Step into my tiny dollhouse
By Fiona Chan
As a little girl, the one toy I really really wanted was a dollhouse.
Sure, I had plenty of other things to play with. I made my Care Bears kiss each other, paraded around my Strawberry Shortcake handbag and meticulously dressed up all my Barbie dolls.
I also dressed up my He-Man action figures - in the name of gender equality - although it was hard to find outfits to complement Skeletor's skin tone.
But every time I passed a toy store, I would peer longingly at the dollhouses, scrupulously built to scale, within.
I would admire the pocket-sized funiture, the real lights that switched on and off, and the tiny curtains on the tiny windows.
I'd marvel at the teeny dolls that came with the houses, imagining how I would make them walk through the diminutive doors, greet their doll families and toddle away to be tucked into their midget beds.
Long after I put away Barbie and He-Man, I still lingered at the dollhouse sections in toy stores, trying to persuade myself that it was a good idea to spend hundreds of dollars on a useless frivolity.
Then, last month, I got my wish. I came into possession of my very own dollhouse in the form of my new 700 sq ft apartment.
Okay, before I go on, I had better state all the necessary qualifiers in case angry readers come and burn down my block.
I know that 700 sq ft - which is about the size of a three-room HDB flat - is better than nothing. Loads of people in Singapore live happily in such spaces, or even smaller ones. In fact I'm lucky to have my own place at all, given that there are homeless people in war-torn countries eating tree bark to survive.
Now that that's done with, can I please say how tiny 700 sq ft really is?
I should explain that mine is one of those newfangled apartments that has a huge balcony taking up a good 100 sq ft of space. That doesn't leave much room to put furniture that isn't waterproof.
The apartment is also a two-bedroom unit, which means each bedroom is about as big as a bed. It's what property agents like to call 'veeerrry cosy'.
My bathroom - singular - is so small that the sink has to be placed outside, because after putting in the toilet and the shower cubicle, there's no space left for it.
Then there's the living room, which can accommodate only a sofa that is 1.8m long. There are maybe 10 sofas being sold in all of Singapore that are 1.8m long.
Yes, I exaggerate. But last week, I visited the showroom of a local sofa retailer in my umpteenth attempt to find a couch.
Standing in the store, dwarfed by sofas that looked about the size of my master bedroom, I timidly asked the salesman if they had anything smaller to offer.
No, he said politely, all their sofas were at least 2m long. But I could try their other outlet which sold furniture that was more - here he paused delicately, looking for a word for play-sized - 'funky'.
It was the same scenario at most other shops I went to. They would have, at most, one model that could fit my living room, and it would usually be fairly ugly.
The sofa hunt became so frustrating that I realised there may be a reason so many furniture shops here have yoga-like names: Air. Space. Om. Ohmm.
Eventually we had to custom-make a two-seater. I won't bore you with the details, but it's become clear that we can entertain at most two guests in our apartment at any one time.
I bring all this up not to complain about my claustrophobia or even to recommend that furniture shops downsize their products.
It is to warn others who may, like me, have bought their dream apartment off a floor plan and don't really know how big - or small - a few hundred sq ft really is.
This is potentially a, well, large problem because over the last few years, developers have been selling a growing number of shoebox-sized apartments. The smallest on record is just over 300 sq ft, which means you could fit eight or nine of them in a single tennis court.
While the units cost a tidy amount per sq ft, the total price is very palatable, which is why there are buyers aplenty. But there's a reason these tiny units are termed 'Mickey Mouse homes' - and it's not because you can swing a cat in them.
Tiny flats are already the norm in other space-starved cities such as Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York, and perhaps it's a matter of time before Singapore follows suit.
But until then, there is something to be said for being able to walk from one end of your bedroom to the other without having to climb over the bed.
So if I had my way, I would leave the miniature furniture where they belong - in the real dollhouses.