Day out in Chinatown

A bit of an obvious one this as Chinatown really is a quite a famous part of Singapore but it’s still worthy of comment.

We’ve been to Chinatown on numerous occasions but not actually planned to spend a day there so what’s the first thing we do? Of course…go to a fish spa!

If I had known we were going I would have rang ahead and told them to skip the fish’s breakfast as they’ve got a monster lunch coming up. Months of pushing a buggy round in flipflops had left my feet less than silky smooth so I was looking forward to the little critters having a feast.

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Lunch time my little fishes!

 

 

I’ve had this treatment once before and once you get over the initial tickling, it’s weirdly mesmerizing watching a group of fish attack different parts of your feet to eat off all the dead skin. Actually, now I’ve written that it sounds quite gross but, hey, they went crazy for my feet so everyone was happy.

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I’m sure they all slept for the afternoon after this.

I was now quite jealous of the fish and their epic feed so our attention turned to food. Of course, there are many many places to eat in Chinatown (along with the whole of SG) but we chose to try the clue-is-in the-name ‘food street’. This is a very pleasant old street that has had a modern cover over it to allow al-fresco dining come rain or shine…perfect.

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As usual, hardly stuck for places to eat in Singapore

 

 

I could have started googling/trip-advisoring to find the best rated places but just went by the pictures of the food instead and ended up at a pleasant little place. Oh, and it had a special offer on 3 bottles of beer.

Unsurprisingly the food was awesome. A spicy tom yum soup was partnered with vegetables in oyster and garlic (lots of garlic) sauce and then an aubergine and pork main.

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Whatever the name of this place way, it served great food.

Time to walk off some of that food so we just had a general mooch about before the Chinese medicine shop caught my eye. I’ve walked past them plenty of times but never taken any time to look round.

Ok, so this below is what caught my eye as we walked past. It’s um….well, it has a head so I think it was a living animal at some point. With the addition of a stick and some elastic bands though, it’s been transformed into….no idea. My instant reaction was to pick one up and see if it’s flies! ‘Hey kids, look what we got you.. the worlds most creepy ‘paper’ aeroplane!’

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I wonder if you could fit a little propeller to it…

After resisting the urge to launch a test flight we headed inside to see whether maybe they had a little train set made from dead hamsters.

It’s a fascination collection of sights and smells in these establishments. There is constant bustle as various herbs, mushrooms and bits of ‘stuff’ are carefully blended together to form treatments.

Again, I have no idea what the below is but, in my mind, it’s the Chinese equivalent of one of the those travel first aid kits. Very handy..

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My other favorite was this box with the most amazing description ever in ‘Conquers All Demons Oil’. I didn’t check the back to see whether it specifically cured gambling, crystal meth addiction or a penchant for prostitutes but it’s surely a worthy addition to any household medicine box.

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Google says it’s for ‘sores and insect bites’

 

Onwards and wifey had suggested we visit a traditional tea room for a spot of afternoon refreshment. Google to the rescue and ‘Tea Chapter’ is highly rated so we trundled off there to learn about the traditional Chinese tea ceremony.

First thing I notice is the picture of HRH and that cantankerous old Greek bloke having a glug so must be good.

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Good enough for her Maj’, good enough for me I guess..

As I’m sure you are aware, having Chinese tea is slightly more involved than flinging a ‘PG Tips’ in a cup and dousing in boiling water. It’s almost an art form and they take it very seriously.

It’s a lovely way to spend a few hours though. Our ‘guide’ talked us through the different types and then patiently demonstrated the correct way to make a cup of tea (milk and 5 sugars it wasn’t).

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No, it’s not a bag of weed…

For some reason I can’t tolerate caffeine and a normal cuppa has the same effect on me as drinking 26 cans of Red Bull would be to others. There can’t be that much caffeine in green tea though can there? Yup, there can. After just one small tiny cup I could feel the nausea, dizzyness and resting heart rate of a serial killer coming on. That was the end of the tea drinking for me but we whiled away the rest of the time playing games and generally chilling out.

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Just the game to play when you have caffeine shakes…

After this we went off to the Buddha tooth relic temple which is just amazing. You could easily spend 1/2 a day just exploring the various floors and learning about the history. I’ve been there before but each time the sight of the hundreds of Buddahs arranged into the walls never fails to blow me away…

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Is that the time?? We need feeding again! Ok, so after wandering round all the market areas this is where we left Chinatown for the day and headed off to a recommended restaurant.

What a bizarre place, what started as a small stall underneath a housing block in the middle of an industrial estate has just grown outwards. Construction methods largely involve gazebo’s, awnings and plastic sheets but it seems to work..even when they had to ‘build’ around a tree.

New Ubin Seafood is known for, unsurprisingly, seafood and the most talked about dish is their crab. As such, three types were ordered up and we enjoyed possibly THE most messy meal ever.

Seriously, they should just leave a massive kitchen roll dispenser by each table. It got so bad that I could hardly even lift my beer bottle up (I know, disaster!!) as it just slid out of my hand.

And I swear my phone still has remnants of that meal embedded in it after taking the above pictures…

Anyone want to predict the weather?

Ok, so this post will hardly be a revelation to anyone in Singapore as everyone here knows how the weather forecast works but it’s still fun to compare to my previous home in the UK.

In good old Blighty, the weather forecasting I’d say is pretty accurate most of the time. If, mid-week, the Met Office says that an area of low pressure is moving across from the Atlantic and it’s going to rain all weekend where you are, then it probably will. And, conversely, if they declare a heat-wave is on it’s way, it generally means there is a good chance the BBQ is going to see the light of day soon. UK supermarkets actually plan their stock deliveries taking into account the weather forecast. Public holiday weekend+prediction of sun = Order 5 x usual amount of BBQ related items. (Even then they’ll run out by 10am Saturday morning as everybody descends on their local to clear it out of sausages, fingers rolls and crates of beer….)

Anyway, if we are to look at the weather forecast for London below then it looks like Sunday would be good day to get the BBQ out. In fact, having just checked the news back home at least one news site is using the words ‘scorcher’ so, returning to the point above, I can guarantee you the supermarkets will be on ‘BBQ stock high alert’ and Facebook will be flooded over the next couple of days with pictures of everyone in the UK in shorts and flipflops….even if doesn’t actually get above 15°.

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I’ve actually planned the timing of BBQ’s based on the above type of hourly prediction. We were going to have one early Saturday afternoon but the weather forecast showed it was going to be cloudy until about 3pm and then sun would break through and it would be clear skies for the rest of the day. So I moved the event back a few hours. Lo and behold, 3PM and the skies cleared…magic!

And then we compare it to a typical Singapore 5 day weather forecast.

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As anybody living here knows..this is basically the Singapore Met Office covering their arse. It’s going to be around 30° everyday, you going to get some sunshine and then probably a thunderstorm at some point in the day….simples.

I’ve learned that there is little point trying to work out whether it might rain in the afternoon. It’s generally sunny/light cloud in the morning and then it may or may not cloud over and hammer it down at some point in the afternoon. And if it does, you can go 10 miles west and find it’s still blazing sun with not a cloud in the sky.

In fact, lets look at today’s forecast to see if we can gauge how it’s going to pan out this afternoon. Um, cloudy, sunny and raining. Yup, that’s told me bugger all! It does very accurately predict that it will stop being sunny by 8pm though but being that it will be night at this point, that’s a pretty safe bet. I also note that the forecast for the next 4 days seems to be the same ‘sitting on the fence’ with rain/cloud/sun and an identical temperature range. I think they just moved the wind direction around randomly a bit each day so it didn’t look like they have just copied and pasted the same forecast across the whole week…

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Maybe if I click the ‘further ahead’ button there will be a change in prediction for later next week?

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Ah, yes, look…it’s going to be 26°-30° instead of 27°-31°. C’mon, this is just cheating! If we’re going to cheat, why not do it properly? Here you go, to finish off, I proudly present to you possibly the most accurate but meaningless Singapore weather forecast ever. Ta da….

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Why Singapore?

For this to be answered I need to rewind pretty much bang on 5 years when wifey (or girly as she was then) was given the opportunity to come out here on a 4-5 month assignment. Emily cleverly thought it through and suggested she trade her business class flight home that was allocated for 2 sets of economy flights that I could use to come out and see her. She would go the day after New Years Day and then I would come out 6 weeks later for 2-3 weeks and then again a further 6-8 weeks after that. Effectively, it split the time apart into 3 chunks over the duration.

Obviously I had heard all good things about the place before I got there but, once I arrived, I instantly loved the place. I think the first thing that ticked the box was the food…I love Asian food as does my wife so to come here and find that the place is, basically, one big Asian food center appealed massively. Just for starters you have Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Thai and Indian food to enjoy pretty much anywhere. Then, you have anything else you can think of as part of the nearly 7000 registered eating establishments.

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I’ll have 4 from the top row, 7 from the middle row etc etc..

Then I used the public transport. Now, it’s fair to say I have the bearings and navigational skills of a carrot so, when on my first journey I didn’t get lost, it was an utter revelation.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of the underground and London buses and all that and it really did set the standard at the time. The edge Singapore has though is that it’s a modern infrastructure and doesn’t have to rely on Victorian architecture as its basis. As such, the whole thing just bloody works. It’s clean, it’s efficient, it’s regular, it’s easy to navigate and it’s cheap…very cheap. Where 30 minutes on the overground/underground into the heart of London from Essex will cost £12-£15, the same type of journey on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) will cost about £1.

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I remember the first time I used it and I stood by the separating wall between platform and train (which you don’t have in the UK), cynically wondering what you do when the train overshoots slightly and the train doors don’t line up with the platform doors. More fool me. It didn’t overshoot…it turned up bang on time and lined up perfectly. And just as Oyster cards were taking off in the UK, the whole system out here was already using it…entire bus, taxi and underground network just uses one easy to top up card. I was in awe.

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That lead onto the next moment when I realised this was a great place. I got up and got ready to go out. At home this would involve getting the coat on, maybe a jumper, putting shoes on, fetching the wallet and then the house keys and car keys if driving. Here…I was in my shorts and t-shirt, put on my flip flops, picked up my phone which had my cash card, travel card, apartment access card and cash tucked into the back of the case and walked out. That was it…I just felt unshackled from having to wear different layers for indoors/outdoors and carry round 1/2 a tonne of, basically, shite. Unless there is snow…I don’t like the cold and winter. The fact this place never gets below 24° is fabulous. Yes, of course, it’s bloody humid and when it warms up even more later this year I might be posting a churlish minor rant about the temperature but I still take this all day long over the UK winter.

I think it was even on the first trip out here that we both said ‘I could imagine living here’ and this probably set the seed. I’ve been fortunate enough to go to many places round the world and this was probably the first where I’ve thought that so quickly. Where else do I like? South of France and various parts of Italy have always appealed for completely different reasons….well, Ok….food and weather are two familiar themes again! I have never fancied living in London just for the congestion, it’s too crowded and I feel penned in so it’s weird that I would then want to move to a tiny island with nearly 6 million people on it. Go figure, I don’t entirely get it myself but somehow, this place just works for me.

There are many other reasons of course, the ability to walk the streets out and about without even having to think about the area you are in and feel vulnerable, the diverse cultures that exist here, the food (did i mention that already?)

Security. Whilst I’m loath to moan the ‘end is nigh’ for the UK and join the ‘Daily Mail’ brigade, I do feel a sense that the UK (and Europe) is a troubled place. Everyone’s favorite topic, immigration, is a never-ending discussion and it appears that we can’t stop people with a hatred for our way of life from doing their best to bugger things up. Here, the authorities appear to have a pretty good handle on things and a sense of tolerance backed up by top-notch security services keep things mostly in check.

Travel. What better place to explore Asia than from here? If you just want to go for a beach holiday then Thailand/Bali are a couple of hours away and then you have Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Macau and many other amazing places that are just a budget air-flight away. You know what they say about travel…

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Mind should be suitably broadened after ticking a few of these off.

To add to that you have a world class education system, English is spoken by most people, kids respect their elders and you get to enjoy every religions’ holidays!

That was back then (before kids) and it was always a consideration until the twins came along and then it went on the back burner for a while. Until July 2015….

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, an opportunity for my wife came up out here. I think her words were something like ‘shame this wasn’t 5 years, I would have leapt at this’. I thought about it for 5 seconds and suggested what was stopping us now? The discussion also started pretty much at the same time as me reaching my 40th milestone. Now, it’s only a number and makes little odds but it just felt the right time to ‘roll the dice’…do something a little crazy like leave your job and move 1/2 way round the world with two 3 year old toddlers.

Of course, there are downsides and compromises had to be made but I’ll get onto those separately in the ‘what do I miss’ blog.

Anyway, what foodie wouldn’t love a place where it’s seen as perfectly normal to have noodles and chilli flakes for breakfast…

 

 

Pick a shop, any shop…

Following on from a familiar theme in the blog history,’pick a car, any car’ which had many entries due to every changing car lineup, I feel it is also appropriate here. Let me explain. From what I can gather, it doesn’t actually matter which shop you start in to purchase something…you might actually end up with items from the 1st shop being bought in a completely different shop.

An example of this nearby is a row of 3 (maybe?) shops shown above…at a glance, it’s one outlet as the whole width is just overflowing with hardware, electrics, cleaning products etc. I go in the first bit on the left which I assumed was the electrical ‘section’ and picked up some extension leads. I then asked where there cable ties were and owner says ‘next door’ and then bags up my items and escorts me next door. He then starts shopping for me in this other store, gives the cable ties to a different owner whilst handing over my bag of extension leads and telling him how much to charge me. What??? How does that work…who am I dealing with here? Ok, so I don’t actually mind but in England this would never work! If my extension lead failed, which shop do i take it back to??? In legal terms…who is my contract with? Over here, of course, it just *works* somehow but it is very odd at first.

Just as thought I had it sussed, another day, I walked into the ‘hardware/ironmongery section’ (shop number 2…in the middle) and asked if I could get some keys cut. The woman serving then glared at me, jabbed her finger in the direction of ‘Shop no 3’ and barked ‘next door!’ before marching off into the bowels of the shop. Looking at the photo at the top it appears shop 2 and 3 are the same company but who knows…..I just now ask the first person I come across and see which shop I end up in.

 

The heat is on.

When you mention to people that you are moving to Singapore, one of the first things they will mention (because us English love talking (moaning) about the weather) is, ‘Oohh…hot and humid out there isn’t it?’

Yes it is, very. Obviously I knew this as I had been here before but I’m wondering if there is ever a point where it becomes ‘normal’? 2 months in and I STILL forget what it’s like within 30 mins of an air-conditioned environment. The underground and shopping centers are the worst culprits as you are shielded from the reminders that you are in a tropical country and I find myself slipping back into UK mindset.

Then, I approach the exit of said tube/shopping center and that wall of humid 34°C heat hits me and I still think ‘wow, that’s warm!!’. Then I roll me eyes and say to myself, ‘yes…you live in Singapore…of course it’s warm!’

I found it a doddle last time as you just learn to dress for the conditions (thick jacket not required)  and slooooow down a bit when walking. I only really got into a sweaty mess when I walked back to our apartment with 5 bags of shopping. I suspect the beer bottles were the culprit as, with the bag handles attempting to severe my fingers, I figured if I power marched back, I would lessen the amount of trauma. Bowling along at my usual UK pace I noted, however, that within 500m I was leaking sweat at a considerable rate. So much so that my local bar saw me coming down the road and hurriedly poured me a pint of beer to hydrate me enough to make the last 50m back home.

This time however, I have more to contend with…specifically, a double buggy. Pushing a double buggy laden with shopping and 2 x toddlers is tough going! I consider myself of reasonable fitness but a short walk up hill pushing the urchins will cause perspiration levels only hitherto seen when Gary Glitter (famous UK singer&paedophile) got a knock on his door from the police saying ‘we’ve had a look at your PC and would like a chat..’. I now actually plan showers depending on what I’m doing. Sounds obvious but if I’m going to pick the kids up from school at midday and haven’t had a shower yet…i don’t bother. I’ll have a shower, feel all fresh and then, 30 minutes later after pushing the buggy up the hill, I’m a sweaty mess.

So, what are the things that have stuck in my head regarding the heat after flying from England and 5-10 daily max temps?

1 – Buses – When you stand beside a bus in England you might be aware of the exhaust side because of the smell or noise or slight increase in heat. Here…when you pull up alongside a bus on your bicycle you’ll suddenly think that a large invisible oven door has been opened. As an automotive mechanical engineer I, of all people, should understand the inefficiencies of the internal combustion engine and how much heat is generated during combustion but, holy crap, it’s face melting when you are next to even a small van. I’ve learned quite quickly to avoid the exhaust-side of a bus/lorry/van at all costs.

2 – Sunglasses slipping off your head -Never was a problem in England…now, the bloody things don’t stay on top of my cropped bonce at all. It gets cloudy, the glasses get moved up and then, 5 seconds later, they make an unwanted journey south down my glistening forehead.

3 – Costume changes – think Beyonce is impressive for wearing 10 different outfits throughout a live show? Nah, I reckon I can beat that here. I can get up, have a shower..go to gym. That’s one round gone. Then I go out, pick the kids up and walk home. Back in the shower and another change. Cycle to the underground to head somewhere…back again and cycle up the hill. Back in shower and 3rd round of clothes. And so it goes on…

The Hill of Death
Trust me, it’s a lot steeper in real life.

4 – Kids having BO – I vaguely recall realizing BO could be an issue as a teenager when all those hormones kick in during puberty. Before then, as a 5 year old for example, I never got up and reached for the deodorant?? Now though, my 3 year old daughter can come and give me a cuddle and I can note that she smells like she hasn’t had a shower for 2 days. I’ve never used the phrase ‘Hetty, you smell like a Zoo’ before I came here. Below is a common site after they wake up in the buggy after their afternoon nap (even when positioned under a fan!)

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Shower time for the lad!

5 – Sweating playing a guitar – I would hardly call sat in a bedroom/study playing the guitar ‘strenuous’ but, in this heat, I actually find myself breaking into a sweat after anything more frenetic than ‘stairway to heaven’. (I joke…I don’t play that)

6 -Mobile phones – In the UK I was vaguely aware after a while if I had put my iPhone in my pocket with the camera app still open. Here, I know about it within 30s as it feels like someone has just lit a box of matches in my pocket.

7 – Computers – To write this blog (or waste time on Facebook), I sit at a desk in our home office. My legs share the space underneath the desk with a PC . When I built it I did my usual over-engineering and fitted more fans than I thought would ever be required. Out here though, even a relatively un-taxing task has 1/2 of the fans blowing a minor furnace against my legs. Load up video editing software and set it to work on some high quality footage and the thing starts humming like it’s about to take off. I have a floor fan just behind me but when the PC is doing its impression of a 3-bar fire, it just seem to blow it out from under the desk and up into my face.

Average temperature
Even first thing in the morning, it’s never less than 28°

I was wondering if there will be a point where it just becomes normal and my body re-calibrates. It would seem not though as I had an entertaining Uber taxi ride home the other week from a Singaporean who said he had spent 50 years trying to stay cool…and failed. Oh well, I’d rather be too warm than too cold so you won’t find me cursing the climate here!

Time to explore the local shopping malls…

Since moving to ‘Upper Bukit Timah’ recently I’ve checked out the local parade of shops, ate some Hawker food and discovered where I can get a ‘bowl’ haircut for just $10..

A little further stroll and I’m down by the local MRT (underground) station, intriguingly called ‘Beauty World’. This is named originally after an amusement park which then lent it’s name to the shopping center next to it, ‘Beauty World Plaza’. I am not entirely surely why this is called ‘Beauty World’ as, given the complete spectrum of adjectives to choose from, ‘Beautiful’ is not one that springs to mind when describing it. ‘Ageing World’ or ‘Slightly Dull World’ are probably more fitting titles.

Ok, I’m being a bit harsh there…it’s not too bad but hardly comparable with the more fashionable and modern malls dotted around the island. As is the way, there isn’t just one mall though…that would be far too straight forward…there are three shopping centers all next to each. ‘Beauty World Plaza’, Beauty World Center’ and ‘Bukit Timah Shopping Center’.

I started with ‘Bukit Timah Shopping Center’ which is a seemingly completely unstructured array of corridors and dead ends spread across something like 6 floors. Basically, if you are looking for a maid/helper….then you’re in the right place as pretty much the whole shopping center is devoted to this. As I walked past each shop, there were rows of young woman either lined up inside or sat in groups outside. Many were perched on their suitcase which would be all their belongings and I guess meant they were ‘ready to go’ i.e if you’ve already got the approval to hire a maid, you could walk into the shop, interview a few and then go, ‘I’ll have that one please’ and take her home….kind of like a puppy in a pet shop. It’s a very odd concept to a recently arrived ex-pat such as myself but with over 250,000 ‘Foreign Domestic Workers’ in Singapore, it’s a massive business.

Maids
Can you show me your ironing skills please?

In one agency, new recruits were being taught how to use a mop and bucket, how to change a nappy and how to dust shelves. In another one, there was a group of three of them all ironing in the middle of the ‘store’, grinning inanely…I assume to try and attract would-be employers in. I was actually after a rucksack so I avoided any impulse maid purchases, despite what looked like some top notch ironing abilities…and the promise of washing my (non-existent) car whilst smiling nicely.

 

Budget Maid
And when I can afford a Mercedes I’m also going to have three maids to keep it clean.

Digressing slightly…why would you want a ‘budget’ maid? I’m not saying I would call my agency ‘Reassuringly Expensive Maids’ but I would use terms that maybe focused on the quality rather than lack of cost? ‘Hey, lets get someone to look after Nan…cool, they look cheap, we’ll try in there shall we?’

Apart from the maid agencies there wasn’t much else for me. However, this below shop caught my eye..purely for the sheer randomness. ‘BSY Power of Light Trading Ltd’ sure sounded impressive but, as far as I could see, the only things being subjected to the ‘Power of Light’ were the sign itself and a bunch of neatly organised water bottles in some cabinets. 10/10 for the name though….

Power of Light

Moving on to ‘Beauty World Center’ and, aaah, this is more like it…random shops. Feeling flush after not buying a Philipino car washer I went wild and splashed out $3 on a tape measure, $2 on some plug adapters and then a whole $36 on a rucksack.

Guessing by the decor on display…it might be Chinese New Year coming up? It was very tempting to stock up on red lanterns, lucky gold waving paw cats (you know the ones from your local takeaway ) and some lucky monkeys (year of the monkey and all that). Whilst the kids would have loved the front of the house to be decked in $150 of highly flammable Chinese decorations, I suspect wifey would actually encourage them to catch fire and ruin my fun…

Chinese New Year

My other big discovery was the ‘amazing pen shop’ as I call it. I can only assume the owner set himself a personal challenge to stock every make and model of pen ever invented. What I find even more amusing is that the mahoosive selection by the counter is just a ‘taster’ for the full selection down one of the aisles. The temptation to ask the owner with a straight face ‘I need a pen, do you know a shop round here that sells them?’ was hard to resist.

Any pens for sale

What else did I learn…oh yes, the lack of land means that prudent use of space is everywhere. Not just housing design but in shop layout as well. Most hardware stores seem to cram the entire contents of a DIY superstore into something only slightly larger than my bathroom. Truly remarkable and you just know that whatever you asked for, it would be tucked somewhere in the depths of one of those racks. Not so good with a double buggy though it must be said…or if you’re from Florida. Your average ‘well-fed’ Orlando resident would get about 1/2m into the shop before either getting wedged or sending $500 worth of kitchen utensils and saucepans clattering to the floor.

Hardware Store

Replete with new natty rucksack and some DIY gubbins, I headed to the final mall, Beauty World Plaza. If you haven’t been there, I’ll save you the effort of walking round it as there isn’t really much there anymore. Once upon a time it was one of the first air-conditioned malls on the island but, things have moved on from the 70’s and it’s now largely office spaces or empty. Ironically though, 2 of the only shops left in there proved quite useful later on. Who would have thought that when the zip broke on one of our cushions, I could wander into this ghost-town of a mall and find, basically, the only shop there quite literally, specialised in cushions! Ok, the owner also seems to specialise in hoarding cats but she did a magnificent job of sewing a new zip to our busted cover. Oh, and if you need the seat headrests on your Maserati sports car re-trimming, she’s a dab hand at that as well (judging by the quality of the item she was finishing off when I last went in)

Cushion Specialist

Apart from the cat sanctuary cum cushion shop there is only really an tailors specialising in alterations and a hairdresser to occupy your time. Given that our children now get their hair cut there and wifey needs some dresses altering this, oddly, makes it probably the most useful mall since I’ve been here. 3 cheers for Beauty World Plaza…

Haircut

 

The Seven Deadly Sins….No.2

Before you go alt-tabbing to Google to look it up, it’s Gluttony my friends, Gluttony.

Defined thus; ‘gluttony is characterized by a limitless appetite for food and drink and overindulgence to the point where one is no longer eating just to live, but rather living to eat.’

And who am I pointing the finger at here? Me? Singaporeans? The ex-pat community? It’s no-one in particular but anyone in particular when faced with a very Singaporean institution, the ‘free-flow buffet’. I was to first encounter this within weeks of arriving here as we had no plan for Christmas day and friends living here suggested we join them for Christmas lunch at the Ritz Carlton.

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‘Step right up for more calories than you would normally have in a week…’

These buffets are quite popular in larger restaurants and the hotels and the premise is quite straight forward. You pay upfront an amount per head (something like $250/£125) and then enjoy a satisfying selection of unlimited food and beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) over a designated time period until you are just replete of food and drink and then retire home before service finishes. Like **** you do…once you’ve payed that amount of money, it seems the mission is to consume as much fine food and champagne from the moment the door opens until , literally, they take the buffet away and start herding you out of the venue with a cattle prod (or roll you out if you’ve really succeeded).

When our friend (only half-jokingly) imparted the correct strategy as how to manage the three hour slot I realised that pretty much everyone was going to be on a mission to ‘maximise value’. The first obvious rule therefore is..don’t waste time (and value) ordering free-flow beer when Moet&Chandon champagne is also on unlimited supply. I am sure there were people in there who can’t stand champagne but were guzzling it by the bottle because it was included in the price. I quite like M&C so I was, er, quite justified in guzzling it by the bottle.

So, for our Christmas day feast we turned up at 11:30am at the Ritz Carlton for the 3 hour massive piss up I mean convivial meal to meet our friends. Seeing Santa Claus when it’s 30° degrees outside is always a bit weird but Hetty didn’t spot that anomaly there…she just hates Santa Claus whether it’s -3° or +33°. Santa tried to help by approaching her with some presents but that just increased the volume of yellage. We politely informed poor Santa that the best thing he could do was stay away from her and don’t attempt eye contact.

Downstairs and next to the buffet hall there was an entire area set up for kids entertainment. The cynic in me suggests this is done so parents can turn up, hand kids over to the entertainment and then concentrate on important matter in hand but, fair play, there was an miniature railway, bouncy castle, balloon artists, face painting and loads more stuff that kids love. I was suitable impressed.

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‘Smile…it’s Christmas day!’

As midday approached I could sense a change in atmosphere as well heeled ex-pats and Singaporeans attempted to nonchalantly position themselves close to hall entrance, clearly keen to ‘maximise value’ from the moment the clock struck 12. Personally, I thought the management should have just dispensed with any illusions of dignity and cordiality and got a megaphone out and attempted to line everyone up against a rope, marathon start style. ‘On your marks! Set! Binge!!!’

To see everyone casually-at-full-speed race towards their seats was quite amusing, it was a bit like the Olympic sport of ‘walking’ where you cover the maximum ground possible without actually breaking into a jog.

Whats the most expensive food in the buffet? Yes sir, it’s the huge pile of lobster, crab and prawns which is why a queue for this appeared out of nowhere before we’d even taken out seats and strapped the kids in. Now, our friend (legend), who has witnessed this on several occasions had it all sussed out. Our table was in the corner which was good with our 4 children as not so many people filtering past? Just so happens that corner was next to the area the ridiculous stash of champagne was kept so one could just collar a waiter before he/she got to any other table and ensure our glasses were never less than 50% full. The advice was quite logical…the buffet is restocked for the entire 3 hour period, it will not run out. Sit back, let the amateurs jostle for the early lobster, keep the champagne coming and enjoy some of the other 27 trestles of food.

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‘Quick, before it’s all gone!’

 

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Is it rude just to scoop your plate through the whole trough?

We did this whilst watching the most amazing display of gluttony unfold. It’s a bit like when you see someone win a ‘trolley dash’ in a super market and then attempt to stuff as much random stuff into their trolley in the quickest possible time. In this case, the trolley is replaced by the mouth. The food on offer though, was sublime. It was an absolute overload of senses as there was EVERYTHING. Traditional Christmas carvery was next to freshly prepared sushi, Indian curries, stir fry and tonnes more. When I think buffet, I usually think hotel breakfast chrome bins with piles of scrambled egg and slightly dodgy bacon. Nice but hardly cordon-bleu offerings. This was like every 5 course top notch meal you could want all served up for gorging on. The presentation just encouraged you keep hoovering up more food as it seemed criminal to waste it. Imagine one of those nicely presented deserts that you think ‘wow’ when it arrives at your table. Then imagine an entire trestle of them laid out in-front of you.

Whilst I’m commenting on others overindulging I cannot lie and say I sat back, enjoyed a couple of bread rolls, a couple of glasses of fizz and a light salad. I attacked that buffet with 100% vigour but it broke me way before 3pm. Long before I had even sampled 20% of the offerings I was monumentally stuffed and hoping that someone was going to roll me out of there in due course.

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Think this was course number 6

What about the children you say? I would never promote waste normally or complete choice for them to just go mental but, on this day we did…I don’t know how many sweet things they had but when Magnus went running off towards the bouncy castle after his 7th chocolate pot I charged (rolled) after him fearful of some horrendous castle/ball-pit/entire stomach of deserts type party spoiler…

So when you are just about to burst after umpteen courses of fine food what do you do next? Of course, you head to the cheese board. Cheese Board didn’t do it justice as you can see below…Cheese Continent is probably a more apt description. The nearest I got to it was taking a couple of pictures, I really would have been bursting shirt buttons had I attempted to coax even a 1/2kg slab of Brie down.

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‘Got any Dairy Lee Dunkers?’
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‘More Cheese Gromit?’ (sorry….)

As 3pm approached, again, you could sense a change in atmosphere as everyone ramped-up for the big finish. ‘Can we get some more champagne please? Yes, for me and then 4 glasses for my Mum, Aunt, Gran and 6 year old niece? Yes, I can see they are all passed out …but please hurry up, it’s 2:58pm’.

There was one exception though, a guy on the next table who had steadfastly drunk draft beer the entire afternoon. Either he didn’t like champagne or, judging by the eye-wateringly expensive watch he had on, had enough of it at home that he didn’t need to binge on the unlimited supply. So he just distanced himself from us gannets and shunned such gluttonous tactics……fair enough.

As the clearing up began, it’s fair to say no-one sprinted out of the hall, it was more a gentle amble at best, a zig-zag path to the taxi rank for others.

I haven’t gone as far as to calculate how much ‘value’ we extracted from that meal but, given the cost of champagne and lobster platters here at a quality hotel, I’m reasonably confident we didn’t do so bad…..put it this way, neither of us ate anything for the rest of the day. In fact, I think I’ve got indigestion just writing this blog….

 

 

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Face to face with the agents..

Before we delve into Pt.2 of our property hunt, just a reminder that if you wish to be subjected to this dross I call a blog on a regular basis, please click the subscribe button and, with just an email address, you’ll be mailed updates as and when I think of something vaguely witty to say.

Anyway, as you may recall, I didn’t have a great deal of success in trying to shortlist some properties whilst based in the UK. I learned a reasonable amount about how the market operated and what the current costs were but I figured that not a lot was going to happen whilst I was based in another country.

The plan was quite straightforward, we landed and had a hire car for 10 days. In those 10 days, whilst Emily leapt straight into her new role, I would get out and about and see as many properties as possible. When I found one that fulfilled most of our criteria and I thought was suitable, I’d then arrange a follow up viewing with wifey. Essentially, I was screening for Emily which saved her wasted time.

In an ideal world, we would have a landed house with 5 beds (we have been promised a reasonable influx of visitors!) with a secure fenced off swimming pool. That was our perfection that we already knew was probably out of reach so everything below we just looked at where the compromise lay. We hadn’t discounted anything and were prepared to go in with eyes wide open, receptive to ideas and see what choices we had. If, for example, a condo came up that was on the ground floor, had an amazing park in the complex, lots of space and was 10 minutes from wifey’s work then this could work just as much as a landed property further out. Being an engineer, yes, I had an excel chart with pro’s/con’s mapped out and weightings assigned to each criteria to score each property.

For those who don’t know how it works, an agent represents the property for rent. Typically, they will be on a commission of 2 weeks rent for each year of lease so, with a typical rental agreement being 2 years, the agent will get something like 1 month rent in commission. This can be negotiated up and down depending on various factors but, in general, this is the deal. Consequently, most agents are very keen to close a deal and within this market there are plenty of tactics used to get hold of that juicy commission.

Day 1 and it’s Saturday so Emily was available for viewing and we had our first property to see. As we trundled down the street i noted Mercedes, Ferrari, Porsche etc…clearly an affluent area. The house and agent were lovely but the ‘garden’ was about 3m wide at back of house. Ok, so there was a park behind it for the kids but, basically, if we’re going to live in a country that has a climate that allows outdoor eating all year round, we’re going to want to make the most of it!

 

Day 2 and I’m seeing a nice town house. When you walk into a place and the first thing you see through the far window is an excavator…it’s not a good start. Downstairs to the kitchen and literally 3m behind the kitchen door was a large construction fence that segregates the massive building site, just in progress of erecting a few cheeky tower blocks.

‘Not a problem, pilings now in…it’s just building the blocks now…very little noise’, said the cheery agent. I actually just laughed at that point and he just carried on smiling. We were living next to a construction site for 3 weeks where the pilings were done and I can confirm that once the pilings are in….there is still plenty of noise involved in building a tower block!

Next property and it’s a ‘cluster house’, something I haven’t seen before. Kinda like a posh mid-terrace. This one was very tall and very narrow 4 floors and a roof garden which was lovely but it didn’t really suit our idea of family living as everyone would be on a different floor. Also, the kitchen was on a different floor to living room/dining room and then the roof garden was 2 floors above the kitchen..a pain in the arse if having a party with the constant up and downstairs between kitchen and roof. On the basement floor there was a very nice room with en-suite that was perfect for a helper but the agent then suggested we could save that room and use the ‘bomb-shelter’ for the maid. The bomb-shelter is a relatively modern phenomenon in Singapore where (I think) any new property built after 1998 has to have a strengthened room to use in case of national disaster. In this place it was a 3mx3mx3m cube with no window, a small vent hole and an imposing steel door. I’d possibly let a dog sleep in it if is do desired but the suggestion that it could be a bedroom for a human being was not something that sat comfortably with me.

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Day 3 and another couple of properties. At the first I was greeted by a particularly slick operator…gold Rolex pride of place on wrist. Upon being shown round the property I got ‘yes, we can fix that’, ‘yup, that’s going to be done’ and ‘not a problem, we can sort that’ at every turn. The obvious tactic here is just leave the property as is and see how fussy the potential client is. Anything less than the full makeover this place needed is just a bonus of reduced outlay for the landlord I guess.

There was a nice outside area mind you but I fear our neighbors behind would soon get fed up of their freshly washed clothes smelling of BBQ lamb chops and sausages.

 

Straight on to the next place and I’m being met by Alice, who as you can see is a bit of a looker. Yeah, ok….I’m sure there any many women reading this giving it the ‘she’s not that pretty’. No, trust me, she was an absolutely stunner. And she knew it. (and before you ask why I have a holiday snap of her, this was her whatsapp (which 90% of agents use) profile pic)

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If anyone needs to learns how to pout, just give this lady a call..she has mastered it and probably many a client has succumbed to her charms. The property, however,  was a write off for me the moment i walked in. Its massive selling point was it was at the bottom of a tower block but had this large veranda garden across the whole frontage. The rest of the property though, didn’t work for me. Clearly trying to push it up the market, they had to hastily put in a helper room….in the middle of the living room. Literally, a square at the back of the living area had been walled off a bit like a bomb shelter. A small vent was the only gap to the rest of the house and there was no attached bathroom…basically, no privacy for any helper. Good maybe for storing suitcases, not so good for someone living in it.

 

The kids were having a full on melt down which made viewing somewhat difficult but it didn’t really matter as i knew it wasn’t going to be. This is when Alice turned the charm on. With a flutter of the eyes she told me it has just been taken this morning (oh no!!). But, as the landlord was onsite, if I were to confirm right now at the asking price, he’d be able to do a deal and make sure it was mine. Really? It’s just been taken this morning….darn…that’s too bad. I told Alice that I couldn’t possibly make a decision without my wife seeing it so would have to wait. I was then told that I would probably lose if I left it overnight. Upon telling her with a wink that I would take my chances on it still being available tomorrow she just beamed at me completely impervious to the fact that ‘obvious trick No.1’ hadn’t washed.

If trick number one is the ‘best be quick, it’s nearly sold’ then trick number 2 is the classic ‘bait and switch’. Very simply, advertise a property at an amazing price and then take client to a similar address, apologise that property 1 isn’t available and try and sell property 2 at a much higher price.

I realised we were being subjected to this when the swimming pool at back of garden had moved by 40m. The advert showed the swimming pool right outside but the property we were viewing was some distance away. Don’t get me wrong, it’s another first world problem…the place was amazing as you can see and had a real ‘holiday’ feel to it. As it was, the house was actually too big…it was crazy although the kids enjoyed the idea of a 800 sq ft basement playroom. Also, the garden at the front was 60m behind the west coast highway and neither of us clicked with the arrangement.

When I raised the question about the property we were meant to be viewing (number 113) I was told that ‘oh no la, that’s now long gone…one off special price’. But guess what? Whilst this property (number 123) was a LOT more expensive we could talk and maybe do a deal? .

Sorry, I’m being very cynical here…maybe they genuinely did get it wrong and it was all a mistake *cough*. Then, literally 2 days later, I noticed that the same ‘sold a few weeks ago’ No.113 property was suddenly relisted by the agent. Being helpful I thought I’d let the agent know and, yup, it was just a mistake! Instead of delisting the property they had accidentally relisted it. I went to bed that night happy that I had let the agent know and he could put actions in place to ensure he didn’t accidentally relist any more properties that weren’t actually available 🙂

agent txt

And then I visited where we now live. Ironically, I had spotted this place 3 months earlier in the UK. It was still on my ‘favourites’ but being it had a nice garden, was 3 floors, plenty of bedrooms and 4000sq ft i was a bit cynical as sounded too good to be true…especially as it had been on the market for 3 months and the photos on the advert just showed the garden and one 2 poor pictures from the inside. I had visions of it being very rundown.

It’s the old cliche that you know within 20s or something like that when you walk in the front door. I walked in and the kids immediately started playing in the garden. Then the agent cooed over the kids and offered to entertain them whilst I just had a look round the place on my own, no pressure. Wow…the inside was also lovely so I was bemused as to why the agent hadn’t put up a comprehensive set of photos to show it off. I had already sussed out that the mezzanine floor was going to make a perfect place to mount my projector and turn into a cinema room, so it was basically sold as far as I was concerned.

It pretty much ticked all the boxes apart from location. However, with virtually no negotiation, it was $1300/month less than we expected to pay for this type of place. In Singapore…$1300 buys a LOT of taxis so being slightly further out from Emily’s office suddenly wasn’t so much a problem. Also, a new MRT 15 minute walk away was being opened in 2 weeks time. Another massive plus point was there was a kids park literally opposite the house, what more could you want!

After I had send all the pictures to Emily, she went round for a 2nd viewing that evening and, basically, that was it. Of course, there was the usual faffage and paperwork and negotiations on what we wanted changing/fixing but once we had both seen it, we knew this was the place we wanted to call home. It was just a case of how quickly the good lady could fill the entire place with furniture and lovely things (not long…trust me)

By this point I had accrued a lot of agents as contacts who were barraging me daily with txt’s to advertise new listings. The good news for me though was, as this was a temporary SIM/number, when the number expired a week later and we switched to a contract SIM, I ceased to exist as a contact to every agent I had ever dealt with, apart from the one representing our new place. Peace restored….

 

 

 

 

And here we are…

Ok, so I’m going to be doing this the wrong way round but time constraints meant I haven’t finished the blogs leading up to the big move. Think of it like the Star Wars films…I’ll be travelling back to before the 1st blog to ‘fill in the gaps’ and reflect on the whole fun/chaotic/stressful/learning experience.

So, we got here…us two and our two three year old twins are now installed in a temporary flat in the amazing city/country that is Singapore. And relax….

How to advertise property…Singapore style

If you’re from the UK then you are probably reasonably familiar with the rightmove.co.uk website. If you’re not then it’s what a large proportion of us Brits will use when we want to rent or buy a house.

As we are moving to Singapore, one of the first priorities is to find somewhere to live (kinda helps even though it’s actually warm enough to sleep on park benches all year round). To this end, I needed to figure out what the equivalent of rightmove.co.uk is.

Being that most things in Singapore are uber-efficient I was expecting the equivalent of rightmove to be the same…all the details you could possibly want accompanied by decent photos, maps of the area, schools etc.

Propertyguru.com.sg appears to be the equivalent ‘go to’ site so I decided to invest some time before we moved and try and work out what the options were for our long term accommodation plan. This would be purely speculative because, until we’ve had a look round, it’s difficult to get a feel for the different areas. The plan is to use AirBnB or get a hotel for a few weeks whilst we explore the various neighborhoods and also for Emily to trial the journey into work via taxi and train. However, with a basic distance from Emily’s work/local underground we could at least get an idea of costs and what we could expect before even setting foot on the island.

Oh dear oh dear, propertyguru.com.sg is NOT like rightmove.co.uk. It seems actually supplying information that would be useful is of secondary importance. No.1 importance on a listing appears to be supplying a smiley photo of the agent representing the property. Given the choice of seeing what size a kitchen is OR seeing how shiny the agents’s suit is, I think you can guess what I find more relevant to my property hunt?

How hard can it be, to go to the property you are representing and take some pics? Ok, 10 years ago it would require the basic abilities to use a digital camera (hardly complicated) but now, you just need your smart phone and you can get some pretty good snaps to impress potential clients.

OR, you could just ignore that basic concept and go on google to screen-grab a view of some street near the property. Of course, this looks a bit lame as it shows up on the advert that there is only one photo. Not a problem, just take grab different ones, a few meters apart down the road!

streetview oh house
Not a massive help…

 

So, basically, you’ve given me bugger all information there Sumitro. Fail!

Not all adverts feature just the 3 photos though…some feature many more. Steven here below has gone to great trouble to supply a comprehensive list of photos. Oh, hang on…no he hasn’t, he’s snapped the basement under the building, the outside view and can’t even be bothered to correct the images 90°. That’s another fail right there although, wait, there is a video? Maybe he’s redeemed himself by doing a comprehensive video walk through of the property? Er no, it’s the 7 mostly tilt-your-head-sideways-to-view photos arranged into a video slideshow. Another fail as far as I’m concerned…

lazy
I’m getting neck ache

Maybe this level of lethargy is related to the asking price and therefore the potential commission enticing the agent (percentage based)? I mean, we are only looking at spending a 4 figure sum on rent per month. Curious to see how the market operated at the upper level, I refined my search to properties to buy for, say, 15 million quid ($30million SGD). Surely we’re going to see some SERIOUS time&investment here from Singapore’s finest property agents?

Before I get to what I found…lets just see what you get when you log onto rightmove.co.uk and inform it that you have £15,000,000 to spend…

rightmove
This is more like it!

 

There you go, you get 25 high quality photos, floor-plans, maps, virtual tour and enough information to at least gauge whether you want to summon your pilot to fly you in the helicopter for a viewing. Lets compare with the same input to the propertyguru.

sale
Really??

 

Awesome! We have a google streetview snap (of course), a streetdirectory screen-grab and then ‘Daryl Ng’ in the corner giving it the thumbs up and the big cheese on top of a random pic of the Singapore skyline nowhere near Holland Park. Being that GCB stands for ‘good class bungalow‘ I’m reasonably confident that the headline picture has nothing to with the property at all…unless it’s some new-fangled bungalow with 11,000 sq ft of surrounding land…perched on top of a skyscraper. If that hadn’t already convinced me to part with the $30,500,000 then surely the exquisitely illustrated ‘Sale’ sticker would cement the deal? That’s the sort of thing I’d expect to see poking out of a basket of $10 trainers down the local market, not slapped over an advert for a $30 mill property! In terms of effort to realise a commission (a slim chance for young Daryl I fear), I probably would have gone to a little bit more effort on the advert.

In fact, I fancy a bit of this real estate malarkey so here’s me seriously investing some time and effort to sell a great property.

agentBDJ1

That’s only a ‘quite nice’ condo though. To sell something seriously high end, say, Barrack Obama’s house, I feel a little more effort is required. Oh, and a suit to show that I’m a pro, just like Daryl.

agentBDJ3

Maybe this is just a one off though, surely most agents don’t advertise properties worth more than Wales with such a casual attitude? Yup, they do…

very lazy
More Google based advertising..
30mill
At least these are photos inside the property.
69mill
Why not just round it up to $70 million?

 

Deviating from the comical nature of some of the adverts, this last property above. Wow, $69,000,000 (£35,000,000)…..3 beds, 4 baths and a ‘quite nice’ garden for the kids to play footy in. How much did Branson pay for an entire island again?? Of course, land is massively at a premium in Singapore but that is a mental amount of money for a 3 bed property just because it’s central and has 1 acre of land. Even if you can split it into two and redevelop…

I digress (as usual), back to the matter of finding a website that accurately showcases properties. After contacting one agent, she then informs me all my problems are over and sends me the link to her website that promises to offer high quality photos and a real insight into the property I might be wishing to rent.

Upon opening the website my first words were genuinely ‘Whaaaaaat the ****….’.

WTF
Wow…that is some website

Each of those colorful banners at the top is a link to a property available. The first thing I attempted to do is find the search button so I could narrow it down to the two initial fundamental criteria most people have when looking for a property….where it is and how much it is. Nope, at no point on this website does it actually tell you where the property is or how much you might need to actually live in it! Then, when I started to look at the descriptions I realised that the owners of this website are quite bonkers (in a nice way). Why have a link entitled ‘Holland Village, 3 bed 5 bath, $7000/month negotiable’ when you could replace it with ‘IR40 – A Go Go Ga Ga’. That doesn’t tickle your fancy for whatever reason? Of course, I’ll then gravitate to ‘IR21 – Oh but it’s snazzy’

I’m aware at this point my sarcasm-o-meter is about to burst but, sorry, there is no other method to address this.

Having been lured in by ‘Oh but it’s snazzy’ (and because I have no idea whether it’s in a suitable area or cost bracket we are looking at) I’m greeted with some, admittedly, lovely photos but then the most bizarre descriptions.

gonnagiveyoueverythingcome on my house

Click on a different property and we have more bizarre titles.

hubba hubbachopper

Ploughing through the various properties and I found that when a place in question wasn’t worthy of such superlatives, some artistic licence can just be employed.

oceans of space

Or you can just go for a more basic description.

kitchen

And when you’re really stuck on how to describe something you can, of course, just revert to brutal honesty.

No more koi

Clearly, my favorite there is the bit where the agent had to think of something nice to say about the dilapidated pond, struggled and gave up. It reminds of the time in German class many years ago where we all had to stand up and tell the class what our pet was in Deutsche. We didn’t have pets so, after assuring Miss Culliford we didn’t even have a goldfish,  I was told to stand up and announce to the class, ‘Ich habe keinen hund’ (I don’t have a dog). Genius…

So, after a few hours of searching, I’m not really much that wiser as to what we might be able to rent. Conclusion therefore is to wait until we get to Singapore and start approaching the agents directly. I suspect this will be most entertaining….

 

 

 

 

Blogging the transformation from juvenile to parent…to ex-pat