In a survey done by TODAY of 600 Singaporeans across various age groups and walks of life, the majority said work-life balance matters most in their jobs. Leisure, clearly, is a top priority in a land where we feel a squeeze not only physically, but where work is concerned. The survey also showed that the activities we enjoy the most are sleeping, hanging out, going online and travelling.
The fact that sleeping ranks so highly does not surprise Dr Tan Ern Ser, associate professor, Department of Sociology, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. “Singaporeans may be tired out from having to balance family responsibilities and work commitments, particularly if they have young children or elderly parents to look after. I reckon sleeping is a good way to recharge after all that daily juggling of activities, while going online involves no additional running around and is therefore highly accessible.”
Member of Parliament and an avid Internet user himself, Baey Yam Keng feels going online is also a form of escape “into a different world” and to connect with friends, or to shop and watch videos. “It is an avenue for immediate gratification,” he posited. Of course, when possible, many prefer to include an escape in the real world, which explains the other aforementioned distresses.
STAYING IN AND AWAY
We love holidays. Scratch that. We cannot get enough of them. It was reported that Singaporeans made 8.05 million trips in 2012, a staggering jump of 85 per cent from about a decade ago where the number was 4.46 million in 2001, according to figures provided by the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS).
While there are several obvious factors usually tossed around to explain why we are so fond of jumping on a plane — our strong Singapore dollar against weaker currencies, our neighbouring countries’ awesome food and array of shopping venues, and the lack of leisure opportunities due to our small size — what also drives the popularity of travel is the intrinsic desire to escape the maddening, stressful pace of life here. This is supported by a recent poll conducted by the Families for Life Council with 872 respondents, which found that seven in 10 felt spending time with their family gives them the most happiness. Yet, only 53 per cent were satisfied with their amount of quality family-time. “Given these findings, we can see that families today still cherish their families very much, but may not have been able to set aside the time to bond. In this regard, travels and staycations may be popular with families as they can dedicate their time and be fully engaged with one another over several days, and take part in activities together to catch up on one another’s lives,” said its chairman Ching Wei Hong.
Staycations — especially those on our island playground of Sentosa — are now a regular weekend activity to unwind. They are not too different from going to the movies or having a fancy meal. Data from online hotel-booking site Hotels.com has shown that Singaporeans actively look for hotels here. In fact, 15 per cent of the searches done by Singaporeans are for staycations. Fuelling the concept are lifestyle offerings, from cutting-edge design to intimate ambience, by boutique hotels such as Naumi, which opened in 2007, and has seen staycation bookings double in the last seven years. While the hotel declined to give actual numbers, Naumi Hospitality’s director of sales Poom Monterde did confirm that there have been repeat guests across its two properties (Naumi on Seah Street and Naumi Liora at Keong Saik), including a guest who stayed at least three times over the last six months.
Instead of spending substantial travelling time to neighbouring countries, “staycations have become an ideal and fun alternative-activity that Singaporeans can spoil themselves with, as time is a huge consideration these days”, explained Monterde. Regional director of Hotels.com, Katherine Cole, added: “The Republic is high on the radar as locals increasingly look to a nearby hotel for a quick (and convenient) weekend respite with family and friends.”
Monterde noted that staycation guests tend to be between the ages of 19 and 25, and are either couples on a private weekend away or youngsters having a gathering with friends, especially at Naumi Liora where the room rates are more affordable, starting from S$180++ a night. This trend can be attributed to the fact that most young Singaporeans stay with their parents and there are space constraints in doing social activities together.
Families make up another big part of the staycation market. For homemaker Goh Meiling, who has been on at least two staycations a year in the last four years, these getaways have become an immeasurable way for both her kids and the adults to bond. “To the kids, it doesn’t matter where we go as long as we’re together — I realised this when we took them to Batam once. While we adults could see that things were not as ideal, such as the standard of the resort, the kids couldn’t care less,” she explained. “Having a staycation is an easier way to invest in meaningful, undivided time with each other. We pack less and tend to take it slower compared to when we go on an overseas trip. The kids enjoy the attention given to them, and it’s a break from their homework and how Mummy and Daddy would discipline them. The joy you see on their faces is touching.”
At Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), peak periods for staycations are the school holidays and long weekends. A RWS spokesperson said that 25 per cent of staycation bookings are repeat guests, with many of them being families seeking out Festive Hotel and Hard Rock Hotel Singapore as they are tailored for families, with loft beds for kids at the former and additional pull-out beds at the latter. “RWS is an ideal staycation destination because it has a myriad of attractions and offerings all in one location, making it easy for families to have a total vacation experience without having to leave the resort,” the spokesperson added.
HANGING OUT AND PROUD
Of course, staycations are far from being a weekly affair. But hanging out with friends over coffee can be. And if the crowds at places such as Ya Kun Kaya Toast and Starbucks are anything to go by, Singaporeans sure like their kopi and lattes. Add the proliferation of third-wave coffee specialty-cafes such as Chye Seng Huat, Nylon Coffee Roasters and Dutch Colony Coffee Co into the mix and what we have got going is a serious java scene.
An addiction to caffeine is one thing; more importantly, it is the communal experience of sharing, chatting and relaxing over a good cuppa that is the real appeal. “Coffee houses have been a place for people to hang out, meet up and socialise. It is even part of some people’s daily routine,” said Leon Foo of Papa Palheta, which was part of a pioneering bunch of third-wave cafes introducing artisanal coffee into Singapore in 2009. “I would say that the cafe culture has always been here and this coffee culture goes way back to our forefathers.”
Indeed, it does. Killiney Kopitiam has a history stretching as far back as 1919; Tong Ah Coffee shop at Keong Saik began in 1939, Ya Kun in 1944 … so you get the picture. In an interview with the BBC, executive chairman of Ya Kun International said that “in Singapore, most people eat five meals a day — they have breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper. So every now and then, they will come for coffee and then come back again.”
Unlike a full meal, hanging out over coffee can be as short or long-drawn as you please; its flexibility and casual nature fit in perfectly with our busy lifestyles, whether it is a regular bonding session or a long-overdue catch up. It is something everyone, young and old, can partake in. While the older generation can be seen in their neighbourhood kopitiams, many yuppies and hipsters all over Singapore can be seen cafe-hopping, capturing the essence of what is seen as a leisurely life on their Instagram accounts.
This rise in popularity of hanging out in cafes points to our cosmopolitan outlook and a longing for something different. “Lots of people went to universities in Australia (and will continue to go), and they come back with a longing for a lifestyle that incorporates more than a bee hoon breakfast and jostling with the masses in Orchard Road or a heartland mall,” said food and beverage consultant Marcus Leong of Anode Projects, who is also the co-creator of One Day Journal, a publication that champions slow living in a fast-paced world that, incidentally, came up while he was hanging out in a cafe. “So people start looking for the nooks and crannies … this (still) gives us the sense that we are exploring and discovering, even in our own city, in a way we used to, or long to do.”
Regina Tan, associate director of branding and consulting firm Flamingo Group, observed that cosy cafes such as Carpenter and Cook, and themed alternatives such as the cat cafes sprouting up, are “therapy from the hectic lives people lead”. She wrote about this observation in a company-blog post inspired by the sudden growth and popularity of cafes in Singapore over the last few years. She added that hanging out in cafes has evolved organically to become an attractive way of life for Singaporeans tired of shiny tourist-centric places such as Sentosa and Gardens By The Bay. What is also interesting is that hanging out in cafes has also become a means of projecting a certain image. “It’s now a way for people to align themselves with a certain image or status, and to generate envy from others,” she explained. “I feel that Singapore is undergoing a transition with the Millennials, where people are generally less concerned about following the ‘right’ path. To be able to go against this path is probably something that is quite enviable and shows that younger Singaporeans have an edge over the older generations.”
Of course, the obsession with hanging out ties in nicely with our food-crazy behaviour, which is topped by the desire to document and share what we eat and drank, and to recommend the latest food joint before anyone else on social media. But Leong feels this reliance on technology is nothing to fret about. “Everybody needs to unwind, and I’m glad people still find delight in catching up with friends over food and drink as they explore new places, as long as your conversations mean more than the Instagram posts!”
news source & image credits: todayonline.com