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Archive for the ‘city life’ Category

The Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and was founded in 1827, eight years after the East India Company established a trading settlement in Singapore. Today it is a stone’s throw from Singapore’s Central Business District.

The rural South Indian mother goddess Mariamman is a protector against diseases.

Sri Mariamman Temple.jpg

Views in Singapore’s Chinatown are a mix of the old and the new.

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Hey remember when people use to go to coffee shops to hang out and chat? I know you do, the TV show Friends was based entirely on this premise. Apparently I missed the memo when this all changed. I was in the US with my father in law about a year ago and looking for somewhere to kill an hour or two before his flight. We stopped into an old favorite coffee shop of mine and promptly found glaring eyes from the freelancers who had made the establishment their office for the day when we opened our mouths to converse.

Oops.

Perhaps this is why coffee shops have become so ubiquitous. With more people working remotely, the need for alternative work places is high.

In Singapore, the everywhere-ness of coffee is no different with these “third spaces” used for everything from alternative offices to short meeting spaces. And like most things in Singapore, you also get the east vs west mix. Options for your coffee range from 8 SGD venti Starbuck drinks to the more traditional $1.50 kopi from your favorite stall.

I’m not sure how many kopi stalls and shops there are in Singapore but in case you were wondering how many Starbucks there are in Singapore, the answer is 100. Give or take any that have open/shut in the past month or two.

How do I know this? Well I stopped in one the other day and saw this sign advertising daily celebrations at their 100th location at Fullerton Water Boat House.

100th Starbucks Celebration Invite

100th Starbucks Celebration Invite

Although I know how ubiquitous Starbucks is, I still found it a shock to have so many on an island that runs about 25km (15 mi) running north-south and 48.2km (30 mi) running east-west, or 716 sq km (that’s 276 sq mi).

And while this isn’t more Starbucks than the company’s hometown of Seattle (142) or the most Starbuck ridden city Seoul (284), Singapore is still a country with a Starbucks every 7.1 km (2.7 sq mi). Seems a bit excessive, but then again, if the market can bare it, who am I to speculate?

Add in dots for Uncle Kopi, independent coffee shops and the rest, and you’ve got one highly caffeinated city-state.

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So you’ve arrived in Singapore and you’ve done a bit of homework. You may know a few of the areas around town, that drugs are punishable by death (don’t do drugs, kids), what a hawker market is and that it’s summer year round. You may even have figured out how the hospitals work and how to file your taxes. In that case, you are a step ahead of me.

But of course, there are inevitably things you don’t know. You just have no idea what type of things those are. Unknown unknowns, not to get all Donald Rumsfeld-y on you.

Anyway, here are some things I wish somebody would have told me.

ATMs

Your ATM situation just got complicated. Singapore is more of a cash society than many of us expats are use to. Many times you have to have cash or this thing they call a NETS card. Personally my will hasn’t given in to the NETS thing, but from what I can tell it’s this card you get from certain banks that you have to load money on to and then use. I feel like my money is my money until I spend it, I shouldn’t have to load it onto a card that I have to keep track of. That’s what a bank is for. Let’s not complicate it all with another system. But anyway, back to the point. ATMs.

If you are from Europe, you may be conditioned to use any ATM you find. If you are from the U.S. you may be conditioned to try to look for your ATM and then if you can’t find it in an emergency or fit of laziness, give in and pay the outrageous fees another bank’s ATM and your bank’s ATM add on top.

In Singapore, if it’s not your bank’s ATM or within a group of banks that your bank has joined forces with, your stuck. You can’t withdrawl money. At all. Not if you agree to ridiculous fees, not if you kick the machine, not if you yell at the person at 7-11 when they can’t tell you where the nearest ATM machine that takes your card is located. (Don’t yell at the locals.) You just have to hope that the people you are out with that you just met through a friend of a friend, some expat meetup or some work do will loan you $15 to go home and another $50 for your bar tab.

The first time this happened to me I had to leave where I was to rush around for half an hour trying to find an ATM that took my card. 50 SGD doesn’t go that far even though it sounds like a big number, so consider that when you make your withdrawal for the evening. The exception is a night out at the hawker market. Also, some cabs take credit card, some don’t. I always try to have a little cab fare in my purse for an emergency.

Tip #1: Keep your home country’s bank card on you for emergency as any ATM will take a foreign card and happily charge you for the privilege. You may want to do this at least until you are a bit more comfortable with the area and have an understanding of how much cash you should carry on you at any time.  It could help you out in a tight spot.

Tip #2: Your bank likely has a cell phone app that will tell you where there is an ATM you can use nearby. I have found these apps not to be very useful, but others like them.

Tip #3: Places like Cold Storage usually let you do a cash back, minimum $50.

Cell Phones

Or Hand phones as they call them in Singapore. I assume that when you got off the plane and got over your jetlag the next morning, you got a pay as you go phone. Your intent was to keep that until you could get settled in, have a paycheck and get on a plan. Well, don’t go getting your business cards made with that number. The phone company won’t let you take it with you. You’ll have to get a new phone number when you get a plan.

Riding Buses and MRTs

Navigating buses is tricky anywhere new. Sometimes it’s easier to go underground and just pop up like a whack-a-mole when you get to your destination. Unless you are near that Ion/Patterson link/ Orchard Road/ Scotts Road mess. You’ll know what I mean when you experience it. Don’t worry about that for now.

Anyway, buses can sometimes be much quicker than the MRT since the MRT has lots of transport dead spots. Just remember to tap the card in when you get on AND out again when you exit. In Singapore, they charge bus fair by a GPS measured distance you’ve traveled.

While we are talking about public transportation, I should tell you that to recharge your EZ link card you need at least $10 cash. In London, I used to load up my Oyster card with whatever change was at the bottom of my purse. That doesn’t fly here. If you get stuck, you can buy a one time use pass. It takes a $1 deposit and you pay exact fare to get from point A to point B. Point is, carry some cash.

Tip: Google and gothere.sg can tell you how long it takes you to get from point A to point B, the fastest route and price. Sometimes it just makes sense to take a cab. They are fairly cheap. If you’ve come from somewhere where cabs are expensive, it just takes a while to adjust your mindset.

Cabs

While we are on the subject of cabs, some cab drivers do not have a clue where things are on this island. As someone new to the country, you probably don’t either. Smart phones are good if you can get the cab driver to look at the map function. Also, addresses and names of establishments often mean nothing. Note the name of the building they are in and the street that building is on. That will be more recognizable for the driver.

Cab drivers are also often choose-y about where they will take you. They will roll down the window, signal for you to tell them where you are going in a panicked manner and by the time you’ve figured out what is going on and open your mouth to shout out “Tanjong Pagar!”, they’ve driven off. It’s a test of patience.

Tip #1: Get an app for ordering cabs. I use one by Comfort Del Gro. You can skip the taxi cab lines this way or order one to your house. The GPS on your smartphone will tell the cab where your location is.

Tip #2: Good luck with finding a cab in the rain. Start trying early.

Scooters and Motorcycles

To ride a scooter in Singapore, you need a motorcycle license. This takes 2 days in the US to obtain or 6-9 months in Singapore. God bless the U.S.

Singapore law requires you to have the motorcycle license for a year first in order to convert it to a Singapore license. If you think you may want to move to Singapore in the future, consider getting your motorcycle license in whatever country you currently inhabit. Since I’m not a bike fanatic, I think of riding a motorcycle as a skill set I need to have in life. Like changing a flat tire or knowing how to swim.

You may have to arrange your day around the rain, but a scooter or motorcycle may be the right option. Prices of cars here will make your mind explode and there can be serious public transport black spots.

Walking

People will think you are crazy for wanting to walk somewhere. After a while, you will start to understand why as a 20 minute walk in intense sunshine is not your 20 minute walk in London or NYC.

I’ve had people argue with me about how I couldn’t walk somewhere because it was too far when I simply just asked for directions. When you arrive sweaty and exhausted having gone the wrong way first you may understand why. Of course, if they had just told you where to go in the first place, you might not have got lost and ended up sweaty and exhausted. But that’s the way it goes. It’s Singapore.

Tip: Umbrellas are for sunshine and rain. Get a compact one and carry it with you. It goes in your bag, even if you don’t think you will need it.

Mall Food

People eat mall food. It happens here and is not looked on as weird or gross. In fact, people eat everywhere. Even the movie theaters have extensive food selections and not just popcorn, soda and nachos with imitation cheese. Singaporeans eat. That’s their thing.

Yes Sometimes Means No

OK, so maybe people don’t mean to lie, but the local culture has a real thing about not wanting to tell you no. Sometimes they just don’t want to disappoint you. This can get really confusing and frustrating. Use your Spidey Sense. If the person on the phone or at customer service twitches or inflates their voice weird or perhaps doesn’t expand with logic and reason to the answer, then ask the question again in a different way. If it sounds to good to be true or suspicious, it may well be. This has happened to me with the bank, when asking people for directions, with scheduling installation of products… the list goes on.

Well that’s probably good for now. Go see how all that treats you and report back. All cultures have quirks, it’s part of the experience and excitement to learn to navigate them.

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My interior designer friend, Kylie, tipped me off to this place. She had left London and was curious to how the design turned out. The answer is lovely, sleek and spacious featuring communal long tables, marble and fountains.

I’ve been before, but somehow seem to forget about it amongst all the other bakeries and eateries in Soho. I needed to grab a coffee and jot down some notes last Wednesday when all of a sudden it sprang to mind.

I entered and was confronted by what felt like miles and miles of amazing pastries and cakes, then pizzas, pastas and salads. I was in serious dilemma over what to order. I’m not kidding- it took me a good 10 minutes to decide where to spend my calories.

I think I chose well.

Princi, 135 Wardour Street, London, W1F 0UT
Telephone +44 (0)20 7478 8888,
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 08.00-00.00 Sun 08.30-22.00

Breakfast available — 08.00 to 11.00
Weekends — 08.00 to 12.00
Apperitivo — 17:00 to 19:00

Princi on Urbanspoon

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There was a time when my perspective of decadence may have included:

shopping

photo not mine

sunny days spent at the pool

chil'axing

a deep tissue massage at an urban spa

ah.... photo not mine

a lovely bottle of wine

sip sip gulp

A good restaurant meal.

nom nom nom

But things have changed.

Now, it’s all about a taxi cab ride home.

photo not mine

photo not mine

I love to walk. I have been known to walk everywhere. Aimlessly around cities. In nature on a hike. Home from work or school. I have gone on holidays for the sole sake of it.

The trail along the Singalila Ridge, holiday 2009

But now I mostly don’t have a choice but to walk, I have discovered the luxury of being dropped off at your front door. It’s only an 8 minute walk from the closest tube station, so it seems completely manageable to take public transport through any weather, bad footwear decision or sleep deprived state, but yet I am still tempted over and over again.

I can’t believe that this has come to be my dirty little vice. Perhaps I shouldn’t tell this to people, it makes me feel deathly boring.

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