On today's episode,
So nothing is ever too overwhelming. Even though it may seem like that at the time, and things may not work, but we always like get there little by little.
You're At Home, with Stacked.
Hey guys, welcome back to another episode of At Home with Stacked. Now, have you ever dreamt of building your dream home abroad? I certainly have. And although I've yet to actually do it, our guest today, he's been there. He's done that. His name is Prashant Ashoka. And before he moved abroad to start a new life, he was a writer and photographer here in the lion city.
Fast forward a few years later and has secured a piece of land, atop an extinct Mexican volcano, where he's now officially built his very own glass house. I mean, obviously we don't get this every day. So I'm really interested to hear story. Prashant joins us today all the way from Mexico to share a little bit more about the inspiration behind his move, what living in the country is actually like, and what his house entails. We end off the podcast with some advice for Singaporeans looking to build their dream homes overseas.
And if you like what you listen to, you can always hop on to stackedhomes.com/editorial for more of us right after the show.
Prashant - Welcome to the show.
Hey, Reuben, really nice to be here with you.
Hey, thanks for joining us. I can't imagine it's probably super early for you right now.
Oh, man, it's 10 here, you know, I've never I've never actually done a recording this late at night. But I'm right. so peaceful. You know, it's so quiet isn't construction going on downstairs? So I might might actually start to do this going forward. But again, you know, thank you so much for for waking up earlier to do this. I know you have a crazy day ahead. So we're just gonna jump straight into it. Perhaps the biggest question on everyone's mind? How does a Singaporean end up going to Mexico, and then building a house there?
Right. It's a it's a question I get a lot. But I do I do have a I do have an answer. So in 2017, I was I was like working in Singapore. And it had been like, quite a, it's been a few tough years. And I was kind of just like really wanting a change in my life. But I didn't know in what way informed that would come. And after kind of like a big life upheaval in in December of 2016, early January of 2017, I decided that I was leaving Singapore.
And in the span of like three weeks, I had decided I was just like looking at a world map and like where was I going to go and so Originally, I was thinking of Australia, which you know, it's pretty close to home. And, and of course, I have some connections in Australia as well.
So I was like thinking moving to Melbourne, but the money that I had saved, like, wouldn't have lasted me that long. And so then I was like thinking about maybe Europe, but you know, it's it's a bit hard to the language barriers, that effect in London and London's pretty expensive.
So Europe was kind of out of the question. And so in the end, it kind of just ended up being Latin America. And in Latin America, there were just two two capital cities that I thought I would move to one of it was when as it is, and the other one was Mexico City. But when as I was like, in 2017, the economy was still doing really badly, but um, the economy was like crashing in Argentina. And, and everybody that I met had just always said really good things about Mexico. And so I kind of just bought a one way ticket and packed up everything and arrived in Mexico. And I'd never It was my first time in the country never been before. And I moved into a little Airbnb apartment in Mexico City.
And while I was there, I was kind of just like on the internet, doing better travel research, like figuring out like, what kind of places I'd like to visit in Mexico. And I kept seeing all these all these tiny homes that were being built really throughout Latin America, in Mexico, in Uruguay, in Argentina, and I was just really inspired by this idea of, of building a small retreat that people could rent.
And in something that's really like, deep in nature where people can go and like you know, reconnect with With themselves and with the environment. And so that was kind of the Yeah, that was kind of the origin story.
I mean, that's something that you don't get in Singapore as well. Right? You don't really have like a home in a nature retreat, that kind of thing. And right, I think just growing up in Singapore as a city, boy, I mean, obviously, you can relate, you've been here for four decades even. You don't really get that complete nature immersion. So I think that's definitely a plus point. Did your parents share your families and friends were like, Are you crazy? used to one one way ticket you have?
Did you like secured a job? I don't think that you even secured a job before you just left and what what did they say?
Everybody freaked out. Firstly, when I was like, leaving to Mexico, they were just like, why are you going? But, and then what kind of when I got here, when I told my family that I was, I was going to, like, use my savings to like, buy a plot of land on a phone, you know, they were just like, I think we need an intervention. But very thankfully, um, you know, I, you know, it's, it's kind of a shocking and jarring thing to do. It's, it's pretty uncommon.
And, and I understand why people feel like, you know, trepidatious, like, towards, towards, like the whole idea. But, but after I had got the land, and after I came up with the idea, and I explained it properly, I think everyone was like, really on board. And I just have like an incredibly supportive family. And they were in so yeah, so it took a little bit of getting used to, but after, like a month or so everybody was on board with it.
And they were all really excited for me. So that was really nice.
Nice. Yeah, I guess it's one of those things that it's either make or break. It's such an audacious idea, to the point that people are like, Man, this can actually work. Yeah. And I don't think anyone's Has anyone done that has a Singaporean ever done that? Do you do research on this?
I have no idea. I mean, I'm sure like, Singaporeans are everywhere. They're always like,
Yeah, I just read about this girl who is like spending like a couple of months in like the Arctic.
Yeah, so people are doing great things.
Crazy. Yeah. I mean, I moved around quite a bit as well. When I was younger, you know, we were moving. And working online. So that was nice in itself. But to actually take a one way ticket, you know, hats off to you, man. So, out of curiosity, right. I mean, you've been in Mexico for For how long? Now? Three years?
Three and a half years? Yeah,
Three and a half? Yes. The difference in lifestyle, like, like I can imagine. I mean, in Singapore, it's probably, you know, it's very authoritarian, it's very strict. And you don't really have that much freedom in the arts, perhaps it's not such a big scene. And then you go to Mexico, and it's like, the direct opposite, right?
You're totally right. It's like a polar opposite. You know, I mean, and, and I, when I was in Singapore, I kind of like, felt exactly like how you were describing, like, I didn't really have much room to do creative stuff. I wasn't, I have a lot of Yeah, there was just something very stifling about it. But at the same time, everything was really orderly. And so coming to Mexico, like, you know, everything is like possible, but there's absolutely no order in the way things are done.
And after three and a half years, I have to say, like, I really missing a lot. I mean, I see like, all the really good things about Singapore right now. Even though I don't like choose to live there. In Mexico, it definitely is my chosen home. But, um, but there are just like, a lot of things that that we need to give props to Singapore for.
And yeah, because in Mexico, like, I mean, just the bureaucracy here is like, it's just like, next level, like getting something done is like, literal paperwork. You know, like, you can't even do stuff online.
It's just and it's like standing in like in like, yeah, in office buildings like waiting for permission slips and it's just, it's an absolute nightmare to to navigate. And it's just such a complex and convoluted system. That it just it you know, it takes like a lot of surrender to be able to, to be able to like, get stuff done and nothing works in a straight line.
But at the same time, everything can be done. So that's like so that's like the the trade off that you that you that you get, but I definitely enjoy the my, like heightened sense of freedom in Mexico, which I absolutely can never give up again. Yeah, that's
A hard one. So I mean, I know exactly how it is because everyone's like, Oh, you know, the groceries. And it's a common sentiment, right? The grass is always greener on the other side, until you actually get there, spend three and a half years there and then realise that if you want your passport done, you probably don't have to wait for two weeks. If you want it done in time Singapore, you get it like the next day you want to open a business. We've been
I've been waiting. I've been waiting just to let just do like interesting project. I've been waiting 10 months to get my residency like 10 in may still haven't got it yet. So, I mean, it's like the most like perplexing thing, but you just have to like, chill out. And and,
Yeah, I mean, I'm sure the house will put you on the map, right? This house Yes. After this, the government's gonna be like, Hey, we got to give this guy citizenship, we got to keep him. I gotta give him all the other volcanoes in Mexico to get him to build more houses. Right. But yeah, I mean, it's, I completely agree with you, you know, there the pros and cons of being here there.
What have you perhaps learned one of the things from Mexican culture that you can safely say that you will now incorporate in your life going forward?
I think like yeah, I think one of the one of the one of the things that people always say in Mexico, people are really chilled out and really peaceful here. And even though things like don't work really well, but they have a saying that psych poco and poco, which is like little by little. And that's really kind of the ethos of how people get stuff done here. So nothing is ever too overwhelming.
Even though it may seem like that at the time, and things may not work, but we always like get the little by little, which I think is a is a really wonderful sentiment that I think is very different to the way Singaporeans are, which is like let's do it like right now.
It's so it's a marathon, not a sprint.
Exactly. And you're totally right.
Yeah. Completely fool if you have that as well. Yeah, you know what, let's, let's talk a little bit more about your house. So, you, again, you, you went to buy a piece of land, or at least secured a piece of land on a volcano? And then you build this kind of glass house? Tell us a little bit more about the house in general. What What is it called? Where is it? What is it?
Right, so, um, I live in a tiny town called San Miguel de la. And it is three and a half hours from Mexico City. And it's in the central part of Mexico in the Baja mountains. And San Miguel de la is a really beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also named the best city in the world like three years running by like Time Magazine, and Travel and Leisure magazine. I think this year, it's number two. And so it's, it's you know, it's a very big tourist destination.
It's kind of the crown jewel of Mexico. A lot of a lot of very wealthy Mexican people have homes here. But then at the same time, you have a lot of like, artists from around the world who've come and have just been like really inspired by this tiny town. And they've and so you've made a lot of painters and sculptors and, and yeah, and so so it's, it's a town that like attracts a lot of creative people. It also has like an incredible world class culinary scene, and a vibrant arts community. And so it's, it's Yeah, it's definitely it's definitely like a really amazing place to live, and also an incredible place to visit. And so San Miguel de Allende has, has kind of a special place in the heart of Mexico because the plot for the independence from the Spanish was plotted in San Miguel.
And so it has a lot of historical and cultural relevance to the Mexican Revolution. And, and, and so the town is is like it's tiny, cobblestoned town that surrounded by these by these mountains. And the mountains like our volcanic origin. And just outside of town, like 20 minutes is this gorgeous mountain range called the last big archers, and the last big cultures. It's an extinct volcanic complex. And when I was in San Miguel, I was just, I was like, looking around town and I thought that this might be kind of a good place to do this business only because we get a lot of tourism and and so I thought that it would be a good place to build this like kind of Airbnb business. And so I was like looking. I was going hiking in the mountain, like outside of town.
And somebody came up to me and he was he was like, Oh, you know, like, would you like to buy a plot of land, my cousin wants to sell this plot of land. But nobody wants to land because it's, it's very large it was it's 8000 square metres, so it's nearly the size of a football field. However, it's on a 45 degree incline on the slope of the volcanoes. So it's very hard for people to to farm on it because you'd have to terrace the land, which is very expensive. And also, it's not easy to build like a large structure on the land either because you have to dig because the soil is very soft. And so you have to dig very deep to build a really deep foundation.
But that being said, the land was just incredibly beautiful. And it seems like towering like peaks like all around you and, and there's like beautiful like animals and the land is like foxes and, and there's the occasional Cougar. And, and like a whole bunch of birds.
And it's India, it's really beautiful. It was really a beautiful part of land. And so because of the end, there was also no road or water or electricity on the land.
And so because of all these factors, it was incredibly inexpensive to purchase. So I purchased this plot of land and then had to go about, like figuring out how, firstly, the logistics of the build would work. So I had to build my own road. And, and then we also, you know, decided that because because we had this, because we were not even connected to the grid and not connected to to the city for amenities.
So it was the perfect opportunity as well to like produce a project that was completely off grid. And that, you know, really was integrated and spoke to the environment in every way. And so that kind of was the theme of the mirror as well, where it completely disappears into the landscape.
But not only that, the house like runs and solar electricity, we have a system to collect rainwater and, and also the merit facade of the house, it's the only American house in the world that uses a UV coating on the mirror that makes it visible to birds, while remaining reflective to the human eye. So all these factors have, like, you know, made it a really sustainable build. And on top of that, we engaged everybody from the local community to help us with the project.
So we employed everyone from the community to come and build the house. And we also end up in the foundation of the house, which is really really deep, because the silo is not so good, is made entirely of rock that we had collected off the volcano
So so the house really in many ways was like birthed from the land, which I think is a really, you know, poetic and, and beautiful story. And yeah, and it's, you know, it took three years to do because during the summer months, like there's torrential rain, and you can't even like drive, like vehicles up like the dirt road, because it all just tends to slash. And so we had to stop working for like, a few months at a time. And also, it was very, very difficult to get labour to come all the way up to the construction site every day to work.
And so it was a very laborious building process. But you know, I'm really happy with the end product. And and yeah, so now it's done. And we're in the New York Times on Sunday, and we were on the cover of Architectural Digest last week. And so yeah, it's it's been, we've been getting a really good response for it.
Wow that's, that's, that's a really great story. And, you know, I like the way you you just kind of painted it. I mean, you're a writer, after all, but you have a way of words, as well. And I can just imagine right now, the sun is shining down, it's reflecting off his glass, facade.
And it's really nice that you brought up that UV coating factor, because I feel that a lot of the times when we decide to build something in nature, when we decide to buy a piece of land and build something, most of the time, the things that suffer other wildlife around, right. So I really happy that you've actually you know, paid attention there to to ensure that the birds are not just flying into the glass houses here because they can really see it, they now see sun reflecting off of it. So that's really beautiful.
But you know, alluding to your point on the road. So does that mean that this house is only accessible, perhaps like half of the year that houses accessible
For the entire year? Because what we have is a house manager who can drive you up on a four by four ATV vehicle that's included in the custom booking. And so
Yeah, right. So you from what I've heard, so you have a background, you know, you're a writer, you're a photographer, but I don't think that you actually studied architecture perhaps. Maybe you had a little bit of interior design background. How big of a factor was that? Did that impact you when you were building your house?
I mean, absolutely. So I actually don't have any background in architecture or interior design. I've never even owned furniture in my life until I came to Mexico. Like between me and so so You know, it like, the reason why I didn't work with an architect was because they just couldn't afford one.
And so I kind of just had to learn everything on my own. And so I drew the house, I drew the house on my own, which was a very, very simple drawing, it's kind of like a box that intersects at 120 degree angle, and there's no walls inside the house. So it wasn't a complex build. And so I hired a structural engineer to help me check that all the, that the roof, like the thickness of the roof, and how things need to stand and where the beams need to go to support the structure of the building. And then after that, I was just able to like Google stuff, and like this, like Google is just such an amazing resource.
And so I was able to Google a lot of like, how things work and, and how plumbing works and how, like electricity works. And it was also able to hire a lot of people, as consultants to come in and tackle certain problems. Like, for example, I have an incredible mirror and glass guy, I have an incredible pool guy who made a solar heated pool for me. And then I have just like, and then I've got someone who, who helped us with God, just landscaping and, and like a whole bunch of stuff. So I was able to like, like, hire and manage people who were good at who, for the most part, good at the job.
And, and so yeah, I was kind of just like, overseeing this process, but you can't oversee someone without actually knowing what's going on. And so yeah, that was a lot of like, learning that I needed to do. And so yes, it was a hurdle. But it was a very rewarding experience as well.
Right? Yeah. I think it's testament to the fact that in this modern age with Google, you know, if you can find the right people, if you have the drive, and perhaps you have the resources, almost anything, in that sense is possible, including building a house on a Mexican volcano. Out of curiosity, by the way, how did you secure the land?
And I'm asking this from the standpoint of a foreigner because I know foreigners who, for example, coming to Singapore, right, if they want to secure land, if they even want to secure a house, you're gonna have to, like be paying a BSD which is additional foreign attacks and all that stuff. So I can imagine it would have been hard. And you mentioned earlier that administrative processes and the most efficient in Mexico No. So how's the process like for securing the land here, so it securing land in Mexico is a very tedious process, like what happens basically, is that
80% of the land in Mexico is owned by the government. And what happened was, during the Mexican Revolution, the government took back the land from from wealthy Mexican land owners, and then started slowly, over the years giving the land back to the people who live within the community.
And so 80% of the land is called a hidden land. And hidden means that it's, it's, it's owned by the people, and it's owned by a community. So the so you have to apply to the community for permission to buy the land. And what makes buying land in Mexico, a very contentious process is that if there are three people, Sam, Harry and Tom, and Sam buys land from Harry, and but Harry bought the land in an illegal way from Tom. Tom can then later come back.
And like take the land back from Sam, I think I've lost it already. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It's sorry. So yeah, exactly. And so it's so it's basically somebody, like, if there's any fault in the in the lineage of sale, and somebody can come back and contest the land and reclaim that land from you. However, I was very lucky with this plot of land, because because I bought it one month after it was given to the very first person by the government.
So there isn't, there isn't any history. I'm just a second owner of the land, and I bought the land in a fair and just way from the first owner. So for my particular plot of land, there isn't any contention. And so I was just really lucky to find like, this plot of land, which, which was Yeah,
Right. So there were no Sam, there are no Harry's before.
There. No, there is no Antares nothing. That's good. Yeah.
Okay. Well, this one is probably a personal question for me, but I'm sure a lot of our listeners are quite interested as well.
You mentioned there are a couple of things in your house. Right. So you mentioned a solar panel swimming pool, which is pretty cool. Yeah, and I think a couple other things, but what is perhaps your favourite part of the home.
Um, I really love the bedroom because the light kind of just like floods the room at about 9am and it lasts till like 11 So it's like it's really really cinematic.
And, and yeah, it's just, it's just my favourite part of the house because of that. And we just have a really, really comfortable bed as well. And also, it's kind of also the most photogenic part of the interior, the bedroom and our cup of bathtub.
That's right beside the bed was the cover of Architectural Digest. And so it's, it's like a very, it's just a really beautiful part of the house. And that's my favourite part.
When you mentioned the bath was right next to the bed.
Right, so so the so I have a standalone bathtub that's made of copper that I designed and got made in a town called Santa Clara del Cobre, which is a tonne of copper in Mexico. And, and so yeah, it's like the statement piece of the house. And it's like, right beside the bed. It's quite like, it's quite a sexy space, you know, like, so. Yeah.
Right. Yeah, I do. Imagine, would you get some issues with water, though? Cuz you're showering there? And or at least you're chilling in the bathtub? Wouldn't there be like water going on to like the bed area by any chance?
No, it's like, so we've got so there's like, there's, it's like, the plumbing done really securely. And so it just drains into the ground. And when you get out of the bathtub, like desert, there's a rug for you to stand on. That absorbs, like any bath water. Wow,
That's really, really nice. So if I were to, let's say, hop on over to Mexico, at the first possible time, right, the first year that actually goes in and I'm on that plane, how much would it cost me to stay here for a night.
So it's 340 US dollars a night, and we have a minimum of two nights over the house. And yeah, and included in that price is a free shuttle in a four by four vehicle to take you from San Miguel up the mountain and back again.
And we also have a variety of tours we have, you can get picked up on horseback by by a cowboy like a Ranchero, who lives like on the mountain. And you can go through the you can go through the volcano, like on horseback. We also offer ATV tours and guided hikes by our neighbour who's a botanist. And so an all in the full cost of these tours is an directly by the local community. And so so yeah, it's just a way to support the community who lives around the volcano.
What about food? Because I'm a big foodie. And we spoke about this earlier before the podcast, how are we missing for food when we are abroad? So I'm guessing Mexican Mexican food is probably really good as well. Do you have any like restaurants around the place there,
There are absolutely no restaurants or amenities around the house. So you can so we have got a really like beautiful kitchen as well. So you can like buy stuff and like cook in the kitchen.
We can also have food delivered to you at an additional cost all groceries delivered to you at an additional cost. But the good thing is that the house is only 20 minutes from the centre of San Miguel, where we have some of the best restaurants in the entire country. So if you really wanted to, like leave the house to go to a restaurant, the house, our husband could come pick you up, send you to a restaurant, make a restaurant reservation for you.
There are some vineyards that are nearby like that are really beautiful that you can go have lunch in a vineyard. So yeah, it's it's food. Food is not a is not a contentious practice.
Very nice. Very nice. It's always been a dream, you know, to build a house in nature, but not be so far away from amenities that you would have an hour or two. So this is really great news. I think the best chance perhaps that I get I'll probably be over there you can expect to see me, do like, podcasts there like a lot. Yeah.
Prashant - Do you have any plans for the future?
Plans for the future? I just need to like get through this week at this point.
Because like I am, I'm like launching this business. Like I'm trying to get my website dynamic cooperating company and have a meeting with a designer in like 45 minutes. Oh, no. So I just like I'm just trying to like survive at this point.
And it's like hide with COVID and I'm trying to run my business of Instagram and and so yeah, so I don't actually have any plans for like the immediate future. I did get an apartment. I did just sign for a really beautiful apartment in Mexico City. So I moved to Mexico City on the first of December, which I'm really excited to do because I need my life back. And but yeah, that's like that's the Yeah, that's the immediate plan.
And I think maybe A trip to Singapore, in the near future. And in 2021 I'm moving to Japan for two or three months. Because that's just always been a dream of mine. And so that's like the reward for for building this house.
Very nice. I mean, based on what you've done, you're probably going to buy a volcano in my in Japan is one and do something. Looking forward today, no more volcanoes for me, probably no more volcanoes, maybe you know, the house and the cherry blossoms or something.
But ya know, it as you mentioned earlier, one step at a time. Before I let you go Prashant, if we could just ask you, I know a lot of Singaporeans like myself, you know, one of my biggest dreams was to move abroad to build my dream home overseas. Do you have any advice for for people like Singaporeans like like me, who have never done it, but really want to do it,
You know, something I like, I think, growing up in Singapore, I just like, always felt that it was just so hard to leave, because I didn't have any framework to understand, like how the world worked, because everything was just so easy and comfortable at home. And so every, every time I travelled would just be like short trips, like, here and there. And, and moving abroad seemed like a really daunting task. But having done it, like, yes, it is difficult, but it's not the most difficult thing in the world, and extremely rewarding experience.
So I feel they're there, you know, two main ways that you can like, that you can move abroad, one of it is to save up like a whole bunch of money in Singapore, which is what I did. So that I could move, like, with the freedom of not having to secure a job immediately, and kind of just like, figure out my life. And the second thing would be to learn the language of a different country.
And, and that could that really, like helps you in case you want to, like look for a job in that place. So, you know, like, those are, those are the two first steps that you can make, like learn a new language, or like start saving like money so that you can have like, some sort of security when you when you arrive.
Definitely. And I think being spontaneous and adaptive along the way as well. Because you never know what yeah, it's gonna come your way.
So you got to be like, ready to take whatever comes, you know, to roll with the punches. That sort of thing.
Absolutely. All right. Cool. Hey Prashant thanks again, you know, for joining us, thanks for waking up so early to do this call. Perhaps the next time I see you I speak to you probably be in Mexico. Wish you all the best for for moving in. House, you know, thanks for joining us, and I'll catch you.
Really lovely to chat.
Once again, that was Prashant Ashoka the Singaporean man who has now officially built his house on a Mexican volcano. What a legend. Now, if you like what you listen to today, you can always hop on to stackedhomes.com/editorial for more quality real estate content. And as always, if you have any comments, queries or suggestions, feel free to drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Once again, my name is Reuben Dhanaraj.
Thank you for joining me today and I'll see you the next podcast.