Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Signs that I've spent too much time in Singapore..

1. You instinctually start staying to the left when walking
2. Drinking coffee out of a plastic bag and eating rice off a sheet of paper seem normal
3. Your English grammar has gotten worse - you don't conjugate verbs, and end sentences with 'ah'
4. You know you've had a a high-class meal when it comes with napkins.

Things are getting crazy here as we prepare for finals.. in my sleep-deprived state, I start thinking about crazy things like the thoughts above....

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Looks like I'm going to France..

We just had our bidding for campus selection.. I originally wanted to return to the US to do the Wharton exchange, but people were really crazy with the bidding, and completely outbid me! For reference, we're given 200 bidding points for class selection.. you had to keep 10 points for certain classes. 35 seats were available, and the marginal winning bid was 185! Completely crazy.. My bid.. a measley 97 points. Yes, that's right, 97, not 95 or 100, 97. Anybody know why I bid exactly 97 points?

So, life changes unexpectedly sometimes.. I didn't consider going to France, but now that I can't go to Wharton (wanted to do more healthcare classes), it seems that the only healthcare classes offered during May-June are in France.

Ironically, I thought S'pore would be cheaper, but given the high cost of rents here (and low cost of living), I think France might be slightly cheaper (low cost of rents, higher costs of living). Hopefully, it'll turn out to be a wash!

Well, let me know if anybody will be in France (or in a 2hr travelling distance) in May-June. I'll return to S'pore from September - December...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Strangest Cravings..

This past week, I've been thinking about things I miss, and sometimes it's the strangest things. I really miss driving. Driving, of all things... I've been walking, taking taxis, buses, subways, but haven't driven for almost 2 months now. Just that feeling of being in control, knowing that I can drive 2 hrs away if I wanted to.

Singapore is a small place, in probably 1 hr, you're already in malaysia. And if you want to stay in the country, it's kinda hard, because it's an island.

The other craving I've had - is a burger! I joined up with the INSEAD foodie club this Friday, since they were going to Botak Jones.. it's "Authentic American taste" stall in a hawker centre! Opened by an American guy who was looking for American-styled foods, they've become franchised and have 3 market segments: the burger one (original Botak Jones), American-style pasta (Spaghetti Jones) and beers (Brewski Jones). Absolutely brilliant - I was joking that if I don't find a job after INSEAD, maybe I could start a chain of Mexican hawker stalls here.... in Singapore, any non-Asian food is grouped into a generic "Western" heading... it's kinda weird, because you'll walk into a hawker centre, and there'll be an Indian, Chinese, Malay, and "Western", which might be pasta, steak, burger, fish&chips, etc.

Anyhow, Botak Jones was totally delicious - I had to demonstrate some American gluttony, so check out what I classmates thought I was crazy... (note that's a double-decker cheeseburger with bacon...) Now, where's that Red Robin Royale when I need one...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Happy Chinese New Years! (新年快乐!)

The Chinese New Year holiday has just finished, we had a nice 2 day break from classes, followed by the weekend. It was really nice to be in a Chinese country during CNY, since all I've ever known is the small celebrations that we had as a family back in Ohio. It's really festive here, with banners and lanterns strung all about, and the other races in Singapore (Indians, Malays) also seem to enjoy the holiday.

During the break, we had traditional Lion Dancers come through our complex, including through the hallways of our condo. I was completely shocked! It was fun though, there's this stream of kids following the dancers as they walked throughout the complex, and then during the dance, the kids like to tease or hit the lion in different places.

CNY is also another time when the Istana / Presidential Palace is open to the public, and I went with a group of students to go visit. It's amazingly large, probably one of the most valuable properties in Singapore, because it's near the center of the city, and near the Orchard Rd shopping district. I've actually never noticed it there - the fencing and security is quite thick, and from the road, you would never realize that there was a huge park / governor's mansion set from the road.

Originally built by the British during colonial times, it's funny because - it has a golf course built into the palace greens! How quaint... it seemed so typically British. Maybe they first built the golf course, and thought, "hm, maybe this would make for a nice Governor's house".

Because CNY is such a huge holiday, EVERYTHING shuts down on New Year's day and the day after.. most families go back for their reunion dinners, much like Christmas in the west. My roommates and I decided to stock up on food the night before, and it seemed like everybody in Singapore had the same idea. THe grocery store was almost robbed blind of items like vegetables and meats. So, on Thursday night (CNY day), I finally cooked for the first time since coming to Singapore, mainly because we knew that all the food places would be closed. I seriously cooked up a serious storm. 6 dishes for 6 people. Felt nice to cook, but after everything, I think it's cheaper and more convenient to eat out. No cleaning necessary!

Well - now it's back to the grind for this week.. our schedule is heavier this week due to the 2 missed days for CNY, so "there is no free lunch"....

Two new galleries with CNY photos:

Friday, February 08, 2008

It's done...

Finally, my last step of leaving the US, I finally canceled my Cingular cell phone plan today. It's kinda sad, I've had this number for such a long time, and now it's gone. Of course, the people who would want to get in touch with me can find my new number other ways, but it's just not the same.

I wish there was a way to keep my number, but at $50 x 12 months, my number doesn't mean that much to me.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Worst Haircut Ever

This is in reference to a previous post, Best Haircut Ever, which was the last time I had my haircut done in a foreign country.

I needed a haircut a few weeks ago, and so I decided to go to the market centre of the residential blocks here in Singapore. Singapore is a very small place, and so the government subsidizes these housing estates, large multi-story buildings, where families can buy a flat, but with a 99 year lease from the government. These flats can be bought and sold for money, but they're somewhat subsidized. Back when Singapore was first founded, there was massive problems with homelessness, and the government's approach was to create these housing blocks, which are remarkably efficient. At the center of most housing blocks, there's a traditional wet market, where you can buy fresh groceries like meat, vegetables, fruits, etc, then there's a hawker centre, where you have vendors selling all sorts of cooked foods, and then various "support stores", like a 7-11, a family run shop selling everyday things like toilet paper, soap, etc, a video store, a very basic hardware/electronics store (nothing fancy, mainly just cables, power converters, etc), and hair salons / barber shops. It's remarkably efficient, instead of having to walk/drive/bus to a shopping centre, you walk downstairs and head to the market that's at the center of your housing estate.

So, that brings us to the topic of my haircut. There were 3 places that offered haircuts, and so I went into the one where there wasn't a line. First mistake - because the lady who was there, asked me if I wanted a haircut.... in Chinese. That's when I realized that I knew very few words about haircuts! That was interesting - because most Singaporeans speak some English, but then she was confused whether I was not Chinese, and then I'm trying to speak some Mandarin to make her comfortable, but then she starts using words I don't know. Second mistake - Chinese people believe it's unlucky to have a haircut after Chinese New Years, the theory being something like cutting off your hair after CNY is like cutting off your wealth. Due to this "holiday season" the prices were increased. (not that it was so bad, it went from S$8.90 to $9.90, so about US$7.50.

So, decided to give it a try anyways just to see what would happen. I could only use simple words like "shorter here, flat on this side, don't take too much off, etc". The first round - whoa, not so good. She gave me this Chinese pop star look, where everything is long on the sides - not so good because I like my hair cut a bit closer. Finally after a few rounds, we got to something that looked a bit better, but was probably going to be the closest I'll ever get to my original haircut.... then, finally mistake 3. All I had was a $50 bill, and there was no change in the cashier's box. Completely embarrassed, since there were people now waiting behind me and probably laughing at my broken Mandarin, I had to ask people in line if they could change my $50. Luckily, this old lady was very kind and helped me out. But this lady was a bit crazy - seems like they exist in every culture. She was simply talking to everybody about everything... at first I thought she knew everybody in the shop, but after hearing her tell some things, and people's reactions, I think she was just either crazy or extremely talkative.

In the end, it was definitely a great experience, and although my haircut wasn't the best, it was totally worth it. As they say, the difference between a bad haircut and a good haircut.... is about 2 weeks.

Friday, February 01, 2008

One month - DONE

Can't believe it's been one month since I've left the US... time has gone by so quickly, and it feels like I've learned half a semester's material in such time. We had our first two exams this week. It's definitely stressful trying to study, and keep up with the material in the other classes that don't have exams this week.

But, at least it's done, and now I can spend this weekend catching up with the material that I overlooked this past week. And on the plus side, we have 2 days off for Chinese New Year's here. Nearly half of the class is planning to travel overseas of CNY, but I'm staying, since CNY in a Chinese-majority country would be an interesting experience for me.. my only experience is the small family dinners we had when I was growing up.

My roommate had his birthday this week, and so we threw a little surprise party for him, complete with a little cake. Check out the size of this cake relative to our kitchen table!!