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My First Day in Singapore

Who knew the first day could be so much fun


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From Monday morning at 8am to Wednesday Morning at about 2am I was traveling. It took 21 hours and 25 minutes of flight time just to arrive at my destination. And with my flights in both Chicago and Hong Kong delayed it took two days to finally make it here.

But after all the airplane food and sleeping leaning against the windows, I finally touched down in Singapore!

I am attending the National University of Singapore (NUS) in an exchange program that Clarkson University offers, and will be here until December. NUS set me up with a ‘buddy’ to meet me at the airport, help me find my dorm and get me checked in. Because my flights were delayed, my buddy had to come to Changi Airport in the middle of the night. His name is Tan Jing Da, but he goes by JD. By the time we drove through the city, arrived on campus and checked in, it was about 4am local time. I crashed immediately and slept through the night.

My first real morning in Singapore I awoke to an amazing thunderstorm. The humidity in this area is absurd, and the temperatures are almost unbearable. The thunder was the loudest I’ve ever heard, and sheets of rain poured down on my dorm. It only lasted about 20 minutes, and the rest of the day was hot and sunny!

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At international student registration, it took hours of lines to get through immigration matters because all international students have to apply for a Student Pass to stay in the country. This is where I met my first new friends. After standing in lines, and missing forms, and borrowing pens, and complaining about the heat, you get to know the people around you very quickly. I met several students from Canada, the UK and other European countries by the end of the 3 hours it took to finish.

My first night here, a group of about 20 international students went into the city for dinner and a night out. We went to Clementi Hawker Center for dinner, and sat around talking for hours just getting to know everyone and where they were from.

After dinner we took the MRT (Singapore Subway system, stands for Mass Rapid Transit) to Clarke Quay. Clarke Quay is a beautiful riverside located in Singapore, and is home to many restaurants and nightclubs. It is beautifully lit up at night, and offers an amazing range of places to hang out. My night ended back at NUS, and I was officially loving Singapore!

Posted by Cassi 7/27/11 19:46 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Eusoff Hall

Pictures of my dorm


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To give you all an idea of where I am staying, here are a few pictures of my dorm complex. It reminds me of a Florida resort with the trees and flowers. Also, there are no doors on any buildings or hallways, they are all open to the outside, which is nice because it lets a breeze inside the rooms.

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Posted by Cassi 7/28/11 08:45 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

The City of Singapore

A tour through Bugis and Marina Bay


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My second day in Singapore I toured the city with a group of fellow exchange students. We took the city bus to the MRT all the way into Downtown Singapore. We started in Bugis Junction, an area with lots of shopping, temples, and a pedestrian street with little carts set up all over it selling flowers. We visited a Chinese Temple, a Buddhist Temple, and many small churches located in the area. Most are famous for surviving the Bombings that took place durring WWII, and are now national landmarks. We got dinner in a small market area nearby.

After dinner, we walked to the Marina Bay area. This is the waterfront of Singapore, with skyscrapers along the shore and the famous Merlion on the waterfront. We first stopped at the Esplanade, a beautiful area for talking pictures of the city. The Esplanade itself is a building which from the front side is covered in little spikes, but has an area on the back that overlooks the water. It is here one finds the perfect view of the new Marina Bay Sands Resort, a huge hotel with an infinity swimming pool connecting the top of the three towers. Also the Singapore flyer is located on the water, and lights up with many different colors at night.

From the Esplanade we walked to the Merlion, and by now the sun had set and the lights in the city had all turned on. A fantastic light show incorporates almost every building in the Bay area, with most of the lasers coming from the top of Marina Bay Sands Resort. We stayed on the water front until the light show had ended. Overall, it was an amazing tour of the city, and an amazing view of the Singapore waterfront area.

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Posted by Cassi 7/28/11 09:57 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Singapore vs. USA

Little things that make a huge difference


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As I have only been here a few days, there is alot to get used to in Singapore. Some of the things are obvious; the culture, the rules, the food, the time change and so on. But there are many things I never considered that differ from the US in small ways, but that really stand out.

The top ones I've noticed so far include:

Light switches are upside down Mostly my fan is on in my room and my lights are off, but when I'd like to turn the lights on I always pick the wrong switch.

Restaurants don't have napkins I've eaten out every meal since I have arrived, and have yet to receive a napkin. I have seen some signs that you can buy napkins at the restaurant, and you get charged per number of napkins used. The best rate I have seen is 25 cents per napkin.

There are no knives You cut your food with a spoon or the side of your fork, which makes things very difficult to eat. When eating at Hawker stands they have every other utensil possible (forks, spoons, chopsticks) but they don't have knives.

No plastic bags When you go shopping here, at IKEA for example, they do not ask paper or plastic, but rather would you like to pay to use a bag or carry your items as are. It is a big movement to cut down on the waste. I believe the charge is 10 cents per bag.

There are no bugs Unlike the southern areas of the US, the warm air and humidity do not seam to produce the same number of bugs. I have yet to see a mosquito, or really any bugs for that matter. I expected there to be a billion everywhere, but there are about zero.

Cars will not stop for you In most major cities, if you are still on a cross walk when the light turns from red to green, the cars will not begin moving until you clear the way. Here they begin to go and honk at anyone left in the way. They just do not stop for people, and I will probably get hit by one before I leave. They also drive on the opposite side of the road and I always look the wrong way.

These are all very small differences that I never thought about, but have really stood out as I do day to day activities.

Posted by Cassi 7/29/11 01:08 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Sentosa Beach!

Where the water is warmer than the air


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The last few days have been very busy at NUS. Friday we had an international student orientation where over 600 exchange students gathered and listened to speakers talk about clubs and activities at NUS, some counselors told us about the services on campus, the registrars office talked about classes. Basically any questions we had about life at NUS were answered for us. Friday night we went to an area on the harbor front called St. James Power Station. There are 18 bars/clubs all in one building (for those of you who live in VT it resembles the Champlain Mill from the outside, and is all refurbished on the inside). They all connect through little walkways or on decks outside. It was really nice because once you got into one place and got a hand stamp, you could move about freely to other areas.

Yesterday we spent the entire day at Sentosa Island. It is an absolutely beautiful place, with picture perfect walkways and every type of entertainment you can imagine. There is indoor skydiving, segways, an alpine slide, a gondola etc. But the best part is the beaches. The beaches are BEAUTIFUL. There is music playing on loud speakers, and resorts with areas to sit and get food or have a few drinks. Palm trees are everywhere, and the sand is super soft. And the water must be about 85 degrees, as warm as the air. It is still very refreshing, and you could stay in the water for hours.

However, the only weird thing about the beach is the view. The island is beautiful, and the beach is nice... but out in the water there are dozens of huge freight ships. It reminded me of the lineup at the Panama Canal, giant tankers all sitting in the Harbor. You couldn't see the horizon because of the number of them. But even this could not take away from how amazing everything surround us was. We plan on going back to the beach again many many times in the next few months.

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Posted by Cassi 7/30/11 21:42 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Sentosa Beach Party

Foam Party!


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I know that last post was all about Sentosa Island, but it was so nice we decided to go back for a second day this weekend. The beach was still beautiful, the sand was still soft, but this time there was a huge beach party in the area we were at. Apparently the last Sunday of every month there is a 'Foam' party along the beach. None of the exchange students knew about it, but we decided to go check it out and ended up spending the rest of the day there. It was a lot of fun actually, a huge group of us went and we really enjoyed it.

Posted by Cassi 7/31/11 19:17 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Orientation Week

The Official Beginning to a New School Year

Monday marked the official start of Orientation campus wide. That means both freshman and returning students are now back on campus, as well as graduate, exchange, international and whatever other types of students exist. There are just over 36,000 at NUS, and things are really starting to fill up. Buses are jam packed, cafeterias have long lines and students are walking around in groups all over. Orientation here is a bit different than in the States. At Clarkson, our orientation focuses more around meeting the people who live it your dorm, meeting other students in the same grade and generally finding your way around campus. Here orientations are very 'Faculty' specific (a 'Faculty' is what we would call a 'School', for example I belong to the Faculty of Engineering). There have been tours of each faculty, speakers, and upperclassman who are able to answer questions for any underclassman students.

We also had an official welcome party for the exchange students last night. They had free food, some speakers and prizes to be given out. I would estimate 300 students were in attendance, from all over the world. I have made many friends, mostly from Europe. Of the students I hang out with, most are from Sweden, Germany, the UK, Canada and the US. When we get into talks about politics or economics it is very interesting to see how people react. In most cases we know too little about each others systems to truly argue, it is more of explaining our own systems to others, but once in a while a real debate will break out and people get genuinely upset. It is very entertaining, and I try to avoid those situations as much as possible.

Besides the orientations, there have also been several celebrations on campus this week because a new section called University Town opened up. It consists of 6 high rise buildings that now serve as dorms (mostly for graduate and international students) a new cafeteria and the worlds largest Starbucks! Music has been playing everywhere and many celebrations have taken place. Right now, NUS is a very exciting place to be.

Posted by Cassi 10:48 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Rain in Singapore

I'm convinced they just hit 'copy and paste' for the weather forecast

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Today is the third day since my arrival that it has been raining when I woke up. Singapore weather is very odd in that the weather forecast is the same everyday: Thunderstorms. The difference between here and home though is it will only thunder for about 20 minutes and then be done. The entire rest of the day will be hot and humid and sticky and make you wish it was still raining. And, half the time it never even rains!

When you see the weather forecast, you expect the next 10 days to be miserable, but everyday here is actually quite hot and sunny and ends up being beach weather. I have never seen it rain in the afternoon or at night, only in the morning, which means every afternoon is perfect for Sentosa!

Posted by Cassi 13:28 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Food

What exactly is a Fishball?

The the big question is food: What is there to eat in Singapore? Well I'm going to give you an idea by showing some pictures of our brand new cafeteria! This place just opened at the new Utown campus, and it is not exactly the same cafeteria as you would find back at home...

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I've been sticking to the Mixed Veggie Rice myself, but I hope this gives an idea of what kinds of food are most easily found on the Island of Singapore.

Posted by Cassi 11:19 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Tioman Islands: Malaysia

Getting ready to leave Singapore already!

This weekend a group of students are heading to Tioman Island, a small island off the East coast of Malaysia. I can't tell you much in advance, but I hear the beaches are amazing, and the jungles have all sorts of animals. We are supposed to pick up our Singapore Student Visas today and then leave tomorrow morning.

Here is the description from Wikipedia:

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Tioman Island (locally known as Gunung Daik Bercabang Tiga) is a small island located 32 km off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the state of Pahang, and is some 39 km long and 12 km wide. It has eight main villages, the largest and most populous being Kampung Tekek in the north. The densely forested island is sparsely inhabited, and is surrounded by numerous coral reefs, making it a popular scuba diving spot. There are also a lot of resorts and chalets around the island which has duty free status.

Its beaches were depicted in the 1958 movie, South Pacific as Bali Hai. In the 1970s, TIME Magazine selected Tioman as one of the world's most beautiful islands.

Apart from its diverse marine life, the inland rainforest area, encompassing approximately 12,383 hectares, in Tioman is a strictly enforced nature reserve. There are several protected species of mammals on the island, including the Binturong, Long-tailed Macaque, Slow Loris, Black Giant Squirrel, Red Giant Flying Squirrel, Mouse deer, Brush-tailed Porcupine, and Common Palm Civet, from a total of 45 species of mammals and 138 species of birds, including the majestic Frigatebird. Moreover, Tioman has species that are endemic to its shores. The soft-shelled turtle and the Tioman walking catfish are both unique and can be seen on rainforest walks.

The part of Malaysia I am going to is at the bottom of the peninsula, and the island is on the southeast coast. It is only a 3 hour bus ride from Singapore, and then a 2 hour ferry from the town of Mersing to reach Tioman Island.

Posted by Cassi 20:15 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Student Pass

Now I am able to leave Singapore

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I picked up my visa today, which means I am officially able to travel to other countries now! The plan is to leave at 5am tomorrow, get a bus to the town of Mersing, Malaysia and then a ferry over to Tioman Island. There are about 50 exchange students going to Tioman Island this weekend, and there is going to be a BBQ party for us on Saturday night. I highly doubt the BBQ will have hamburgers or hotdogs.. so me and my friend Bailey (from Vancouver) are going shopping today for some food we can bring with us. Being in the city in Singapore and eating new foods is very different than being on a tiny Island in Malaysia and eating whatever food is given to you, so we want to be prepared. I will let you know how it all turns out for us.

Here is my new Student Pass!

Posted by Cassi 20:28 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Travel to Tioman Island

My first trip out of Singapore


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The trip to Tioman Island was all organized by a fellow student and a school volunteer who both have a lot of experience traveling in the area, which made my first trip out of Singapore a lot easier to handle. My friends and I exchanged money to Malaysian Riggits (1 MR = .3306 USD) on Friday, and got lots of bug spray and new beach towels at Clementi Market before packing.

Saturday morning at 4:30am a group of about 50 exchange students met outside of UTown and got on a private bus. We went through customs with our new student visas without problem and then had a 2 hour bus ride to the town of Mersing, Malaysia. The roads in Malaysia aren’t exactly in the best shape, so it was a very long bus ride and it was impossible to sleep. Once in Mersing we had to wait for the ferry to Tioman Island for about an hour. After that it was a 2 and a half hour ferry ride to the island. Because we left so early in the morning, we arrived to our hotel at about 11am, and still had all day for ourselves. Regardless of the time it took to arrive, the trip was amazing!

Posted by Cassi 8/9/11 09:59 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Tioman Islands Day 1

Beach, Beach and more Beach


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When we first arrived at Tioman we checked into our individual chalets, 3 people to a room. Everyone was so tired from the trip that we changed into bathing suits and went to sleep on the beach! At the time it seemed like a great idea, but when we woke up sunburnt a few hours later we realized it probably wasn't the smartest thing to have done. After our naps, we all went swimming in the ocean which is actually part of the South China Sea. Much like Sentosa, the water here felt like bathwater but here it was perfectly clear and extremely beautiful.

In the afternoon 6 of us decided to go Snorkeling at a reef just off shore, and it was amazing. There were a ton of fish, and the coral was really bright colors. We saw ‘nemo’ fish, a few sharks, a string ray, sea cucumbers and lots and lots of other brightly colored fish. After a few hours at the reef we decided to go pier jumping. The pier that our ferry docked at was right off the beach from our hotel, and we went to the end and jumped off into the ocean! The guys we were with were doing backflips and all sorts of dives, but it was actually quite high so none of the girls tried anything like that. None the less, it was a lot of fun.

After spending all day at the beach, we had to spend some time in our room. This is when we realized that our bathroom was being shared with lizards, who could come and go as they pleased through cutouts in the walls. For the rest of the weekend we called our bathroom the "lizard portal" because there were so many of them around! Besides the lizards, the toilets were actually very nice. At the ferry dock and other various places throughout the weekend the toilets were just holes in the ground, so we were very happy when we saw western toilets in our room.

Dinner was provided for us each night, and a party was also included afterwards on the beach. The person who organized the trip did an amazing job. Everything was taken care of for us: Transportation, Accommodation, Food and all Drinks. We went to a place called the Malaysian Surf Centre, and it was owned by a guy named Tim who was from Australia. He was a total surf bum who has spent his life traveling around Southeast Asia. It was a really cute place, and we stayed there basically all night. Overall my first day in Malaysia was amazing!

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Posted by Cassi 8/9/11 10:14 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Tioman Islands Day 2

Hiking in the Jungles of Malaysia


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Our second day at Tioman Island we discovered an amazing thing: They had real breakfast food! This is the first time since arriving in Singapore that I have seen a true breakfast. We all got omelets and toast with butter and jelly and orange juice! It was the best thing I could have imagined on such a tiny Island.

Sunday was not spent on the beach, but rather deep in the Malaysian jungle. We decided to go hiking to a waterfall which the locals told us was a two hour round trip hike. About 10 of us decided to go at about 11:30am. However, we realized a few problems after we got a few hours in.

1. This was not an average hike, but rather a mountain climbing experience
2. We would be lucky to make it back before dark
3. We should have brought extra clothes to change into from all the sweat

This hike involved repelling down boulders using tree roots, climbing through caverns and jumping across gorges. About half the group was bleeding by the time we finished the hike from falling on rocks trying to navigate the jungle. When someone would fall, it was likely they would lose their water bottle and would be unable to get it back. We had no tour guide, but rather were following the ‘trail’ left by the locals: beer cans nailed to trees every few hundred yards. There was no clear path through the jungle, and we actually had to cut through some areas because there was so much vegetation around us. And lastly, this hike was leading us directly to the top of one of the mountains on the Island. We actually debated giving up about 3 hours into the hike when we still had not seen a waterfall.

But we did eventually find it. The term waterfall was a very lose term, rapids would be more like it. However, the rapids created beautiful pools that we could all swim in, so we spent about an hour swimming and climbing upriver through the rapids in the middle of the jungle. It was truly an amazing place, with the water and the trees at the top of this mountain, It was absolutely beautiful.

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Luckily there was a faster way back down so we did get back before dark, overall the trip lasted 6 or 7 hours, and we did get to see some very cool things. Wild monkeys were swinging in the tops of the trees, and we saw a lizard about a foot and a half long that was black with little yellow spots. We saw crayfish in the swimming area and there were a million different types of butterflies around us. Lastly the view from the top of the mountain out over the jungle top all the way to the ocean was amazing, and made the whole trip worth it.

Sunday night was mush like the previous, we had dinner and a beach party again all provided for us. The locals were fishing on the pier so we got to hold a dead shark and a dead squid that they caught and brought to the party, so that was interesting. Overall, the second day was very tiring but was a lot of fun.

Posted by Cassi 8/9/11 10:44 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Tioman Island Day 3

Goodbye Beautiful Island


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Monday we spent the whole day at the beach again. We swam out to a raft the resort had anchored in the ocean and played beach volleyball and generally just chilled. Our ferry came to pick us up from the resort at 2:30 in the afternoon, so we didn’t venture far. Monday was the most beautiful day there, as there were zero clouds in the sky and the water was the brightest blue that I’ve ever seen in the ocean. The pictures just don’t capture the whole experience, but they are all I have to share.
We made it back to Singapore just after midnight (after a 3 hour ferry back, dinner just outside of Mersing, a 2 hour bus ride to customs, people getting caught trying to smuggle in cigarettes and then catching a city bus back to NUS). Overall the trip cost me under $130 USD total. It was an amazing place, and I hope to go back sometime soon!

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Posted by Cassi 8/9/11 10:59 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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