Report from Tomorrow - Vol 5

1USD = S$1.69 (S$1 = 0.63USD)

Singapore Apartments

Our apartment, despite it's cost, isn't very different in most ways from that of any others here. We live on the 7th floor of a building which has 16 floors. This is very common. Only in the outlying areas (e.g. 10 km from downtown) will you find smaller apartment buildings - and only the most wealthy live in single family dwellings. A home like most of us in the USA have would run many millions here - and would be built completely differently.

The government provides most of the housing in Singapore in high-rises known as Housing Development Blocks (HDBs as they are commonly referred to). Whether private or public, these are just concrete shells consisting of 2, 3, 4 etc bedrooms. The HDBs don't put pipes in the walls, so you have pipes showing (as we usually have in the basements). The privately built places like ours, have wires etc. in the walls.

I've mentioned before how our place costs S$3800 a month to rent (furnished). Prices for HDBs aren't that much less. A New Zealander here at work told me about his experience (he just showed up here and found a job - the normal way). He lives in an HDB with a couple who own the place and another single guy - each has their own bedroom. He said a good price for a 2BR HDB would be S$2500-3000 (not so far from ours). He knows of one case where 6 women share a large bedroom. They work different shifts, so 3 can sleep at a time. Course it's very cheap, but gee whiz...

So basically we have a concrete cave to live in, albeit a rather nice cave. I don't suppose this is any different, really, than apartments in any large city. When one buys one of these apartments you can have the builder furnish them or leave it as a shell. Even if you get a completed place, you can, with some restrictions, bring in your work force and tear it all apart (no structural changes I suppose).

Our place is about 1100 sq ft and is rather nicely finished, with marble floors and bathrooms completely of ceramic. The concrete walls are finished smoothly and painted some institutional non-descript color. The ceilings are about ten feet high. The bedroom floors are not marble, but parquet.

You can see what the exterior of our place looks like at anchor-apts.jpg. Apartments in our complex are 2, 3 or 4 bedroom apartments. The larger ones will dedicate a bedroom for the maid. You've already heard something about maids and I'll write more at some point.

As you'd expect, with such floors and walls, our little cave echoes pretty easily. The TV is harder to hear than in Ann Arbor, for instance, where rugs absorb some of the sound. Rugs are not really an option here unless you keep the air conditioner on all the time. We were warned the humidity will quickly start mold on carpets. Smaller rugs you can pick up and air are OK.

Despite the construction, we don't have any problems with noise from the neighbors. We can sometimes hear the people above us as the scrap a chair or drop coins :-). Our bedroom is especially quiet as it has no walls common with a neighbor. Maybe we just have quiet neighbors, cause friends here in the same complex complain about their neighbors.

Our apartment has 2 reasonable sized bedrooms (one queen bed, one single), two full bathrooms (shower in one, tub+shower in the other), a kitchen (lots more on this), and a large common area consisting of the entrance to the hall, dining room and living room. The living room and master bedroom have small (2 feet by 8 feet) balconies. Outside the kitchen is an area for washing and hanging clothes and a nice sized room for storage. This configuration was very typical in all the apartments we've seen.

All the necessary appliances came with the place including a reasonable sized refrigerator (unlike the tiny one we had in Germany in 1973), washer (no drier, of course), oven, stove (called a HOB here) and TV. There was no microwave, no dishwasher (that's what a maid is for), and of course, no dishes etc. The landlord provides most of the furniture. It was pretty minimal, so we've purchased some cheap things like a table/desk, small tables for the living room, night stands, and a bookshelf. We also picked up an extra chair, so that if we have 2 other people over, there's room to sit someplace besides the DR table.

The hot water is provided by an electric heater which you must manually switch on. It actually heats water quickly enough that I can switch it on and take a shower right away. It needs a little charging for washing dishes though. Actually, I recently learned, most places do NOT have hot water piped into the kitchen. The maid washes dishes here with cold water - or heats it on the hob.

Our place is on the 7th floor and faces northeast, so we get little direct light from the bedrooms and living room balconies. We're high enough we often get a nice breeze. In January and February this was cooling, but now in March the humidity is much higher and the air moves less readily and is much warmer.

So air conditioners (air-con as it's called here) are vital here. For whatever reason, the apartments are not built with central air-con, but each room has it's own small air-conditioner up near the ceiling. Each unit has it's own remote to control temperature, air-flow etc. It's all very curious and seems inefficient to me, but what do I know.