Making Friends and More Than Friends

This time around, I’ve chosen to give a more practical twist to my blogging. Naturally, this leads me to my first topic: how to avoid the giant Malaysian moth swarming. I don’t know if moths have eyelids, but if they do I’m sure that they are not even blinking as I make a highly coordinated attempt to shoo them off every evening. I have since opted for a less aggressive tactic, avoidance, which seems to be working just fine.

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Sarah-1 Giant Moths-0

During daylight hours, when I can freely leave my room without worrying about being attacked by a swarm of angry black butterflies, I am trying to finally become settled in Singapore. My free, thousand-dollar data plan has been most useful in keeping in touch with my friends and family while I’m abroad. In fact, thanks to my mom, who insists that the family balance will be thrown without my virtual presence at every major milestone, this weekend I was able to watch my baby sister go for her G driver’s license test!

Let Skype week begin.

Let Skype week begin.

In addition to a SIM card, shampoo, toothpaste and some rather exotic groceries, I also had the privilege of attaining a student pass from Singapore’s immigration checkpoint authorities. After undergoing the usual test of patience that is immigration work, I returned to my laptop for some R&R to find I received an email. This would be how I met my first Canadian friend in Singapore, Jed. His desperate attempt to leave his cockroach-infested residence and find friends by emailing the exchange coordinator at NUS proves to be a hilarious inside joke whenever people ask how we met. “We met at NUS”, followed by a smirk is our usual response.

Will and Jed and I.

Will and Jed and I.

I also met a lovely group of German travelers who are studying and/or working in Singapore. Being FIFA victors, they decided to invite us to a spectacle of their new found confidence at a German Dragon Boating event one weekend. $15SGD later, we were geared up, filled with 100 Plus energy drink and ready to paddle through Kallang River, which, as it turns out, is also a fantastic way to see downtown Singapore… Though, sightseeing was the last thing our instructor/drummer was preaching to us. She was tough, tight and gave a mean pep talk, which culminated with advice on how to incorporate our drive into work, hobbies, and…Finding a significant other. Moments earlier, I was moved to the engine of the canoe to provide some much needed leg room for the older and burlier Britt who now sat staring at me from his side of our shared canoe bench. Due to the sweat, tears and blood that were shed in our efforts to win the newbie race, I only managed to snatch a husband and a picture of the beach and the keg of Paulaner beer after we washed up ashore.

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We won a prize!

We won a prize!

My final group of friends is one that has organized some of the greatest experiences I’ve had so far in Singapore: the NUS Climbing Club. From meeting bouldering legend Rustam Gelmanov while volunteering for BoulderActive to completing my first lead ascent at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the climbing club has helped me make the most of my time in Singapore and nurture a passion I picked up during my Professional Experience Year (PEY) in Belgium.

Rustam Gelmanov at BoulderActive!

Rustam Gelmanov at BoulderActive!

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This weekend I visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with a few climbing buddies to check out Asia’s largest indoor climbing gym, Camp5. We came, we conquered Jalan Alor food street and worked it all off on the wall. For those of you who are interested in budget accommodation, Serenity hostel in Bukit Bintang was in the dead center of a famous nightlife district and well worth the $10.00SGD we spent per night. While it didn’t include parking, it did provide an interesting rooftop shower experience and a modest selection of first come first serve toast, jam, boiled eggs, and coffee for breakfast, which was more like breakfast and a show once we realized there were more guests than food to go around.

Jalan Alor.

Jalan Alor.

Twin Towers, KL

Twin Towers, KL

Camp5

Camp5

 

Chinatown, KL

Chinatown, KL

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Can’t thank this generous, fun-loving, inspiring, and down-right crazy bunch enough for letting me join in on their adventures!

Now that I’ve settled down and began networking it’s time to get moving around Southeast Asia. More from my trip to Phuket, Thailand when I return!

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.

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Semerang City

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Cinangneng Farming Village

 

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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.

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Home Producing Cassava Snack

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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.

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Traditional Cassava Snack

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Jamu (Traditional Herbal Drink)

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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 http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x23wlrw_cindy-travels-to-indonesia_travel. 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.

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One of the more than 500 Buddha Statues

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Borobudur

Cal Rec Sports and Bay Area Hiking

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Athletics are a large part of any university. At Cal they are known for their varsity sports, recreational facilities and Cal Adventures (water sports at the Berkeley Marina). Since this is the summer session there are no varsity sports currently being played. Football home games do not start until September when the fall semester begins. Many varsity athletes are on campus training and taking summer sessions. I have met girls on the field hockey team, basketball team and rowing crew. With my student membership I have access to all of the classes, swimming pools, courts and receive reduced rates for rentals and programs down at the Marina.

I thought I would try classes that I did not have the opportunity to take part in back in Toronto. On Tuesday and Thursdays during the lunch hour there is a women’s only aqua exercise class. The class is held outdoors in one of the three Hearts pools. The pool is marble and very private. I find the workout to be as challenging as you make it. The age range spans fifty years between myself and the other participants, many who work with the University. By noon the sun is out making the pool even more enjoyable. When a member of the class complains about the temperature, the instructors reminds them about what the class is like in the winter months. I have laughed to myself at these moments because back in Toronto it would simple be too cold and snowy to have the class outdoors. Last week one woman told me I was lucky to find the class and she was completely correct. I get to spend an hour with other friendly members of the Berkeley community exercising in a pool that is open just for the class.

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With a determination to take every opportunity for adventure, I decided to join the Sunday morning paddle offered through Cal Adventures down at the Berkeley Marina. I love kayaking and have years of experience. With a sunny Saturday I did not worry about the weather until I heard it raining in the middle of the night. Sunday morning was foggy and grey. I was hoping to be able to see San Francisco and paddle out to the Bay Bridge. However due to weather limitations the group was restricted to the marina bay. This was a three-hour paddle where the wind blew onshore the whole time and the salt water covered my lips.  The fog filled in the bay area creating a small Berkeley Marina bubble. I am happy I had the experience to paddle however I have missed the small Ontario lakes.

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Besides all the rec sports Berkeley, and the entire Bay area, is home to outstanding hiking venues.  Over two different weekends I was able to go hiking with friends in Marin County. To get to the trailheads we had to drive over the Golden Gate bridge which gives one of the best views of the Bay. The first hike was in Muir Woods home of the famous redwood trees. The hike was over four miles and we were able to take two trails, the Ben Johnson and Dipsea Trail. I loved the Ben Johnson trail as it was filled with tall redwood trees that had a beautiful smell.

photo 1Originally we wanted to hike from Muir Woods all the way up to Stinson Beach, however due to time restriction we drove up to Stinson beach after the hike. The water was too cold to go swimming but we were able to dip our toes in. The Tennessee Valley trail runs parallel to the ocean. With the fog settled in, it was hard to know if we were in California or Ireland. Since we were right along the ocean there was a strong breeze. On the way back to the city we took a quick stop up at Twin Peaks a look out over San Francisco. The view was exceptional and since it was a clear day the whole city was in view. I learned I really enjoyed hiking and pushing my self outside of my comfort zone.

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Hallo Deutschland!

Student exchange is a very good opportunity to travel to another country in the world and study. This summer, I am taking a 4-week psychology course at Goethe Universität in Frankfurt, Germany. This program is called Frankfurt Summer School, and it also offers Legal Studies and Natural and Life Sciences courses.

I arrived here on July 20th and I have been enjoying it a lot! The school campus is very big and beautiful, with lots of green areas great for hanging out at lunch. I have classes 4 days each week, with the weekends and Wednesdays off. Psychology class is in the morning, and then I have German classes in the afternoon. During the Wednesdays and weekends, we have excursions to visit other cities and go on tours to learn more about the German culture.

I’m very excited to tell you more about my experience here in the following posts!

Yoyo

Sam’s Guide to Coffee

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IMG_2043I love studying at cafes and drinking coffee together they become a wonderful productive day. The west coast is known for their coffee shops both the local and the chains. I felt that best way for me to connect to the community, take adventures and complete my readings at the same time was to try different coffee shops and cafes. This is a review of six coffees spots in Berkeley and San Francisco. I used my own grading scale on coffee, location, and atmosphere. To replace stars I will be giving the place coffee cups.

Blue Bottle Coffee – 4 coffee cups

Blue Bottle is a small chain in New York City and California, mainly in the Bay Area. This was the first latte I had when arriving in San Francisco. The strength of the coffee was a wonderful shock, this become my level of comparison. No other coffee has been able to compare in strength. Blue Bottle has a selective menu of coffee and few pastries. The snickerdoodle cookie is a nice afternoon pick me up as it is filling but not over sweet. I would really like to try their olive oil short bread, as I am curious about the traditional cookie with olive oil. Blue Bottle serves only one type of iced coffee, New Orleans style iced coffee. I usually only drink lattes as I love espresso and the milk. The New Orleans ice coffee has become my new favourite summer drink. The only down side to Blue Bottle is that their Berkeley location is at the Farmers Market and not a permanent space. Blue Bottle is a place to pick up coffee and not to study.

Peet’s Coffee & Tea – 2 cups

Peet’s Coffee & Tea is the California equivalent to Starbucks in atmosphere, convenience and pricing. Originally a small coffee shop in Berkeley and the first store opened on my birthday but in 1966. I felt the need to try Peet’s once. It is a chain and you are never too far from one. There is even a Peet’s inside the Bart station in downtown Berkeley. I prefer drinking coffee from a local roaster but when you are in a rush Peet’s is there. I tried their summer drink special, which was an iced coconut latte. I love coconut and had never seen it paired with espresso. For my preference the drink was a little too sweet.

Café Strada – 3 cups

Café Strada was the coffee place that every UC Berkeley student raved about. It is located right across from campus and has a wonderful outdoor patio (with heaters for chilly and foggy mornings). It is the perfect place to go between classes, meet groups or work outside (they have wifi). I had the iced latte, it was refreshing but had a little too much which watered down the espresso. The second time I went it was a typical foggy morning in Berkeley and I had a regular latte. I was surprised that it was also served in a glass cup, it did mean I had to drink it before it cooled, but I liked it a lot more than the ice latte. With group projects this semester I will definitely be suggesting this for short meetings as we can enjoy the outdoor space, fresh air and coffee.

Café Lindgren – 4 cups

Café Lindgren was my first study place in Berkeley. It was a recommendation and I am so happy that I tried it. With a wonderful latte, it is the best place to get reading done for class. There are outdoor and indoor tables with nice background music the majority of the people are all there for the same reason, studying. I could easily make this my one study spot in Berkeley however I want to keep exploring new types of cafes.

The Elmwood Café – 5 cups

The Elmwood Café is the first time I felt like I a local in Berkeley, a feeling I love. Close enough to walk from campus but also part of the residential community. There are friends catching up, families out for brunch and individuals reading. The line up was out the door and the aroma of hot drinks and food filled the line. The menu changes every day using seasonal ingredients and fresh bakes goods and breads. The Elmwood Café donates half of their proceeds each month to a local Berkeley charity; as a customer you get to vote on the cause of the month. The coffee is served in a bowl, adding character of the drink. On the weekends it is packed and the music is hardly heard with everyone talking, however during the week there is light jazz playing in the background. It’s the perfect hide away to read for class while enjoying a scone.

Trouble Coffee Co. (& Coconut Club) – 5 cups

Trouble Coffee Co. is located at the end of the N streetcar line at the Pacific Ocean in the neighbourhood of Outer Sunset, started by a former Berkeley student, Giulietta Carrelli, who’s story about her struggles with mental illness and the creation of Trouble were documented on the radio show This American Life. A cousin of mine heard the story on NPR and told me I had to go and try the toast. Trouble is an eclectic and small coffee shop, there is very little indoor seating, but the outdoor seating is created out of trees and driftwood and titles with people’s names on them. Famous for starting the toast craze of San Francisco serving thick slices of bread with butter, sugar and cinnamon. The coffee was amazing but the toast was sensational, original yet classic. Toast is a comfort food that is nostalgic. The toast trend has not left San Francisco yet, but like the cupcake will be in every city sooner or later. A bonus besides the coffee is you can go to the Pacific Ocean, walk the beach, dip your toes in the water and see the immensity the oceans holds.

 

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

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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”.

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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”.

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Drunken Bullfrog

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Mao Sang Wang

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Deep Fried Crocodile

 

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Xiaolongbao

 

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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The Golden Gate Bridge

golden gate ladiesphoto2photo 3photophoto4The Golden Gate Bridge is the most famous landmark in Bay Area. It connects San Francisco to Sausalito for bikes, walkers and cars. The second famous element to San Francisco is the fog. One of my goals was to fully see the Golden Gate Bridge. I had no control of the fog or the weather so this would just have to be left to luck. It is possible to see the Golden Gate Bridge from UC Berkeley campus, but it is better up close in person.

After my first week of classes I planned to go into the city for dinner on Friday night. I was going with a group of friends from McGill (two of them work in San Francisco for the summer and one is also studying at Berkeley). We went to Fort Mason, which has a perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge, it was a sunny day in Berkeley but we did not know what the weather in San Francisco was. It was possible it could be few degrees colder, windy and fogged in. However it was sunny and this is when we saw the Golden Gate Bridge backlit by the setting sun. It was breathtaking and a highlight of my week.

We went to Fort Mason to take part in the weekly food truck event called Off the Grid. With over thirty food trucks and food from every continent, we had a wonderful meal. Sampling French street food, dumplings, fish tacos and donuts. There was live music and crowds of people enjoying themselves and the food. We loved being apart of the community sharing in the food and setting.

On Saturday I was meeting cousins back in San Francisco to bike over the Golden Gate Bridge. The saying, “it’s just like riding a bike” was literally how it felt to get on a bike again. It had been years since I rode a bike outdoors, but it is a life skill I have. We rented bikes and started on the adventure over the bridge. Saturday was the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and the walk and our ride were following the same route. It was inspirational to see all of the walkers. San Francisco is known for their hills; thankfully we went down more hills than up. I had to keep reminding myself to ride, as the views were sensational. We could see the whole city and the bay area, and the bonus was there was no fog!

From San Francisco across the bridged to Sausalito is around 20 km. In Sausalito we went for lunch at Bar Bocce, named after the bocce ball court on the beach facing the harbor. Sharing pizzas and a game of bocce, we let our legs rest before returning to the bikes and returning back over the Golden Gate Bridge. During the ride back into San Francisco the water and the bridge were glowing gold, a reflection of its name.

Sorry for the lack of photographs, I was more concentrated on the bike riding then the picture taking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to UC Berkeley

On the pier at the Berkeley Marina with the Golden Gate Bridge

On the pier at the Berkeley Marina with the Golden Gate Bridge

My new friend Rex

My new friend Rex

View from the steps at the Sather Tower

View from the steps at the Sather Tower

Welcome to UC Berkeley where I will be on exchange for the next six weeks exploring everything that the University and the Bay area have to offer; including the 27 libraries, 5 swimming pools, local cafes, farmers markets, sporting events, live music, museums and local Cal hangouts. As an American Studies student it was my dream to come on exchange to the United States and be able to experience first hand what I study. My exchange started on July 4th, American Independence day in San Francisco. I explored the city by foot and historical streetcar. It was very fitting that one of the streetcars was the Toronto colours and logo. After leaving San Francisco and crossing over to Berkeley, I was in heaven. The campus is twice the size of Disneyland and makes the University of Toronto feel small and easy to navigate. I have spent two days walking and getting lost, but to me that is part of the fun of exploring. During these explorations I found the two dinosaurs that live in The Valley Life Sciences Building, however they are just the fossils. In the end I joined a college campus tour and learned where different buildings were located and more of the history and services that Cal offers.
Berkeley was a pivotal place during the 1960s for student activism. Now this history is coming to light for me. Everything I have studied in the classroom at U of T is alive. Out of my bedroom window I have a view of People Park, an outdoor public space saved by the people of Berkeley in the 1960s when the university wanted to transform it into a parking lot. Today it has community garden and a space for people to enjoy the grass and sports courts. The best living legacy of the 1960s Berkeley is that the buildings only have one door handle, due to the lock in of the Chancellor by Free Speech Movement. The school is not the same as it was in the 1960s but its legacy continues.
From the steps of the Sather Tower, known to most as the Campanile, a 307-foot tall bell and clock tower on a clear day you can see the Golden Gate Bridge. This is one of my favourite places to sit on campus. You have an amazing view of the bridge in the distance and are in the heart of campus. As a Berkeley student I can go up the tower. I will do this on a clear day, as I want to able to see the full Bay Area.

Bustling Adventure: 3 Days in Vietnam

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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.

 

 

 

 

Millionaires, Moths and Chicken Rice: An Intro to Singapore

Off the tip of the Malay Peninsula, barricaded from the Southeast Asian haze by skyscrapers and architectural marvels lies a thriving city-state and island country. I’m here squeezing the remains of a used teabag in what seems like one of the five or six homes not owned by millionaires…

I’m Sarah, an engineering undergrad at U of T with an incredible and overwhelming 13 months of travel experience to 21 countries and over 60 cities in Europe, Africa and Asia. This summer, I am working on a corrosion-based research project – go figure, Singapore’s busy port is also renowned for its ship repair services – in my field of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

I have boldly begun my exchange by dragon boating, traveling to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with the NUS rock climbing team, and much more. The following are my first impressions of Singapore.

Cargo ships lining the Port of Singapore just before landing at Changi airport.

Cargo ships lining the Port of Singapore just before landing at Changi airport.

The first and most obvious spur of culture shock is the climate difference, causing me to throw in the sweat-ridden towel and submit to the dewy island air and temperatures that are never short of 20°C. Since my immobile and sticky beginnings, I have progressed to sleeping comfortably with only a ceiling fan and appreciating the detoxifying process that is an evening run. Nevertheless, when the will to beat the heat is hanging by the cumbersome thread of my lab-appropriate clothes, air-conditioning is hardly scarce. Dehydrated and weary, I still managed to make some new friends, some of which have migrated here all the way from Malaysia in a rare swarming.

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Otters, a white-faced saki monkey, a cheetah and a Malaysian giant moth. In the spirit of abusing the privilege of writing a public blog and for the sake of having someone know the reason behind my future trauma-induced illnesses, look up the Malaysian/Singaporean giant moth swarming for yourselves.

Otters, a white-faced saki monkey, a cheetah selfie and a rare Malaysian giant moths. In the spirit of abusing the privilege of writing a public blog and for the sake of having someone know the reason behind my future trauma-induced illnesses, look up the Malaysian/Singaporean giant moth swarming for yourselves.

Like other city-states I have visited, including Monaco, Vatican City and, debatably, Dubai, Singapore has an ultra-modern appeal attributed to its post-independence booming economy. Not even hiked up registration, taxes and insurance can prevent the Maseratis from flying in the face of minimalistic religious roots. Gardens by the Bay, near the man-made stretch of land carrying famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel, houses a grove of “super trees” that capture solar energy to put on an evening light show! Even campus is riddled with luxuries; rooftop infinity pools, free shuttles, terrace restaurants etc. In what I can only assume is an attempt to preserve these landscapes, there are strict laws prohibiting littering, chewing gum, eating on public transit, and even not flushing the toilet. I was greeted by my first vacant stare from a local Singaporean when I asked for a napkin with my meal. I have yet to see a napkin in this country.

Super Tree Grove

Super Tree Grove

Speaking of meals… My supervisor and new-found friends (not the animal kind) have been very helpful in feeding me and stoking my will to try Singaporean, Indonesian, Malaysian, Chinese and Indian cuisine like kway teow, laksa, kaya coconut jam, chicken-rice, and stingray! Despite finding the first actual use for my tongue scraper after eating my first mouth-full of chili peppers, I am now head over bowels in love with sambal chili. I have also had my fill of exotic tropical fruits and fruit juices, like the notoriously potent durian, whose smell renders it banned from many public places.

Laksa (top left); rice cakes (middle left);  sesame peanut ball (bottom left); sambal sting ray wrapped in banana leaves (top right); sautee (bottom right).

Laksa (top left); rice cakes (middle left); sesame peanut ball (bottom left); sambal sting ray wrapped in banana leaves (top right); sautee (bottom right).

Once, after I extinguished my tongue with some grass jelly, washed my hands, and tossed my chewing gum, I ventured out for a night on one of Singapore’s lavish rooftop nightclubs. With $30SGD entry and only $50SGD per alcoholic beverage, you’d be a fool to stay home!

View of Marina Bay from one of the rooftop joints.

View of Marina Bay from one of the rooftop joints.

Stay tuned to find out how I almost met my future spouse on a dragon boat, climbed my arms off at Asia’s largest rock climbing gym and planned a trip to the location where ‘The Beach’ was filmed!