A Travellerspoint blog

September 2011

Planning Trips

So many places to see...

We have been here about a month and a half now, school has started and is in full swing. I have my first exam this week, I've already turned in my first lab report and homework problem set, and most days are spent at the library. Besides school however, exchange is supposed to be a time of exploration and traveling the region. So Tuesday we spent the day booking airline tickets and looking into trips we can take.

  • We have two vacations in the Semester, the first of which my parents will be here and we will be spending the week in Bali, Indonesia together. This is just two weeks away!
  • The second is a two week vacation in November (which is supposed to be used to get ready for final exams) that we have decided we would like to spend in Vietnam. We booked airline tickets and started looking into tours we can take through the country. As of now we are planning on flying into Ho Chi Minh City, traveling up the coast to Hoi An and then continuing up to Hanoi, Sapa Valley and Halong Bay, then flying out of Hanoi back to Singapore.
  • I have booked airline tickets to Cambodia, where I will be visiting some extended-extended family in Phnom Penh (my cousin Chad is married to Heather and her aunt and uncle live and work in Cambodia). I will be spending some time with them and volunteering with the work they do. Here is the websight that shows what work they are involved with: http://www.familycare.org/network/family-care-cambodia/ We also hope to visit Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat at somepoint in our travels.
  • Bailey and I are planning to travel to Thailand after the semester ends, for a few weeks in December. Hopefully visiting Bangkok, Phuket and maybe even attending a full-moon party out on the island of Ko Phangan.

Along with those bigger trips we have been looking into a few weekend trips, including Bintan, Indonesia and Malacca, Malaysia.

Although none of these trips are absolutely set in stone, it is a fun process to begin planning all of our travels, and I cannot wait to see all of these places!

Posted by Cassi 15:25 Archived in Singapore

Supernova Rock Concert

Town Green at University Town

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NUS put on a concert for all the students this past Friday night. They had a bunch of different bands play throughout the night, some of which were very good and some were not so good... An Asian-Rock cover of Katy Perry's Firework just wasn't great, but other songs sounded alright. It was a lot of fun to just hangout outside and listen to music, and the school even had free drinks for students. Here are a few pictures from the night.

Posted by Cassi 16:03 Archived in Singapore

Sushi Dinner

It was only a matter of time living in Asia

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My friends insisted I go to a Sushi Dinner with them last night, despite them being fully aware I am not a sushi fan. They told me I had to go to sushi at least once while in Asia, but agreed that I was allowed to eat the non-fish sushi rolls. My friends here always laugh at me because I live off of raw fruits, vegetables and plain rice. And at all costs I avoid the fish and meat that is served in most areas (not a surprise for anyone who knows me at home). Despite what people may think, I've never had a problem finding food here: most days I find a salad and fresh fruits to eat. Also, there are a lot of eggs served with dishes, and I have a giant jar of peanut butter in my room (which is also not a surprise for anyone who knows me at home).

The place we went had sushi with just vegetables in the middle: cucumbers, avocado and corn wrapped up in rice, so for the first time I had Sushi for dinner. Of course my friends ordered all sorts of fish and whatever else comes in the middle, so we ended up having a table full of different sushi rolls. We had Matcha tea served to us, and the whole Japanese experience was actually a lot of fun.

Posted by Cassi 16:14 Archived in Singapore

Living in Dorms

My room here isn't as awesome as my room at home

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My room at home is bright yellow with a tie-dyed bedspread, with posters and pictures all over, and my dorm room at Clarkson has a Rainbow Polka Dot bedspread with even more posters and pictures than at home. I have a sad report that my room in Asia does not really resemble either of those places. For starters, there's no way I could have brought any of that with me, my suitcases were filled to the top already. Secondly, anything I buy here for my room I will probably end up throwing out before I go back to the US. And lastly, although my bed is my favorite part of my room at home and I love getting blankets and pillows of all colors to have with me when I sleep, it is about 90 degrees here every night with humidity close to 100%. Therefore, I have NOTHING for my bed, as I would never ever use it. So here are a few pictures of the most boring room I have ever lived in.

However, unlike Clarkson or at home, I am rarely ever in my room. I only come back to sleep at night, and I spend all my time in class, at the library, in my friends rooms or out in the City of Singapore. No, my room does not have air conditioning, and neither do any of my friends. I hear there are a few select rooms on campus with it, but the rent is about double in price. Having said that, there is one thing here that I would love to have at home, a ceiling fan. They are amazing and I have come to love them in the heat.

Posted by Cassi 23:00 Archived in Singapore

Clarke Quay

Where you can always find exchange students

Clarke Quay is the nightlife capital of Singapore, shopping center and river walk all combined into a perfect little place. I go there about once or twice a week, and usually we just hangout on the bridge. Its hard to explain Clarke Quay, because it gives off such a cool vibe while you spend time there. It's a place where internationals from all over the world hang out, talk about our travels and home countries, places we want to visit, and eventually become really good friends.

There is a bridge that crosses the river that lands in the middle of Clarke Quay, and we all sit along the sides of the bridge and just talk about everything. As an exchange student, I always know someone from NUS on the bridge, and usually can recognize a bunch of people from around Singapore. When we go out we usually meet at the bridge and determine as a group where and what we should all do for that night. Clarke Quay also has restaurants, shops, fountains, and it is all lit up with beautiful colors. Each building is painted a different color than the last, and there are hundreds of places to sit and watch the river.

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Posted by Cassi 23:55 Archived in Singapore

Sunset over the Shipyard

One of these days I will make it to the coast to watch the sunset..

The sunsets in Singapore are amazing every night, but I am usually stuck in the library or at dinner and can't fully watch them. Tonight I tried to get a few pictures of the sun while it was still in view. There's not much I can say about it, other than it was absolutely amazing. The ships and the trees blocking the water couldn't detract from the beauty of the sky.

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Posted by Cassi 21:20 Archived in Singapore

Macritchie Reservoir

11km Hike Through the Trees

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Today Kourtney and I went to Macritchie Reservoir for a hike through the jungle of Singapore. There are several different trails through the woods, some just around the waters edge and some up to the highest peak on the Island. We hiked for about 11km (just under 7 miles) to the top of the mountain, where they have a suspension bridge out over the tree tops to a second mountain. Just as a point of reference, these 'mountains' are not Vermont mountain size, but rather more like hills. Regardless, the view was really nice from the top, out over the top of the trees in the jungle.

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After the bridge, we decided to hike down to the reservoir where there were beautiful views of the water. This part of the hike was along a boardwalk, and there were trees hanging out over us and the water. Monkeys were climbing all over, and even walking along the boardwalk with us. Also, in the water there were monitor lizards swimming around. These are the biggest lizards I've ever seen, and we even thought they might be alligators at first. They were about 4 feet long, and had huge tongues. The monkeys were climbing down and screeching at the lizards when they came close to shore. It was a very interesting hike and we had a lot of fun being in the middle of all the animals.

After we left the monkeys and lizards, we found some trees that were really easy to climb so we decided we had to give it a try. These were down by the Macritchie Park, a public park area with open areas and benches and pavilions. Although the hike was pretty long, it was a cool day by Singapore standards and was even sprinkling for parts of it, which felt really nice. Overall, we really enjoyed being outdoors and seeing the jungle.

Posted by Cassi 01:50 Archived in Singapore

Life with Lizards

They are everywhere in Singapore

At home I have a serious problems with spiders in my life. When one is in my room, or in my window, or in the bathroom/shower, or anywhere around me I have to call someone for help before I can move on with whatever I was doing. I have yet to see a spider since arriving in Singapore, and I'd really like to keep it that way. However, lizards are everywhere.

Yesterday alone I had two lizard encounters. First, a lizard ran into my shower from the outside window. He just chilled on the wall and walked slowly around as I finished up, and never did anything to scare me. I don't mind lizards so much as long as they don't begin to run. As might be expected, they are super fast, which makes them super scary. Also, they can jump pretty far (like from one wall of the shower to the other). Lucky for me, this lizard was a nice one who just wanted to hang out.

Now, when I arrived back at my door, I went to grab my door handle and it began to move (not a good sign). A lizard was waiting for me, and proceeded to run in circles on my door. I figured eventually he would just run to the wall or the floor, but he wouldn't leave. The last thing I want is a lizard living in my room, so I refused to open my door until he left me alone. He sat on my door looking at my for half an hour! I was even talking to him, asking him to please let me inside, but he wouldn't listen. The girl in the room next to me came out and asked if I was ok (I was talking to a lizard...) but said she was too afraid to try and catch him for me. So I just sat there and watched. Luckily, he eventually let me inside and ran to the other wall.

This is what it is like living with lizards.

Posted by Cassi 14:48 Archived in Singapore

9/11 in Singapore

Being the only American in my group of friends...

As we are 12 hours ahead in Singapore, it is already mid afternoon on September 11th. Ten years after the attacks, all the News from home is about remembering the events, the stories of survival and about those that lost their lives. As an American, we are often reminded of that day ten years ago. This morning I went out to breakfast with my friends from Canada, and they didn't realize what today was. I told them about the memorials taking place at home, and when I started talking I realized they had no idea of the significance of it all.

My friend told me all she knew that that some airplanes got hijacked, a lot of people died, and that New York and the Pentagon were hit. When I started talking about the memorials in Pennsylvania, she asked me why there was anything there, saying she thought everyone on that plane had lived. When I told her that no one on any airplane had lived, she started talking about an airplane crash in a field where survivors got up and walked away fine. I'm pretty sure she was talking about the crash from the late 80's near Sioux City, Iowa where the plan suffered engine failures and loss of hydraulics, and crashed into a field but somehow most people survived the explosions and the plane ripping apart. Although that is a fairly famous plane crash, I could not believe she was mixing up those events.

She had no idea how many people lost their lives on that day, and how it changed our country. I never thought about how different my perspective would be from others on a day such as this. I always knew that Americans would be the most connected to the events, as our country is most involved, but I always thought my friends would at least understand what happened. I was really surprised to learn how little people outside of the US knew about that day, and how little it had affected their lives.

Posted by Cassi 15:59 Archived in Singapore

Where's the Fire?

Forest Fires in Sumatra

When I woke up this morning, I thought my building was on fire. I could smell fire, could see haze out my window and when I opened my door the effects got about 5x worse. However, no one else seemed to notice the conditions, and certainly no one was concerned about the building, so I just went about getting ready for the day as usual. When I met up with my friends from the other side of campus, we realized the fire smell was all throughout the air, and probably all over the city. Out next thought was maybe the jungle in the middle of the island, where Kourtney and I had hiked this past weekend, had started to burn.

A cab driver later in the day explained that on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra, they burn the forest for farm land. I learned about this idea in my Southeast Asian Studies class, and it is called swidden agriculture. This practice is when you let the land sit through the dry season, and a few weeks before the wet season started you burn it and plant your crops in the newly fertilized fields. Then the rains from the monsoons come and allow your crops to grow. This type of farming requires circulating your land, as the burning only allows for 1 harvest every 20 years on that plot.

The car driver told us the haze can last anywhere from a few days to a month, but that it varies daily with the wind patterns. Sumatra is Indonesia's biggest island, and it located to the west of Singapore and Malaysia. Hopefully the fires only last a short time, as the haze blocks the sun and makes it slightly harder to breath (we were told it triggers a lot of asthma attacks). Luckily the winds blow slightly northeast, and so Thailand and Malaysia get the effects much worse than Singapore.

Posted by Cassi 22:16 Archived in Singapore

What's a Mooncake?

Eusoff Hall Mid-Autumn Fesitval

Seeing as I have no idea what the Mid-Autumn Festival is all about, here is a description I found online:

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or Zhongqiu Festival is a popular harvest festival celebrated by Chinese, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese people. Dating back over 3,000 years to moon worship in China's Shang Dynasty, it was first called Zhongqiu Jie (literally "Mid-Autumn Festival") in the Zhou Dynasty. In Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, it is also sometimes referred to as the Lantern Festival or Mooncake Festival.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. It is a date that parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar, when the moon is at its fullest and roundest. The traditional food of this festival is the mooncake, of which there are many different varieties.

Farmers celebrate the end of the fall harvesting season on this date. Traditionally on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, and eat moon cakes and pomelos under the moon together. Accompanying the celebration, there are additional cultural or regional customs, such as Carrying brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, floating sky lanterns and burning incense in reverence to deities including Chang'e.

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Eusoff Hall had a celebration tonight, and I got to eat mooncakes and light lanterns and talk to a lot of people who celebrate this each year with their family. There were about 15 different kids of mooncakes, green tea, and a lantern making competition to end the night. I'm pretty sure the actual full moon and the end of the festival is not until October this year, but the month long celebration has already begun throughout the city. Chinatown and Clarke Quay both have decorations up and lit each night.

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Posted by Cassi 07:18 Archived in Singapore

Mom and Dad Arrive in Singapore

After a day and a half of flying...

My parents are both officially in Singapore! They left Burlington early Wednesday morning (the 14th), and got in tonight at about 11:30pm (the 15th). I took the MRT over to meet them, and they were already waiting for me. At Changi Airport, once you get off the plane, you pass through customs which are very quick, then you go to baggage claim, and then you walk out the door - much like arriving at Burlington, but nothing like arriving internationally in America. There is no seconds customs check of your baggage. So when my parents told me to meet them at midnight, they had factored in more time for security that doesn't exist.

Singapore is directly on the other side of the world, so it is actually about the same distance to go East (over Europe, the Middle East and Asia) as it is to go West (over Canada, Russia and into China). They flew from Burlington, to Chicago, to Hong Kong, to Singapore, which is the same flight I took on my way over. On my way home however, I will be flying from Singapore to Qatar, then New York and Burlington. This means I will officially travel around the world!

After getting checked into their hotel, we got some food at a 24 hour Muslim Restaurant, which was their first time eating Roti Prata. I'm not sure exactly what Prata is made of, but its a really thin dough that is folded over and filled with stuff, and then cooked on a stove top. I usually get egg, cheese, garlic or a combination of those inside of the Prata. Overall, it is my favorite new food for Singapore, and they both really liked it too.

Posted by Cassi 02:54 Archived in Singapore

My Parents First Day in Singapore

Campus, Gardens and Night Safari

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My Mom, Dad and I spent their first full day in Singapore touring campus. They got to see my room and dorm, the Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Science. I had one class in the morning, and they used the time to visit the bookstore. The campus at NUS is much bigger than Clarkson, so it took a few hours to get all around and see the different places I spend my time.

After they saw where I live, take classes, and spend my time, we took the public bus system out to the Botanic Gardens for a calm afternoon. Luckily, between all my friends at NUS, and all their friends and family who had already visited, our group had a few extra EZlink passes floating around. That allowed us to all use the MRT and Bus system for the week, before giving the cards to the next visitors within our group of friends!

We spent a few hours walking through the gardens, and they even got to see their first Monitor Lizards! Even though the one we found was just a baby and a little over a foot long, they still thought it was huge. The Botanic Gardens remind you that Singapore is a jungle, and outside of the actual City Center you can still find the plants and animals that used to cover the island. My dad was amazed at how big the leaves were on all the plants, some were bigger than he was!

After the Botanic Gardens I ran back to campus for one more class while my parents took a nap and spent some downtime at their hotel. We spent the evening at the Night Safari, where we saw a fire breathing show, creatures of the night show, and took a tram ride through the park. Some of our favorite animals were the Slow Loris, the Giant Crocodiles, and of course all the different types of Jungle Cats. We really enjoyed the Night Safari because they have animals that generally aren't found in Zoos and are from this side of the world.

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Posted by Cassi 10:02 Archived in Singapore

The Most Southern Point of Continental Asia

Sentosa and the Singapore Flyer

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Saturday morning we got a late start for a full day at Sentosa. We got to Vivo City, the mall across from Sentosa on the mainland, at about noon and grabbed some lunch. Then we caught the monorail to Sentosa and we beached it all afternoon. The sun was in and out of the clouds, but my parents thought it was too hot even when the sun wasn't shining. I forgot how much the temperature bothered me when I first arrived, but now it doesn't seem bad. The water was warm, as always, so they enjoyed being able to swim anytime the sun bothered them.

After spending a few hours on the beach, we walked around the island some, and even got to see the Southern most point of continental Asia. It is on a little island just south of Sentosa. From this point, it is possible to walk all the way up to Russia, Europe or even England- with the help of bridges linking this island to Sentosa, to Singapore, and to Malaysia.

After Sentosa we took the MRT to the oldest Hawker center in Singapore for dinner, where my parents got a taste of real Singapore. Hawker food is one of the things Singapore is famous for, it is a wide variety of food venders where you can pick and choose exactly what you would like to eat. This center has every type of Asian food you can think of but no Italian, no Mexican, and no pub food. Because this is such an old building, the walls and ceilings are all decorated with beautiful designs. The building stands out in the middle of downtown, as it is a one story colonial building surrounded by new skyscrapers with neon lights.

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From there we went to the Marina Bay water front. We got to see the Merlion, get a fantastic view of Marina Bay Sands and all of the Downtown Financial District. A short walk from the Merlion is the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest ferris wheel. The Flyer offers fantastic views of Downtown, Marina Bay Sands, and of course the Formula 1 Race track that is set up around the city.

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Singapore hosts the only Night race of the F1 Grand Prix, and it races straight through the city streets. The last few weeks they have set up hundreds of lights and barriers along the city streets so it is very easy to trace the route from the top of the ferris wheel. After the Flyer we grabbed a drink at a smaller hawker center on the water front and we got to see the Marina Bay Laser and Light show out over the bay.

Posted by Cassi 10:11 Archived in Singapore

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

The Nicest Hotel Ever...

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Sunday my parents checked out of their hotel near my school, and check into the Marina Bay Sands! Marina Bay Sands is the 3 buildings with the boat thing across the top in all of my pictures of downtown Singapore. For a more accurate description:

Marina Bay Sands is an integrated resort fronting Marina Bay in Singapore. Developed by Las Vegas Sands, it is billed as the world's most expensive standalone casino property at S$8 billion, including cost of the prime land. With the casino complete, the resort features a 2,561-room hotel, a 1,300,000-square-foot (120,000 m2) convention-exhibition centre, the 800,000-square-foot (74,000 m2) The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands mall, an iconic ArtScience museum, two large theatres, seven "celebrity chef" restaurants, two floating Crystal Pavilions, an ice skating rink, and the world's largest atrium casino with 500 tables and 1,600 slot machines. The complex is topped by a 340m-long SkyPark with a capacity of 3,900 people and a 150m infinity swimming pool, set on top of the world's largest public cantilevered platform, which overhangs the north tower by 67m.

Basically, it is an amazing complex of hotel, casino and the coolest infinity pool ever designed. We spent the majority of the day just hanging out in the room, by the roof top pool, and around the hotel. When you enter your room, the curtains automatically open to show you a beautiful view of downtown Singapore. The bathroom was absurdly huge, with a really really nice shower. The Skypark is the most amazing part of the hotel though, and one cannot describe the view from the top, so here are a few pictures. Of course we had to go back later at night to get both experiences.

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After we spent some time in the skypark, we went down to Boat Quay for dinner and then walked around Clarke Quay for a bit. They are both filled with restaurants and are located right along the Singapore River. To end our night we went back to the Skypark, sat in the hottub (also overlooking Singapore as an infinity pool) and enjoyed the evening.

Posted by Cassi 10:23 Archived in Singapore

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