Well after 6 months of planning, prepping, and waiting (AND waiting!), we are finally here in Singapore! Since I have only been here about a week. I wanted to write a little bit about first impressions:
1) Singapore doesn’t quite match its reputation.
This may sound like a bad thing, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Everything you here about Singapore starts with “oh it’s so clean and it is incredibly strict, you can’t even chew gum there!” Singapore is a clean city, but the way people talk about it, you would think the streets were marbled and paved in gold. I actually found it refreshing that Singapore is actually like any large metropolis with just a lot less trash (there is some, nobody is perfect!). I also walked in with this fear that I was going to be living inside the novel 1984 with Big Brother watching over me. While the laws are strict (death penalty for drug offenses among other ones), I was relieved to see the occasional person chewing gum and even spotted a jaywalker or two! (Ok actually dozens of jaywalkers to be honest, it is just like any other major city, where police are not going to waste their time enforcing it unless it’s most likely right in front of them). So to sum up, Singapore is a great city, but it is not the golden paved Capital of Panem from the Hunger Games it’s made out to be, which is a good thing!
On second thought…..maybe it is the capital. May the odds for ever be in your favor-la!
2) Transportation is CHEAP (and clean)!
Now here is something I can never understand why we can’t get it right stateside. Singapore has extremely efficient, safe, and clean (like spotless) trains and buses throughout the island. The underground stops are all air-conditioned and the trains run every 5 minutes. I had no concept of how much it cost when I first got there so I put $30 on my debit card (no extra metro passes if you don’t want them, just waive my wallet right over the entrance gates!), thinking I could get a few rides out of that. Well I have been here almost a week, have ridden the trains well over a dozen times and have $20+ dollars remaining! The train is cents on the dollar for each stop. It’s an amazingly cheap and efficient way to get around the island. I HEAR the buses are similar, but I have not had the opportunity/need to use one yet. Cabs are also comparatively inexpensive to the US but will run you any where from S$5-S$30 depending on how far you need to travel. So take a hint US, stop subsidizing giant farming operations and failing banks and try something that will actually help the greater good!
Sorry just need a minute to hop down off my soapbox before this next point….
Ok, I will continue now….
3) Food CAN be cheap…..
Now Singapore is a city of wealth and indulgence for those who seek it, so there are definitely restaurants like you would find anywhere around the world with fine dining experiences for hundreds of dollars or opulent Sunday brunches for $100+ a head. However, there are also some incredibly inexpensive options for all meals. My wife and I have found this little chain called Toast Box for breakfast. We order the #1 or #2, which includes two eggs (runny for her, hard boiled for me, not digging the runny eggs yet), a ridiculously delicious cup of coffee made with sugar and condensed milk which is like ambrosia from the gods (for the record I HATE coffee and have drank this every morning!) and these thick pieces of toast topped with anything from peanut butter, to butter sugar, or a more traditional Kaja which is a slab of butter mixed with eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan preserves(trust me it’s delicious!) for $4.60 each. So for just under S$10 we are pretty stuffed. That’s PRETTY cheap, but lunch and dinner is where it can get CRAZY cheap: enter the Hawker Centres. Hawker centres (or centers as they would be spelled in the US, but remember Singapore was British territory and wasn’t a fully independent nation until 1965 for you readers who also happen to be history buffs) are like outdoor food courts of sorts. There are dozens (maybe over a hundred in larger ones) of tables that are numbered that you choose from and leave something there to claim your spot. After that you go and choose your meal, which is no easy task! I say this because every type of Asian food you could want is spread out before you. Thai stalls, Indian stalls, Chinese, Malay, Vietnamese, and countries I have probably yet to discover are all there for you to choose from. Ana and I went with some friends to the most famous of these Hawker Centres (featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations!) called the Newton Hawker Centre. There we feasted on braised duck with noodles, pad thai and some delicious sugar cane drinks. The cost? About S$10 dollars….FOR EVERYTHING! These Hawker centers serve meals for incredibly cheap prices(S$3-S$5 a plate), and they serve really generous portions. You may wonder for that price what kind of quality you are getting, but rest assured these are delectable, authentic dishes where many of the locals come to have their meals.
4) But alcohol is REALLY expensive
This does not particularly bother me since I am not much of a drinker, but for those of you who need your wine/beer/spirits, you may find Singapore quite the salary-draining place! A beer will run you anywhere from S$12-S$20. A bottle of Yellow Tail wine (retail value in the states $8) will run you S$40 here! It looks like spirits are a little cheaper comparatively but drinking is just an expensive habit here. The reason for this is that the Singaporean government, which has an incredibly low income tax rate, has incredibly high Pigovean taxes (sometimes called Sin Tax). Similar to what we do with tobacco in the states (I actually think Singapore does as well with tobacco, but I have no interest in finding out, not my thing!), they allow people to partake in alcohol, but you are going to pay and help support and pay for services through those high taxes(see transportation costs!).
That was your bar tab last night after 5 drinks….no seriously 🙂
5) People REALLY like to shop in Singapore
And you think America is consumer driven? Singapore is the land of malls. Their malls however are littered with Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and many high end stores to go along with their other electronics, clothing, and other essentials. The interesting part is that the consumer market is driven primarily by expats and the more well off Singaporeans. There is an enormous amount of wealth circulating throughout this country, and people don’t mind letting others know who has it.
One of the MANY malls on Orchard Rd. Think 5th Avenue in New York or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills….on steroids!
6) Expats are AWESOME!
I read a blog not too long before I moved here written by an expat about the experience of being one. It was a really interesting piece about the amazing and really immediate bonds that form amongst expats in different countries. While I liked reading the article at the time, I can really appreciate it now that I am here. First of all the expat community in Singapore is quite large, so there is no shortage of them to meet. What Ana and I have found is just the most open, fun, caring, and helpful people we have ever encountered. Through this shared experience of living in a country/culture that is not your own, a common connection is already in place. People who choose to leave the comforts and norms of their home countries tend to share an adventurous spirit that lends itself to friendships formed through new experiences whether its trying a new food or braving public transportation for the first time. We have already made so many good friends in the short week we have been here, it has really helped make Singapore feel like a place we can call home, which is what we are going to be doing for the next two years at least!
Alright that’s it for now folks! Just a disclaimer that these were my initial impressions of a city I have only been living in for a week, and still from a hotel room at that. I reserve the right to change my mind at any point and time with no penalty or change fee My next blog will hopefully be a little about the school and my impressions of it as we are finally getting onto campus next week! See you then!