Singapore Adventure

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Searching for Goldilocks: Part I
by venitha

While Jim has been slaving away at his new office all week, I've been busy trying to find us a place to live. Bin, my guide in this monumental task, tells me that there are 18000 empty apartments in Singapore, and I'm starting to wonder just how many of them I'll have to see before I find, well, Goldilocks.

We're currently living in a service apartment, which is nice: great location, free breakfast, free shuttles to work and to shopping districts, awesome pool and fitness center, daily maid service. But, it's also small and ridiculously expensive (close to $4000/month). If we were planning a shorter stay, HP would put us up here for the entire time. But since we'll be here longer than a year, it's more cost-effective for HP to rent us a normal apartment, to buy us furniture, and to ship a lot of our belongings from the US. Overall, this is what we want, as it'll give us a much more realistic view of life here. In the short-term, it means a lot of work.

So, bring on the housing people. Jim and I were tortured the first day of our prelim trip here in January with an entire day of apartment-hunting. And I do mean tortured. At midnight, we arrived in Singapore; at 2am, just as we were settling into bed at our hotel, John called to tell us that Jim's father had died; at 9am, we were picked up by the housing people for an entire day of being dragged through ten different apartments spread throughout the city; at 4pm, they were surprised when we proposed postponing our scheduled 5pm meeting with the relocation company to go over Jim's contract. I wonder now if it wasn't some sort of supreme endurance test designed to weed out the weak expat who wouldn't stick it out here. Darned effective, I'd say!

At any rate, all of the searching in January (we went out two other afternoons in addition to that first day) was for naught. HP wasn't willing to rent us a place so far in advance of our ultimate arrival (then scheduled for mid-April). And while we thought that we had at least decided on the apartment complex we wanted, Bin now tells me that there is nothing available there (my independent inquiries have revealed that this is not necessarily true). Regardless, Bin says, even if there were something available, HP would never agree to the lease restrictions the place imposes. At this point I have to exercise extreme restraint not to do many things: scream, bludgeon, spontaneously combust...

So I'm back to square one this week, but I'm taking comfort in the advantages I now have in comparison to our January slog:
  • No jetag! Woo hoo!
  • I know to wear slip-on shoes. You're expected to remove your shoes at the entrance of each apartment and wander around barefoot, so this is key.
  • I know what to expect. The pathetic excuses for kitchens in Singapore apartments was such a shock in January that it was hard to get beyond. Not that I'm beyond it now, either. It's really depressing.
  • I'm armed with a good map. We had no orientation at all in January: Where are these apartments? Where is HP? Where is Agilent? Where is the closest MRT station? It was only after we commandeered our housing guide's detailed city map (we are both in LOVE with our very own copy of the Mighty Minds Singapore Street Directory) that we realized that a number of the apartments that we had seen were right next door to each other. This isn't as stupid as it sounds, though I admit our jetlag and shock may have been a factor. Walking next door is one thing; driving next door here can take half an hour as you wade through heavy traffic, one-way streets, no-right-turns, traffic lights, mobs of pedestrians. Is it any wonder we don't want a car?
  • No Jim. Oh, wait, that's a disadvantage. Bummer! Actually, Jim is hoping to get some time off work so he can join me in this afternoon's scheduled adventure. Yeah!