Here I sit in Singapore airport reminiscing about my first experience with Airbnb. Have you heard of it? It’s an alternative accommodation option and one that appeals to me for two reasons. 1. An opportunity to stay with locals and get the inside story on life there & 2.Much cheaper accomodation. While the types of accommodation include renting out a whole house, I prefer the private room option. I love staying with locals who can help answer all my questions.
My trip to Singapore began at Melbourne airport which was memorable for the long queues where I easily walked my 10,000 steps lining up firstly to check in, then for immigration and then for the hand luggage X-ray check. I was particularly grateful to the kind lady there who thoughtfully offered to empty my bottle after watching me struggle to empty it before I reached the X-ray machine! What a relief, because I was preparing myself to surrender it entirely.
The flight to Singapore took 8 long hours. I watched 2 movies – Mission impossible (which was great) and Man From Uncle (lame). The length of the journey wasn’t helped when I discovered that I was supposed to preorder and prepay if I wanted a meal on Jetstar!! Consequently, I lasted the entire trip eeking out the remainder of my lolly frogs and a bottle of water!
I arrived into Singapore at 6pm and it took over 2 hours before I was ready to leave the airport. By that time I was starving and was hanging out to have some tucker! However I was so tired, it became more likely that I woould just collapse in bed and worry about my stomach the next morning.
That my first Airbnb experience was interesting, is putting it mildly. I booked it first thing Wednesday morning just before heading off to Melbourne airport and then throughout the day, whenever I had time & wifi, I checked the status of the reservation. It was always ‘pending’. I messaged Jo (not her real name) via the app and got no response. Consequently I decided to see if I could fly straight to Indonesia and skip my first Airbnb experience. I could get an Air Asia flight at 8:40pm for $400 which I considered but I couldn’t book it online as the fight was leaving in under 4 hours. I asked at the brilliant information desk for the location of the Air Asia desk and was directed upstairs. While waiting to be attended to, I decided that if the cost was anything more than $400, I would stay in Singapore and catch a flight out tomorrow instead. The price quoted was $550, so it was back downstairs to try messaging Jo again.
Singapore Airport wifi while free, ran hot and cold which was very frustrating. I logged onto it with both my phone and ipad because when the wifi on one lagged, the other one seemed to fire!! Very odd. Finally I got a response from Jo and thus began 2 hours of very confusing mixed messages. I was determined to get clear instructions for directions to her place before leaving the airport while I had access to wifi. As it was, the first taxi driver took one look at my notes and refused to take me. He kept asking for the street number which was missing. So back inside to Jo who gave me a long number which meant nothing either to me nor the 2nd taxi driver. However he was keen to take me and drive around looking!! I insisted that he relinquish my baggage from the boot and went back inside to message Jo again. However messaging her took ages. I tried reducing my questions to single sentences but this didn’t help. Finally she told me the street number and I tried again. By this time, the taxi porters knew me well and were helpful and encouraging! “Have you got the street number yet?” “Try this taxi and see if he can take you!”
After 2 hours of trying to decode Jo’s strange texting messages and 2 hours of uncertainty as to whether she wanted me to stay or not, I finally hopped into a taxi who understood the updated address she provided me. This taxi driver was so friendly and chatted constantly along the way telling me about Tampines, (Tamp-in-es) the area I was heading to. It is a high rise area built near a polytechnic where apparently you can get cheap dental work done. We also talked about the food available here which made my poor stomach grumble and groan. Its been a long time since that delicious plate of Indonesian food I ate the previous evening in Melbourne! Turns out that all the streets here are called Tampines Street or Tampines Ave which explains the confusion, yet each is differentiated by a number! For example Tampines St 37,Tampines St 43 etc. The kind taxi driver then found my block number and that was $15 Singapore dollars well spent. I found a lift only to discover that it was lift B and I needed lift A. A friendly tenant fortuitously emerged from lift B and pointed me in the right direction. I went up the 7 floors, turned left and knocked on Helen’s door.
The door was opened by a Chinese lady wearing her ‘duster’ (house dress). Her apartment is much bigger than I imagined it to be. Don’t know why I expected Singapore apartments to be small and poky. Apparently there are 4 bedrooms!! The living area/kitchen is open plan and dominated by a long open window which was letting in a beautiful breeze. Jo explained that she usually has students staying but in their absence is offering short stay accomodation with Airbnb. My bedroom is the closest to the sitting room and is very spacious. It contains a double bed, a large cupboard, a writing desk, a book case, a chest of drawers and has direct access to the shared bathroom. While it has an air conditioner, I was more delighted that it had open windows and a ceiling fan. After the freezing cold air-con in the plane and airport, I was finally defrosting.
Jo insisted we sit down and sort out finances which was very odd after the many messages I’d had from Airbnb reminding me that payment is only done through the website. I immediately contacted the site to find out why my payment hadn’t gone through and it turns out she hadn’t accepted my booking. I am now waiting for another email from them to explain what we do next! Jo asked me to pay by credit card which is not my first choice for obvious reasons. She is a very strong minded business woman!! Apparently my room is already booked for the following nightl!! By the time we had agreed to wait for Airbnb’s advice, it was after midnight Melbourne time and I was done in. I grabbed a shower and collapsed in bed. I was so tired, my hunger had vanished.
I woke early the next morning as has been the case for several weeks now regardless of the time zone I am in!! The house was silent and there was an unfamiliar male sound asleep on the couch in the sitting room, so I stayed in my room, constantly checking my emails for a message from Airbnb. Finally one came to say that as the request had lapsed, we would need to organise payment between ourselves. I then waited and waited for someone to get up so I could head out and get some breakfast. To fill in the time, I investigated flights to Bali and read a book I found in the bookshelf in my room. Flights to Bali were very expensive, so I booked instead a flight to Jakarta thinking it would be easier to find a cheap flight in person! (Big mistake or fortunate error?) I was starving hungry, not having eaten anything except a few lolly frogs for almost 36 hours!! By 10am, I was incredibly frustrated, so grabbed my gear intending to head out. As soon as I opened the front door, Jo popped out of her bedroom!! Why hadn’t I tried that earlier?? She explained where the nearby eatery was and gave me a key to get back in.
This eatery was exactly like the one I ate at the last time I stayed in Singapore. A selection of various culinary delights including Chinese, Indian and Malay food. The hard part was that I was soooo hungry, I found the selection overwhelming!! I settled for an Indian vegetarian selection and it was delicious, although while waiting for my food to be served, a fellow next to me was handed his martabak and I instantly regretted not ordering that as it looked very different to the martabak I enjoy in Indonesia. My meal cost SD$3! I wolfed it down and then sat briefly enjoying the feeling of a full tummy while looking at the people sitting nearby. Very entertaining watching locals going about their morning routines.
Back at Jo’s place, we agreed on the price I was to pay for the night, SD$58, and then she accompanied me to a nearby ATM and also showed me where to catch the bus to the airport. Once I’d handed over the money, I couldn’t see any point in hanging around, so grabbed my bags and said my goodbyes. Just as well I’d made a hasty exit, as no sooner had I reached the bus stop, it began pouring with rain and in just the tiny gap between the bus shelter and the bus door, my bags and I got quite wet. It was absolutely beautiful sitting in the bus enjoying the thundering rain on the windows and watching the 3-4 meter wide splash the bus tyres made over the lawns adjoining the road from the pooling water in the gutters.
I now am in a quandary. Do I write a review onAirbnb about my stay with Jo? What on earth would I write anyway?? While I found her approach very detached, other travelers might prefer that.
I am now preparing for my next Airbnb experience and already I anticipate that it will be a totally different experience. For starters this host has accepted my booking request and secondly has offered to pick me up from the airport! I sit here now enjoying the cool Surabaya air while eating soto telur (egg soto) and drinking an icy cold dragonfruit juice! Absolutely delicious.