Singapore Shopping – The Remora Effect

Any, and yes I really mean ANY, magazine, tour book, guide, newspaper, and especially the touristy maps will identify Singapore as a shopping mecca. This is the spot in the ASEAN region to shop!  ASEAN = Association of Southeast Asian Nations.  You will find a shopping center at every subway stop. On Orchard Road, easily the Beverly Hills of Singapore shopping, you can find multiple Hermes, LV, and Chanel stores within blocks of each other. The malls do their best to one up each other on glamour and glitz. Bright lights. Big Screens. More food. Cleaner bathrooms.  (No, they don’t advertise that but I know which are better). At night it appears to rival the Las Vegas strip, or some of my PS3 games, for who’s display can cause the most seizures as the public passed by.

You can read about shopping on any number of blogs therefore I won’t delve much into it here except for the Remora effect. But before that, I do have to mention I am not sure why this is the shopping mecca. Prices even after the exchange rate are often higher than the U.S. by at least 25%! Our iPhone is one of the best cost-savings tools we own. We use it to find the same goods online in the U.S., figure out the conversion and tax differences, and often say “What the hell! Are you crazy?” Then we leave without a purchase. Hence, a very valuable cost savings tool. I recommend it highly.

Another cost-savings tool is the Remora effect. “Huh? What is that?” Have you ever seen Shark Week on the Discovery channel and noticed those small fish attached to the shark? Those suckerfish are called Remora. How does this relate to shopping?

When you walk into the majority of stores here, a salesperson will immediately come over and ask if they can assist you. “I am just looking” is not a sufficient answer if you have issues watching someone become befuddled. Don’t you want to buy a pretty bauble? You can say that you are wandering and begin to browse. The salesperson will follow you, often within striking distance for a good shot to the face. In the U.S., it is almost the opposite. You’re lucky if you can find a salesperson not busy fixing their nails or looking out into space wondering how to get out from the bright-light trap that is the makeup counter at Nordstrom (I shop with my wife by the way, so no I do not go there on my own! My shopping is usually a 5-minute in-out experience even as a Guy Tai).

Here the Remora clerk really will follow you every step of the way. What is strange is when you start to turn around, they will move quickly to the side but you can always notice something lingering in your peripheral vision. They don’t leave! After a while, you start to get used to this effect. Where it becomes painful is when you want to have a purchase discussion about “should we or shouldn’t we” with your significant other. It is uncomfortable standing there and saying “didn’t we see these sheets somewhere else for less?” or “Do we need another dung beetle paperweight?” while the clerk is hovering. You often want some privacy.

When you have this feeling, you can tell them, ideally with a smile, you’d like them to go elsewhere while you have this short discourse with your ‘money-manager’. Often, they will retreat a few meters but they still lurk ready to pounce. And heaven forbid you make eye contact! All in all, shopping here is a sport. It is great for people watching and you’ll realize the entire country is in the malls on the weekend. Keep in mind aircon (air-conditioning) is free and many young people live at home into their early thirties (has to do with age and marital status rules for buying homes here – another topic). Therefore the only place to escape is…The Mall. Think South Coast Plaza at Christmas but all year round. It also helps that most people take the MRT or bus, therefore parking is not an issue for them or us. This makes it even easier to pack them in.

When you decide to come here for shopping, watch for the Remora. Tell me I am wrong. Please don’t hurt them! Good luck!

Just another Billionaire?

Here is our story of the day, or week, or month. As we were walking back from the Bollywood class (I tried it for YAW), there was a man in front of our building who I met when he and his family (entourage, friends, etc.) viewed our apartment last month. I did not know Raj, that is his name, has a personal net worth of $1.5 Billion and his real estate assets are over $3 Billion. This officially makes him the wealthiest man we have ever met. Congrats Raj! We wondered who had the very nice black Rolls Royce with a driver standing by.

See, our apartment is up for sale and therefore I occasionally have to give tours, being the homemaker that I am, to potential buyers. We figure most look at it as an investment property.  Evidently they have not read my blogs on the noisy neighbor and shoddy construction. Wait until I write about the light bulbs!

I remembered when Raj and his group were here, he was one of the friendliest people to come through. He also mentioned he was going to Los Angeles this year to look at property. Being that I am from L.A., we chatted most of the time he was in the apartment. This was rare for most walk throughs. I mentioned YAW was here working with one of the big Singapore banks. At the time, I thought he was just another average investor. I had no clue to his history.

Today, I saw he remembered me therefore I stopped and introduced YAW.  Raj Kumar Hiranandani introduced himself to YAW. As we chatted about him visiting our building again to look at other units, he mentioned he just got back from Europe after looking at the ‘Marriott portfolio’. Since we didn’t know anything about him yet, we didn’t know what it meant. He said he is still planning a trip to LA at the end of October but is spending time now picking up additional properties in Singapore. By now I am thinking “How many properties does this guy have?” There must be something I am missing.

As we were talking, he looked at YAW and remembered she was the one working with the large bank here, calling it by the actual name! He had not met her previously but remembered that part of our conversation from his tour a month before. That was very impressive and really cool. YAW was instantly wondering “who is this guy?”.

Of course, we then parted ways. Once YAW and I got back upstairs, I hopped in the shower and figured YAW was having some water. As soon as I got out, I heard “Come here!” What do you think YAW was doing? Yes, of course she immediately went on Google! Turns out Raj, chairman of the Royal Brothers Group, is the 11th wealthiest man in Singapore. He also owns a few hotels including some Marriotts (now we get it!) and some shopping centers here in the Lion City. I think by now we weren’t super surprised but the fact he took the time to chat with us and remember her banking customer by name was so impressive that we wanted to blog it. He was so down to earth – something you may not believe until you meet him.

In case you are wondering: http://www.forbes.com/profile/raj-kumar/ and http://prestige-singapore.com.sg/2012/06/machismo-royale

For some reason, we don’t think this is true of Donald Trump. Maybe because we have seen him say “You’re fired” too many times.

Happy Saturday. Time to go shopping at Orchard Road. Look out Tods, here we come.

 

Pure Fitness, Subway (MRT), Light bulbs, and Dreams – End of Week 12

At the beginning of this week, I started a 7-day pass for one of the gyms nearby. Pure Fitness has a new 32,000 sq. ft. facility about a 10-minute walk at Asia Square. It would be a 4-minute walk if it weren’t for the construction of a new downtown line subway (MRT) station being built between us and the Asia Square (Citibank) complex. I don’t even know if the new MRT station will be done while we still live here but if it is, it will be a 3-minute walk to that one! Cool.

Today was my 4th experience at the gym, as I took a day off in-between, and I have to say it is one of the nicest gyms I have been too. Granted, my experience is a local Bally’s or 24-hour fitness. I think, if I had ventured to SportsClub LA or the one in Irvine, it would be closer to this. The first day I showed up to try a kickboxing class around 1:00 PM on a Monday afternoon. I was smart to do so right after the UK and Aussies were going back to work. This gym is in the heart of the financial district. I won’t say anymore about that.

As I walked in wearing my gym clothes consisting of some gray shorts and a white t-shirt which says “Think Differently” on the back (a few people might get that!), the first thing I noticed was everyone was in black. Black T and black shorts. They all matched. Luckily not black socks. Black socks and white sneakers always make me think a 290 registrant (think Megan’s law). If their heads had been shaved, I would have thought I was back in boot camp but I know we wore blue.

It seemed a little strange to me coming from gyms where you were lucky if the person next to you didn’t have brown stains under their armpits or holes in their shorts. There were a few exceptions at Pure Fitness but for the most part everyone was similar. Now I know why bright orange or blind-me yellow sneakers are so popular here. They need a little color with their uniforms. Once I walked to the locker room (they give you a key when you check in), I immediately noticed the shelves held different sizes of black Ts and shorts. Now I get it. I thought maybe as a gift for joining a gym with fees around S$150 per month, they gave you a pair of shorts or two! I put on a black t, kept my gray shorts (for the rebel Ang Mo that I am), and proceeded to class.

Before you completely freak out about wearing the shirts and shorts, I worked in a hospital before this where the surgery teams all wore the same scrubs. These were also on shelves as you walked into the respective locker rooms. I was lucky enough to watch a few surgeries over the course of a few weeks and therefore I had to wear the scrubs. The scrubs are sent out to a laundry service, much like the t-shirts here, therefore I don’t really see it as an issue. Granted, the shorts I do see as an issue actually so I may meet you in the middle on that freak out. I think it a great idea, this color matching of clothes. As Stephen Colbert might say, I don’t see race. Plus, if you come from work and have to go back, suckers, then you just need your tennies. They even supply cold washcloths you might need before you pass out from exertion in a class. I admit I looked like a beet and needed one of those. There is no overt showing off of clothing styles (except the girl in the pink…well I am not really sure legally they could be called shorts) and this makes it much less of a meat market like the gyms in the U.S. That is a good thing (Hi honey!).

Over the past week, I took the kickboxing class and today a TRX class. You would have to look the TRX up but basically there are two straps hanging from the ceiling that allow you to work out, mainly while leaning very forward or back, in a way to focuses on your abs and kills your arms and legs. Really, I hurt already. Have I mentioned I washed my paper 7-day trial card after my 2nd trip? Took 15 minutes to find it stuck in the dryer. Luckily they let me in with my “contact number” which is I guess is different than my phone number. Actually, what else could you answer your contact number with? “Hey I have tin can number 2. Call me before the rust permeates my ear.”

The other few days were just running amok trying out all the different equipment from heavy bags, to weights, to machines, to the indoor 50 meter sprint track; all good stuff and fun. Remember, I don’t work therefore I can spend from 1 PM to 2:30 PM, or so, in a gym  only 20 other people are around. And this place is big.

Tomorrow I am dragging YAW to try a few days and yes, I will take the Bollywood class with her. Ugh. The things I do. One nice thing about this gym is the nearby food court (down 4 levels – the gym is on floor 6). Now I have worked it out where I can eat a snack before then grab a fresh meal after!  Ah, the life of leisure.

 

That was a much longer update than I expected, therefore I will hold my new stories about why I can’t change a light bulb in Singapore and my recent mobile phone dream. Good stuff.

I will leave you with one subway story. Make sure before you visit that you walk a lot and use the stairs a few times. I finally rode the MRT (subway) during rush hour this week. The station I use has three escalators from the entrance to the ticket machines and then a pair of up/down escalators to the platform. Normally, the set of three escalators to the ticket machines have 2 down and 1 up. Sometimes reverse. I was swimming upstream the day I went. This means even as I was walking toward the station, thousands, and yes I mean thousands, of people were passing me towards the financial district.

When I got to my MRT station, ALL the escalators were moving in one direction – UP. All these people flowing at me – I am so glad I am taller than most so that I can see my goal! When this occurs, you take the stairs. All of them. Each set that eventually leads you down to the platform.  Step by step. It was also one of the first times that the sign showing times for the next train arrival said “Do Not Board”. I think that train was full.

Happy Friday!

Citibank: Part 4! Finally!

The Thursday before we left for Bali, I dropped off a new signed copy of our US W9 (or 4, now I forget! – see Citibank Part 3) to the City Hall branch in Singapore. They still had not fully activated our account. The customer service representative I dealt with was not even there. I learned that all Citibank employees go to the main branch first thing in the morning for some training, probably about paper forms, before they go to the local branches. Therefore I left the signed copy with a note: “If this is not working by Monday, I will be in to close the account and withdraw all funds”.

We left for Bali on Friday and honestly I did not think nor care about Citibank for the weekend! Since we decided to stay a day longer on vacation, I also did not check my ATM card on Monday. Tuesday I did logon but could not do some of the online banking! Stupid Citibank! How long does this take?

I did not wander over to Citibank until Wednesday, September 26th, to test the ATM card. In my head I was rehearsing my speech for closing the account. “Give me my check now. I want to go to UOB and deposit my money there!” I know, not very sarcastic, bombastic, fantastic, or whichever modifier I need to make a stronger point. At this point, I was just plain tired.

I used my ATM card to access the account (which I could always do) but this time…it spit out money! Yes, Citibank finally allowed me access to our funds after 25 days. Not bad. I mean think about it. If we all had to wait 25 days to get any of our deposited funds, how happy the credit card companies would be? They could rake in some dough (if you did not pay on time. Maybe you need 50 days to do so). Or alternatively, how much we would have in savings after living off PB&J for 3 weeks. This was a ridiculous experience with a bank that has been in Singapore since 1902. Yes, over a 110 years of banking excellence still led to a bunch of incorrect signatures on forms and almost 4 weeks to access our funds. Now it seemed too much trouble to cancel out of principle alone. I let it go. Breathe out.

As YAW said in her recent FB posting, maybe Citibank SIngapore can use the interest they earned off holding our money to once again buy electronic signature pads. That would make life easier for the next banking customer.

Citibank Singapore – Don’t bother, bank elsewhere: Part 3

For those who have been following my recent rants about Citibank, I am not done yet. Let’s recap shall we? Let’s show the fine timeline that is Citibank Singapore.

First off – when we opened the UOB account, once we had our employment passes, it was <60 minutes from seat to ATM card with our names printed. We could get cash that same day! This is important - that same day I could go pull cash to verify the ATM card worked and begin using it to pay our bills. Citibank however, is not easy and I now wish I had never bothered. All this just to make it easier to transfer funds between here and the Citibank account we have in the US without fees or wire transfer costs. Actually, the Citibank account in the US took only 30 minutes but some of the crap is the same no ATM card for 2 weeks. Today is Wednesday, Sept. 19th. On Saturday Sept. 1st, we opened a Citibank account at a local branch near the City Hall MRT station. The entire process was at a desk without a PC. It was all paper. I should have realized then we were going to be stuck in a mess. Read my Sept. 2nd rant for the whole story but when we left, we were told we would have our ATM cards and Credit Cards within two weeks. Last week, literally almost two weeks later, I had to go back to re-sign a US W-9 form. Still no ATM card or credit cards. But we did get a checkbook the week before...that was promising. Yesterday, Sept 18th (18 days later), the ATM cards and credit cards came in the mail. I tried to finally access the website but didn't know the PIN! I thought maybe we entered it when we opened the account but that couldn't be right since the whole process had been paper. Hmmm. I tried the ones I know I use and then had to call Citibank on the phone because nothing worked. I was locked out. I was told the PIN comes in a separate mailer usually 2 days after the ATM card. I did not see any note about that in my ATM card mailer or I would have waited! Good job Citibank. But because I had already tried 3 times, I locked my account and they would have to mail me a brand new PIN (2-3 days) or I could go to the branch nearby for an immediate reset. Cool, I could at least do that. After all, we deposited a lump sum check in the account after opening that was a reimbursement for some of the things we had to buy when we moved here 2 months ago. It was not a small check. Today, before I could get to the local branch, YAW called me and said the other branch, where we opened the account, called to say her US W-9 form was incorrect. It had her married name, which is what we use for our taxes, but it needs her passport name which was used to open the account; her maiden name. Well, I'll pick up a blank form when I go for my PIN today. Easy! I go to the nearest Citibank. I get the PIN reset (after I fill out and sign a paper form). I go to the ATM and I can see my balance. I try to get cash. Nothing. I try again. Nothing. No cash. How can this be? I go back to the desk and they look at the account. Because of the problem with YAW's W-9 form, I can't fully access the account. I can't get any of our money. I can't get any cash. I can't write a check. I can't perform a transfer. Did I mention we deposited a lump sum that has been sitting there for almost 2 weeks that I can't touch! Are you kidding me (profanity removed)? After I finished a short rant on the poor customer service rep about the fact the W-9 form has to have YAW's married name, since that is how we file taxes, and them asking us to put her passport name is fraud (not really since SSN is on the form too), I calmed down, got the form and left. YAW signed two versions (just in case the name we think they want is wrong) and I will stop by the bank on Thursday. It will take another 1-2 days before we can access the funds. IF by Monday I can’t go to an ATM and get some cash, I may walk in and close the entire account. Actually, since YAW can’t go with me to turn in the form, if they give me crap tomorrow I may close the account right away and make them give me a check which I will immediately deposit in UOB. We can get our money there.

Unless there is a very valid reason to get an account with Citibank here, don’t bother. The paper process is antiquated and waiting 2 weeks to get any of your own money, if your lucky, is ridiculous when other Singapore banks can allow that immediately. Remember you need your employment pass and take your passport.

Other than that, another week is almost over so who knows how this will end up. I will of course add a part 4 later. Plus, I have a lot of food posts I better get caught up on. This weekend is the Formula 1 race series here and you can see some of the race course from our apartment. However, YAW needs a break and its time to hide-out. I’ll explain that adventure next week.

KAW

Started a company, woken up by a stereo, and still more bank forms – end of Week 9

It has now been officially 2 months we have lived here in Singapore.  Just as we get used to it, something else seems to crop up. Sometimes its good or sometimes it is the new neighbor upstairs who finally connects their stereo at 2 AM Thursday morning and blasts it for the entire building to hear. Its finding out that the construction between floors is not what you thought it would be when you can hear high-heels clicking around (Who wears shoes in the house? Really? This is Asia! Must be some foreigners.)  Considering our apartment is for sale, meaning I have to give a tour to some agent and his client once a week, you’d think for $4.2 million it would be a little better constructed! So how do we deal with it?

Well one option of course is to go upstairs and knock. Not something I usually do the 1st time it happens but we did call the 24-hour security and ask them to check it out. Not sure it helped. The second is luckily we have a nice guest room in a different part of the apartment. Pick up the pillows and let’s go! Any other ideas? I was thinking of going up in my running clothes at 6 AM each day yelling, “Steve, let’s go!”. No, there is no Steve there.  I would say since I took the stairs, I must have missed the correct floor, sorry.

Did I tell you my banking story at Citibank? Yes, I think I did. This week, the same branch called where we opened the account because I had to sign or resign a form! More signatures? It’s been 2 weeks and I still don’t even have the ATM card for this account! I do have a checkbook though. That they can mail quickly it seems. Checkbooks are funny here – it is literally 50% bigger than a standard Passport if you hold it sideways. I guess there are more trees nearby. I was called in to re-sign the US W-9 form. After going through all the signatures for the other forms, the guy finally realized I did not sign that one the same therefore…

Don’t bank at Citibank unless you have to! That would be my story. UOB was much easier and gave us everything we needed, including ATM cards with our names on it, on the spot.

Well there is always a ray of sunshine! Since there is an American from Kentucky here this week, the next 5 actually, working with my wife, tonight is all you can eat Brazilian. I think the meat is from Australia but who am I to pass that one up.

Also, it looks like I am getting a job. Granted I’ll be a contractor but it is for a former employer looking to expand their presence and partners here (the groups who actually sale and implement the product on the ground). I still get to so some project management but now mix it in with partner management and pre-sales/sales assistance. I am excited and I hope it comes to fruition.

Because the company does not have a local office, I will be a contractor which also means I have to go through some hoops with the Singapore government to be able to work. Luckily, there is a great online forum for Singapore expats that explains the steps based on who it has worked for in the past and what they did to get approval. (http://forum.singaporeexpats.com/ftopic75000-0-asc-30.html&sid=dd5e45280e95d545d5fb928525965644)

It is a little different here when you are on a Dependent Pass.  I won’t bore you with all the details but I will say…

I now am my own company! Welcome to PERC Technology Consulting!! Yes, of course I’ll have a different website for that soon. Since only two people will understand what PERC is, I’ll give you a little explanation.

My dad was a percussionist and worked in the studios in LA for movie music, think the drums in Jaws, as well as a number of orchestras around LA, including the Hollywood Bowl. He had his own company, to hire himself out, and it was called Perc. Might have actually been Perc One now that I write this. Therefore, when I was trying to think of a cool name for my company, I picked that one! Had to add the ‘technology consulting’ so at least someone would know what I do. Now I have to develop a logo and I can tell you Timpani will be involved.

Well it is Saturday morning here and time to go to the gym.  YAW has had a busy week and we need to make room for tonight’s dinner! And there is one more trip required to Ikea for a bed frame. Overall we are now pretty settled in. We have a few restaurants we go to often when we want spicy Thai or German sausages but we are still looking for a good Mexican place!

Enjoy your weekend. Next weekend will be our first out of town trip. I’ll tell you that one when it happens! Ciao.

Who gets a cold when the weather is 88 every…single…day…all year?

Hello friends and countrymen, lend me your ears! It is Saturday morning and the end of week 8 here in beautiful downtown Singapore. It is also hopefully my last day of the lingering cold/flu – not sure which. But I figure when Monday and Tuesday the fever was close to 100 or 101 actually by Tuesday night, I officially get to stay home. Easy to do because I don’t have to take any sick time! Ha! Yet boring too because it impacts my ability to get out and explore. I already know what our apartment looks like. Now I really know. Today it lingers a little – that stupid sinus crap, but all in all a much better, sunny day.

This afternoon is a huge kite festival in our area. I’ll have to get some pictures to explain that one better.

Have I talked about TV here yet? Maybe that will be my topic for today. First of all, I really enjoy catching up with John Stewart and Stephen Colbert on the web. We don’t get many channels here and I am happy I can get my factual, non-biased, doesn’t make me laugh,  reporting from those two. Plus, who has time to sit in front of the TV and watch these conventions every morning? Nightime for you, morning for me. Just a lot of speeches, some with actual numbers and some with stuff about leading something.

As far as TV, we get an edited version of HBO, some Fox and Universal channels, BBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox news, yada yada yada. The one nice thing is no advertising on many of these channels. Sure, there are commercials but they are for other shows on the same channel. This means most shows are 50 minutes in length. That means they have annoying start times such as 10:00, 10:50, 11:40, etc. What is cool is all the Fox shows and movies are on one channel. And one channel is dedicated to crime shows!

What is not cool is some of the series are one year behind. Also, every show is subtitled in Mandarin. No option to turn this on of off (and no, not the news channels). I think is distracts YAW because often she reads the text and is not listening to the dialogue. What is funny is sometimes they will block out a word, bleep it, in a show but the text will show it! At least that is what I have been told.

As far as the timing of the series, even though many are behind, at least this is not true for True Blood but is true for most sitcoms. Oh, and we think we can get Strikeback if we add Cinemax. However, the movies and shows are somewhat edited for Singapore. This means we know some scenes we remember from seeing the movie before are now missing! Amazingly enough though, the TV part of the cable is pretty cheap. Maybe because we have only about 40  channels and of those, 10-12 are the same channel in HD. The Internet service is where we pay the money – the $80 per month – but it is 100 megs which is nice and fast and handy for The Daily Show.

There are some other funny things such as how the online guide works here or the DVR’s ability to easily record. Coming from DirectTV-land, the technology here seems so primitive! Overall it works and the previous tenant left behind his 40″ flat screen which meant one less thing to buy.

Well it is almost time to venture out, find food because we absolutely have come to the realization we are too lazy to cook at home, ever, get an Apple TV (I want movies!), YAW to get her nails done, etc.

Tonight we are going to a coworker’s home to have dinner with a few other of YAW’s coworkers. I think I am actually the only spouse invited. That of course means there will be multiple conversations about work, their work, therefore I will play World Welder.

Banking in Singapore: Why do I want paper?

Ugh. I think that sums up my two recent experiences opening bank accounts here in Singapore. It is so strange how some parts of the process are high-tech yet others are so far behind the times it makes me squirm and even lose it! (Almost).

Two weeks into our stay here (and we just ended Week 7), we opened an account at the #3 bank United Overseas Bank. Actually easy enough because we only had to sign 3 to 4 forms, maybe one or two times, and some of the application was on the computer as the lady got our information. We had to wait several weeks until we could get an account because they won’t allow it without our government employment passes. Well, actually mine is a dependent pass but still. That actually brings up something funny. As we sat there and added my name to the account, the lady asked me what I did for work. I said unemployed. Her face said it all – “Unemployed”? Singapore has less than a 4% unemployment rate and I was a MALE expat. She paused and you could tell she did not know what to write on the form. Then YAW reminded me I still teach online for UCI and therefore I am technically not unemployed and can be called a Professor! Day saved.

But the second time the lady was at a loss was when I said I did not need my own online logon and password for the account. I could just use my wife’s, I said. I think she thought I was crazy. I let me wife do the finances? Hello, I don’t work here! lol. Actually YAW is so busy I do the finances anyway! We were in and out within an hour and even got ATM cards with our names on them immediately at the bank. A week later, we go the small token device that we need to do the banking online other than just an inquiry. That is very cool and that is the high-tech piece. The fact we get a paper monthly statement, and there is no other option, well that is the funny low-tech piece. Paper? In this decade? Really?

But yesterday, well that was the kicker! My most frustrated banking experience ever.

Because we may need to move money back and forth to pay our US credit cards (which we use here because some banks won’t give an American working here temporarily a credit card – something to do with US tax laws), we went to Citibank to open a 2nd account. Citibank allows the transfer of funds between US Citibank and Singapore Citibank with no fees, therefore I had opened one in the US before we left knowing this would come up.

At the small Citibank branch, we sat down with our customer service guy at a small table with no computer. We filled out a 4-page form by hand with all of our information, even our US addresses and phone numbers, and we also filled out a US tax form. This took about 30 minutes. At the end, the guy says to YAW, please sign in these 4 boxes and your signature has to match across all four. Easy enough. Except for the new, added pressure of signature matching. We sign our name somewhere everyday. Well, it turns out we (maybe just her and I), don’t actually sign the same way each time.

They, Citibank SG, take the signature match very seriously. If we need to change our address or phone# in the future, we have to go to the branch, show our photo IDs, and still sign the exact same way we do on that form! To even open the account, we have to ensure all four signatures are the exact same (4 for her, 2 for me). Well guess what, she does not sign her name the exact same each time. There is a small mark, like crossing a t (and yes, there is no ‘t’ in her name), that shifted as she signed and therefore the first form was not accepted. She also doesn’t do this the 2nd time with a new blank form that the guy will fill in the rest of the information, manually, later if the 4 signatures were to match. It doesn’t work the 3rd time. It does not work the 4th time – again wasting a new 4-page form each time.

I am frustrated enough that I say “who cares if they don’t match?” We’ll just never change our phone# or move until we go home. And if they won’t accept that, I’ll drain the account through the ATM so that there is no money anyway! That is when he says they won’t even open the account if the signatures don’t match. Now I am figuring the wire transfer fees we’ll have to pay with no Citibank account but it is not worth YAW’s stress, nor mine, for this stupid paper form!

Well, then we say what if I am the primary? I figure I can do pretty well with matching my 4 signatures!! Eventually, after 2 more forms, I get it close enough to pass inspection. And guess what? One of the signatures is for the credit card application. I guess Citibank doesn’t have the same rules as UOB around credit cards therefore we hope we may get a local card. We actually can use our no-fee US cards just fine but there are certain things here you can not pay for, related to utilities, with a US-based card. All in all, it took just over an hour to open our account. Or I should say to get our signatures right because the account still won’t even be created until Monday – one of the drawbacks to using a Saturday branch.

We should see our Citibank ATM card within about 10 days. Not immediate with this bank! Like UOB, there are no fees for the account providing you maintain a minimum balance at all times. UOB wants $500 and Citibank wants $2,000. Otherwise, Citibank charges $10/month. This happens to be the same as the US if you don’t use direct deposit but here they just need the minimum. Why doesn’t the US do that actually instead of making me change or split a direct deposit of payroll anytime I might want to try a different bank?

It was much easier, and cheaper, to open the UOB account and if we did not want to move money for certain bills and savings, I would have walked out of Citibank after the third failed signature attempt. At least we’ll get our monthly statement electronically…

KAW

 

Start of Week 7: My Discourse

I realize it has been several weeks since my last update if you don’t count the food and drink section! It’s funny how time flies, even when I’m not working, as I continue to explore the city during the day and while my wife and I find new places to eat and tour in the evenings. There is still a lot of ground that we have not covered. Amazingly we have yet to do any of the “tourist” things such as the riverboat tour, the giant Ferris wheel, or the amusement park island which has its own Universal Studios.

I figure I’ll cover some of the fun highlights that have happened in the last few weeks as we continue to experience the people and culture that is Singapore. Like most foreign countries with a number of US citizens, there is an American Association here. We joined it partly because it has frequent seminars on finding jobs in Singapore, which is useful for me, and other topics such as the health care system. I’m actually attending the healthcare system seminar tomorrow night which is being led by a doctor from UCLA. Speaking of finding people who are pretty much from our hometown, over a week ago we attended a pub crawl with the American Association which started in the nearby Boat Quay area. There were probably about 50 people of different age ranges.

One of the interesting things we notice, and this is neither good nor bad it just is, you have to remember that my wife was born in China, moved to the US when she was 10, and then lived in the West LA/West Hollywood area up until college when she then moved down to Irvine. We think that living in Singapore with a large Chinese population most people see her first as Chinese and not American. Where this gets interesting is when we meet new people, they may not think that she is from the United States and we can’t tell if this is why it seems some people don’t approach her and begin a conversation. I won’t get into a long discourse about this but where it’s funny as when she opens her mouth, you know she is American! From then on, we have great conversations.

One example of this, and the small world stories, was during the pub crawl.  At the second location we sat down at a table with three blondes and one brunette (sorry! I just classify them that way) whose husbands were in the bar getting their drinks. As I began to talk to one side of the table, YAW began a conversation with one of the wives on the other side of the table. The next thing I know, I find out the wife also worked at Hoag Hospital for a number of years as a nurse however this was a few years before I worked there. Needless to say, of all the people we would meet in Singapore meeting one who grew up in Lake Forest and worked in Newport Beach was not something we expected!  From that point on we had a lot of conversations that evening with this group and found out there are number of things in common. It was much more fun that we initially had expected. Many have not been here much longer than us! The one thing not in common is one of the first questions often asked of the man (me!!) which is “what do you do for work?” As soon as I say “nothing”, I’ll see a few confused looks, then they look at my wife, then they look back at me and say “man I wish I had your life!”

Then the question is what is my life? I continue to look for jobs and have two possibilities, one with an old employer and the second with a healthcare software company that I have experience with while working at Hoag. Both of these are still a few weeks out but they are at least promising. Otherwise my typical day is somewhat that of a house husband.  I make my wife fresh juice in the morning and walk her to work on Mondays. The other days she takes a taxi to a different building which pretty much means I say goodbye at the door. During the day I have time to swim, go to the gym (which has its little rock climbing wall), find restaurants close to us for good, inexpensive food, cleanup a bit of course, send e-mails, etc. etc. We’ve cooked once since we have been here and realized it’s too much work! It is actually easier and cheaper to go out. Now if we could just find a good Mexican place! We found good steakhouse (see Food & Drink).

I’m debating taking the subway system and going to a different station every day just to say that I’ve done it. But like many cities, when you get to a certain point outside the main city core, each subway stop tends to repeat itself meaning there is a mall and food. Therefore we realize it’s time to venture forth into the world that is Southeast Asia and begin picking trips to nearby countries to see what we can see.

While I am on my little rant the only other funny story recently was taking the subway system and getting on the train that I knew was going the right direction but at the next stop the overhead and the computerized map showed I went the wrong way! I got off at the stop but as I looked around the station I realized I was going the right way, the train messaging and computer were backwards. I looked around and saw other people had confused looks on their faces. When the next train came by going the right direction, we all got back on and eventually made it to the correct destination. Lesson learned is pay attention to the subway station names which are easy to see as you pull into them; just in case you think you’re going the right way and the train mistakenly tells you you’re not!

All in all this is an easy place to live. It’s easy to get around and you pretty much can trip over restaurants every 10 feet. Or maybe make that 3 meters. This week is the first week that some major thunderstorms have come in each afternoon. These are actually nice, when you’re inside, because they cool down the air and make for some interesting viewing as you watch the sheets of water go by the windows. We’ve now begun week 7  here and I’m sure there’ll be some more interesting stories coming up! Or I’ll just rant some more!

Shopping – the national pastime

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One of about 4 or 5 malls near the Bugis MRT station and the Intercontinental Hotel.