Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Short Week in Singapore

Last week, I had to head back to Singapore to help out and attend my brother's wedding. Past that initial rush during the first few days up till the wedding, I did manage to get a breather to do a bit of 'sightseeing' before returning back to work.

So quickly another year has passed since I was last back, yet within a single year, there seems to be remarkable amounts of changes throughout the island. The first thing that I observed is that the effects of population increase seems to be manifesting itself already: out of the few days that I have been travelling on the roads, there is not a single day that I have not encountered traffic delays.

Peak hour commute on the trains seems to be filled to the brim too, and while trains during non-peak hours are slowed down to 20-minute intervals, which is really annoying. But on the etiquette side, Singaporeans seems to have improved a little, given that they sometimes do adhere to the rule of giving way and standing to one side of the escalator now, if they are not moving.

The increase in foreigners is noticeably apparent too, but the difference since last year, is that it has not just been an increase of the Chinese from the PRC, but also the 'Ang Mohs', who have started to move into the traditional 'heartland' areas too. In fact, I was rather surprised to see one sitting down in a Yishun coffeeshop reading 'The New Paper' one morning while I was taking a walk! Maybe that was an isolated case, but I did still observe that there is an increasing concentration of Caucasians travelling to Ang Mo Kio, which I guess is where they are living.

Two thoughts that I have:

One, the increase in rental prices around the island must have hurt, even for the stereotypical  'well-paid' westerner expats, hence resulting in their move into the heartlands. Maybe more so for the Americans, given the US dollar has been rapidly depreciating the past year.

Two, some of these Caucasians aren't your typical 'foreign talents' that you may be expecting. I think at least half the number of them I saw are typical working-class people. Ceding executive positions to 'foreign talents' isn't enough anymore these days, so now we're having to cede mid-level jobs too?!

And if you held the belief that westerners are generally much better dressed than us locals, think again. I saw one shabbily dressed Caucasian fella carrying a number of cases while travelling on the MRT, and another one strolling along Orchard road. With the way they dressed, I would have thought of him as a 'karung guni' man! If he is the kind of 'foreign talent' who has recently immigrated to Singapore, we're in trouble!

Blame me for judging a book by the cover you may, but lest I be accused of being xenophobic, having lived in foreign countries for almost 7 years, I'd be surprised that I'm any less tolerant than anybody else. One thing I'm certain about, is the point of attracting quality people, irrespective of where you come from. Talents are talents, and riff-raffs are riff-raffs, foreign or not. I'm just concerned about making the numbers for 2.5m more people, which without more stringent quality control in the immigration policy, may result in having more riff-raffs in the future.

On physical changes, there are massive redevelopments all around the island. I've seen lots of upgrading works around in Bedok, perhaps stemming from their concern about the possibility of losing their wards since the last election? Besides the covered walkways, the addition of new lifts to every floor seems to be the predominant type of upgrades, probably in the anticipation for our aging society.

There's also a large number of condominium projects around the island, especially areas that are in close proximity to the CBD, like Somerset and Tiong Bahru. The number of condos around the Tiong Bahru area are just staggering! Another trend I've noticed is that pockets of land close to MRT stations have also quite popular for condominiums projects too. With the condo projects sprouting up like mushrooms, they must be building in anticipation of the influx of foreigners, given that they ineligible to public HDB apartments.

Shopping centres too, which the AMK centre is the latest I've seen. Even with older shopping malls, like Bugis Junction and Raffles City, are being retrofitted to utilize every free inch of free space available, to the level of absurdity! Just take a look the retail space outside Kinokuniya bookstore outside Bugis Junction. It's just a bloody pane of glass! Some may think it is 'creative use of space', but I digress. The tranche of land beside Wisma Atria is also in development now, where I read somewhere that it'll be one of those 10-storey shopping buildings modelled after Shibuya.

Pfft... like we don't have enough shopping centres already!

Rather than increasing the number of shopping areas, I much rather that steps be taken to slow the increases in consumer prices instead. Dense shopping complexes will only push up the rents for increasingly limited spaces, the inevitable result of the 'hub' concept that the entire island is redeveloping itself into.

This is however, making retailing more expensive. I've been told that those 'push carts shoplets' rent around $1800 a month at the cheapest and rent for a single foodcourt stall is at least $2500 and up. It is unsurprising why things are getting more expensive by the day. And it'll become increasingly more so. Travel to Yew Tee, and you'll have a taste of what the future will be like: the centralised 'hub', dominated by only a single food-court operator, have prices starting at $4.00 and up. Landlords increasingly have coercive monopolistic powers on rent, which will ultimately trickle down to the average consumer. No wonder  some "Singaporeans are fed, up with progress!"

And finally, what's with Singaporeans' latest fad with doughnuts?! After chasing after 'Hello Kittys', going through the bubble-tea mania and yearning for kopi buns, and now, doughnuts? It's one of those deja vu moments for me, since I have heard of this hare-brained idea from a friend a couple of years ago. He was rather enthused by the idea of importing the 'Krispy Kreme' franchise to Singapore. He should have recently graduated and returned to Singapore, surely, this doughnut 'bubble' can't be part of his handiwork?

PS:Oh, one more thing, I've lost my Motorola Razr phone sometime out at my brother's wedding. It has a US T-Mobile SIM card in it, which makes it easily identifiable, so if any kind Samaritan who manages to pick it up, please do return it! Much appreciated! Namaste! Gam Sia!

2 comments:

Jonathan said...

Hi Vince,

I'm also currently on a holiday back in Singapore, and the first thing i noticed was in fact the boxes of doughnuts that people are buying here! It is beyond belief.

And i thought it was weird enough that i saw 3 dunkin doughnuts shops in Seoul right outside my hotel.

What's with the doughnuts in asia?

Vincent Liu said...

I can't explain what's the reason myself, but I can't help to suspect that it's just another fad.

Didn't realise that it's happening to Seoul too.. maybe it's an Asia-wide phenomenon?

Don't think it will be sustainable though. I'm sure it'll go away after a while.. just not sure how long :P

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