Thursday, December 13, 2007

Golf Hazards

I'm baaack! Did you miss me? I didn't think so. Oh,'s my blog.

I played a quick 9-holes of golf today at one of the few public courses in Singapore, Green Fairways. It's a par 33 and the price is OK (for Singapore that is) at $42 SGD. The course is in a bit of rough shape but it's playable and all I was looking for today was to hit a few balls and get a bit of exercise.

Well, I got my exercise alright, the fairway is a roller coaster ride! Every single hole had an elevation difference from tee-box to green of 100 or so meters. Some fairways were just a straight incline but most of them formed a valley. So, it'll be a steep walk down from the tee-box and then back up as you get closer to the green. Most holes were around 250m long so if my trigonometry is correct that's a 20 degree pitch on average. With a temperature of 30 celsius and 90% humidity, I definitely had my workout for the day.

Having most of my fairway shots lie on an incline or decline is bad enough but there were monkeys to contend with as well. I kid you not. See for yourself with this pic I took with my camera phone.

I was pretty amused at first to see a monkey at the tee-box so I walked right up to him (it?) to get a good picture. But then he started to hiss and claw at me and it dawned on me that this little guy is a wild animal. Who knows what kind of disease he might be carrying. Thoughts of Ebola entered my mind but that's pretty silly if I think about it now. We're in Singapore, not Congo, after all.

There were 3 or 4 monkeys hanging around the bushes but I didn't encounter anymore after that first sighting. Instead, I had this hazard to worry about.

I didn't actually see any snakes but the sign was enough to add a few strokes to my game. A couple of my shots entered the edge of the woods. Normally, I'd go in, find my ball and save myself a penalty stroke. Not today. Those snakes can have my ball. Hopefully, they won't confuse it for an egg and try to hatch it.

With dangers like heat exhaustion, hemorrhagic fever and venomous snakes lurking about, doing Tai Chi in the park with the seniors doesn't sound like a bad idea.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Check Out ExpatExpense

Excuse #......
I guess it's been a while since my last blog. So, what's my excuse this time? None really, just Martin and Oliver keeping me on my toes. Surprisingly, even with a full-time housekeeper around, I find myself busier than ever. You know it's bad when that new Nike Sasquatch driver I bought over two months ago haven't even been near a tee box. It's a good kind of busy though being able to spend as much time as I do with my two boys and Jill while she's on her mat leave.

Shameless Plug
So, aside from changing diapers, wiping snotty noses and building train tracks for Thomas to run on, I've been developing a new website called ExpatExpense. It's a web-based tool that help expats such as myself figure out how much things cost in other cities. It's still in development so there are some broken links and not all the information has been filled or verified. But, I thought I'd let whoever stumbles onto this blog have a test run at it. Go to and enter oliver/martin for the user id/password. Give it a try and let me know what you think of it. Any feedback will be much appreciated.

Picture Time
Here are a couple of pictures of us. I particularly like the one of me, Oliver and Martin. We just need to airbrush Jill into it. You can also go to for our new photo gallery. It doesn't have all the pictures from our old site since uploading all of them to my new hosted server takes freakin' forever. Singapore is a pretty wired country but Internet speed is ridiculously slow when accessing a server that is not within Singapore. Sure, I expect a bit of a slow down when downloading something from North America but 200 kbps on average? Come on, I can type faster. Anyways, before I get too worked up. here are the picture.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It's A Boy!!!

I'm very happy to announce the birth of our second child, Martin Daniel, who was born today, Wednesday, August 15, 2007. Both Jill and Martin are doing great and Oliver and I are anxiously waiting for their arrival home on Friday.

4am Wakeup
Jill started feeling contractions around 4 am this morning and 90 minutes later at 5:43 am Martin introduced himself to the world with a nice, healthy cry. He was a "quick" baby, exhibiting the same patience traits as his mom. If Jill had a faster labour, I'd probably be the one delivering, yikes!

Oliver took about 5 hours from start of contractions to birth. Martin took 90 minutes. If we have a third kid, Jill's camping out at the hospital from week 37 onwards.

Key Stats
Martin weighed 3.63 Kg (8.0 lb) and measured 52 cm (20.5"), slightly heavier and longer than Oliver at birth. Good thing 'cause Oliver already have a 2.5 years size advantage over him. They're brothers, so you know there's going to be some flexing of muscles between the two.

Martin was born at Mount Elizabeth Hospital (and thankfully not in the back seat of our car) in Singapore at 5:43 am local time on Wednesday, August 15th, 2007. That's tomorrow for you guys in North America.

And no, he will not be a Singapore citizen since neither his mom or I are Singaporean. He will automatically be a Canadian citizen, just like his big brother who was born in The Bahamas.

Martin, meet Oliver; Oliver, meet Martin
Jill and I had Martin's name picked out months ago. We based our decision on how "nice" Martin and Daniel sounded together with his last name. After settling on this name, we found out the definition for Martin is "Servant of Mars, the God of War". Oliver's name, on the other hand, means "olive tree" and the olive branch, of course, represents peace. Hmmm...the next 18 years or so should be interesting.

And, Finally, The Pics
We don't have the website up these days 'cause our ISP here in Singapore don't allow residential customers to host their own websites. But, not to worry, I am looking at a hosted solution where we can put up lot's of pictures of Martin (and Oliver) for all to see, especially Grandma. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of Martin.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

All About Cars and Driving In Singapore

I realize it's been weeks since my last blog and I bet some of you were wondering "Did Joe get bored of blogging already?" No, I didn't get bored, I had a cold for a few days, then our shipment of stuff came in, then Oliver got sick, then I had a fever, yada, yada, yada...Anyways, things are starting to get back to normal so let the nattering resume.

First off, I want to thank everyone who's been posting replies to my blog and to the many people who emailed me. It was great hearing from all of you. OK, on to one of my favorite subjects, driving.

Prior to coming to Singapore, we toyed with the idea of not owning a car. Singapore has an excellent subway (MRT) system, taxis are cheap and we knew we can afford a location that would be central to everything. So, what happened? We bought a car. Why? Because we're North American sloths who can't get our lazy ass to walk 100m to Starbucks to get our soy-milk latte and passion fruit chai tea. OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration because I drink whole milk latte and Jill likes English breakfast tea.

Seriously though, our car has been very handy and I don't regret paying three times the price of a similar car in North America. Yes, you heard right, 3 times (gasp!) more expensive. More on that next. We bought a Honda Edix (FRV in Europe) and it's a great little car. It's classified as a compact MPV (compact minivan in North American speak) and it can seat six people, 3 up front and 3 in back. Or, as my friend from Austin, Texas would say "it can seat six people in red-neck configuration, boy-girl-boy". In our case, we'll have two car seats in the back and 3 adults up front (maid, Jill and Joe) with plenty of space in the boot to hold strollers and nappy bags. And the best thing about the Edix is it doesn't look like a minivan.

Buying A Car
Bottom line is you gotta have $$$ to own a car in Singapore. It's truly a luxury item, unless you're a cabbie. A few things drive the price of the car up. (1) Import tax and registration, 150% of open market value (OMV) (2) certificate of entitlement (COE) which is currently around $15,000 to $20,000 and (3) shipping which is probably a few thousand since every car is an import.

I'm not exactly sure what OMV is but I suspect it means the value of the car if purchased from the manufacturer exclusive of taxes and duty. Whatever it is, it's freakin' huge at 150%.

To limit the number of cars in Singapore, the government issues a set number of COEs (certificates of entitlement) and hold auctions twice a month. So, the price fluctuates depending on demand. You must have a COE before you can purchase your car and it's good for 10 years. Right now, a category B (1,600 cc or larger engine) COE is around $19,000. Prices for COE will rise and fall over time. Last year around this time it was around $12,000 and I have heard of stories where the COE was close to $100,000, Yikes!

Then, there's shipping from whatever the car is manufactured which I'm sure adds another few thousand to the equation.

So, for something like a Honda Civic which sells for $20,000 USD in the States will cost around $80-85K SDG (or around $55,000 USD). Man, I could get a Bimmer in North America for that price.

Aside from the upfront cost of owning a car, there's also road tax, fees for certain roads during peak period, parking fees basically everywhere even malls, and high fuel prices.

Enough about costs. I'm starting to rethink the wisdom of our purchase.

Driving is pretty straight forward here except for navigating. You really have to know exactly where you're going, right down to the lane where you belong in. For example, when driving on the expressway, slow and cruising traffic should stick to the left lane (since we're a left-handed system here), pretty basic stuff. The problem is there is often very short notice (i.e. less than 500m) on mandatory left exit lanes and you're forced to quickly switch a lane to the right. Sometimes the two leftmost lanes are exit lanes and then you're really screwed and have to exit. Similarly, on city streets, you're forced to make turns because the lane direction changes on you before you know it.

Then, there is this little problem with two intersecting expressways here. Let's call them Expressway A and B. If I traveled northbound on A, I cannot get on the westbound lane of B. Nor is it possible for me to go southbound on A if I'm traveling eastbound on B. The odd thing is, there are exits and on ramps and cloverleafs to get in every other direction but those two. If any drivers from Singapore is reading this post, please let me know why this is the case. The two expressways I'm referring to are the CTE (A) and the PIE (B).

Yes, parking warrants it's own little section in my writeup. Everybody here reverses into a parking spot and I mean everybody. 99 drivers out of 100 will reverse park. The sole driver who forward parks is probably an expat. Personally, I find it a little odd that people are that anal about parking. I thought I was the only one. Now, there have been statistics that suggests reversing into a spot is safer than driving forward into one. Maybe that's why the life expectancy in Singapore is so high.

The other thing that's interesting about parking here is the parking lots are SO clean. You can have open chest surgery in one of these lots. I guess all the parking attendants whose job has been replaced by automated payment systems are now cleaning up skid marks and oil spills off the floor. The only bad thing about lots being so clean is a mark-free pillar that is the same color as the wall behind it is sometimes hard to see while reversing....Crash! Oops!

The drivers in Singapore are generally pretty good. A little aggressive but that's how I like my driving. They're aggressive in that they'll merge into your lane with the bumpers literaly touching one another. It's that whole small space thing. Drivers here don't tend to speed as much as say in Toronto. I recall Toronto drivers routinely doing 120-130 km on a city expressway where the posted limit is 90 km. You don't see that here. In fact, what's really annoying is you have drivers who drive 20 km LESS than the maximum. Amazing, I can't understand why everyone isn't in a rush like I am. One really good thing about drivers in Singapore versus drivers in The Bahamas is they're not sloppy. Man, that really got my goat living in The Bahamas. What do I mean by sloppy driving? No turn signals, can't stay within their lane, wide turns, burnt out lights that obviously been burnt out for a while, excessively slow driving, drinking and driving, etc. You get the picture.

Speaking of drinking and driving, the enforcement of it is very good in Singapore. One year automatic suspension of your license if you're caught. Here, Here!! What Singapore could improve on though is their enforcement of child car seat use. To be honest, I was kind of shocked to see so many kids unbuckled in a car. We're talking about people driving Mercedes and BMWs who don't have their kids bucked up. Come on people, if you can afford a $100,000+ car, surely you can afford a $200 child seat. Unfortunately, it's not an issue of money for these people but pure ignorance. Let's hope they learn from a huge fine and not the worser alternative.

Well, on that happy note, I think I'll end it here. Drive safe.



Monday, June 18, 2007

Father's Day Pics

Yesterday was Father's Day and Oliver presented me with a awesome "shirt". He made it at daycare with just a little help from his teachers. I think it looks great, I just need to lose a few pounds to fit into it.

Here's a shot of him holding it.

And a picture of the two of us.

Of course, we don't want to make Jill feel left out so here's a picture of her at around 30 weeks.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Thoughts On Singapore

It's been over a month since arriving in Singapore so I guess I can start giving my 2-cents worth of the place. Three things leap to mind: the humidity, the efficiency and great food to be had for very cheap.

It's The Humidity!!!
Let me tell ya, it is hot here. But it's not the temperature, it's the humidity! The temperature is usually around 30 Celsius which is no big deal having lived in Nassau for 4 years but with humidity hovering around 85%, 30 degrees starts to feel like 40. I don't think there's been a day yet where my shirt stayed completely dry. I walk Oliver to school around 8:30am and within 100m from the house I'm starting to drip. Of course, Oliver insisting on being carried doesn't help. Or, perhaps this is a sign I should start losing some weight. Anyways, I haven't felt this hot since entering a male bikini contest back in college...

What Do You Mean It's Ready?
"Things work really well here especially the government." Well, that felt weird to say. You Bahamians and Canadians will know what I mean. But it's true, things do work well here. Take taxis for example. When I called a cab for the first time, they registered my telephone number and my pickup location. The next time I called, I'm routed to an automated system, punched "1" for my last pickup spot and received a vehicle confirmation number. The whole process took 30 seconds and a taxi was at my door in under 8 minutes.

I called the city's utility department to get hooked up for electricity and gas. They showed up within the hour and a half they said they would, it took all of 2 business days to process and they SMS'ed me a reminder the night before. Same thing with over half a dozen furniture deliveries and service calls we've had. They gave me a fairly narrow window of time (ie. 2hrs) and they showed up just like they promised. I don't know, maybe we lived in The Bahamas too long but is this common practice elsewhere in the world?

Every car here is outfitted with a CashCard reader. You buy a CashCard at any gas station, transfer some funds into it from your local ATM and stick it into this reader before driving off. When you enter a parking lot, there is a system that automatically tracks your arrival and departure and debit the parking charges from your CashCard. It's brilliant. No more waiting for moronic drivers ahead of you counting $5 worth of pennies. Now, there are just moronic drivers who forget to top off their CashCard before driving up to the barrier. These CashCards are also used to charge motorists driving into the core business district during peak hours. If you have insufficient funds in your CashCard, a fine is automatically issued to the owner of the car. Talk about efficient. Sure it's a bit big-brother'ish but if you're not doing anything wrong....

OK, one more efficiency story than on to the next topic. We're hiring a live-in "domestic help" because they're cheap and because I'm a lazy s.o.b. The government enforces a number of rules to help protect the welfare and safety of these ladies which is a good thing considering the horror stories you read about in the papers sometimes. They have an excellent website detailing the whole hiring process and they have an online course(!) on how to treat your domestic helper that you have to register for and complete before you can hire someone. Wow, what government give that much care to a lowly-paid foreign worker?

Brother, can you spare a dime....
Food is so cheap (and good) in Singapore, you don't need to go begging. $3.50 SGD (which is about $2.25 USD) will get me a bowl of rice with roast duck, some Chinese greens and a bowl of soup. And that's not just one place, that's everywhere. Every mall has a food court representing at least half a dozen different Asian cuisines. Food is so cheap here that most people eat out rather than cook at home. We haven't caught on to that custom yet since Oliver's not that keen on sitting in a different high chair every night. We have, however, started a little family tradition on Fridays where we go to this food court next to a construction site and Oliver gets to watch all the heavy machines at work while Jill and I get to enjoy a meal in peace.

That's it for now. Stay tuned for my future blog titled "Singapore - The Honeymoon Is Over".

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Let's All Scrapbook!

Here's a great scrapbook layout my sister, Paulina, did of Oliver. If you're interested in scrapbooking, check out her blog at

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Farewell Bahamas, Hello Singapore!

In case you haven't heard, Jill, Oliver and I have left The Bahamas and are now living in Singapore. We left The Bahamas at the end of April, spent a few weeks in Canada and have been in Singapore for just a bit over a month now. I am truly sorry for not doing a better job at keeping some of you informed. But it's been an incredibly busy few months closing up shop in Nassau and getting settled in Singapore.

Let's review what's been going on with our life:

Jill got an offer from a friend back in February to work in Singapore. They had some negotiations, we discussed it as a family and she decided to accept in early March. Since then, it's been full speed ahead with moving.

Leaving The Bahamas was sad for us. We enjoyed four wonderful years there. The people were nice, the weather was great and Oliver was born there. The Bahamas will always have a special place in our heart. But, opportunity was knocking at our door...

So, we left Nassau on April 22nd after some tearful good byes with our friends, spent two weeks in Winnipeg, Toronto and Waterloo visiting friends and family (sorry we didn't see all of you as our schedule really didn't allow much time to visit) and made it to Singapore on May 5th.

Since arriving in Singapore, we've really put on the afterburners and got a lot accomplished. We now have a permanent residence, bought a car, got some furniture, enrolled Oliver in daycare, opened up bank accounts, telephone accounts, etc. and found Jill an obgyn. Yep, we're expecting a baby in August!! That kind of added to the mad rush from Nassau to Singapore. We don't know the sex of the baby yet. The expected date is August 22nd. Jill and baby (fetus?) are doing fine.

Oliver has been really great during this whole transition. It's been over 2 months since the movers took our stuff from Nassau and it's not until the end of June when they'll be arriving. So, it will be 3 months that Oliver have been without most of his toys. We've discovered an amazing thing that kids don't really need a whole lot of toys to keep themselves entertained. Just one suitcase full of toys is enough for Oliver this whole time. I'll need to remember that come Christmas.

We enrolled Oliver in a daycare. Here's a picture of him in his uniform.

He's attending it full time from 9am to 5pm. He seems to be enjoying it although there are days when he refuses to go. It seems to coincide with days where he wakes up in the middle of the night from a wet diaper. The diapers here seems to be a bit smaller than those in North America so he's been wetting his bed a lot lately. Hmmm, sorry Oliver, we'll try not to tell this story on your wedding night.

Our new place is very nice. It's a 4 bedroom, 2,500 sq.ft. townhouse in a very nice area of town. It is a 10 minutes walk to Oliver's daycare and to the MRT (subway) station for Jill to get to work. It's a small complex so we've been finding it easy to meet people here. We live near the Novena MRT for those of you tracking using Google Map. I'll send an email with our contact info since I don't want to publicly disclose all that kind of stuff on this blog.

Jill is enjoying her new work. It's something different (but still actuarial related) and there's lots to learn with the Asian market. It is definitely a good career move for her coming here. We hear people can work very long hours in Singapore. So, we're hoping this job will not be like that and she can still maintain a good balance between work and home.

As for me, I've been looking after most of the move from organizing the movers, arranging our flights, selling old stuff in Nassau, buying up new stuff in Singapore, finding a place to live and so on. It's about 3 months since we started the move process and the only thing now is waiting for our shipment to arrive (which is beyond my control). Not bad if I can say so myself for moving half way around the world so fast.

Now that we're all settled into a regular routine the baby can arrive and mess it all up again :)

That's it for now while I think of something else to write up. Cheers.

My First Post

Those who know me well know I love anything related to technology. So, you may be surprised to learn this is my very first blog. Yep, I'm finally jumping on the band-wagon. I never really felt I had that much to say but I thought a blog would be a good way for all our friends to stay in touch and be connected with us.

Generally, I'll be writing about things going on with our family, our travels, etc. Maybe I'll rant about the poor customer service I received the other day or rave about my new Canon MP530 Printer/Scanner/Fax all-in-one. I'll try to write on a regular basis ie. once a week, maybe more but more likely less knowing myself. I encourage you to post replies as that'll likely get me going with more posts.

Anyways, enjoy the posts and feel free to nominate me for a Pulitzer if you feel a write up is especially good.