Wednesday, 26 March 2014

After 4 months, some comparisons between Australia and sg.

Time for a genuinely neurotic rambling post here: some updates, and some musings about life in Oz vs life in SG.

Transport Options

I heard a recent outcry over motorcycle COE prices in SG. Apparently the latest COE is now $4000. Ouch. I once did some rough calculations and concluded that a small, cheap motorbike in SG would be cheaper than public transport, assuming no accidents, and no medical fees involved. Of course with the ever-increasing public transport fares in SG, this may continue to hold true. In fact if one needs to travel a lot on a budget, the motorcycle remains the only viable option. Public transport at any price does not move at a speed which enables one to get around efficiently. You could survive multiple short hops, or a long commute to and from work. That's about it.

Possibly a good transport option for you poor sods in SG is cycling. Hear me out, bear with me.

You guys now have a very decent park connector network (PCN). You can't get everywhere with the PCN, but at least the places it serves have wide, smooth pavements. They are well-lit at night. I really do appreciate that bit about SG now, after a harrowing ride along the Merri Creek Trail which is just one of Melbourne's equivalent of Sg's PCN. It has been here for much longer, and is much more scenic. Take a look:



Looks nice eh?

I tried it last night, with two cheap little LEDs from K-mart for illumination. I did not enjoy that bit at all. The relative desolation which I enjoyed in the day turned out to be a spooky and discomfiting experience at 10pm, where the occasional stray lights from the factories or suburbs cast dancing shadows which made me start on occasion. Not to mention that some of these suburbs I've passed are allegedly unsavoury and there was a genuine fear of bumping into some miscreants or druggies along the way. With the less well-maintained pavement, I was glad I was on my mountain bike with off-road tyres and front suspension because there was no way of seeing the potholes or bumps and avoiding them without good lights. On my other bike, it would have meant either I travelled at an agonisingly slow speed, potentially sustained punctures at normal speeds, or worse, fell off the bike. Maybe into the Merri Creek itself.

As it turned out, I didn't notice any sign of human activity last night. But it's a ride I will be unlikely to attempt again anytime soon.

Did save about $7 in petrol though, by riding instead of driving to school.

Back to cycling in SG. Nice PCN, relatively safe weather, apart from haze. The bit of heat and extreme humidity sucks, but drink plenty of water and dress sensibly and you won't have any dramas. No extremes in temperature, and usually no hail. You are unlikely to catch anything more than a cold  (if it rains) if you commute by bicycle without rain gear. Here in Melbourne, it is a must, where the temperature can drop 15 degrees in mere minutes.

Bicycles are affordable compared to any other form of transport, keep you fit, and you won't get lost with Google Maps. If Google Maps can function well for bike navigation Down Under, it will work in tiny Singapore. Stop giving excuses, or complaining about public transport!

I wouldn't want to commute on the roads in SG though, while in Melbourne, it is a lot less of a hassle with a very extensive bike trail network, as well as dedicated cycle lanes on most roads. However, not all roads have bike lanes, and traffic here can be quite a pain as well. The good thing is that most drivers in Melbourne are far more patient and courteous than in Sg, especially towards bikers. This may explain the behaviour of that infamous Aussie cyclist who made headlines in SG, not that I think he should get away with the behaviour. Wouldn't be surprised if he did, though.

Public transport in Melbourne may now be much more reliable than in SG. Trams breakdown now and then, but the breakdowns never lead to a systemic failure like breakdowns would on SG's MRT system. I asked my friend who has been here for about 20 years how often the transport breaks down in Melbourne, and he replied: hardly, except on hot days. Note that Melbourne's trains and trams are generally ancient compared to SG's, and that if the metro ("MRT") breaks down here, likely you are just a short walk away from a bus stop or even a tram station. Or a cafe/pub. No need to fuss over fare refunds as well. We pay one fare for 2 hours unlimited travel. Or if you overshoot the two hours, you are good for the whole day for an additional charge. Yes, it costs more. More than I am willing to pay, especially that I have two functioning legs and a bicycle. But my point is that I will choose the public transport in Melbourne ANYTIME over SG's. I like breathing room, you see. I also like to get a seat, and I've had to stand for at most 15 minutes on an evening peak hour trip to the western suburbs. Even that was much more pleasurable than on the MRT as I had personal space around me. To put things in perspective, almost everyone can board the first train they desire, and nobody bats an eyelid at full size bikes on the metro during peak hour. No need for that overpriced fancy foldable Brompton then...

I used to drive quite a bit in SG, when I had a car. Which was most of my adult life until a few months before we quit that place. Pay for COE, road tax, astronomical insurance, additional fees and taxes, must use the car, right? So I did. 

Here, my Subaru Forester XT 2.5 liter turbo is almost like an OPC aka weekend car. It is of course much thirstier than say a Honda Jazz (which is a pretty sensible option, albeit a completely joyless drive). But my philosophy is that short trips kill a car faster, and that the best fuel consumption a car can achieve is when it is parked. In Oz we get the manual Forry as well, so I average about 8.5km/l in the city, driving it as I please, which includes full throttle takeoffs in first gear to the redline, then full throttle in second to the speed limit (that's how I got one speeding ticket, but I still do that). I get 10km/l with a good mix, and can better 11km/l on road trips, including jaunts up the mountains. That, with All-Wheel Drive, a lead foot, and full load, on road trips. In Sg, Subarus are notorious for poor consumption, especially the Auto version of the Forester Turbo. Maybe Subarus are like me, and fare better in Oz. Insurance here is also way cheaper for my Forester. Then again it's considered an ah pek car here and I'm happy with it this way.

Parking in the city is ridiculously expensive in Oz, and Citylink (the Melbourne equivalent of ERP) fees are much higher too. Near my school if I'm unlucky, I end up paying $13 for the day. If I get a cheaper spot, it's about $8. Thus, I avoid driving to town like the plague. My $220 single speed bicycle gets me there and back just as quickly and helps me to keep fit as well. Rain or shine, I will ride. Even survived a ride in T-shirt and shorts on a 10-degree morning.

Motorbikes here are expensive compared to cars. The cheapest Honda CB400 ABS I've seen was  advertised at $5,500, about the same price as my friend's Honda Jazz 1.5. But motorbikes enjoy free parking on pavements almost anywhere (parking on pavements is allowed by default) and have much better jam-beating abilities than cars do. But that price gets a relatively new bike in terms of kms, as compared to in SG. Bikes in Oz are still cheaper, not to mention there's no COE. Bikes also tend to be better cared-for, as most of them are garaged and little-used.

Having just started riding and working as a despatch rider, I must say that the same courtesy shown to bicycles is also extended to motorcycles. I've been tailgated once or twice, and that is to say, the car was probably 3 bike lengths behind me. In SG, due to the cavalier attitude of both riders and drivers, it was common for me to see bikes and cars traveling at highway speeds with less than 1 car length separating them. The weather in Melbourne also allows one to wear armour more comfortably. It is common to see people on scooters with full-face helmets, gloves, and armoured jackets and pants. I'm still trying to sort out my choice of gear for warmer days, but with Autumn now afoot, I'm usually able to manage with my armoured rain jacket, gloves and at least jeans.

Ex Australian Post bike, also affectionately called a "postie". My bike of choice on my despatch job :)
I do get curious looks, but only from the huge racket the bike makes when signalling. Beep beep beep!

Food

As expected, the main thing I missed was the convenience of readily available mixed vegetable rice. But after reading this article, I am glad that we have completely foregone that. No more late night hawker centre suppers. No more oily, salty, MSG-laden food. Home cooking is now de rigeur, and we try to make plenty of it for the subsequent days' meals. From making a huge mess preparing pasta for two, I have improved my cooking to generating 9 portions to fill the freezer with meals for the next few weeks, without major dramas, and in the same time I used to cook for two. A is no fan of pasta, but it saves time and money. We don't have that every day anyway, as we cook "proper" meals every two to three days, with leftovers filling the days in between. The frozen pasta is our "instant noodles", if you will. Just defrost and pop it into the microwave for a few minutes. I wouldn't choose any pasta I've tried in SG over my leftovers.

Our nice new LG refrigerator was rather under-utilised in SG. But our $140 second-hand Kelvinator is packed to the gills at least weekly with fresh produce, and the freezer with frozen meals. One day when we move to our own place, we will get a good sized chest freezer, and prepare our own mixed vegetable rice dishes to freeze, then cook rice every other day or so. Cooking is enjoyable, but a bit too tiresome and time-consuming if done daily. 

The end result now is that we actually spend far less on food in Oz and eat much more healthily. I have Indomie in the larder and seldom touch it. I prefer to microwave my frozen pasta which is tastier and healthier (to me anyway). Fruits are fresher here, and those harvested in Oz are way cheaper. Large black grapes for $3 per kg, ultra-sweet rockmelons for $1.50 each, anyone? I've discovered A2 milk, which doesn't upset my stomach at all, where milk in SG gives me diarrhoea almost without fail. Even the normal Coles $1 per liter milk tastes better and gives me less problem than supposedly the same "Australian fresh milk" in SG, but I think A2 is worth the extra cost given my weak stomach and probably lactose-intolerance.

Meanwhile, with friends who invite us to eat at Singapore/Malaysian restaurants every now and then, we've never actually missed that kind of cuisine, though we do enjoy it when we go there. Recently a restaurant called Newton Circus has opened in Melbourne and I'm hearing rave reviews about it. I'm sure it will pale in comparison to the very best that SG has to offer, but the Singaporeans/ex-Singaporeans say it's not far off. But on a regular basis, A has no difficulty whipping up rendang, bak kut teh, curries, and I can easily do a decent chicken rice which I prefer to the average hawker centre chicken rice in SG. We can fry rice, bee hoon, and noodles as well. It's not rocket science.

Air Quality

I hate to rub it in, but to those in SG who commented about the bushfire-related haze in Oz, the irony is sweet indeed.

Yes, we get haze here. Yes, it was bad. The AQI went up to 400+ in some areas. We have a Honeywell, and those days weren't nice. Aircon and air purifiers on, and all windows closed.

Funny thing is, an AQI of 300 smells like a PSI of about 150 in SG. Visibility reduction is similar as well. An AQI of 150 gives us visibility of about 6-8km, and smells like a "moderate PSI" in SG. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Besides, the same conditions which cause bushfire spreads (dry, and in particular, windy) also assist in dispersion of the smoke. During some days with bad bushfires, many areas are spared from haze completely. The haze only arose for about a week (and that's about all there is likely to be for the year) because of an unusual spate of windlessness. I suspect that the dryness of the wood relative to that in Indonesia also makes for relatively cleaner-burning bushfires.

On average, air quality in Melbourne is much better than SG, even without haze. I must say that apart from the haze in SG, the air there is probably as good as it can get for a city in Southeast Asia. But it's far from what you can get in metro Melbourne, and the comparison is even bleaker if you consider that we get to venture to unspoilt countryside here.

Weather

Again, the irony. I must have friends who have very suay mouths. Because after the comments on the heat wave here (which was bad but even I survived), SG had a drought. But well, it is worse in Melbourne for maybe a total of three weeks during a bad year. The rest of the year is heaps better, if you can endure cold. With modern clothing technology, I don't see how anyone can have issues with cold. Winter wear is actually pretty affordable. Buy it. Wear it.

Unfortunately there's a limit to how far clothing can make one comfortable in hot and humid weather. Even if I could go stark naked in SG, it would still be too hot and humid for me. I'm cool with the climate on the 20th storey with an unblocked view and good breeze in SG, but can't afford that luxury. Here, all is good most days, even without wind, fan or air con. We did cheat and use the heater occasionally during our first weeks here, but I don't think we'll be using much in future, except perhaps during the coldest winter days.

When we first arrived, I had to wear a jacket to cycle in 16 degree weather, and still felt cold. As mentioned earlier, I managed a 10 degree morning with T-shirt and shorts, like some Aussies can. I think there will be some crazy buggers who do that in winter as well but I won't try that.

That crazy "four seasons in a day" weather is very real, but very infrequent. It's only going to be an issue for people who are not acclimatised and ill-prepared.

People, and racism

This is going to be very subjective, but let me attempt to do this comparison fairly. The quick summary is that people in Oz are much nicer as a whole, but probably more polarised. By "polarised" I mean that one may get to meet much worse people than in SG.

I might have been shouted at once on the road by a truck driver who was frustrated trying to overtake me while I was on my bicycle. I can't be sure. There's obviously a chance that it may have been race-related, but I couldn't make out what he said. I was in the right (as I was using the bike lane), and he didn't horn or try to run me off the road. I shrugged it off. No harm done. Had he horned, it would have been quite startling to me and probably more unsafe. I got horned at a lot more in SG and I'm a reasonably safe and experienced cyclist.

I've also been shouted at once while stopped by the road where I shouldn't have. I thought it was uncalled for, but ah well. Again, no harm done. This time it was certainly not race-related as there was no way of knowing our skin colour as it was at night.

Almost everyone here is more considerate, courteous and friendly. The least friendly people I meet here are those of a similar race to mine.

The most racist people I know are Singaporeans. The 'natives' here may be culturally-ignorant at times, but any basis of racial discrimination is strongly frowned-upon, and I had an experience at work to illustrate this:

Where I work, there's a chef from somewhere in Asia (let's call him Matt), and another local white chef (let's call him Andrew).

Andrew was showing me how to make white sauce, because I was interested. I then gave him a hand, and all you gutterbrains, I know what you are thinking.. But anyway....

I was straining out the sauce to remove lumps as shown by Andrew. Andrew then took out some older stock of the same sauce made by Matt. It was lumpy and due to be thrown out. My boss took a look at it and commented (or so I thought):

"That's un-Australian"

I was somewhat amused actually, and asked:

"Un-Australian?"

But of course, Matt was Asian. He was still on a work visa. He wasn't Australian.

My boss retorted:

"No. Unstrained! That ('un-Australian') would be racist!"

And the conversation went on to other things, without missing a beat.

My boss and "Andrew" are typical "white Aussies". This is the general behaviour one will observe in Melbourne. Yes, in the past, racism was more prevalent. Yes, one can encounter racism in some less-developed parts of Oz. But this is not exclusive to people of Asian descent. Even people whose origins hail from some parts of Europe, those commonly regarded as ang moh  by Singaporeans, may encounter discrimination. My teacher is Italian, and faced discrimination in his youth. But he tells us that those days are past.

Most Singaporean Chinese may not realise, but ask any non-Chinese Singaporean if there is discrimination in SG. The answers may shock you. I shan't delve into this while I am still a Singaporean.

Conclusion?

I think A Singaporean Son has put it very well in this post. At the end of the day, migration, heck, even life as a whole is a very personal journey. But for readers who have certain misconceptions of Australia, I just want to share the truth on the ground. Not that I care whether it hits home or not. At the end of the day, you can choose to stick your head in the sand and believe that SG is the best place in the world. To be honest, it may well be, for many people.

But for anyone with dreams of life beyond SG, fear not. Fortune favours the brave, and the worst thing about Melbourne (or anywhere else you may wish to migrate to) is really The Big Unknown. For us, we ended up pleasantly surprised, and while life here is NOT a complete bed of roses, it has been beautiful thus far.

One can be unhappy anywhere in the world. One can be happy in SG. For us, moving here was our key to happiness. Will it be the same for you?

Only you can find out.

Alpine adventures on my bike

24 comments:

  1. Alpine of Melborune > Darling Scarp of Perth

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  2. Not many Singaporeans can appreciate the beauty of Melbourne. Certainly not the negative ones.. Bravos ! I am sure you guys fit in perfectly !

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  3. Judging from your neurotic ramblings, I believe you both are very pragmatic people and will definitely make things work out right. Reminds me of this quote: Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen. Ralph Waldo Emerson

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  4. How's life bro (or should i use mate..)? =) i missed the good old times i had during my undergrad days..

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  5. Thanks for the comprehensive post. I must say that as we acclimatise to the weather, winter bothers us less and we get used to the cold. I actually like the 4 seasons. Also, it's not safe to be cycling in some isolated, poorly lit path at night. Do be careful.

    overseas sinkie

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  6. Fantastic Alpine view, it be great to ride a dirt bike there :)

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    1. Not allowed on that trail, I think. But there are many other places to dirt bike and I'm sure some with better views!

      I'm not sure what the range of dirt bikes off road is though. We did almost 80km and 1.3km vertical elevation gain on one of the rides. I think dirt bike endurance might actually be a bigger issue than on a mountain bike.

      -S

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    2. 80km distance and 1.3km elevation ... must be hell of a trip :) Takes a lot of upper body strength for dirt bike ridding and lower body for mountain biking. I will choose a light and easy ride like DR200 or XR200 for a trip like that.

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  7. Thank you for the post. Feeling more encouraged, confident and convinced by your post and that of A Singaporean Son. Am in the process of migration paperwork and hope to be in Mel to recce in Nov/Dec. Hope to be successful in the migration process.

    Wondering if there are blogposts of people who have migrated over with children. This is one aspect that I will love to learn more as my family will be going over. I know children can be very adaptable and resilent. Some sharing like what you have done can be really useful.

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    1. Haven't come across any. But if you have applied for PR, I'm sure the good people at Melbourn SG Kampung will welcome you. You can ask them.

      Or it will be great if any of our readers can contribute a guest post? We don't earn anything from this blog (despite the ad links... Ok we've got maybe a few cents so far from that). So it will have to be out of the goodness of your heart... =D

      -S

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    2. To Anonymous@28 March 2014 08:40.
      I migrated over 4 years back with a 3.5 yr old. Happy to answer any questions. Just post them in this comments thread. Maybe S (Neurotic Ramblings) can then edit them into a post.

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  8. Dear A
    This is charms W. I just received my ielts results today!!! And I cleared the academic paper!!!!! Just wanted to share my joy with you! ;)

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  9. Hi S,

    Need to seek your advice again. We are currently looking for a 2nd hand car and we have no idea how to begin. We've never owned a car (Can't afford one in SG). Can you give us some tips on which brand is reliable, not too pricey and fuel efficient? We'll probably need a hatchback because we need the space. We would appreciate some advice on what to look out for when looking for our first 2nd hand car as well. Thanks in advance!

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    1. Snowflake, I would love to do one post just for you on this. Been extremely busy though so this may take a while :)

      What do you intend to use the car for? Daily transport (may not be good idea in city)? Grocery getter? Kids' school bus? Road trips? Exploring the outback? Fishing trips? Camping?

      Do you have hobbies such as golf/cycling/kayaking/fishing etc?

      Fuel efficiency is overrated IMHO. I would focus on fuel economy, and that may be what you had in mind. By that I mean $ per 100km, as well as absolute fuel cost (which I can keep very low by using the car only when its usage is warranted).

      I need you to work out your absolute maximum budget, as well as what you are comfortable with spending. Think about what you want in a car as well. You get what you pay for, generally. And remember, here you can afford something decent. As long as you avoid silly things like changing to a brand new car every couple of years, you'll be fine.

      -S

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  10. Hi, nice blog. I am also finding your blog relevant since my wife and I just reached Australia early this year. I am still waiting for my Seven Seas shipment... and also enjoying cycling in Melbourne on a regular basis.

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  11. Hi S, I look forward to reading your exclusive post on 2nd hand car =)

    For us, we are looking for something practical, with a roomy boot and low fuel consumption. Probably wont be doing much outback - once in a long while maybe?

    We only have about 10k or so.. and I prefer an Auto car..

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  12. Howdi,
    I'm from Australia. And imho i would love to move to Singapore. I have been there so many times and every time I love it. Its such a cool place to be. People are generally friendly, but like everywhere, there is good, bad and ugly in every town. God knows how Id feel after a few years there, who can tell. But you can make a go of it anywhere you chose, imo. I think that the world is a big place with lots to see and do.
    Just thought I put my opinion out there as I shows that one mans trash is another mans treasure. Not saying you guys are calling Singapore trash, but you get my meaning.

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    1. Mate, whatever makes you happy. We should all pursue our own idea of happiness! :)

      You think it's such a cool place. In reality, it may be shit to you, or it may exceed your expectations by a huge margin and you never want to leave again. Only one way to find out.

      Do note that as new arrivals, your experiences there will be very different from what those who are 'born and bred' there will face. This applies to most places including Oz. Certainly sg has given us resources, experiences and perspectives that colour our perception of Oz.

      Whereabout in Oz are you living btw?

      -S

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  13. You are starting to sound like a local, once you start saying "mate" and "she'll be right" I'd say your pretty much integrated into the ozzy way of life.
    I understand that being "born and bread" in a place can color your experience as opposed to an expat. One of the hardest things for a person to break away from is their background. I first hand experienced this as I'm not originally from Oz. Although it's home since 2008.
    I live up in Darwin my friend. One of the only places that's stickier that Singapore.

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    1. Hmm, if you live in Darwin, then Sg might be better in most aspects, based on everything I've heard of that place (mostly from Singaporean friends!)

      Where were you from before 2008, if you don't mind me asking?

      To be honest, there are a number of Singaporeans living here that I know, who would be much better off in sg. There are also non-singaporeans here who I know would prefer sg to melb, though they haven't got to find out.

      Like you said, one man's trash is another's treasure!

      One problem with sg is that it is particularly vindictive about losing its people to other places, especially if they are 'born and bred' there. Yet it uses underhanded means to keep tabs on and try to maintain ties with 'overseas singaporeans'.

      But frankly, while I remain a citizen, I don't really see myself as a singaporean these days. Heart and mind has never really been with that country. I just hope we can part ways amicably. Divorce of nationality need not be acrimonious!

      -S

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    2. Darwin is pretty much the opposite of sg. No traffic, no skyscrapers, no shopping and everything closes early. The pass times here are fishing and drinking, not really into either one. There are some good mountain bike trails and lots of beautiful beaches (no swimming). Lots of nature and wildlife, you get my drift.

      Im original from the Rep. of Ireland. Another lovely place, but pretty chilly.

      In your opinion what would cause a melb person to prefer sg. I have never been to melb myself.

      How can sg be vindictive? In my mind, I would imagine that once you decide to go and apply for a visa. There is jack sh*t that can do to stop you.

      Good to see that you have found a place you are happy to call home. I get you 100% when you say your heart and mind are not with a country. Your divorce from sg may not be acrimonious. In saying that though, if you become an ozzy, a citizen that is. You must give up your sg passport. This means queuing up beside all the other ang moh in the immigration line marked foreign. That might pinch, just a little bit ;-).

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  14. Sg being vindictive? Well, that's a privilege that the born-and-bred there get to experience... I've heard reliable accounts of the process to renounce citizenship, where you get to feel it. Hopefully our turn will come asap.

    Sg passport means little to us. As does queing behind the "ang moh". What makes you think we'd even visit that place on a regular basis?? =D

    -S

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  15. Ha ha very good, sounds like your well and truly happy with your life in Oz, its fantastic to hear. To be honest, my move to Singapore could possibly end up being Sydney, as I love it there also, not quite as much as sg though.

    With trips to Singapore, I just realised its 8+ hr from Melbourne, as compared to just over 4 from Darwin. Its not just a quick nip over the pond for a visit to catch up with the family.

    Since I'm in a conversation with a local, ill ask a question. Cars are exceptionally expensive over there. Yet you cannot throw a dollar coin over your head, without hitting a Ferrari/Maserati/Lamborghini/Porsche etc. Considering these cars are 2-3 sometimes even 4 times more expensive than anywhere else in the world, yet they litter the roads. How is it that this is possible? Unless there is extremely easy car finance available, there must be some amount of seriously wealthy people over there??

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    1. In short, income inequality there is extremely high, and the government there has wooed many rich foreigners there as a tax haven.

      I could probably do a whole series to answer that question, but I'm not especially qualified to, nor would I care to spend the time to do that. As regular readers might have noticed, we haven't been doing new posts, though I still respond to comments

      There's the rich, and there's the normal average singaporean who would have a hard time affording a car. If you are willing to give up car ownership and most forms of outdoor pursuits, you'll find it pretty ok there. At least taxis are "cheap". Inverted commas because they are *relatively* cheap compared to elsewhere in the world, but I never used to find them a cheap source of transport given my required usage. I actually drove way more commuting kms in sg than I do here in Melb. Here we do a lot of road trips, racking up similar mileage or slightly less overall.

      not sure how the air is in Darwin, but it isn't real fresh in sg some parts of the year. We get bushfires and haze in Melb, but it doesn't come close to what the indons dish out to the sinkies for months on end in recent years!

      I would say, just give it a go. Nothing beats experiencing it for yourself. At least Oz will always welcome you back with open arms (or perhaps you could say the country here doesn't care much either way).

      -S

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