Tag Archives: budget

5 Things Not to Buy in Singapore

Stop- Do Not Buy

If you move from America to Singapore, your paycheck will have a larger number.  However, that doesn’t mean that you’re making more money.  The typical exchange rate between Singapore (S$) and US($) currencies is between 1.4 and 1.6. That means that one Singapore dollar will get you approximately seventy cents. Even if you account for the exchange rate, there are some products that are still more expensive in Singapore.

If you’re American, don’t buy the following products in Singapore:

1) High End Laptops

Last week I was at a blogger event sponsored by Claudia Lim’s 24Seven social networking company.  On display was a fabulous Lenovo w700.  I drooled over its gargantuan seventeen-inch monitor, Intel Core 2 Duo Processor,  integrated color calibration tools, and in-built stylus.  Dreaming, I wanted to check the price of this laptop.  My jaw dropped when I saw that Lenovo Singapore’s list price is S$8,000!  I checked the U.S. website.  The same laptop can be purchased in the US for $3,369.  The exchange rate is not 2.4; someone is gouging laptop prices.

But I don’t want to single out Lenovo, most of the brands do the same thing.  I was considering getting a Gateway P7805 FX series laptop here in Singapore until I realized I could save $500 if I waited until I returned to the US.  Some of my friends use Macs, and, unless they received the Ministry of Education discount, they face similar price problems.

The conclusion: don’t buy high performance laptops in Singapore.  The mark-up on some laptops is high enough that you could buy a plane ticket to the U.S. and purchase your computer for roughly the same price. In Singapore you can, however, buy mid-tier laptops like Acer with confidence that you’re getting a good deal.

2) Cake Mixes

Singaporeans don’t bake very often.  Even the most dutiful housewives that I’ve met at church don’t bake like Americans. They steam, stir-fry, and boil; but Singapore’s climate doesn’t lend itself to baking.  Consequently, baking supplies are difficult to find.  If you want cake mixes, you’ll need to visit specialty shops or the Cold Storage in Great World City. Expect to pay twice as much for Betty Crocker as you would in the States, and the selection will be varied and seasonal.

The solution: Buy a few of your family’s favorite mixes before coming to Singapore. Throwing a few boxes into your suitcase or shipping container will save you money and get you exactly what you want.

3) Video Games

Video games sold all over the world are region encoded.  Because electronics companies want greater control of their devices and they want to reduce competition, a game purchased in Singapore probably won’t work on a gaming machine purchased in the US, Japan, or Europe.

Video games tend to be more expensive in Singapore.  Of course prices vary, but at one time a Nintendo Wii cost S$700 in Singapore but cost only $250 in the United States.

The U.S. also has a flourishing used market that is hard to find in Singapore.  Most titles over a year or two old can be purchased at GameStop for less than $20.  You’re incredibly lucky if you find something like that in Singapore.

There is one exception, most Playstation 3 titles aren’t region encoded.  This might give your family some leeway if you’re frequently moving around.

4) Mid- Range Brands

Several brands, notably Coach, Nine West, and Timberland, have miraculously convinced the Singaporean people that they are upscale and designer.  Expect to pay  upscale and designer prices at shops with these brands.  In the States no one sees these mid-tier brands as top-of-the-line, and you will pay half of what Singaporeans pay if you check the J.C. Penny sales rack or a Midwest outlet mall.

5) American Beef

The mad cow scare of a few years ago got all of the Asians worked up and put the Korean and Australian beef lobbies into overdrive.  Today in Singapore the vast majority of beef is Australian. Botak Jones is one of the few outlets bold enough to serve USDA beef, but if you want it elsewhere you’ll have to go places like the hundred-dollar-a-plate Morton’s of Chicago.

The solution: Go to Malaysia where they’re a little more laid back.  Right across from Woodland’s checkpoint is a TGI Friday’s that serves all of the American beef that you can fit in your belly.

Escape to Malacca, Malaysia

Explore the beautiful coastline and sprawling shop houses of Malacca.

Explore the beautiful coastline and sprawling shop houses of Malacca.

When you mention the word “Singapore” to your typical, C-in-Geography American, images of 1970s National Geographic photos of Asians on bikes, easy going, arts-and-crafts peddlers in colonial shop houses, and old aunties serving head-intact duck specialties flood their mind.  The real Singapore is a modern, pan-island megapolis where you’re more likely to see a Starbucks patron with a laptop than any of these anachronisms. Fortunately, Malacca, Malaysia, is just a short bus ride from Singapore and a place where the old world dreams of misguided Americans can be realized.

Getting There

The most inexpensive way to get to Malacca is to take a bus.  Even though I was going on the busiest possible holiday, I was able to stop by the Queen Street Bus Terminal near Bugis and purchase a ticket for less than thirty dollars. Unfortunately you can’t buy a round-trip ticket, but I’m assured that return tickets to Singapore are typically plentiful and affordable.  However, because my trip was during the last day of the Chinese New Year public holiday, I had to scrounge for a return ticket.  I eventually found a pricey one ($48) through Luxury Tours and Travels.

From Chinese New Year – Malacca and Singapore

From Chinese New Year – Malacca and Singapore

From Chinese New Year – Malacca and Singapore


My accommodations were right in the middle of Malacca’s historic district at the family-owned Tang House. The facilities were quaint and affordable.  For only RM35 (S$15) I got a one night’s stay, internet access, and a toast-and-egg breakfast.  My tiny room did have an aircon, and the sheets and floor were fairly clean. (Even people traveling with a family can get cheap rates at this place; a triple room costs only RM 70 a night.)

The Shop Houses

I didn’t have to worry about being bored in Malacca. Getting lost among the shop houses and talking to all of the eccentric artists provided hours of interesting entertainment. Hillary took us to her friend’s new art and t-shirt shop, the Baboon House. Located on Heeren Street, the Baboon House has a cafe and showcases art by Malaysian artist Ro Ger.

Along Jalan Tan Cheng Lock, I chanced upon the art gallery of Jehan Chan, one of Malaysia’s national artists. Mr. Chan, an artist for over 30 years, paints two different types of subjects: seascapes and koi. The koi are drawn in a realistic and colorful perspectives; the seascapes tend to be cubist renditions of Malacca’s shoreline.
The friendliest artist that I met was named Stanley Ho. An aging vegetarian that watercolors in his rundown shop, Mr. Ho will stop and talk to you for hours.  He’ll tell stories and share how Malacca has changed.  An inquisitive person, he’s not shy about asking you the details of your own life.

Another reason to visit Malacca is its rich religious history.  A Jesuit priest names Francis Xavier is a legend in the community.  A statue of him sits next to the ruins of a church that he founded, and few things will give you a better sense of history than gazing upon the tombstones of the early colonists.  If you ask locals, you can hear far fetched tales about St. Francis. My friend Hillary told me a story about a ship that was once caught in a tumultuous storm.  Rather than panicking like the sailors, Father Xavier prayed for the sea to calm.  Sometime during the night, he dropped a cross into the ocean. After safely landing ashore, Francis saw a crab carrying his cross. In turn he blessed the crab and released it to the sea.  To this day, apparently, the crabs in Malacca have crosses on their back.In addition to Catholicism, Malacca has Christ Church, a century’s old Protestant church still in operation, and I also visited an interesting museum about how the area obtained its Islamic heritage.

Before you leave Malacca, there are certain dishes that you must try.  Along Jonker Street just a stone’s throw from the Tang House, is an unnamed restaurant that serves the most savory bowl of laksa. The flavors are stronger and the vegetables are fresher than anything you will be served in Singapore.  I was also very fond of the chicken rice balls, a dish exclusive to the area but available at many restaurants.

I was able to visit Malacca after Hillary, the gal who blogs at Precious Living.com, invited me to her family’s Chinese New Year party. I felt that it was an honor to be invited because in many families only relatives attend these reunions. Hillary’s family was open and hospitable; Hillary’s friend Nadia and her boyfriend Nic Khoo were there as well.  It was a thrill to see Malacca and spend the holiday with them.

Additional Resources

A Tourist Map of Malacca

Budget American Food in Singapore

Great Food in Singapore

When most families move locations, there’s a certain period of time where all they want to do is eat out.  The dishes aren’t unpacked, and the pet roaches belonging to the previous tenant have not been removed from the kitchen.  When a family moves to Singapore from a westernized country like America or Australia, they’ll probably want to act upon the same eat-out impulse.  Unfortunately, they’ll soon find that the Canadian Pizza isn’t quite Dominoes, the nearest restaurant probably specializes in fish head curry, and even the Golden Arches isn’t exactly what you’re used to having back home. If you’re on your own, it might be an adventure; but if you’ve got whiny kids in tow, it is an all-out nightmare.

Fortunately, Singapore does have quite a variety of good Western food available.  There are, of course, expensive joints such as the Sizzler at Suntec City, and the Outback at Millennium Walk, but you’ll pay almost thirty dollars a plate for these dinners.  Fortunately, if you know where to look, Singapore does have some hidden Western food gems with great dinners available for folks on a budget.

Aston's Logo

Aston’s Specialties can be found in five location’s throughout Singapore. This franchise serves a wide array of steaks and barbecued chicken.  Side dishes include fried foods such as onion rings and fries as well as healthier baked potatoes and steamed vegetables. If you’re looking for a pleasant ambiance, try their location at the Cathay theater which is located near Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station; but be prepared for at least a twenty minute wait.  If you want a coffee shop atmosphere and food in a hurry, the location near the Sixth Avenue Center provides good American food in a uniquely Singaporean coffee shop atmosphere.

Personal Favorite

Black pepper chicken with baked beans and onion rings.  Total cost = $6.50

The chicken is cut chop style, similar to what might get if your ordered chicken fried chicken at a southern restaurant in the states, but it is barbecued on on the grill.  The onion rings are deep fat fried to perfection; the batter sticks on them well enough that the onion won’t slide out as you eat it.

Visit their official website for more information.

Aston’s Specialties

Botak Jones Logo

The Singlish word for bald is botak.  By now you’ve probably guessed it, Botak Jones was started by a bald man; his name is Bernie Utchenik.  His mission was to bring tasty Western food to the working class areas of Singapore.

At Botak Jones you won’t find healthy food.  You’ll find steak, fried food, and sandwiches all served in humongous portions.  Frequently, you can find USDA grade American beef on some of the menu items. (American beef was previously restricted in Singapore after the mad cow scare.)

Nearly all of the stalls are near MRTs so you shouldn’t have any trouble locating these fantastic places to eat.  You’ll find them around Bedok, Boon Lay, Sommerset, Toa Payoh, Yishun, and several others.  The venue that I’ve visited most often is just a stone’s throw from Clementi MRT.

Christians and concerned parents might want to know that Botak Jones promotional materials frequently use mild expletives.

Personal Favorite

I like the Cajun chicken sandwich with Mexican rice and spicy fries. Total cost = $8

If you can’t handle the heat, you can get barbecue chicken and other types of fries including cheese fries and traditional fries.

This place also has a catering service.  Visit their official website for more information.

Botak Jones

Dan Ryan's Chicago Grill Logo

Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill probably shouldn’t be on the list of budget eateries, but this place provides such an American feel that I couldn’t resist.  If you sit in Dan Ryan’s comfortable leather seats, watch the ESPN on the TV, and gaze at the peculiar American oddities on the wall for too long, you’ll think you’ve stumbled back to the Midwest.

Dan Ryan’s is also, as far as I know, the only place on the island that serves free flow Dr. Pepper.  For those that don’t know, Dr. Pepper is only available in Singapore at upscale supermarkets such as the Cold Storage in Great World City; moreover, restaurant drinks are usually served in single twelve once servings.  (It isn’t like the U.S. where most food joints allow you to hook your mouth under the fountain and drink ’till you burst for less than two dollars.)

One of the best reasons to eat here is the free bread that is brought to the table. It is the only place in Asia where I’ve been served authentic corn bread.

If you want to eat on a budget, show up at lunch time or before five in the evening. If you show up after five, you’re guaranteed to pay over twenty dollars a plate.

Personal Favorite

I usually try to save money so I’ll just order their mushroom and swiss burger.  Approximate cost = $15  If I want to spend a little extra money, the potato skins are delicious.)

You’ll find this place in the Tanglin Shopping Center which is located about a ten minute walk away from Orchard MRT.  This restaurant also has franchises in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but I’ve never visited these stores.

Visit Dan Ryan’s Official Site

Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill

Stewards Riverboat

Stewards Riverboat makes the list because of its amazing fajitas.  It is one of the few places to find delicious Tex-Mex food in Singapore.  Yet Westerners searching for totally authentic food should ask about menu items carefully; there are some odd hybrid fusion foods like squid chimichangas that can be tasty, but might not be quite what you are looking to eat for dinner. Especially for signature dishes, the prices for adults are quite expensive (>$30); but the kids’ menu for those under twelve is an excellent bargain.

The top level of the boat is an ideal place to take large groups for meetings, especially church groups.When it’s not rainy, there is a tranquil view of the surrounding sea.  The restaurant owners seek to infuse Christian principles into their operation and have gone so far as to utilize the alpha and omega symbol in their company logo. I believe the upper deck even has a jacuzzi that can be used for baptisms.

However, I would stay away from their enclosed second floor meeting room.  The venues is a stationary boat on a sometimes-choppy sea.  The last thing that you will want are your guests to suffer bouts of sea-sickness and claustrophobia.

This boat is located in Marina South Pier, a fairly isolated spot in Singapore, and the operating hours can be a little erratic.

Check the website for full information.

Stewards Riverboat

Welcome Cowboy Caleb Readers.  This website is mostly about Christian education. For something a little more random and entertaining, check out my personal blog:  Media Slog