I am in Singapore, teaching. I am staying at Hotel 81 Elegance, 30 Foch St, an inexpensive “hotel” (I will comment on ‘truth in advertising’ below) with minimal conveniences. As I contemplate living on a boat for extended periods some time in the future, I am asking myself, “what do I really need” on a regular basis.

It has been observed before that Westerners have extravagant needs for space; and “needs” becomes expectation and policy, both with consequences. I saw a calculation once that stated if everyone lived at the population density of Mong Kok (a suburb in Hong Kong I have stayed in) the world’s entire population could fit easily in Tasmania, with space left over.

Look at this space: a sink with tap and flick-mixer control to the left (you can just see the corner); a toilet in the back; and a hose with shower head clipped into a quick release fitting on the RH wall. An Aeropress and the world’s smallest kettle in the foreground (holds 750ml), is steeping coffee #2, the important one. The space is about 1,500 x 1,600, in a modified “L” (I imagine my neighbour’s toilet is behind the wall you can just see the edge of at the LH side of the pic.). This area is just a bit bigger most stand-alone toilets in Australia.

When I first saw this shower layout (and this is how most boats are laid out), I thought, ‘using the shower will wet the floor and the toilet seat’—and yes: that’s exactly what happens. But it is genius! The entire “bathroom” space is cleaned or at least rinsed every day. The shower head can reach every surface in the room; and washing both the toilet and the sink is so easy. No shower screen, because one isn’t needed.

And where does paper towel come in? An aside: I stay in serviced apartments and hotels regularly, and although the better ones have sponges and absorbent cloths, none has ever had paper towel, an essential for a messy cook like me. But give me a roll of recycled paper towel, and I can clean up as I go. The smaller the space, the more necessary this becomes.

So when visiting a new city, step one (or close to it) is I go paper towel hunting. In the process, I learn the supermarket or store layout; I walk around and start to get a feel of the place and get an idea of where I will find things. I feel like I am taking the city’s pulse; it is essential to do this by foot, I find.

The rest of the room space is a square with the “bathroom” excised: the king-size bed takes up most of the space, and so no chairs or lounge. There is a tiny “table” built in to the wall, about the size of three A4 sheets of paper, and a drawer underneath. Usually, I am worried about using any space where I cannot see the contents directly (I confess I have left many items behind in such rooms), but I am using this drawer, out of necessity. I will not forget its contents.

Another view now: looking from the bathroom/front door corner, we see a tiny fridge (holding ground coffee, a couple of cans of Carlsberg, and half a block of roasted almond chocolate; the main food groups) and above it a safe, holding passports, money, credit cards, camera, and one of the parts of my PA system, the receiver. Sensibly, it requires a numerical password. It works properly.

And the view! Another construction site, complete with complex sound effects (yesterday, the intriguing sound of an excavator’s bucket being gently drawn along concrete, worked in to the morning’s practise, around 06:00). I am becoming quite the connoisseur of construction views; that’s what I was looking at from a much more expensive Meriton I stayed in recently. The blackout curtains do just that (and I find real darkness a help in deep sleep).

There is no wardrobe space, but the TV screen serves as a clothes rack; a fine use, I feel, and my roller bag sits behind.

And my trusty MacBook Pro on the bed. Hotel 81 claims ‘high-speed wi-fi’, and that it is: 70Mb/sec down, and 50Mb/sec up—faster than any NBN connection in Australia that I have heard of. Why can’t we do this right? Anyhow, the wi-fi here is the best I have used anywhere in the world. In a tiny, cheap space, no bigger than a small Australian lounge room, in total. As I spend a significant time each day working via the net, this is important to me.

There’s more, though: the ceiling is over 3m (well over 10′) in height—this means air volume; this means breathable air and a feeling of spaciousness. The air-con is adjustable high enough for me (26°C, when sleeping) and because the ceiling is high, the air-con can do its work unobtrusively, both aurally and physically. All hotels and apartments in Australia have significantly lower ceilings than this (2,400mm typically) and that’s why they feel so cramped. I do not feel cramped, at all, in this space.

I must mention the surrounds: on three of the four corners of the hotel block are food courts, of a friendly home-cooking standard. This is perfect for me. A typical meal costs $6.

So, is “Hotel” 81 Elegance mis-named? I think not: for a single person, or a couple, this will be an excellent place to stay. The bed is made up, and the room cleaned, every day—how many hotels can make this claim, if we include weekends? Not so many. The staff are friendly and helpful. The manager told me how to find a 24-hour DIY laundry with the best commercial washing machines I have used, which dispenses detergent (and fabric softener and some other substance that I don’t use, if you so choose) as part of the price and not a soul in attendance. It is simply a service that the staff mentioned to me—the hotel’s own in-house laundry was $7 per T-shirt; the DIY laundry was $5 for an 11Kg load…

There are so many ways of addressing the requirements of living.

I pose the question: what do we really need?

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