Monday, February 5, 2007

Crash Landing

Only one week since the 22-hour trip from JFK to Singapore, reality is setting in. The expat guidebooks say we should now be in the “honeymoon” phase: “You will feel as if you are on an extended vacation in an exotic locale. Minor irritations will pass unnoticed, and everything will appear fresh, new, and exciting.” But it’s the footnoted exception that sounds more familiar: “Some expats may experience a ‘crash landing,’ bypassing the honeymoon phase completely.”

See? Already we’re exceptional expats.

It’s not that we don’t like Singapore. On our trip in October, we were charmed by the modern city, the lush greenery, the incredible variety of cultures and foods. Downtown has our kind of city life: clean and safe (on account of strict laws) and never in a hurry (on account of the heat). Way out east, where we live, there’s a tropical, suburban feel. And for variety in between, there’s a decent-sized rain forest, houses and gardens left over from British colonial rule, and a water-spouting merlion.

So we threw ourselves into the three-day house-hunting preview, racing along after the realtor and trying (and failing) to keep all the options and the geography straight. But it really came down to excessively small, dark apartments close to town, or excessively huge, bright townhouses farther out. The realtor and relocation consultant agreed with us that the townhouses were great, but they also tried hard to sell us on the tiny condos in the massive, often aging, highrises in our budget. “There are squash courts!” the realtor would say, as we stared at miniature bedrooms and un-air-conditioned kitchens. “And a mini-mart! Remember that when you come in January for your real housing search.”

But they called in December to tell us that a nice townhouse we’d seen was, surprisingly, still available “if we act now” - the implication being, the market is heating up, and rents are rising all the time. Yes, it was east of the city, they said, but there were two bus stops close by, and it was a reasonable commute. Plus, it was brand new, in a quiet neighborhood, with its own backyard - almost unheard of in Singapore.

So we signed a lease in December to start on January 30 and congratulated ourselves on having something certain in the middle of an uncertain time. We wouldn’t be priced out by the market! We’d know exactly what to bring! We’d avoid a month of temporary housing! We’d sail straight into our home-away-from-home for the next two years.

But within a week of our arrival in Singapore, we started to wonder if we’d made the right decision after all. Perhaps it’s because we missed the vacation-like “soft landing” of a long hotel stay or temporary housing (with daily maid service), but suddenly every great feature of our home seemed to have a downside: There are no highrises blocking the breeze and the light, but that’s because we're close to the airport (though actually we hardly ever hear the planes). We have an amazing home security system, but that’s because part of the Singapore prison system is close to us (though no prisoner has ever escaped from there). We have a beautiful yard a few miles from a rain forest, but it hasn’t rained since we arrived, so it’s all we can do to keep everything watered. It’s quiet, but that's because we’re so far from the center of town, where other expats live.

We didn't think that last one would be a problem, actually. Many expats who live in the central areas spend their time here in an “expat bubble,” but we figured living slightly east of the city would give us a chance to mix with locals, too. Unfortunately, in our three-day geography primer, we hadn't learned just how far east it was possible to be on a tiny island city-state. While we’re ideally placed to interact with the locals (once they get used to having us around), we’re far from other expats, who are a lifeline for new arrivals like us. We’ve already met a number of expats, all wonderful people, who’ve offered help and recommendations on grocery stores to try and organizations to join. “It’s all right here in the center of town!” they say. Trouble is, we aren’t.

But in the meantime, there are things to enjoy, too...exotic bird songs in the backyard, gorgeous greenery, a temperature that’s about 70 Fahrenheit degrees warmer than where we left, festive decorations everywhere for the Chinese New Year celebrations. Hopefully these will inspire us as we try to settle in after our “crash landing” in the beautiful city of Singapore.


Anonymous said...

Love your blog! It's so cool - just add passwords and security ; )

Anonymous said...

The photos are terrific and the orchids are just beautiful!

Anonymous said...

This is the next best thing to being there!