Freegan Holiday #2

I went for my first freegan holiday 3 weeks ago. I had enjoyed myself so much that I wanted to go for another one as soon as I could. So I did.

The rules of the game

Every holiday has its own rules. The basic rule remained the same:

Rule #1: Use no cash.

A related provision was that I allowed myself the use of an EZ Link card with stored value in it, as I needed to get around. If I had more time, such as a holiday that lasted a week or a month, I could walk every day, but in the interest of time, I need some form of transport.

Rule #2: You can use EZ-Link card for transport only.

I specified only because there are other uses for EZ-Link cards, such as getting internet at public libraries and making purchases at some retail outlets.

On my first holiday, I did not allow myself to sleep at friends’ homes as that made it too easy. I had wanted to see if it is possible to live in Singapore without using money, so I had slept only in public areas. Having proven to myself that it was possible, I relaxed that rule this time.

Rule #3: There are no rules on where you sleep.

For the very practical reason of not being perennial on the phone, I again chose not to bring along my mobile phone. However, circumstances required me to make use of one during the trip.

Rule #4: Don’t bring a mobile phone.

That meant that I had to ask strangers for the time whenever I wanted to know it. It also meant one night of poor quality sleep because I had to wake up at a specific time. More on that later.

Where to sleep

On my first exploratory freegan holiday, I figured out that food and water was plentiful. The hardest part of the trip was getting good quality sleep, as the floor or bench is really hard. Also, people walk around at wee hours of the night, talking to friends or on the mobile phone, which disturbed my sleep.

So this time round, I was much better prepared. I brought along a yoga mat that I found a week ago, and earplugs which I found a few days before the trip. These came in really handy, so much so that the one day I used it, I actually slept pretty well!

The only thing is that I didn’t get much chance to use it. On the first of three nights, I stayed over at my freegan mentor CL’s place. He had found a mattress and let me use his spare air-conditioned (thank you!) room, toilet, and shower. He also provided cakes and breads for dinner and supper.

The second night was spent at the airport where I waited to see my mum off for her holiday. I learned some interesting things about sleeping at the airport:

  1. The only place where security checks your identity is when you sleep at the viewing gallery. I don’t know why.
  2. There are not many places in Terminal 1 to get uninterrupted sleep. Terminal 3 has many places to sleep, but it is very cold. Terminal 2 is the best for sleeping.
  3. There are officially no shower areas in the terminals. That doesn’t mean showering is impossible, but I skipped it because it’s too cold.

On my first trip, I got security checked 3 times in 4 days. I didn’t get checked at all this time.

What to do

The second problem I had on my first trip was finding something to do. I like to read, but spending four days in the library reading can be a real bore. I was also feeling rather lonely. So this time round, I had made arrangements to meet up with friends. I had originally planned to meet just one person a day, but I met a total of 23 persons in 4 days.

What I did over 4 days

Day 1:

The holiday began with lunch at Toa Payoh with XY (1). Among other things, she wanted to know how I found food during the holiday, so I demonstrated at McDonald’s and at the food court. I also noted that there are many homeless and poor persons in Toa Payoh, although I didn’t see others get food like I do.

The evening was at a friend’s, AT’s (2), office. His father started Willing Hearts, so naturally AT is very much aware of how much food waste takes place in Singapore. He’s given me a few tips, both for living life and running business. He was also supposed to give me some homework, some things to think about during my holiday, but after hearing my busy holiday schedule, narrowed it down to just two things to think about.

After a small dinner, I went over to CL’s (3) place. He offered me his spare room to spend the night. The original plan was to catch up with each other. We’ve not seen each other for over a month. CL is my freegan mentor; he introduced freegan living to me about 6 months ago. He is also the co-founder of the Freegan in Singapore online community.

What actually happened was that I got to meet IS, DS, W, and M (4, 5, 6, 7) for an impromptu freegan giveaway that lasted from 8pm to 2am. DS got his entire wardrobe replaced with newer and trendier clothes and shoes of various luxury brands. I got a couple of shorts that I liked — one of which had holes in the pockets (more on this later).

I did get to catch up with CL for an hour after that while letting the air-con cool the room. Sleep came really quick that night. Morning came with a cool shower. I decided to do CL a little favour of thanks for letting me stay over, so I cleaned his air-con filters. Being tall helps.

Day 2:

HD (8) has been taking lots of photos of the food waste that takes place at Lifelong Learning Institute. I don’t normally name places in this blog, because no business likes to be associated with waste. But this needs to be said about this place.

I have been wanting to check out this place, so I made plans to meet HD for lunch there. Having been spoiled by his photos…

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… I wasn’t disappointed.

I want to spend a few paragraphs on this experience because of the impact it had on me. So Lifelong Learning Institute has many training rooms for seminars and workshops. Some of the organisations there include WDA (Singapore Workforce Development Agency), IAL (Institute of Adult Learning) and various other human resource and training organisations.

Training sessions are conducted in the morning, afternoon and evening, and many of these sessions provide catered food. Nowadays, Singaporeans can use their $500 SkillsFuture credits to attend these courses. Now some of these courses are not really worth $500, but because that’s the amount of ‘free money’ the government gives away, some courses bulk up their cost by adding good quality catered food.

It’s fine if the food is actually eaten, but so much of it is thrown away at the end of these sessions. That’s not all.

Some people besides us have gotten to know about this, and they bring plastic boxes to collect the uneaten food at the end of the sessions. In most cases the organisers allow people to take the food, but some don’t. They would rather throw away the food to avoid potential liability issues.

That is just disgusting behaviour.

They would remove the plastic plates and utensils and cover the half-filled food trays in order to prevent people from taking the food. They have staff stationed to verbally warn people from helping them to reduce their food wastage. It is just unbelievable.

Okay, rant over. That said, Lifelong Learning Institute is a really nice place to spend an afternoon exploring.

The evening was spent catching up with an old friend of 17 years, G (9). Instead of catching up at cafes like we used to, I suggested that we do an activity together. We chose to go for the Changi Boardwalk. Dinner at Changi Village was a sampling of the various nasi lemak stalls, while I got to meet her date, P (10), who was intrigued by my lifestyle and holiday experience.

I identified that of the 3 nasi lemak stalls I ate at, one of them had wetter rice than the rest and nicer chili. Another one had great chicken wings, and the third was just so-so. I had taken a plate of unfinished nasi lemak and chicken wing from a boy eating with his friends. He and his friend tracked me down a few minutes later and said, “Uncle, can we offer you a drink?”

They offered me a can of 100 Plus. I was mortified. I tried to decline, telling them that I have money and was just doing this for fun, but they insisted. So I thanked them for it and proceeded to finish the drink.

I had originally planned to shower at Changi Beach, but given the time, I decided to make my way to Changi Airport and shower there if I could find a shower.

I couldn’t.

I worked out that it was theoretically possible to use the hose in the squat toilets to shower, but the water and environment was so cold I decided to give it a miss. I later found out from R (see further down) that the only time you can reasonably shower is between 2am and 4am, when the cleaners were on their break. I opted to wipe myself down with toilet paper, because I didn’t think I could dry my towel otherwise.

My mum’s flight was from Terminal 1 so I checked it out for a place to sleep. When I got to the viewing gallery, all the spaces were already taken up. Some by travellers, but mostly by homeless persons. They hide behind the pillars. I later found out that some of them are actually Malaysian cleaners who work in the airport but prefer to save on travel and rental costs by staying in the airport. As it turns out, the airport has quite an interesting community of residents.

Day 3:

I scooted back to Terminal 2 to the same hidey-hole I used in my first freegan holiday. Laid out my mat and went to sleep. I could sleep for only an hour because I was afraid of oversleeping and missing my mum’s flight. At 2am, I got up and decided to kill the time by visiting the friend I made on my last trip.

U (11) is a retiree who lives in Jurong and works at Changi Airport Terminal 2 McDonald’s just to kill time and earn a bit of money. The money is used mainly to pay for the upkeep of her car which she uses to drive to and fro work. She was pleasantly surprised to see me and offered me a cup of no-taste cappuccino. I later got a half a cup of better coffee from the McCafe which someone left behind.

She introduced me to R (12), a former airport employee who stays in West Coast. Sometimes, when he’s bored of his retired life, he comes to the airport to stay a night or two. He can be found at the same McDonald’s, helping to clear the trays even though he doesn’t work there.

We sat and chatted for a good 1.5 hours before I had to skedaddle back to Terminal 1 to meet my mum (13). Like me, R is sometimes offered burgers and char kway teow by kind and generous folk who think he’s homeless and hungry. He tries to decline but people insist, so he eats the food even if he’s already had dinner. He was suitably impressed that I had no qualms about eating other people’s burgers and fries. We went on to discuss practical tips for living in the airport.

After seeing my mum off, I went back to Terminal 2 to grab another 3 more hours of sleep. I overslept by a little and had to rush down to see K, J, and R (14, 15, 16) for a meeting in town. On the way there, I had to make an important decision: Would I arrive on time but smelly, or would I arrive late but smelling fresh?

I chose the latter.

I went back to a place I identified the previous day, and stepped in for a quick shower. I won’t name the place, but if you come with me on my next trip, I will show it to you. I guarantee that most people don’t know it exists.

After the shower, I quickly went for the meeting before rushing off to meet N (17) for lunch. I was late, but I got K to send him an email telling him I would arrive late. We had a discussion about punctuality after that, and he bought me lunch. I headed off to the library after that where I was reading The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness, a book that caught my eye as I passed it. I didn’t finish reading it because it was time to go for a sewing group.

HM (18) invited me to attend this at Chinatown. Once a week, this small community of really interesting people — J, T, L, G, V (19, 20, 21, 22, 23) — gather to upcycle the clothes obtained from the Singapore Really Really Free Market (SRRFM). T and J are the organisers of the free market, and J, kindly explained to me the origins of this 8-year-old activity, even though she’s been asked this question so many times that she is sick of answering it.

On a side note, Freegan in Singapore is having a booth at tomorrow’s SRRFM (Sat 10 Jun). Do come down to the Deck, 120A Prinsep Street, from 2-6pm. 

T is an artist who was intrigued by freeganism and might do a film to include it. V spends her time caring for cats in Singapore, while G is looking for something else to do after spending the past 3 years cooking meals for 3,000 people. L works out of the space where we did the sewing, and H taught me how to operate a sewing machine.

I had to think of something I wanted to sew, so I chose the pair of shorts I got from CL’s place the first night. I wanted to sew the pockets. That was a good choice, because I wore the shorts on the next day. I also repaired an IKEA bag, and shifted the handles so that it was balanced.

When I was a kid, I was always intrigued by my grandma’s sewing machine. I would play with it, but my grandma would stop me because sewing machines are not cheap. So I never learned how to sew because, according to my grandma, sewing and folding clothes and ironing clothes were women’s work. Men cannot do.

As it turns out, I kind of enjoy sewing and doing the laundry now. Sewing is an important skill for freegans to have because sometimes we pick up clothes or bags that people throw away just because of a little part that is torn, such as the pockets of my new pair of shorts.

I had to leave for the night to find a place to stay, but as I was about to go, L offered me a mattress and the use of the place for the night. I was really grateful because it was such a hot night out. And it was awesome to spend more time with everyone because the company and conversation was so good. So I got both a place for the night — and shower and toilet and air-con, though I opted to use a fan instead — and I got to continue the conversations that were taking place.

Day 4:

I slept really well, mainly because I had only 3 hours of sleep the previous night. The morning was spent with L. We went to buy some stuff from a nearby shop, and I helped her to install some water filters and add soil to her pots of plants. L suffered a stroke a year ago, so her mobility is affected. Her stroke was caused by arsenic poisoning.

How did she get poisoned? This is important knowledge for freegans.

L lives a really healthy life. She grows many of the foods she consumes, so she’s the last person anyone would expect to get a stroke. She uses soil and organic waste that she finds around Chinatown area for her plants and crops. Now Chinatown can be a filthy area with rats and other pests, so shopowners often use rat poison to kill these pests. Some of these rats brought the poison to her plants which she consumed for about 2 years. Trace amounts of the arsenic built up in her body which resulted in the stroke.

So freegans, please be careful regarding the sources of your soil and material for composting.

That said, my most memorable experience with L was when I asked her where I could throw away the skins of two bananas I just ate. She dug a hole in the soil of her potted plant and pointed to it. She’s an amazing woman!

Lunch was at People’s Park Complex. Just the usual hawker fare, before I boarded a bus home which ended my holiday.

What I learned

This second freegan holiday was a completely different nature from the first. I really, really, really enjoyed myself this time around for very different reasons. I got to meet so many people which made the time pass so very fast. In fact, I felt it was too short, and now I want to go again soon!

I learned I really enjoy having conversations with people — old friends and new. What’s more, since this was not a holiday overseas, I can actually stay in touch with the people I met and visit them again and again to continue the conversations. I experienced this most strongly when I visited U at Changi Airport. It was so nice to meet again someone I met on a previous holiday.

I learned that when you don’t have plans, wonderful and unexpected things can happen, such as L’s offer to let me stay over at her place.

I learned that I shouldn’t make plans in the mornings so that I can sleep for as long as I want without having to rush from one place to another. Morning is also when I get a shower.

I learned that the yoga mat was really good to have, even though it takes up so much space in my haversack.

I learned that there are really generous and kind-hearted people around, and how it feels like to be on the receiving end of food or drink bought specially for you by people who mistakenly think that because you look homeless you must be hungry, or that because you’re sharing other people’s lunches you must be poor and have no money and therefore suffering. Haven’t we all had such misconceptions before?

I think I’m ready to extend my holiday from 4 days to 7. Anyone wants to join me for the whole or part of the way?



  1. Hi Emily,

    Freegan living is basically living without using money as much as possible. It is a rejection of consumerism and the waste that is generated to support that lifestyle. Freeganism is a spectrum with different principles. Some freegans advocate returning to local gift communities, eating roadkill or growing your own crops. Some advocate a world run by automation, so that people can focus on the more fun things of life.

    More info here:

    I try to apply what I can to my life here in Singapore.


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