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


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:
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!

A stranger is a friend I haven't met yet

Joelle told me that once. It sort of stuck with me.

It's also been the catalyst of many gems of moments.

Today I sat down to dinner and had a dandy conversation with Albert from Indonesia. His brother went to high school in Wisconsin. I asked him about the yarn shortage in Indonesia, but since he didn't know what yarn was, we had to move onto different topics.

When I was waiting in line for my student's pass, I passed the time with 3 Chinese exchange students. They liked basketball, so we talked sports. (If you know me at all, that's funny.) I thought they might like squash, since Asians seem to play a lot of racket sports, but they didn't know what that was. When one looked it up on his hand-held translator, I think it described the vegetable. They tried to teach me Mandarin. Mostly, just the basics like "I punch you."

I arrived at my accounting class early and met a girl who had spent 3 years studying off-shore marine engineering. She was awfully nice and offered to treat me to "Western food" (aka burgers and milkshakes). She wants to be a psychiatrist, but was studying math and knows how to build ships. She had a very interesting path of study.

Yep. In conclusion, a stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet.

That's really all I have to say about that.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Is it weird that I'm posting this?

Probably. But it seems most efficient.

You see, I was going to narrate the touching story of the Lonesome Lizard, but instead of just telling you, I have chosen to let you experience the moment for yourself! Via old Skype conversations!

A quick ctl + c and ctl + v later, and voilà...

nilgolodh: Hey, Jason, do you want to go to lil India this weekend?
Jas: sure
Jas: what about Lexi?
Lexi: alive
Jas: good, good
nilgolodh: She's the one who suggested it
Jas: oh, I see
Jas: excellent
nilgolodh: when shall we go?
Lexi: there's a super fast micro lizard on my wall
Lexi: what's the proper protocol for this situation?
Lexi: it's not covered in my "How to live in Singapore" handbook
Jas: put your hands over your eyes and scream
Jas: I believe
Jas: while dancing around in the room
Lexi: I thought about it, but it seemed like a wasted effort
Jas: hmm
Lexi: the real problem is that it's disappeared behind my desk
Jas: how could you make friends with it? do you have anything it might want?
Lexi: my life?
Jas: like cookies?
Jas: well, I guess anything you'd be willing to give to keep it satisfied
Jas: so that it doesn't take that
Lexi: I have a banana
Jas: hmm
Lexi: Maybe if I can't see it, it doesn't exist
Jas: true with some lizards
Jas: but not all
Jas: more likely, it's calling all its friends
Jas: and amassing an army to make an assault on your banana
Jas: if you suspend it from a nylon string from your fan in the middle of the room, and turn on the fan, it'll probably be safe
Jas: because the lizards won't climb through the fan
Jas: little known fact
Lexi: ha!
Lexi: My roommate entered, seemed quite calm, and exited. She said they live here, too. Or something to that extent. I may be taking paraphrasing liberties.
Jas: sure, they live here
Jas: that doesn't mean you should let them coexist peacefully
Jas: that's what they /want/
Lexi: I'll stage a coup at some point
Jas: I'm pretty sure you're only required to keep one roommate
Jas: so you could probably keep the lizard and kick out the girl
Jas: if you want

This concludes the Lonesome Lizard drama.
Thank you for joining us.

Come back next week when we meet the Tailless Tomcat and the Calm Cockroach of NTU!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tourism, Weather, and Printing

As Jason’s photographs suggest, on Saturday, we went to the Jurong Bird Park. The park was rather impressive. We saw toucans, a ton of parrots, hornbills of various types, flamingos, penguins, awesome raptors, and various other birdies. This, all surrounded by beautiful tropical plant life. The shows were good, too. They even had a statue of a cow corpse as a prop for the vultures!

We got to see a little bit of downtown, as well, also captured in Jason’s photos. I was pretty worn out from walking around the bird park, but I’m sure that next time I go to Orchard Rd., I will be delighted to take advantage of the ridiculously large shopping selection. It’s a shopper’s paradise, and the air conditioning sure feels good.

Which reminds me, air conditioning is also a definite perk of being in class. We all started class on Monday, though the actual work doesn’t start until next week (which is also Chinese New Year’s, so we will only have three days of class!). I’m not used to the slow start, but then again, I’m also not used to taking only 14 credits. Classes seem like they will be fine and relatively enjoyable – I’m just having a bit of difficulty finding things to do with the rest of my time.

So far, I have gathered that the student body does three main things: eats, studies, and works out. I’m fine with the first two, but that third one isn’t a natural one for me. I have to make exercise fun by playing Ultimate or dancing. Running aimlessly for miles in the heat is not for me. Even lifting weights in a nice, cool gym doesn’t sound appealing. Jason and I did try out the pool today, though, and that is one type of exercise which I find enjoyable J If I am fair, swimming can be just as dull as running, and perhaps even more so in the confined space of a pool, but it has always seemed infinitely better to me. No sweat clinging to your body, no excessive heat. The relative novelty of being in water. Yes, the pool may well be a common destination for me this semester.

On Monday, Jason and I printed some documents we needed to apply for our Student’s Pass. Getting them printed was unexpectedly complicated. I hadn’t fully appreciated how convenient we have just about everything at Olin, including printing. At Olin, one simply hits the print button on one’s laptop and then gets one’s documents. Here, if one simply wants to print a document using the school’s facilities, one must go to a library and execute the print from a library computer. If all of the free computers are taken, one may sign up to use one of the limited-time-only computers using a different, devoted computer. Then, one must stand in a queue until one can access one of the payment computers, at which one will need one of various cash cards (nicely including the public transit one that I have), to pay for the print. Then, one may wait at the printer to retrieve one’s documents. Several minutes, several cents, and several computers are all that stand between you and a warm, newly-printed document.

Now, this sort of scheme is probably necessary in the larger environment of Nanyang. A lot of the conveniences of Olin can be easily abused, and they aren’t only because we’re a small community. And Olin still suffers from its share of tragedy of the commons. To Nanyang’s credit, several other libraries have printing capabilities, and are not so crowded as the main library at which Jason and I had our first printing experience. No doubt many of the regulations at Nanyang are well-justified, but I’m just not used to them yet.

Hmm, so yes. Jurong Bird Park and downtown are both nice places that cater very well to tourists. At school, things that allow me to escape the weather are awesome, and Nanyang is not so abnormally trusting of its students as Olin.

Monday, 24 January 2011


I just thought you should see this:

 More pictures from the bird park are up on Facebook if you're a facebook friend.

a few thousand words-worth of pictures

everything in Singapore is clearly labelled with a number. even the trees and lampposts.

Singapore's downtown has some impressive buildings. We took the liberty of naming them after fruits and other things.
From left: The clementine building and the canoe-on-top building
the durian building.

They also have this great giant merlion water-fountain we all drank out of!

And there's much, much more:
Orchard St. has MORE SHOPPING THAN YOUR BODY HAS ROOM FOR. It has mall after mall after mall after mall... and a statue of an avocado (in the lower-right). mm, shopping & food -- two of Singapore's strongest points.

Speaking of which, here's our unexpected food of the day:
...chomp chomp milkcurd!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Edible Things

I heard it from a local: shopping and eating are the two favorite pastimes of Singaporeans. This is very logical, as both can be done in air conditioned buildings.

Since the only shopping I've done is for clothes hangers and detergent, I'll leave that topic for another day.

I have however, made my foray into the sport of eating. It was a daunting task. This sport requires concentration, strategic brilliance, and sheer determination. I am but a novice. I didn't even manage to finish what the relatives piled in front of me for lunch, dinner, and that meal in between lunch and dinner.

When we began at the hawker center for lunch, I was told to sit, while the three pros went to buy a slew of dishes to sample. I knew they were serious when they showed up with armfuls: sugarcane juice, laksa, rice noodles, carrot with egg, chicken and rice, egg tart, yam something, spring roll thing, etc. Each dish had its own special chili sauce to properly complement the flavors. Apparently, getting your chili right is a big deal. My favorite chili sauce reminded me of Tabasco. To quote my taste buds, "Slight tang, nice kick, yes!, life is good."

The mid-afternoon eating fest was pretty brightly colored. It revolved around ice, syrups, lumps of beans, and jelly things. Some jelly/jello-like lumps were very chewy and others were sort of crunchy. I tried some Bo Bo Cha Cha. I just like saying that. Bo Bo Cha Cha. Would you like to Bo Bo this Cha Cha, perhaps, Madame?

I did had a moment of epiphany as I sat in the food court of the local mall with ice dripping down from my Chinese soup spoon. My revelation: SOURSOP IS THE MOST DELICIOUS FRUIT EVER!

Dinner was bountiful. The locals had a good laugh at my attempt to eat prawns fried in oat bran. Most people, it turns out, eat the shell! Who would have guessed? We also dined on a special New Year salad that we all tossed into the air with our chopsticks before eating. I think you say something in Chinese about "cheers to making more money!" when you toss it up, but I improvised with "Hurray!". You can learn about this salad from a legitimate source here. Hurray for being edified!

I didn't think I'd ever be hungry again after yesterday, but miracle of miracles, I actually wanted to eat again by 2pm today! My latest discoveries: dragon fruit tastes like a tasteless kiwi (in a good way) and I don't think I pronounce "dan dan noodles" correctly. At least I continue to be a source of amusement for those around me!

Well, I hope you're hungrier than before you started reading. And since my local guides informed me that I have only just begun to sample everything I need to try, I'll be sure to write about lots more edible things soon.

Friday, 21 January 2011

By Golly Gee Whiz

I've decided on a full disclosure policy.

This is Lexi.

Phew. There. Glad to get that off my chest. Now I can't pretend that Jason or Rose wrote this snappy little piece of nonsense.

I'll spare you gruesome details of travel and simply offer up this limerick.

I sat in an exit row seat,
So that I could stretch out my feet.
With legs propped on the door,
I wanted to snore,
But, they kept waking me up to eat!

Interesting Fact: I sat next to the same gentleman for two flights. Exit-row-seat-sitters unite!

I suppose I should know his life story after 21 hours of companionship, but he was a stoic sort. I used my Hercule Poirot observation skills to deduce that he likes woodworking and is partial to peanuts. Our two minute conversation revealed that he is in Singapore on business.

He proved his true value as a traveling mentor however, when the time came to fill out visa forms, and again when I didn't know which line to pass through at customs. Thank you middle-aged businessmen with wisdom to spare!

My kind and generous distantly-related family came to pick me up when I arrived. I tried to sit in the driver's seat of their car, unintentionally. They just laughed at me. Silly backwards Americans.

They wanted to feed me, but I just wanted a shower. The situation was happily resolved.

Now, I am at NTU. I bought a slice of yellow watermelon and got lost 'round the campus. I think I'm addicted to mango. It is very humid. There is a freeway outside my window. I have no hangers. My roommate is from Korea. I can't remember anyone's name that I met at orientation. The end.

Next goal: use the shuttle that runs through campus instead of walking everywhere.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

some NTU pictures

I had a chance to go out this evening and take some pictures of the NTU campus. Click a picture to see it full-res.

the "South Spine" -- one of the academic complexes. feels like being aboard a starship.

One of the gardeny spots by my residence hall.

The Art&Design building I blogged about earlier.

one of the more awesome-looking buildings on campus.

and of course, it wouldn't be urban Asia without...

A toasted-sandwich vending machine! Might have to use one of these at some point, if a vegetarian option shows up!

A Long Night's Journey into a Singapore Day

So here I am, mid-afternoon my second day in Singapore, thinking about how it’s 2 in the morning back home. I must be far, far away from home, as evidenced by the 21-hour journey that brought me here.

Long-haul flights offer an excellent opportunity, as so many know, for watching good movies. We watched Megamind, Salt, and most of Eat, Pray, Love. My opinions mostly line up, as usual, with the general consensus of the raters on imdb. Megamind was excellent. I enjoyed the character designs and the super-hero banter very much. Salt was good but not great. I found myself thinking that was too much straight action. This is not a common thought in my mind, but there it was. More exposition and story-telling would have helped. Eat, Pray, Love, though, I did not think quite deserved the dismal rating on imdb that it possesses. I enjoyed watching it, at least.

Then again, I was on a 15-hour plane ride with nothing better to do.

Fifteen hours is a long time to sit on a plane, but those fifteen hours passed at pretty much their usual rate, as time seems to do. And we got to Hong Kong. The coolest part about going through Hong Kong was flying over the city as we departed for Singapore. The giant skyscrapers literally rose above a misty shroud. Mountains loomed behind. Really lovely.

And a measly four hours later, we landed in Singapore, where the sun is never a lie (humid, mid-80s is a good bet most of the time). We got to Nanyang with little trouble, and check-in went smoothly. I got to my dorm room, and I met my roommate, who is really very nice, and she answered some of my questions and gave me a lot of excellent information.

Then, I took a shower. Remember those 21 hours of travel? Yes. This was among the greatest showers ever. Cool, refreshing water gently removing hours upon hours of built-up disgusting! What joy! What bliss!

Now, by this time, I was very tired. Somehow, my night had taken about twice as long as it should have, and when morning came, there was a day missing. Turns out your body takes even longer than your mind to figure out how that works. And I was clean. It would have been an excellent time to sleep and replenish my energy had it not been only 5 in the afternoon.

Determined to stave off our weariness and thus more quickly adjust to day being when the night should be, and vice-versa, Jason and I set off to have dinner. Our schools food offerings consist of a bunch of food-courts with reasonably priced choices. Jason and I split a fried-egg and vegetable meal with rice for S$8.20. It was absolutely amazing. Filling and delicious.

Then we walked about the campus. As Jason has described, NTU is truly beautiful. Yesterday evening, however, I didn’t really care that much about how it looked. Or about anything much, really. I was tired, the weather was a little too warm and humid, and the accommodations weren’t as good as Olin’s. I had to leave my room just to get water and use the restrooms, for goodness sakes.

I kept myself awake until 9pm, at which point I felt like I had stayed up all night. Remember the goodness of the shower? Yeah, sleeping horizontally again was good like that, too. I felt a lot better in the morning.

I woke up and played WoW. Waking up at around 7 conveniently means that my mother has just gotten home from work, and pretty much everyone in the guild is on. This I may do many more times J

Then, Jason and I ventured out to a place called Jurong Point to acquire some needed living items, such as hangers and laundry detergent. A Swedish exchange student we met at a delicious breakfast suggested the place, and he said you could buy “whatever you want” there.

He did not exaggerate. Jurong Point puts all other malls I have ever been to shame. At first, we went around the first accessible level of the mall, perusing some stores and finding most of the things we needed. We noticed a lot of places to eat delicious food, as well. This seemed normal enough for a mall, about the right size and scope. Then, we found escalators to the second level. This level was just as large as the last! And then there was another floor, and another! Yes, it was a very large mall. Needless to say, we found everything on our list, and we ate yet more delicious food.

Oh, and we ended up getting Singapore telephones for a total of S$58 with prepaid cards included. Turns out having a phone number is actually important for some things, even if you don’t use it very much. And it has an alarm, the time, and provides a nice sense of security J

I am comfortable now, with my shopping needs satisfied and at least a bit of familiarity with my new home for the next four months. I am ready, I think, for the next adventure.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

There's a rainforest in the food court

When people refer to Nanyang's "garden campus", they're not exaggerating. When I think of greenery at a college, I think of manicured lawns, some trees, and maybe a few patches of forest here and there, perhaps with benches for studying under the trees.

Nanyang Technological University (henceforth referred to - in the locals' parlance - as NTU) fits this mold to some extent, but the way that it interacts with its natural elements goes further in a way that only a tropical campus could. Bushes of beautiful and surprising flowers pop out all over, and many hallways have views of the stunningly forested, tempting Restricted Area next door:

Don't go there. even if you don't get punished for trespassing, it's a live-fire zone... and I think that's where they keep the shield generator
The School of Art, Design and Media sports a grass roof that is the heighth of fashion, IMO.

Covered walkways are a necessity here due to the constant threat of rain - the ever-present clouds are a reason why, while Google Maps has cloudless pictures of nearly the entire globe, its pictures of Singapore and NTU are dotted with clouds that obscure the view. NTU's covered walkways are utilitarian but they also feel organic, with forest-green curving supports and sky-gray roofs.
A covered walkway at NTU.

It doesn't stop there. Going for a walk earlier this afternoon to stave off jet lag, we discovered something interesting in one of NTU's food courts. (By the way, there are 14 food courts!! Fourteen! Ok, so I'm a small-college kid with big-college culture shock. I'll get over it...) This particular eatery is built around a tiny patch of managed rainforest. Only a few meters away from your table, you can walk straight onto a boardwalked path surrounded by rainforest trees.
It's awesome.

(EDIT: pictures added!) I'm dying to take pictures of these things, but the sun has set and they'll have to wait.