A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Meeting the Girls

Visiting the Shelter


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Sunday morning we spent at the Shelter. I would describe this as more of an orphanage because the girls take classes, eat and sleep all in one building. There is a room on the bottom floor where the girls have Art, English and Khmer classes, a little library area, and a computer section. The computers look like they are from the early 90’s, but recently some ‘newer’ laptops were donated to the shelter so they will be replaced soon. There is also a kitchen and eating area on the bottom floor. Upstairs are the girls bedrooms, where 6 or more girls share each room, and the bathrooms. There are bunk beds pushed against every wall, trying to give room for as many girls to live there as possible.

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Outside there is a second building which houses sewing machines and weaving looms. The girls are learning trades that will be able to support them when they move out and into the world. The patterns they make are beautiful, and they use the fabric to sew dolls and toys for other children. They sell the cloth in the markets some days, and have made pillowcases from them as well. A surprise in the corner of this room was a dog with 5 newborn puppies. There are stray dogs all over Phnom Penh, with the shelter being no exception.

The girls themselves have each been through so much in their lives, with almost all of them suffering from physical abuse in childhood. Some have been rescued from the sex trade, some were found supporting themselves living in shacks in the country side, some were even abandoned in markets as newborns. One girl is deaf, one is missing some fingers and toes, and many have lasting scars from various events in their lives.

With all of that being the case, these girls were all fun, energetic, and very welcoming. The first day they were asking me all about my family: if I had a mother and a father, any brothers or sisters. Because most of them have been separated from their families completely I think it was fun for them to hear about mine. They asked me about animals I liked, my favorite foods and where I have been in the world. They tried to teach me the colors in Khmer because this was all during their art class, but they were all laughing at me. Apparently the word for ‘purple’ in Khmer sounds very similar to ‘monkey’ and I could never get them correct!

In the afternoon an American man met us at a bookstore where the girls were able to buy pens and paper and other school supplies for the year. He paid for all the girl’s books, and even let them pick out more when he saw how low the first bill was. The girls were in the store for like an hour, testing out all the different color pens and drawing on each other to make sure they worked. They were all very excited to be able to pick out new notebooks for their school work.

Sunday night I met up with Leah, another one of Alex and Ann’s children who is living in Phnom Penh. She took me out for some drinks, we walked along the waterfront downtown and took a TukTuk to a restaurant for a late dinner. She told me all about her life growing up in Thailand and then moving to Cambodia, told me about the places she thinks I should visit before I go home, suggestions for weekend trips and even told me some of her old friends I could meet up with around Thailand.

Posted by Cassi 20:43 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Markets and Dance Class

Beautiful Central Market, Beautiful Temples and HipHop Dancing


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Monday we woke up and took a trip to a few different markets. First we visited the Russian market, where you can find anything you’ve ever dreamed of. They had shirts and pants and shoes and bags and fabrics and table cloths and placemats and paintings and wood carvings and little collectable things and I can’t even remember everything they had! After the Russia market we went to Central market, located right in the middle of the city. Unlike many places in Phnom Penh, this market has a happy history behind the building. This is the market where many people came to find lost family members after the Vietnamese took over the Khmer Rouge rule, where people were reunited with loved ones. The center of the market has a huge bright yellow dome, carved out to allow sunlight in. Outside of the yellow center there are even more shops set up under makeshift roofs and big umbrellas. Once again, everything you can possibly imagine was being sold at this market.

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Driving home from shopping, Ann took a shortcut to the house through some parking lots, back roads and residential areas. As we were driving, all of the sudden a beautiful temple came into view. I asked her what it was, and if I could go see it, and she said that these buildings are scattered all around town. She said they aren't considered special to anyone who lives there because there are so many of them around. I was shocked, so I still got out to take pictures because I had never seen anything else like it just sitting in the middle of a residential area!

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After shopping, we went back over to the shelter, this time for a dance class. Leah volunteers to teach hiphop dance class each Monday to the girls. The girls were so cute, especially the really young girls trying to learn the dance moves. There was one girl just sitting to the side watching the dance class so I tried getting her to join us, I didn’t realize at the time she was deaf and couldn’t hear the music. However, she did get up with me and tried to follow the moves without any music! She also showed me her bed, where there was a big sign language chart she has been learning and pictures she has drawn hanging on the wall. She wanted to use my camera, and looked through all the pictures I had taken around Phnom Penh. She started telling me which places she had visited before; she knew all the markets and major landmarks that I had taken pictures of.

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Once my camera was out, all the girls wanted pictures taken with each other, so they were getting into groups asking me to take their pictures with Ann or myself. After dance class the girls got dinner and we went back to the house. The night ended with a dinner out at an Indian restaurant, and then falling asleep after an exhausting few days.

Posted by Cassi 12:29 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

National Museum and The Royal Palace

Last day in Cambodia


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Tuesday James and I spent the morning near the waterfront on the Mekong River. We saw the National Museum, the Royal Palace and we spent time just walking along the river. Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed to be taken inside either the National Museum or the Royal Palace, so I only have pictures from far away to show you how beautiful each of these were.

The National Museum hosts sculptures, jewelry, clothing, weapons, old wooden ships, and various other artifacts from the history of Cambodia. The history is broken into 3 main eras: the Angkor time, the Colonial time, and modern era. Cambodia (like Vietnam) was a colony of France for about 100 years, before the Khmer Rouge took control in the 1970's, which marked the start of the modem era of history. Most of the old sculptures from the Angkor time are made of sandstone, and are huge, larger than life depictions of dancers, kings and gods. The outside is a beautiful red colored building that looks like a temple. In the center of the building, there is an outdoor garden area with beautiful fountains and fish swimming in the ponds.

The Royal Palace is right next door to the National Museum, and is yellow in color. There is a wall all around the complex, and the buildings inside are beautiful. There is a Throne Hall, a Temple and a Silver Pagoda. When constructed, the Silver Pagoda was inlaid with more than 5,000 silver tiles! Over half the area inside the palace is off limits because the king still 'lives' there. However, Leah told me he spends almost all of his time in China now and has almost zero power left in Cambodia. The palace has a beautiful green grass area in front of it, where there are hundreds of birds you can chase, and people selling popcorn kernels to feed them much like St. Mark's Square in Venice.

Across from the Palace is the waterfront on the Mekong River and a road filled with little cafes and shops. The main road was filled with motorbikes and tuktuks, where I took this funny picture of 9 people riding on one motorbike pulling a wagon!

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After we visited the waterfront, we went back to the house for a late lunch. Then I packed up my bags and headed back to the airport. My flight got back to Singapore at 9:30pm on Tuesday.

Posted by Cassi 20:39 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Sick in Singapore

Feeling like Blahhhh....

Since coming home from Cambodia, I have been very sick. The last few days I have woken up with a fever, have had a bad cough, a sore throat, and can barely breath out of my nose! I finally made it to the health center on Friday, and they took my temperature as 101. Luckily this week was 'E-Learning Week' where the school posts all lectures online, homework is due online, and attendance is not taken in classes (most of my classes were cancelled entirely anyway!) They practice this each semester, so in the case of a natural disaster or emergency, the school can shut down but classes can continue with online learning.

So in the last 3 days I have barely left my room, just to eat some food midway through the day because I really haven't been hungry at all. I have been sleeping all day, waking up to take medicine, and then falling back asleep. Hopefully this clears up in the next day or two, otherwise I have to go back to the health center to make sure I didn't catch something serious while in Cambodia!

I am now on my second day of medicine so I should be feeling better in the morning - I Hope!!!

Posted by Cassi 21:02 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Cambodian Flooding

Pictures of the Flooding.. and other pictures from my trip


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Since I have been spending most of my time in my room lately just browsing the internet - I am getting better, my fever has dropped but I still have my cough - I saw a picture on an MSNBC article today and thought I would share it with you all.

Although I did not take the first picture below, nor do I know exactly where it was taken, this was the view I had when I was flying over Cambodia last week. The flood went as far as I could see in the distance, and stopped barely on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. It is hard to describe what it is like looking down over floods from an airplane, but this picture captures it. It is funny because I wanted to grab my camera for a picture, but right as I was about to get up, the captain came on and said get ready for landing, and the seatbelt sign lit back up. I wish I had kept my camera with me and not put it in the overhead bin, but this picture will do for now.

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Also, I've added pictures of the powerlines in Cambodia that I didn't show before. When I started taking pictures of the powerlines, James could not understand why I found them funny. He asked 'Do you not have power lines at home?'. Yes we have them, no we do not have mangled masses of them hanging on every corner like this! I have never seen so many wires connected to just one pole. This really makes me appreciate the burying of wires that happens in so many of our neighborhoods.

Posted by Cassi 22:14 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Funny Signs in Singapore

I'm not sure why some of these are necessary...

I am almost completely over my sickness, with just a lingering cough and stuffy nose left. My fever is completely gone, I am off my Malaria medicine and I am no longer taking the 4 other medicines the health center gave me! I am happy to be able to leave my room and go to class and see my friends again. With all that being said, I still have not been able to leave campus due to the work I have been trying to make up, so I don't have any new things to share with you all.

However, I have a collection of funny signs I have seen in Singapore, and would like to share a few. Enjoy:

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I have NEVER seen a peacock in Singapore....

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Please don't catch wild birds....?

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Slightly different than our "no trespassing" signs.. but it gets the point across

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Just one of the THOUSANDS of signs posted with fines listed, this one is in the MRT

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These Anti-Bus "Captain" Abuse signs are in EVERY bus.. multiple times...
Do bus drivers get abused often?

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Why does my hall need a casualty collection point?

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"Have a nice day"

Posted by Cassi 19:55 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Earthquakes!

Bali and Papua New Guinea

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In the last two days, there have been major earthquakes in both Bali, Indonesia and today in Papua New Guinea. The Bali quake was recorded at 6.8 and the PNG quake was recorded at 6.7. Luckily neither have triggered a tsunami, and no deaths were reported in Bali or PNG. Just to show where exactly in the region these quakes have happened, they are labeled on the map.

While it may not look like it, Southeast Asia is a huge place. Bali is over 1050 miles from Singapore, which is about the distance from NYC to Miami, and PNG is over 3080 miles away, leaving from NYC that would put you somewhere between Juneau and Anchorage, Alaska! Singapore has not been affected by any earthquakes in my time here, and is usually safe from natural disasters because of its location.

The 2004 Earthquake and Tsunami in Indonesia, one of the deadliest natural disasters ever recorded (killing over 230,000 people in fourteen countries), occurred just off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. In comparison, it was only 500 miles from Singapore, and it had barely any affect on the country. Sumatra is a huge island in Indonesia, and acted as a blockade to Singapore and Malaysia from the waves. Sumatra, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka took most of the brunt of the tsunami, while other areas were largely unaffected. Indonesia is considered one of the most active countries in the world, between earthquakes and volcanoes it seems as though the country is always dealing with a natural disaster in one form or another!

Posted by Cassi 16:56 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Singapore Museums

National Museum, Art Museum and Asian Civilizations Museum

Today I did a whirlwind tour of Singapore's best museums: the National Museum, the Art Museum and the Asian Civilizations Museum. The best part about being a local student is free admission to all! All the museums were beautiful colonial style buildings right in the middle of the city.

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I started at the National Museum, which was divided into 5 areas: The History Gallery, Film, Photography, Food and Fashion.The history area was the biggest, and the most interesting. I was given a headset, and as I walked into each room a new recording would describe everything in the area which was very helpful. I watched a movie about old Singapore, which used to be named Tamasek, and how it was once ruled by kings until Rajahs from India came, then the Portuguese came, and then many other people over the years "discovered" the island. Thomas Raffles, the British explorer who claimed the land as a British Colony, actually did so against British orders, was punished for his actions and when he died he was still in debt! I think that's amazing considering today he is described as a hero, and the British gained so much from his actions in Singapore. The History area ended with the Japanese rule during World War II, when the British tried to come back and reclaim the island. The people were not happy with the idea of being under colonial rule when the British couldn't even protect them in the war! So they had their first formal elections and the kicked the British out.

The other 4 areas are modern accounts of Singapore, from the 50's until today. They had the history of hawker centers and street food, and how it became such a national icon. They had displays on fashion relating to women's rights and the shift from at-home workers to modern day. They had old Singapore films-which are hilarious to watch (they remind me of the old Chinese Martial Arts films with really bad acting). And lastly they had displays of fabrics made over the years in Singapore- beautiful colors and designs.

After the National Museum, I walked to the Art Museum. There was a really cool display by Hyung Koo Kang called "The Burning Gaze". It was huge portraits of people staring into the camera; political leaders, celebrities, and average citizens from around the world. It was almost scary to walk through the rooms, but was really cool photography. They was also a display of Liu Kang, which featured paintings that I would love to have in my house. They were mostly landscapes and people from Southeast Asia, done with bright colors. There were a few other exhibits, but those two were my favorite ones.

And lastly I visited the Asian Civilizations Museum, which houses artifacts from all over Asia. It was divided up by region: Southeast Asia, China, Middle East and India. The displays in the Southeast Asia section were similar to the museum in Cambodia- sandstone sculptures of ancient gods and old wood carvings. China, however, had the coolest display of the day: Terracotta Warriors. Luckily this was the last day of the exhibit and I was able to see them all- they had 7 warriors, 1 full size horse, and several smaller statues found in China. They are much bigger in person than they look in pictures, and I can only imagine seeing them all lined up at the site in China. They were really interesting to see.

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Posted by Cassi 18:31 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Feels like 103...

Singapore, Please lower the temperature..

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I thought I would share with you all how hot it is in Singapore today. Although 91 degrees isn't unheard off at home (although rare), "91 but feels like 103" is not an enjoyable temperature. Also, looking into the Sky right now, I would not call it "Mostly Cloudy". For as far as I can see it is all sun, making it completely unbearable to be outside.

Back in the States where it is Fall now and not summer, please be grateful for the weather you are having at home. I'm not sure how anyone enjoys this 100+ weather, but it is absolutely miserable today.

Posted by Cassi 15:29 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Firewalking

Theemithi Festival

In the month leading up to the Deepavali, many smaller festivals occur around the city. This weekend was the Theemithi Festival, where Hindu devotees firewalk at the Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown.

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In Singapore, the celebrations begin at Srinivasa Perumal Temple, Kudavasal in Serangoon Road and the priest leads the grand procession of people through the streets to Sri Mariamman Temple in South Bridge Road where the actual tīmiti takes place. The priest starts the tīmiti by walking through the pit filled with hot burning wood with a karakattam "sacred water-filled pot" on his head. He is followed by male devotees intent on fulfilling their personal promises and proving their faith. The devotees may include a minority of non-Indians and non-Hindus.

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From talking to people at the temple, one reason devotees firewalk is to ask for something from the gods, for example a man might carry his child through the coals to ask for the child to get better from an illness. Unfortunately I was only able to be in the temple before the firewalking actually started, but many people came to see the event as shown in the pictures above, and you can see how beautifully dressed all the women are.

Posted by Cassi 01:34 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Floorball

Inter Hall Games

I have been playing with the Eusoff Hall Floorball team in preparation for Inter Hall Games. Floorball itself is a mix between street hockey and field hockey. The sticks are shorter than ice hockey sticks, going just above waist level. The ball we play with is almost like a wiffle ball, with holes cut in it. The rules of the game are like street hockey: there are no offsides rules, no icing rules, and no checking, but there are also some field hockey rules thrown in: no hacking, no kicking the ball, no lifting your stick above your waist.

Our team basically reminds me of a pick-up street hockey game from when we were little playing in the Circle. No one really knows where to go, we don't have any plays or any coordination, but everyone has a lot of fun. We use nets that look identical to the old red plastic nets everyone in the neighborhood had. Although there are supposed to be forwards and defense, it seems as though everyone just runs around and plays every position, just like our pick-up games.

When I first showed up to play, I didn't have a stick so they let me borrow one from the Hall. I told the leader of the team I play ice hockey and field hockey, but no one else really knew why I was there. Then when we started shooting to warm up our goalie, they all asked how I knew how to shoot so hard! I thought that was really funny because at home I don't consider myself to have a very hard shot, but in floorball I'm pretty good. Because we play with a ball, there is no such thing as a wrist shot. Every shot is basically equivalent to a hockey snap-shot.

Overall I really enjoy playing, being on the team is how I met most of the people living in my hall. We practice twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays, and they are starting to add Friday Practices. Inter Hall Games don't start until January, so for now we are just scrimmaging among ourselves.

Last night was Syakinah's Birthday, a girl on my team, so we had a cake for her and took a picture of the group of us. The front row of girls are all from Floorball, along with most of the girls in the back. A few of the guys coach our team and help out at practices. A few people in the picture aren't involved in floorball but came down for the celebration. This was taken right at the end of a 2 and a half hour practice, so don't judge how sweaty we look!

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Posted by Cassi 01:43 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Flooding

Flash Floods and Other Flooding in the Region..

These are reports from Channel News Asia, the main news agency from Singapore. They are all events that happened today, just to give you an idea of what is going on in Southeast Asia that isn't necessarily the top news stories at home.

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Flash floods hit several areas around Singapore

SINGAPORE: Flash floods hit several roads in Singapore, with heavy rain falling over many areas on Friday afternoon.
One of the affected roads was in the Upper Serangoon area - after PIE exit, next to the Woodsville flyover - where two lanes became impassable to traffic. According to national water agency PUB, flash floods also hit Woodlands Road near the Kranji Expressway (KJE) slip road; the Little India area (Norris Road, Kampong Kapor, Owen Road); Ang Mo Kio Ave 5; and the junction of Jalan Pemimpin and Bishan Street 21.
The flash floods subsided within 15 minutes in most areas, except at Upper Serangoon Road where there are ongoing roadworks near the Woodsville flyover. Floods at Upper Serangoon Road took more than an hour to subside, and PUB is investigating the cause. In Little India, PUB has an ongoing drainage improvement project to alleviate flooding in that area. The project is expected to complete in first quarter of 2013.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) said to expect light rain till 7pm Friday in various parts of Singapore. Showers with thunder in the afternoon are also expected over the next three days.


Thai floodwaters spill into northern Bangkok

BANGKOK - Millions of nervous Bangkok residents were warned Friday to move their belongings to safety as the kingdom's worst floods in decades began pouring into the northern outskirts of the sprawling city.

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In a desperate attempt to drain the mass of muddy water, the authorities have opened all of Bangkok's sluice gates to allow the floods to flow through canals and rivers in the low-lying capital and into the Gulf of Thailand. The move should ease pressure on vulnerable flood barriers on the northern edge of the city of 12 million people, but increases the threat to Bangkok itself, where some outlying residential areas were inundated on Friday.
People were advised to move their possessions to higher floors or safe areas after the government admitted the sea of water bearing down on the capital from the central plains was unstoppable. "I ask all Bangkok residents to move your belongings to higher ground as a precaution, but they should not panic. It's preparation," said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who has described the crisis as "overwhelming".
Three months of heavy monsoon rains have killed at least 342 people in Thailand and damaged the homes and livelihoods of millions of others, mostly in the north and centre.
Tens of thousands of people have been forced to seek refuge in shelters, including 33-year-old Nonglak Yodnankham who fled the approaching water in Pathumthani province just north of Bangkok. "The flood was following behind us when we ran away. Within five minutes, it was already up to my waist," she told AFP at an emergency shelter at Bangkok's number two airport, Don Mueang.
The waters were already seeping into the capital too, leaving little doubt that large areas of the metropolis would be inundated. The only uncertainty was how deep the floods would be and whether the city centre would be hit. Water up to 70 centimetres deep submerged roads and houses elsewhere in Don Mueang district while more than 2,000 homes were flooded in neighbouring Lak Si, about 15 kilometres from the city centre. "The water level keeps rising," Don Mueang district chief Phumpat Damrongkiatisak said, adding that the floods already covered several square kilometres in his area alone.
The authorities reassured residents they had evacuation plans ready if necessary.

Flash flood in Myanmar leaves dozens missing

YANGON: A flash flood in central Myanmar on Friday left dozens of people missing as homes along a river bank were swept away, government officials in the military-dominated country said.
"About 60 people are missing so far because of the flood" in Pakokku township, an official who did not want to be named told AFP.
"Some houses and a monastery along the river bank were swept away and a bridge was destroyed as the water rose up," he said. There were no confirmed reports of deaths, a second official said.
A monk in Pakokku said the water was believed to have risen to about three metres (10 feet) high.
"Some people, animals, houses and a monastery were swept away when the water rose up. The water level is back to normal now," he said. "We had torrential rain in previous days." State media reported roads, bridges and buildings were damaged because of strong winds and heavy rains in some parts of the country.
Southeast Asia has been battered by particularly severe monsoon rains this year. According to the United Nations, more than 700 people have been killed across Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines, and eight million have been affected. Thailand has been particularly severely hit, with more than 300 people dead and Bangkok on alert for flooding.

Posted by Cassi 00:57 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Katong Field Trip

GE2226 Group Project

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Saturday I spent the day in Katong, a residential area by the sea on the east coast of the island. For my Southeast Asian Studies class we are doing a group project on Peranakans, a culture group living in Singapore. The word Peranakan is used to describe people who moved to the Straights region (Malaysia and Singapore along the Straights of Malacca) and then assimilated with the locals. Unlike Chinatown and Little India, these people have kept some of their own culture, but married into local families and picked up local customs too. There are four groups of Peranakans: Chinese, Indian, Arab, and Eurasian.

The history of the four groups is really interesting because they keep traditions alive from their home countries that aren't around in many places today. For example, we interviewed a Chinese Peranakan, whos family left China 7 generations ago. When they left, Mandarin was not the common language in China, each province had it's own language. So his family to this day speaks ancient Chinese, and he doesn't understand a word of Mandarin! Also, in his family they have kept traditions like weddings and funerals from China, but they have converted to Christianity from living in Singapore.

The reason this group is different from other immigrants is the traditions they keep alive. They build their houses to match those built in China, and they live a traditional Chinese lifestyle. China today is very different than it was 7 generations ago, so Peranakans are keeping culture and traditions alive that have died out even in China where they originated. One person told us being a Peranakan is a choice, if you don't live by traditional standards, then you are no longer a Peranakan regardless of how you were raised, and on the flip side, someone of Chinese decent can become a Peranakan if they choose the lifestyle.

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Posted by Cassi 20:00 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Birkenstock Store!

I Got a New Pair of Shoes :)

For those of you who know me well, you are aware that I LOVE Birkenstock sandals. I basically live in the pair I have right now, which is the only pair of sandals I brought to Singapore, minus a $2.50 pair from Old Navy that I never wear outside of my dorm. My friends here always make fun of the fact they only see me in one pair of sandals, as most of my other friends change their shoes with their outfits. However, I have never actually been inside a Birkenstock Store until yesterday. I always have to order mine online or get them from a shoe store that carriers a few pairs from the collection. So I was thrilled to actually find a store devoted to my shoes!

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And naturally, I had to get a new pair!

Posted by Cassi 23:23 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Jurong Bird Park

Penguins, Parrots and Ostriches!

Kourtney and I spent today at Jurong Bird Park. It is basically a zoo but with only really cool birds. We watched a birds of paradise show, got bird food to feed Lories, and watched the penguins for so long. The park itself is HUGE, with a monorail that takes you to different areas. There are several aviaries where you can walk into the area with the birds, including 'Africa' which has the largest man-made waterfall in the world. It is over 30m (about 100ft) tall!

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The penguins were so cute, like all penguins are, but we felt really bad for them in Singapore heat. Of course their area was air conditioned, but there was only a tiny pile of snow for them to share! We were laughing because the pile was so pitiful looking, Kourtney is from Ontario so she understands snow the same way I do. We were not impressed.

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Posted by Cassi 00:39 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

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