Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Brand new wheels! My 1st New Car

August 2016

I digress a bit for this post, as lately my overseas travels have been limited to Macau (to catch up with my girlfriend, now wife) and Bangkok (to catch up with my best friends based there). I thought I could and should add a post about my driving experience (or lack of), since they form part of my domestic travels, wherever I am based.

Boring discussion on cars in Singapore

For readers of this blog not from Singapore, our island nation takes the record for the most costly country to own a car. This is mainly due to high taxes, in the form of a Certificate of Entitlement ("COE") imposed by the government to regulate the number of cars on our tiny island.

During the 2006 economic downturn, COE prices were at a record low of S$0, which resulted in many affluent Singaporeans taking the opportunity to purchase cars. As Singapore recovered from the downturn, COE prices steadily rose to around S$75,000 in 2015. As the 2006 COEs came to expire after their 10 year validity, the COE quota increased in early 2016 resulting in COEs dropping to a  "low" of S$ 35,000.

Me and cars in Singapore

With cars being so costly, and with an efficient public transport network, it did not cross my mind to purchase a car till 2013, or to utilize my driving license which I obtained (after 3 attempts) way back in the year 2000. I do have mixed feelings about my Fiat Punto, with the benefits to my social life offset by the constant gearbox breakdowns and dodgy mechanics. This experience taught me 2 lessons:

  1. I would be married earlier had I driven a car in Singapore. The social benefits cannot be detailed.
  2. My next car, if ever, was to be a brand new one.

With the drop in COE prices in Mar'16, it was the opportune time to look for my first new car purchase!

My shortlist:

  1. Subaru XV - S$97,000
  2. Hyundai Veloster Turbo - $120,000
  3. Mercedes A180 Style - S$136,000


  1. The Subaru was spacious, comfortable and the most affordable of the 3 options. My main grouse was that the pickup was sluggish and not sufficient to get me out of the busy Mountbatten road junction.
  2. Its unique 3-door design and sporty look attracted me. However, none of my friends, including my girlfriend, approved of its Ah Beng (Singapore slang for gangster) exterior. Furthermore, it was rather pricey for a Korean car.
  3. The best drive of the 3 by far. My buddies were goading me to splash the cash without a doubt. But I needed to convince myself to significantly increase my budget. 

The decision:

I chose the Mercedes A180, convincing myself  that I would be able to fork out the additional monthly repayments if I cut down on my alcohol and good food consumption.

Being a luxury car, I thought black would be most sensible. White would turn yellowish over time, and other colors (blue, green, purple) would be dated after a couple of years.

I did insist on changing to full leather upholstery though to accommodate my active lifestyle, and since I had to wait 6 months to indent the leather seats, why not spend another S$3,900 to install a panoramic sunroof!


after 6 months of waiting, in which I convinced my girlfriend to marry me, and I was told I would be leaving my job, the car arrived...

I surprise myself at times, as I never saw myself the type to drive a luxury brand car. It has been a great drive thus far, though I sense there are many disgruntled Singaporean people and birds that like to vandalize/damage luxury brand cars (already having to repair my car for damages in my 1st month of owning it).

OK. Long boring post about my first brand new car over.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Traffic Jam

I had heard of the massive traffic jams in China during the Chinese New Year festive period, as well as during major public holidays, when the government removes highway toll fees all over this massive country.

I had also read in the news that the Shenzhen government was trying to control the number of cars in the city by only granting persons to buy cars by ballot.

Lastly, my friends told me to avoid heading to the beaches in Shenzhen during weekends, especially during the summer.

My feet; litter; Chinese people - @ XiChong beach
Somehow the above advice did not register, and I thought it would be a fantastic idea to head to 西冲beach (rated #1 in Shenzhen, and #8 in all of China) on a Sunday.

BIGGEST mistake made in China

We left at 0900hrs in the morning, and the journey took 2.5hrs to get to the beach. The last 500m to the car park took an hour.

Our first view of the beach. It got more crowded with each pasing minute
The beach was busy. Not packed like on Labor Day or National Day weekend, but bad enough that there were constantly people walking past us and staring at my girlfriend.

There was also lots of litter about. The sanitation facilities have not been setup to accommodate the crowds as yet.

Crowds picked up. All are happy
The water was clean, though the waves were too strong for swimming, and there were way too many people for surfing safely. At least everyone was having a good time having waves crashing on their backs.

We got bored within 2 hours (and the weather got cloudy), so we thought we could beat the crowd by leaving the beach early at 1300hrs.

Time line as follows:

1330hrs - still in beach carpark - managed to walk out to buy food and walk back to the car. We moved 20m in 10 min

Yao chicken. Delicious chicken and herbs baked in an earth oven
1400hrs - just left beach carpark. It started to rain, which gave scant consolation that we left the beach at the right time

1500hrs - stuck in a jam on the highway. We probably moved less than 10km

1600hrs - we are bitching to our friend in Hong Kong about the jam. Candy tells me we could have flown to Thailand and be on a better beach.

1700hrs - we try to sleep with little success. Our driver is blaring rather irritating Chinese music, singing about "being one's apple", and "get in my car, listen to my songs"; we almost wish for death.

1830hrs - we arrived back in Shekou. Exhausted. Frustrated. Hungry. And Candy has to pack her stuff and make it back to Macau by ferry by 1930hrs.

Total journey time - 5.5hrs

There - I documented my worst weekend in China.

Friday, March 6, 2015

I Found Love (in a Hopeless Place)

To be honest, I never wanted to be associated with China from the time my dad lost his life savings in a failed business venture in his hometown of Hainan Island (Hainan is in China). My impression of Chinese citizens had not been good, thanks mainly to his business failure, mainstream media and subsequent experiences with women from mainland China (both personal and witnessed through friends).

China has developed and evolved rapidly since my dad lost his business, but I always thought that despite its progress, I could live a life where I did not have to interact with mainland Chinese. It seems ironic that I became the only eligible employee in my company to take the post of finance and administration manager for China operations. And so I moved to Shenzhen, and with a positive mindset, made the best of my time there.

I would not have imagined that my first girlfriend in 7 years would be from China (well, technically Macau, a Special Economic Zone of China) - Calvin Harris's "We Found Love" keeps ringing in the back of my mind (hence the title of this post).

Having been posted from New Zealand to Shenzhen, I was still trying my luck with mobile dating apps scanning the region for new friends. I found greater success compared against my previous country of residence, and became acquainted with ladies from Hong Kong, Macau and surprisingly, China (one of the apps requires logging onto Facebook, which is banned in China).

Some went smooth, some went terribly, but eventually I met someone whom I felt totally at ease with; who could tolerate my pickiness over food and sleep habits; and enjoyed our time whether we were hiking up a mountain, stitching a leather bag or doing nothing.

Candy has been the sweetness in my life since moving to China, and I hope this continues for a long, long time to come.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Leaving New Plymouth.... for Shenzhen!

November 10 2014

I am officially transferred from my company's New Zealand office to setup the China office in Shekou, Shenzhen. It is now past 2 months into my assignment in China (finally subscribing to a VPN service to bypass the Chinese firewalls, allowing me to surf the internet "normally"), and I reflect on the contrasts between New Plymouth and my new home till June 2015.

Food diversity
I was amazed (and still am) at the food options available in Shekou, an expat village. The main dining district is called SeaWorld, which houses at least 50 eateries built around a grounded vessel. Cuisines available include Mexican, Italian, Thai, Brazilian, German and Chinese amongst other western fare.

German shnitzel
Mexican tacos
Japanese sushi


Seafood broil in a bag

Dead Guy Ale from Oregon

Being my first time living in China, it has been a wonderful experiencing the different types of Chinese cooking styles - Shanghai (rich and flavorful), Szechuan (spicy), Cantonese (light-flavored), and its a real struggle not putting on weight with so many things to try.





I'm comparing this to New Plymouth where the opening of a new eatery would be the talk of the town.

Population explosion!
New Plymouth - approximately 56,000 (based on Wikipedia)
Shenzhen - approximately 15,000,000
 That's like 268 times more people, which will result in lots more malls, shops, restaurants, places of interest, and a lot less personal space in China.

Tourists admiring the musical fountain at SeaWorld, Shekou
View of Shekou from Little Nanshan

Thankfully Shekou is not too populous, and most people in Shenzhen are concentrated in the Futian and Luohu districts.

Time difference resolved!
I am finally back to the same timezone as my friends and family. Chatting online with friends in Singapore and the rest of the world is possible again.

Different definitions of success/happiness
I would like to apply this to the laws of attraction between the opposite sexes here, where a woman's partner selection criteria might be:

In Shenzhen - job; international exposure; looks

In New Plymouth - physical attributes; facial hair; tattoos

To be honest, I feel more successful/happy here.

Getting around
I enjoyed zipping around New Zealand in my Ford Focus along one-lane roads for hours on end, stopping for every pedestrian with a friendly wave.

In Shenzhen, as I am not allowed to drive without a Chinese driving license, I now have a chauffeur to take me around the city amidst the heavy and noisy traffic, where horning and excessive use of the high-beam is commonplace. Cab rides are always an adventure though, as I admire how these drivers zip through traffic with reckless ease.

The lifestyles are drastically different, and I am thankful I can adapt to both ways and find pleasures within my means.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Artisan Wellington

It's been four months since I moved here from Singapore, and I was getting a bit restless in New Plymouth. To be honest, I have found it difficult in New Plymouth, despite getting into a routine of work, soccer and hanging with a handful of newfound friends. It could have been the rainy winter or the very uneventful weeknights, but I suppose it was time to get out and explore again, especially since I got my new camera a month earlier. More importantly, I had recently befriended a sweet girl by the name of Nicola (through Marco), a New Plymouth local then based in Wellington, and she was keen to show me around her city.

I left the office a couple of hours earlier to make the 5 hour drive down, which was rather uneventful, taking a rest stop at Wanganui to try the Brazil Burger at McDonald's (World Cup fever!). I arrived in Wellington around 2045hrs, checked into the Cambridge Hotel, and contacted Nicola. I met her for a drink at Matterhorn bar along Cuba Street, and caught up a bit, as well as plan how I was to spend my short weekend in Wellington. So in point form, here is what I did in around 48hrs:

Wellington - full of delightful street art
Friday evening:
Arrive in Wellington
Drinks with Nicola at Matterhorn, Cuba Street
Had an Old Fashioned at the Library, a very hip cocktail bar

Relocated my car to a free parking zone, and explored the residential area

Spent 3hrs in Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand - great stuff! Horde of knowledge on geology, New Zealand history, flora and fauna of New Zealand, and cultural development.

Te Papa museum

Sweet aroma of chocolate fills the Wellington Chocolate Factory

Checked out the Wellington Chocolate Factory - artisan bean to bar chocolate factory in the heart of the city
Last bag of peanuts at Fix and Fogg - Business is good!
Quick tour of Fix and Fogg peanut butter factory - just a stone's throw from the factory, but amazing set up. One main work area for processing the nuts which doubles as a store front (bottles of peanut butter are sold through the window!), one room to store glass bottles, and a restroom. about 50 square metres to produce all that goodness for the entire Wellington!

Great to see how local enterprises are well supported and packaged extremely well

Caught up with Eva, a Czech couchsurfer based in Welllington, for a craft beer tasting session at the Crafty Tavern. This turned out to be the cheapest booze fest, where $10 got us unlimited tasting of Tautara craft beer.

Met up with Nicola for dinner at Havana - a hip restaurant with great ambience and decent tapas
We then proceeded to Hawthorns for a couple of digestifs and great conversation
Around midnight after Nicola left for home, I caught with Eva again for another round of drinks. I met Eva and her friends at Heaven's Pizza, and then proceeded to her place for a house party with her housemates, where we spoke about modern music, played guitar, drank wine and tried some local Garage Project craft beer. I think I stumbled back to the hotel at 0400hrs.

Woke up to watch the 3rd/4th place match between Netherlands and Brazil, and lost money on my bets (Brazil to win; under 2.5 goals - Netherlands won 3-0).
Drove up Mount Victoria to catch a view of the city. Not great, but the rain and sun produced a fantastic rainbow for some pretty decent pictures.
Catching the rainbow on Mt Victoria
Got back to the city for some shopping and stopped by the Six Barrel Soda Co. for some locally produced soda.
At Six Barrel Soda Co.

Walked up Aro Street to buy myself some local beer from the Garage Project, and made my way back to Cuba Street to say farewell to Eva, and stuff a fantastic burger from Ekim.

Brewery at Aro St Garage Project
 I then caught up with Nicola to catch La Traviata at St James Theatre, which was very well performed, as expected.

La Traviata performed by the New Zealand Opera
I then bade farewell to Nicola, and made the 5hr drive back to New Plymouth, stopping at Bulls for a quick dinner. This did not turn out too well, as the food made me real sleepy, and the last 40km in the darkness and fog could have turned pretty nasty if not for some good fortune. I tried to roll down the windows, sticking close to the street lines, following cars in front of me, stretched, turned up the music, but still found myself spacing out and wondering what happened a moment ago.

Thankfully, the ride was uneventful as before and I made it back to my place at 2230hrs.

Lessons learnt:
Small enterprises can do well with the right location, packaging and marketing & distribution channels (symbiotic relationships amongst fellow small businesses)
Wellington is a walking city with everything you need accessible by foot
One should rest after 2hrs of driving (recommended by GPS)
Don't eat too much before a long drive


Monday, April 28, 2014

Conquering Mount Taranaki

Upon receiving notification of my posting to New Plymouth, I googled and Wikipedia-ed my future place of abode to have an understanding of what to do in the region.
Mount Taranaki, from a distance
The most prominent landmark, without a doubt, would be Mount Taranaki, a 2,518m high volcano towering over the entire region, and in my mind, I was sure I would conquer this mountain, regardless of difficulty.

I'd done quite a bit of hiking in Norway back around 200-2009, and in Asia, I climbed Mount Ophir and Kota Kinabalu in 2012. Mentally, I knew that I would be able to do it in my current state of fitness, but the actual effort exerted was beyond my imagination.

The Puffer

The trek started with a loose concrete path known as the Puffer, which took about an hour to complete. This brought us to the only public toilet before the remainder of the treacherous journey. Close by the toilet was an antenna station as well as a lodge for hikers. Apparently its called the Puffer due to the way you end up puffing for breath after the route's completion.

The Lizard

After the Puffer, the route appeared more straightforward as the Mountain was clearly in sight (though quite a distance away). It was still around 0700hrs in the morning and the sun was just rising above the horizon. As we moved to the next section, known as the Lizard, mist and cloud started to form around the mountain. Looking downwards the ground was beginning to be shrouded in mist, but the peak ahead remained a clear objective to be conquered.
The challenging terrain of loose rocks throughout The Lizard
The terrain was difficult to manage. It consisted of rocks of varying sizes, often giving way under my weight. I had to use my hands for support for a large part of this section, as each step upwards resulted in a half step slide downwards. I tried to step on larger rocks for support, only for them to sink inwards, disrupting my balance. I was struggling, and decided to fall behind the pack, retracing the steps taken by my hiking mates, knowing that these footprints would have borne the weight of others before me and hence, more stable to support my weight.

I also learnt that an old sports injury would finally affect my hiking performance. My right ankle felt weak, and incapable of adapting to the sinking rocks with each climbing step. This slowed my progress considerably, as every step upwards with my right leg would be about half the height achieved with my left.

Reaching the Peak

Closer to the peak, the loose rocks became more firm, and I was using quite a bit of upper body strength to pull myself upwards on the large steps, almost like rock climbing, without a harness.

The crater was filled with snow and ice, where every step taken would require a hand for support to prevent slipping on the ice. This descending down the crater and climbing to the peak took about forty minutes.

Looking down the crater

I was exhausted when I reached the top. I was the last in the group to arrive, probably a good 20 minutes after the first in our party. I was in survival mode. I was more concerned about hydrating, consuming some food, and keeping warm. It was probably a good 15 minutes when I popped out my camera to take pictures and a video of the surroundings. After which I fished out a bottle of Asahi to reward myself for the effort.

Standing on the peak - frowned upon by the Maori


Going down the mountain took around 3.5hrs, which I felt was a lot less stressful than going up, contrary to what many other climbers experience on this hike. There was lots of stress on the knees and quadriceps, and thankfully, I was better able to cope with that stress than to rest my weight on my right ankle during the ascent. At times going down the loose rocks reminded me of skiing, and I knew that I would be able to skip and slide down the slopes if I'd a stronger right ankle.

Lush valleys at the base of the mountain

Back at the carpark, we stripped down to dry clothing, and had another beer to celebrate a hike well done.

Many thanks to Marco (Italy), Tugdual (France), Nataliya (Ecuador), Kewen (Singapore Kiwi), Arnold (Dutch), and Arnan (India?) for organizing, motivating and making this a fun and memorable journey.

Lessons learnt

- Slow and steady gets you there. It's not a race
- It's not important if you take the left or right route, as long as you are heading up
- Plan better - at the end of my hike, I still had 4 apples, a box full of chocolate peanut energy bars, and 2 litres of isotonic drink. That amounted to around 3.5kg of extra weight carried for 7.5hrs
- Pack ALL equipment the night before. I was sure I did that, but somehow left my jacket hanging by the door on the way out. Thankfully it turned out a blessing in disguise - my fleece and raincoat were adequate
- Another successful trek with SAF boots

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Exploring the White Cliffs Walkway

It was Easter Sunday, and I managed to convince my 2 colleagues Don and Darren to make a trip down to the Whitecliffs Walkway in Urenui, about 45 minutes drive from New Plymouth city centre.
I had picked Darren up after Sunday mass to have lunch at Don's place, and over the course of the meal, I managed to convince Marco and Sarah, 2 great people I've befriended in the month or so here, to join us on the trip to Whitecliffs.

Marco, Sarah and myself. Note my inappropriate attire
Based on online resources, my impression of the walkway was a simple to long hike, which included walking along the beach when the tide was low. What I experienced was waaaaaay beyond my expectations.

The first half was straightforward as what I read online - a gentle upslope through privately owned farm estates. As expected, along the way were cows, sheep, cow dung, strong winds, possum traps, wild grasses and flowers, the raging Tasman Sea, periods of bright sunshine, and sudden downpours.
Don and Darren had returned back to the car before the halfway point, and it was just Sarah, Marco and myself to complete the loop. We were contemplating heading back the way we started, but were persuaded by a Kiwi family to continue onward with the path, onto the beach and take the flat and scenic route back to the car. After all, I was thinking that Don and Darren were already tired of waiting for us, and the quickest route would be the best option.

True enough, it took just 20 minutes to get down the hill to the beach. However, the tide had not receded according to schedule. The beach was not to be seen, as waves continued to crash against the sheer cliff walls.

Sarah and the Kiwi family thought we could avoid getting drenched if we ran ahead each time the waves receded. Marco agreed. I had no choice but to follow. I packed my muddy leather loafers into a plastic bag and placed them into my splash proof camera bag. This, on hindsight, would be my biggest boo boo in a long time.

"We can make it if we just make a run when the waves recede!"
Barefoot, with both my mobile phones and camera in a splash-proof bag, I followed my fellow hikers along the beach as fast as I could, which wasn't fast at all. I lost my footing several times under the slippery uneven surface.

I was in a horrible state. I was drenched and off balance. I feared for my possessions. My watch bracelet had unlatched itself on my left hand. In my right hand, my all-weather camera, and the waves were smothering my camera bag. I tried to stay close to the cliff thinking that the ground would be more firm, but the waist-high waves crashed against the wall and rebounded onto my face and further drenching my camera bag.

The terror lasted about 15 minutes. Thankfully the tide did recede, and the beach cleared up revealing a gorgeous stretch of glossy black sand. We hustled back to the start point (boat drop-off point), taking some pictures and picking souvenirs along the way.
No point crying over wet equipment...
Sarah told me later on she thought we'd be in the next day's papers for a drowned Singaporean at Whitecliffs walkway. I checked my belongings. Both my iPhone 5S and my HTC One mobile phones were drowned. My DSLR would not turn on. My zoom lens had water within the lenses. Hopefully 'll be able to claim insurance on the damaged items.

Age has caught up with me. In the past 5 years, I've put on weight, spent more energy on building a career, and I think more importantly, stopped pushing my body to its physical limits.

Time to get back in shape, and New Zealand has all the right elements to make that happen.

Whitecliffs Walkway
Lessons learnt:
The Tasman Sea is not as salty as Asian waters
Be prepared for all weather conditions

Monday, April 21, 2014

Moving to New Plymouth, New Zealand

5 March 2014.

The date I arrived to New Plymouth for my assignment as a Finance & Admin Manager for my employer's New Zealand office.

I've taken an approximately 15% net pay increase to relocate to one of the more remote placecs of the Earth, to leave my family, friends and Ben's Den, in the name of career progression. Personally I think its a crap deal financially, but I'll try to take things positively and see where this assignment takes me on an experiential basis.

 I'm writing this one month plus into the assignment now, and here are some points I'd mention (good,  bad and neutral).

- I stay in a 2 bedroom house with a deck with a seaview, which is larger than Ben's Den. Being a rental property, it lacks the character of my apartment in Singapore. My company pays less rent than what I am charging for Ben's Den in Singapore.
My outdoor "dick"
- I now drive a Ford Focus, which is serving me a lot better than my second hand Fiat in Singapore

- It's windy over here! Temperature is cool between the teens to low twenties, and frequently switching between rain and shine is not uncommon.

- The city centre is quiet on most evenings, and locals usually hit the clubs after 11pm on weekends. The latest nightspot closes at 3am.

- There are quite a number of Asian eateries here, but the food does not taste the same as back in Asia. Not disgusting, but just not as good.

- There is one mall in the city centre the size of I12 Katong Mall in Singapore. Specialty shops are further away (located in the Valley). New Plymouth (or New Zealand generally) is not known as a  shopping heaven.

- I've registered as a member of Peringa Football Club, and training twice a week now in a bid to improve on my fitness. I'm eligble to play for their games on weekends in the Taranaki Premier Division, but I think I'll work on my fitness first before risking limb and life for this club.

- I've bought a mountain bike, and it has abused me (cycling in the Redwoods of Rotorua).

- Kiwis tend to pronounce their "e"s like "i"s. So my name is often called as "Bin", and people like to have barbecues outside on their "dicks"

It's been quite an adventrue settling in and feeling my way around. It is a small town vibe, but at the same time it does not lack anything. There are amazing beaches along the coast line, and the natural landscape around the region is breathtaking.

I will continue to post memorable travel experiences as they arrive.

The old chimney with Mt Peritutu on the left

Thursday, December 26, 2013

One month assignment to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

In mid-Nov'13, I was told by my boss that I would be posted to the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) office for a month to stand-in for the office manager, who was to go on leave throughout December. I was initially upset with this piece of news - I would have to forego Christmas with friends and family in Singapore to man the Vietnam office; and it appeared likely that my assignment to the New Zealand office in the first quarter of 2014 would similarly prevent me from celebrating Chinese New Year with my dear ones.

Despite arriving in HCMC with a heavy heart, I made efforts to settle in quick. The daylight hours were spent in the office, learning the ropes of how to manage a satellite office; and most nights were spent with William, one of my ex-colleagues stationed with HCMC with one of the Big Four accounting firms. William had been a wonderful host, taking me to his favourite bars and restaurants in HCMC, and I swiftly discovered the food and cultural diversity amongst the organized chaos of motorcycles, taxis, shopping malls, tall office buildings, and little alleyways.

I first came to HCMC in 2010 for a three-day management conference. I had a little taste of the local and french cuisine, and made time to visit the Cu Chi tunnels, Cao Dai temple and Mekong delta tour. To be honest, I was not impressed during this virgin trip. I found the traffic situation chaotic, the distances between landmarks too far for walking, and the highlights did not give me that "Wow" factor I so enjoyed throughout my travels to other cities.

On this second visit in 2013, William turned my impression of this city 180 degrees. There was always a cafe around the corner, excellent bars/restaurants at a fraction of the cost of Singapore, and nightlife options aplenty. In one month, I had tasted authentic Vietnamese, French, Singaporean, Indian, Middle Eastern, American cuisine. And did I mention the best streetside breakfast of baguettes each morning!

Lesson learnt:
As a traveller, my focus was to see as many highlights within the short duration to maximise experiences, whereas as an expat living in a foreign land, the focus would be on quality of life.

HCMC has proven that despite its stigma of being a developing South-East Asian city with chaotic traffic, this city is constantly sprouting up little surprises to keep foreigners entertained whilst still retaining strong local traditions and culture.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Work-Related Travel Beckons - and my first set of wheels

6 September 2013

It has been a few months since my boss mentioned that I was to be posted overseas to take a field office admin & accounting manager position, and in these months living in Singapore, I assessed what I had - a decent job; a small but great apartment; good friends; and I even picked up a number of new skills (cooking and bottle-cutting(!)).

I obtained my driver's license in 2000 and had less than 20 opportunities to drive a car over the past 13 years in Singapore. I have incessently bitched about the prices of cars in Singapore, though I did get by with the public transport system. I presumed the lack of a car reflected a lower social status and a key reason why I remained single. I shall not share my views on materialism and the Singapore girl.

My Aberdeen experience provided me much needed driving practice, and since those 4 weeks and 1,100 miles covered in June 2013, the seed of owning a vehicle had been planted in my mind.

The evening of 6 September 2013marked another milestone in the fulfilment of the material-based Singapore dream. I BOUGHT A CAR. A second-hand Fiat Grande Punto. Despite the ridiculously high prices, the dodgy car dealer, the free rides my friends have been providing me all my life thus far, and more importantly, the fact my boss told me in confidence that I will be posted overseas for a long term assignment within 2 months from 6 September.

Impulsive but necessary. That's how I felt. I was not going to let a few words from my superior determine my lifestyle. After all, the messaege was only verbally communicated and nothing had been presented to me in writing.

It has been less than a week since I collected the vehicle - there are loose parts vibrating at startup, the car has transmission issues on occassion, and I am threatening to take legal action against the dodgy car dealer. But my life has changed. I feel empowered. I can go anywhere, meet anyone, fetch a friend, at anytime. My only limitation would be to drink less alcohol to stay out of trouble with the law.

And then this posting to New Zealand kicks in. New Plymouth to be exact. Population 50,000. 4 hours away frrom the nearest major airport. At least a year or two away from my friends, family, apartment, and now my very own new used car.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Thoughts on Home

It was a sunny Friday afternoon. I had knocked off at noon, and drove to Stonehaven hoping to catch pictures of Dunnottar Castle in the afternoon sun. The sun was not to last though, as fog overcame the town within minutes of my arrival, which was followed by storm clouds, then rain.

Whilst waiting for the rain to subside, I had lunch at the Marine Hotel bar, one of the oldest establishments at the Stonehaven harbour, and it was with great fortune that an elderly man and his son of 40ish years sat at my table. I came to know the following during our half hour chat:
  • The old man lived in the southwest of Scotland, and his son was based in London. They were in Stonehaven to visit the old man's sister, who was 81 years of age.
  • The Marine Hotel used to be the only 'local' around, and it has grown and become more family-friendly over the past 60 years.
  • The old man still enjoys his beer and an occassional whiskey, though Laphroaig would be considered too peaty.
  • The old man was born in Stonehaven, and despite living and experiencing many parts of Scotland, still considered Stonehaven his home.
  • The son had left Stonehaven aged 9, but had a lot of affection for the town, as he had many pleasant memories upon returning each summer.
The last 2 points set me thinking. I have lived in Singapore most of my life, changing residences 5 times in my 30 or so years, each time within the same district. The question is - How attached is one to his place of birth/first residence?
Personally, I feel quite attached to District 15 of Singapore, the East Coast District. It could be due to a number of factors:
  • I was born here
  • I attend church here
  • Many friends (previously from church) live around the area
  • It is close to the beach, where the air is fresher without the smells of industry (e.g. chocolate, paint etc)
  • It retains a sense of history, with the neighbourhoods of Katong and Joo Chiat granted Heritage status to be "preserved", despite the rest of the district redeveloping at a rapid pace
  • I feel it has a majority English-speaking community, with a large number of Eurasians living in the Siglap area. I could be wrong here, but it's just the vibe I get.
  • I do not feel enveloped by high-rise buildings unlike other "new town" neighbourhoods
These 2 Scots, both older than me, had their own reasons for calling Stonehaven home, having spent a majority of their lives many more miles away from "home" than I have been.

I guess there is not much of a point to make here, but I do hope that in 40 years time, I can walk around District 15 with the same positive feelings the 2 Scots have towards their hometown, with all my reasons above intact.