Singaporians are like Torontonians?

I’ve heard several times before embarking on exchange that Singapore is like another Toronto, just an Asian version. After spending six weeks here I must say that the similarities are mostly superficial. Yes, there is heavy emphasis on multiculturalism in both places, the populations are quite diverse and both are economic centres. Yet, this level of analysis does not capture the embedded differences by each place created through the type of developmental policies pursued. The engineering of Singapore as we know it today  has   come about through collective adaptation of a series of goals for industrialization and order. This is still reflected today in the zero tolerance of petty crimes unlike; eating in the subway for one is carries a maximum charge of $500 in fines. This is enforced. I witnessed an unlucky women getting $80 for drinking in the station! Before I get sidetracked I want to share some thought on the curricula in NUS and then close of by giving you a snapshot of everyday experiences. My wonderful friend and NUS classmate, Michelle, helped me piece  together some generalization, that might be helpful if not just plain entertaining to read if you are considering Singapore as an exchange destination.

Just for Fun (Michelle, me, Birinder)

Just for Fun (Michelle, me, Birinder)

At 1-Altitude Singapore's Highest Rooftop Bar

At 1-Altitude Singapore’s Highest Rooftop Bar



Garden's By the Bay

Garden’s By the Bay

Curricula Matters

Before embarking on the exchange I considered the location, cost and courses offered by different institutions, but there was one critical thing that I missed to account for – teaching styles. Do not assume that that every institution is the same! The philosophy of teaching at U of T is emphasized on feedback and constructive critique by instructors/TAs. However at NUS Professors/TAs are not required by policy to give you feedback on your assignments and papers. I did receive my final marks three weeks after the exam, and received As, but had absolutely no idea of my standing in the course as NO assignment was marked by the instructors let alone handed back until after the exam! Maybe for some science course based on memorization this teaching approach is adequate, but to spend a whole year in reasoning based courses and not receive feedback.. how is one supposed to know what to work on? Well, looking back knowing what I know now I would still have gone to Singapore for the summer. It’s been wonderfully enriching and eye-opening in many ways. Would I spend a whole year – no. For students going abroad this is a topic that I think is overlooked and yet is so crucial for the academic experience abroad.

  Michelle Cindy

Yes, common for middle class families to have maids*. (In Asia the maid does general housekeeping and babysit, by bringing the child to activities)



Common to have tutoring classes until six or seven in the evening starting in elementary school

Maybe in senior high school if the grades are not optimal


About $5.50

About $3.50


It’s by distance. One end of the city to the other about $2. Five stops a bit more than $1

$3 for TTC and more for Viva/Go

  One bed room apartments are about $3000-$4000 One bedrooms can be found for $1300-$1600 in the city centre
…And enlistment Two years for males None

It’s been a pleasure to write this blog as it provided a gateway to connect with others and reflect on my experiences. Thanks to everyone who have been reading along, and if you are a student looking to go on an exchange, I am excited for all there is in store for you.

To new beginnings!

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Ten-Day Food Trip to Indonesia: Central to West Java Road trip

The trip being ten days in length, of course was not purely a foodie’s exploring of local cuisines; it was also an academic field study. It might sound like work will overshadow the fun part of the trip, but I found it a refreshing way to travel. During other voyages I almost never do much research or preparation before I actually arrive. Often I’ll have a blast doing touristy sight seeing like visiting Fragonard Perfumery Museum in Paris, or listening to Harry Potter soundtracks strolling around in London (Amelie in Paris, The Godfather in New York, you get the picture). Everyone does this, surely? If they don’t, then they should – it’s like walking about in your very own movie set! Well in Indonesia I had none of this, but I had an equally if not more fulfilling time.


Semerang City


Cinangneng Farming Village



Cutting of Bamboo for Sale

Farmers Selling Craft to Supplement Income

Farmers Selling Craft to Supplement Income








Now this blog will take a more academic tone compared to the others I have written. The first few visits in central Java were to farming agencies and a farming village called Cinangneng. The village life produces a stark contrast to the city life in Jakarta, or even Bogor, a suburban city. The economic disparity, social, and intergenerational mobility is limited for many of those in small-scale farming. This is rather problematic as small-scale farming is the largest source of agricultural products in Indonesia. Cinangneng and other villages share the same issue of farmers only being able to sustain themselves on the most basic level, they can eat the harvests and sell of the little excess produce to middlemen that come to the village. Of course, the lack of physical infrastructure to ships the goods and the technology to know the value of their produce; the price they get is far below the market value. A grim picture of farming, that nonetheless is still the current practice.


Home Producing Cassava Snack


Pocari Sweat


Another category of food commodities produced is the value added goods of food and drinks like Yakult, Pocari Sweat, and Indomie. These factories is what I initially thought would be the source of income for the average Indonesian, industrial type jobs. However it is only a small segment of the population that works in this sector compared to small farm holders. The stage of industrialization is not geographically specific, but reflects a slowly changing landscape. These mass-produced food products are identical no matter which island the factory is on. The local cuisines however defers greatly in Indonesia. In central Java food is much more spicy and in West Java much sweeter. In most of Indonesia the population is Muslim beside in Bali and therefore people do not consume alcohol, but in Bali where many are Hindus there is a lot of fruit based alcohol produced and consumed such as pineapple and banana liquor.


Traditional Cassava Snack


Jamu (Traditional Herbal Drink)


Sweets for Breaking the Fast

On a lighter note the trip also allowed for bathing of buffalo, milk cows and plant rice. For me and the other students from Singapore it was window to a different way of life. A group of friends taking a course with a filming project has captured my travel to Indonesia in their project and can be viewed through this link if you want to see more visuals Since we went to central Java we could not pass up a visit to Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple – thus the pictures of Buddhas.  The next post will likely be the final post in the series of sharing my summer exchange with you as it is nearing an end.  So long.


One of the more than 500 Buddha Statues



Week One, Red Light District and Sentosa Island: Student life in FASSTrack


The first week of class was packed with surprisingly early mornings of commuting. Since the summer program is only five weeks in length I opted for off-campus housing to have more time to explore the city. Rather unexpectedly, I spent most of the first week on campus working on a group presentation for the following class.  I confess, sitting in a library is not the most exciting way to start of a new city. (Such is student life though; all is arranged around due dates. Don’t judge!) When I called home and was asked what Singapore is like, I could only say “very hot with a campus that has lot’s of slopes and some good food”.


There are advantages for studying a lot first week – now one of my two courses only has an exam left to worry about. There is another less obvious implication of studying for long periods, hunger. When working hard, one surely deserves good food, right? Singapore is known for having a diverse and rich cuisine, with excellent food at all price points. Befriending some locals helped direct me to the non-tourist hotspots. Surprisingly, a lot of good cheap food is found – you guessed it – in the Red Light District! The words “Red Light District” put-off many, but it is quite an interesting place juxtaposed with a mosaic of Buddhist temples, mosques and churches. It’s quite a safe space. That said, I chose not to wander there after nightfall, but always came with a group or at the least another friend. Some of my favorites include a small 24 hour dim sum place that serves just few items, all of which are excellent, a more than 60 year old Durian store, a corner roti store, and a “No-Signboard Seafood Restaurant”.




Drunken Bullfrog


Mao Sang Wang


Deep Fried Crocodile





The day the group presentation and paper was handed in, I ventured off to Sentosa Island a popular Island Resort for some lazy time at the beach. The island also hosts the popular Universal Studios, but to relax a sunbeds with beach bars beats theme parks every time!  One can watch the freight ships enter the port, and take a stroll in the warm sub-tropical beach water to close off a busy week. Next post will be a tittle-tattle on my field trip to Indonesia to study food commodities. The travelling dates falls during Ramadan and the heated presidential election so I’m bound for some cultural exchanges.

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Bustling Adventure: 3 Days in Vietnam


Chào Vietnam! My name is Cindy and I’ll be an exchange student in Singapore this summer. I decided to make use of the strategic location in South East Asia and embark on a small three-day trip before the semester starts. More about the first week of class in the next blog post. The first day in Ho Chi Minh reminded me of small cities in China, very busy and unregulated. A little scary to walk around with few streetlights and left and right turns everywhere, but soon enough I got used to jaywalking like locals.

After walking around the first day by foot I was able to cover most of District One; the financial and commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh. The many main attractions like Saigon Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office are heavily influenced by French colonial rule. The grand architecture though clashes with the scooters and the street vendors on the street that remind you that you are in Ho Chi Minh.

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Ho Chi Minh really is not a very walk-able city; anything beyond District one is impossible to reach on foot. In a city with about seven millions people there are four million scooters – almost the number of residents in Singapore! HCM really isn’t a place for a luxurious and pampering type of vacation, which is better left to either a resort in Phuket, or a big city with developed infrastructure. The trip however does offer a culturally rich experience. The second day, I hired a local tour guide and went around on a Vespa to other Districts in the city to see experience Ho Chi Minh like a local. I confess, the first few minutes were nerve wrecking, and there were times during the trip I thought it might have been a mistake to put myself amidst the crazy driving, but it is the fastest way to travel – even enjoyable once you’re accustomed. (Though, if you are really faint of heart, it might get to you. Still, if there is a time to take some risks it’s when traveling).

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The third day, I left the city and went to the Mekong Delta region, the “Rice Basket” of Vietnam. The soil in the region along the river is the most fertile and almost all locals here are involved in agriculture. I was hoping to visit the Cai Be floating market in the early morning to catch the small vendors, but by eight they had already cleared out, and only lone boats or wholesale boats were left on the water. Since the drive is about three hours from HCM, to catch the busiest time of the market, it would be better to find a place to stay in Cai Be the night before…  Even then, when visiting the market – I imagine – the landscape would have been almost the same centuries ago. Less the motors in the new boats of course, but the water, the houses, the buying and the selling of goods by the same families.

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N.B. I checked the price of tours online before landing in Ho Chi Minh, and must say, in this case do not plan everything before hand! At least do not buy tours, trips or vouchers before you get there. Tours that were $52 I found for $18, and $65 for $20. There is so much competition locally that you are guaranteed to find the tour you want for the lower price with vacancies for the next day.