Sunday, January 22, 2017

Married and homeless in Singapore

As someone who's waiting for her HDB BTO flat to be built, I can honestly tell you, the most frustrating question that I've gotten is this:

"So... When will your house be ready?"


Never. Never is my answer.

Abel and I have played the waiting game for a good long time. Since Jan 2014 in fact. THAT'S THREE FLIPPING YEARS AND THE HOUSE STILL ISN'T READY YET.

Calm down Amanda. Okay. Okay. Yeah, Jesus. OKAY I'M CALM.

The process to own a home in Singapore, when dumbed down and made simple with an impressive array of acronyms, is something like this:

1) Apply for BTO / DBSS / EC
2) Apply for HLE
3) Pick a HDB unit
4) Apply for ROM
5) Pay with CPF before moving in

I've done you the kindness of linking each acronym to an article about its meaning.

But though it might seem like five simple steps, it really is a tedious wait of AT LEAST five years. See, steps 1 to 3 could take about half a year to settle, depending on your luck of the draw, but steps 4 to 5, the most crucial, can last many years.

Why?

Well see. Picture being ready to spend the rest of your life with someone. You've done the whole "travelled with him/her and am ready to settle down" bit. The logical thing to do would be to move in together right?

According to the bureaucratic laws of the average Singaporean, you can't. You have to apply first.

Our red-tape strewn housing system (due to the unfortunate population-to-land ratio) has determined that to move in together and get married you'll need to ballot. That's right. In Singapore, to move into our boxy-little public housing (much better than most of the world and the most affordable!) you have to queue, and you have to join a lucky draw to determine your position in the queue! That's not even counting the fact that it is highly likely that you might not even end up in the queue at all, which relinquishes all chances of even picking a home for that round of ballots.

Try saying that in one breath.

But let's say you do get a number to join the queue, that's not the end of it. You're basically queuing for an IDEA of something. The houses aren't built yet. So you pour over brochures and layouts of what the building could look like and determine the units that you might potentially pick. Then you play the waiting game. Perhaps you're number 666 (Number were picked to express my frustration at this devilish system) out of 1,500 potential owners and there are only nine hundred units available. Then you're going to have to hope that the first 665 don't pick the units that you want.

WHAT?!

Yes. All this could span between three months to a year.

Now let's be optimistic and say that you did get your unit and your housing loan came through (of which requires an ungodly amount of papers - payslips and what not, as proof of your ability to afford a housing loan). Then it's time to wait for your house to be built. From scratch. From a plot of dingy land.

Now my brain tells me very sensibly and honestly that I should stop complaining and be grateful. I mean, good public housing is unheard of in most parts of the world. Affordable QUALITY housing? Even less heard of! One has to be patient to enjoy good things.

But my heart. My poor, blessed heart is screaming NO.

See, you need to remember that this is a country where people can't afford to live away from their parents and buy/rent their own home. It's not just our Asian-family sensibilities that get in the way of that. Financially and practically, it makes no sense to live away from them unless your parents don't live here at all.

But that also means that a couple that wants to get married can't get their own home till after three to five years! No point getting married before getting your house right?

Longest, engagement, ever.

What many have dubbed as the "Singapore way of getting married", is really, to me, the death of romance. But it is also this utter practicality that makes Singaporeans so successful. Would you rather rich robots or penniless poets? The truth is, you can't live on love alone.

Punggol Bayview, the home upon which we await with bated breath. (TOP Q4 2018)
But we are not devoid of options. There are couples, like Abel and myself for example, and a few other friends we know, who have gotten married first then waited the five years out together. Without having a place to live.

Once again, you have options:

1) You can choose to rent, spend a senseless amount of money every month.
2) You can live with your in-laws, and risk potential problems - there's a reason why the bible says leave and cleave.
3) You can stay apart. (The stupidest option for a married couple in my opinion).
So now you can choose. Stay engaged for a really long time, or get married and feel sort of... lost.

Because that's how I feel now.

Being the impractical moron that I am and the emotional wreck that I am, I told Abel we can't lose the romance. Since he'd proposed, why wait? Why draw out a long engagement when we knew were wanted to be with each other? He agreed.

When we got married, Abel and I were pretty optimistic. But we had run through the options of renting (waste of money and no money), buying a resale first and selling it before our BTO comes (possible but pointless as it was predicted that the market will just get worse when we're looking to sell) and finally landing on staying with the in-laws.

My house, stuffed to the brim with a hormonal teenager and a grumpy young adult, was no space for a young married couple. Not to say the least my angry father who lost his temper at the slightest things. No. No. No. So it fell upon Abel's home. As the only child, his room boasted a queen-sized bed, I'd only be competing with his dad for the toilet. Why not? I agreed.

What a mistake.

My in-laws are great. They are welcoming people who have always been lovely to me, but let's be honest, a ton of problems arrive with living with your in-laws.

1) They're not used to your habits and you're not used to theirs
2) You can never argue with your husband in front of them, which leads to the next and the most important point
3) You can never really comfortable, because you can never be yourself 
It took a toll man.

While all that was bad, what I felt the most was this feeling of not belonging anywhere. I felt so lost most of the time. Nothing of real importance (putting aside clothes and other superficial things) was mine. The bed was Abel's old bed, the room, though painted, was Abel's. The wardrobe was his, the toilet, his dad's. (You have no idea how important a toilet is to me.) The kitchen, not mine! I couldn't be comfortable no matter the things I used to decorate the space or the kitchen tools I bought. Not even bringing Hachi could make me feel better.

I felt like a squatter in someone else's home. Forever indebted, forever useless.

It was then I realised that I was going to have to do this for the next few years. It made me even more miserable. I couldn't return home either because my parents had thrown out my bed and replaced it with a desk for my sister.


My motto in life became "boh bian lor." Loosely translated: "no choice."

It made me crazy. Abel and I quarrelled frequently. I spent a lot of time at the playground crying at night. I lost the will the to work out. I never went home first without him and I hardly left the room to do anything. It was awkward. It was strange. I was also going through a job transition during that period of time. Finally, I think Abel and I decided to try renting again.

We found a gorgeous apartment in Geylang. A condo studio apartment, $1,600. We counted. We could afford it, but barely. After a long, drawn-out quarrel, we decided that we wouldn't go for it. My ever-sensible husband made the wise choice of forgoing that splendid apartment. I bemoaned its loss and longed to have a place to call my own.

Then I became jobless (you can read about my experience here) and after working in SPH for so long, I felt a part of myself die. Something else that was mine, gone. Then my Macbook died. My one and only tool of trade. I was done. I had hit rock bottom. I swear. There was this profound sense of loss, not knowing where I was going and feeling as though life was meaningless. All the regrets I had came pouring out. 2016 was the year of STUPID decisions, STUPID people, STUPID problems and a hundred other stupid things. I really lost it I think.

But after that bout of depression, I had to move on right? I just sucked it up. Got freelance work, a cheaper computer (which I'm still using btw) and continued living as I did. Existing.

Then something happened. My grandfather passed away.

I loved him. He was a great grandfather. Not a perfect man, but there's no such thing right?  He passed away peacefully, and his funeral was carried out by people who loved him. Then my grandmother, Por Por, who had lost the man she loved, offered something that changed everything.

She offered her home.

My grandparents sleep slept in separate rooms, Por Por in the common room, Ah Kong in the master bedroom. She told my mum that she thought it would be a good idea for Abel and I to move in with her. Without hesitation, my wonderful husband agreed. He forgo living with his family to live with Por Por, someone he only saw for dinners on alternate Sundays.

For that, I'll always be grateful. For that, I know he is a wonderful husband. (But it also makes me feel guilty for a lot of other things sometimes heh.)

We aired out the room, repainted the space. Bought a $163 Ikea wardrobe, raided the As-Is department in Ikea (heaven for poor couples) and installed a new toilet bowl.

The process was cleansing. 

Not as big as it looks. But just as bright as it appears.

I felt as though it was mine. A proper space to call my own. We had repainted and redone it with our own hands! Sure everything else belonged to Por Por, but this room was ours. The TOILET was ours. I didn't have to wait for someone else to use it, I wasn't accountable to someone else aside from my husband! I could bomb it, fart it in and clean it without feeling like I'm cleaning someone else's shit (literally).

This huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.

Then I finally got a job, we went on our honeymoon to Sweden and Iceland (you can read about the trip here) and everything else fell into place. I'm not as stressed anymore. I see my parents once in a while, I see Abel's parents once in a while, things are good! My hair looks good, my skin is fantastic, I just need to work on my weight and finances.

I even made a terrarium!

So calming hor.

Thanks to a loving family and loving husband, I survived. There are a lot of fortunate ones. Those rich, those who can afford to buy private housing or resale. Those who don't have to wait because they managed to get a sale-of-balance flat.

But it made me think, what about all the other younger Singaporeans out there waiting to get married because their home isn't ready? Those already married but living with their in-laws or struggling to make ends meet because of rent?

If you're out there, I just want you to know that you're not alone. You're not alone in thinking that you're selfish for wanting more. You're not alone in thinking that things could have been done better. You're not alone in feeling guilty for not putting in more effort with your in-laws. But more importantly, I want you to know that you did not make the wrong choice getting married without a house.

Because what is humanity without love?

All my problems could have been solved if we had been patient and decided to get married later. But we didn't. We made the choice and we lived with the consequences. And I remember, no matter how bad it got, I was always reminded that at the end of the day I'll survive and I'll be happy again because I am married to my husband. I don't regret my choice, and I will never regret my choice.


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