Wednesday, 14 December 2011

It does not smell of urine

So yes, I do not own a car, and I do travel by public transportation... this is quite a new experience to me. The time that I did not own a car is but a distant memory.

So let me explain two points:
1. Why do I not own a car
2. Why I use public transportation
(yes I know, this is closely connected)

1. Why do I not own a car
The short answer: it is simply not worth it!!!
First: Singapore has a strict car-bashing policy. There is a limit to the maximum number of cars that are allowed on the Singapore roads. That number is slightly raised every year, but in principle, it is reaching its maximum. In order to own a car, you need to buy a special permission, the Certificate Of Entitlement (COE). The COEs are auctioned, and they are currently very scarce. They went up a factor 4 in the last few years, which is also reflected on second hand cars. Yes, that's right, if you bought a car 3 years ago, you can get much more money for it now!! It is in fact a good investement.
Currently, the COE costs around 68 000 Sing Dollars (around 40 000 Euros). In many countries, this money will buy you a decent BMW, but in Singapore, it buys you a piece of paper that allows you to drive a car for 10 years. After 10 years, the value of this paper will be zero. After having acquired this piece of paper, you will still need to buy the actual car....
Roughly: it will be hard to buy anything with four wheels for under 60 000 Euros. Yet, there is an INCREDIBLE number of Porsches, Ferraris, Mercedes and Lamborghinis on this little island, with its speed limit of 90 km/h. So you will rarely take your Lamborghini beyond the third gear. But as you race from one traffic light to the next (from 0-50km/h in 2,2 sec), I am sure it will feel good and manly that it will take your fellow drivers at least 5 seconds or more to catch up and queue up behind you! The complementary roaring sound of course is priceless.
For those that are not yet scared enough of driving a car in Singapore: there is Electronic Road Pricing! Depending on time and location, a few Euros will be automatically charged anytime you pass certain portals. Privacy concerns are not big in Singapore.

The result: a city where everybody complains about the traffic density, but compared to other 6 million people cities I would say: Singapore is pretty easy to drive around, even at peek hours. I wish Amsterdam traffic could be this smooth (with its 800 000 population)

2 Why I use public transportation
First of all: I live within walking distance of a subway station; this is called MRT here (Mass Rapid Transit). The subway is easy to use, cheap, and one particular feature that I like, something that hits you right away when you enter, is that it does not smell of urine! The fact that you are not allowed to bring food or drinks (300 Euro fine) does not spoil the pleasure.
The arrows on the ground will tell you where to wait before entering, and where the exiting passengers will go (See picture at the top). Even this works.

To complement this, there is a fine web of buses. And after midnight, when the MRT stops, there is the 'Night Rider', buses that will take you home anytime if you want to go bar hopping and clubbing.

And then I have not even mentioned the taxis. Expensive, compared to surrounding countries, but dirt cheap compared to any European country. You can stop them in the street. Or you call from your cell phone, your number is recognized and will give you your home address or work address as menu options. After choosing any of the default addresses or a new pick up point, you will receive an SMS with the license plate number of the taxi, plus the arrival time. I tend to greet them with a jovial 'hello-how-are-you-can-you-please-turn-down-the-airconditioning'.

And that, my friends, is why I do not own a car in Singapore.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

I wanted to kill something

After all my positive blogs, I believe I am officially entitled to some major whining. Not everything went according to plan over the last 2 weeks.

Whining episode 1
For instance, the harddisk of my one week old computer crashed some two weeks ago. In a modern, network connected environment, this is usually not such a big problem. It would be repaired, and the data restored. I got a replacement laptop, which however crashed three days later during my trip to Indonesia. So.. I had to wait from my other laptop. Fortunately, after every ten days, we get an automated message to back up the data. But wait: ten days... what happens before that? EXACTLY! It was then that I found out that a starting backup had never been made. A back-up of my data that go back some 10 years in history. Yes, I should have asked! The last resort was retrieving my data from the old laptop that was sent back to NL. After enquiry, we found out that fortunately it was not reformatted yet, so they sent the data on DVD by regular mail. This never arrived in Singapore. Then it was sent by courier. This did arrive, today. Only with the wrong data, so we are still trying to find out if my data are still existing somewhere.

Whining episode 2
Of course, there will be a blog soon with photos from my new apartment, furnished, shiny, tidy. But not now.
I moved a week ago on Monday; the movers brought my stuff in, which had come from overseas. At 4pm I had to kick them out to catch my flight to Indonesia. Arriving back home Thursday night, boxes piled up to the ceiling, I ws not able to find anything! I got some things unpacked over the weekend, but it is still a mess!!! I wore my last ironed shirt today, so I cannot go to bed today before having finished my quest for a clothes iron. The iron board was, by its size, easy to find.

Whining episode 3
So yesterday evening I had prepared to unpack. But then, as I wanted to go home, I found out I lost my wallet, probably in the taxi, with all my bank cards, credit card, working permit, public transportation chip card, sailing club membership card... I reported it over the phone at the taxi company, who told me to report it to the police as well. The police told me to file it online. The bad news: I had no internet. The good news: the mechanic was due to arrive at 8 for installation of wifi! This, surprisingly went flawless! So I filed the police report (1.5 hrs, this could be Whining episode 4). Then I had 30 mins left to do some shopping for food before my 10pm telephone conference. As I opened the door, my door lock jammed, and there was no way I could lock it again. It was at that point, that I wanted to kill something and throw things against other things with the full intention to break them. Fortunately, I do not seem to have any neighbours that understand Dutch.
Anyway, in the store, while choosing my sushi (and sake, I really deserved it) I phoned the land lady, who showed up with a locksmith at 10:30 pm, as I was doing the phone conference. It is fixed now.

Today, the taxi company called, they had found my wallet. Everything was still in it.

End of whining.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Let me introduce you to my new pet

Let me introduce you to my new pet: he is white, fluffy, furry, lively... he grows like crazy since I first got him. He thrives on warm, humid weather. Just like me in fact. At first kind of cute, the way he attacked my shoes. But then as he grew bigger, he started to become interested in other things: wallets, bags, even the walls...His name is: MOULD!!! I thought of calling him Mouldy, like a term of endearment, ("Where's my little Mouldy?") but then I decided he is not so dear to me after all. He is growing more powerful as I write. He is creeping up on me like a heinous creature of the dark. Soon I will be nothing but a substrate of his greediness.

The picture I added shows a part of a late suit, god have his soul. I know he fought bravely.

Tomorrow I will get the keys of my new apartment. Maybe a dehumidifier will be a good investment.

Friday, 11 November 2011

I realize that beside being his friend, I am also his key account

Mark picks me up everyday at 8:00 am. Mark is 'my' taxi driver. The first time that I prebooked a taxi in the morning, he happened to be the one to pick me up. Soon he asked the question: do you need another pick up tomorrow? This triggered the current daily routine. I am learning a lot about Singapore from him. He also offers me to help with internet/phones (his sun-in-law works in a phone store), with moving (he can borrow a van), tourist info (of course, he is a taxi driver) and with female company (he partly owns a little night club). Also, he often brings me food in the morning: all kinds of local noodle dishes, plus local soy drinks, coffee (with condensed milk), tea or even a blend of the latter two. This coffee + tea blend is called yuan yang and this, contrary to the average Westerner's expectations, turns out to be a very pleasant drink!
My attempts to pay for all this, including 'hidden moves' like giving high tips, all fail. "You are my friend, it is my pleasure" I feel somewhat awkward, because I know the taxi drivers do not make a lot of money. And I realize that beside being his friend, I am also his key account. So I just stay loyal to him to return the favour. Mark understands the concept of customer relationship building.

Mark has some flaws though... one of them is being impatient in traffic. OK, this may apply to all taxi drivers around the world. But his main complaint is that drivers in the fast lane are too slow. Tailgating is his usual move to get them out of the way. Two weeks ago however, he was doing 150 km/h (90 allowed) in the middle of the night, as asked by an asthmatic passenger who needed his medicine (as Mark all explained). Mark tailgated another car away from the fast lane, after which a lively exchange of improper gestures and angry faces followed. The tailgatee then decided to get back at the tailgaiter by sending an angry email to the taxi company, who in return decided to end the contract with Mark. He showed me the letter. Apparently there had been another complaint against him, some two years ago. "You do not comply with the service standards of our company" etc. He will lose the taxi by next week. Mark tells me it is no problem, he will get another car.

I am sure he will manage, one way or the other.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Arguably the easiest job in the world

I always wonder what the job skills are for a weather men in Singapore. And I know I am not the only one. I guess the job description should look a bit like this:

Education: Junior highschool or equivalent.
Skills: Comfortable in coping with recurring patterns
Proven track record of copy-and-paste skills

Yes, this is arguably the easiest job in the world; take a look at the forecasts underneath! OK, maybe I am underestimating it, as on Monday and Tuesday, the minimum temperature is actually 26° instead of 25°. Fact of the matter is, the weather is pretty much similar all year round, the difference being merely some 2-3 degrees warmer in June and July, and more rain from Oct through Dec.

Many find this weather too hot... I actually enjoy it! And yes, that is probably one of the reasons why I am living here now. Especially the evenings are very comfortable; You can always sit outside for dinner/drinks without having to put on a sweater, shawl, coat...Having said that, I do wear sweaters here, but that is mostly inside, where the air-conditioner temperature is often set at temperatures that would made me call the central heating repair man back in the Netherlands! Nineteen degrees (measured) just does not do it for me, especially not if you are dressed the normal weekend Singapore dress code: shorts, flip-flops, t-shirt.

But at least I did not bring my fleece sweater for nothing.

Weather Forecast Singapore
weather forecast for Saturday is Thunder Storms Thunder StormsMax: 31°C
Min: 25°C
weather forecast for Sunday is Thunder Storms Thunder StormsMax: 31°C
Min: 25°C
weather forecast for Monday is Thunder Storms Thunder StormsMax: 31°C
Min: 26°C
weather forecast for Tuesday is Thunder Storms Thunder StormsMax: 31°C
Min: 26°C
weather forecast for Wednesday is Thunder Storms Thunder StormsMax: 31°C
Min: 25°C

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Can it be more Dutch?

Together with my colleage, Frank, I am participating in a race. The ABN AMRO Ambassador's Cup 2011. I trained one time before with Frank. We are sailing a Blade catamaran, the 'Wassup', a small, but fast little boat, that can reach speeds of up to 20 knots (close to 40 km/hr). I have experience with big monohulls, and the difference cannot be bigger! The speed, acceleration are hard to catch in words. It kind of reminds me of the high speed wind surfing I did in the past, the bad news however is that much more can go wrong with the catamaran. It can even flip frontwards, not a nice thing when you are hanging outside, hooked in your harness!
With absolutely no expectations we participated, there were different classes ranging from Catamarans, Trimarans to big monohull yachts. Our class starts 10 mins after the first group (the big yachts). There is good wind, and it does feel great to pass in a few minutes time the whole field of yachts with amazing speed difference. I shout:"Dont't worry, we will not drink all the beer, so long S...ers!!!". There is just something magic about high speeds with use of the wind only! We do a 40 km trip, unfortunately, during the last hour the wind drops to almost zero, and we are even overtaken by some of the bigger monohulls... THE HUMILIATION! (Glad I did not actually shout out that beer remark)

But after we return, it is party time, live music, buffet. I am wearing an Ambassador's Cup poloshirt with a big ABN AMRO logo, there are waitresses in Heineken (other big sponsor) dresses that keep filling the glasses; CAN IT BE MORE DUTCH? I even have a bitterbal! Fortunately the buffet is not Dutch.
Many Embassies are represented, and even the Dutch Ambassador gives a short speech.
Then... the prices are called, and from the Embassies the Belgians won! But then, much to our surprise, when it comes to the Catamaran Class, we are called for the 3rd price!!! I guess we did something right. So from here we decide that it should go upward only. We will cherish our little trophy, and when our price cabinet needs tidying because we run out of space, I promise to not throw out this one!

I will join the Changi Sailing Club (see pics above) and we will go do some serious racing!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Yes I finally found a place!
I did not want to bother you with my thought processes, like 'almost downtown is still not downtown'. Or 'the more square meters, the better'. Or 'money is overrated anyhow'. Anyway, the housing brings me to one of the few inconsistencies in this city, the city that seems to be planned to perfection. Yes, Singapore is metric! Meters, kgs, liters... without making too much of a value judgement on non-metric medieval (or is that a value judgement?) units, let's suffice with the statement: metric is a good thing. However, the moment we are talking about housing here in Singapore, everything suddenly changes to square feet!! Fortunately, I managed to get a 1100 sq ft (did you know that makes a 122 sq yard?) apartment. OK that means 102 sq meters.
It is downtown, 200 m away from Orchard road, also 200 m away from the nearest subway entry (I then still need a 5 minute walk underground). This is particularly handy for the frequent heavy rainstorms. The kind that we experience in the Netherlands a few times per year, during summer, if any. Here it can last anywhere from 5 mins to a few hours. And they can happen all year long, in the rainy season just more frequently. So yes, you do not want to have to walk too long!
I did some sightseeing, and Singapore is impressive indeed. I had seen it before, but it still hits me. I inserted some pics of the marina bay area, including the Merlion, the lion/mermaid, the national symbol. And the Marina Bay Sands building, a 207 meter high hotel/casino/resort, with a 150 m long pool on the top, with palm trees of course. The huge solar powered outdoor fan (pic on the bottom left) is a nice cool shady place for a rest during the 33C/90% humidity average day. The fence and lights of the recent Formula 1 are still there.
More to follow!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

I absolutely guarantee that you will not have any sun here in the afternoon

House hunting was a great experience. I was with a local agent, Jane. Jane is friendly and efficient. Jane managed to squeeze 7 appointments into 3 hours, including lunch.

As in any big city, the closer you are to downtown, the more expensive it gets. Or, as for most mortals that have a limit to their budget, the less space you get.

After I had seen them all, in my head I made the ABSOLUTE perfect condo, consisting of location #2 (2 minutes away from Somerset), the kitchen of #3, the facilities of #6 (looked like a holiday resort, big pool with little BBQ peninsulas) and the inside space of #7.
The master bedroom of #2 would barely fit my double bed, but walking around it would not be an option. And no, I am not exagerating.

Some kitchens are not meant to really use for cooking, as I noted. They look impressive, but are impractical. They are only used for heating up take-away food and instant noodles, for the few days you are not eating out. Food is one of the few things that are really cheap here, unlike most European countries. The service however, is usually really good, again unlike most European countries. Many people here just do not cook very often. And, I must say, my take-away Nasi Lemak (Coconut Cream soaked & steamed rice with chicken, veggies and spicy sambal sauce) of yesterday evening, for EUR2,50 surely tasted nice!
The lack of dishwashers, even in these luxury apartments, as Jane explained, was because most people in this price segment pay someone else to do their dishes.

Anyway...back to reality, I realize I will have to make a choice. My choices are actually now between#1 and #7.
#1: Downtown, walking distance (10 mins) of Somerset and Clark key (one of the main places to go out) but small space. I would definitely have to get rid of some of my stuff. Also my new big espresso machine plus grinder would pretty much fill up the little counter space available in the kitchen.
#7: Novena Area, two subway stations north of Orchard. Jane insisted to show me the Novena area, as a new upcoming area. And indeed, the apartment was amazing!!! The kind where you say: yes, I would like to live here. Split level, high ceiling in living room, two bathrooms, separate guest room and quite spacious. The landlady, as she was 'selling' her property, told me: "I absolutely guarantee that you will not have any sun here in the afternoon". Great irony... I remember that recently I told my real estate agent in NL to emphasize the nice evening sun that I get in my house over there!
But here in Singapore I fully understand that you do not want the sun shine into your apartment; it will just turn your place into a sauna, and rack up your electricity bill in order to cool it down,

It seems I will go for #7.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Fly me to the moon

Yes, I am in Singapore now. A transition that is almost impossible to describe. The trip already started in an unusual way. Once in the plane, we heard that the cooling system did not function well. The good news was that there was another plane waiting. However... (there is always a 'but' isn't there?) we were already cleared for security, so we were asked to get off the plane, were lined up in groups of 25, then escorted by 4 security guards through the terminal to the new gate. Quite a bizarre spectacle, that lasted for another hour to be completed. With 3 hours of delay I arrived.

Although I had already visited Singapore some 6 or 7 times, this time everything was different. The fact that I had burnt my bridges, left everything, to settle here for an new, surprising (probably), exciting (definitely) and happy (hopefully) life, changes my whole perspective.

This is where I will live. Singapore. Five million people on an island that has 45 kms as the longest distance. The Singaporeans, friendly, with their cute 'Singlish' accent (trust me, this deserves at least a few blogs by itself) are an interesting cultural blend of Chinese (for example they drink a lot of tea) and English colonial heritage (so they add milk to it).
Safe, clean, and HOT HOT HOT, in many different aspects (again enough ammo for some future blogs)

I arrive at my temporary place. A nice, so called 'serviced' apartment. Downtown, right in the middle of downtown. The 'serviced' part means that a cleaning lady will clean up three times a week and change the bedding.

Although a little renovation would not be out of place here, it has great facilities, like being DOWNTOWN (or did I mention that already?), has a pool, and, well, pool (like snooker). And of course a tennis court and a gym! It also has 2 bedrooms, a washing machine and a non-existing diswasher. I guess nothing is perfect.

The pool looks inviting, I can see it from my balcony at the 17th floor. I decide I need to take a dip. For me, swimming has always been somewhat associated with cold and shiver. "Come in the water, once you're in it is really kinda nice", is what the brave swimmers in the Netherlands usually shout at you while you are in doubt, standing at the poolside, wishing you had gone for a nice warm cappuccino instead. Not here. Not in Singapore! It is 9:30 pm. I take a cold (bwahaha!) shower first at the poolside, then dive into the lukewarm water, and do ten laps (25m I guess) And no, I am not a trained swimmer, I always saw it merely as a means to not drown. But the feeling of warmth and comfort is overwhelming. I get out of the water, the air is warm. I lay down with a magazine, I do not dry myself. Even then it stays comfortable. I get some Freudian associations with a whom.
I look up in the sky, there is a moon. The old song 'Fly me to the moon' starts playing in my head, the Frank Sinatra version. This is a good moment.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Keyless Keyring

I handed in my car plus car keys... a nice new Saab, 9550 kms, probably one of the last ones ever produced. Knowing the prices for cars in Singapore, I realize for this money I should be glad to get a 4 year old Corolla there. But I will probably try to live without a car there; I intend to live downtown, where a car is nothing but an expensive nuisance. I want to use public transportation and/or taxis. I calculated that taking a taxi everyday to work from downtown (25 mins) will still be cheaper than driving the 4 year old Corolla.
Of course in the subway, other then during my stay in Switzerland, blending in will be somewhat more of a challenge.

I also did a final check in my house and handed over the keys to the real estate broker who will rent out my place. My key ring is now keyless... So guess it is just a ring now. With a Heineken Bottle Opener attached to it. But soon it will carry the shiny key of some spiffy place in Singapore, if everything goes according to plan!

At least the weather is really nice, so the struggle between feelings of sadness and feelings of excitement for the future is, at least for now, won by the latter.

Should I come back, this house is where I will return.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Living in a Christo Project

My house house has boxes everywhere now.... like by a tornado the movers go through my house and all my precious and not so precious belongings disappear in cardboard. The movers turn out to be real wrapping artists; I feel like I am living in a Christo project!!!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Strong language and culturally insensitive subject matter

Now that I am getting closer to THE BIG DAY, I am consistently dividing my belongings into 6 categories:
Category 1:. Handcarry. Two suitcases, max weight 40kg. Like a really, really long trip. This I can do. Just like one of my recent Asia visits. But longer.
Category 2: Airfreight. I get to take 100 kgs by airfreight, which will all be taken care of by the moving company. Here it gets difficult already. My electric guitar? Definitely. The amp? Hmm.. 10 kgs... Lets just do the preamp and headphones. My new coffee machine? Tempting... but including the grinder it will be around 50 kgs, so I decide, sadly, against it.
Category 3: Sea container. This will be the bulk of my stuff, I will only have it sent after getting a final place in Singapore (hopefully after a few months). I go through the restrictions of goods to bring into Singapore. Alcoholic beverages turn out to be a nono. The import taxes are simply too high! So it all needs to be consumed this week. (Parteeee!) But then my DVDs: I read that 'nudity, strong language and culturally insensitive subject matter' is forbidden. So this totally rules out my seasons of "Curb your enthusiasm". But how about Seinfeld? That was on public TV, so should be OK. And Madonna's Drowned World Tour DVD? I seem to remember it's got it all: nudity, strong language and definitely culturally insensitive subject matter. It's got to go! Then I read the following sentences: Charges for screening DVDs are 4 Sing$ per DVD hour. I realize there will actually be some dude looking at my DVDs! Only Cartoons and childrens's movies exempt, which in my case is all condensed in one masterpiece: 'Finding Nemo'. I decide to leave all my DVDs here.
Together with my Samurai Sword from my old Aikido classes, even though I spent many hundreds of hours mastering some basic moves (I just do not have the right permit for it for Singapore)
Category 4: Storage. Apart from my samurai sword and above mentioned DVDs, this will include big pieces of furniture, books, and anything else I do not (yet) want to get rid of. It will sit here in NL patiently, waiting for my return.
Category 5: Stay in the house. To accommodate my new (still to be found) renters I will leave some closets and garden equipment, so at least they will have the opportunity to mow and water my lawn (as if).
Category 6: To get rid of. The hardest category. Even though they already know me at the recycling store ("Yo Benny, got some more of those pleated pants?") I want to limit this. It is really really hard to dispose of my little inflatable rowing boat that I successfully used to conquer the seas, albeit some 25 yeas ago for the last time. But yes, the toughest decisions fall into this category. Bye Bye Little Boat, I hope some kid, somewhere, will get equal pleasure out of you.

OK I you will now excuse me, I have a mobile internet account to cancel.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Preparations to move

It is now exactly one week before my move to Singapore. Anyone who has ever moved to a foreign country will recognize this: you will have to erase every single membership and subscription that you have! In my case: of course all the insurances, but also cable, internet, alarm services, landline, my vhf permit for the boat... And you would say in this day and age this can all be done by email and internet. Well... Not! At least not in the Netherlands. Whereas a short phone call can get you hooked up as a paying member to pretty much anything for the rest of your life, getting rid of such a subscription usually implies paper forms, signatures, stamps (do you remember from the old days?). Obviously registered mail is highly recommended....

Now going through my house, sieving out all stuff I can do without. Which is quite a lot, illustrated by the unopened boxes from my last move!
The good news: I do have a temporary place to stay now: Far East Plaza at Scotts Road. Really down town!!!
Copy and paste this... you will see the street view. Could not make an elegant link here yet, but I will surely master that soon!,-95.677068&sspn=35.494074,79.013672&vpsrc=6&ie=UTF8&hq=Far+East+Plaza&hnear=Scotts+Rd,+Singapore&t=h&fll=1.307581,103.833922&fspn=0.002735,0.004823&st=116283833822554456703&rq=1&ev=zi&split=1&ll=1.307297,103.833048&spn=0.002606,0.004823&z=18&iwloc=A&layer=c&cbll=1.307297,103.833048&panoid=e1HgD19o3uO9cCohqBZnhg&cbp=12,79.43,,0,8.82