everything from sofas to vacuum cleaners to wall deco to TVs. For cheap clothes and accessories I go to Bugis Street (which earned bonus points for having an awesome website). Yes it’s touristy and yes it’s always crowded, but if you don’t mind spending hours digging through piles and piles of fabrics in search of those one or two hidden gems, your efforts will usually be rewarded with a great bargain. As for toiletries and kitchen things, there are a couple of cosmetic shops at Chinatown’s People Park Complex (I especially like one called Ocean) which on average sell them at a lower price than the big supermarkets.
3. Experienced the midnight shopping phenomenon that is Mustafa.
As a city girl, I’m no stranger to late night shopping. In fact, the only thing that I never quite got used to in England is how early shops there close – 6pm and every single store is locked and shuttered. Are they mad? Singapore, on the other hand, has shown me the opposite end of the spectrum. Mustafa (no, not Simba’s dad, that’s Mufasa, though I still get them mixed up far more often than I would care to admit) is an Indian department store that is open 24 hours. We decided to go at midnight in order to beat the weekend crowd, but it was still close to pandemonium in there. Who knew that so many kids would be toy-shopping at that time of night? Still, there is no doubt about the greatness of the place in both size and variety. It stocks pretty much everything you can think of – clothes, electronics, beddings, kitchen utensils, groceries, every type of spice under the sun. And buying them at 1am just somehow makes everything that little bit more exciting.
4. Became acquainted with local food.
I was given a crash course on Singaporean hawker food when I first arrived, but I’ve barely scratched the surface. The cuisine, like their bewildering Singlish names, is a mixture of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Indonesian, Western and influenced by many others. Char kway teow, chai tow kuay, popiah, rojak, otak otak – you might as well just throw me a bunch of made-up sounds. Even the more English-sounding ones are confusing – what the hell is economy rice? And then there are the drinks, teh tarik, ee bee chui, bandung. Don’t get me started on desserts. To become well-versed in the local menu is to learn a new language, but as food sits right at the centre of Singaporean culture, it’s a compulsory life skill to acquire.
For those of you who are interested, here is a fun little video of a Hokkien song about a range of of Singaporean food. Don’t worry if you don’t understand a word – I don’t either – just marvel at the images and drool.
5. Checked out the arts scene.
This is still very much a work in progress for me, as I arrived with practically no previous knowledge of the arts scene here. There’s still a lot left to be explored, but so far I’ve been to the Singapore Art Museum and the Chan Hampe Gallery, as well as The Substation for my first taste of local theatre. Many outsiders think that the arts landscape here is ‘sterile’ and while I agree that it is still in its infancy stage, I am definitely seeing lots of sounds and colours with a distinctively Singaporean flavour bubbling beneath the surface. It’s a really exciting time to be in the country and I look forward to seeing much more of what it has to offer.
6. Started hunting out quirky places.
Again, I am far from being fluent in terms of knowing the coolest, quirkiest places in town, but I’ve made a start. So far the most amazing one that I’ve came across is BooksActually, an independent book and gift shop that opened in Tiong Bahru seven years ago. Since then they have established the Math Paper Press, which publishes the works of emerging local talents. I have ongoing plans to check out various districts and the hot hang-out spots associated with them – stay tuned!
7. Acquired sandal-shaped tan lines on my feet and sunburn on my shoulders.
A week of wearing the same patterned sandals on this mostly sunny island turned my feet into a two-toned painting of circles and lines. My mother bluntly described it as ‘ugly’ when she saw it, but I maintain that it’s artistic – if Miró gets away with it on a canvas, I should get away with it on my feet. Still, I made the effort to even them out by spending an entire afternoon sprawled across the sandy shores of East Coast Park beach doing absolutely nothing but listening to the waves. I got results and the tan lines vanished, but my shoulders suffered the consequences as they got severely burnt to the point where I couldn’t even have a strand of hair near them. You just can’t win with some things.
8. Acted as tour guide when my parents visited.
We had barely moved here for three weeks when my parents happily announced that they would be paying us a visit. As overjoyed as I was to see them, it’s hard to strike a balance in the itinerary-planning as my mum was perfectly happy to take things easy, while my dad made it loud and clear that he wanted to sightsee as much as he could. Plus they were only here for three days. (Certain people I know would insist that that’s all the time you need to see Singapore, but I beg to differ.) In the end we ended up going to Singapore’s newest tourist attraction, Gardens by the Bay, Orchard Road, Chinatown, Sentosa, a kopitiam (a smaller, indoor version of a hawker centre) and Swee Kee Chicken Rice. Everyone seems happy afterwards so I’m going to proclaim the whole shebang a success.
9. Partook in a local festival.
Last week the local community celebrated the 3,000-year-old tradition known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, which originated in China and is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar. Unfortunately I missed the Mass Lantern Walk in Chinatown, but still had plenty of fun with my paper lantern as I thronged through the crowds at the carnival, Buddhist temple and various light displays. Find out more about it on my last post.
10. Made it to Malaysia and back.
A more detailed post about my journey from Singapore to Johor Bahru will be coming shortly, but in short, it’s not as complicated as I had initially feared. It only takes about half an hour and a few bucks, and you’re there. Most expats go to JB in order to have their visas renewed, and luckily everything is fairly straightforward on that front.
The only problem I had was the fact that JB is a very depressing city. It has none of the ‘raffish charm’ that Tennessee Williams describes New Orleans as possessing in A Streetcar Named Desire, but instead just feels rundown and unloved. We initially planned on exploring the place seeing as we made it there anyway, but after a short wander we came to the conclusion that there really is nothing to do there. There is as much wasted potential as there is wasted retail space, as shopping malls are built but mostly remain empty and decrepit. The only place that one can properly wander round for an hour or so is City Square, apart from the Chinese and Hindu temples and Indian mosque, which are worth a quick glance.
To say that I was glad and relieved when we arrived back in Singapore is a big understatement. The country may be years away from becoming the next London or New York, but at least it’s definitely on the right track.
Mid-Autumn Festival is one of my favourite times of the year. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month on the lunar calendar – which is today this year – by Chinese, Hong Kong, Taiwanese and Vietnamese people all over the world. This is the time when the moon is supposed to be at its fullest and brightest, which is believed to symbolise harmony and prosperity.
There are many versions of the legend of the Mid-Autumn Festival, but the main crux of it is that there was a heroic and well-respected man called Hou Yi, who was given an elixir that would make him immortal by the Queen Mother for his good deeds. In some versions, the elixir was meant to be shared between Hou and his wife Chang’e, and in others only one person could consume it. However, due to either Chang’e's curiosity or an evil man named Feng Meng who had tricked or killed Hou, Chang’e ended up drinking the potion herself. She floated all the way to the moon, where she supposedly still resides. Every year, on the 15th day of the eighth month, she is either transformed into a brilliant moonbeam in mourning for her husband, or she is reunited with Hou, who had not died but rather built a palace for himself in the sun.
With the Festival comes brilliant things. When I was living in Hong Kong as a kid, I would join everyone else from my compound in waving my Mickey Mouse shaped lantern and glow-sticks around with wild abandon. There would also be evening fairs where we would attempt to solve riddles written on bits of paper dangling from lanterns as fireworks cackled through the night sky against the big round moon.
But the best part, as with most things Asian, is the food. And not just any food – mooncakes. For those of you who are not too familiar with this delicious delicacy, it is a pastry made of lotus paste, traditionally with one or two balls of salted duck egg yolk lodged in the middle of it. Nowadays, however, there is a much wider variety. From Angry Birds to fruit-flavoured to ice cream mooncakes, the choices are virtually endless.
So wherever you are and however you’re celebrating this Mid-Autumn Festival, I hope you all have a wonderful time!
WHERE: The Substation (map)
WHEN: 27th-29th Sept, 12
WHO: The Blue Statesmen
PRICE: S$20 (S$15 concession)
MY THOUGHTS: As a foreigner who arrived in Singapore less than a month ago, I must confess that I have just began to learn about the local theatre culture. It was only last night that I heard about Kuo Pao Kun – a playwright, director, arts activist, and founder of The Substation who is hailed as the father of Singaporean theatre – to whom BluePrince pays tribute.
And perhaps it is because I have yet to come across any of Kuo’s plays that I came out of Bryan Tan’s BluePrince not having understood a thing about what just took place for the past hour.
I was at first intrigued by the set that greeted me. With spiral incense covering the ceiling and a mysterious, echoey narrative swirling around the room, it was as though we were transported to some sort of monastery. Oliver Chong, the only actor in the play, sat on a wooden chair engrossed in a book. Behind him, an assemblage of seemingly random white papier mache objects were lined up against the wall.
As the play began, Chong launched into a series of monologues as he brought each item to the middle of the stage in turn. He began with a speech about how his character’s lust for survival means that he is willing to eat his own family, and soon moved on to an unfinished narrative about his wife and daughter leaving him.
A 5-minute rant followed, repeating the process of how he walked to the tap, filled a glass and sipped the water. Fluorsent light tubes flickered on and off as Chong rearranged them into various shapes on the floor.
At this point I was still frantically, desperately, trying to make sense of the play, but each sketch became more bizarre and twisted than the last. When Chong stimulated an episode of self-cannibalism and told a story of how a lizard’s shrieking brought him to orgasm, however, the final shreds of my comprehension unravelled.
I have come to the conclusion that there are three ways of looking at BluePrince. The first is that it is entirely a joke. We as the audience are not meant to take this seriously, and the ‘role of artists in society’ (as the brochure claims the play will interrogate) is merely to see how far they can push the audience’s tolerance of nonsense. Chong does, after all, stick his middle finger up at the crowd at one point. If this was indeed the intention, then the play is hugely successful in achieving its purpose – to mess with our heads as severely as possible.
The second interpretation is to take BluePrince as an attempt at serious theatre, in which case it didn’t do a very good job at all. It lacks plot, continuity, and most of all, meaning. Chong’s soliloquies sounded deep and philosophical, but they might as well have been cheap, nonsensical words. I have never been as confused about the point of a production as I was last night.
Upon some research, I discovered the third explanation – the stories and papier mache objects were actually symbolic of Kuo Pao Kun’s plays. The cat was meant to relate, I’m guessing, to Mama Looking For Her Cat; the car was a nod to No Parking On Odd Days; the story about a boy called Lao Jiu was directly taken from Lao Jiu.
Fair enough. As I mentioned, I would probably have appreciated BluePrince a lot more had my knowledge of Kuo been more solid. However, a successful production is one that could be understood even by someone who has no prior information about the subject matter. I would have liked to come out of the show with at least an idea of what Kuo might have been like as a man and a playwright, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. It was just an hour of references that were perhaps too specific for the unwitting audience to catch.
That said, Chong is no doubt a fantastic actor, as he successfully drew out his character’s sometimes stoic, sometimes elated, and sometimes downright grotesque nature. To have been able to travel through such a huge range of human – and sometimes even animalistic – conditions is no easy task, but he managed to stay focussed and convincing throughout.
I would love to hear what someone who is more familiar with Kuo’s works thinks about BluePrince (please do get in touch), but I would say that it’s not a play for those who do not have any background knowledge.
I love exploring cities just by walking around, and from what I’ve gathered so far, Singapore the perfect place for that. Its transport system is one of the most advanced in the world, but the sun is shining and there are lots to see on foot. I was lucky enough to stay at the gorgeous Fullerton Bay Hotel on my last visit here, and so decided to make the most of it by exploring the Marina Bay area. Here is a map of the route I took, which took about 50 minutes in total:
The Fullerton Bay Hotel is the newer, more modern sister of The Fullerton, which is located just across the road. Although the Bay branch is slightly smaller in size, it is by no means less superior. Our room had a private balcony with a lovely view, breakfast was always delicious, and the staff were all very polite and helpful. But its best hidden little secrets lie on the rooftop: the pools. There is one big pool with deck chairs and little tables laid out along the shallowest side, and two smaller jacuzzi infinity pools that show off one of the best views of Marina Bay. On a lucky day you may even get the entire little pool to yourself – bliss!
Singapore is very proud of its urban planning – and with good reasons. While most buildings located on prominent skylines around the world all try to compete against and outdo each other, the ones here seem to coexist in harmony. This is mostly owing to the careful and sometimes very strict hands of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). There are two City Galleries in Singapore, and while the one in Tanjong Pagar is no doubt more impressive (keep an eye out for an article on this that will be coming soon!), the Marina Bay branch nonetheless provides a quick and interesting insight into the island’s city planning strategies.
The Marina Bay Sands, which opened in 2011, is one of the world’s most expensive casino resorts. Developed by American firm Las Vagas Sands, the building is quite something to behold, boasting over 2000 rooms and the biggest elevated infinity pool on the planet. It also takes part in the nightly Wonder Full light show, during which lasers beam across the Bay to music. Apart from the hotel, the Sands also comprises of a huge convention centre, two theatres, a string of high-end restaurants and a shopping mall amongst other features.
With 800,000 square feet of retail space, The Shoppes is a self-dubbed ‘shopping mecca’. It is home to pretty much every luxury brand as well as some newer emerging labels. There are also cafes and restaurants to rest tired feet, and an ice rink for the more adventurous (although its floor is actually made of cold plastic rather than real ice). But its most unique feature is probably the Sampan ride, inspired perhaps by The Venetian Macao. For S$10 per person, visitors may enjoy a mini boat trip around the mall, which includes an up close and personal view of Ned Kahn’s waterfall art piece ‘Rain Oculus’.
The lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum is yet another part of the Marina Bay Sands. Being spoilt by free shows in England, I was a bit disappointed to find that the exhibitions here all require an admission fee, although they certainly look very impressive. There is currently a Harry Potter and an Andy Warhol show going on, which will be there until 30th September and 21st October respectively. The museum consists of 21 galleries and has a total floor space of 50,000 square feet.
6. Helix Bridge
The Helix Bridge offers a spectacular view of Marina Bay, especially at the four designated viewing pods. A joint venture between Australian and Singaporean architects, the bridge’s design keeps the city-state’s temperamental weather in mind, so that its users are sheltered from both the scorching sun and heavy rain. Its unique and complex shape follows the double-helix structure of the DNA, and if you look closely you’ll find that there are pairs of alphabetic letters along the floor, which are actually meant to represent the base pairs of nucleic acid!
7. The Float@Marina Bay
The world’s largest floating stadium, The Float@Marina Bay, is where the Singapore National Day Parades have been taking place since 2007. It can fit 30,000 seated spectators and can support over 1,000 tonnes. The platform also hosted the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Singapore Youth Olympic Games in 2010 amongst other major – mostly sporting – events.
Nicknamed ‘The Durian’ in reference to the tropical fruit due to the shape of its exterior, Esplanade is Singapore’s most prominent stage and music venue. There are two main performing spaces – a theatre and a concert hall – with another Outdoor Theatre right by the waterfront for free open air shows. Aside from being a centre for the arts, Esplanade also has a bunch of restaurants and quirky shops for the casual walk-in visitor.
9. Esplanade Bridge
Finally, to end our walk, we crossed the flower-clad Esplanade Bridge to get back to the Fullerton Bay. The Merlion Park lies at the end of the bridge, where a huge statue of Singapore’s mascot – a mythical creature with a lion’s head and a mermaid’s tail – stands tall. A two-meter Merlion cub may also be found next to it. If you go at the right time (which we didn’t) you will even get to see the big Merlion spouting water from its mouth as a symbol of prosperity.
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Check out Marina Bay’s official website for more info about what to do in the area!
I’ve been in Singapore for almost a week, and on the whole I’m having a wonderful time here. While a country is a country is a country, however, I must admit that I still experienced a fair bit of culture shock when I arrived. As one may expect, Singapore and England (Leeds specifically, where I spent my last three years) are two very different stories. They may speak a common language, but they are nonetheless still worlds apart. Here are some differences – and one big similarity – that I’ve noticed so far…
1. The Weather
The joke is that Leeds, being in the north of England, practically never experiences summer. (That is not strictly true. They do have summer. It just rarely lasts for more than a week each year.) In Singapore, however, there are only ever two seasons: it’s either hot-and-sunny, or hot-and-rainy. I have never particularly liked the cold, but I do think that I’ll end up missing the feel of wooly jumpers and the sight of snow in a few years’ time.
While on that note, people here don’t talk about the weather either, probably because there’s never very much to talk about. I tried commenting about the rain to a cabbie the other day, and he gave me a blank stare in the rearview mirror and mumbled a very vague ‘huh?’
I guess I won’t be going there again…
2. Rent Prices
This is a much more serious problem. People complain that rents are ridiculous in London, but as it turns out it’s actually worse here. According to ECA International, Singapore is the third most expensive city to rent property in Asia (and ninth in the world). As I’ve mentioned in my recent post on the nightmare of flat-hunting, we very quickly realised that we would not be able to afford even a one-bedroom apartment here. The result is that we are now looking to rent a room. Back to university living we go then, it seems.
3. Food Prices
On the other hand, delicious cheap food is very readily available here. Hawker centres – i.e. local food courts – are popular places to eat. For the equivalent of £2.50 I can easily get myself a plate of chicken rice with a dish of vegetables and a bowl of soup on the side. Which is, even with student discount, unheard of in the UK. I’m also spoilt for choice in terms of options, for they do everything from dumplings to katsu rice to wonton noodles. The only problem is that my perspective of how much food should cost has now been completely skewed, and I will never be able to eat anywhere else in the world without crying ever again.
4. Beverage Choice
Ever since arriving in Singapore, I have been missing the wonderful sensation of holding a nice hot mug of tea in my hands. I miss my morning cuppa, my afternoon cuppa, and my evening cuppa. The weather here does not permit hot drinks, and I have adopted the habit of drinking various fruit juices instead. While they taste great and my mother is very proud of me for the increased intake of vitamins, juices simply don’t live up to the joys of PG Tips.
I did, however, buy about 200 teabags from Sainsbury’s before I left England just for emergencies. I anticipate that after an especially horrible day (or when I miss the UK too much), I shall crank up the air con, get under the blankets, brew some tea and pretend that it’s snowing outside just to escape it all. A little make-believe never hurts anyone.
A trek back home from Leeds city centre for me used to be a 30-minute uphill journey. Pennington Street – one of the steepest roads I have ever had the displeasure to walk up – still haunts my dreams sometimes. It also did not help that I lived in the attic, which means a further few flights of stairs even after I’ve reached the house. Singapore, on the contrary, is as flat as an ironed out surfboard. Apartments here are also blessed with the wonderful technology known as lifts, which are much appreciated by my lazy legs.
On the topic of transport technology, here’s something that I’m still trying to get used to. Unlike most other cities I’ve been in around the world, Singaporeans stand on the left and walk on the right on escalators. It’s a very minor point, but one worth taking notice of – especially during rush hour – as locals really don’t like it when people get it wrong.
7. Nightlife/Crime Rate
This one is a bit of a give and take. While Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world (compared with Leeds, which has one of the highest crime rates in England outside London), its nightlife scene has to be compromised. The two main party areas here are Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, but both of these places are very expensive, very crowded, and not particularly impressive. The only big club that I’ve heard anyone mention so far is Zouk, but even that is supposed to be more of a teenagers’ hotspot than anything else. That said, there are a decent number of bars dotted around Singapore, and at least I don’t ever have to get woken up by the sound of people smashing up bottles outside my place at 3am anymore.
One of Singapore’s nicknames is Fine City. Yes it’s a very pretty place, but mostly because littering here will cost first-time offenders S$300 (£150). Second-time offenders, or first-time offenders who drop anything bigger than a Coke can, will be fined S$500 (£250) and could face a court sentence of Corrective Work Order (CWO). This means that the person in question would have to clean up public areas whilst donning a fluorescent jacket with the words ‘Corrective Work Order’ printed on it. There have even been occasions where photos of their faces graced the front page of The Straits Times. Talk about public humiliation.
To take things one step further, street art is also illegal here as it is considered a form of vandalism. The crime is punishable by spanking – or caning, as it is officially known here – and so as a result this city boasts some of the shiniest streets and walls in the world. Having been used to walls sprayed over with swear words in various fonts and penises of various shapes, I find Singapore’s cleanliness refreshing – but also very disarming.
9. Museums Entry Fee
I only truly came to appreciate England’s ‘no museum entrance fee’ policy when I left the country. I suppose I took it for granted that art and culture should be free and accessible to all, but alas, it is not the case here in Singapore (or most other places around the world for that matter). Of course we should still fight against the UK government’s outrageous arts cuts, but at least it hasn’t forced national establishments to start charging (yet). There are many galleries and museums I am hoping to visit here, but I always end up walking away because of the entry fee – especially now that I can no longer enjoy concession rates and am yet to receive my first paycheck.
I’m aware that the Singapore government has been trying to endorse and even subsidise the local arts scene, however, so here’s to the hopes that one day they will make their galleries and museum free for all to go in and admire, too.
…and 1 similarity: Language
The biggest thing that Singapore and England have in common is their language: I find the Yorkie/Scouse/Mancunian/Brummie/Geordie accents as difficult to understand as ‘Singlish’ (Singaporean English). Both countries have integrated a lot of local slang into the language, and have subsequently made it practically impossible for outsiders to understand.
Many people think that Singlish means simply adding ‘la’ to the end of every sentence. In reality, that is only a very small part of it, for it is actually a complex combination of Malay, Tamil, Cantonese, Hokkien, as well as various other Asian and European dialects.
It took me nearly three years to make any headway with the Yorkshire accent – the bet is now open as to how long it will take me to become remotely well-versed in Singlish (if I ever will)!
Many very clever men and women have told me over the years that the one thing you can be sure of when it comes to flat hunting is that it will always be a big fat nightmare. I have never questioned their wise words, but it’s not until I recently started taking on the seemingly impossible task myself that I realised their true meaning.
I have dealt with rude and incompetent estate agents in my university days, but with hindsight they were little more than an inconvenient itch. The Real World is, of course, much harsher than that.
When my boyfriend and I started our hunt for a place to stay in Singapore, we were told by friends in the know that it’s not worth asking estate agents to search for properties for us unless our budget is at least S$3,000/month, because they usually charge an exorbitant commission fee. Being fresh graduates – and hence cheap labour – our budget is definitely not S$3,000. It is not even remotely close to that. And so we have to resort to our best friend and worst enemy, The Internet.
A few websites have been recommended to us, such as Property Guru, Rent In Singapore, and Easy Roommate. We decided to go with Easy Roommate. We had to pay a small fee to entitle us to use all of their features (such as being able to directly contact other users via private messages) but so far it seems to be paying off.
We have finally shortlisted four properties that fit our requirements and budget, but not before we learnt a few lessons. So here’s a mini guide on everything I’ve learnt about online flat hunting in Singapore so far…
Only people who are either Singaporean citizens, Permanent Residents (PR), or have valid work permits can rent local property. If you’re holding a tourist visa, you are legally only allowed to stay in serviced apartments or hotels. Some landlords may be more flexible, however, and will not mind if you’re still in the process of applying for work as long as you can pay rent on time and don’t get into trouble.
Overall I would suggest finding a job and sorting out your permit before getting started on flat-hunting, as it will make the paper work a hell lot easier. It also means that you will have a clearer idea of which area you’d like to stay in in order to get to work more conveniently.
Types of Properties
There are 6 main types of properties in Singapore you can stay in:
- Housing and Development Board Flats (HDBs): These are government-owned buildings comparable to council estates in England. Over 80% of the country’s population live in HDBs, as they are substantially cheaper than private housing. Strictly speaking it is illegal to sublet rooms in HDBs, but it is a common practice to do so nonetheless. There will not have security guards or management people on site. They are usually located near public transport such as MRT stations, however, and there would often be a playground, food courts and other small shops within close proximity of the flats.
- Condominiums (Condos): Privately owned apartments that are especially popular with expats. These are more expensive than HDBs, but for good reason as they tend to be more spacious. They would also have full facilities inside the compound including 24-hour security, green space, swimming pools, gym, etc. Some condos may not be as close to MRT stations or other amenities such as food courts and supermarkets, however, so do take that into consideration and check on Google Maps or with the landlord.
- Flats: Similar to condos, but with less or no private facilities.
- Landed Properties: Houses, basically. They are obvious much bigger than apartments, and you get your own garden as well as more privacy. It’s rare to come across them though, as there aren’t very many houses around. Like flats, they usually have less facilities in their immediate vicinity, but if you have a car then it wouldn’t be much of a problem.
- Serviced Apartments: A cross between a hotel and studio flat, serviced apartments are most suited for extended trips. They offer the comfort of home, complete with living room and kitchen, and usually get cleaned and tidied daily. The trade off is that they are generally very, very expensive. No work permits are necessary to stay in these.
Budget and Location
In a nutshell, property prices are ridiculously high in Singapore. By that, I mean they are even more expensive than London. If your budget is as low as ours (around or below S$2,000/month), your best bet would be to rent a room rather than a whole apartment. On the other hand, if you want to buy a property and rent it out, it’d be a good time to do so now as the rental market is doing well.
In terms of location, everything is pretty straightforward: the closer you are to the city centre, the more expensive property is going to be in general. Transport is relatively cheap in Singapore, so as long as you’re close to a bus or MRT stop you should be okay if you don’t mind the rush hour crowds.
Check out this page on the Rent In Singapore website for average asking prices in different districts.
Everybody knows that the internet is as full of great stuff as it is full of crap. I was reluctant to flat hunt online, but that’s apparently what people do nowadays so we didn’t have much of a choice. We initially tried looking for properties on the American classified ads website Craigslist, which was a really bad idea as the site is a haven for scammers. Even after we’ve joined the more reputable rental website Easy Roommate, we still encountered quite a few bad guys. Some of them can be very convincing, but here are a few ways I’ve learnt to avoid falling for their traps. It all just comes down to common sense at the end of the day, really…:
- Check images in the ad: Be very cautious if the rooms in the pictures look too good to be true, especially if their asking price is substantially lower than your other finds. Scammers would also often use photos of flats from other places, so check for irregularities and keep a sharp eye for details. One of the photos we came across had a radiator on the wall – something you will never find in a country as hot as Singapore – and another one had an ashtray on the table despite their description clearly saying ‘*STRICTLY NO SMOKING!!!*’.
Do a reverse image search on TinEye if you’re unsure. You simply upload a photo and it will perform an extensive search to reveal where else the image has been hosted. Both the radiator and ashtray photos we came across turned out to be taken from hotels in Amsterdam!
- Check the property address on Google Maps: It will only take a minute, but do it anyway. One of the addresses we looked up turned out to be the location of Singapore Pose Office! (The ‘owner’ later said that she had ‘gotten the address mixed up’.)
- Google their email addresses if provided: Fortunately, the good people of the world have compiled websites such as Chicanery Cons Scams that post lists of known scammer email addresses. A quick Google search will reveal at least the more notorious scammers.
- Typical scammers… will often have atrocious grammar, and use excessive capital letters and exclamation marks. The ‘owners’ tend to be out of the country for family or business reasons. A lot of them will also give a strangely in-depth description of themselves and their family history – which usually includes a death (for sympathy points maybe?).
Do not ever trust anyone who asks you to complete an ‘application form’ or says that they would have to send you the keys by post. Also, never wire money to anyone before you meet them in person. Always arrange a house viewing and see the place before you sign any documents.
This is an example of a scam messages I got:
Other Things To Consider…
- Check whether wifi and utilities are included in the rent.
- Ask if cooking is allowed. I came across many places that only permit ‘light cooking’ – make sure you find out exactly what they mean by that.
- Check if the flat is fully or partially furnished.
- Room type: Master rooms are larger and have ensuite bathrooms attached, common rooms are a bit smaller and will have to share a communal bathroom.
- Whether there are food courts and/or other shops and amenities nearby, especially if you get peckish easily!
As I wrap up my last three years of university student living into one big bundle, I prepare to take the next step in life. After months of deliberating on whether I should stay in Leeds or move down to London, I finally made my decision. The date is now set and the one-way plane ticket is ready – I will officially be moving to Singapore at the beginning of September.
Of course, the inevitable first question put to me by friends and relatives when I announced the decision is ‘Why Singapore?’ Which is fair enough, seeing as I have virtually no link with the country other than having visited it briefly on family vacations and knowing friends from there.
The initial answer I gave is fairly straightforward: ‘My boyfriend would prefer to be in Asia, and I don’t want to do long distance anymore.’ In the beginning, that really was my main reason. I’ve always been ambitious career-wise, but I’m young and cocky enough to believe that I can succeed in whichever country I end up in as long as I put my heart to it.
But then the ball began rolling and my emotions started to flicker like a malfunctioning fluorescent light: ‘It’ll be an amazing experience!’ – ‘It’s all a stupid mistake’ – ‘I’ve always wanted to travel and this is my chance to do it!’ – ‘Everything is going to fall apart and I will be a failure in life forever.’
It felt as though I was standing at the edge of a plane, getting ready to jump. I can’t be sure if my parachute would work, and I don’t know exactly where I will land. All I know is that I can’t turn back now.
I’m no stranger to being uprooted and put on a plane to live in new environments – that is the story of my childhood. I love the thrill of being able to move to an unfamiliar place and start everything afresh, meeting new people to familiarising myself with the nooks and crannies of the city.
The only difference this time is that there are no parents or teachers to hold my hand, and the whole process is proving to be a steep and often very stressful learning curve. Amidst the madness of job- and flat-hunting, however, a funny thing happened. I realised that I was gradually beginning to get more excited and less nervous about the Big Move.
My mini trip to Singapore a couple weeks ago definitely helped. I like the country much more than I had expected. The Singapore in my memory is unpleasantly clammy and not particularly exciting, but I ended up having a great time there. The people are friendly, the roads are spacious, the art scene is being strongly endorsed by the government and getting more sophisticated (despite still being very PC on the most part), the sun shone, and the local food is cheap and delicious.
Of course I’m aware that going somewhere on holiday and actually living there can be two very different experiences, but I look forward to the challenge and to sharing my Singaporean adventures with you here. Stay tuned!