Sale season in Singapore

Shopping is a national past time in Singapore. It is so popular, that the country celebrates a major sale twice a year. When June arrives, it is time for the Great Singapore Sale. Retailers from every industry will cut prices to encourage shoppers to spend. This year, sale season started with the Singapore Consumer Electronics Expo at Suntec city convention centre.

Spread out over three days, and hosted in one of the largest conferencing facilities in Singapore, this is one of the most popular major retail events in the season. By the time I arrived there at 2p.m., the floor was packed with shoppers looking for bargains.

They were a few very attractive deals going. The one that really caught my I was in Microsoft surface pro for that was fully speced out going for SG$2,458. That’s $400 below regular retail price. I didn’t see any drones on offer, which was a bit disappointing for me.

Last year, I picked up a robot vacuum there for about $300 less than retail price, and my DJI Osmo for $200 under retail price.

The Singapore Consumer Electronics Expo is a great opportunity for buyers to pick up a great deal. Your biggest challenge will be working your way through the crowds. If you’re in Singapore at this time, I highly recommend visiting.

Scenes from the Singapore MRT

Coming from Melbourne and living in the inner city, I’ve never really used the train system. I lived in the free tram zone and got around easily on trams whenever I commuted, or drove whenever it was a little farther off.

Life in Singapore is a bit different. For a start, a vehicle is ridiculously expensive, and perhaps somewhat impractical for an expat. But more to the point, unless you’re regularly ferrying children around town to extra curriculars or have a job that requires you to get around quickly, having a vehicle in this city is somewhat of a liability, especially given that they have such a super-efficient mass transit system.

Singapore’s MRT has six primary lines – an east-west line, a north-south line, a circle line, a north-east line, a downtown-line and an east-coast line. Trains here are as frequent as two or three minutes apart. They are generally automatically driven (they do not have train drivers) and are all underground in the inner city area (although they do surface in the outer suburbs). Platforms at the stations all have safety barriers (sometimes referred to as suicide stoppers in certain parts of the world).

The stations and the trains are impeccably clean. They do not permit eating and drinking on the train or on the railway premises. This includes water from your own water bottle. (I have witnessed a young man being ushered not to drink from his water bottle by a co-passenger – a conversation that ended without any drama). There is surprisingly little seating within the carriages, which allows for plenty of room for commuters to stand.

As the trains pull up into a station, an announcement can be heard over the PA system that sounds something like “Happy happy!” to the untrained ear. It threw me for a loop for the first few days until I realised that what they’re really saying is “Berhati hati di ruang platform” – Malay for “Please mind the gap between the platform”.

Singapore’s authorities do a lot to repeat a lot of messages that have a social impact on society. This set of posters is something that I have seen at a few MRT stations which I found very touching. They touch upon single fathers and children being raised by single parents. I feel that it is fair to say that single fathers rarely get much consideration when they take on the role of primary caregiver as well as being the breadwinner. This is the first campaign of this nature that I have personally seen anywhere in the world and got me thinking about how societies are adapting to the changing face of family structures.

Some of the messages inside the carriages are quite empathetic. This series of messages inside a train compartment on the north-south line brought a smile to my face, and gave me a sense that humanity still exists in the world. The messages touch upon being mindful, and not taking out frustrations on innocent strangers, colleagues or loved ones. Once again, I am yet to see similar messages like that anywhere else in the world. (The young man in the foreground was not aware that he was in this image. He appeared to have finished work on Friday and was either making his way home, or heading off to catch up with friends. He was busy looking at his phone when I took this shot).

The MRT does lead to some fun places. The Chinatown MRT leads to Pagoda Street and the Tintin shop. Tintin was a big part of my childhood and has remained a part of my adulthood too! The store has a changed a bit since my visit in 2013.

Smart City Solutions for the Aged

Singapore has ambitions of becoming the world’s first true smart city. This is evident from the things that one experiences in everyday life here. Its mass transit system operates off a single unified electronic ticketing system that provides feedback to its infrastructure planning department on how many people use a particular route at a particular time so that they can optimise services to ensure that its citizens have a comfortable ride. Its immigration system offer a seamless process of scanning your passport and fingerprint at electronic turnstiles for all Singaporean nationals, permanent residents and long term pass holders. All its residents are issued a national ID which is associated with all their government services.

A few nights ago, I ventured out and saw this at a crossing which really impressed the thought that has gone behind this. Singapore issues senior citizens with a concession card. Holders of these cards can swipe them against a scanner at pedestrian crossings on major roads when they push the button to cross. This triggers the system to allow a longer crossing time to allow the elderly and mobility restricted a little extra time to safely cross the road.

How’s that for empathy for people who really need it?

The Dubai Metro

Dubai epitomises a brand new city. This Emirate has experienced rapid growth in the past decade, to the extent that locals here can lose their bearings if they leave town for a few months, only to discover a new highway or two, or an entirely new high-rise under construction.

One of Dubai’s biggest additions is its automated train network which it calls its Metro. Made of two lines, the network makes it quick, cheap and easy to get across from one end of Dubai to another, and is a Godsend for tourists and locals alike. The entire network is fully automated, which means that if you’re keen, the front cabin offers an amazing view as one approaches downtown Dubai.

Dubai’s Metro is mostly elevated, though part of it runs underground. The elevated metro stations are brand new, and spotlessly clean. They’re all designed in a golden shell encasing, with overpasses across the 10 lanes of traffic across Sheikh Zayed Road granting access to trains, and providing pedestrians a means to cross the road safely.

An all-day pass on the Dubai Metro will set you back AED22 (about AUD8) which is an absolute bargain for getting around. This will give you access to the general cabin. There are Gold Class cabins which offer plus seats. I don’t know what the premium is to ride these, but the entrance to these cabins is marked out along with warning signs for the penalty for riding in these cabins without the appropriate ticket.

Dubai’s Metro also has designated cabins for women and children. These are also marked out in front of the cabin entrances. Men are not permitted into these areas, and there is a penalty if this is violated.

This might catch a tourist completely by surprise, so it’s worth noting this while trying to catch your train.

Last, but not least, there are the stations. The stations on the elevated section of the red line are all uniformly built. They have a modern design that is covered in a golden cladding that is consistent with the streetscape of Sheikh Zayed Road along which it runs.

The stations on the underground section of the Green Line are somewhat unique. I passed through two of them. Burjumun Interchange has an aquatic theme. Al Gubaiba Station is the entry point to Old Dubai and has a very traditional decor in a modern station.

The Haze

I had heard about it. I had read about it. I had never really seen or experienced it myself. One of the reasons that I chose to move to Singapore as a destination in Asia was because it offered a generally clean and unpolluted atmosphere. Every year, that changes for a few weeks when there are crop fields set ablaze in Indonesia.

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Visiting Japan Part 1: What you need to know

This is the first in a series of articles about travelling to Japan. I had originally planned to write up a single article, but realised very quickly that it was going to become quite large, and that it made sense to break it down into smaller chunks.

When I moved to Singapore in 2016, it put me closer to a range of Asian destinations that had been on my bucket list for ages. At the top of that list was Japan. As a child of the 80s who grew up in the UK, I’d been raised with my fair share of travellers’ tales that would make any make child want to experience Japan for themselves. In the fall of 2016, I finally made my trip there. I took a week off to visit Tokyo and Kyoto.

I was fortunate that I had some help planning this trip, both from co-workers who worked with me in Singapore, and an old friend who lives in Tokyo who was happy give me some advice to guide me.

Before I go much further on, I will say that Japan will capture your admiration. Their society has evolved over centuries of traditional values that are intertwined with a modern way of life. By the time I had finished my trip and was in the departure lounge at Haneda airport, I was already making plans of returning.

My 7-day itinerary involved three days in Tokyo, followed by three days in Kyoto before flying out of Tokyo. In hindsight, I would do a few things differently the next time I visit. These are my recommendations.

Groundwork

Before flying out, one should consider a couple of things that will help make your trip simpler.

Consider where you’re flying into when arriving in Tokyo.

Tokyo is a major destination in Asia and is served by multiple airlines from all around the world. It takes about 7 hours to fly from Singapore direct. Tokyo has two airports – Narita and Haneda. Edokkos (residents of Tokyo) will tell you that Narita is not in Tokyo. This is very true. Narita airport is a good two hours from Shinjuku Station in Central Tokyo by express train. You could hire a cab which will take you the better part of four hours to get into central Tokyo and about AU$200 in cab fare. If you’re visiting Tokyo, plan to fly into Haneda.

Now, I had flown into Narita, and I made the two-hour train ride, which is quite nice… but it’s another two hours of travel after an eight-hour flight, and essentially, two hours of your holiday that you could otherwise spend resting, or sightseeing.

Consider the need to get a Japan Rail Pass

Tourists to Japan have the option of purchasing a week, 15-day, or month-long Japan Rail pass that will provide unlimited access to all JR Train Stations during their period of validity. They also give you unlimited access to the Shinkansen Bullet Trains.

Japan has multiple rail companies who have different stations along different lines. The JR Pass will not get you into stations that are not run by JR. You can purchase the JR Rail Pass at their official website. They will deliver this to addresses in multiple countries.

Now, if you only plan to be in Tokyo and Kyoto, and plan on a round trip on the Shinkansen to Kyoto, the JR Weekly Pass does not make good value. You’re better off purchasing tickets at the stations as and when you travel. However, if you’re planning on doing more than two day trips to surrounding areas from Tokyo on the Shinkansen, the passes definitely make sense.

Internet Connectivity

Get a SIM card or a data device. If you are travelling from Singapore, you might choose to go with a portable Wifi Router from Changi through Changi Recommends. Alternatively, you could get a data SIM card from the Japan Rail Pass site.

I had opted to get a data-only SIM from b-Mobile. They offer a 5GB data-only SIM with 21-days validity for JPY3,480 (about AU$40) which you can order online and have delivered to your hotel, pick up at 7 major airports in Japan, or have delivered to your home address prior to your departure.

Visas

Japan is part of the visa waiver program, and allows tourists a 30-day stay, and then the opportunity to extend further if leaving temporarily. Eligibility varies for nationals of various countries, and is worth checking prior to travelling. In the past, I have used VisasDirect to run a check for visa waiver/visa-on-arrival eligibility.

Peak Seasons

Japan is a destination that appeals to visitors all year round, but there are two peak seasons which draw tourists more than any other time. The most popular season is in the Japanese Spring between March and April every year – the famed cherry blossom season. In reality, one can wait for decades to see the perfect cherry blossom. When the trees are in full bloom, they are susceptible to the weather, and in the event of strong winds, they may only last for a few days.

The other peak season is in the autumn, when the leaves turn red.

For both these seasons, book well in advance. Hotels tend to fill up quickly, and prices can jump by 5% every week as the season grows closer. Plan to have flights and hotels locked in three months in advance.

The Japanese summer can be very hot and humid. This is generally when tourists tend to visit other destinations. The winter season brings ski and snow sports enthusiasts to Hokkaido.

Destinations

Japan offers a range of destinations. I had originally planned on writing this as a single article, but realised that it would become too busy, cumbersome and overwhelming to read if I put everything in here together. The following are articles on destinations in Japan that I have been to:

I would also recommend watching my time-lapse short films from both Tokyo, and Kyoto.

The accounts in this article are compiled from my own experiences from trips that I paid for myself. This post has not been sponsored – be it by any individual, commercial entity, or any other organisation. The opinions reflected herein are strictly my own.

Visiting Japan Part 2: Tokyo

Tokyo is a city that needs no introduction. As a nation, Japan is a country of contrasts and harmony; a technologically advanced nation that is built on centuries of tradition. It is one of the most densely populated nations in the world. In spite of this, it’s centuries of tradition have developed into a code of conduct that has allowed the Japanese to live in harmony among one another while competing for resources with limited space.
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Visiting the South Island of New Zealand

New Zealand offers photographers an immense number of photographic opportunities to capture nature at its finest. These are just a few destinations which will offer a great experience. I’ve visited the South Island of New Zealand twice – in 2009 for 9 days, and in 2015 for 10. During both trips, I had rented a car, and driven a route that I had planned ahead of time. I would go back in a heartbeat!
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