23. Most of the population here lives in public housing. There are so many people here and such little space so they live in flats that are very tall. They are EVERYWHERE.
24. Singaporeans don’t walk a lot. Anything more than a 5 minute walk they say, “too far”. We’ve been told to take a bus when the walk only took 10 minutes.
Being here in Singapore has been very similar to being a freshman again. I’m constantly getting to know new people, getting acclimated to new places, exploring, living in a dorm again, and sometimes I experience being homesick. I usually cure being homesick with shopping at one of the 200+ malls in Singapore :) I haven’t got into any sort of routine yet and I’ve been exploring different parts of the city every night.
On Friday night, my friends and I went to a well-known hawker center, Lau Pa Sat. A hawker center is basically just a food court and they have them all over the place. The one we went to was huge and had live music. It had a really nice atmosphere. It’s all very cheap and most of it is really good. They all have cleanliness letter grades that they have to display (A, B, and C). A’s and B’s are safe, but you have to watch out for the C’s, especially since they usually try to hide the fact that they have a bad grade. We sat outside by the ‘Satay Club’, which is a street they shut down at night then street vendors set up and satay everything kind of meat. The food here is amazing.
I got a coconut and a plate of satay that I split with two other girls for my meal! I also got this interesting dessert called ice kachang. It’s very popular in Singapore. It used to consist of shaved ice and red beans, but it’s evolved to have a variety of flavors. It is a mound of shaved ice with some kind of syrup, condensed milk, and whatever toppings you want (fruit, beans, jelly… really anything). I got a fruit one to be safe.
The entrance to the hawker center.
TONS of satay.
My meal. That white, round thing is a block of rice. Weird, I know.
My drink. I love coconuts.
Inside the hawker center.
It was so smoky from all the grilling!
Someone else’s ice kachang
Me and my ice kachang.
Also at the hawker center were these hilarious signs promoting good english!
After dinner at the hawker center we decided to go check out Arab Street. One of the American boys I was with tried to ask for directions from some locals. He talks pretty loud. I don’t think they could understand him when he was asking so he said (more like very loudly said), “ARAB STREET. A-R-A-B.” Typical American. All of us watching thought it was hilarious. It might of been a “you had to be there” moment, but it was so funny.
A bunch of little cafe’s near Arab Street.
The next day, my friends (Emma and Kira) and I went to Holland Village. I thought it was called Holland Village because it had some kind of Dutch influence, but after being there I don’t think that’s the case. On the way there, we ran into more dragon dancing for the celebration of Chinese New Year. Everything here is decorated red and gold for it.
Some Chinese New Year decorations.
More dragon dancing at the MRT station.
In the mall they had at Holland Village, most of the shops had handmade clothing. Everything was pretty expensive, but it was really cool! They had a shop there that had handmade rugs, table mats, wall hangings, pillow cases, quilts, etc. I plan on getting some cool stuff and decorating my room with them! They are so beautiful.
We ate lunch in Holland Village and I got something called prata. It is Indian cuisine and similar to a pancake. They have both sweet and savory. I got a cheese one, but they also have ones with meat or sweet stuff. It’s generally eaten with curry sauce.
I now have my first week of school under my belt and I’ve observed some new things:
14. In Singapore, they call cab drivers, street vendors, and complete strangers ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunty’. Why? I’m not really sure of the origins of this custom, but it is seen as a sign of respect. I haven’t called anyone ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunty’. I think it’s kind of awkward.
15. Everyone here is very polite and generous. Singaporeans are always willing to help out. When I’ve asked for directions to places, many times the person has just walked me there.
16. This is just trivial, but they use a 24 hour clock most of the time so I switched my cell phone time so that I could get used to it.
17. At the university, they don’t have a scheduled passing time, the professor (they actually call them ‘tutors’) usually just ends about 10 minutes early. I just thought that was kind of weird.
18. THE LECTURES ARE SOOOO LONG! In Madison, we’re used to 50 minute lectures or the occasional power lecture of 1 hr 15 min, but here some lectures are 4 hours!!! My longest is 3 hours. I don’t know how I’m going to do it considering I have a hard time paying attention for 50 min.
19. I’m pretty sure they have the cleanest bathrooms in the world. It’s mind-blowing that they can be so clean all the time. Except in the MRT stations, which I’ve heard can get pretty bad.
20. They just have the strangest laws ever. Some of the laws have a lot to do with common sense, but the Singapore government has their own special way to make sure you don’t break these laws. Examples:
-It is against the law and you will be publicly caned if you don’t flush the toilet after using it.
-If you litter you will be fined $1000 and have to do community service. If you litter 3 times then you have to wear a sign that says, “I am a litter lout”
-Selling gum is illegal, BUT it is not illegal to chew gum. Singapore banned the sale of gum after authorities noticed the amount of chewed gum being stuck in subway stations and on cars.
-You can’t walk around your house naked.
-No hugging without permission or you could end up in jail.
21. No one wakes up early. What I’ve noticed is that people stay up very late and wake up late as well. All their malls, shops, and businesses stay open until 10pm and they are all very busy right until closing.
22. The light switches are opposite. Up is off and down is on.
Every Wednesday night is Singapore is ‘Ladies Night’. It’s so great. Girls get into all clubs free (usually $25 cover charge) and drinks are free all night! It’s not just one specific club, but it’s city-wide. I experienced my first ladies night last Wednesday and it was a lot of fun. Wednesday is one of the most popular nights to go out.
On Thursday, I attended a Lunar New Year Reunion Dinner for Chinese New Year because the Chinese population is so large in Singapore. It was neat to see the celebrations. They had dragon dancing, really different sounding music, and food. The dragon dancing was really cool. I took a video that I’ll post later. I also got my name written in Chinese calligraphy! The boy that went before me had the name Mohammed and when it was written in calligraphy it was so pretty, long, and intricate. They were telling him what all the symbols meant and they were things like good personality and unique. Then I got mine done and I was so excited to know what mine meant and they said “yours means open door”. I didn’t think it was as cool. In Chinese they read from right to left, which I thought was interesting. They also gave out a lot of prizes like TVs, ipods, ipads, and a lot of other goodies. I never win anything though, but it was still really fun!
Tonight will be my 1 week mark of being in Singapore! I got a little homesick in the beginning, but now I’m loving it and meeting a lot of great people.
Since I didn’t have class yesterday, I went to get my haircut because my hair is so frizzy and dry here with this heat! It was a very interesting experience and I don’t plan on getting another haircut until I get home.
I walked around the mall to try and find a reasonable looking place. The first thing I found very weird was that most of the stylists were guys, which I’m not used to. I’ve never had my hair cut by a guy before. Once I found a nice looking place I went in and find that my stylist doesn’t speak english! The receptionist translated, but I was still uneasy. Then, he started cutting my hair dry! They wash your hair after they cut it, but they do give the best massages to your scalp ever! Another weird thing was that a different guy washed my hair than the guy who cut it. Then they both blow dried my hair at the same time. It was so weird! My hair doesn’t look horrible, I just don’t particularly like how it behaves in this humid weather.
Today was also my first day of class!!! I was able to register for all the classes that I wanted. I’m taking first semester Chinese, cell biology, materials science, and biomedical optics. I only had one lecture for an hour today because we don’t have discussions this week. They actually call their discussion ‘tuts’ short for tutorials. The class was in a super nice, huge lecture hall. It was basically me with a bunch of asians, most of them guys. So there was really no difference from my classes back in Madison. The whole lecture, there were people continuously talking. I found it really strange and rude. It was like half the class wasn’t paying attention and they didn’t show any respect for the professor. I felt bad. It was also very distracting.
Some things I’ve noticed while here in Singapore…
1. Things that are supposed to be hot (soup, coffee, hot tea) are SUPER HOT! I burn my mouth almost every time. Things that are supposed to be cold (bottled water, cold drinks, smoothies) are room temperature. It’s very annoying.
2. Asians are really skinny and little. No overweight people. I feel like that’s pretty common for most of the world except for America. However, the portions are pretty big here and most of the dishes are some kind of starch (rice, noodles, bread) with some kind of meat and sauce. Which brings me to my next point…
3. It’s not very easy to find or eat a lot of vegetables. I don’t think there is a salad bar anywhere in Singapore.
4. They have many different nationalities here and they all speak different languages, so some of the locals can’t understand each other if they don’t speak English.
5. The temperature seems pretty constant. It’s basically always 85-90 degrees and humid. I love it (except for my hair). Make-up always seems to just come off because it’s so humid. It also rains almost everyday, but only for a short time like 10 minutes. When it rains it’s still super hot and sometimes sunny.
6. The laundry in my dorm is free!!! You do have to pay for the dryer though, but it’s not too bad.
7. They don’t have napkins ANYWHERE. Everyone carries them, or you have to buy them. I actually went to subway today for lunch and they gave me two napkins. I was very surprised.
8. Everyone I’ve met is bilingual (unless they are American).
9. There are millions of malls and they are always busy, even weekday nights. They stay open until 10pm. They have one mall that is 24 hours.
10. I have yet to hear the world ‘line’. Everyone uses the word queue, sometimes they just spell it ‘q’.
11. The Singaporeans are very hard workers. It is not uncommon for full-time jobs to be 12 hour days! Also, most of the students take 24 credits (the credits are equivalent with Madison). I’m only taking 12 this semester and when I told a local they were shocked! I thought I studied all the time in Madison, but they literally study ALL the time. None of them go out during the semester (or it is very very rare).
12. It seems like all the AC units have one setting, on or off. All air conditioned places are very cold! I went to a movie last night and it was freezing. It’s the same way on the buses, in classrooms, in the cafeterias, etc.
13. Food is so cheap! I can eat a meal for an average of 2 singapore dollars.
Things still haven’t slowed down in Singapore and I’ve still been doing things non stop. On Friday, we had our exchange student orientation. There were about 360 people there from all over the world. The US had the most students with Canada and Sweden close behind, but it feels like everyone I’ve met is from Canada. The orientation itself was pretty boring, but afterwards there was a lunch and I met a ton of people. Later that night there was an exchange student party for all the universities in Singapore at Club Soul. It was a really cool club! It was hard to see though because the fog from the fog machines was so think. They played techno and electronica the whole time, which is a little different than in America, but I love it. There was tons of dancing and mingling, but I like dancing with my friends from Wisconsin way better.
The next day I went to Orchard Rd again with a bunch of friends I met. Orchard Rd just amazes me. It’s mall after mall after mall after mall. There’s literally at least 20 malls right next to each other there. I didn’t buy anything. I was just hanging out with people and getting to know them better. The group I’ve been hanging out with is from everywhere, it’s pretty cool! We have people from Germany, Netherlands, US, Canada, Australia, and Taiwan. Pretty much everyone I’ve met is bilingual and I’m so jealous! I’ve decided to take the first semester of Chinese while I’m here. I’ve also decided that I’m learning French when I get home. Classes actually start today, but if everything works out like I hope then I won’t have class on Monday and only one class on Friday! There system is so weird, confusing, and annoying. I don’t actually register for classes until tonight even though they start today.
Some of the girls. From L to R: Cass (Australia), Emma (Netherlands), Anny (Taiwan), me, Kira (Canada)
On Sunday we went to the beach! The beach was on an island called Sentosa, which is like a mini Orlando. They have a universal studios and other rides. The beach was pretty pathetic. The whole thing is man made, but the sand was very soft! There were things in the water that felt like they were stinging us. It was freaky, but I was just happy to be at the beach because I plan on coming back very tan :)
We’ve planned our first trip for the first weekend in February (over Chinese New Year) to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia! We’re leaving for Chinese New Year because the majority of the population in Singapore is Chinese and everything shuts down. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving, but for a longer period of time. We don’t have school on the 3rd and 4th of February because of it. I ate for my first time in one of the school cafeterias. It was awesome. The food here is REALLY good. They have food courts everywhere. It’s also really cheap which is the best part. Sometimes it’s difficult ordering because I don’t know what I’m getting myself in to. There are so many things I’ve never seen, heard of, or tried before! It’s also hard to order because I don’t know how to say most of the dishes :/ I have a feeling that one of these days I’m going to have to stop at McDonalds and just get a hamburger and fries. The McDonalds here delivers! And it’s expensive.