Strictly: Singa Style – Part #1: Starting

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So, in a little under two weeks I’ll be jetting off for Christmas in kiwi-land, followed by four months of solo travel (and I can’t even imagine what antics I’ll be able to record from that adventure), which means that after almost two years my time in Singapore is finally at an end. And what a two years it’s been. For a while there at the beginning I didn’t think I would last two weeks, then two months seemed painful but manageable and then, before you know it, we’re less than a week away from December 2016 and my time is up. It’s been a pretty crazy ride and I’ve been thinking for a while about how I can close out the Singapore section of this blog, send it off with a bang, if you will, and it seemed that the best thing I could probably do was create something that I wished I’d had when I moved here. So, without further ado, I present my ultimate Singapore survival guide, designed specifically for noobs like me who one day get a crazy idea in their heads that they’re going to move half-way around the world all alone and are then stupid enough to actually go and do it, before belatedly realising that they have no clue what they’ve got themselves into.

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Part 1 is for what to do, and what to know, before you get here and in those jet-lag heavy first few days.

I suppose the first, and most important thing when moving is finding somewhere to live. Singapore has absolutely no shortage of rooms and apartments to rent all across the city and trying to find somewhere before you arrive is probably the most frustrating piece of time-wasting you could possibly do. If you have the luxury of being able to arrive before trying to look for somewhere please take it. It probably sounds stupid and obvious but it’s almost impossible to work out where you actually want to live before you arrive. No amount of google searches or reading lifestyle blogs will help you to work out where the best location is for you, or what counts as good value in a room. Google maps does not adequately inform you of how easy it is to get lost in an HDB estate, or how ridiculously long Balestier Road is, only hours of frustrated wandering can do that. Of course it’s good to get an idea of the sorts of places available before you arrive, and easy roommate is a good site to start with if you want a general idea of what’s available in Singapore.

Of course, the decisions don’t just stop at where, you also have to decide on what kind of place you want to live in. Generally speaking you have three choices in Singapore: HDB, condo or landed house. HDB’s are government owned apartment blocks that are pretty much equivalent to flats in any big city in the world. They tend to be the cheapest form of accommodation and are often also the biggest, but what you get is pretty basic, generally just a room and shared use of the common areas. You might also find that you live with a family, which I imagine is a little strange, or that your next-door-neighbour is an absolute weirdo. Condo’s are probably the number 1 choice for expats. They’re pricier and tend to be smaller, particularly if you go for a newer build, but all come with facilities like a gym, swimming pool, bbq and 24-hour security. In a city where it’s constantly around 30 degrees having some outside space where you can chill out on your weekends is pretty nice, and the use of all the facilities is always included in the rent. The final option are landed houses, which I don’t really know that much about, but I think they’re just like normal houses (fairly rare in Singapore, particularly if you’re just looking to rent a room) and what you get varies massively from house to house. Be careful with your specifications when you’re looking for somewhere to rent, it’s not uncommon for people to advertise for someone to share a room with, and often apartments will be without things like internet, or will not allow cooking (or only ‘light cooking’ which is Singapore-speak for nothing more complicated than toast or something that can be made in a rice cooker). Interestingly, many flats in Singapore don’t have ovens, so if you’re a keen cook then you need to state exactly what you want, otherwise you might find out you’re unintentionally going without.

Detouring briefly back to the where, if you really need to find a place before you arrive then, trust me, don’t even bother looking further north than Bishan. There’s no point, there’s literally nothing in the north, and even if you work up there (which I do), having to travel a little to work is far better than the pain you will feel if you commit yourself to a life lived in Woodlands. It’s just not worth it. Plus, public transport in this city is ridiculously cheap, so even if your journey to work is an hour on the train it’s not going to cost you more than $3 each way. I would say that the ideal area to look into is anywhere from Geylang over to Bukit Timah, and the CBD up to Novena. It’s generally a little pricier than the outskirts of the city but you will actually be able to enjoy your free time because there will be stuff to see and do that’s not a massive journey away from your house.

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Talking of massive journeys leads me seamlessly onto tip number 2, your understanding of what timespan counts as ‘ages’ will change significantly when you’re in Singapore. I’m a Brit who has never lived in London, and who spent the majority of her life before moving to Singapore walking pretty much everywhere that was within two miles of her house. Before I came here actually travelling to get anywhere seemed like a natural part of life. But oh, how times change. Before you read this and think, ugh, how much more ‘first-world-problems’ can this get, let me just clarify by saying that Singapore is incredibly hot and humid. And not just a nice day in the English countryside in August hot, but an actual, stifling ‘I opened the front door thirty seconds ago and I have already sweated off half my bodyweight and I’ve not even moved yet’ kind of hot. It turns out that this kind of humidity is something you’re physically incapable of understanding until it’s physically smacked you in the face. Even after two years of acclimatisation I still go out in shorts and a t-shirt daily and regularly get too hot to do anything except seek out the nearest air conditioned building and stand very still. The heat makes it almost impossible to walk any sort of distance unless you’re willing to look like a bedraggled mess at the end of it, and where once I happily walked a mile or more to the train station, a journey by foot of anything over ten minutes now feels like a serious commitment that’s worth careful consideration. I would also say that it’s probably impossible to live any further than ten minutes walk from the nearest bus stop or MRT station, there’s nothing Singaporeans love more than convenience, and there’s literally a bus stop around every corner. It’s also completely acceptable to take the bus just one stop to avoid having to walk. Not only is it pretty much unthinkable to ever commit yourself to a journey of over 10 minutes by foot, but the tiny size of Singapore will get you pretty quickly used to the idea that travelling more than half an hour to do anything is borderline excessive. I have a 45 minute journey to work every day and Singaporeans struggle to get their heads around why anyone would want to travel so unbearably far on a regular basis. Seriously, anything over 10 minutes is looked on with barely disguised horror and, before long, you will find that it takes you three weeks to go to Ikea because the entire round trip is going to take at least an hour which is just a ridiculous amount of time to spend travelling anywhere.

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Something else you’d better be aware of regarding travel in Singapore is the thin veil of politeness that exists, that I’m pretty sure is just there to lull unsuspecting tourists into thinking that Singaporeans are super nice right before they shove you out of the way or just straight walk into you. Whenever you get the MRT (the island-wide train system) you will see these arrows on the floor at every door on the platform. In theory people waiting to get on the train should wait on either side of the door, so that those getting off can do so easily. The reality is that you will wait nice and politely on the red arrow while an old aunty stands smack in the middle of the door and walks straight into the people trying to get off, causing some kind of stand-off that will cause you to move out of the way to allow people off, and then throw yourself onto the train before the doors close. Of course, you could be the person trying to get off the train who has an unobservant Singaporean on their phone walk into you, and then stand there uncomprehendingly while you get out of the way. Either scenario is equally stressful. The same applies with travel by bus, except then you’re more likely to have to suffer an old uncle unceremoniously pushing you out of the way so that they can get onto the bus first. These are things you really need to mentally prepare yourself for before you arrive here, I still get annoyed on a pretty much daily basis by the complete lack of understanding about what constitutes personal space, or good outside behaviour by Singaporeans. (I’m barely stopping myself from getting into a rant about how much I hate Singaporeans in public spaces, if you want to read my many aggressive thoughts on that hornet’s nest you can do so right here).

I could spend another 1000 words talking about shopping and eating in Singapore, which are two things locals love to do and are therefore two things you need to know. This post is going to be in three parts, and part three will cover my favourite places to eat, drink and shop, so I won’t go into that now, but if you’re interested in how you can survive the shopping culture in this crazy town you can read about that here and here.

Part 2 will cover the things you can do to acquaint yourself with Singapore and will, fingers crossed, appear at some point later this week.

Leah Out X

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