Livin’ on a prayer

We’re halfway theeeeee-eeere

WOOOOOAH –

As so astutely stated by Bon Jovi lyrics, I’m now halfway through my exchange year in Singapore. I figure I should break my unintentional blogging hiatus and take the time to reflect on what I’ve done and what I’d like to do next semester.

So far it’s been a fantastic blur, with more friends and drunken nights than are reasonable to recount. I’ve started carrying around a little notebook and pen, both of which fit in my pocket. It was inspired by Richard Branson, of all people, after I read Losing My Virginity – a great book, by the way. Often mistaken for my passport, I bought a few of these notebooks and pens from Muji, a sort of Japanese IKEA – I love it. They’ve filled up with all sorts of funny little notes, signatures and promises of friends, comments from people I meet on nights out, daily to-do lists, bucket lists, even a signature from Owl Eyes (of Flight Facilities’ “Heart Attack” fame). I look forward to flipping through the accumulated volumes of these notebooks in a year or so and reminiscing. I highly recommend that anyone reading try this out!

For brevity’s sake, I’ll dot-point the things I’ve done this semester which I think are noteworthy:

– Travelled to Indonesia (Batam)
– Travelled to Malaysia (KL and Penang)
– Travelled to Cambodia (Phnom Penh and Siem Reap)
– Travelled to Thailand, three times (Bangkok, Chumphon/Koh Tao, Krabi)
– Completed two ‘Technopreneurship’ classes: New Product Development and New Venture Creation
– As part of the above, I’ve been part of two teams and taken ‘startup ideas’ from ideation to an investor pitch: J.A.N.E, a revolutionary medical endoscope, for the first class, and Rentle, a locker system for consumer-to-consumer rentals, for the second class
– Completed (tentatively, results not out yet…) Product and Brand Management, Consumer Behaviour, and Negotiations and Bargaining classes at NUS – a total of five in one semester
– Volunteered and attended Neon Lights Singapore, seeing Chic feat. Nile Rodgers, RIDE, Damien Rice, RUFUS, Mogwai, Ratatat, and FLIGHT FACILITIES – even meeting and getting a picture with Owl Eyes (the highlight of my exchange so far)
– Developed more of a taste for classic rock, especially the Rolling Stones
– Had more crazy nights out than I can count
– Turned 19 surrounded by friends, as they surprised me with a meal at Hooters… followed by getting very, very drunk
– Literally fallen asleep outside Ce La Vi (I know, that’s actually what it’s called..) on top of the Marina Bay Sands for a good 30 minutes
– Sung Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of my lungs at 4am in UTown
– Eaten a ridiculous amount of incredible food
– Finally started an Instagram account (part of a more overarching goal of becoming more active on social media)
– Swam in the Clarke Quay river outside Jimmy’s
– Started an internship at Sprooki, a ‘location-based retail marketing solution’ (simply put, we make smart apps for malls)
– Started planning my end-of-exchange trip: All roads lead to Noma – more on this later

Looking back at this list, I’m happy I’ve done so much this exchange, but there are still some things I wish I had done/regret not doing:

– I wish I had been on more group trips in the beginning: the Krabi trip during exam revision week is the only one so far with over 3 other people (this one was >12), and it was heaps of fun. I still made heaps of great friends this semester, but I wish I had met a lot of them sooner (i.e. on those early group trips). Next semester I’ll make an effort to go on group trips earlier – maybe I’ll organise one to Penang.
– I wish I had tried to improve myself ‘professionally’ a bit more: attended more startup events/consistently attended NUS Enterprise events/attended Startup Weekend Singapore (just happened last weekend…). This is, after all, the Silicon Valley of Asia. I’ll attend at least one event per month next year.
– I wish I had been more physically active: running a bit more, going to the gym occasionally. I can count the number of times I did this outside of ‘general activity’ (‘biking with friends’, etc) on one hand.
– Joined more local clubs/societies. I joined the German Club on an impulse at the beginning of the semester and never attended any events… I’d like to be in at least two clubs next semester, maybe a sport for one of them. Ultimate Frisbee, anyone? As part of this, I’d also like to meet more locals and have more local friends.

And stuff I want to do next semester (both distilled goals from above and other things):

– Travel to Vietnam and Myanmar, possibly the Philippines
– Travel to Malaysia again! Penang is just too good.
– Do ‘dedicated physical activity’ 2-3 times a week: sports training, gym, or running – whatever
– Join at least 2 clubs/societies
– Attend at least one startup/professional event per month
– Learn Russian via Duolingo: 5 sessions of 15 minutes per week
– Travel early with a group of the new exchangers – seek out the budget travellers! The best are those who make it a game to find the cheapest accommodation possible.
– Learn Chinese via an NUS class next semester
– Take some ‘alternative’ classes: something other than “Capitalism 101″/”How to make money”
– Read at least one hour per week. I have a bunch of good books in my room/on my e-reader, but I just need to stop watching Conan on YouTube.
– Write something at least once a week. This can be a plan, a weekly recap, a blog post to store away and post for my big trip when the time is right.

I think it’s good to occasionally sit down and make lists like these to both remind yourself what you’ve done and what you want to do. It’s easy to compare yourself to other people on exchange and get caught up in the mentality that you’re somehow inferior or falling behind. Most of my friends were busy this semester turning down Goldman Sachs internships in favour of Bain & Co or being an astronaut or something. But I can’t forget – all of my friends here are 2, 3, even 6 years older than me – hopefully by the time I’m their age I’ll be in a similar position. Or, better yet, maybe I shouldn’t compare myself to others in the first place!

 

Well, that got longer than I expected! Hopefully I can act on this list and have an even better semester next year. ..I’m already apprehensive about going back to Adelaide, though – I can’t imagine the transition back to normalcy.

‘Til next time!
– Alex

P.S. A word on my end-of-exchange trip:

In late April or early May 2016 I’m going to be travelling solo from Singapore to Denmark by land. Over 3 months this will take me 23,000km across 15+ countries. I’m doing this to eat at the world’s best restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen. More on this soon…
Site building in progress at www.allroadsleadtonoma.com
Due to launch early February 2016.

Singapore awaits

Seventeen days.

Seventeen days until I leave for Singapore – departure: 29th July.

I was recently accepted into the National University of Singapore on a year-long exchange, and I can’t wait to go. It’s an odd place I’m in right now, preparing to depart, getting affairs in order, saying goodbye. There are so many opportunities in Singapore, it seems like this is my shot, my chance to meet people from all over the world in the intellectual capital of South East Asia. For a whole year, I have the opportunity to do something awesome – I can’t wait to jump into the Singapore startup scene and see what happens.

Yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize I still have to do! It’s going to be a crazy few weeks.

For any of my family or friends reading this, I was lucky enough to get on-campus housing and so will stay in the imaginatively named “Residential College 4” for my first semester – second semester as of yet unknown. Past the pictures of the room and the cheesy promotional video, I really have no idea what to expect in terms of roommates (all 5 of them!), culture, or anything else. I’ll find out soon enough, I’m sure.

I’ve done my share of research about Singapore but I’ve heard all sorts of things from various people: a fellow dishwasher who is… shall we say ‘fond’ of sex, drugs, and rock and roll said it was too ‘regimented’, another told me it was just “Bloody hot, mate”. I expect that – like in Kuala Lumpur – I’ll be pleasantly surprised with my own judgments, but as an outsider, Singapore seems like the only real choice for exchange – even if you have to travel a few hours to ‘party hard’. It’s got excellent standards of living, diverse population, very smart people, and fantastic food. Or maybe I’m just overthinking it. I hope I can find some likeminded Singaporeans who want to start a business or get involved in something like that; I’ve been told by previous exchange students that the locals just keep their heads down and study (that said, their grades have a much higher weighting for them!).

I discussed this recently with a friend on whether or not she should stay in a room with locals or other exchange students: think of the people you’re going to be with. If you’re with other exchange students, that means you’ll be with people who want to be there, who have got out of their chair and put their hand up – there’s every chance you’ll make good friends with Markus from Germany, Tony from America, Piotr from Poland, or Sakura from Japan (excuse the stereotyped names). These are going to be people who want to explore the region, try the food, do ‘stupid things’ the locals might not have time for. What’s more, after exchange you’ll have friends all over the world, which is no small benefit. If you stay with locals, on the other hand, only one in ten might be adventurous or bond well with you. It’s a tricky decision, but I think by keeping in mind that you want to specifically meet locals, it will happen regardless of where you stay. The kind of person you become friends with is much more important than where they’re from.

It’s 3:23 am now and I should sleep before my midday dishwashing shift – the last one ever. I can’t wait to get it just over and done with. Hopefully it won’t be so long between posts again.

Seventeen days…

Anthony Bourdain ate here...

Malaysia, the cultural smoothie

“Cultural melting pot” is another one of those phrases that, while technically correct, gets repeated so much I feel like I don’t want to use it out of spite. I don’t think I could cope with working in tourism, too many buzzwords. ‘We have to synergize the green market to provide authentic experiences!’ …No thanks.

Malaysia is comprised of three major ethnic groups: Malays, Chinese and Indians. Each brings their own food, culture, and traditions. The groups all coexist remarkably well, considering the clashing beliefs. For example, the Indians are off beef, Muslims are off pork and require Halal preparation, while the Chinese will eat just about anything. I believe the philosophy is ‘if the spine faces the sky, we’ll eat it’. There is absolutely no shortage of delicious char siew bao (BBQ pork buns), wan tan mee, or bakkwa (Chinese-style beef jerky). The country’s government – Muslim – has raised more than a few eyebrows with some of its policies, and it’s certainly not without its problems. But the indigenous people (Malays) are in a far better situation than the indigenous Australians, for example.

Water you doing here?

‘Malaysian’ engineering? Or would you give credit to the water bottles? I mean, they’re the ones doing all the hard work…

 

There seems to be a unifying element in everybody being ‘Malaysian’, regardless of your skin colour or beliefs. Everybody I met seemed to be ‘ -Malaysian’, ‘something-Malaysian’: Chinese-Malaysian, Japanese-Malaysian, English-Malaysian. I think it’s impressive that there’s such a strong national identity given the demographics.

Enough! Time for food!

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