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The Ex-Pat Lifestyle: Singapore

2008 June 15
by rob

May 28, 2008

The flight from Bali to Singapore was only a couple of hours long, but was delayed by an hour. I can see that one thing that Valuair does not value is punctuality.

I didn’t get out of the airport until 2 AM. I had to get to my friend, Scott Faber’s, condo. By that hour, the city’s public transit had shut down and my only option to get there was to take a SG$38 (CA$29) taxi ride across the whole city. It was a long way. The taxi driver spoke excellent English (many people in Singapore do!) and told me a lot about the city on the way.

I got to Scott’s doorstep at 3 AM. I knocked on his door. No answer. I rang the doorbell. No answer. I returned to the security guard and used the phone to call Scott. No answer.

Since it was so late and public transit wasn’t running, I didn’t really have anywhere to go. I assumed that Scott had forgot that I was coming and had gone to bed and was oblivious to the knocking on the door and the ringing phone. His condo was on the second floor and there was only one other condo on that floor. It was pretty isolated, and I don’t think anyone was going to bother me, so I laid down on the hard tiled floor in front of Scott’s doorstep and tried to sleep. I used my hoodie as a pillow. I felt like a homeless person.

I did sleep a bit, but the hard ground made my back hurt. By about 7 AM, I tried knocking again but there was still no answer. By that point I was thirsty and had to pee, so I got my stuff together and started to walk to a nearby coffee shop. On the way, Scott ran out and caught up with me. He finally heard my knocking and came out to find me. He apologized; he thought I was coming the next night. Doh. My assumption was correct.

Scott showed me to his guest bedroom with mattress on the floor. What luxury! At least, compared to sleeping on the ground outside!

We chatted for a bit. He introduced me to his girlfriend, Suhara. She was from Kuala Lumpur and was working in Singapore, too, just like Scott. After a while they had to leave for work. I went to bed and slept for a few hours.

I didn’t do much else that day. I slept and used his computer for hours. I missed my own computer, so being able to sit on one for hours and hours without getting charged by the minute was nice.

That night the three of us went out for dinner at a Kashmiri restaurant near Singapore’s Little India area. The food was delicious and Scott and Suhara were fun to hang out with. Even though there was a bit of a rough start, I was going to enjoy my stay in Singapore.

May 29, 2008

Today turned out to be my own sightseeing day in Singapore. I intended to do more sightseeing, but it didn’t end up happening. Oh well, no big deal. Sightseeing is a lot of work anyways.

While Scott and Suhara were at work I went out into the city to explore. Their condo was located far out in the city, about a 40 minute ride on the MRT train. I got off at City Hall station and started to wander. I found myself in a large, ultramodern, and rich city. I was surrounded by shopping malls and skyscrapers. I wasn’t in Laos, anymore.

I walked into the nearest mall, the Suntec store, and roamed around a while. They had a big Carrefour department store there and picked up muesli and soy milk for breakfasts. Even though Scott and Suhara said I could eat anything I wanted from their house, I didn’t want to be that much of a mooch (they didn’t have a whole lot to eat anyways — their fridge mostly had wine and beer in it, heh heh).

I continued to roam around the waterfront, through parks, over busy arterial roads, and past shops and hoards of office workers in suits. The weather was HOT and HUMID. Singapore is only 137 km north of the equator, and you could feel it. The sun was burning down on you from nearly directly overhead. No wonder all the trains, stores, and homes were fiercely cooled by air conditioners!

I took a small break at the cheesy, but nicely located Merlion Statue by the waterfront.


After the waterfront, I walked under and over some bridges into the colonial district and walked among pretty old buildings.


It didn’t even look like I was in ASIA anymore either!

I didn’t roam around the colonial district for very long. Even though there was a cool museum that I thought about going to (the Asian Civilizations Museum), I scurried out of there and headed towards the Funan IT Mall: six levels of electronics shops: cameras, cell phones, video games, computers, anything! I stopped to have lunch to fuel up before shopping. While sitting in the food court I chatted with this guy from Singapore about computers. He was looking for a laptop. He thought about getting a MacBook but heard that Leopard (the OS) wasn’t very stable. I told him that I was using it for months and it was great. He said he was relieved then ran off eagerly to buy a MacBook.

I wanted a new camera. I had done some research and decided that the camera I wanted was the new Canon Powershot G9. It looked pretty good — definitely better than the camera I had now. It was not a proper SLR but it was as manual as a compact can get. It showed up as US$450 on Amazon.com. Rumour had it that electronics in Singapore were pretty cheap. I searched up and down that IT Mall, but I couldn’t find anything that could match the price on Amazon. Bastards. Searching for that camera gave me time to think, though. My current camera WAS still pretty good, and I don’t think that I would get rid of it after getting a new camera, since both cameras fill different roles. The added cost and weight of getting a second camera was in direct conflict with my mantra of traveling light and cheap. Even though I still kept checking out the cost of this camera in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Seoul in the upcoming weeks, I held my ground and didn’t get the camera. I’d check the prices again when I was in California in August.

After the IT Mall I hit the streets again. I walked up a few blocks past at least a dozen shopping malls until I reached the Arab neighbourhood: Kampang Glam. The star attraction here was the stately Sultan Mosque:


The neighbourhood was filled with fabric stores, tacky souvenir shops, Middle-Eastern themed restaurants, and carpet stores. I spotted a Turkish restaurant and had myself a Turkish coffee. I think Turkish coffee is one of the best kinds of coffee you can get. I was very sad the day that the Balkan Bistro restaurant closed down in Toronto and shut off my supply of Turkish Coffee. I was happy to find some in Singapore.

I walked around a bit more. It was a nice neighbourhood to explore. On my way to my next neighbourhood (Little India) I passed by another mosque (The Malabar Mosque). The mosque was pretty, but not as quite so pretty as the Sultan Mosque. I have to assume that since it was less pretty, they must have had problems with people falling asleep during prayers. I spotted this sign inside the mosque:


From the Malabar Mosque, I wandered my way into Little India. I explored a Hindu temple, another mosque, the bazaar. After Little India, I had been walking for hours, so I headed back to the Condo to chill. I hung out there for a few hours before heading back into town to meet Scott, Suhara, and their friends at The Hindu Bar in Little India.

The Hindu Bar was… interesting. When I got there, the place was mostly empty (being that it was only about 9 PM on a weekday night), except for Scott, Suhara, and about five of their friends. They were drinking a bottle of whisky, which you could mix with Coke or Green Tea (which was surprisingly tasty). However, the drinks weren’t what separated the Hindu Bar from other bars I’ve been to. The entertainment of the bar was a live band playing Indian music (very similar to the music played at the wedding in Bali) and prostitutes dancing on the stage. At least Scott said they were prostitutes. Scott is good at bull shitting, but Suhara implied that Scott was telling the truth here. I believed him. If the girls were real dancers, then they would probably have been better dancers. Instead, some of them were sullen, and some were energetic. Some of them were old, and some of them weren’t. They weren’t naked or anything — they wore very nice saris.

Scott’s friends were fun, too. Most of them were Scott’s coworkers at the RIM office in Singapore, and most of them were Canadian. Apparently these guys came to the Hindu Bar pretty often. They got together to drink very often, even if it wasn’t at The Hindu Bar. They were a rowdy group and very representative of what my travel book said about the ex-pat community in Singapore. Even though they represent a very small fraction of the population of Singapore, they drink and party a lot and make more noise than the other groups of people in Singapore. They guys were living the life… and there I was at The Hindu Bar living it with them.

So we drank a lot of whisky that night and took the taxi back home pretty late. Scott and Suhara used taxis much more often then I would have normally used — but they were working there, and I wasn’t. I guess it was the norm in Singapore — especially for the boisterous ex-pat community!

May 30, 2008

It was my original intent to continue my sightseeing expedition of Singapore today. I wanted to walk around Chinatown and meet up with Suhara in the city centre for lunch. However, my head was hurting a bit in the morning (darn whisky!) so I chilled in the morning while I waited for Suhara to email me from work and let me know that her schedule was clear for lunch.

Suhara was only at work for an hour before coming home. They whisky last night had really messed her up and she wasn’t feeling well. She told her boss that she was hung over and left to “work from home.” When she got home, she went to bed and slept for like four hours. I decided to do the sightseeing another day and wait for her to wake up so we could have lunch later. On my trip, I value social interaction more than sightseeing, so this decision was sound.

When she woke up, she called Scott and found out where he was. Apparently Scott had also left work early. He went bowling at lunch time with some of his buddies, but was totally embarrassed by the mad skillz of the local kids and went to a patio bar for lunch. Suhara and I met up there for lunch and draft San Miguel beer (though Suhara wasn’t up for the drinking!). While we were sitting around we made plans to go to the beach the next day for a picnic. Scott also tried offering me a job at his RIM office in Singapore. He interviewed me right there by asking me ridiculous questions like “Do you know what HTTP stands for?” Since, of course, I know what means, I was qualified to work for RIM in Singapore. I turned down the job offer though (though part of me though Scott was bullshitting again, since he does it so much), I wasn’t done traveling yet, and definitely not ready to take on full time employment again! The offer was tempting though. The work would be VERY EASY, I would be paid well, and Singapore was pretty cool to work in.

After the patio, we picked up food for dinner at a fancypants Italian deli and took the taxi home. We didn’t do anything much else the rest of the day and night. We walked TV (Scott downloads a lot of shows), movies, and drank a bit more.

May 31, 2008

It was Saturday! Scott and Suhara both had the day off and the day started slowly. We sat around for hours watching TV. We wanted to go to the beach but it was raining. It actually rained a lot in Singapore. Except for the (very lucky, in hindsight) day that I went sightseeing, it rained every day in Singapore. Sometimes you would hear thunder building up in the distance for hours before a torrent of rain would descend on the city. The rain usually cleared up after a few hours, but the skies were often overcast the gloomy anyways. So it was on Saturday. It dumped buckets on us for most of the morning. By the beginning of the afternoon it was starting to clear up so we got ready for the beach.

Christine, from Kuala Lumpur, was also in Singapore that day. We had emailed each other to see if we could meet up at the beach. She had made other plans that day, though. We figured out that we would also both be in Hong Kong at the same time and made plans to meet up there.

Scott, Suhara, and I headed towards the beach (in a taxi, of course) on Sentosa Island. The island seemed to have been dedicated to recreational uses; beaches, zoos, and amusement parks. The taxi dropped us off at a nice, but clearly artificial, beach. The water didn’t look very clean, especially considering the huge number of oil tankers, barges, and container ships I could see in the harbour only a few kilometers away!


Yeah, those blobs on the horizon are ugly ships, not tropical islands.

Even though it wasn’t the nicest beach I’ve seen, it was fun to be there with Scott and Suhara. We set up a blanket, pulled out beers, potato chips, music, sat down, and hung out.


Our hanging-out was literally being overshadowed by something dark and gloomy: more rainclouds. While we drank out beer, we watched more clouds descend on our position. As soon as we felt the pitter patter of rain, we retreated to underneath a nearby umbrella to wait out the rain. The beach had lots of umbrellas like ours. I guess the committee that designed the beach took Singapore’s frequent rainstorms into account. That was nice of them.

After the beach, we taxied out of there to a restaurant in Chinatown. Believe it or not, we went to an American-style BBQ restaurant. We ate steaks, tender pulled pork, smashed potatoes, corn on the cobs, and coleslaw while sipping on more beer. I know that I normally try to favour local foods on my trips, but Singapore doesn’t really have local foods of its own, since the island is a fusion of many cultures. The BBQ was yet another foray into the expat lifestyle of Singapore.

June 1, 2008

Today was my last full day in Singapore. I don’t think we did much of ANYTHING today. Except for a short trip to the local grocery store at the train station, we spent the whole day in the flat watching TV and movies. Suhara made us a delicious dinner. It was a day even lazier than my offical Day of Sloth in Cambodia with Alex Weaver. I guess it was another part of the expat lifestyle!

So what did I think of the expat lifestyle in the end? From the local Singaporean’s point-of-view, it was probably overly boisterous and flashy. Although most of the expats were Westerners, most of the locals were Chinese business and office people (though there were a lot of Malaysians and Indians as well). Riding around in taxis all the time, going to bars (especially ones where prostitutes did all the dancing), eating at nice restaurants, and taking off from work to go bowling or lay down from being hung over was apparently the normal routine for Scott, Suhara, and their friends. To be honest, it wasn’t that different from my life at home. I went out to eat a lot, went to bars (though we don’t seem to have bars with prostitutes dancing to Indian music — at least none that I know of).

For my last night in Singapore, we had a special treat. I had wanted to watch the new Indiana Jones movie when I was in Kuala Lumpur, but it didn’t open until after I left the city. Scott and Suhara were up for seeing it, so that night we did! Yippee! We took the train (it was really close, so we didn’t feel the need to use the taxi) to the Woodlands Shopping Mall (which was completely PACKED with people), took the elevator up to the cinema and watched the movie. One thing I found interesting about the cinema was that they had assigned seating. Unlike cinemas at home, you chose your seat at the time you purchased your ticket. The cinema in Kuala Lumpur where I watched Iron Man also had assigned seating. I guess it’s an Asian thing.

I enjoyed the movie, though it wasn’t as good as any of the original Indiana Jones movies. There’s no way it could have been though. The original movies were movies from my childhood and had huge nostalgia value for me. The new movie had the same look and feel as the originals (it was definitely an Indiana Jones movie), but just felt somewhat weaker. Indy’s sidekick, Mutt, just wasn’t as cool as Shortround or Sean Connery. But even Shortround’s shoes were large ones to fill!

June 2, 2008

My time in Singapore was at an end. I had a few hours to kill in the morning before heading out to the airport. I was very very excited! That night I would be in Hong Kong with my buddy Will Chau! For weeks (even months!) I had been telling people I met about my excitement to visit Will Chau in Hong Kong. It was finally time!!!!!!

To be continued… in Hong Kong!


Rob Szumlakowski
Hong Kong

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