Cost of Living

Brynmill Park, afternoon of Sunday 23 October 2016

Brynmill Park, afternoon of Sun 23 Oct 2016

My mind is a little hazy since I read the following statistic conjured by some academic somewhere some time ago: if I recall correctly, the migration rate of our prehistoric ancestors as they multiplied, spread their ranges and slowly walked their way out of Africa was about thirty miles with each successive generation. Exploring and migrating into the unknown must have been a terrifying prospect then for who knew what dangers lurked over the horizon and how one would find adequate food, water and shelter in the new lands.

Fast forward many millennia, millions of people are on the move now in search of a better life and/or new experiences. While migrants continue to face all sorts of uncertainties and difficulties (especially refugees, illegal workers, exiles and such folk who encounter all manners of hazards), most purposeful migrations that take place today are different from before, for by and large, people are moving from known/civilized places to other known/civilized places (made easier if one has access to resources such as the Internet/libraries/well-traveled and -informed associates to conduct prior research), as opposed to moving to completely virgin wilderness.

And now coming to my own example of moving from Singapore to Swansea. Of course, before 22 September, I looked up the Internet for a lot of basic information — the Swansea University website for advice on how to apply/travel/enrol, maps of Swansea to get some sense of the lay of the land, casual Google searches on topics of interest that could be located in Swansea… But nothing can compare to actually being on the ground and discovering for oneself…

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Entrance to D Block, Beck House, plus steps to side gate leading to Hawthorne Avenue (29 Oct 2016)

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Beck House (29 Oct 2016)

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Sketty Road entrance to Beck House (29 Oct 2016)

For instance, Uplands… I chose to apply and stay in Beck House, the university hostel for postgraduates located in the neighborhood of Uplands, 10-15 minutes walk away from the university’s Singleton Campus. Okay, I’m not a Dylan Thomas fan — so I did not know that he was born in Uplands, a street or so away from the shops on Uplands Crescent, until I arrived and saw all the street signs proclaiming proudly that Uplands was his birthplace. The walk from Beck House to the shops (easy access to a Tesco Express and a Sainsbury Local) is a comfortable stroll, and definitely better access to some amenities than living on the Singleton Campus itself where one needs to take a bus to town to do proper shopping (there is a Costcutters on campus where one can buy some basic essentials, but the range is not as good as a well-stocked supermarket).

But duhhh, with a name like Uplands, I should have realized that the walk between campus and Uplands would not be easy. Google maps can sometimes be deceiving in their 2-D nature since they do not indicate clearly the elevation of the roads indicated. To walk from Singleton Campus to Beck House, one cuts through Singleton Park, then Brynmil Park and some streets of suburbia. The incline from Singleton to Brynmill is fairly gradual.  The killer is walking up the steep gradient of Pantygwdyr Road and Hawthorne Avenue to access the side gate of Beck House that is right next to Block D where I live. Yes, one pants and haws and one’s glut and calf muscles protest when going up that stretch…

Uplands Street Market, 29 Oct 2016

Uplands Street Market, Sat 29 Oct 2016

Wedding cake with autumn theme, Celebration/D.H. Strawbridge Ltd, Uplands Crescent (28 Oct 2016)

Wedding cake with autumn theme, Celebration/D.H. Strawbridge Ltd, Uplands Crescent (28 Oct 2016)

A once-a-month treat in the Uplands area is the street market held every last Saturday morning of the month. Apart from fresh produce and cooked/baked food, there are also stalls selling all sorts of arts and handicrafts, even a second-hand bookshop on wheels that features books about Wales. A nice contrast to the daily run-of-the-mill everyday fare offered in the usual shops.

Practical folks back home in Singapore must be wondering: “Are things expensive in Swansea?” Actually, no. What with the cost of living in Singapore having risen so high in recent years and the drop of the pound sterling since Brexit (and perhaps factoring in that I am not in London), foodstuff, household things and even clothes are extremely affordable. You can go into a supermarket and get ordinary food items per item for less than £1 (imagine a can of peas at Aldi for less than 20 pence) , around £1-£2, such that if you have to pay £3, you feel that you are splurging.

What a sharp contrast to 2003/2004 when I was studying for my MA in Voice Studies at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. A weekly shopping trip to the supermarket for granola, vegetables, eggs and a few sundry items would set me back £20 at least very easily (a heart-stopping SGD60 back then) and I was only buying bare necessities. Now imagine visiting Poundland here in the UK and after converting each pound you spend to Singapore dollars — gee, it’s even cheaper than Daiso where everything is at $2 per item, now that the Singapore dollar is around $1.75 to £1.

However to make sure one gets bargains here in Swansea, one must be prepared to do some legwork and investigation. For instance from my own purchasing experiences thus far, shampoo from Tesco, antiseptic cream from Boots and slow cooker from Argos were cheaper at Wilco. And I’m sure if I had the time and resources, I could probably find stuff even cheaper elsewhere… So hmmm… Whether such easy living will be available when Brexit kicks in proper (especially now with all the news of big banks planning to leave London), time will only tell…

Oh, oh, oh… I must relate the most amazing retail adventure that will interest shopaholic readers. I accompanied my friend SL to visit her parents at Sandhurst during the weekend of 14 to 16 Oct. Within ten minutes’ walk of their home is the LARGEST ever Marks and Spencers (Camberley branch). Singaporean friends: imagine an M&S the size of 1.5 or even 2 Changi Expo halls… OMG… The range of stuff is incredible in Camberley, making whatever is available in the Singapore flagship store at Wheelock a mere puny fraction… And the Camberley prices are so reasonable (possibly cheap) even after converting to Singapore dollars, compared to the prices of M&S stuff in Singapore… Life is just so unfair…

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View of Swansea from Mumbles (9 Oct 2016)

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Autumn leaves, Portland Street, Swansea, city centre (29 Oct 2016)

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Autumn, Portland Street, Swansea, city centre (29 Oct 2016)

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Autumn, Portland Street, Swansea, city centre (29 Oct 2016)

Of the five weeks that I have been here thus far, I must say that I have been blessed in the sense that about half of the time the weather has been clear and sunny, rather than constantly dark and dribbly with rain. When the sun shines, being in Swansea is gorgeous. On days when the sun seemingly refuses to rise and continues to hide itself behind clouds, life can be so dreary. There have been colder days, there have been warmer days. (It still befuddles me how scantily dressed some students can be — imagine wearing plastic flip flops to uni.) Definitely, more and more trees are shedding their leaves and there is much less green than when I first arrived. Not all the autumn landscape is magnificent, but there are moments of intense beauty that hopefully the above pictures will suggest for you.

And just as I have physically settled in (and by Monday after meeting my supervisor, I should be confirming a plan of how to proceed with the Ph.D. studies), I will be leaving Swansea on 2 Nov to return to Singapore briefly. The reason: I will be launching five books at the 2016 Singapore Writers Festival.

On 8 Nov, the books that will be launched are Spaces: People/Places (my second book of short stories) and three volumes that I edited (Balik Kampung 3A: Northern Shores, Balik Kampung 3B: Some East, More West, and Balik Kampung 3C: Central Corridor). On 12 Nov, I will be launching another volume that I edited, Singapore Love Stories. Everyone is invited to these launches.

And then only after 14 Nov 2016 will the real hard work on the Ph.D.  studies begin…

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