The Semi-Adventures of a Nomadic Mathematician Rotating Header Image

Going Homeless

Sleeping is a rather unfortunate requirement for humans to stay alive. Sleeping is not only counterproductive, but also expensive, as a shelter of some sort is necessary. Sleeping is the primary reason why people decide to fight with beasts like property agents. At the crispy age of sixteen, I was locked out from home in the middle of the winter, which experience showed me that the concept of a shelter was rather vague and generally anything would do. While doing my graduate studies in Singapore, I grew tired of property agents and exhausted the hospitality of all my friends, so I toyed with the idea of going homeless.

The plan was especially tempting since the temperature never dropped below twenty-five degrees, making the island a perfect venue for homeless adventures. Being homeless, however, is absolutely illegal in Singapore, as it is a prosperous nation where, by definition, there cannot be homeless people. I read in the news that a man was fined for $200 for taking a two-hour nap on a bench while ascending the highest mountain in Singapore. Said mountain stands at a majestic 164 meters, so I did not quite understand why he had to take a nap, but the point was noted: no sleeping in public parks. On the other hand, I was also well aware that the average Singaporean undergraduate student spends fifty per cent of his day sleeping in the university library. So the plan was taking shape: camp in the university.

Path through the forest at Bukit Timah

Sleeping here will earn you a fine of $200.

Since all my belongings fit in a not too big rucksack, I was reasonably inconspicuous, so I thought. I scouted the university during the day, looking for a suitable bench. The library was not an option as it was closed for the night. On the first night I found a quiet spot near a power socket at the Department of Life Sciences. I chained my laptop to the bench, busied myself until around midnight, then I aligned myself horizontally. I slept until 2.30am, when a guard woke me up and asked what I was up to. I gave the reasonable explanation that I was pulling an all-nighter and I accidentally dozed off. He could have easily refuted my statement, but he just asked for my student ID and went off. I was woken up again at 5am by two other guards, the procedure repeated. I did not want to go back to sleep, dawn was closing, so I went to the sports centre to take a shower and shave. By the time I finished, the first place to get food was open. A coffee, two eggs, and kaya toasts exchanged ownership for two bucks. I munched my brekkie slowly, I knew the library would not open until eight. Once it was open, I relocated there, occupying a cosy spot close to a wall plug, and proceeded to sleep with my laptop left on for an excuse. I slept undisturbed until 11.30, when it was time for lunch and also for sorting out some wicked-looking equations that were desperately trying to make their way to a paper I was working on.

Benches at NUS

Nice and comfy camp site with network access and a power socket.

After the first night it was straightforward to be homeless in my own university. I explored all the faculties looking for the perfect spot, perhaps with the exception of the Faculty of Medicine, of which I was afraid. I also avoided the School of Computing. I was supposed to be there, so there was nothing interesting about it.

The doors leading to the rooftops were always locked, but once I found a door busted. Since the buildings were pretty well connected to one another, I could wander about for quite a while on the rooftops like some lunatic. I tried to sleep in a small niche between two clusters of external air-conditioning units, but the buzzing was annoying and it started raining. Benches were the best solution, most faculties had a suitable one near a power socket. The corridors always became abandoned after midnight, with the occasional grad student staggering by with a coffee mug in his or her hold. Security guards did the same routine everywhere, waking me up after two and five in the morning. At five, I always got up properly to go through the morning chores. A friend of mine stayed close to the university, I did my laundry there during the weekend. I enjoyed being homeless.

A large spider position in the middle of its web

It is easy to make new friends if you sleep in the open.

There were two problems, though. While in many regards it was very convenient to stay on campus all the time, the sad fact was that I was not able leave the campus. I would have had to drag my bag with me. At that time my gear was still weighing a hefty fifteen kilos. Clubbing and enjoying life were out question. I could not go for salsa classes either, which was grieving me greatly. I could also not go for a run in the evening, which was a splendid excuse to dodge exercising. The second problem was that the number of security guards was finite. Although I had only faint recollections of their faces, I was sure that I saw some of them several times. This was probably the only time in my life when I wished there had been more security guards on the planet. My illegal homelessness was to be found out sooner or later. Getting into trouble in Singapore was never a good idea, it is a country with capital punishment. I saw myself being executed after fifteen years of painful legal proceedings and equally painful cane-assisted interrogations, so I eventually abandoned my experiment after a little over two weeks. Being homeless is not as simple as it sounds.

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