Sunday, 15 May 2011

I just heard the washing machine sing it's happy little laundry song for the last time.
Maybe I'll come back someday and hear it sing again.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Korean Highlights

I'm going to be obscure while stating the facts. Just so you know.


While in Korea, I...

Dined on drug sushi and fermented rice wine and a boatload of different kinds of side dishes.

Cut my hair and joined a cult (a liberal use of the word). We all had to wear pink pajamas and sit in hot rooms on mats, then eat eggs and drink plum jam tea.

Biked through a city that reminded me of home! Mountains, how do I love thee?! Let me count the ways...

Lived with a girl at my guesthouse who has been in Korea for three months just because she likes K-pop. I thought she was talking about Kapap at first, but nope. Those are two very different things.

Hung out at the Hi Seoul Festival and watched a man ride a bicycle backwards and play the clarinet at the same time. There were also lots of artsy performances by people with knives and cabbages, people who hopped on one foot and wriggled their arms, and people wearing pink alien costumes.

Met up with an accountant from Miami (a spontaneous occurrence) and a German student from Tunisia (as planned) to see the sites.

Did Jun-sanctioned things (e.g. night-bowling, amusement-parking, prank-calling, and coffee-drinking).

Visited Chad and Hyeji at KAIST to say, "Hey, how's life? Remember Olin?"

Bought a cashew necklace.


That's the general gist. I loved Korea. It reminded me of Colorado, if Colorado had lots of rice and kimchi and a couple palaces. The people were super friendly. One woman gave me extra blood noodle sausage and liver because I was a foreigner. Thank you? The weather was cool and the rain only drizzled. I could saunter about without an umbrella and not become drenched (just very damp). This was an extra nice feature since I didn't have an umbrella. The mountains were lovely and the hills filled my heart with the sound of music. The country gets bonus points for being the home of some old friends. If I knew Korean, I think I could have lived there for awhile.

Unfortunately, with my dearth of language knowledge and plethora of future obligations, I had to bid the dear ol' land farewell this morning. Perhaps we'll meet again.

A strange thought

In a week's time, I'll be standing on New Zealand.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Hangin' with the Locals

That sort of summarizes my recent, relaxed travel style. It's an excellent way to see a country because it minimizes foreign-city-stress and maximizes meaningful-human-connection. The human connection part is my favorite. Strange sites are dandy, but ten times the fun with friends. Case in point:



Jun and Hyeji were my token locals in Korea, and it was quite relaxing to have them show me around, order food in restaurants, and put me on the right trains and buses. So relaxing in fact, that I didn't pay nearly enough attention to all those tiresome details.

When I ventured forth on my own on Sunday, I immediately got lost. I found a parade instead of my guesthouse. I had to wander the streets for an hour to orient myself and manged to try all the wrong directions before heading in the right one. My lack of language knowledge kept me from finding and ordering food. I had to resort to eating whatever someone else was eating, since finger pointing proved essential for communication. The past two days have been fun, but they have definitely heightened my appreciation for local pals who are willing to serve as guides and friendly companions. I toast you with my rice tea. Kamsahamnida a bazillion!

Three More Thai Curiosities

Thai money has decoy numbers on it to keep foreigners confused - isn't that a "100" on the 20-bill? Isn't that a "900" on the 100?

keeps me up at night

Sign seen above a toilet

Sunday, 8 May 2011

What would you do, if you had a Garden of Eden?

A highlight of the Phuket trip was our day trip to the Phi Phi islands. They are fantastically beautiful, complete with soft beaches, snorkeling with schools of rainbow-colored fish, and huge gnarled limestone cliffs plunging into the depths of the crystalline blue sea.
gorgeous.
But, while I had brought my camera expecting to take pictures of these things, I found my lens often pointing at something else: tourists.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Phuket: a brief summary

1. The beach is awesome, and 
2. Relatively nice hotels are worth the higher price.

I knew these two truths before Jason and I departed for Phuket last Sunday, but they were impressively confirmed during our stay.  I’m tempted to say, “having learned from our Malaysia trip, we booked a nicer hotel to stay at,” but that would be a lie.  We booked Boomerang Village well before Spring Break, having done some internet research to confirm its excellence.  And excellent it was.

Our 'room' at Boomerang Village, which had an ocean view out of its tinted sliding-class (did I say 'class'? I meant 'glass') doors



An unreal number of orchids adorned the clean, pleasantly decorated, air-conditioned room

That ocean was not far away at all, accessible at the lovely Kata beach.  Here we enjoyed boogey boarding, general swimming, and reading, all of which were delightful.  Furthermore, we went on a day-long tour that took us to three nearby islands, two of which are among the “Phi Phi” islands.  More lovely beaches, plus snorkeling amongst many colorful fishes and pretty coral.

More on them later, I hope, but here's a taste for now:
Can you find Rose?

Friday, 6 May 2011

Mangrove Kayaking Adventure

Note: This post was written April 10th, but we saved it to wait until the kayaking company facebooked our photos to use in the post. The photos never came [ :( ], so here's the post without them.

A full month ago, Jason and I bought Scoopons (or Groupons or some-other-ons) which scored us a 50% discount on kayaking around Pulau Ubin. Now, if your memory serves you well, you may remember that Ubin is an undeveloped little island off the eastern coast of Singapore’s big island. Last time, we biked around it and had a great time, so we figured kayaking would be awesome, too. After a bit of trouble reserving a time, we eventually had our plans set: on Wednesday, April 6th, at 9:30 in the morning, Jason and Rose would embark on their kayaking adventure!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Transportation Cripple

To all parents and future parents, alike:

Hear ye, hear ye.

When you are considering the well-being of your progeny and contemplating which dangerous ventures to allow and which to ban, think of the future. Envision the moment when your son/daughter happens to be in a far off land short of cash and with nothing but a pair of worn out sandals on his/her feet and a longing to visit a museum burning in his/her heart. There is a motorbike at your offspring's disposal. Is this the solution to all his/her woes?

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Pictures

It's been eight days since I left Bali. Since then, I've had two final presentations and traveled to South Korea by way of KL. I don't really remember what I was going to write about the island. So, I've decided just to share some haunting images from long, long ago (i.e. last week).

Kuta. A city built for tourists.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Bali: Island of Beaches, Leeches, and Motorbike Screeches

I went to Bali over Easter primarily because my brother seemed enthused about surfing there. I'm all for recommendations from trusted sources. Besides, he has to live vicariously through someone, right?

It was an awesome experience. I don't quite know how to encapsulate it. Like Gaul, the trip was divided into three parts.

Part 1: Kuta and Legian Beaches
We surfed and hung out at the beach. We paid exorbitant tourist prices. We were continually attacked by vendors hoping to sell us bracelets, transport, beach chairs, surf boards, and everything else we didn't want.

Part 2: Begdugul and Mt. Catur
We hiked a volcano for 5 hours in a torrential downpour, sustained numerous leech bites, and then slid down the steep, narrow, rocky, half-stream-half-mud-river, overgrown "path" to the bottom. There were all sorts of signs in Indonesian along the trail, but all we could translate was the word "beware." They probably said something important.

Part 3: Kerobokan and Denpasar
Anja went home to study, and I hung out in the city and some temples. I relocated to a hostel that provided a motorbike free of charge for guests. Very cool, if only I knew how to ride one.

That's the cliff notes version.

The end result is that I'm back in Singapore tanner, poorer, wanting to surf, and more aware of God's rich blessings in my life. When I am a foriegner in a strange land, I become conscious of how little control I have over my life. The people I meet, the circumstance that fit together, my safety and health--that's all up to God in the end. He has blessed me far more than I deserve.

Universal Studios Singapore

Today, Jason and I had no class, so we seized the opportunity to go to Universal Studios Singapore (USS) in the middle of school week, as any good theme parkers should. The day was ideal. All the rides were open, and we got to do everything we wanted to do, and then repeat all the best things, just for good measure.

We arrived around 10am, the hour when the park opened, and went immediately to the Battlestar Galactica dual coasters. This took us through the Hollywood-theme and New York-theme lands, which were both very nice and a little retro. Their way-better-than-life depiction of bygone days in big cities was charming – I loved the ambience. And somehow, the transition to the space-themed land wasn’t jarring.

Once at the coaster pair, we got in line for the Cylon side. The coaster was inverted with plenty of inversions, and an incredibly fun first ride. One highlight: plunging into fog-filled holes. The white of the fog matched the white of the surrounding ground pretty well, and since we were in the front, the illusion of impending impact was excitingly convincing. We went on the human side less, and it was a much more standard coaster. Not inverted and no inversions or fog holes, but still fun J

The BSG coasters don't scare Jason.

Next, we went to the Egypt-themed land and went on the Revenge of the Mummy ride. It’s apparently very similar to the one in CA, but I’ve never been on that one, so it was new to me. And ridiculously fun. Indoor steel coaster with excellent theming. It was kind of like Space Mountain and Indiana Jones mixed together and set to the Mummy plot.

I felt just as awkward as I look

Next, we went to the rapid ride in the Jurassic Park land. Now, I almost swore off rapids rides altogether, as getting wet is far more frightening to me than long vertical drops or corkscrews or any of those purely fun coaster elements. But this was Singapore, where at least the ride’s water is better than the sweat that’s already drenching you. And Jason let me wear his rain jacket. The ride was very fun, complete with the requisite Tyrannosaurus Rex near-death experience.

Awww...a baby Velocijase. Careful, he may bite.

We finished up Jurassic Park land with a short kid-oriented inverted coaster and a quick-but-satisfying climb up the amber rock wall. Then, we went to Far, Far Away, where we were ushered into the “Donkey ‘Live’” show, which was a sad, sad attempt to do what Disney has done so well with “Crush.” The effects and theming were as quality as the rest of the park, but the jokes just weren’t funny. But that’s ok, because we went to the Shrek 4D experience next, and it was very entertaining and fairly funny. Far, Far Away also had a short-and-sweet kiddy coaster.

The last land in the circular park was Madagascar-themed, and the giant boat made a nice backdrop to the area. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much in the way of attractions yet, but we went on the Merry-Go-Round, which was fun. It’d been a while.

Having gone on all the worthy rides, we got some tasty pizza and started into ride seconds and shows. The Universal classic monsters rock musical was kinda weird but in an entertaining way. We got to see some impressive B-boy dancers in New York land, and the Waterworld show was great.

All in all, I loved USS. The park only opened in March 2010, and everything felt just as new as it was. The theming throughout the park was impressive and delightful. The Wednesday crowd was so thin, we hardly ever had to wait at all for rides. We even got to go on the BSG coasters three times each! It’s hard to imagine a better day.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Henderson Wave Bridge




Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Rain

what waterfalls look like in Singapore
well, maybe without the looping...
Before arriving, I heard three main things about Singapore:
- Strict Rules
- Food
- Rain
Though the first item hasn't shown itself as much as I expected it to, the latter two have certainly been as promised. Oh yes.

While in Singapore I've had the honor of witnessing quite a few great thunderstorms, of an intensity I've rarely seen outside the tropics. Unfortunately, I'm ill equipped to effectively share the sounds with you (that would take a nicer microphone on my end and a THX-certified room on your end), but I'll do my best to share some of the sights.

Singapore's civil engineers, as rightly they should, take rain seriously. I mean, very seriously. In an impressive attempt to keep Mother Nature under control, it seems they have lined every river in Singapore with cement. Take a look:

what rivers look like in Singapore another Singapore waterfall
But, as you can see, even with such effort put into controlling the water, Nature, with the help of Moore's EDIT: Murphy's law, still manages to overflow the ditches and flood the sidewalks occasionally. After every storm, the tiled floors of my hall's stairwells become reminiscent of an ice rink and climbing the stairs becomes an adventure!
I guess you just can't contain the power of a tropical storm!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Poems on Everyday Things

Well, I haven’t posted in a while. We have explored Singapore pretty effectively, and there hasn’t been too much going on with me that is not part of what I’d consider normal college life. Lexi says it’s National Poetry Month, so maybe I will spice up some of my daily routine with a little rhyme and meter.

ADM
Artsy Library
Entertaining, Teaching, Chronicling
Comic geeks in heaven
Batman…!

That one was a cinquain. There are so many types of cinquain, that the word really doesn’t tell you much more than that the poem is five lines long. The Arts, Design, and Media Library has provided both Jason and me many, many hours of joy, mostly through comic books and movies (not to mention the A/C!). Alright. Too much prose – need poem:

Eat more sushi to better please
Your culinary expertise.
Come with a hearty appetite
To slowly soothe in delight
As fishes from the seven seas
Enchant your tastes with gentle ease.
What magic do the Japanese
Impart to each and every bite!
Eat more sushi,
And a happy heart you’ll soon seize;
Your many worries, you’ll appease.
Forsooth, the day is ever bright
When sashimi relieves your plight.
And so I end with this reprise:
Eat more sushi.

That was an attempt at a rondeau. They are a lot harder. But Japanese food is worth the effort! I don’t think any non-dessert item can beat some good salmon sashimi with sushi rice, soy sauce, and a tiny bit of wasabi. So good! Japanese food has become an important part of my diet in Singapore, much to my delight :D

I hope your day is filled with excellent reading material and good food!

This is how it's done: the Breakfast Set

Rose has already sung the praises of the Singaporean "breakfast set" once. It's a song worth singing twice.
These are things I will always remember:

The lady behind the counter -- always there, every morning, week in, week out
These people make breakfast preparation
into poetry
sees me in line, "same? with tea lah?",
passes the order on to her team: yells: "A SOM TE!"

The toast lady, patiently nursing toasts on a grill to perfection
pre-sandwiched, pre-spread with kaya
she plates three pieces when they're ready
and not a moment before.

The tea man of the team hears the order
tea comes from a kettle held on high, the arc three feet long
boiling water from a tap
condensed milk on a spoon
all the while continuously in motion
not a drop spilled until the teacup is on its saucer, delivered to the counter in front of me
when it hits the counter, it always spills

Two eggs, half-boiled, but sometimes more like three-quarters or 0.3
keep the experience unpredictable.


mmm.
And so, this experience having played out over a few dramatic moments, I sit down with my tray and begin my meal, which occurs in 1:5.7 syllable format:
Toast: crunchy, smooth and sweet. Makes me a happier guy.
Eggs: half-boiled, runny. I must learn to concoct these.
Tea: bitter, sweet when stirred. The perfect way to finish.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Photo: Tree Under Observation

I can offer no further explanation.

Monday, 4 April 2011

An ode

It seems fitting to write an irregular ode to express my heartfelt sentiments today, as April is National Poetry Month and regular odes appear more challenging.


Ode to Those Who Comment on Blog Posts

With your replies and my posts intertwined,
A conversation can emerge about
Life or mankind.
When others read and enjoy what I spout,
I feel exuberance to write and find
Intriguing stories and adventurous tales,
That somehow convey
Experiences I had while away.
Your comments are like getting airmail.

Thanks for reading our blog!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Things I don't like

For every 7 positive blog posts you write, you must write a negative one. I think there's a law like somewhere.

And since most things make me happy or at least don't cause any ripples in my tranquil pool of complacency, it is high time that I throw in the towel, rustle up my indignation, and carpe diem!

Routine

When I first got here, it was clear that every day was a new adventure, and every weekend was an opportunity to do something brand new. Time was moving at a normal rate or somewhat slower.

Due to some strange warping of the space-time continuum, the weeks have been accelerated to a frightening rate. Monday happened just a little while ago, and now bam, it's Friday. It's a testament to how used to this place I've become. Here are some other indicators that I live here now:
- I walk places on autopilot, and when people ask me for directions, I can help
- I have local friends in my classes and I usually remember their names (this takes a long time for me...)
- The lady at the breakfast stall recognizes me and knows what I want without me saying a word.
- I look the correct way first before crossing the street. Vehicles no longer startle me when they make a turn into the left lane.

Yes, my mind has gotten used to this place. I wonder what culture shock I'll have when I get back to the U.S. of A...

On another note, check out our alternate blog views: http://olinsingapore.blogspot.com/view/mosaic

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Malaysian Adventure: A map!

I've put together a map of the general path Rose and I took on our tour of Malaysia, complete with geotagged pictures.
Click the map to explore.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Malaysian Adventure: Many Delights

As promised, I will tell you of the delights of our Malaysian vacation. I will do so by location, going in temporal order.

Malacca:
We ate a delicious dim sum breakfast! The tea was amazing. Om nom nom. Then, since it was so early, we enjoyed the lights on the river running through the town:

The view was stunning whether you looked to the left...
...or to the right.
There were so many birds in the trees, that when they flew away, their exodus seemed to go on forever! Much of Malacca is painted in brick red, including an excellent church and bell tower in the central square. We got to see a cool Chinese Temple, too. Later, we explored an informative museum about the history of Malaysia. We stayed at Emily’s, a hostel whose highlight was a sweet shower filled with plants.

Kuala Lumpur, or KL:
KL's skyline from near the end of one of the subway lines
One highlight of KL was that it was the only city at which we arrived at a reasonable hour without difficulty. Our first evening there, we explored the bustling Chinatown with all of its foods and merchandise.
The next day, we got to go to the marvelous Batu Caves, one of the highlights of the whole trip.


We climbed a lot of steps to get up there, but it was worth it! The cave housed Hindu shrines and lots of monkeys and pigeons. The monkeys were particularly great, as usual:

We took a few trains and ended up at an awesome vegan restaurant for lunch. Yeah, vegan Malaysian food.
this character was prominent on the storefront.
It was pretty good, and the restaurant had by far the best bathroom of the trip, with all the luxuries: Western-style seat, toilet paper, sink with soap. It even had a nice ambience. What an indulgence!
Finally, we explored the orchid and hibiscus gardens, as well as the park in that area.

It was here that I performed the amazing feat of getting bit by mosquitos shortly after applying bus spray. But the flowers were truly beautiful, and Jason had lots of fun taking pictures.
Our last day in KL was spent mostly in the mall. The mall, housed at the base of the Petronas Towers, was really lovely, and I enjoyed walking through it so much that I even volunteered to carry Jason’s heavier backpack for a bit of it. We saw two movies, as the movies were cheap cheap cheap, and we had lots of time to kill before our train. These movies were: Unknown and Merong Mahawangsa. The first was a Hollywood film that I enjoyed much more than Jason did, though we both liked the second, which was a Malaysian film telling the largely mythical history of one of the provinces of Malaysia.

It involved a Roman prince, Chinese Princess, and a protagonist who makes a funny mirror device to burn up enemy ships. Too bad for him one of his enemies was also a weather wizard, so the clouds came in and some hand-to-hand combat was necessary, such as that featured on the poster.


Penang:
We took a night train to Penang, on which I got more mosquito bites despite the air conditioning. I also got some sleep, but not enough, so after a lovely ferry ride, we traveled around the island by bus.

Jason got to see the island and take pictures, and I got to do a little seeing and lots of sleeping. We saw the usual mix of temples, churches, and mosques on Penang, as well as a few Chinese clan houses. We stayed at a place called Stardust which the guidebook said was much cleaner than the other choices. If this was true, I am incredibly glad we did not stay at one of the other places :p
Penang offered us the best nature experiences of the trip, as we got to see some totally awesome bioluminescence as well as go to the world’s smallest national park. The park boasted some nice beach views as well as a very fun canopy walk. I almost bathed in bug spray while here, and am happy to say the mosquitos did not touch me.
I also got to try Georgetown’s “white coffee.” It was ok, but not what I was expecting. It looked like coffee with all the fixings- there was certainly plenty of cream and sugar in the cup. But somehow, it still tasted like rather strong, black coffee. I shudder to think what white coffee tastes like black!

Kota Bharu:
Getting to Kota Bharu was an adventure, but Jason’s writing about that, so I’ll just say that we arrived in the afternoon. We had an ice cream waffle and I had a root beer float shortly after we arrived, and these two items were delicious enough that I remember that afternoon with fondness. We stayed at a place called Zeck’s where the owners were very friendly.
I slept most of the afternoon.
We had tasty Indian food for dinner. We had lots of tasty Indian food on this trip. I neglected to mention it in its due time, but really the various breads, mango lassis, and curries were absolutely delicious.
We left Kota Bharu the following morning on the jungle train. Just 15 hours later, we arrived safely in Singapore. Upon arriving at my dorm, I took what may be the best shower of my life up to this point. This, too, I count as a highlight of my trip. Really a delightful finish.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Malaysian Adventure Week: the Forgotten Bus

They thought they were in for a comfortable night. Little did they know...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Malaysian Adventure: One Trouble

In this post, I will explain how Malaysia taught me to be thankful for my daily luxuries. In my next post, I will explain other reasons why Malaysia might be a good place to visit, especially if you have lower standards of personal hygiene than I, or if you are willing to spend more money per day than I.

Exploring Malaysia with a backpack and budget was not what you would call a relaxing experience for me. Not so surprising, right? New places, stress to get places on time, all the normal things that go along with going someplace new without a guide… that can be enough to make anyone a little concerned.
But those “normal” things really had very little to do with my stress. We had an amazing guide book that contained maps of all the places we visited. I cannot overstate the importance of a map in an unknown area. Maps are wonderful. I love them. If I have a map in my hands, I have almost absolute confidence that I will get where I am going. Maps dispel fears of being lost and give purpose to wanderings of a city. I never felt lost or overwhelmed by novelty during the trip.

But if not such common anxieties, what could betray my comfort? Well, we went to cities in Malaysia. These cities were not what you might call clean cities. We stayed at hostels in these cities. These hostels did not have what you might call clean facilities. In short, my nemesis this spring break was: Dirt.

You may think me a bit spoiled or too “dainty” or something like that, and I’m not going to argue with you. You can go on thinking that, and you are probably right. But I will qualify my enmity against dirt.
First of all, I did go into the trip expecting some uncleanness. Indeed, overnight train rides will certainly prevent showering within the normal maximum 24-hour time limit. Indeed, carrying only a day pack’s worth of clothing will certainly require the repeating of some outfits. These things I knew.

But I did expect that when I took a shower, I would be clean, and I would be able to go to sleep in a clean room on a very clean, made-up bed. But no. Hostels aren’t like that. The sheet, and yes, I meant that to be singular, is clean, but no promises about anything else. The shower will dispense water, yes, and after a day in the city, it will improve your cleanliness, but you will by no means feel like a clean, respectable lady. No. Not at all.

And, well, in much of Malaysia, they have squat-style toilets that do not contain toilet paper. And good for you if you find soap. If I could have used a good clean bathroom complete with clean showers a few times, and if I could have slept in a clean room, I think I would have been far less uncomfortable.
Luckily for me, the rosy tint of hindsight is already starting to color the trip more favorably, but I shall endeavor to remember my newfound appreciation for the little things. A clean bedroom. Clean bathroom. Toilet paper. I have access to these things once more, and I am incredibly happy for it!

Malaysian Adventure Week


Rose and I spent last week on a Malaysian adventure. We visited four cities across Malaysia and travelled through over 1500 kilometers (900 miles) of that lush land by train, bus, taxi and foot over 9 days.
It was an adventure of many ups and downs, ins and outs, and surprises.
like this kitty, pictured together with our trusty guidebook.
Over the next few days, now that we've settled back into Singapore life and our ideas have had a chance to marinate, Rose and I will do our best to relate some of the most important adventures and impressions to you.  If you're a facebook friend, you should definitely check out some photographic highlights here.
Stay tuned.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Aand it's off to adventure!

This fire tornado is unrelated to the post...
but it is cool and we did see it last weekend.

It's been over a week since my last post, and it'll be another week before I can post again. I'll be mostly out of internet range, for, over the upcoming recess break, Rose and I are heading to Malaysia to do some exploring and adventuring!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Islands make my heart sing


I think I'm in love. It was a whirlwind romance, but sometimes, that can't be helped. Besides, common knowledge dictates that it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. And with a weekend of loving and loosing under my belt, I feel more complex. Since I don't even have a picture to remember him by, I'll have to weep fondly over a picture of a different-but-similar-looking-fellow.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Quest: Kickapoo Joy Juice

I must confess that I have neglected to relate a very important quest in my time here in Singapore. The quest may not, at first glance, appear substantial. It may even appear a tad odd, or the slightest degree silly. But let me assure you, my friends, that with the correct mindset of whimsy, the quest is indeed most significant.

I speak of course of the quest for the Kickapoo Joy Juice. Long ago, Jason and I were breakfasting at my local canteen, taking in the sights of the Singaporean food court. We beheld a large sign depicting various delicious drinks, such as Passion Fruit Tea and 100 Isotonic Beverage. And including a green can labeled, “Kickapoo Joy Juice.” Delighted by the name, we searched the beverage refrigerators in hopes of trying this alliterative drink sure to bring delight. But alas, our search was in vain, as no joy juice was to be had that morning. But did we give up? No!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

TheAbsoluteBestPartsofBeinganExchangeStudent

Now, I know what you think I'm going to say.

Some think I'm going to say the food. Or the proximity of Bali. Or the multicultural exposure and all that nonsense.

Some might be anticipating me and my trusty dry sense of humor to declare that it's really the cockroaches that give Singapore its heavenly glow. Or that getting a Merlion tattoo in Chinatown has all the makings for a jolly good time.

Not poor suppositions my friend, but erroneous nonetheless! Forsooth!


I now present my PartsofBeinganExchangeStudent list arranged from Best to AbsoluteBest:

1) Air conditioning.
2) Not belonging anywhere.*


Yep.

That's it.

Have a lovely night.

*A brief note: By virtue of not belonging to any social, academic, or sports group, I sort of belong anywhere that I want. This is an excellent state of affairs. It allows me to plan trips to Thailand with German exchange students, tutor super-jock personal trainers, and wander into any activity I want to try. Everyone welcomes me because I'm just an exchange student. It's very liberating.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Singapore's OK Toilet

"OK" has a bit of a different meaning here. Apparently it means "really good".
These large stickers are posted in all of Singapore's bathrooms.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

An Island With No Malls

Last weekend's adventure took the three Oliners to the charming island of Ubin off of Singapore's northern coast. Though Ubin is part of the Republic of Singapore, Ubin is mostly undeveloped. With limited electricity and running water, it's a wonderful place to spend the day, biking on partially paved paths and exploring the nature reserves.
A drink stand on Ubin does its best to attract customers in Singlish.

Dance-deficient Diversions

Wow. Time is moving fast here now. A consequence of becoming more comfortable, no doubt. The week has a routine feel to it in some ways, now, and I must admit, I like it. Sometimes, when some of the novelty wears off, what is left is something a little less lustrous than before. The excitement can wane as time passes, as I have experienced in other places. Here, though, I the newness was too thick on Singapore, and the wearing away of a bit of it has left the place looking much nicer than before. I can better appreciate the gorgeous greenery that Jason was so fond of on that first day. I can exult in the wonder of the common lightning storms.
Much has happened…. I will try to relate the most interesting parts that are still in recent memory.
On Friday night, Jason, Lexi, a boy from Harvy Mudd named Ozzie, and I set out to attempt to go line dancing in Chinatown. The internet and Jason’s guidebook agreed that this was a fun activity, if a little strange. We found a website with information so up-to-date that they had the song list for the 25th of February, 2011. This inflated our hopes, though a small discrepancy in location between pages on that same website did raise eyebrows. We set up with happiness in our hearts, ready to dance, despite the pouring rain.
After forging our path on a mostly direct route, we arrived at the Far East Square, the location which had the most internet sources citing it as the destination our fellowship sought. But, lo and behold, there were no dancers! Not too surprising, as the place was rather wet, but Jason was bold enough to ask, anyway. After three consecutive people each got his or her coworker (with better English), Jason eventually got the information he desired. The square had indeed once held many joyous dancers, but these were in times past. Now, no line dancers would be found.
At least, not there. Maybe at the other place the internet suggested. Maybe one of these days we’ll be curious enough to find out.
In any case, we were then in Chinatown with no plans. After some enjoyable aimlessness and indecision, we decided to go to the “hacker space,” one of Ozzie’s favorite hangouts. The place is discretely located amidst restaurants, just a simple door in the wall labeled “hacker space.” A group of people approached and greeted Ozzie. We walked inside together.
Within, the space was closer to an Olin lounge than other space I can think to compare to. There were sketches, both of art and business, computers, some nerdy artwork, and a couple of guitars. And soft chairs in which we sat. The people inside were either working or chatting. The one that talked with us the most was using the space to work on a tech solution for education.
Jason, Lexi, and I agreed that the place reminded us of the historical salons of the enlightenment era. Only, without the rich lady funding them :p An interesting experience, to be sure.
The next day began with delightful relaxation. In the evening, Jason and I went to dinner and a movie, except dinner consisted of the most fabulous ice cream sundae ever! It had oodles of ice cream of the vanilla and green tea varieties. And plenty of tasty fruit and other treats as toppings. We then saw I am Number Four, which I really enjoyed. At the theater, when you buy a ticket, it comes with a seat number and everything! So buying your tickets early is what counts, not getting to the show early.
I’m not sure the world really wants me to be able to go dancing, but I may still attempt again on Sunday, for swing dancing. I hope it will happen this week, as opposed to last week! But even if it does not, it will take more than that to make this anything less than an excellent weekend.

Friday, 18 February 2011

A note on classes

Just so you don't think all Singaporeans do is eat, let's pause to consider the educational experience!

For the sake of brevity, I will do it in limericks.

Gene Therapy is rather dry.
Three-hour lectures antagonize.
The professor teaches,
In long-winded speeches,
And an accent that makes me sigh.

I am fond of Product Design.
It sharpens the creative mind.
A watering can,
That's in high demand,
Is what the professor assigned.

Accounting's my favorite course.
The lectures are are large but terse.
I peruse the book,
In the library nook,
And love the logical verse.

Marketing's a fair bit of fun.
Examples of what can be done,
Are used to express,
Her lessons the best,
Then students show ads they've begun.

That just about covers everything!

I will add that it is interesting to notice the cultural differences in the classroom. The nice professors here are careful to water-down correction with lots of praise. They seem to be afraid to give you clear direction, since you might take their critique too personally. This results in my general state of confusion.

Another peculiar moment was when students stood at attention to read their answers in tutorial. Apparently the formality is beaten in them during primary school.

Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Singapore's still got some tricks up it's sleeve...

While much of what was new to me in Singapore is now old hat, this past weekend showed me that this land still has plenty of surprises.

Exhibit A:
A grove of giant carrots.
There's more after the break. Click "read more" to see it.

Chingay in Pictures

As we arrived at the Chingay Parade site, we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the Marina Bay:

The crowd's attention was drawn elsewhere, however, as the pre-parade performances began.

The website we were using to find Chinese New Year goings-on listed the Chingay Parade as a "Must See!" and "Asia's grandest street parade". Suffices to say, it did not disappoint.
More pictures and details after the jump. Click "Read more" to see 'em.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Nothing but a calloused old soul

This is a sad state of affairs.

I've only been in Singapore a month, and yet it feels like forever! Things that used to delight and mystify now seem as boring as dirt.

I don't bat an eye when I see students sauntering about with take-away drinks in open-top, plastic bags. Sidewalks seem complete only if they are covered. Withered old men sweeping leaves from the paths every morning are as normal and reliable as the sunrise. Dishwashing paste is a fact of life. Sometimes I step on the cats with missing ears and broken tails who sit outside my room, I'm so used to them. Singlish is almost perfectly intelligible to me lah. Tropical flowers blooming every which way are practically like weeds.

Today, I went to a Bhangra lesson, ate some Indian food I'd never heard of before, and chatted to folks from China, Indonesia, South Korea, Russia, Scotland, and Singapore. Just another humdrum day. I tried to drown my sorrows in a bowl of laksa at dinner.

Oh, where has the magic gone! Maybe, it was used up in the fireworks and bejeweled costumes of the 8,000 Chingay Parade performers. Or, perhaps the ginormous, rabbit-shaped flower displays on Sentosa Island drained the wonder away. Maybe it is hidden on Istana's* golf course. Forsooth!

Will it ever come back? Maybe if Yuan punches me by accident in kickboxing class. Maybe if Tom mails me a WonderBox. Maybe if I sustain a head injury in ultimate.

Until then, I remain comfortably conditioned to life here. It almost feels like home.


*the President's house
It's really quite a mystery to me why he lives on a vast estate and the rest of the population remains in crowded flats. The perks of politics?

Kaya: Spread of Wonder, Spread of Delight

It occurs to me that I really haven't given the food here the credit it is due. I will now give just one tiny portion of Singaporean food the praise it deserved.

Most mornings, I've been eating the "breakfast set" at the canteen by my dorms. For a mere S$1.50, I get 2 soft-boiled eggs, hot tea, and a sandwich made with butter and kaya. Now, what is kaya, you may ask, that it deserves this post's title?

It may help to tell you that kaya is a malay word, and most of us English-speaking people would call the spread coconut butter, instead. It is made of coconut milk, eggs, pandan leaf, and sugar. It ranges from brown to green, but whatever its color, it brings sheer delight to the taster. Imagine if honey were more of a creamy paste flavored lightly of coconut, and you may be getting close to the idea of kaya, though nothing short of the actual experience of kaya can fully describe it.

Kaya and butter sandwiches are so good that I do not even regret not being able to eat a bagel with nutella in the morning, as I did over the summer.

You can see pictures and find out more about kaya here, including how to make it yourself, if you'd like. I hope that each morning you wake to a delightful breakfast!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Demanding Patience

Sometimes, it feels like the world conspires against you. Sometimes, it's something big and horrible that happens. Sometimes, like during the past handful of days for me, it is a lot of little things that go wrong all in a row. Mostly, all the world, but mostly NTU's bad internet, has conspired against my ability to play WoW.

About a week ago now, I attempted to play a heroic dungeon in WoW, but my interent connection was so poor that I could not enter. Not only this, but I could not enter WoW at all, my character being trapped in the nether of a load-screen that terminated only by disconnecting. I was at the mercy of dungeon reset at 3am server time, or the aid of my wonderful Mother.

This happened multiple times, and left me with the sad realization that I can only do heroics on *really* off-peak interent hours at my school. With this crippling disability, what was I to do in WoW? Well, one of the only other viable means of improving my character is archeology, so I took that up. Only a few days ago did I realize my good fortune in beginning this task before the patch! The barrier to entry to archeology is now somewhat higher, but I am already past it. So perhaps in this small way, the slow internet indirectly produced a good thing.

This said, that very same patch revealed yet another very unfortunate result of bad internet. The small 140MB patch took 11 hours to download. Yes, that's right, 11 hours. So no WoW on Tuesday. Then, Friday, when I was looking forward to playing, especially with the possibility of finally getting my new dragon mount, my laptop AC adapter unexpectedly died. I didn't even abuse it. How could an adapter be so inconsiderate?

All that said, the tides did eventually turn. I got my dragon on Sunday. Jason graciously let me borrow his power adapter so I could play :) I even got a new piece of gear the same night from a heroic I was able to enter! A happy time, indeed. Here is my character riding atop the Drake of the West Wind in all its glory:


I've been having a lot of fun in the real world, too! We saw the Chingay Parade on Friday night, and went to Sentosa to see flowers and Fort Siloso on Saturday. I do believe Jason will do these events better justice, as he once again took many delightful photos :)

a rant on Japanese studies

I've frowning at my screen, trying to put meaning into the Japanese characters I'm supposed to memorize for class on Monday. It the pace of engineering classes here is - shall we say... relaxed? - very relaxed. Meanwhile, the language course I'm taking, introductory Japanese, feels very fast. I guess it doesn't help me that the entire class has learned a few thousand Chinese characters already.
This is why I'm staring at the Hiragana chart on my screen. In Hiragana, there are obvious patterns -- the character for 'nu' is halfway between 'a' and 'no', and 'wa', 're', and 'ne' definitely share ancestry.
The Japanese Hiragana alphabet. Vowels, at the right, are combined with consonants, on top, to form letters, or 'kana'. Memorize this by Monday.
At first I thought I could use those patterns to my advantage in learning the alphabet, but they serve more to confuse than to organize.  I feel that the way the patterns work is a job for a cryptographer. In the Roman alphabet, a curlicue is usually a stylistic thing. In Hiragana, a curlicue turns a 'ke' into a 'ha', then remove one measly line and you get something totally different! What gives? Aaaaaa.
I'm hoping that random mnemonics will help me out. I looked at the character 're' for about a minute, trying to convince myself it looked like a 're' of sunshine. I didn't succeed, but now I remember 're' as the character that looks absolutely nothing like a ray of sunshine.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Sunday morning

I know I just rambled recently, but this adventure is too good not to share.

I was supposed to meet up with a friend to go to mass on Sunday morning. The Plan: rendezvous at 8:00am at the Hall 8 bus stop and ride over together.

Nothing could be simpler...(dun, dun, dun).

Alas and alack, I didn't confirm The Plan via email. I did send him a text saying I would meet him there. Where, there meant the Hall 8 bus stop. He must have thought I meant the church. So, he went along without me, and I managed to wait at the wrong Hall 8 bus stop, preoccupied with how hungry I was.

When 8:15 came along and he didn't show, I decided venture out on my own. The directions to the church seemed so easy.

I hopped onto the 199, changed buses at Boon Lay to the 174, and plopped in a window seat where I would be able to see a "building that looked like a church" that would signal my stop. Unfortunately, I never saw the church. I just kept riding the bus, staring out the window, allowing panic to set in. I knew I must have missed my stop miles back, but I didn't see anyway that I could still make it to mass in time at my original destination.

Now, when I'm hopelessly lost I generally do one of two things: (1) ask for directions or (2) pretend I know where I'm going.

The first option was too taxing, so I opted for Plan B. I followed the people on the bus who looked like they were heading to church. There was a whole crowd of them, so it seemed like a safe bet. I got off at their stop, trotted down the sidewalk after them, and followed them right into the back entrance of a large building. The whole time I was praying, "Please let it be a Christian church, and please let the service be in English!"

I hovered in the foyer in indecision when my bus friends scattered in different directions. When a lady came in, I asked her if they had services in English. She was amazingly nice and adopted me on the spot (metaphorically speaking).

It turns out that I attended a Presbyterian church with wonderfully welcoming people. They were perhaps slightly confused when I told them I was Catholic, but they remained friendly. I learned about Hebrews 11 (Christ is the ultimate sacrifice), I enjoyed a delicious Myanmar lunch, and I received excellent directions to my next destination. Really, now! God not only answered my prayers about the church, he fed me lunch, too!

How awesome is that?!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Today Jason and I crested the highest height of Singapore! Well, the highest natural height, that is. We went to Bukit Timah, you see, where there is a nice nature reserve. The monkeys lounge around the visitors center where they receive food (illegally), and the brave can attempt the arduous trek up to the 537-foot summit.

This one is particularly relaxed

But is this really as high as you can get in Singapore?

Of course not! Singapore has not one, not two, but 34, yes 34, buildings that are taller than 537 feet. The three tallest buildings in Singapore are all a modest 919 feet tall. To give some perspective, the Empire State Building is 1,250 feet tall, and the highest point in the US is Mt. McKinley, at 20,320 feet. And Mount Everest is 29,028 feet high.

But all this is not to belittle our experience. Bukit Timah was a delightful excursion. We went to the Chinese gardens afterwards, which were also excellent. Among their many delights were a variety of beautiful flowers, many of which were also very aromatic. This one was my favorite:



Note: the pictures in this post, and probably any other post in which I use pictures, were taken by Jason. Thanks!

Life on the edge

There is a mild fear that comes over me whenever I sit down to dine with locals. It sends shivers down my spine and gives me heart palpitations. I find myself short of breath and struck speechless by turns. I've developed a nervous twitch in my left eye. I lost command of my senses once and sprang to my feet, knocked over my chair, and shouted, "The horror! The horror!"

You see, the problem is that I never know what slimy things locals will put on my plate. And once they're on my plate, there's really nothing left for me to do but eat them. It's sort of terrifying. Half the things they give me, I never even thought of eating before.

The locals are perfectly kind about it all, too. They even asked me, upon making initial contact, if there was anything I didn't like to eat. The two problems with this question seem to be (1) my answer, and (2) their response. I replied that I wasn't particularly fond of seafood. Seafood, as in anything that comes from the sea. Things that float, things that swim, things that crawl, etc. As best I can tell, they define seafood as a whole fish, nicely broiled, served with its head intact. That dish is the only thing they've shown any hesitation in serving to me. But maybe that wasn't hesitation, maybe that was just a nervous twitch.

At reunion dinner for Chinese New Year, when I sat down to an empty plate, I felt the palpable suspense. I managed sea cucumber (zero calories, I'm told, but slimier than celery), foreign-looking sushi, fish balls, squid, cuttlefish, shrimp with their legs and heads still intact, broiled fish, some unknown squishy fish, raw salmon, raw fish (with a name that sounded like bologna), and crab. I drank 6 glasses water, consumed globs of chili paste, and delighted in the pickled ginger that came with the sushi.

By the time I had conquered dinner, the eating was drawing to a close. I was munching on lettuce leaves and feeling delightfully full. Perhaps fish didn't taste altogether awful. And my, wasn't it lovely to have steamboat with a family that chattered in Mandarin half the time and English the other half and included me in their festivities?

Life was going along swimmingly when the bomb was dropped onto my plate. It came as a pale-white, slimy strip. The grandfather nodded encouragingly to me from across the table. "Fish stomach, fish stomach." He grinned. The English-speaking crowd clarified that it was actually pig stomach. "Pig stomach, pig stomach." He grinned some more.

I wasted no time. In crises like these, immediate action is required. Any careful thought results in paralysis. I secured some pickled ginger, scooped up the pig stomach, took a moderate bite, and swallowed it down. I don't know if anyone noticed the pained expression I had when I finished it. I only know, that no one gave me any more after I ate the first piece. A triumph in its own right.

Ah yes, dinner with the locals. Seemingly innocuous, but fraught with untold thrills. I simply, cower, in anticipation.

In completely unrelated news, I can't help but add that washing machines are free here! I sense an increased urge to do laundry all the time. Maybe I'll wash my sheets...nay, not monthly...no, not even weekly, but...yes...yes...that's right...daily! Then I'll never have to make my bed in the mornings!

Well, my laundry is finished. And since that's the only reason I was staying up writing this blog post to begin with--so long friends!

Monday, 31 January 2011

Mystery of the Lost Roommate

Since Jason has already told you about the Night Safari and our exploration into Little India, I will focus on two other aspects of the weekend:

The disappearance of my roommate

-and-

The events of Sunday

So on Friday night, I arrived back to my dorm room late, since I had gone to the night safari. I’d last been there just after dinner, and at that point in time, all was as expected. There were sheets on both beds. My roommate’s refrigerator, printer, computer, etc. were all in their proper places. When I got home that night, I found something quite different.

The whole set of my roommates possessions were eerily absent. What had happened? No thief would be so thorough, and all of my items were all left untouched. This could not be a temporary departure – that little refrigerator had to have been pretty heavy, after all! There was nothing in written or digital form to tell me what had occurred in this space. She hadn’t mentioned anything about leaving. The departure must have been fast, rushed, even. I had only been gone for around seven hours.

Had something terrible happened? Did she just really not like my company?

I sent a text and went to bed, concerned, but too tired to do much about it. When I awoke in the morning, I still had no news, so I did a little more Facebook research. I learned that she had moved to some other dorm room on campus, but exactly where and why were still a mystery.

Eventually, she responded to my text, and all was revealed. She’d gotten notice that her request for a single room that she’d put in a long time ago had finally gone through. She would have been charged for remaining in the old room, so she had to leave as soon as she found out.

And so the explanation was relatively uninteresting. But now I have no roommate at all, though someone new may move in. Time will tell.

As for Sunday, mysteries of a more culinary sort presented their solutions. A few of Lexi’s rather distant relations showed us around a bit on Sunday. First, they dropped us off at the National Museum. This was a delightful adventure, where we learned a lot about the history of Singapore. In addition, there was a room that contained a bunch of common Singaporean ingredients, labeled and explained. This was my favorite room of all, and I only wish I could better remember all that I read!

Afterwards, we went out for chilli crab. I’m rather ill-equipped to comment on the goodness of this dish, as it was my first attempt to eat crab. I was not very skilled at extracting the elusive meat, but what I did taste was quite good. The other dishes were also very yummy. :)

So this weekends, besides having tons of fun touristing, my roommate mysteriously disappeared, and I learned yet more about delicious Singaporean cuisine!

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Food, the train system, and more food.

warning: this is a longish post. you may want to just read the photos and captions :-).

First things first. Our Olin friend Steven, is currently blogging from France (here) and has challenged us (in this post) to a friendly competition. He wants to see who can find the strangest/most interesting thing -- Steven in France, or Jason, Rose and Lexi in Singapore. I think we have the lead so far, but I have to say his swimsuit vending machine has me pretty impressed. So, in the interest of keeping Singapore ahead of the game, I give you this real ad seen on the street:
Kickapoo Joy Juice: Original USA Joy Juice Recipe!
That's right. There's a drink here called Kickapoo Joy Juice. The strange thing is that, despite its widespread ad campaign, we have yet to see it anywhere! We've checked a number of beverage-selling locations. Perhaps joy is something you just have to keep searching for...


In other news, we went to Little India yesterday, and wandered, and ate:
delicious!
I know I should stop being surprised by this, but Singaporeans are very into food. as evidence I submit that massive road signs like this are to be seen all over the island:
PIE, that way!
Ok, so PIE stands for Pan-Island Expressway. But that doesn't keep me from being amused every time I see one of those signs.

The Chinese New Year is coming up next week, and as a result, we've been told, it gets much harder to find food on campus. Though we'll probably be travelling at that time, Rose and I thought it prudent to stock up on food just in case. At the supermarket, we found, as expected, that some of the more familiar foods are a little expensive than they are back home:
Cheerios are expensive!
SGD$10.50 (USD $8.20) for a box of cheerios... of course, we went for the local equivalent instead:
Ramen is cheap!
Ramen noodles. SGD $1.85 (USD $1.45) for a pack of five. Chomp chomp.

And now, some notes on the MRT (the train system they have here, which is largely elevated, and only partially subterranean), which we used to get around a lot this weekend: 
all of the train cars in a train are joined together to make one super-long compartment, and there are cool LED displays that show the route the train is on and the remaining stops.
there are loads of cameras!
The MRT stations are bristling with cameras. From a sitting position in one of the stations, I counted 6 cameras that I thought could see me from their mounts and another 24 that were facing away from me. So, it is a little Big Brothery here. On the other hand, though we've been told that there's a harsh penalty for jaywalking, we see that happen all the time.

Finally, here are some pictures from the Night Safari, which is a nice attraction we visited with some new friends on Friday. They have an impressive collection of nocturnal or partially-nocturnal animals and a fun trained animal show. <warning: photography enthusiast-speak> There's so much here that I wanted to take good pictures of, but ended up with mostly blurry second-exposure shots. It was, after all, nighttime, and the lighting is kept low to keep the animals comfortable. It made me wish I had a big-honker lens, a giant sensor, or the time to bring & use a tripod. </warning>
a timber wolf howling as part of the show at the Night Safari! This was super-impressive.
 Even this picture of porcupines came out blurry -- I mean these animals are supposed to be sharp!
porcupines cuddling!
Until next time!