Mar 22, 2015
Life Hacking in Singapore
Human Swiss Army Knife
With very little money left from the 6 months of backpacking Southeast Asia, I found myself in the most expensive country in the region where I will be spending the next 30 days. If I had to use my remaining cash for all the things I need, I'd go in the red in a few day's time. I had to think like a human Swiss Army knife, pulling out all life skills in my arsenal and mustering all the sinew needed to survive on my wits, my ability and instinct.
I would like to meet other travelers and hear their stories - social interaction is one of the travel highlights for me. Unfortunately again, because of budget constraints, I can't go to places they go to. I can't spend $10 on a meal. Often, I would stick to my $1 roti prata meal. The people who eat these are usually too rushed to go back to their work and not really on social mode. Starbucks? Perhaps in a previous lifetime. I'm quite content with my $1 teh tarik (pulled tea). I do get the occasional interaction from other hotel guests or people I bump into on the streets. If and when I meet Filipinos who just 'landed', I take the initiative to talk to them and point them to places where they can get good cheap eats or get good deals. Often though, I would be walking by myself exploring Singapore.
Ideal Backpackers @ Kallang
In Cambodia, I could get a decent dorm bed for US$3/night. Here in Singapore, the average dorm bed is US$19/night. The cheapest I could find is US$12/night in a congested and dirty hostel popular with migrant workers - even budget backpackers wouldn't dare. I banged on every hostel door in the area hoping to find a hotel deal. Fortunately, I got one after only 2 nights - Ideal Backpackers. They have bad reviews, but that's from the previous owners. Now with new owners and a forward-thinking professional manager, they started fixing broken fixtures, repainting the whole hostel and ensuring things are back to acceptable levels. I eventually became friends with them through their kindness - they included me in their meals, allowed me to sleep for free even when my deal with them was already consumed. They are decent people - characteristic of what I've known about Singaporeans. My hotel stay with them didn't cover my entire 30 days in Singapore, so I wasn't on Easy Street by a long shot. I had to keep knocking on hotel doors. And I kept doing that until my last few days. There was no rest for me. In the entire 30 days I was in Singapore, I was a hamster on a wheel.
As soon as my Ideal Backpackers deal was over, I was fortunate that the neighboring hostel, Coziee, found value with what I was offering - they signed-up, giving me a few more days. Coziee had the backpacker niche all figured out - it was organized, clean and professionally run. But I was never out of the hook. I had to keep up my marketing efforts to ensure I had a place to stay when this deal is done.
After checking-out of Coziee with no hotel to go to, it was my 'showdown at the OK Corral' - the make-or-break day. With still 10 days left before my visa expires and practically loose change left in my pocket, I now had to pay for expensive lodging which buys me 3 days max. Already homeless, I left my baggage at Coziee for my noon appointment with the Marketing Director of Adonis Hotel who was surprisingly young...late twenties, dressed fashionably corporate-chic, muted confidence exuding upward mobility, smart guy with good looks to wit. I didn't have to sell the idea of SEO, online marketing campaign, site analytics...he already knew all those. We just talked performance numbers. After a long contemplative pause, he shook hands with me on the deal. Then he surprisingly asked me, "So how was it with Survivor Philippines?". Huh???? This guy even did his background check on me! I was impressed. As Dhamma would always play its card on me in the dying seconds, I now stayed at a luxurious S$280/day room (with breakfast for 2) at the trendy Bugis district of Singapore - a big leap from a modest dorm bed stay. I was humbled by the magnanimity. But there was no time to tap myself on the back - I still had to cover my last 3 days in Singapore!
Like a white knight in shining armour, Parc Sovereign bailed me out of potential homelessness by covering my last 3 nights + breakfast for 2. Alas, there was no one to share it with. Lodging-wise, the abundance was there, but no more than what I needed, and no sooner than when I needed it. It almost felt like an intervention by this unseen hand that has looked after my well-being for the last so many years I'd been doing this alone.
Not only was I making ends meet for a roof over my head, I also had to meet web deadlines, write my blogs from Kuala Lumpur which were already long overdue, draft and email marketing proposals, update my 2 sites, prepare for my yoga teaching class, work on generating cash (not only hotel rooms), draft business letters for friends asking for assistance, plan for my next destination, etc. It felt like constantly putting out fires. Sometimes, I would feel strongly about something and I would have to put everything down so I can immediately act on it, like on the many occasions I wrote about Lee Kuan Yew - rarely does anyone impress me, but he ranks high among those who do. Only when the mind and body refuse to do any more work do I take the time to rest and go out and appreciate Singapore. I no longer keep a tourist's paradigm - I simply find a new place to complete my work. Cambodia? Malaysia? Vietnam? Now, it's Singapore.
In Cambodia, I could fill up my belly with $1. Singapore? That same meal could cost $5. I had to find out where I could eat good, cheap and nutritious food. I was informed by locals that they eat in food courts located within the public housing systems. This isn't exactly where tourists go, so much of it remains unwritten in travel blogs. This is where I found the best value meals - rice with 3 veggie dishes for SG$2.70! If it's a long walk to a food court, I default to my SG$1 staple, the roti prata in any Muslim eating place. I got to eat in style though when my hotel includes breakfast. Breakfast was particularly satisfying at Adonis Hotel - set full meals with an added buffet option at the food bar. There were free snacks 24/7 - M&Ms, cookies, cashews, pistachios, etc. 5-6:30pm was compli cocktails. I made sure I tried one daily - Singapore Sling (of course!) and whatever the bartender felt like making. The minibar inside my room was also complimentary. I was spoiled at Adonis Hotel.
I don't know why, but my friends seem to PM/email me for advice or opinion about everything under the sun - love life, sex life, career, personal crisis, yoga, enlightenment, etc. - yes, it's flattering that they somehow think I have the answers. But I'm just a guy putting his pants on one leg at a time like any normal Joe. I try my best, but when they don't like my answers, I get accused for "pretending to be aware", "consciously closing my eyes", "fooling only myself" and "...too practical sometimes". When they do like my answers, I get something like, "thanks...this sounds like business - not a love letter" or "...it really proved your theory of relationships and shelf life". At the end of the day, I'm flattered they'd open up to me - they somehow find value in what I have to say, even if they already know the answer to their own questions to begin with. It's uncanny that in this virtual Zeitgeist, I have more interaction with virtual friends than I have from someone across a coffee table. Can't complain - virtual is as real as it gets and the few friends I have, I keep.
With one full day left before my Singapore departure, I already ran out of money. Fortunately, while rumaging through my stuff, I found some Malaysian ringgit which I changed to Singapore dollars - that tided me through the day. With no money left, where do I go next after Singapore? I had a paid train ticket for Malacca, but what do I do there with no money whatsoever? As Dhamma would once again play its card on me, I got a PM from my Vietnamese friend who I traveled with before, "Come back to Saigon! You have a place here." The message was both timely and heart warming. In Saigon, I could pause and feel time stand still. I had been on a threadmill for the last 2 months without reprieve beginning from my Kuala Lumpur arrival - that was 60 days ago! The entire time, my mind was always racing, always fitting more than 24 hours in a day, always getting something done. I was already exhausted. Without my friend realizing it, she fulfilled my karmic process - Saigon!
With the 30 days I spent in Singapore, I've bonded with the place. Perhaps not so much with people, but the place and the ideals it continue to strive for remain with me. I see Singapore as an idealized version of what the Philippines could have been if we only have honest and capable leadership. I rode its efficient and modern transport system, visited their world renowned public housing, repeatedly heard from Singaporeans themselves that even though it's a Chinese majority, the most competent person gets the job - be that person a Muslim Malay or a Hindu Indian. I look at Singapore's leaps and bounds and I can't help surmise, "so this is what happens when meritocracy is the rule of the game."
For all the bliss, abundance, challenges, self-doubt and setbacks I went through in Singapore, I am grateful. It's not everyday anyone can wing it through this city with no resources, no friends, no familiarity with the place, yet have the good fortune to stay in comfortable hotels, eat good food, drink cocktails, watch entertainment shows and get to practise yoga in an upscale studio. Somehow, the Red Sea parted to give me those accommodations. It is uncanny, even I, given all the good fortune that has been coming my way, still remain in disbelief.
It is with sadness that I learn of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew's passing a day after I left Singapore. I would have wanted to be there and pay my last respects to the man I have long admired. Rest in peace Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. You will always come to mind when I think back on the meaningful moments I had in Singapore.
--- Gigit (TheLoneRider)
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
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Reader Comments:Vi Suyt Dep Gai
(Apr 11, 2015) Thank you for your post! I do read it and its so easy to read and understand!
(Apr 18, 2015) interesting little blurb about "counsel"... (no it isn't the only thing i read in all that. but still). Let's discuss that sometime. I like the article for it's candidness. To experience Singapore the way you did would have stressed me out. And yet I see it was peppered with moments of significant confluence and you left with a great deal of affection and gratitude for all the ups and downs. It ties in to a theme i've been exploring about making decisions from love and faith despite being cradled by societal conventions or even the perception of evidence which would rather supress us with, and have us make decisions from, fear. but despite seemingly limited resources u manifested hotel stays, free food, and basically everything u need when u needed it, plus occasional extras. Something else to discuss sometime maybe.
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Next stop: Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew
- always ascertain the price of a dish before making an order - the price of a dish and the humble appearance of a small eating place could vary significantly
- be familiar with the MRT (train) as it is the most efficient mode of transport - no traffic. Save this image
- negotiating for a 10% discount is acceptable in reputable places, but in places like Lucky Plaza or Sim Lim Tower, you can bargain as low as you want
- tipping is not part of the culture...you can skip this part and save yourself some cash
- most establishments (including taxis) accept credit cards, so no need to carry an insane amount of cash with you
- keep your receipts as you may be able to get a refund of the 7% GST before your departure
- MRT shuts down at 11pm. You may end up taking a cab at night which is expensive to begin with, but at night, there is even a 50% surcharge. And you pay an even higher rate if you take a Mercedes Benz cab
- carry coins in case you need to use a public toilet
- if you are stationary on the escalator, stay on the left side. The right side is for people who walk up or down
Things to do, Places to go in Singapore
- Little India - along Serangoon Road, try fish head soup, lively painted shophouses, saris, gold bangles, spices and incense
- Chinatown - colorful and animated with Chinese ware shopping, sumptuous street food and hawker-style eats, try Ah Balling Peanut Soup
- Orchard Road - upscale shopping and glitzy night life
- Arab Street - backpacker dorms, shisha smoking with Middle Eastern atmosphere
- Singapore Zoo - experience the night zoo, S$38
- Fountain of Wealth - at Suntec City, largest fountain in the world (Guinness Book of Records in 1998), shop-til-you-drop, http://www.sunteccity.com.sg/fountain_of_wealth.php
- The Southern Ridges - best trekking trails in Singapore extending 10kms through lush forest canopy. Bring water, sunscreen and a hat (nparks.gov.sg)
- Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery - biggest Buddhist temple in Singapore
- Marina Bay Sands - Singapore's most iconic building and most expensive at US$5.5B. Imagine a surf board on top of three skyscrappers
Singapore Etiquette (do's and dont's)
- remove shoes when entering someone's home or entering a mosque or temple
- to be on the safe side, address people as Mr. or Ms. and the surname. Don't adddress them by the first name, unless expressly permitted to
- when dealing with Malays, who are generally Muslim, do not offer alcohol and offer a gift when departing - not upon arrival
- when dealing with Chinese people, initially refuse a gift before finally accepting it. It shows you are not greedy
- do not immediately open a gift in front of the giver. Do not wrap a gift in white - white is for mourning
- when dealing with a Muslim, use your right hand to shake hands, to offer anything, to eat
- refrain from talking politics or religion. Singapore is multi-cultural and there's a thin line when you cross that divide
- do not touch the top of someone's head. The head is considered sacred
- don't show the bottom of your foot as it is considered dirty
- don't point with your index finger as it is deemed rude (use your thumb to point)
- if you see a packet of tissue paper on a table in a hawker-style eatery specially during peak hours, it means it's reserved - look for another table. Sometimes they use an umbrella
- if you're a backpacker and look the part, try to dress up more appropriately. Your beach wear and dreadlocks may be out of place in this cosmopolitan city
- don't litter, don't chew gum, don't vandalize, don't write grafitti, don't smoke in public where prohibited, don't do drugs as you can be fined by plain clothes policemen or caught on CCTV cameras which are all over the city. Even a direct plea by the president of the United States may not help you! (Michael Fay incident)
- Baba House - restored house of a wealthy 1920s Singaporean family. Free tour by appointment - Mondays 2pm, Tuesdays 6:30pm, Thursdays 10am and Saturdays 11am. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Southern Ridges - free use of the best trekking trails in Singapore extending 10kms through lush forest canopy. Bring water, sunscreen and a hat (nparks.gov.sg)
- Haw Par Villa - a theme park of Chinese mythological creatures created by the guys who brought you Tiger Balm! 262 Pasir Panjang Rd, +65 6872 2780, Hours: 9am-7pm, Ten Courts of Hell exhibit 9am-6pm
- Casinos - if you are a non-Singapore passport holder (read: a foreigner), you get to enter the 2 casinos free - Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands. Inside, you also can get free water, tea or coffee
Recent History of Singapore
Singapore is a small city-state 707.1 km2 and one of the youngest countries in the world with no natural resources. After WWII, it suffered from decaying infrastructure, social unrest and sluggish economic growth. Now, barely 60 years later, it ranks #3 in global GDP per capita, outranked only by Qatar and Luxemburg (2013 data from International Monetary Fund and the World Bank). For the last 16 years, it is voted the most liveable city in the world by ECA International. What exactly took place to make this a reality? Below is a recent history...in a nutshell:
- 1818 - British Governor General of India appointed Lieutenant General Sir Stamford Raffles to establish a port of call for the British East India Company on the tip of the Malay peninsula to provide logistical support to their merchant fleet in their expanding trade between India and China. Singapore became the logical choice
- 1832 - Singapore became the center of government of the Straights Settlements, which included 2 earlier acquisitions, Penang and Malacca, after becoming an important commercial and military center of British India
- 1942-45 WWII - the Japanese occupied Singapore after the British capitulated
- 1945 - Japan was defeated and the British regained control of Singapore. There was economic unrest, slow economic growth, high unemployment rate, labor strikes and decaying infrastructure. Singaporeans faced a housing shortage which would continue for a decade. This became breeding ground to a nationalistic awareness of the people, specially after realizing the British were not that invincible after their capitulation in WWII
- 1959 still within the British Empire, Singapore became autonomous with Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister.
- 1963 - Singapore unilaterally declared independence from Britain and joined the Federation of Malaysia along with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak
- 1964 - with simmering racial tension between the Chinese and the Malays, 2 race riots erupted in July and September killing 36 and injuring over 500. This was a wake-up call for Singapore to address racial issues. No one wanted a repeat of this. The peaceful co-existence of the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians of Singapore today stems from the hard lessons learned from this painful episode.
- 1965 - Singapore left the federation after ideological conflict with member states. It gained full independence from the British with Lee Kuan Yew remaining Prime Minister
- 1967 - Singapore becomes founding member of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)
- 1968 - Britain pulls out of Singapore resulting in a 20% job-loss. This is aggravated by losing Malaya's economic support due to Singapore's departure from the federation. Economic prospect was bleak for Singapore. It was a trying episode in the country's history. With Lee Kuan Yew's strong leadership, Singapre took advantage of its strategic location and attracted foreign inverstors
- 1960s - this decade saw the aggressive construction of public housing to address the long-standing housing crisis. High-rise low-cost housing complexes were built. Today (2015), up to 90% of Singaporeans live in these developments. New complexes are continuously being constructed in anticipation of population increase.
- 1970s - USA and Japan made sizeable positions in Singapore's economy as the manufacturing sector continued its ascent with foreign-owned or joint-venture companies. Singapore's economic boom contunued unabated during the rest of the 1970s
- 1980s - Singapore shifted its focus from labor-intensive manufacturing to high-tech high-value industries, becoming the leading producer of disk drives and parts, accounting up to 30% of its GDP from manufacturing. In the late 80s, it pushed its financial services sector as well to become top 3 as Asia's most important financial centers, together with Japan and Hong Kong. This shows how nimble Singapore is in adapting to emergent trends and technologies to keep its global competitive edge
- 1990s - Singapore is now home to more than 650 multinational companies and a few thousand financial institutions. Goh Chok Tong succeeded Lee Kuan Yew
- 1994 - Michael Peter Fay, an 18 year old American is caned for theft and vandalism. His sentence was reduced to 4 instead of 6 as a way to give face to American president, Bill Clinton, who asked for leniency. Proceeding with the caning despite a personal plea by a US president sent a strong statement to the international community that Singapore is not one to buckle down under American pressure. It gained Singapore global respect for its political resolve.
- 2003 - Singapore is hit with the SARS virus outbreak as it spreads across Asia and parts of North America and Europe
- 2004 - Lee Hsien Loong became Singapore's third prime minister. He is Lee Kuan Yew's eldest son
- 2008 - recession hits Singapore as the US-caused sub-prime market meltdown ripples through the global financial landscape resulting in bank failures worldwide
- 2010 - Marina Bay Sands opens to the public as the 2nd most expensive building in the world at US$5.5 billion (land included). Its stunning and unique architecture gives Singapore a globally identifiable iconic signature landmark similar to the Eiffel Tower of Paris, the Petronas Twin Towers of Malaysia and the Empire State building of New York
- 2013 - Singapore suffers its worst haze, reaching 401 PSI due to uncontrolled forest fire in Indonesia
- 2015 - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong imposes tougher measures against corruption after a number of high-profile graft scandals rocks the political landscape
- Mar 2015 - former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew passes on, ending an era of transition from third world to first world
US$1 = S$1.38 (Singapore dollar) = Php 44.10, as of Mar 7, 2015
Discounted Tour Prices (provided by Ideal Backpackers, tel 6846 4741)
As a general rule, you get tickets cheaper if you buy them outside the venue. Purchase the tickets through your hotel or travel agencies. Chinatown has numerous travel/tour agencies where you can buy tickets cheaper.
- S$ 72 Universal Studios Singapore
- S$ 30 Singapore Flyer (big ferries wheel)
- S$ 33 Night Safari
- S$ 25 Singapore Zoo
- S$ 23 Jurong Bird Park
- S$ 15 Tiger Sky Tower
- S$ 30 Duck Tour
- S$ 35 SEA Aquarium
- S$ 26 Underwater World Singapore / Dolphin Lagoon
- S$ 35 Adventure Cove
- S$ 25 Jewel Cable Car, 2-ways
- S$ 31 Hippo City Sightseeing Tour
- S$ 18 Singapore River Explorer
- S$ 25 River Safari
- S$ 8 Merlion Cove
- S$ 5 National Orchard Garden
Singapore Cost Index at backpacker places
- S$ 1.50 1.5 liter drinking water
- S$ 3-4.00 noodle soup with meat or rice meal at food courts in housing developments, otherwise S$ 5 in regular eating places
- S$ 1 tea
- S$ 22 dorm bed
- S$ 1.5 sugar cane juice
- S$ 3.20 flagdown, 22 cents/400m taxi, surcharge of 50% at night, additional surcharge if M Benz taxi
- S$ 5 per 11kg load coin operated laundry
- S$ 1 per 5 mins coin operated laundry dryer
- S$ 1-2 internet cafe, usually it's $1.80 with no membership
- S$ 2/k banana
- S$ 35/session yoga, non-member drop-in
- S$ 3.50 nasi goreng
- S$ 22 40-min river cruise on Marina Bay
- S$ xxxxx ticket
- S$ one hour massage
- S$ one mug draft beer
- S$ bicycle rental
The best deals are usually in the big national groceries/supermarkets like Giant, Seng Song and Fair Price . They always have promos that are price busters!
Singapore Blogs by TheLoneRider
- Mini-Life in Singapore August 8-22, 2016
- Peoplescape of Singapore Aug. 8-22, 2016
- Discovering the Neighborhood Cafes of Singapore Aug. 8-22, 2016
- Biological Cell Regulation (BCR) Therapy at Chang Wellness Aug 16, 2016
- Getting my Xiaomi Redmi Note3 Smart Phone Aug. 9, 2016
- A Roof Over my Head in Singapore Aug 8-22, 2016
- 2-Hour Detention at Singapore's Immigration and Checkpoints Authority August 8, 2016
- Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew Mar 23, 2015
- Life Hacking in Singapore Mar 22, 2015
- Exploring More of Singapore Feb 21 - Mar 22, 2015
- Power Yoga Class at Yoga Inc., Singapore Mar 21, 2015
- Touring Marina Bay Sands Mar 17, 2015
- The Singapore Magic Mar 16, 2015
- Singapore Yoga at Yoga Inc. Mar 8, 2015
- Singapore on a Shoe String Feb 20, 2015
- Sex in Singapore? Oct 20, 2013
- Singapore Girl July 21, 2013
- Lee Kuan Yew and Ferdinand Marcos Jan 26, 2003
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