It has been a month since we arrived on the shores of Singapore, clutching our suitcases, our hearts aflutter. It has also been a month since we started looking for houses and I must say that our experience so far has been less than pleasant.
Agent A (short for any expletive starting with ‘A’) took D around in a plush BMW, complete with tiny, expensive waterbottles and showed him 9 houses, of which 1 met our requirements. Unfortunately the landlord changed his mind before I could even look at it. Agent A showed us a few more houses and then pretty much told us that we could either take our pick of the sorry ones he had or face the option of staying on the streets (metaphorically speaking of course. No one stays on the streets here. I think you get arrested or something).
We were a little tired of Agent A. He had a disconcerting habit of talking non-stop. And he did little to shield us from some of the harsh realities of searching for a house in our specific situation. Infact, he seemed quite keen to update us on why we were not ideal tenants and pretty much presented us that way to others. We persisted with Agent A since he had come with some recos and he had told us in no uncertain terms that he would only work with us if we used him exclusively. (And I think we were so busy running around doing other stuff that we were too tired to listen to well-meaning friends telling us to lose him). When we fixed up other house viewings surreptitiously on the side, Agent A found out and moaned for an entire car ride (Thank God, Singapore is a small city. I wouldn’t have lasted a Bombay car ride). Two weeks passed by and we finally settled on a house which passed muster. Sadly the landlord pulled out of the deal in the last minute and Agent A washed his hands off us.
Singapore’s landlords have their own agents. So it is effectively the agent who meets you and passes on information about you to the landlords. I guessed that without having the benefit of meeting us and being dazzled by our scintillating personalities, landlords were rejecting us.
So last Sunday, we set out with another agent to see a house in which the landlord was actually residing and going to meet us. We were at our polite, courteous best during the visit and shortly thereafter negotiations began. Then, suddenly we find out the landlord has changed his mind.
So much for impressing with our personalities…
It is probably just a case of market supply not fitting our requirements at present. Besides, one month is not really a long time to get your bearings in a new city. So we are working with other agents now, all of whom are far nicer and we are widening the net and giving up some of our original criteria.
There is another issue that has come up during househunting.
Living close to an Indian community was not a search criteria for us. So we were primarily shortlisting based on access to the public transport and proximity to our travel locations. Now that it looks like those apartments are not working out for us, we have included condos that are a 5 – 10 minute walk to the metro. So I ended up making inquiries about a condo which turned out to have a huge Indian population.
So far, I was indifferent to the ‘should have Indian neighbours’ criteria but now I am forced to actively consider it. Especially when a friend’s friend I spoke to gushed about the satsangs his parents attended, the yoga class his wife had signed up for and the Art of Living courses he went for. “You can get them all in the condo”.
I got deep into thought.
One of the things I loved about my Bombay apartment was that it was a very cosmopolitan building. Fifty percent of the houses were owned by the navy and the multicultural crowd moved in and out. The rest had an assortment of parsis, gujjus, maharastrians, south Indians and so on.
In Singapore though, should I want the same thing or is it good to have a lot of Indian neighbours? On the one hand, there is the advantage of having an ecosystem handy (Indian grocery stores etc), the immediate availability of help and assistance (I assume Indians would be less shy about helping each other out) or the shared festivals. On the other hand, if I wanted all this, I could have as well stayed back home. Another friend described how their multi-cultural condo had a small celebration for the mid-autumn festival, lighting lanterns and eating mooncakes. It sounded fascinating.
Will the curiosity stop after a while and would I crave familiarity?
For now, I think that if I wanted Indian company, I would just have to reach out to any of my friends, all of whom are Indians. On the other hand, living in a mixed crowd would be the easiest way to get more out of my Singapore experience.
Nevertheless, the slightly desperate position we are in now, I am not sure if we would really have a choice.
The house hunting story is not yet over but I do hope it ends soon.