29 Sep

New schools and other challenges

Bianca started a new school about a month ago. There were many reasons for this, none of which are interesting enough to talk about, so let’s not. It’s a big change, going from a school with around 250 students from prep to year six to one with almost that number just in her year level. I was worried about it, and started second guessing myself on day one after she complained there were too many kids in the playground, but she’s taken to it like an absolute star and is loving it so I guess it was the right decision after all.

When we told B, back in March, she was worried. “I won’t know anyone,” she said. “I won’t have any friends. What if I don’t ever make any friends?” It was bedtime, and she was fretting. “Look,” I said. “This problem is so far away from now. It’s almost five months away. You’ve got two weeks of school holidays coming up, all of next term, and then another holiday just as long again before you start at that school. You’re not even seven yet, by then you’ll be nearly seven and a half.

“Which is nearly eight!” she said, perking up and displaying the same rounding techniques her father uses on work reports.

“….Sure,” I agreed. “Anyway, it is silly to be worrying about that now. How about we take a pin, and we stick that worry up here on the wall? Then we know where it is and we don’t need to think about it until maybe the week before we start.”

She nodded. “How about we stick it way up on the ceiling instead?” So we did, and it never came up again. I almost mentioned it the night before she started but I have managed to learn something in the last seven-and-a-half-years-which-is-nearly-eight, and I kept my mouth shut. She fell asleep without a word. And all through the first week she bounced off the school bus full of news about new friends she’d made and could I set up some play dates?

(I honestly believe that was because over the holidays I sent her on some of those week-long day camps which run here. Mostly it was to give us a break from each other, but she got lots of practise meeting new kids and socialising with them so by the time school rolled around she was used to it. And now with a bigger pool of kids to choose from it’s easier to find kids who like the same things she does.)

So anyway. It’s a new start for me too, a chance to befriend the new mums, set up play dates, be involved. I always felt sort of on the outside at the old school; despite being in the parents’ association and a class parent and running the book club, somehow I was always on the outside of friendships and coffee dates. I am sure this is my fault, something I’m not very good at. Here I have a chance to start all that again.

Although, one of the mums from the old school recently told me I came across as relaxed, friendly, but not desperate, so that’s a relief. It’s always better when you can hide your desperation. But I’ll let you in on a secret: here we are all desperate to some degree.

03 Aug

car talk

So, remember how I was complaining that it thundered every time I had to walk up to get Bianca after her after-school activities, and how that was what convinced me we needed a car? Well this term’s activities (pottery and drama) started on Tuesday, which was the same day the hire car we’d had for the past two months went back, and guess what it started doing thirty minutes before I had to leave?

Wait, did someone say thundering? Ladies and gentlemen, give that person a coconut. Fucking weather.

So we did decide to buy a car. My goal was something cheap and basic like a VW Golf but as usual Mr Scope Creep took my budget and doubled it, and then he dazzled me with a spreadsheet explaining why that was okay. Then he convinced me to just go look at something that I said was ridiculous and I would never have, and then the salesguy said, “why don’t you take it for a spin?” and it seemed rude to say no, and it was so pretty and lovely to drive and I do like shiny things and it was easier to say “oh okay then,” and that is how we ended up buying a Jaguar. An OLD Jaguar, mind you, it’s only got three years left on its certificate of entitlement, but a fucking Jag nonetheless.

(Incidentally this strategy worked very well in my Uni days to get me to sleep with you. I wish I’d never told Dave that. I thought it would mean he’d use that information for sex, but I didn’t really know him yet.)

“But cars are expensive in Singapore!” you’re probably saying right now. Yes they are. They are insanely expensive. But before you get all excited thinking we’re rich (which is definitely not the case now), let’s take a step back and look at how cars work in Singapore.

How cars work in Singapore

It’s true, cars are expensive here. The government wants to limit both the number and quality of the cars on the roads, and so every new car has to be purchased with a Certificate of Entitlement (COE). {Side note: Entitled is a good description of the people with cars.} The price varies according to demand – somewhere between $55,000 and $80,000, and it gets added to the cost of the vehicle.

So here, to put a new base-level VW Golf on the road will cost SGD$125,300, which today is equivalent to about $125,000 Aussie dollars, $91,000 US, £58,000 pounds, and 318 Bitcoins (?!) I was going to do a comparison shop in other countries but got quite confused so I leave that as an exercise for you if you’re interested (they seem to be around $25,000 in Melbourne).

Also, you can only borrow a maximum of 60% of the cost, and the loans go for a maximum of five years. So you have to be able to hand over 40-50% of the price in cash. The whole point of this is to make buying a car hard enough that you really need to think about it first.

So the COE lasts for ten years and after that, the car is deregistered. You can extend it, but you would only do that for your really fancy cars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis (and you see a surprising number of those around). The government takes the car (and sells it on to Malaysia or China or the like), and gives you half the original market value (OMV) of the car – that is, the original import price not including the COE. So for that Golf, it’s about $30k, meaning you get about $15k back when it’s deregistered.

The beauty of this system is that depreciation of cars is basically linear. You don’t have a massive drop as soon as you drive it off the lot. Everyone is in the same boat, the cars are limited, they have a known value at the end of ten years, and if you are good with spreadsheets (coughDavecough) you can make this work for you.

In summary:

  • Cars cost a lot to buy
  • You can only borrow up to 60% of the price
  • They are handed back at 10 years
  • The government gives you a predetermined amount for the car.
  • Depreciation is linear.

So this is the trick

Most expats plan to stay in Singapore for two years. Condo leases and utilities contracts are 2 years long, so even if you end up staying for 4 or 6 or 10 (surprisingly common), you have an end point in view. So what you do is, you look for a car with two years left to go before it is deregistered. See why? Because when you’re ready to go you can hand the car in, for an amount you already know, with no hassle about having to sell it. And at that end of the depreciation graph the cost is not so bad, and remember you can get that 60% loan for it.

So for our Golf example, a 2008 Golf is around $60,000, but its residual payout is $16,426, so over the course of 3 years your outlay is only $43,574. Kind of make sense?

Dave’s justification

(Note, this justification only works if you’ve already accepted we’re buying a car. For normal use, it is still WAY cheaper to use public transport and cabs to get around. Hell, I could use a cab every day and it wouldn’t cost as much as owning a car. This is not wholly a financial decision.)

As I said, I wanted something like a VW Golf. I am still not that confident driving here or reversing into tiny parking spots, so I wanted something small and very cheap to run. Utilitarian. But when Dave began researching he found that a Golf costs $60,000, but an Audi A6 is $65,800, a BMW 5-series is $72,000 and a Mercedes is $79,500. Plus, because their OMV is much bigger, your outlay actually ends up being less. In fact, the BMW’s net price (purchase price minus residual value) is lower than the Golf!

singcar

click to enlarge

This is a portion of Dave’s spreadsheet (I will shield you from the true magnificence of the original; it will blind you.). It shows the net purchase price for each of his options (in yellow) and also a calculation of the monthly loan outlay (in blue). You can see it’s only a couple of hundred dollars difference from Utilitarian to Really Nice. And yes, a couple of hundred dollars isn’t to be sneezed at but when you’re in a place like Singapore where you get paid in play money, and you REALLY LIKE CARS… you can justify it.

(Dave really likes cars.)

The last line of the spreadsheet shows the net initial minus residual payment. Remember you get a loan for 60% of the purchase price (which is the monthly cost shown in blue), so you have to pay 40% yourself, which is the initial outlay. Then when you hand back the car, you get the residual payout from the government (the half of the OMV). This net initial takes into account the amount you’ll get back and shows how much you’ll be out of pocket for the deposit.

You do have other options to buying a car outright, of course. There is leasing, or having one as part of your employment package (if possible). Or, you can do a longterm rental, through companies like the one we rented month by month. We could have rented an older Toyota Corolla or VW Polo for around $1900 a month (Golfs were much more), and that includes all costs except petrol.

So this is Dave’s justification. The 40% cash deposit is a one-off cost which is greatly lessened by the handback at the end. The true cost of the car is the monthly loan amount, and is only a few hundred more than a Toyota, which he HATED, he is happy to pay the difference.

Am I happy to pay the difference? Hmm, well I would prefer not to have to, but I understand his logic and also his preferences, so I can accept that it’s his call to spend the money rather than save it. Also I have managed to reverse park the behemoth several times now without denting it, but I HAVE warned him he cannot get mad if I do run it into a wall or something by accident. After all, it’s not like we have to preserve resale value is it? And that at least is a good thing.

I’m never getting my Golf, am I?

it has a bloody start button.

it has a bloody start button, ffs.

 

24 Feb

welcome to the year of the stupid

Gong xi fat cai! We had a four day long weekend to celebrate lunar new year (I can’t quite get the hang of whether it’s ok to call it Chinese new year here). Of course Dave will tell you every day is a weekend for me. Ha ha ha! He is such a funny man. Thank goat he’s gone back to work today.

Speaking of goats, I am worried this might really be the year of the stupid. Or the stupid goat. My birthdate makes me a metal pig, so you know this is possible. So this is what happened. On Friday night we decided to go down to Chinatown to see the lanterns and the general celebrations. Embrace the culture! See the dragons! Actually, we tried to do it the night before, but just as we were about to leave I realised I couldn’t find my train ticket. So we had to abort. That was the first stupid of the year. But we figured it didn’t really matter, because the celebrations go on for two weeks so we’d still get to see it all.

So anyway, Friday evening we dressed up again, Bianca in her cute little pink Chinese dress, and caught the train to Chinatown. It was busy, with lanterns everywhere, but there was nothing in particular going on. So, we checked on our phones to see where we needed to be. And that’s when the second stupid happened. You see, the celebrations do go on for two weeks… BEFORE lunar new year.

You could say we were in the right place, but the wrong time.

We were stupid tourists.

(But seriously, come on! Shouldn’t you have the party when the big holiday is happening? No? Okay, but shouldn’t you do it anyway for the stupid tourists like us? No? Well shut up.)
So instead I contented myself with taking photos of lanterns and funny signs.

20150220_184918

pretty

I could maybe actually shop here

I could maybe actually shop here

um... no thanks

um… no thanks

Then we sampled the local delicacies at McDonald’s. After that it got dark and all the lights went on and it was just beautiful.

20150220_192619

lights

 

two tigers and a goat

two tigers and a goat

And then we took the train back home.

I think Chinatown should have dragons every day.

03 Feb

Moving day

Yesterday was moving day. It was more rushed than we wanted since we couldn’t get the keys until 9am that morning, which was the same time the movers were supposed to show up. They were late of course, so we had time to do the inspection and sign everything off. Or rather, Dave had time for that, I just wandered around, grinning at all the rooms, planning where our stuff ould go. It was going to be awesome!

This is the view from our lower balcony:

pool

Eventually the movers showed up and brought our stuff in. By the end of the day our place looked like this:

kitchen

In EVERY ROOM. This lot is just the kitchenware – after I’d spent the whole day unpacking box after box already. I was overwhelmed and cranky and thinking what the hell have we done? Sure, it seemed a good idea to bring all our stuff. We didn’t have to pack it after all. But we do have to UNpack it. I’m going to write that down somewhere for next time.
But we eventually called it a day. And just after dinner we got these visitors:

hb3hb5hb1

 

Hornbills! A pair of wild hornbills!

They made everything feel okay.

Today Dave is at work and B is at school and the movers have been back finishing off unwrapping all the furniture. I finally got them to leave an hour ago, and I’m sitting in here looking at all the boxes and wondering where in the hell all this stuff is supposed to go.

30 Jan

On breakfast, getting sorted, and missing the flock

The hotel here has a wonderful breakfast buffet. There’s the usual bacon and sausage goodness, an egg station, breads and pastries, cereals and continental stuff, plus sections for chinese, japanese, and other asian cuisines. There has been many a breakfast of bacon followed by steamed buns and croissants. I come down most days, after I’ve waved Dave and B off on their buses. Despite all this bounty I mostly now go for the bircher muesli and grapefruit juice with a latte, followed by a croissant. I love croissants any time, but they bake them fresh here and they are soooo good: flaky, soft, chewy, just divine.

It’s a big brekky but I’m using it the way we do on holidays, which is to bolster me through lunch and most of the afternoon. And if I’m feeling particularly decadent (like today) I’ll have a glass of prosecco and orange juice; I mean, it’s right there on the juice bar and they wouldn’t have it out if they didn’t want us to drink it, now would they?
I’m making the most of it now because we move out on Monday. We’ve been here four weeks already. I veer between is that all? and wow, already? By the way, someone said to me the other day that time moves quicker in Singapore because there are no seasons to mark it off. And so the saying “come for two years, stay for ten” is born.

I’m feeling relatively settled. the major pain points – somewhere to live, the school bus – got solved last week. We get the keys to our new place Sunday night and movers will be there Monday morning – or so they say. Not massively impressed with the people at this end, it has not gone as smoothly as we’d hoped. They were an hour and a half late delivering our air freight and left Dave’s bike behind, plus we seem to know more about the customs process then they do… but anyway, I’m sure it will be okay. The move feels a bit tight since we need to be cleared out of this apartment by 2pm that day, so there’s a bit of pressure on me to get my arse into gear and sort stuff out. Dave’s going to take the day off and will hire a car so that will help.

I am looking forward to having our stuff here, making this new place a home. And having a potato peeler again. And a knife that’s sharper than the edge of my hand.

One (two) things that won’t be here though are our parrots, Sheldon and Cabbie. We had to leave them behind. People say to me, “can’t you take them with you?” and I say, “yes we can, but we can’t bring them back into Australia.” At six years old Cabbie is a middle aged budgie but Sheldon’s a conure and could have another thirty years in him. We would much rather miss out on him for the next two years (apart from visits) than bring him with us and then potentially have to give him away forever.

The problem is, we don’t know what we’ll be doing. We don’t know for sure whether this is a two year thing or longer, if we’ll go back to Australia or move on to London or somewhere else. It all depends! It depends on whether Dave loves this job and we love Singapore, then where the next job takes us. It’s quite possible that in two years’ time he’ll decide he’s sick of this stuff and want to move back to Melbourne to a lighter role. It’s equally possible that he’ll be fabulous at this and love it and want to keep pushing on and in that case the next job might be in Sydney, or it could be anywhere else at all. We just don’t know. So until we have been here longer and know more, leaving them behind with our fantastic bird lady is the better option.

Knowing it’s the best decision doesn’t make it any easier though. For all it’s nice not to be pooed on, not to have to share my dinner, not to have someone disputing every step of the coffee-making process or biting you for trying to hold the remote control instead of him, I miss them so much. I’ve bawled my eyes out quite a few times already. Cabbie was my first baby, I miss my little green man. And yes, we’ll be able to see them when we go back to Melbourne for visits, but it’s not the same, and without them here it won’t really feel like home.

Sheldon and Cabbie "helping" me sew. Happy days.

Sheldon and Cabbie “helping” me sew. Happy days.

12 Jan

this is almost the new normal

So hello! Here we are in Singapore for a week and a bit and we’re settling in. We’re staying in a serviced apartment at the top of Orchard Road (the main fancy shopping strip, full of designer clothes and handbags and jewelry). Dave is at work and B and I are entertaining ourselves in the pool and venturing out for groceries occasionally.

We spent the first weekend apartment hunting and *fingers crossed* we’ve found something that will suit us really well. We’ve put in our Letter of Intent which the landlord signed, now we’re just waiting for the lease agreement. I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it too much yet… but it’s lovely and within budget. Leases here are for two years so that will have us set for the whole time.

I took B out to get her school uniform and ohmygoodness she looks so cute in it! She starts next Monday. I’m hyping it a lot so she’s excited — we both are — she’s already feeling the lack of other kids and I’m getting frustrated with trying to drag her around places. That’s one thing disappointing about this place: no families that we’ve met. The first place we stayed in February last year was full of expat families in the process of moving here and was much better set up for kids.

I’m not actually sure how I’m going to get her to school yet. We obviously have no car. I blan to use the school bus if we can, but we can’t book it until we know our permanent address. Fingers crossed there’ll still be a place. Also, we’ll still be here for the first two weeks. The bus company said they may be able to pick her up but priority goes to kids with permanent addresses. Worst case scenario is I cab her there and back every day until we move. No, worst case scenario is there’s no room on the bus once we move and I have to walk her the 850 metres to and from school every damn day. (Which would be fine, except it’s hot and humid, yo!)

So I’m settling in. At the start of last week I wasn’t doing so well. On Monday I wrote this in my journal:

I’m struggling a lot with anxiety right now. Everythng is scary. I thought I’d be okay because we’ve been here before, but I’m not. It’s different to before. Different apartment. Different dynamic.

I don’t know where anything is. I know everything is a short distance away, and easy by cab ride, but I don’t know WHERE it is. I have no mental map of how things hang together. And actual maps don’t seem to help.

My instinct is to cower inside ignoring everything. I know it’s not healthy. I know I can’t do that. My normal way of dealing would be to go our for a walk, to explore. But, see, it’s hot outside. And sweaty! And B doesn’t really deal with the head so dragging her for a walk in it is not such a good idea.
It will get better. It will get better. It will get better. But now is NOT the time to be cutting back on my Zoloft!

It was the househunting that set me off. Trying to make a decision on where to stay without really knowing how everything hangs together. It would be easy if the apartments were right on top of the train stations, but most of them aren’t so we have to weigh up nice apartments against possibly poor locations. There was one place with awesome facilities for Bianca which we wrote off because it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, but it actually turns out to be quite close to Robertson Quay and other nice things. But hey, we’re getting better. The place we *fingers still crossed* would like to live in is within easy walking distance to the tube for Dave, and we may even be able to afford a car.

Meanwhile back at the apartment, I have worked out the laundry system and mostly caught up, found a supermarket reasonably close with an icecream shop right nearby, and kind of got used to being around while the maid service cleans the rooms. I still feel like I’m haemorrhaging money and struggling to feed us within the limits of the (expensive) options at the supermarket and the equipment in the kitchen. But most of the time I have a smile on my face and I really like being here.

03 Jan

On the cusp

I started writing this on Monday when the packers were busy transforming our home into echoey rooms full of bubblewrapped icebergs, but the words wouldn’t come. Now I am on the plane, and there is room for words. Gosh, I love business class! I’ve got my own little pod to live in. Next to me is Dave and over by the window Bianca is chilling like a seasoned traveller, lying back in her seat watching My Little Pony, dinner on a clothed table in front of her.

(We are travelling business class because this is an official corporate move. We can’t afford to do it ourselves, but I would love to be able to! I think that’s my definition of wealthy – being able to travel business class without going broke to do it.)

We had a very hard few days there. Do you know, I’ve been off work since mid November, allegedly getting everything organised? And I thought I was doing well, I really did. Even though the list of stuff to do never seemed to get shorter, and I spent many a late night watching TV and playing on my phone instead of, say, making the curtains I’ve had the fabric for for months. Sometimes I got stressed thinking about everything that needed to be done, but then I’d think, “nah, it’s okay, the deadline’s Friday 2nd, it has to be done by then so it WILL be done.” Well, hello mid-December Nicky, it’s not fricking magic, YOU STILL HAVE TO DO IT ALL!

We were on our way to Ballarat on Christmas Eve when we realised our deadline wasn’t Friday, it was Monday when the packers came. At that point everything needed to be sorted into what’s staying and what’s going, and then that into whether it was coming with us, or going air freight or by sea. And if that wasn’t enough, we’d be away until late on Friday night and we had a farewell BBQ on Saturday to attend… suffice to say, we had some extreme late nights last weekend…

There I was on Monday morning after maybe 4 hours sleep for the third night running, eyes hanging out of my head and feeling at a loose end but the preparation was done. There was still heaps to do–cleaning, organising, those fricking curtains–but I couldn’t really do it while the packers were working. So Tuesday it all kicked off again for cleaning, painting doors, tidying the outside, getting rid of all the crap that was still hanging around — no matter how much stuff we took out of the house there was always another fucking load. Of course I drastically overestimated how much I could achieve in a day so Thursday was an all-hands-on-deck affair, but at 6:30pm when we walked out of the house (with yet another car load of crap) the house looked okay and ready for showing: not as perfect as I’d wanted but I just didn’t care anymore. Went back to Dave’s parents house, and drank several bottles of wine with his Dad, and breathed a sigh. Everything is in the hands of other people now.

*

Now we’re on a plane and I’m allowed to just be happy and excited. Did I mention that business class rocks? It is giving me delusions of grandeur and definitely spoiling me for economy.

There’ll be yet another list of things to organise once we’re on the ground again, but right now I’m just really fucking excited about what happens next!

04 Dec

Hold on tight, I’m about to get interesting…

… maybe. You tell me!

Dave has accepted a new job and we are moving… to Singapore!

Omigod, omigod, omigod…

This has been brewing for ages, well over a year, but it’s been in the why haven’t you TOLD me? category for about two months. And I don’t know why I haven’t told you, except that (a) it’s hard to burst back onto the scene with big news like that, and (b) even Dave wasn’t telling anyone until about a fortnight ago. Official wasn’t enough, it had to be official official before we could risk hexing it :-)

The original Singapore possiblity was mooted 18 months ago for a different role. Since then it’s been on again, off again, in Sydney instead, back in Melbourne, maybe London… it was exhausting. On our big holiday we decided to just ignore it and get on with our life, because we couldn’t keep putting everything on hold for a maybe. And then, of course, it kicked off again, and then it lulled, and then–the actual night we were signing the contracts for the new kitchen! — we got a letter of offer!

And so, this is where we are. Right now. Our flights are booked, we leave on 2nd January. A new adventure for a new year. Up till then I’ve got SO MUCH to organise. Doing stuff to the house, organising the decluttering and packing, closing out our life here and starting a new one. This is why I’m stressed. This is why I’m eating. But I’ve just got to get on with it because in four weeks we’re off!

Omigod, omigod, omigod!

It is going to be such a big adventure!