Used Bikes for the New Year (plus a second-hand shopping guide to Singapore)
It’s Chinese New Year in Singapore, and if the terrible puns (let’s gallop into an horse-picious new year; wishing you good luck and horse-perity) haven’t clued you in on which animal’s up next in the Chinese zodiac, well, I probably can’t either so I won’t even try.
As a non-native to the tradition, Chinese New Year – also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival – mostly conjures up images of P not being afraid of extremely loud dragons on account of they breathe candies. We also know it as the season of workplace performance reviews (just before), annual bonuses (just after), corporate ship-jumping (a little after that again) and resultant complexities in workplace relations (throughout) – but this year, thanks to the teachers at our children’s school, we’ve also embraced it as the season of spring cleaning.
The Spring Cleaning Tradition
I cannot but applaud the way our school has instructed their charges to go home and help with the mopping and tidying – to initiate it, if necessary – although my son was mostly keen to make us aware that he was within his rights to refuse broom-work on new year’s day. I assured him that nobody in our house has trouble following this tradition, although we did spare a thought for an elderly lady who lives nearby, whose day seems to consist almost entirely of forbidding leaves from accumulating on any footpaths, pavements, or gardens beds within a fifty metre radius of her home. I hope she had a lot of visitors to tide her through.
Meanwhile, I managed to fill several garbage bags with used-up art supplies, spoiled toys and clothing, and stuff I probably should have fished out from behind that entertainment unit a while back. I made another pile for donation and did some overdue repairs. I even went through and tidied our garden.
All this, however, was marred by a single item: a little blue bike with a broken wheel. Nobody in Singapore seemed to carry replacement wheels in a small enough size.
Then I found him. The Bike Uncle.
Second Hand Singapore
There are good reasons for expats and travellers to know their second hand markets. It might be cheaper to recycle locally than to ship or carry stuff, and doing so helps keep the household possessions in tune with your current home and lifestyle. In many cases, you can also get the smug satisfaction of knowing the profits went a good cause (as opposed to the icky feeling you get knowing your excesses went into landfill). This is especially important if, like me, you’re no interior decorator and tend to realise the folly of your ways only after getting everything home.
But what I really enjoy are the inroads we find into our local community. Volunteers at charity shops are not minimum wage slaves watching the clock, but an assorted batch with nothing better to do than cheerfully help people from the goodness of their hearts (plus a few martyrs who seem to feel that the world wouldn’t function if they didn’t continually put themselves out for everyone else’s sake, not that anybody appreciates it).
The local Del-boys are always characters worth running into, and for the cost of a terrible deal on a low-stakes trade you can get at least one tall story and some advice on where to shop that isn’t an overpriced outlet marketing furiously to foreigners who don’t know any better. And then there’s a stream of ordinary folk, who’ll be happy to chat with you for five minutes as part of the exchange, giving you the best of their local advice, inviting you to their church, directing you to doctors and restaurants and schools and places of interest.
I checked out my favourite second-hand places, until I discovered the Bike Uncle in Ang Mo Kio – the local go-to guy, as we found out on our way through the HDB where he lived with his elderly wife. You couldn’t walk through the place with a broken bike and not hear of him. He gave us a trade-in on our broken-down bike for a slightly larger refurbished model and we all said, “Thankyou, ah,” as we separated ways.
Next item on our second-hand list: a coat for P to wear in Japan. Because none of our friends have kids in his size, and we are not spending big for something he’ll get less than two weeks’ wear from (or planning to let him die of exposure).
Second Hand Shopping Guide To Singapore
Trends in second hand shopping come and go. Update me if I’ve missed the new big thing!
As far as I can tell, Gum Tree Singapore is currently the nation’s biggest online classified site (and not just by its own claims). Email or SMS sellers to negotiate terms and conditions.
Ebay.com.sg has never really been an online auction site in Singapore. Deals have always been done mostly behind the scenes, with the auction cancelled before its finish. Nowadays, it’s less popular with the casual second-hand hawker, and most items seem to be from online businesses (many based outside Singapore) using the Buy It Now feature. Still worth a quick check, just in case. If the seller gives a mobile number, SMS to negotiate.
I’ve found a number of things through the classified sections of various online expat forums, but last I checked most of the chat sections were nasty places full of petty and unnecessary hatred so tread with care. (The forum at Expat Blogs, Singapore, seems to be a welcome exception I guess because, bloggers?)
The local chapter of Freecycle.org is now best accessed via their facebook group. They have a resources section which gives great information on recycling in Singapore, as well as the usual opportunity to list your giveaway (free-cycling) items. Freecycle has branches in many countries – check the website, other chapters may be stronger or work differently.
Craigslist also exists in Singapore, but I’ve never tried it (comments welcome).
The Salvation Army
We have a policy of not moving couches or dining tables. They never seem to fit in the new place, especially since we keep living in little places, and our couch-related requirements seem to somehow vary, as well. The Salvation Army is the most universally reliable place we’ve come across for rapid acquisition of second hand furniture. They usually get a good range, and can organise pickups and drop offs. There are several stores in Singapore, but try the Praisehaven Store on Bukhit Timah Road first.
New2U Thrift Shop
New2U is run by the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, so the proceeds go to a good cause, and they get lots of great clothes, plus some books and toys. The best part, though, is it’s right near the centre of town, so you can spend on lunch what you saved on shopping.
Expat Auctions serve the more upmarket end of the spectrum, focussing on “quality” recycled furniture. There are weekly auctions with a catalogue and viewings available beforehand.
Transient Singapore has a ready-made social network for all your cultural and personal identities, and they’re pretty easy to find. Meetup.com is a tool people use. Most nationalities have some kind of “association”. Mothers groups and play groups are the most ubiquitous kind of network. If you’re a church-goer or sports person, you’ll probably be able to ask around there, too – in fact, some churches hold regular second-hand markets. It’s pretty common to hear someone advertising their “garage” sale if you keep your ear to the ground.
Many private sellers can pass you the number of a delivery driver. Otherwise, ask around – it’s not that hard to get hold of the number for a driver, which is just as well because he’ll probably have changed jobs by next time you want to use his services and you’ll have to start all over again and find a new one. Expect after-hours deliveries from people moonlighting for extra cash.
Maxicabs will also take stuff, but they are more likely to do so if you naively don’t tell them you have stuff when you book them. Of course you have to be sensible about what they can carry, especially if there’s a danger of scratching or damaging the seats. They’ll probably want to charge you a flat transport fee rather than the metered fare if you’re transporting bulky items.
Bike Uncle in Ang Mo Kio
Message me for contact details. His specialty seems to be recycled children’s bikes.
You can get a more rounded view of Chinese New Year in Singapore from:
Kids R Simple – who’s been getting crafty with the kids.
Raising Dragon Boy – who shows us the decorations around China Town.
The Whacky Duo – who invite us to salivate over their family’s Reunion Dinner feast.
White Trinity – who takes us on a tour through a Singaporean New Year’s market.
Lonely Travelogue – who shows us the decorations at Gardens By The Bay.
Living in SIN also shows us around China Town but not before deploying another terrible pun…
And Our Big Expat Adventure takes us into the heart of Marina Bay, for the floating Hongbao.