Sleepy Kiwi Backpacker’s Hostel 23/3/17 – 31/3/17

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A rather long stretch since a last noteworthy staycation to write home about, our hostel of this entry happens to be yet another nostalgic trip back to the Arab Quarter, this time centering upon the heart of it all: Bussorah Street. I remember roughly a year ago as a friend of mine commented briefly upon visual characteristics of this street, liking it to that of Dubai. I’m clueless to the truth of that statement, but the aesthetics of the environment surely wroughts a vibrant and exciting ambience.

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I infer from the above nostalgia that it’s hardly my first visit to this conceptually charming getaway. Being situated mere meters away from the Sultan Mosque elevates its ease of findability via its proximity to an unmissable landmark, great for the newcomer. But for myself, the above dates reflect the most recent dates of stay, of which was a returning visit from barely a week past. A tight work schedule during my initial patronage had kept me away from my duty to this blog, yet the prolonged duration of evaluation would shed away the positive illusions of nostalgia to reveal a more realistic summation of the Sleepy Kiwi Backpacker’s Hostel experience.

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My reappearance from only a week away prompted a relatively swift check in process, even in the midst of an ongoing queue. Upon arrival, I laxed myself onto the nearby furniture, constructed by wood and decorated with matching colors and a huggable slice of grapefruit, true to the titular theme. On the wall near the counter were a series of currency notes from an array of various countries pinned to a board, but more intriguingly a food hygiene license right beside. A rarity in hostels, indeed.

When my turn was up at the counter, I was informed of my allocated bed for the week ahead, one in a 14 bedded mixed dormitory ($16.83 per night, including GST and taxes, booked via hotels.com) and I helped myself thereafter, although such would not be the standard protocol of operation (not ideally at least).

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I suppose the lack of any allocation of lockers in the hostel made for a less convoluted check in process, hence the non-hassle involved. It naturally postponed the inevitable complications when securing a locker in the lobby; said storage spaces were of a first come first serve basis, and were of limited quantity. As it stationed itself along one’s route to the dormitories, broken shelves eerily foreshadowed a theme of unsightful conditions in the overall hostel.

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It was just prior to a stairway leading up to the restful department where a no shoes boundary was established. Given that a half of Sleepy Kiwi’s facilities were bound to opposing set of footwear rules, the arrangement would pose a particular inconvenience to one such as myself, who would roam between the two separate zones frequently. The shoes left on the shelves did leave an undesirable stench at the passageway, though nonetheless it was up the stairs at the dormitories’ doorstep that one could garner the sensation of cool air, a trait that its ground floor could use a little more.

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And here’s the first glance upon entry into the sleeping premises; an atmospheric hallway that also happens to be the very interior that me and several other guests would call it a day. Fret not, for several more concealing rooms line the corridors of the one not so much so. White panels aligned themselves along each bed to optimize a sense of privacy for every guest in their suboptimal plight, although the function of the hallway as common passage for traverse lends to its attribute of spaciousness that I wouldn’t complain about.

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It’s as if the 14 bedded dormitory was purposefully litted in a dim and insufficient manner, for it almost contributes to the aforementioned atmospheric quality of the space. As a guest, I did not have the autonomy to adjust the few available ceiling spotlights, and said lights abided to the quiet hours within the hostel. The combination of a debatably poorly lit environment and 24 hours air conditioning would find me enveloped in a mood for a nap irregardless of the time of the day.

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What was within reach of control was a private light attached to an adaptor worth of four generous sockets, more than enough to facilitate all my electronic needs. While it’s a standard affair bed in the offering, the created enclosure worked magic as a multifaceted haven across the board. And a haven it is, for the bad news is: it all starts to go downhill from here onwards in terms of the comfort one could attain within the premises of the hostel.

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Not that it entirely undermined the establishment’s visual direction. My everyday’s morning routine was paired with a decent view of the sky, and when accompanied by each morning’s prayers from the Sultan Mosque, the experience was subtly spiritual. Surely that’s a subjective opinion, but what’s more in line with an objective objection was my repulsion to some of the horrid conditions of the amenities, many of which revolving the wet rooms.

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On my first morning, I was greeted by this gorgeous perspective of what appears to be the remnants of regurgitated discharge stuck on the bases of one of three sinks. The segregation between said wet rooms and the 14 bedded hallway was as fragile as a curtain, hence it was to all our fortunes that there only remained an effectively odorless stain. Perhaps I should be less critical of such an incident, for it may have been beyond the control of the establishment to ensure no one vomits inside. My discontent, however, is supported by the consistency to which poor general maintenance ruined what would have been otherwise a pleasant experience. In the same scenario, the other two sinks were hardly void of the varieties of dirt and gross residues.

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Here we have one of the two toilet rooms available for the entire storey’s worth of guests to utilize. Let’s not start on my attempts to beating the queues each morning; the floor tiles in the shower area scream style over substance, and were hardly dry to touch, ever. While mostly invisible, it’s not difficult to conceive of all the grime accumulated across these stepping stones since time immemorial. A rigorous housekeeping and maintenance routine could do to solve such a distress, only too often no one was bothered enough to restock a cubicle worth of no tissues. A reflection of true rigor that eases the minds of all, I’m sure.

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The losing streak continues with its sibling cubicle, a longer stretch of a room consisting of no shortage of material to criticize. I can’t help but imagine what nice things I could have were such issued promptly remedied, but even having moderate expectations under the roof of lackadaisical in house individuals might just be the wishes of the folly. Flipping a shower tap on was as challenging as it should never be with a puny mechanism clearly meant to be hidden from view, and hardly able to be grasped by human sized fingertips.

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“Out of order” just about sums up everything that’s worth here in spaces deserted of a deserved polish. Over the course of three weeks, I was enlightened to witness this sink left to rot, a real pity considering it would make a fine complement to the surrounding facilities, namely the shower and a flush toilet seated at its rear end. Speaking of the latter, it would come as no surprise by now that on my second morning, I was beholden to the wondrous sight of a clogged mechanism resulting in a much less odorless catastrophe compared to the disaster of yesterday. A natural wear and tear maybe, but yet another score added to the heaps of a piling dissatisfaction.

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And in timely fashion, we whet our appetites upon Sleepy Kiwi’s biggest selling point: the feast of the morning. While there appeared to be no choice of grain but white bread, it’s a crime to call Sleepy Kiwi’s well presented selection of jams anything but a delight. Said jams consist of chocolate, peanut butter, kaya (rare!), strawberry, and margarine, all tucked into fair portions of portable sashay cups which would help ease the flow of traffic along the tightly situated breakfast zone if not for a blatant lack of toasters for use. And then there’s fruits; not just one, but two in one’s choice, all sliced up by the absolutely hardworking staff (just this once) for the convenience of all!

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Of course, it would be hardly Sleepy Kiwi it ain’t tainted with some sort of drawback; finding an ideal seating would prove rather baffling. A set of sofa chairs and linear tables stationed themselves in the same room as the breakfast table, yet it would hardly serve its intuitive purpose. For instance, the width of the aforementioned tables was too narrow to accommodate for a crucial combination of social and dining purposes, hence it was unsurprising that many fellow backpackers, including myself, would opt to dine on the outside premises.

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Inevitably, the guests would therefore be exposed to the scorching of the hot weather, unless one approaches their first meal at a very early hour. In fact, the weather would play a meager factor in the whole picture when the palette of delicious things would be consumed at such an exponential rate, one would necessarily aim to be at the front of the queue anyways. Under the glow of the early morning sunrise, the breakfast experience was tantamount to a luxury as each and every other cafe in the district wouldn’t yet be in operation, hence a view of the typically lively Bussorah from a unique perspective.

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If you were given a choice between oranges or watermelon, why not pick both? So that’s precisely what I did, or anyone would. While I tend to avoid as much added sugar to my diet as feasible, kaya certainly hit that sweet spot of irresistible to warrant an exception worth of the whole week… not so much of an exception now, is it?

Purportedly, the use of disposable plates and utensils should eliminate the chore of dishwashing and potentially ease the labor of housekeeping, but especially to the latter, the hypothesis did not reflect as true as these outdoor premises failed to maintain a high standard of cleanliness after the breakfast hours, hence there was little purpose beyond said hours to subject oneself to the intolerable temperatures ahead.

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There’s much wasted potential to be had, as the above notice board indicates a notably shrunk list of items on a menu, akin to that of a cafe. There’s not much of originality in the items served, but conceptually these beverages would suffice for more than just the functionality of a morning sip. It’s easy to perceive the interiors (and exterior) of the hostel’s ground floor as a quick stop for its guests to chill from the dreads of an afternoon sun, and why not an ice cold soda while they’re at it? They’ve even mimicked the notoriously expensive and unaffordable prices of the average cafe to their detriment, for the likes of the nearby Peaches Juice Bar offer blended juices of a larger variety of fruits at equivalent or cheaper prices.

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A more niche selling point of the establishment lies in its kitchen, so critically defined by its distinct island counter. It seemed much was invested into Sleepy Kiwi’s cooking facilities; they even had two induction cooking stoves installed on each polar ends of that lengthy top. The past tense is strong with this one, as we had our handy in house staff to ensure only one of two remained intact, and while I do not have the evidence to support my claims, I have very good reasons to believe them to have either failed in their responsibilities, or to be the very culprits in accelerating the degradation of what could’ve been such a booster to this crumbling infrastructure, as I’m sure you’d understand by now.

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Messy scenarios such as the above, of which this picture was captured on one of better days, clue into the already consistent trend of negligence amongst the employees. Amongst the many aftermaths of meals, I found pots and pans under the sink soaked in oiled water that may have been left over the course of several nights. Even when said messes were eradicated, new ones would only piled up in the cutlery and utensil trays, a testament to a “go through motion” work etiquette of the rearrangers.

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Despite the staff’s heavy usage of the kitchen (that it might as well be their own), there’s almost a traumatic disconnect between them and the backpacker’s motto of “clean up after yourself”, which guests like myself would encompass to an embarrassingly greater degree than said staff. Was I the only person in the kitchen who realized that there was no more soapy water left in the dish scrub bucket that day? It was only at my prompt that duty crew at the counter, who at that moment was unhindered by any other priorities, would hand me over a packet of liquid soap, presumably to do her job.

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A kitchen wouldn’t be perfect without a refrigerator, and even here Sleepy Kiwi stumbled deep into realms of mass imperfections in spite of superficially meeting (or even surpassing) the stated requirement. One night, I encountered a hiccup with the refrigerator’s cooling system: temperatures were abnormally warm, clearly unsuitable for the storage of fresh vegetables and dairy products. I took the most commonsensical approach to the counter, whom the lady on shift was in the process of closing, to inform her of the defect, but in reply I received a paraphrased equivalent of “I can’t do anything right now, so I’ll do something tomorrow”. She would then proceed to pretend the issue was never highlighted, as I observed her strolling past the dysfunctional refrigerator without a care to verify the existence of said issue.

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Against all odds, I had an overall unproblematic week whipping up a savory serving of fried rice or a frittata for my everyday lunches and dinners over the stove. I’d then relive my cafe hopping days in the cafe-like front desk hall, serving myself on wooden tables and padded chairs lined against the edges of the room. I’m almost praising the aesthetics of its interior, except those would be the only times worth dwelling in said space; many of the staff and their acquaintances would either hog a majority of the seats within, or gather themselves amongst groups that emit a vibe that proved inhospitable to the incoming guest with inquiries or intentions to mingle. Time was of the essence anyways as the room would be locked at off counter hours.

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It was not uncommon for fellow guests to opt chilling here on this round sofa, big enough for a couple to board. It’s almost undebatably the most comfortable spot one could attain past 11pm on the ground floor, where one of two ceiling fan would coincidentally blow in just the right direction. Ventilation posed an enormous weakness otherwise over the nights, as the air conditioning would be turned off, or on, depending on the whims of our friendly staff, leaving a few poorly installed oscillating and ceiling fans to do the work.

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Two desktop outlets stationed themselves beside the circular hotspot, bearing the greatest resemblance out of all facilities to a work desk. The absence of a working space in the lobby was bane of frustration for myself, especially considering the spacious aspect of its entirety. On most nights, the multi socket adaptor, hooked to the breakfast zone, was where I enabled myself to the prospect of indulgent overnight laptop sessions. Sadly, said sessions would ultimately be tarnished by the major inconsistencies in Wi-Fi performances.

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“sleepykiwi upstairs” was the most prominent network to which a stable connection could be achieved, but as a result it would most frequently be met with cases of overloading from both levels of the hostel; said overloading obviously had the greatest impact during the midnights, under the congregation of guests busy on their social media activities. In other news, the original ground floor network was broken since my first check in in early March.

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This whole entry might have just been a nag of all my dissatisfactions, so here’s the last one but infuriating excerpt added to the list. Not unlike the soap incident, a majority segment of the staff group would perform their jobs halfheartedly, or not at all. I was merely rested on my own bed space one day when I was approached by a lone wandering guest in the dormitory, who held a paper containing information regarding his allocated bed. Still, he was incapable of entirely comprehending the layout of the space and his whereabouts, hence what should’ve been the duty of the staff to personally accompany their guest to his bed somehow became a responsibility of other guests instead, such as myself in this instance.

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I did use this as an opportunity to explore the room of this unattended guest; in contrast to the hallway based room, the interior was naturally and efficiently lit by daylight, although the absence of a larger scale illumination device still persisted. Given that the room extended towards the edge of the shophouse walls, peering through the windows offered a commendable view of the lively Bussorah Street, one worthy of envy. Otherwise, the room was plagued by a tight arrangement, leaving little breathing space between beds placed across one another.

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Alas, a long awaited day of relief would come to pass. This might actually be the most negative “review” of a hostel up to date on this blog, yet I’d give this place a shot above the likes of the Bunc Hostel anyday. I criticize many aspects of this get away hostel not out of spite, but rather out of a (probably nostalgic) love intrinsic to my once fond experience here; Sleepy Kiwi is my second hostel ever, having visited here during my beginning days as a hostel hopper. Under this context, many of these issues were unidentifiable or did not impair the short term stay I had, but only propped up the longer I was regularly exposed to them.

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Once upon a time, I would read the phrase “BEST STAFF SO FAR” without a flinch, a feat I’d earn an Emmy for today were I to validate this amidst the tsunami of sarcasm gushing through my realm of perspective. Sadly, it had come down to a point where even my own positive bias could not shelter it from its overwhelmingly shoddy management, particularly of its staff. On my final day here, I overheard a conversation over at the front counter regarding an estimate of a month’s time frame before a scheduled shutdown of hostel operations in preparation of a total renovation and rework of the existing property. You ask me, I think a revamp’s a great idea, one that could surely be used more in the human resource department. The check in timing is from 2pm-12am.

Sleepy Kiwi Backpacker’s Hostel
55 Bussorah Street
Singapore 199471

Peaches Juice Bar
664 North Bridge Road
Singapore 188799

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