Go big or go home…

Archive for the ‘rental’ Category

Singapore is very safe. Which is a relief, as safety is very important to Singaporeans (not sure which is the chicken and which the egg). When I ask people what they like about living here, safety is often first on the tick-list.

I think the low crime rates are making me complacent. I’ve recently discovered through trial and error that I really can go out and leave my front door open. I’ve learned this because for some reason our door, which used to click locked if you left it to close under its own weight, no longer always catches.

If this started to happen in London I would learn pretty quickly to go back and double check the lock. Probably after I arrived home the first time and found my property empty. But here it’s happened a few times and I’ve always returned to find everything as I’ve left it.

I feel slightly guilty whenever I realise my house has been open all day, but also oddly liberated by the ridiculous fact that it’s always fine. That said, I was worried this morning at 6am when I woke to the sound of the front door gently closing.

I assumed it had once again been resting open, and that maybe a breeze had caused it to click shut. But it crossed my mind that perhaps it had closed after someone had come through it, intent on murdering me in my sleep.

I debated getting up to investigate, but decided that if I was going to die, I would rather do it from the warmth and decency of my bed than shivering and naked in the hallway.

Needless to say, I’m still here and still safe.

Happy Christmas! I’m afraid the felicitations are a little late as Twelfth Night has been and gone – you’d better have taken your decorations down! If so much as a few berries remain after the fifth you have to leave them up until Candlemas, otherwise goblins can get into your house (trufax).

Our tropical Christmas was tropical indeed, as we flew to Bali and spent a week diving, eating seafood, and floating in the pool at our private villa. It was pretty strange to find ourselves alone in the sunshine on Christmas morning, but certainly not the sort of strange one should complain about.

NYE was a far cry from the London raves that punctuated the years for nearly a decade, but we stood on a roof, waved sparklers, popped champagne, hugged strangers and had a nice time.

And then?

Our first anniversary is in two weeks’ time. It’s been a hell of a year. The first six months (roughly) were pure honeymoon. I walked around amazed that a city could function so smoothly, that I could live somewhere so nice, eat out so often. I took cabs EVERYWHERE and every time I got in one I had a moment thinking I mustn’t take it for granted.

Then I guess the sheen wore off. The summer months were a private maelstrom of work uncertainty, and once that passed I got down to the job of really taking stock. The eye that beholds such beauty in the bridal suite grows quick to judge. Mother-in-laws show up, there are arguments about bills.

I’m still figuring out how I feel about this place. Truth is, I use words and writing to feel my way through things I don’t understand, but I don’t want to turn this blog to that purpose. It’s erratic – at the moment I’m too quick to jump in and blame Singapore for my ills. It’s ugly, and importantly I can’t substantiate it.

For all that, I’m not unhappy. J and I both go up and down somewhat, and our concern is always the other person. “Are you happy? Do you want to stay, want to leave? I’ll support you,” we reassure each other.

During a recent such conversation, we decided things are only just getting interesting. Our property lease runs to March 2011, so we plan to career along until then. And when you get down to brass-tack no-holds objectivity, there are monkeys here. Wild ones, not zoo ones – you can go for a walk on a Sunday morning and see them chilling in the trees.

I may never leave.

Happy dumb Gregorian calendar New Year! (Everyone knows the real New Year is next month),

elle xx

*Sheng = saint; dan = born; kuai le = happy, merry. This blog is pretty much the only place I practice Mandarin now, which tells you how well it’s going.


Regular readers, ambushed listeners and those who provided sanctuary will remember that our bloody buggering London flat tried to burn down at Christmas.

I think we can say that fate (that malicious and imaginary card shark) dealt us a bad hand. The fire screwed everything except our letting agent. The letting agent was screwed by the bus that drove through its offices.

But we’re smart cookies, right? Smart cookies can play a bad hand well, especially if an army of friends and family step in to make three months of dual home ownership manageable.

Wrong. We played a bad hand really, really badly.

Two weeks ago there was finally light at the end of the tunnel. A friend of a friend was in situ, acting as caretaker in return for very low rent, and ready to move out at a few days’ notice.

Another friend of a friend, S, was waiting to view the place. We were happy to offer her cheap rent given that we knew her, she knew us, she was likely to be an amenable tenant, and our mutual friend would be on hand to mediate.

Finally, we had a potential tenant via the letting agent – the first they’d produced in four months of showing the property. Sticking with the agency would leave us (slightly) better off financially, but the tenants wanted us to remove the bed. And the sofa. And have the place ready to move into within three days.

Our instincts told us to hold out until S had viewed the place. The agency hadn’t instilled us with much confidence anyway, having lost a lot of paperwork and sent us survey results for the wrong property – it would be good to cut the apron strings.

But they leaned on us. Hard. “You have to move now, you can’t rely on getting another offer,” all that crap. We panicked and jumped. Bed moved. Sofa moved. S viewing cancelled.

In the frenzy, favour-doing caretaker was forgotten. She was evicted in the worst possible way – removal men arrived at 11pm to take her bed, just as she as about to get into it.

We disregarded the efforts of many good friends at the agency’s say so, and now we have tenants in place, the agents are agitating.

– We didn’t leave enough keys

Why did no one from the agency ask us for extra sets at any point during the past FOUR MONTHS?

– The paint work is shabby and needs re-doing

Too true, my friends. I believe this was also the case before the contract and inventory were signed – shoulda mentioned it then.

– The floorboards are old and worn

The floorboards are indeed old, being one of the few Victorian features to survive the conversion. If you think I’m covering ‘em up with Ikea laminate to satisfy the fickle demands of the rental market then you can go suck my… oh wait, this is the non-sweary blog, right?

Gah. I know I’m being unnecessarily stroppy, but it kinda makes me feel better. Being angry at the agent lets me pretend that I didn’t treat my friends badly or make a stupid letting decision that I’m stuck with for the next 12 months.

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I assumed the trees outside our condo looked a bit scrawny because they were young. Turns out they were thirsty.

Before After

• A pregnant lady got on the MRT (tube) the other day and three people instantly jumped up to allow her to sit.

I have seen pregnant women get on in London and ride six or seven stops without anyone offering a seat. The standard response is for seated commuters to bury their heads deep into a newspaper, thereby excusing themselves as they “didn’t notice she was there”.

Whenever I saw this happen (for it was sadly common), I would spend the six or seven stops trying to decide whether I should intervene on the pregnant lady’s behalf. I never did.

• The banks here are retarded!

This country is supposed to be the financial jewel in Asia’s crown, but it really is the worst place I’ve banked (previous countries banked in: n=1).

My ATM and debit cards are separate entities (the second of which I had to apply for in writing), my savings account is managed with a passbook, and I had to go into a branch to get a device that allows me to bank online.

(Actually, that last bit’s unfair. The internet banking is really good, and the device is a random number generator that’s linked to my login, so it’s super-secure.)

Quick update on other stuff: Life is good, getting the keys to our flat in two day’s time, and starting work in a week and a half. More about the job to follow.

Also, I have permanent contact details now, so if you feel compelled to send me a parcel or make an expensive long-distance phone call, drop me a line and I’ll provide the means.

Yesterday was slightly stressful, but by tea-time J and I had secured ourselves a place to live.

The process was rather portentous though. It all started to go wrong when I turned up at the bank to get a cashier’s order for the landlady (in lieu of a chequebook). I’d allowed half an hour for this task, surmising that few people could have urgent banking needs at 11am on a weekday.

How wrong I was! The queue moved torturously slowly, and I was 20 minutes late meeting my agent. She was good natured about it, but I did see her jaw set into a slightly harder line when I informed her that I’d also forgotten the letter of intent.

This document – meticulously filled out by J and I that morning, and still sitting neatly on our coffee table – was the crux of the whole meeting. It is signed by everyone involved, and means no one can back out without paying at least some damages.

“It’s ok,” the agent reassured me. “I have copies. You and the landlord can sign now, J can sign again later.” So we went up, met the landlady, lied cheerfully to her: Do you have pets? Nope. Do you smoke? Definitely not! Then the moment came to hand over the cash.

“Um, this should be a ‘G’, not a ‘Q’,” the landlady said.


My agent drove me back to the bank, and deposited me in another hour-long queue. By the time I’d got the right cheque, with the right name on it, the simple task of meeting someone to exchange pieces of paper had occupied me for four hours.

It’s done though, the flat is ours! And the cheery optimist in me thinks that if things go wrong at the beginning they’ll only get better as we progress.

The flat is lovely – two bedrooms, two bathrooms, amazing views, little maid’s balcony. I don’t have pics yet, but here’s the project from the outside:

City Square Residences

City Square Residences

And here are some photos of the surrounding area.

We’re one week in and doing well. J had to go straight into work after a single day off, which must’ve been hella hard – he certainly had my sympathy. (Especially as I have been swimming, reading & sunbathing, basically being an expat wife layabout.)

In between expatting and laying about, I have been busy house hunting. This in an arduous task that means asking myself many challenging questions: is two tennis courts enough; how much space does a maid *really* need? That kind of thing.

I’ve been to about 20 viewings in the past week, ranging from enormous but ancient apartments with peeling paint and a surfeit of dark wood to ridiculously pert new-builds with bomb shelters (“Only 30 minutes drive to the subway, mam”).

We’ve settled on one and are putting an offer in today, but I don’t want to say anymore cos I’m superstitious and fear that committing my thoughts to paper might jinx the deal.

We got to see a bit of the city over the weekend. On Saturday evening, one of my best friends from uni’s best friends from school (still following?) took us to Newton Circus for satay and carrot cake.

Both J and I assumed they were talking about the sponge-carrot-creamcheese frosting version of carrot cake, yet neither of us questioned the pairing of high tea components with grilled meat and peanut sauce.

Turns out high tea has nothing to do with it. Carrot cake is kind of a radish (white carrot) omelette, and bloody delicious. We also had stingray – that was for you Fry, now there’s one less in the world for you to worry about.

After that we put away a bottle of shochu in a Japanese bar (the budgeting is going badly), then found ourselves at the quays watching a rather rotund transvestite cover 80s rock classics. We definitely didn’t sing along to Bon Jovi or Guns N’ Roses though, and wouldn’t admit it if we had.

On Sunday a Singaporean friend showed us round Chinatown, where New Year’s celebrations are still in full swing, and took us to dinner at a Korean restaurant where the food came in hot stone bowls (and J ate mushrooms :-ooooo).

Today has been more pedestrian – got a bank account, got a phone, got some work to get on with. On that front, I’m temporarily borrowing my soul back while I do a bit of freelance journalism, and also have a second interview with an ad agency on Thursday morning. Phew on both counts, looks like J might not get paid until the end of March!!

In other news, I still haven’t got bored of saying “Ah, it turned out warm again,” every morning when I step outside. Hopefully I will tire of this before J puts an end to it by punching me fatally in the back of the neck.

Hope you’re all well. I hear it’s snowing in London, bad luck!

Elle xx

J’s company is putting us up in an “executive residence” called Treetops while we look for somewhere permanent to live.

This is our room:

Living room

Living room

Big bed!

Big bed!

And this is the view when we walk to our room from the lobby:

Swimming pool

Swimming pool

Have been eating mountains of fresh fruit for breakfast, swimming for 40 minutes every morning, and on Saturday J and I are booked in for a two and a half hour “jetlag package” in the spa.

It’s gonna be hard to move out!

Dear Flat,

I didn’t like you when I met you. You were empty at the viewing; a big white cube. I thought you were soulless. I didn’t realise that character comes from people, not woodwork.

Fortunately J had more vision, and a checklist. You ticked everything except “Bath” so we bought you. We moved in before the furniture and ate fish & chips on the floor.

That was three and a half years ago, and those years have been some of my best. You’ve been part of that; a corner of the world that’s mine. The first roots I’ve put down since mum & dad’s.

You’ve been part of my relationship with J as well. A mortgage is as much a commitment as a marriage. The lack of doors means I’ve learned to slam them less.

You made me house proud. You made me a housewife. You’ve been the backdrop to countless dinners and parties. You’ve only locked me out twice, and managed not to burn to the ground.

I don’t know if I will ever live in you again, but I will try and get you good tenants – ones who see the beauty in a big white cube.

Yours always,


One of the more urgent items on our to-do list is to rent out our London flat, as we’re definitely not flush enough to keep homes across the globe.

We’ve registered with an agent, and were hoping we’d find a tenant within the next few weeks.

Until we arrived home on new year’s eve. The main entrance was padlocked and chained, and the ground floor launderette was reduced to a smouldering, blackened abyss.

There are three flats above the launderette, one on each floor. Fortunately all the occupants were out – the fire brigade said no one would have survived all the smoke – but there is water and smoke damage, and the firemen were forced to kick all the doors in.

First floor hallway, at least the corrugated metal matches the wainscoting

First floor hallway, at least the corrugated metal matches the wainscoting

Our flat mostly survived. Our front door refused to explode like the others so the firemen came in through a window (meaning we are still fairly secure – the other flats have had their entrances boarded up with corrugated steel), and the smoke damage is minimal as we’re on the top floor.

Second floor hallway

Second floor hallway

A good professional cleaner and decorator should get the place sorted fairly quickly, but I think the burned out shop and padlocked street access might put off the more discerning renter before they even make it upstairs!

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