Singapore and ‘study’

Singapore’s an interesting place, often understandably misunderstood by the rest of the world. Few things piss off a Singaporean than referring to his home as “that place where you can’t chew gum, right?”. I’ve been asked by multiple people back in Australia how I’m going to survive without learning Chinese – one person even asked me where in China it was. In reality, Singapore is the most westernized city in Asia (closely followed by Hong Kong). There are malls, brand outlets, many, many laws, security cameras, competent police, and a Germanically efficient public transport system. The streets are clean, people speak English, and there’s even Uber here. In fact, if you come here expecting ‘exotic Asia’, you’re probably going to be disappointed. That said, Singapore has a good balance of cleanliness while retaining excellent food and a broad mix of cultures.

Like Malaysia, ‘Singaporeans’ are generally Chinese, Malay, or Indian, except here it’s over 70% Chinese, as opposed to Malaysia’s 30%. Of the 5.5 million inhabitants, only 3 million are citizens or permanent residents – the remainder are a fluctuating number of expats, foreign workers, and tourists. This means that as an outsider it’s incredibly easy to integrate into society. You’ll still find plenty of reassuringly Asian things about this place: hawker centres, Chinese/Indian/Malay celebrations, not understanding any conversations on the train.

Personally, I admit I was slightly disappointed with Singapore when I first got here. The authoritarian government, surveillance everywhere, censored media – even the gardens and walkways felt over-engineered. There are subtle garden beds and fences around roads to make jaywalking next to impossible. After staying here a few weeks, though, I find I’m getting used to life here – in fact, I welcome the order at immigration when coming back from somewhere like Indonesia.

The university is high quality – facilities are advanced and plentiful and the quality of teaching here is excellent. One of my professors walked into the room the other day wearing a “Harvard Adjunct Lecturer” jacket, when he took it off halfway through class there were some chuckles as he was wearing an MIT Sloan MBA shirt underneath. I find that NUS is much more similar to an American style ‘college’ university: it’s a huge campus with its own internal shuttle bus system, and there’s lots of on-campus accommodation. There are also several libraries, a couple of pools, full-size track and field, et cetera. I’m enjoying ‘dorm life’ – I’m staying in a 6 bed ‘apartment’, we share 2 toilets and 2 showers. There’s a good variety of roommates, too: two guys from Hong Kong, one English guy, a Portugese guy, and a Belgian guy.

It’s hard to believe everything is going this fast; already halfway through the first semester. I feel sorry for everyone who’s going home in 2.5 months – and am so glad I chose a full year! It also means I get a full two months between semesters, so I can travel for a good chunk of that and maybe even do an internship. I can’t recommend a full year enough.

Next post will be sooner than one month, promise

Roadside Satay in Taiping

I don’t know about any of you guys, but my definition of ‘satay’ pre-Malaysia was completely different to what it turned out to be. I had always thought satay was this intensely… peanutty sauce used in ‘Asian’ food and to drench kebabs before barbecuing.

As it turns out, satay is actually the dish itself: skewered meat cooked over a barbecue or grill and served with a sauce. Regardless, we found ourselves in Taiping at about 11pm one night. Thanks to a wrong turn, we lost 2 hours looking for our destination. We gave up and, having not had dinner, turned to the nearest place serving vaguely edible-looking food. It turned out to be a very tasty wrong turn.

The Temple of Satay Enlightenment

As it was 11pm, this food court was filling up with people hungry for their midnight snack. By far the most popular stand among the locals was the satay BBQ. Seeing this, we did the exact opposite and ordered char kway teow. Hey, we were hungry!

Noodley

Milo/Teh Ais and Char Kway Teow

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Still nothin', Bill.

Malaysia in retrospect

This is getting ridiculous.

Not only have I utterly failed to keep this blog maintained, but I haven’t even shared my photos with anyone I know. I figure I should upload the best here, knowing that at least they’re available – even if nobody’s looking at them!

Malaysia was – in that cliché of Asian travel – a whirlwind of new experiences. I suppose these stereotypes exist for a reason. It’s hard to put into words, to aggregate an entire culture into a few sentences, and I’m not going to try. But I might as well recall and record my favourite experiences (and there were many!).

Having lived in Australia my whole life, to be honest I’m a bit sick of gum trees. I think my favourite destinations are the vastly different ones – the type where you feel like you’re truly in another culture. One of the things that struck me during the first week or so was the abundance of palm trees – hardly surprising, considering palm oil is a major export, but still.

Nah, not too soon

Thankfully the pilot didn’t get us lost (too soon?)

Upon arrival, one of the first meals I had was at Dragon-I, a Chinese chain restaurant. Don’t worry, this isn’t like Wok in a Box. Like many other things in Malaysia, chains seems to be really good. Maybe it’s got something to do with the brutal demands of the Malaysian public; the only chains that survive are the ones that satisfy a Malaysian appetite.

Cheap, right?

About $20 AUD total

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Responsibilities shrugged off…

…and then sheepishly picked back up.

I remember reading a saying which went something like “a task expands to fill the time allotted”. Never does that seem more true than when I set myself a blog post to write… It just seems there’s an avalanche of small tasks that pile  up and force themselves into my ‘schedule’ (if you can call it that). But enough complaining. I leave for Malaysia in 32 hours!! I promise to write plenty and take many photographs.

I’ve been up to some other stuff while not writing blog posts, too. I traveled north of Adelaide to a tiny town named Port Germein for a couple of nights, expect a post about that soon. I also may or may not write about my past experiences in Egypt, Australia, Germany – et cetera.

Don’t forget to step back and just think every now and again.
See you soon!