This past Saturday afternoon I had the chance to visit my cousins at their apartment in Mountbatten, an urban planning area of Singapore that I previously did not even know existed. Perhaps, this may be due to the fact that I had to transfer two MRT trains to reach my final destination from the UTown campus of NUS, which resulted in a 1-hour commute. Mountbatten was geographically situated in such a way that I sensed some level or urban exclusivity even before I stepped on the eponymous Mountbatten Road that bisected the neighborhood. The area was located immediately west of Marina Bay and the Central Business District was visible from the Mountbatten MRT station, while the Singapore Strait formed the locale’s southern border, giving the numerous apartments and single-family homes the beach-front view. The larger district that envelops Mountbatten is Marina Parade, a town that includes over a dozen private estate-developments, an HDB housing complex, several exclusive gated communities, two malls, and numerous primary and secondary schools that serve the area.
As I walked towards Santa Fe Mansions, the privately-owned apartment building where my cousins live, I noticed that on either side of Mountbatten Road there were examples of residential luxuriousness: high-rise condominiums, apartments and beautiful estates presented an atmosphere of opulence all around me. Expensive production vehicles zoomed by and entered the gated driveways of the homes and apartments, as I noticed some of the priciest models available, many of which are a rarity back home in Pittsburgh. The large estates were surrounded by iron fences and sometimes walls large enough that I could only see the roofs of these mansions. Property Guru, a popular real estate site listed the Mountbatten locale as one of Singapore’s most expensive, with the single-family homes averaging around 10-15 million dollars (Sing), while the private condos can range from 600,000-5 million, depending on square-footage and quality of construction. The HDB flats too present exorbitant prices that can be as high 2 million, although the loan and rent rates would be able to subsidize the overall cost almost two-fold. Residential luxury was omnipresent as I observed my surroundings, and construction sites for new homes and condominiums lined Mountbatten Road, indicating that municipal efforts to create a denser, wealthier environment may already be underway.
Meeting my extend family was heartwarmingly nostalgic, but also quite informative: my cousin and her husband were able to provide me important details about the neighborhood in which they were residing and how it compares to the larger Singaporean urban fabric. Both are working professionals: my cousin is a software engineer with IBM, and her husband an equity analyst with UBS. They moved to their current residence 3 years ago after a 2 year stint in Hong Kong, which they stated was “only slightly more expensive to live in than Singapore”. They also mentioned that Marina Parade is the second most luxurious “homeowner environment” to purchase a single family estate in after parts of Orchard Road, which may sell such mansions for around 100 million dollars. My cousins jokingly said that it was not surprising that Mountbatten as a locale was so opulent because it was named after one of the most elite statesmen in Britain at the time: Admiral Louis Mountbatten, Commander of the Royal Fleet.
My cousin was willing to say that she and her husband were no where nearly as wealthy has some of their neighbors and that they are renting the 2 bedroom apartment in Santa Fe Mansions on monthly installments and aggregated loans, making the residence financially manageable with respect to their current pay-grades within their professions. Both were more than satisfied with their apartment and the view they added was “breathtaking”. With their rent plan, they were able to hire domestic help who helps to clean the house, launder the clothes, and cook meals while both are at work during the day. Sure this residential framework they concluded places them somewhere between the middle and upper-middle class. Yet, all around them are many upper class individuals who seem to be truly part of an exclusive, luxurious Singaporean lifestyle.