Since the day we moved out of the ghastly serviced apartment and into our rental home we have maintained a huge spreadsheet that tracks every single expense we have incurred in Singapore. As a result, we know how much money we have spent from one month to the next on raw meats versus deli meats, milk versus beer, dining out versus eating in, and taxi fares all around the island. We have spent a lot of money on taxis. When it was clear that the trend was consistently upward in nature - particularly since the start of the school year, when I began going into the office five days a week again - we decided it was time to pursue other transportation options that would be more affordable, in both actual and opportunity costs. So we decided to buy a car.
Once this heavily debated decision was made, we quickly discovered that here in Singapore, cars border on, and frequently cross over into I am sure, the prohibitively expensive range. This is due in part to the cost of a COE (Certificate of Entitlement), which can run as high as $15,000 SGD (about $9750
USD) all by itself. The COE is the government's tool for both registering and controlling the number of vehicles owned: if there are too many cars on the road, the COE price goes up; if the government deems that the already crowded roads can tolerate additional traffic, the price goes down. In addition, cars are heavily taxed at importation - and all cars here are imported - raising the base price as well. Add to that the even higher premium for certain manufacturers, the Japanese models in particular, and purchasing a car is a pricey proposition (think roughly double what you would pay in the U.S.).
After the initial round of research, Greg and I decided to combine our cheap bastard and safety freak mentalities and go with the least expensive model with airbags in the back seat: safe, but reasonably priced. It's not asking that much, right? Well, it does not exist here. In line with what I have decided is a nationally cavalier attitude toward car safety, automobiles equipped with airbags protecting anyone but the drivers and front seat passengers are few and far between. When Greg discussed the required safety measures with potential sales folks, he was met with blank stares and looks void of understanding, as if asking for crash protection in the rear of the car were akin to asking for insect-friendly windshield wipers. What? Airbags in the back? There is no such thing,
Friendly discussions with co-workers yielded similar reactions. Several people claimed that Singapore is so small an island that one can never reach speeds that would lead to trouble anyway. The
Singapore Police Force's accident statistics indicate otherwise (you know I had to look it up): 8,397 people were hurt in automobile accidents in 2005, and more than 17% of all injury accidents were speed related. During the same year, 173 people died in car crashes: a mere .004% of Singapore's total population - a statistically insignificant total, unless your child, or someone you love, is one of those 173. As a side note, the main highways we travel on a regular basis have speed limits of 90 km/hour (56 miles/hour), which is plenty fast to get into trouble; and we have seen signs on all of them indicating where traffic fatalities have occurred.
As it turns out, only "luxury" cars typically come with rear airbags here in cobra country. We could get a small BMW or Volvo with all manner of protective gear, for the bargain price of $130K SGD (about $85K
USD). Fortunately, the 2006 Toyota Camry shipped to Singapore comes standard with front driver, front passenger, and rear airbags. It is way more expensive than the less safe, more mainstream vehicles that dominate the roads, but definitely cheaper than the BMW/Volvo route. I guess "reasonably priced" is relative where safety is concerned. At least it is to me. I think Greg is silently cursing me every time he makes the car payment (the one and only bill he ever pays, by the way).
But now we are so much more mobile as a family. The boys' booster seats are installed in the back, so we don't have to cart them around from taxi to taxi every time we want to leave the house. We can venture out according to our own schedules, rather than having to wait on hold with the infuriatingly slow automated taxi dispatch system, hoping that there is driver in our area willing to come pick us up in the rain.
And, as a result of our new found transportation independence, we have acquired a new hobby: aquariums, or specifically, the fish that live in them. Back in Round Rock we had a little 12-gallon tank in the boys' bedroom that was the long-time home to Rick, a goldfish. (Technically, I guess it was Rick II, as Rick the First met his untimely demise when his cute little, totally impractical one gallon tank was knocked over by little hands trying to serve fish dinner, and he was squashed by the gravel that had, only moments before, decorated the bottom of his tank.) According to the knowledgeable staff at the pet store, fish are not well-suited for global travel, so we could not bring Rick with us when we moved. Our lovely neighbor friends offered to care for him in our absence, so we moved him to their house while we packed up ours. I do not blame them at all that he was devoured by the "friend" they purchased for him just a few days after we left the continent. Our children, on the other hand, bear a bit of a grudge…
So, alas, Rick was no more; and we were pet-less in Singapore. When we asked the boys if they would like another fish tank for their bedroom, we were met with excited approval. The new tank was placed against a wall in their bedroom where it can be seen, but not touched, from the boys' beds. The night we set it up, Cameron turned off the light in his room, scooted a seat up to the new sight, and gazed at the watery depths of what must be about 20 gallons this time around. There weren't even fish in it yet. Now that is filled with critters, both boys fall asleep each night by the aquarium's soothing light.
When feeling anxious or full of stress, I found myself calmed by staring at the fish as well. So we bought another tank, the same size as the first, which I placed right next to my desk in our upstairs office area. Wanting some fish with personality, I selected two big angel fish for the work tank, and I named them Owen and Hester, after two of the main characters in John Irving's amazing book (one of my all-time favorites),
Prayer for Owen
Meany. True to their namesakes, Owen died an early death, and Hester lives on. She is my favorite fish, regardless of her actual gender, and I find myself talking to her more frequently than is probably healthy, I fear. But she is a calming presence when work duties call. Thanks to the new car, we make frequent trips out to "the fish store," all the way on Singapore's east coast, where we have now spent more money on aquarium supplies, accessories, fish, and fish food than any savings we would have potentially realized by the car purchase. At least we didn't have to take a taxi to get there.
Shannon et al.