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Thread: THE NEW IMMIGRANTS: Housing

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    Default THE NEW IMMIGRANTS: Housing

    May 6, 2007

    THE NEW IMMIGRANTS: Housing

    S'pore's Wisteria Lane

    The Americans head for Woodgrove Estate, the Indians to Meyer Road and the well-heeled to Nassim Hill

    By Cheong Suk-Wai


    American housewife Lisa McMullen used to be scared silly of her countrymen who lived in Woodgrove Estate in Woodlands, the new American expatriate enclave.

    Mrs McMullen, who used to live in Shelford Road in Bukit Timah, recalls: 'I was told how gossipy everyone was, like wanting to know what you were having for dinner. But when we finally moved here, we found that everyone here leads such busy lives they have no time to gossip.'

    Since 1997, the American expat community has flocked to Woodgrove from the longstanding American enclaves of Bukit Timah, Tanglin and Holland Road. This is chiefly because the Singapore American School uprooted from Ulu Pandan to Woodlands Street 41 at around that time. Mrs McMullen's three daughters all attend it.

    Freelance interior designer and Woodgrove resident Cheryl Newman recalls of rentals back then: 'You couldn't get anything under $16,000' - so hot was demand for the neighbourhood among American expat parents.

    Woodgrove, to the uninitiated, is a neighbourhood on a slope and comprises some 34 three-storey country mansions along lanes with names such as Ashwood, Beechwood and Cedarwood.

    It was completed in 2001 by developer Far East Organization. The houses are between 2,800 and 3,000 sq ft each and there is a great concentration of American families there.

    Might Woodgrove Estate be just another name for Wisteria Lane, though, home to the Desperate Housewives of TV fame? After all, the spacious houses with bay windows, lofts and more than four bedrooms each actually mirror homes in wealthy American suburbs, a la the fictional Wisteria Lane.

    Mrs Newman, a former president of women's expat club the Singapore Oilwives Association, and her posse hoot long and loud at this.

    Aside from the fact that they are all housewives and love cosying up for ladies-only chats, they'd have you know they are 'anything but desperate'.

    Says Mrs Newman: 'In downtown condos, everyone tends to keep to themselves outside of the club. Here, if you walk your dogs, you will run into at least half a dozen folks you know.'

    And no worries if any of Woodgrove's denizens run out of eggs - just holler to your neighbour for some. Or get them to pick your children up after school.

    Halloween, that most American of festivals, is huge here, with even pet dogs being dressed up as ghouls for fun.

    It's a lifestyle leg-up in many other ways: With more space to play with than downtown, they have their own swimming pools and sprawling Balinese-inspired backyards.

    But there's a price to be paid for such lavish living. Some basic amenities they took for granted when they called Bukit Timah or Orchard Road home, such as wet markets and grocers, are sorely lacking in Woodlands.

    'There isn't even a Starbucks to be had,' laments Mrs Janet Andrew, who says the nearby Woodgrove mall and Causeway Point have poor pickings, catering more to heartlanders than cosmopolitans.

    'Even the Cold Storage does not stock food expats are used to,' she says. So the women of Woodgrove drive to the Farrer Road wet market for 'good fresh chicken'. For slices of Americana, though, it's still Tanglin Mall.

    Mrs McMullen says: 'When I was living in Shelford Road, my husband Mike used to ring me up after his workday and ask me to join him for a drink downtown. Now I think of the long drive down in the rush-hour jam and just have to say no to such quiet times we used to enjoy.'

    Lucky for them then that they and their neighbours are a tight-knit bunch. They've even set up an online neighbourhood bulletin board which has come in handy now that burglaries are on the increase in Woodgrove. The families are extra vigilant after a break-in on April 11, and two other attempted burglaries. They also put up with petty thefts - of bicycles, mostly.

    The other downside is Singaporean skateboarders who cause a ruckus with their antics well into the wee hours. The police had to be called in to disperse them.

    Despite the spectre of intruders, the going rental rate for a Woodgrove country mansion has now gone up to as much as $25,000 a month, they say. This is by far the largest threat looming over this lush suburbia.

    The women point out that their husbands' companies are not likely to tolerate such a spike in rentals. So, if push comes to shove rent-wise, they may just move out.

    Says Mrs Andrew: 'Our husbands and their colleagues are telling us that Shanghai is the next Singapore, and rents there are lower than those here, so you may soon see more American companies relocating their overseas staff to China.'

    Still, the estate's sorority sister vibe should have most American families staying put in the neighbourhood for quite a while to come.

    As Mrs Newman puts it: 'We've eaten together at hawker centres here at 3am in our ballgowns and high heels. It's the stuff that long friendships are built on.'

    [email protected]

    'Sometimes people will act like I'm not there, or they think I don't speak English. But these are only some Singaporeans, so I don't let that affect me'
    Lena Garcia, 30, a maid from the Philippines who has been here on a work permit for the past three years

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    Default Re: THE NEW IMMIGRANTS: Housing

    May 6, 2007

    Indian Expat Central


    IT'S ironic, really, that Meyer Road has become such a lightning rod for the Indian expatriate community.

    Just five years ago, many an ambitious Indian expat would be ashamed to say he lived in the East Coast. 'It showed that you could not afford the rents downtown,' says an Indian expatriate, an electrical engineer who did not want to be named.

    What a seachange the neighbourhood has had, then. Meyer Road has become Indian Expatriate Central where the more lavish lifestyles of, among others, the old-money Sindhi and Parsi expat communities - traditionally wealthier Indians compared to those from the south - contrast starkly with the humbler lives of salarymen with school-going children.

    Mr Tarunava Sarker, 48, chief executive officer of Indian bank UTI here, is one who is glad to have settled down here. He is from Kolkata, took up his post in February last year and lives with his wife and two sons at The Makena condominium.

    The dearth of neighbourhood facilities that HDB denizens take for granted - such as ATMs and MRT stations - is not a deterrent.

    'The only time I feel it is when I am carrying seven packets of groceries from Giant and there isn't a bus or taxi in sight.'

    He adds that the beach nearby, especially, is a big draw for the community. 'Most of us come from large Indian cities that are so crowded and polluted that we crave fresh air and wide open spaces.'

    Indeed, all the 10 Indian expats in the neighbourhood we interviewed cite the sea as the area's prime draw.

    And as many Indian expats are IT professionals working in Suntec City, living in the East Coast means a 60-cent bus ride to work and reaching the office in 15 minutes. Their children go to the nearby East Coast campus of the popular Global Indian International School.

    All this has sent rents in the area soaring by as much as 60 per cent in the past year, says housewife Monisha Charan, who is in her 30s.

    She and her family moved to Hawaii Towers from nearby Amber Park in March last year. They have lived here for 51/2 years.

    Mopping her brow after her walk around Katong Park, Mrs K. Mohan, 73, a permanent resident from Mumbai, tells you she is a Sindhi who has lived in the 30-year-old Peach Garden condominium since 1986.

    The widowed mother of four, who came to Singapore with her businessman husband in 1957, says she especially loves Meyer Road's location, which is a lane away from her Sindhi temple.

    She adds that, as far as she knows, newly arrived as well as well-established Indian expats get along famously, although they tend to congregate in their own age groups who are on the same wavelength.

    'I never want to move out of Meyer Place. The people in my condo are talking about en bloc this and en bloc that, but I hope it doesn't happen,' she says. 'This neighbourhood was great when I first moved here, and it's still great now.'

    Cheong Suk-Wai

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    Default Fancy address, but a simple life

    May 6, 2007

    THE NEW IMMIGRANTS: Housing

    Fancy address, but a simple life


    WHEN retired French banker Catherine Fourcade and her husband first arrived in Singapore in 2000, she cried.

    The Fourcades' previous port of call was London for two years where she thrilled to the capital's vibrant arts vibe.

    Welcoming LifeStyle into her 3,400 sq ft apartment on the sixth floor of Nassim Mansion, she says frankly: 'We didn't plan to stay in Singapore for so long, but now it has been seven years and we have made many Singaporean friends, so we look forward to living here as long as we can.'

    Home to the French couple for the past four years has been the coveted address of Nassim Hill, better known as Embassy Row.

    Settling like a feather on her cushy sofa, the opera lover adds: 'I still miss London's cultural scene, especially its theatre. But I don't miss the city's materialistic aspects.'

    Chic and slick in a crisp white shirt, plain salmon-pink slacks and burnished gold slingbacks, her silk-smooth complexion belies one who has three children aged 25, 22 and 13, the youngest of whom still lives with her and attends the United World College here. Her older son and daughter are back in France.

    As her husband Olivier, the Asia-Pacific vice-president of a global telecommunications company, asks what we would like to drink, we breathe in the homey, expensive scent of their spacious living room.

    Its cheery centrepiece is a shock of maroon- and mustard-hued orchids bursting out of a giant jar, enlivening the otherwise tranquil home.

    The family's feisty Norfolk terrier Bobo scurries about the polished teakwood floors, sniffing your ankles.

    This is a household that has edited its life down to elusive elegance, and the couple stress that opulence and ostentation are anathema to them.

    In one corner, you find carved wooden wall-hangings - bought in Chinatown here - taking pride of place with Mr Fourcade's photographic portraits of the smiling denizens of Bhutan.

    But there are also the century-old candle holders of stained magenta glass from France and a mesmerising gouache painting by French artist Charles Sahuguet (1910-1990).

    As Mrs Fourcade puts it: 'What we have is what we worked for, you know.'

    But surely there are some luxuries she allows herself like, say, a personal fashion buyer? She says: 'I have a grocer, Bestway, that with one phone call delivers all the food we need, so I don't go to wet markets or supermarkets.

    'But I do shop for clothes at Isetan, Takashimaya and Forum The Mall, and don't go to spas. It's a very simple life, really.'

    True to their Gallic roots, the Fourcades' one indulgence is food. They eat out almost every night and are especially partial to Japanese cuisine, with Cuppage Plaza being their favourite destination. If they want something French, it's Au Petit Salut in Chip Bee Gardens.

    They take breakfast on their Balinese-inspired patio, flanked by palm fronds and tea lights. The patio actually overlooks their former 5,000 sq ft bungalow in Cluny Road.

    When their two older children went back to France four years ago, they decided to move into a smaller home. They plumped for Nassim Mansion because, as Mrs Fourcade puts it: 'We need to be downtown because both Olivier and I were born in Paris and have been living in cities all our life. But at the same time, we also needed a peaceful place.'

    They declined to say how much it cost to rent their Cluny Road bungalow, but they allowed that they now pay rent of $12,000 a month. You'd need more than $6 million to buy the apartment proper.

    If you think that's steep, you might want to know that Nassim Mansion's other landlords are raising their rents upwards of $17,000 a month at the moment.

    Mrs Fourcade's days are mostly filled with her handmade bed and table linen retail business, which she set up in 2002 under the name Nympheas (French for 'water lily'). She sells them for between $95 and $1,000 at a showroom in Whitchurch Road.

    That showroom has given her an opportunity to get in touch with the sort of artistic soirees she used to enjoy in abundance in London. As of last year, she has been inviting local classical musicians to give recitals there, and also mounts art exhibitions by local artists.

    She says: 'It is a way of giving back to the community in which we have made so many friends.'

    Cheong Suk-Wai

    We look forward to living here as long as we can'
    Mrs Fourcade

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