Thursday, February 1, 2018

Singapore Sundays

After living in Manila my whole life, sometime in 2007, I felt it was time for major change in scenery, I had been working the past 3 years in the same company as a web designer and longed for a new adventure in a foreign land. I had no real game plan and was rather idealistic and naive and figured I could just go travelling to some nearby country and apply for job and “tada” new life! I mean that’s how it goes right?

Anyway with that sorry excuse for a game plan in mind, I tendered in my resignation to my boss who was rather cool about it. All he asked was that that I stay a couple months longer to help him find my replacement to which I agreed. And this turned out to be the right call on my part. A few weeks later an applicant for my job went in for an interview, he was a nice enough guy with loads of talent who I knew right away was perfect for the job. When I asked about his previous employment he told me that he came from working in Singapore. And then he went on to tell me about how wonderful a country Singapore was and how nice his ex-boss there was and that he really regretted leaving. So I asked him why he did leave, he told me it was because his wife wanted to go back to Manila to be with family.  Anyway after telling his story and listening to me tell mine on why I was leaving my company, a lightbulb went off in his head...he offered to recommend me to his old boss in Singapore and all of a sudden things just fell into place. After a quick online introduction and showcase of my work I was hired and was on my way to Singapore. Funny how the world works sometimes.

Bukit Batok, my old neighborhood
So from 2008-2010 I called Singapore my home. The only time I had been to Singapore prior to that was when I travelled there with my family many many years earlier. I had the unfortunate luck of getting food poisoning the night that we arrived and was pretty much confined to the hotel for the rest of the trip….so yeah, I really had no idea what to expect. All I knew was what I was told, it was a first world country, the people were generally nice and most of them spoke english (or more accurately “sing-lish”), the food was fantastic and that it was as hot or even hotter than the Philippines.

To say I was blown away when I first arrived in Singapore would be an understatement. On my first day there I immediately hit Orchard road and was overwhelmed. After a pleasant dinner of duck rice with some friends I decided to strike it out on my own and check out what my new city had to offer…..ok fine, being the unadventurous geek that I am, I merely crossed the street to check out a Toys R’Us that I had spotted earlier. There wasn’t much to find and I spent the rest of the night looking for the correct bus stop, for a bus that ironically never arrived (preparations for Singaporean independence day had messed up the bus schedules...but how would I know that?). My boss ended up picking me up to bring me back to the place I was staying. Not the most memorable first “solo” adventure in Singapore.

Now I can write multiple blog posts focusing on different points about all my experiences during my 2 year stint in Singapore but since this really is a blog about toys….that’s what I will basically focus on now.

I was already a toy collector when I got to Singapore, but I was still very single minded and focused on collecting one toyline, which were Transformers. It was in Singapore where I truly branched out into collecting other toylines, most notably G.I.Joe & Masters of the Universe. See the thing with Singapore is that it’s SO EASY to get toys. Aside from the numerous TRU branches and toy sections of various department stores, there are a lot of hobby stores located all around the city, which thanks to an efficient and simple MRT system is easy to get around. If that weren’t enough, there is a great “network” of secondary & online sellers that could be found on eBay Singapore. And to top it all off, Singapore has an EXCELLENT postal service that does NOT tax you for international toy purchases (so hello US online stores!) regardless of the size of the package. Compared to Manila, where the postal “service” is a complete nightmare operated wby crooks who will “tax” you mercilessly, this was just amazing (and dangerous for one like me who had an itchy online purchase button finger).

Anyway, I’m kinda getting ahead of myself. As a newbie collector in a foreign land, I quickly sought out the help of another friend who lived there for advice on where to go to find toys. He mentioned a number of places, but the one place he recommended the most was a mall in Chinatown called China Square Central or CSC for short.

Now if a foreigner asked any toy collector in Manila where was the best place to find toys, I’m sure that pretty much everyone would say go to Greenhills Shopping Center, it is pretty much toy collectors central in Manila. Well if Manila has Greenhills, Singapore has China Square Central.

The first of many...
Conveniently located a short walking distance from an MRT station, CSC houses quite a lot of toy/hobby shops under one roof. Since I had not yet started working, I ventured there on a weekday and to be honest I wasn’t that impressed. It was a virtual ghost town with hardly anyone there and most of the stores closed. Apparently I didn’t get the memo that not many Singaporeans do much toy shopping on weekdays. Anyway I managed to to find one store that was ironically being run by a Filipino. He had a bunch of loose Transformers Animated figures that I didn’t know had been released in retail yet (I had yet to learn about the “dark side” of toy collecting, e.i. toys smuggled out of the factory before their official release) so I got myself a Dinobot first official Singapore toy purchase. Anyway, later that week I recounted my adventure in CSC to my friend and told him it was just ok. He then told me to try going there on a Sunday to get the real CSC experience.

So apparently, aside from most of the toy stores there being open for business, every Sunday, CSC has a Sunday Flea Market where even more vendors are present. They rent out tables and sell their stuff in the general areas and hallways inside the mall. While the variety of items being sold vary from clothes, to antiques and so on, a majority of these vendors sell toys...and quite a lot of them. And the variety of toys range from the brand new to a lot of vintage stuff, and the beauty of it all is that aside from some “regular” vendors, a lot of the sellers come and go from week to week so the overall stocks of toys you find are always changing. For a collector like myself, this was definitely something to look forward to every week.

Once I was properly settled in Singapore, CSC became my regular Sunday go to place….after Church of course he he. Sunday was my favorite day of the week in Singapore. I am a creature of habit and pretty much followed the same basic Sunday schedule every week. After waking up a little later than usual, I would attend a Filipino mass nearby where I lived then have lunch in Pastamania located at the neighborhood mall and feast on a personal pepperoni pizza and some chicken wings. Or If I felt like spending a little bit more, I would go for a steak at my favorite coffee shop western stall, Botak Jones. After a whole week of eating the local cuisine, I craved for western food on the weekends. And then it was off to Chinatown for the CSC flea market.

On some days I’d find a lot of stuff and on other days...nothing, but that would be ok. Just being around all the vendors, seeing what was new and interesting was for me the perfect way to unwind before another week of work. Sometimes, if I still had time, before heading home I would drop by Plaza Singapura which was home for a good number of toy stores as well….and Carls Jr. if I was more in the mood for a good ol’ burger that week.

So that’s how I pretty much spent my Sundays in Singapore, it was really a fun experience that I will always look back at fondly. Since I returned to Manila in 2010, I had made quite a number of return visits to Singapore, and on every trip I make sure I’m there on Sunday to go back to CSC.

One of my favorite stores in CSC...there til the end :(
Unfortunately, this post doesn’t end on a very great note. Every time I went back to CSC, I noticed quite a lot of my familiar stores would no longer be there. And as for the flea market, little by little there would be less toys to be found. And finally during one of my latest trips back, I was told by my friends that all the toy stores there would be moving out since the CSC building management would not be renewing any of their contracts past the end of 2017. Apparently with a new hotel being constructed next door, the CSC management want to fill the building with more stores more suitable to the hotel clientele. As of this writing, the China Square Central that I so fondly remember is no more. The Sunday Flea Market has relocated to another building nearby as have many of the other stores. But despite all that, I know that Singapore Sundays will never be the same, and that’s OK. Nothing lasts forever, change is constant...but in some ways it is also good.

Unfortunately I’ve also heard that my favorite steak place Botak Jones is gone as well. But in its place, my wife and I have discovered a new treat in this marvelous bowl of chicken curry noodle soup sold there in Chinatown as well.

Anyway, I can’t wait for my next opportunity to return to Singapore. I’m excited to see and scope out the new toy landscape that I will find. I’m sure I will have a lot more to write about. It sucks to see places you had such fond memories of close down and end, but at the same time, what comes next is always something worth looking forward to.