Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Useful tools for navigating across Singapore

In the three weeks I have been here, I have never had to ask anybody for a single route or landmark, though I have been going around quite a lot. Its not that I know every inch of Singapore, but because I have learned of a bunch of tools that make it very easy for me to navigate around. So, here I am listing them:

  1. gothere.sg: Its the most irreplaceable piece of technology - the site provides you with information of how to get from one point to another. You would ask why I am not using Yahoo Maps or Google Maps - because neither of them tell you how to use the public transport - as in use which bus/train line and thats the most important trick in Singapore. The site has options to optimize across a lot of options- only bus, bus+train, cab, own-car and across multiple optimization variables - smartest (least changes), fastest and cheapest. There is also a mobile version that doesn't have all the options, but works good enough every time I use it from my mobile. It also has integration with Iris (see below). It also takes into account transfer rebates (see the bulleted points at the bottom)
  2. SBSTransit Iris: This is the service from the bus operator - SBS Transit - to know when the next bus will come at a particular stop. This helps you to time yourself to avoid the time-killing at the bus stop - specially if you are around a location where there is a better way to spend your time.
  3. iPhone Maps: I don't who powers it, but it has GPS integration and hence I can use that to find the walk route to a nearby landmark - specially one that might be mentioned in the route on gothere, but one you can't locate easily.
  4. EzLink Card: This is, strictly speaking, not a technology piece. Its used by pretty much every living being in Singapore - but I am mentioning it here because it saves me a lot of money in the following ways:
  • In a Singapore bus, you either pay exact change or risk paying more. With EzLink you always pay exact fare
  • When you transfer from one service to another - say train-to-bus or bus-to-another-bus, you get a 50c rebate. This makes it not-so-costly to transfer buses making it actually very easily to plan your trip.
  • Plus you get a small rebate everytime you use any service making it a general saving plan.
As you can see, gothere is the biggest tool here coupled with EzLink card makes it pretty easy to navigate this city.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Getting an apartment

Well, its been 3 full weeks since I arrived here. I wrote an earlier blog about my first impressions. I am going to carry in the same spirit except that a few more things happened and it is about time I noted them down.

I progressed on to take an apartment on lease. In general, Singapore has two kinds of apartments - HDB or Condos. HDB are basically built by Govt. agency - housing and Development Board and the apartments are broken up into estates - one in each locality. HDB flats are generally pretty good - neat construction quality, as clean as rest of Singapore, green as well and contains good lift facilities.

Condos on the other hand are the built by private developers. The biggest advantage of Condos are that there are internal facilities - tennis courts, swimming pools etc and of course, there are generally considered upscale. The other big advantage is that these are structure around western designs - with attached bathrooms and the like, whereas HDBs are built in traditional Singaporean lifestyle. The key factor is that condos are quite expensive, adding easily 50-60% to your rental cost.

I settled for something in between. I took a HDB flat a little away from city, but one that had an attached bath. It was an apartment of an acquaintance of my school mate (my networks seem to work well now and then :-)

One thing that strikes you here is the omnipresence of agents in all deals. They charge you 1/2 months commission per year of lease. Note that you are forced to pay more if you negotiate a longer lease. You are also forced to pay that if you switch next year. This essentially means its a 4% surcharge on your rent. From what I have heard, the agents play a more active role during your tenancy and hence makes it a better experience than say dealing with Indian property agents who pretty much disappear from the equation once you sign on the dotted line.

Finding a furnished unit is the norm in Singapore meaning you can travel light. Also, houses generally bear a reasonable amount of electric equipments and hence makes that easy too. All you have to do is move in, purchase consumables and get on with your life (while also making sure you keep everything in good condition.)

My house is located in Simei, where the MRT plies and hence moving in and out of the town is pretty easy. Its also only 3 stations away from the Changi airport (interesting the end of one of the runways is visible from the kitchen and hence you can see a take-off/landing every few minutes from the kitchen). Trains ply from 5.30 in the morning to about midnight and hence thats well taken care off. Access to a most facilities are good, but the one that impresses me most is the presence of a community centre pretty close to my apartment where there are a host of facililties including free wifi, newspapers, TV and for-payment Internet terminals, Badminton courts, classes for a wide variety of hobbies.

So, the few things I learnt:
  • You can find furnished, almost ready-to-move-in apartments.
  • You need to keep paying agents all the time, adding about 4-5% to your rental amount.
  • HDB units are good enough, but condos are better and costlier.
  • Simei rocks.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Singapore first impressions

Well, its friday afternoon already and I have spent almost a working week here. So far, the highlights of my stay/work in Singapore are:

  • Immigration: I didn't have a stamping on my passport, just a prinout of the PDF of the approval from the Ministry of Manpower in Singapore and getting through the immigrations was a cinch. I was done in less than 2 mins (and most of it was spent by the immigration officer amazing at my height and the ensuing conversation.) Once in the country, I had to get my Employment Pass and that too was very easy. My company told me to stick a photo to the PDF, sign it, and thats it, I received it on Tuesday (and it got delayed from Monday because our guy reached the MoM late)
  • Public Transportation: Not a surprise to me, the public transportation is cheap and comfortable. I spend an avg of around $3 commuting from my current residence to office and back. The distance is about 8 kms or so and I use 2 buses both way. I get to sit in AirCon (as AC is called in these regions) and its extremely clean and comfortable. If you do take MRT, its wait time is less, but you always have to stand and that kind of sucks.
  • Food: Well, finding vegeterian lunch was tough first day, but found a bunch of options by now. The only problem is that the food I am finding now is very spicy or oily, but I am confident of finding better options.
  • Drinking: Not yet, this is the Navaratri period. :-)
  • Climate: Really bothersome. For somebody coming from Bangalore, this is painful - but the good thing is that you are hardly ever exposed to the bad sun/sweat - you are mostly in AirCon, so has stopped bothering me.
  • Bank Account: This was a breeze again - walked across to the nearby POSB branch, showed my EP, passport and paid the initial deposit of $500 and it was done in about 10-15 mins. Banks here don't give out cheque-books for savings account and that worried me, but on enquiring, found out that one is not required.
  • Phone Connection: I had decided to make the best usage of the 3G network here by picking up a high end phone - and that was a problem - because iPhones/Androids were being sold only a particular counter - so I kept shying away for 3 days. Yesterday I did manage to walk across and get that done. It took about 35-45 mins from begin to end and most of this was spent in the queue and in comparing phones/plans. There was also a wide variety of numbers to chose from and I picked up a number which is like ABCCDDBB - which I think is awesome cool.
  • Recycling: Its a pleasant surprise, but Singapore has a good sense of recycling and people in fact do segregate.
  • Fruits an vegetables: You get fresh, well packed healthy fruits and vegetables for reasonable prices at all the shops - so thats a pleasant experience.
  • Coffee: Bad, super bad - I am missing Bangalore's decoction coffee already. All coffee you get is from the machines and I hate those flavours.
So far so good. This weekend and next weekend is going to be the real uphill task to getting an apartment and from what I hear, its quite cumbersome. Shall update later on that.

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