Hello everyone! Life is good here. We’ve been busy with kid activities and life in general. Tom’s traveling right now and some of the after school activities are winding down. Both kids have soccer practice on Saturdays now and we’ve added swimming lessons to the mix. I’ve had a couple of mishaps lately, the most recent this afternoon... Apparently, when you get poo-ed on by a bird, the locals tell you this is “lucky.” I’ve had the “luck” of hearing this twice in the last week. Both times the Singaporean telling me how lucky I am was laughing… Part of me thinks luck has nothing to do with this, and these kind souls are just trying to make me feel a little better while they laugh at my expense. Part of me is expecting something great to happen.... I’ll keep you posted. ;-)
Let’s talk about driving in Singapore! When you move here from the United States, you are allowed to drive, but you have to get a Singapore driving license within a calendar year from when you first enter Singapore under your employment or dependent pass. This was a task on our to-do list, and we finally checked it off last week! After you drive you have to get something called a probation plate or p-plate. These are triangles you must affix to the front and back of your car to let everyone you meet know you are a probationary driver. It’s pretty much a scarlet letter shouting “new driver.” If you’re supposed to have one, and you don’t have it displayed, you will be fined. I’m curious to see if my driving experiences change at all now that we’re in a marked car.
Driving in Singapore is initially rather intimidating. Everything is backwards from the U.S. Here, you sit on the right side of the car. You drive on the left. You exit to the left. You pass on the right. That wouldn’t be so bad, but in some areas there is a lot of traffic and a lot of pedestrians to navigate. The signage is in strange places, so you really aren’t always sure where you are or where you’re going because you forget where to look for that information. There aren’t standard city blocks, so if you miss your turn you may have just added 10 minutes to your trip. You also need to become accustomed to different signage, speed traps, and the (sometimes many) motorcycles whizzing by between cars. Once this becomes the new normal, driving here really isn’t too bad. Most roads have a speed limit of 50 km/hr (that’s 31 mph). Some of the expressways have a speed limit of 90 km/hr (56 mph). Many of the roads have little/no shoulders, so even though it sounds like no big deal, it feels like you are speeding along at 70 or 80 mph even though you’re going much much slower. When we were in the States in December, I was excited to drive faster. I was a little sad that it really didn’t seem very different from the speeds we had been driving for months in Singapore, even though it obviously wasn’t the same.
We drive a mini-van here, with extra emphasis on the mini. Really. It is shorter and smaller in all dimensions than it’s counterpart in the States. However, it’s considered a larger personal vehicle here, and there have been carparks we barely fit in. (Carpark = parking garage in American English. I rather like “carpark.” It’s much more concise.) Parking is also very different from in the States. Singapore is literally half the size of an average Iowa county and it’s filled with 5.6 million people. Therefore, land is at a premium and there is little land allocated to carparks. Most carparks have stacked parking, and an increasing number are located underground. I have never seen angled parking. There is simply no room for it. Almost all the parking here is made to reverse into. At first, this seemed strange. However, it makes leaving the parking spot quite easy. I’ve actually come to prefer it. There are a small number of parallel parking spots as well.
Many of the larger carparks have indicators to let you know if there is an open spot down the aisle. There are lights suspended that are green if the spot is open and red if it is occupied. It’s very frustrating to drive down an aisle only to discover a spot that appeared open is in fact occupied and has a faulty light! The largest carpark I’ve experienced here is at Resort World. The carpark appears to go on forever with thousands of green and red lights. It becomes super important to remember where you parked!
One of the things I find amusing (and that took me a surprising amount of time to figure out!) is that when you’re in a carpark, “exits” are for people; the “way out” is for cars. If you try to follow the exit signs while driving a car, you will find yourself next to a staircase or lift lobby (read: elevator) where you most definitely cannot drive your car.
Because space is such a premium, almost all parking is pay parking. You have a card in a device in your car that is read at each entrance and exit of a carpark and you are charged for the time you spend there. The downside is you CAN apparently get stuck in a carpark if the machine malfunctions and there is a line at the gate. This happened once and I was stuck in the carpark for 20 minutes and nearly missed meeting Theo’s bus home from school. (see above photo) Lesson learned!
Some of the expressways in Singapore use electronic road pricing or an ERP system. The road is free much of the day, but charges for use in peak hours. The rate varies depending on the time of day and expected traffic levels. The funds are pulled off the same card used to pay for parking. Other cities, such as New York, are considering using this type of system, commonly called congestion pricing.
One of my favorite road features in Singapore is the ECO-Link. The ECO-Link is a wildlife bridge that covers the span of the Bukit Timah Expressway or BKE. It connects the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, two areas wildlife frequent. Of particular concern is the pangolin, which is endangered. There doesn’t appear to be great hard data on the bridges effectiveness, but the rate of pangolin roadkill has decreased since the bridge was finished. The bridge is 50 meters wide at it’s narrowest point. Native plants were used to cover the bridge to make it part of the rainforest. So cool! I know Tom wants to get some drone footage of this someday, but for now, here’s a photo from the ground. (Also, stand still traffic is my favorite…)
I’m trying to step up my “Life in Singapore” posts before we head home to visit everyone this summer. If there’s something you’re curious about, let me know. (To my foodie friend - you know who you are - I’ll be writing about food, I promise!)