Sunday, June 14, 2009

so, i'm terrible at keeping up with a blog...

So it's been two weeks since I updated. I know, terrible. Well, over the last two weeks, I've really started to settle into life in Singapura, as well as venture off to Malaysia! Only one more week till the amazing shopping in Thailand ;)

Last Saturday, each of us spent the day with a local, as homestays were canceled due to fears of swine flu. No kidding. I spent the day with Nadiah, and our group combined with two of her friends, Amir and Raya, and we formed one large group touring the Tampines region of Singapore, which is about as far away from NUS as one can get on the island. We started the day with a little delay, as most of us had been out for an epic evening the night before :) By the way, Players has nothing on Zirca. Anyways, once the entire group arrived, we headed off to this beautiful park on the coast, put our feet in the water, and played on the playground, which was far more creative than any playground I've been to in the States.

Then we went to Pizza Hut for lunch, which is actually quite the classy affair in Singapore. It's also halal here, which means its prepared in a way that is acceptable to Muslims. And it was really good :) We ended the day at Mind Cafe, where you can play board games, and dinner at a hawker stand place frequented by locals.

Wednesday night, we went out to Max Brenner's Chocolate Bar, which my father would have died over. It might be better than Godiva :)

One thing I've observed here in Singapore is that all the natives seem to do is shop and eat! There are so many restaurants and malls EVERYWHERE. But with subsidized housing and no need for a car, what else is one to spend their money on?

This past weekend was spent in Melaka, Malaysia, an epic weekend to say the least. We left early Friday morning, and drove to the southern most point of continent. We had lunch at a small fishing village, which was, as one person put it, "my own personal hell," considering my deep aversion to seafood.

Saturday, we went on a walking tour of Melaka with Professor Emmanuel, who is our professor for the Malayisan history section of our class. We saw many of the historical aspects of Melaka, like the only surviving entrance to the city from when it was a citadel, and churches built by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonists. We spent the evenings in the Jonker Street night market, which is at the heart of Malay culture and society. We even witnessed a line dance to American music. It was hilarious.

I believe this one was to Toby Keith :)

Sunday was the reckoning day, however. We left the hotel at 8am, and traveled about 30 minutes outside of Melaka to the edge of a mangrove swamp, where we strapped on our helmets and began the 15 mile tour of the forest. It was pretty difficult, and I'm quite sore today, however, it was a lot of fun. Mountain biking in a Malaysian forest is definitely one thing I thought I'd never be able to say I've done, but now I can! We then had lunch, and headed back to Singapore.

It's hard to believe that my time in Singapore is coming to a close. I only have about a week here, and then we move on to Thailand for four weeks. I'm expecting Thailand to be a much bigger culture shock than Singapore, but I'm also excited to see the country.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ohhh Singapura!

What a week it's been! This time last week, I was packing and getting ready to say goodbye to my family. Today, I've explored Singapore, gotten lost by myself, tried tons of new foods, and started some amazing classes. Every day here is so full of things to do that by 9 pm, you're ready to crash!

A little recap of my week: Wednesday, we registered with NUS, took a library tour, and ate lunch at the Deck, one of the canteens on campus. Afterwards, we headed off to immigration to fill out lots of fun paperwork. We spent several hours here, and I didn't have one of the required documents, so I didn't get to complete my application, and had to come back on Thursday :(

After immigration, we went off to the Singapore Botanical Gardens, which, as you can imagine were absolutely beautiful.

Thursday marked the first day of classes. I think I'm really going to enjoy both classes. Professor Steiner, who came with us from UNC, is teaching a course on immigration and migration policies and how the US can learn from Singapore. We also have a NUS professor, Professor Quek, who is teaching a Singaporean history course. I really like Prof Quek, who is refreshingly frank about the good, as well as the bad sides of living in Singapore.

After class, the four of us who didn't finish at immigration headed back to ICA with Nadiah, who is the NUS student showing us around Singapore and arranging all the logistics. Spending time at immigration is no fun, but afterwards, Nadiah took us down to Arab Street to one of her favorite resturants, and then shopping. Interestingly enough, my favorite food so far has been the Muslim food here, we had murtabak (sp?) and sugar rolls (my fav!).

We also had our welcome dinner on Thursday. We ate at an Indonesian restaurant, and my greatest fear came true. They served the entire fish. With the eyes still attached. But aside from that, it was pretty good food, albeit a bit spicy. After the welcome dinner, we headed back to PGP and got down to work, as we had tons of readings for both classes.

Friday classes came awfully early, and we still had a full day ahead of us. After class, we went straight to lunch at a Thai resturant, where we ate with our tour guide from the Asian Civilizations museum. She was from France, here in Singapore with her husband, who worked in finance here.

After lunch, we went to the Asian Civilizations Museum, which I absolutely loved. I really want to go back and explore more of the museum.

We then got on a river boat cruise, which was incredibly touristy, but still lots of fun. We saw many important sites along the river, including the Fullerton hotel, Clarke Quay, the Singapore Flyer, and the Merlion. Below is Clarke Quay, which is the tourist strip of resturants and shops along the river.

And this is the infamous Merlion, which is comprised of a lion head and fish body. It is the unofficial mascot of Singapore, as it has its roots in important Singaporean history. The fish portion refers to Singapore's history as a fishing village, and the lion head represents Singapore's former name, Singapura, or lion town.

After the river cruise, Nadiah turned us loose on the streets of Singapore. Some of us headed over to Orchard Street to do a bit of shopping. It's a little bit like Rodeo Drive in LA or 5th Avenue in NYC. Getting back to PGP was an interesting adventure which involved missing a bus stop, a conversation with a random Chinese man who tried to sell me a watch, and a good bit of walking. :)
It's been an amazing week in Singapore, and the next 3 are going to fly by!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

First Day in Singapore!

So we've finally arrived in Singapore! After 24 hours in the air, plus 8 hours of layovers, we finally touched down at the Singaporean airport. Nadiah, the NUS student who is coordinating our trip while in Singpore, met us at the airport with a bus to take us to NUS. It took us about 30 minutes to reach NUS, in which time we traversed the entire island! Singapore is absolutely beautiful. I was expecting it to be all tall buildings and pavement, but the vegetation is everywhere, and extremely lush.

After reaching NUS, we dropped off our bags in our rooms and headed off for a tour of the campus. It was raining pretty much the entire time, but since it's SO hot and humid here, the rain felt amazing. Once we completed our tour, we got on a city bus and went over to Holland Village, where we ate dinner at a hawker stand.

We then walked around the shops for a bit, then waited for what seemed like FOREVER for the bus to take us back to PGP (Prince George's Park, our residence at NUS).

I'm absolutely exhausted from the long plane rides and jet lag, but it was all worth it to be here in Singapore. I'm really excited to spend the next four weeks of my life here. But now is the time for SLEEP!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pre-Departure Rantings

Sunday's the big day! I have a solid 2 days to get my life in order before I leave the country for almost ten weeks. Here's a brief outline of the summer I have planned!

-May 24th (aka SUNDAY): I leave Charlotte, travel FOREVER and arrive in Singapore on Tuesday, May 26th.

I will spend 4 weeks in Singapore at the National University of Singapore, studying immigration with 24 other Carolina rising sophomores. Around taking classes, we will be touring the city, seeing the sites, visiting government offices, getting to know some Singaporeans, and trying tons of new things. I must admit, I am quite nervous about these new things, especially the food. If you know me at all, you know new foods are a bit problematic for me. However, I have decided to keep an open mind, and try everything (within reason). We'll also be taking a weekend trip to Melaka, Malaysia, and a homestay with some NUS students.

-June 24th, we will leave Singapore for Bangkok, Thailand. We will be staying at Mahidol University International College (MUIC), about 30-45 minutes outside of downtown Bangkok. We'll be continuing or studies of immigration, and also add Southeast Asian history. A trip to Kanchanaburi to visit villages and refugee camps is also in store.

July 17th: the SEAS program officially ends, however, my adventures are far from over! On July 18th, I will fly from Bangkok to Shanghai, China, to meet a friend and see Shanghai and Beijing for ten days.

July 28th: I leave Beijing to return to good old Oakboro, NC!

I'm really excited for this opportunity to travel Southeast Asia, and I know it will be a life changing experience. Although I'm going to miss my family and my friends, both at home and at Chapel Hill, I am traveling with 24 amazing people who I know will become close friends. I'm looking forward to experiencing cultures so different from mine, and learning from them. It's going to be a fabulous summer!