Our apartment in Singapore is like most apartments in Australia but one corner of it is quite different.
We have a bomb shelter.
Yes, our nine-year old apartment has a fair dinkum bomb shelter. This is because all apartments in Singapore are required to have a bomb shelter under Singapore’s Civil Defence Shelter Act 1997.
As you can see from the thick door and walls, this room is designed to withstand a blast.
The bomb shelter is the strongest place in the apartment so when an explosion hits the idea is that the building crumbles but the bomb shelter stands strong. The shelters in a building are placed on top of each other for reinforcement. You might be 23 stories in the sky with a sheer drop outside your bomb shelter door but you are safe, albeit squashed in a small, dark room on top of a lot of other small, dark rooms.
There is only one door and for most people it is a loooong way down. According to Time Out Singapore the Singapore Civil Defence Force is equipped to rescue people from heights. I am relieved!
Does the legislation about bomb shelters reflect the historic instability of this region of the world? This is after all the region where the Cold War ran hot with the Vietnam War and the communist insurgencies in Indonesia and what was then known as Malaya. According to the Singapore Civil Defence Force, the first shelters in this bomb shelter program were established in 1983. What triggered that move? Perhaps I will find out when I visit the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery. There seems to be a museum for everything in Singapore. The list of museums I should visit is growing longer.
The second thing to know about bomb shelters in Singapore is that this is where the family’s maid sleeps at night.
We were shocked. I reiterate; bomb shelters are small and dark. I would not want to sleep in one voluntarily. Though I suppose if a bomb sneaked up on a building during the night then the maid would be the most likely to survive.
There are a lot of maids in Singapore but the word maid does not seem to be used. They are referred to as helpers. Hiring a helper is an option, not a requirement, for expats here. From observation it seems that it is mostly families with children who have a helper. We don’t have a helper as it seems rather unnecessary for a household of three adults.
Instead, we have made our bomb shelter our pantry. There are many uses for a bomb shelter. It could be a general store room, or as one website suggested, you could make it into a mini-library or a shoe cupboard. Check out ‘7 things to do with your HDB flat’s bomb shelter‘ for more ideas for bomb shelters. An HDB (Housing and Development Board) flat is the government housing where most Singaporean’s live.
Next to our bomb shelter is our laundry area. I reckon that builders in Australia should adopt our laundry design. Apartment buildings in Australia generally don’t have anywhere to air-dry clothes. This design flaw means that apartment dwellers in Australia have no choice but to use a tumble dryer which is not good for the environment. Even balconies cannot be used for drying clothes because body corporate rules generally forbid this.
Singapore apartment buildings have a great solution. Each flat has either an under-cover laundry area which is open to the air, or a special little balcony to dry clothes.
We also have another ingenious solution to the lack of space and the need to dry clothes – a clothes line that can be hoisted into the laundry ceiling.
When I told my mother about this she was reminded of her aunt’s indoor clothes line from the 1940s. It had a wooden frame and when not used it rested in the high ceiling. It was lowered by pulleys. Mum didn’t think her aunt’s clothes line looked anything like ours.
Our open-air, under-cover laundry area leads directly to the kitchen through an open doorway. I love the open-air feel of the kitchen. There is always a breeze to take away cooking smells. We are also fortunate to have large windows in our kitchen so it is bathed in natural light during the day.
We have another feature in our laundry area. We don’t have a car in Singapore so we rely on our feet and the fantastic public transport system for shopping. One of the first things I did is buy a carrier for our groceries.
This reminded me of my grandmother’s jeep. As children we used to walk down to High Street, Kew in Melbourne with Gran and her jeep. It was a box on wheels. It had four wheels and a vinyl cover stretched over a frame of four straight rods. I remember finding it difficult as a child to reach the bottom of the jeep to get things out.
Lo and behold, I found a photo online of the same type of jeep my grandmother had. It seems there is still some interest in these jeeps though I find the type I am using is much better. It has a light aluminium frame and does not take up much space.
Singaporeans love plastic bags. I use these as rubbish bags but where was I to store them? Without thinking I walked to the jeep and stuffed them in there. Then I thought about what I had done. My subconscious had delved back forty odd years ago. I was storing plastic bags in the jeep just like my grandmother had done. Our minds work in mysterious ways. If you had asked me a month ago where my grandmother had stored her plastic bags I would not have remembered that she stored them in her jeep.
My eighteen year old is annoyed at me calling our shopping carrier a jeep. To her a jeep is a rich four-wheel drive. She doesn’t even know about the old jeeps which were rough as guts and loaded with character. What is becoming of this world!
There are plenty of references to shopping jeeps online, but they all seem to be Australian. In fact most of the references seem to come from Melbourne. I found a couple of references to jeeps in New South Wales, but I don’t recall seeing people using them even in the inner suburbs of Sydney. I would be interested to know the etymology of the word.
In writing this post I have stumbled upon some great blogs which I will probably refer to in future posts. But I can’t leave you without mentioning one that in the wonderfully serendipitous way the world works seems to be connected to mine. For some further thoughts on shopping trolleys in Melbourne, check out Stumble Down Under by Cosette Paneque, a Cuban-American expat, now living in Melbourne.
One Melbourne expat stumbling through a new life in Singapore is now linked to a Miami expat who stumbles through her new life in Melbourne.
I just had to say that!