For the majority of expatriates the first thing on their list of things to do when they finally arrive in their host country is to find somewhere to live. My husband and I are no exception to this, and pretty much as soon as we arrived the search for our new family headquarters began. It is during times such as this that the differences in personality between my husband and I become immediately transparent. I commenced my search by listing all the features my apartment should have, I then ranked each feature according to importance and produced a spreadsheet that could be used to assess each apartment viewed against the skewed criteria. I then meticulously researched expatriate areas and common expat buildings and looked at pictures of them online before selecting a few for viewing. My husband read the newspaper. When I questioned him on this-- asking how he intended to contribute to the process of finding us a home-- it transpired that he was contributing, he was apparently looking at pictures of the furniture he would like our new apartment to have. You have to admire his creativity.
The viewing of apartments here gave me an opportunity to learn more about life in Singapore. Apartment complexes are generally referred to as condos and the majority of the modern private buildings have swimming pools, gyms and a tennis court. The apartments themselves are slightly bigger than those available in Hong Kong, but they would still seem very small for someone arriving from the United States or the UK for the first time.
One of the things that I have found very puzzling is the presence of bomb shelters in apartments and condos. Apparently it is law for every new property to contain a bomb shelter, and you generally find them in the kitchen area. They look like a storeroom with very thick walls and a large fridge door attached. The first apartment we looked around was on the 57th floor of a brand new tower block in the Central Business District. The estate agent opened one door and introduced the room, “…and here you’ll find the bomb shelter,” he said.
“What do you use that for?” I asked.
“Sheltering from bombs.” He replied.
Now although the answer he gave was the obvious answer, it didn’t really do it for me, so several days later I asked one of my friends-- a local Singaporean-- the same question, “what do you have bomb shelters in the apartments for?”
“Sheltering from bombs,” she said.
That night I discussed it with my husband. “I’m totally not grasping this bomb shelter thing,” I said.
“Oh I do," he replied. "It's straightforward. It’s a one-room apartment within an apartment. After a major bomb hits, you still have your one-room apartment, but minus all facilities. It's a no-frills apartment.”
...I really do not know how I would live without such pearls of wisdom.
So let’s run through a few scenarios that feature potential outcomes of my use of a bomb shelter:
Scenario one, a huge bomb hits Singapore but I’m lucky enough to be in my bomb shelter at the time. If it’s a direct hit, chances are that the rest of the building will crumble around me and my bomb shelter may quickly degenerate into a capsule by which I can plummet 57 floors in a matter of minutes, only to land on top of a pile of rubble containing 56 other bomb shelters. My chances of survival are pretty low.
Scenario two, I’m safely housed in my bomb shelter on the bottom floor of the apartment block. While the rest of the building has collapsed, my bomb shelter has saved me. The problem I have now though, is that I’m buried in my bomb shelter under the remains of a 60-floor apartment block. I can’t open the door. My chances of survival are pretty low.
Scenario three, the building collapses but the fact that the bomb shelters on each floor have formed a strong column that remains in place, my bomb shelter and I survive the blast. “Thank goodness for this bomb shelter,” I will say. But then I will open the door. Perched 57 floors in the sky I will be faced with a new dilemma. I can almost see it now... “Darling, you better climb down and get some help.” My husband’s chances of survival are pretty low.
After pondering all of this, I came to the conclusion that the bomb shelters must be there for use in the event of a chemical attack. The people of Singapore can retreat into the safety of their bomb shelter and ride it out. Very smug with my obviously advanced reasoning skills, I asked the next estate agent if this was the case. “No”, he said, “They’re ventilated.” Observing the obvious look of confusion of my face he enlightened me, “you use them to shelter from bombs.”
So, there we have it. For all those confused expatriates out there… bomb shelters in Singapore are used to shelter from bombs. Or, alternatively-- it seems in the majority of cases here—they are used as a maid’s room… and what maid wouldn’t welcome a dark, thick-walled room with no air conditioning and no window? Sounds exactly like… a prison cell!
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