The Handover

You don’t have to live in Singapore for very long before you hear about the nightmare that handing over a leased property can be. Although leases typically include a ‘fair wear and tear’ clause they also include a clause that states you will return the property in the same condition in which you took possession of it. So, if it was freshly painted or the floors were re-varnished then the landlord may expect these to still be in pristine condition when you move out.

Unlike in many countries there is no independent board or body that holds the deposit/bond that tenants pay to a landlord. Instead, the deposit/bond is paid to the landlord and what they do with it is up to them. And whether they return your deposit/bond in its entirety or deduct amounts for maintenance is up to the landlord.

In preparation for leaving our old place our agent advised us that we needed to remove all picture hooks and to patch and paint the holes, attend to any outstanding maintenance issues (tenants are responsible for the first $150 non-structural issues), replace all blown light bulbs, repair floor scratches and so on and so on and so on. We did some of these but the house had dodgy wiring with water leaking through cement walls so we refused to do anything electrical (or pay for an electrician).

Last week was a particularly stressful week, as moving week always is, and the thought of Handover at the end of it made me feel physically ill. I knew we hadn’t done nearly enough and were well aware of all the friends who had been left out-of-pocket for scratched floors, blown light bulbs and all manner of other things but neither of us had the energy to care a great deal. This was compounded by the landlord taking THREE WEEKS to confirm a time for the joint inspection.

Anyway, we forked out a bundle of cash to have the place professionally cleaned. We also arranged for the curtains to be dry-cleaned, which is also standard practice in Singapore. Let’s just say that rubber packed curtains when folded with the rubber sides together and stored in plastic bags for days after being cleaned do not look so great when they have been yanked apart.

Discovering this 2 minutes before Handover possibly made me cry.

Backtracking almost 5 years but the big sticking point in the original lease was that the Landlord wanted our liability at the end of the lease to be open-ended. Any time they found issues after we left we would have to pay to rectify them. The Other Half’s company fought this tooth-and-nail and eventually Clause 32 stated that once the form was signed at the end of the joint inspection our liability ended.

The landlord’s representative finally turned up for the joint inspection 25 minutes late (by which time I was ready to vomit in the just-cleaned toilet with nerves). He asked to see the structural issues, got the Other Half to sign the magical ‘our liability ends here’ form, and we were done.

That easy.

All of a sudden I was totally grateful for that horrible protracted leasing saga and the lackadaisical property management company.

 

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Pharmacy, Drugstore, Chemist

Pharmacy. Drugstore. Chemist.

Whatever you call the place that sells and dispenses stuff for your body (either to make it work better or look better) it’s somewhere that you will undoubtably need to visit in your new country.

The pharmacies in Singapore continue to mystify me.

You can buy this:

nipple

and row upon row of this sort of thing:

whiteningand you can even find miniature vibrators right by the checkout. However, should you find yourself in need of this:

nit comb

the pharmacy assistant will look at you blankly and shake their head.

“No, maam, can not.”

So, should you ever find yourself in need of a head lice comb or product in Singapore you can find them in the upstairs section of Eat Organics on Bukit Timah and I believe the International Medical Clinic also sells them.

PS: Pharmacies in Singapore don’t seem to fill medicine prescriptions the way that they do in Australia. If you visit a doctor here and need prescription medication it will be dispensed by the doctor and included in your doctor’s invoice, which is actually quite handy as it avoids a separate trip to the pharmacy.

The Supermarket Hierarchy

My chief bone of contention with Singapore is shopping. Food shopping, specifically. Clothes shopping is also a pain in the butt, especially when you have a Western size butt, but that’s another moan for another day.

Food shopping here is time-consuming and expensive. I can deal with the expense but even 2.5 years after I arrived I still resent the time I spend acquiring food. No wonder Singaporeans favour eating out at hawker markets!

Anyway, I like to think I’ve learnt a thing or two in my years in Singapore and thought I’d share them with but the big thing to keep in mind is this:

NO SINGLE SUPERMARKET WILL STOCK EVERY ITEM ON YOUR SHOPPING LIST

If you can learn to accept this fact of life early on you’ll save yourself a whole lot of angst. I’m not quite there yet!

There’s a pecking order for supermarkets in Singapore, just like anywhere else in the world. The supermarkets that look and feel more like a Western supermarket will cost you the most and those that loudly yell “you’re living in Asia” will cost you the least but they will also have fewer items that you’re familiar with. To me, life here works best when you combine both: buy what you can at the cheaper supermarkets and head over to the fancy ones for the rest.

Also, every individual store from each supermarket chain carries different products. Unfortunately, you can’t assume that just because you bought an item at Cold Storage at Jelita that you’ll also find it at Cold Storage at Novena.

Marketplace – this is the top-tier of Singapore supermarkets. It’s owned by Cold Storage but shopping here will cost you the most amount of money, although they do carry more imported products than the other supermarkets. When we were in the middle of our leasing saga we stayed behind ION on Orchard Road where there was a Marketplace (now closed) and if I bought stuff for dinner there it could easily set me back $80. When you’re paying $35SG for mince, spaghetti bolognese is no longer a cheap meal.

Cold Storage

My local Cold Storage.

Cold Storage – the Fresh Food People! Now, where have I heard that before? There’s more Cold Storage supermarkets throughout the “expat areas” of Singapore than the other chains. They carry a decent amount of imported products and have a reasonably wide variety of brands to choose from, it’s still less choice than a regular Australian supermarket, though. The stores range from very big at Jelita to cramped at Chancery Court. There are also a few CS Specialty stores that are smaller, gourmet shops that don’t carry a full range of products dotted around the main area of Singapore.

Fairprice Finest – the top of the NTUC Fairprice tree. The stores are typically large, spacious and well-lit, with a good variety of products and prices that are far cheaper than Cold Storage. To me, the fruit and vegetables at Fairprice are better quality than those at Cold Storage but most times I visit I forget that you have to get them weighed and priced in the produce section and not at the checkout!

Fairprice Xtra – the shopping experience is basically the same as Fairprice Finest but they also stock electronics, homewares and a small range of clothes. It’s not Kmart but it’s the closest you’re going to get to it in Singapore.

Fairprice – Fairprice have the largest number of stores of all the supermarket chains in Singapore. Regular Fairprice stores are not as spacious as those branded Finest or Xtra. They have a reasonable range but the organisation is a little …erm…. ‘haphazard’? Due to space constrictions I assume many stores here (and Toys R Us in particular) don’t have a stock room, so stock in boxes is often stored on the shop floor making getting around the store an obstacle course. But Fairprice will save you money! For Australian readers think Bi-Lo.

Giant – Giant is also broken up into 3 different tiers, similar to Cold Storage and Fairprice. Until recently they operated “hypermarkets” but they have since acquired the Shop n Save stores. The Giant Hypermarkets are BIG! They have a huge produce section (bag your produce and take it to the weigh and pricing section before you get to the checkout. Just pretend you’re back in 1985, ok?), large range of groceries, electronics, homewares, clothes and sporting goods. If you’re Australian it’s kind of like a down-market Venture with a Franklins attached. Giant Super just carries groceries and is typically quite crowded with not many imported Western products, but it’s prices are cheap and it’s good for a basic shop. There’s also a few Giant Express stores for a quick top-up.

Sieng Shong – I’m going to be completely honest here – I’ve never shopped at Sheng Siong but I believe their prices are rock bottom! I can’t say anymore than that as I’ve never been there.

Where I choose to shop really depends on both my shopping list and my mood. I typically choose between a couple of different Cold Storage outlets and the new Fairprice Finest at Balestier. (My choices are also dictated by neither of these brands selling durian and, therefore, I’m not inhaling durian fumes.) There are items that I like that I just can’t get anywhere but Marketplace (diced fruit in small containers for school lunches, spring to mind) so if I want them I have to suck up the cost and buy them there. My local Fairprice Finest only stocks iceberg lettuce, so if I shop there I know I will have to go to another store (even just a different Fairprice Finest) to buy a different variety of lettuce. Grocery shopping here takes thought and forward planning!

If you’re new to Singapore you just have to give yourself time to figure out the supermarket thing. I promise that it will get easier, just not as easy as it was at home!