One of the best ways to understand the way of life in Singapore is to spend half a day in a housing estate. Housing estates are self-contained each with a wet market, minimart, hair salon, coffee shops, a hawker centre, hardware stores, clinics, schools, police post – you name it! You don’t have to head too far out to get everything you need in a housing estate – most people just have to take the lift down, cross a road to get to all these facilities or at the most, take a 5 bus-stop ride. That’s why you would see some people dressed in just their PJs hanging around in the neighbourhood. 😛
1. Hawker centres and coffee shops
These are the best places to get food. The food taste great and there are so many choices that if you eat from one stall a day, it would take you more than 2 months to try everything just dining within one housing estate. Oh yes, coffee shops here are unlike cafes (think Starbucks). Coffee shops here are not air-conditioned. If you sit one here and blend in with the locals, your hair and clothes will smell like you have been in a kitchen doing some heavy frying. But here, just $3 can get you a filling and satisfying meal. People in Singapore are eating out more nowadays to avoid the hassle of cooking and cleaning up. Before you visit, you have to know the lingo and practices at hawker centres and coffee shops, read this!
2. Hair salons
There is no need to fix an appointment at a hair salon at a high end shopping centre. The hair stylists and barbers that operate at housing estates more often than not have at least 10 years of hair(y) cutting and styling experience. For ladies, you pay just $12-$20 for a decent haircut (compared to about $35 at a shopping centre). The prices for a hair wash, perm or colour are much less too. Business is best during the weekends and you’ll see every seat occupied at the salons and barbers.
Watch Elyn getting her hair washed here.
3. Wet markets, supermarkets and minimarts
You can get the freshest foods from wet markets – any fresher, you can head to the wholesale markets (Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre for fruits and vegetables, and Jurong Port for seafood). They are non-airconditioned, but there is a friendly atmosphere, since most residents have been buying at their estate’s wet market for as long as most sellers have been doing business there. You can make requests to the sellers, for example, pointing to a less fatty piece of meat and getting them to mince it for you, or getting them to help cut a whole fish into pieces. If you’re lucky, you might get 2 or 3 more prawns, or an extra carrot thrown in. Nowadays though, huge supermarkets sprouting up at housing estates. Since the wet markets are only operational in the mornings till early afternoon (they are closed on Mondays too), many people shop for groceries at supermarkets too. Watch us visit a wet market here.
The minimarts are epic. Some have been there for a long time – you can tell from the signage (wooden and engraved with Chinese words) and the flooring in the shop. Some have been around since the 60s. It’s actually pretty sad that they are being phased out gradually though because of supermarkets or convenience stores.
You can usually find one or 2 playgrounds in the neighbourhood for kids. They have evolved from sand pit playgrounds with just a single concrete slide to plastic furniture playgrounds with synthetic flooring. Nonetheless kids in the neighbourhood gather to play especially in the evenings (if they are not on their iPads). A sandpit playground from the old days which has been preserved is at Toa Payoh Lorong 6.
Photo source: Today Online
5. Hardware stores
These are the DIY stores where you can get everything from paint to pails to locks. Most have been in the neighbourhood for a long time so the shops are cluttered from ceiling to floor, and the wares flood to take up space outside the shop too. To make things easier for yourself, just tell the shopkeeper what you are looking for and he will tell you where in the shop you can find it. Prices too are much better than in DIY stores in shopping malls.
6. Drying clothes with the natural breeze
This must be one of the trademarks of Singapore. Who needs a clothes dryer when it’s summer all year round and since housing is built upwards, why not let the natural breeze do the drying? It’s interesting to see an array of clothes, and underwear, pegged to coloured bamboo poles and dangling back and forth with the wind. You can get bamboo poles from neighbourhood hardware stores and they can even saw the long poles if they are too long for your house. There are support stands from the ceiling inside the housing unit’s kitchen/wash area to hold the bamboo poles if it rains too. To do this, you need to purchase a shorter stick with plastic hooks the prop the bamboo poles towards the ceiling stands. 🙂
7. Emergencies and stuff
More often than not, you can find more than 2 clinics in one neighbourhood, a dentist and a police post at some. At larger estates there would be a poly clinic (government subsidised) and public library. For neighbourhoods built around an MRT station, you would find more amenities, like a money changer, a pawn shop, a Chinese medical hall, a dentist and a sports stadium with gym and badminton court facilities. O yes, and a bus terminal and shopping centre too.
Tiong Bahru Estate (83 Seng Poh Road: Take the MRT and alight at Tiong Bahru station, then walk 400m to Tiong Bahru Market)
Toa Payoh Wet Market (127 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh: Take the MRT and alight at Toa Payoh station, then take bus# 141, 231 from the bus interchange and alight 3 stops later)
Marine Parade Central (84 Marine Parade Central: Take the MRT to Paya Lebar MRT station, then take bus# 43, 76, 197, 135 and alight at Parkway Parade shopping centre 6 stops later)
*Tip! Visit in the mornings, have a local breakfast there, and avoid Mondays as the wet markets would be closed. Try visiting on a weekend to soak in the atmosphere.