Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cultural differences

There is no traditional "Singaporean" culture - instead it is a fushion of Chinese, Malaysian and Indian cultures. Last night I got a taste of what everyday life is like for local Singaporeans. All the students in Hall 3 are local Singaporeans except Leah and me. We got invited to a Hall 3 "Midnight Fiesta" when we crashed a cheerleading practice last week, and decided it would be a good idea to get to know the kids who live in our building. However, after our epic night out on Wednesday, we decided to ditch the "Fiesta" and stay in and recuperate. But we just can't seem to pass up an opportunity for a good time, so we decided to go last minute and check out the scene.

We recognized one girl, Charlotte, whom we met earlier that day at an NTU field hockey game. She came up to us and told us we could hang out with her. The buses took us to Chinatown and we walked through the markets and ended up at an eatery called Frog Porridge. Leah and I were pretty skeptical and skipped out on ordering food and got Tiger beers instead. We sat down at this massive table with a group of about 20 kids. The conversation was awesome. They were asking us about popular sports and music in the US and we were asking them about popular sports and music here. Comparing the two cultures was so interesting. Even though the differences between Americans and Chinese are endless, we were able to connect and laugh about things that exceed cultural barriers.

Trying Chinese jelly candy from the Chinatown market

Fish head porridge... I think I'll pass.

Our next stop was Geylang. We were told not to talk or look at strangers because Geylang is the area where the Chinese prostitutes hang out. They took us to a restaurant called 126, which Charlotte informed us what a local dimsum favorite. They had no silverware. The menu was 8 pages and all hand-written in Chinese. Leah and I were clueless. Luckily, Charlotte and her boyfriend Jerald helped us out and told us the best menu items. The food was cheap and we ordered a cup of Honey Tea, pork dimsum and white rice. Charlotte taught me how to order in Chinese so naturally I caused a huge scene when the waitress came over. It took me about five minutes to order and I pronounced everything wrong but I was proud of myself for trying.

Jerald and Charlotte, our saviors
Eating dimsum with chopsticks! Sooo Chinese.
The food arrived quickly and it was absolutely delicious! I have been pretty daring when it comes to trying traditional Chinese food and last night I was eating things I never thought I'd eat. It was an awesome experience and we plan on hanging out with our local friends again.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Settling into NTU life

It's taken a week, but it has finally hit me that I am going to be LIVING here for the next five months. The initial days have felt like a vacation, but now that classes have started, I realized that NTU will become my new home. I even caught myself referring to Hall 3 as "home" today. What a weird concept. But nonetheless, I am loving it!

Hall 3 - Home Sweet Home :)
I finally got my cell phone situation sorted out. I had to part ways with the beloved Blackberry and settled for a $50 "mini mobile." It can make and receive calls and texts. It has an alarm. That is literally it.
My new cell is the size of a credit card and looks like a calculator... uhhh?
This weekend was quite an adventure for the girls of room 10 in Hall 3. We went clubbing for the first time on Friday with our new friends and had such a great time. We found a really great group of friends and I am meeting new people every day. I've met friends from Canada, Sweden, China, Germany and the US so far. I love the international environment and having friends from all over the world reminds me of my days attending ACS in England.

Wednesday nights in Singapore are "Ladies Nights" at all the clubs (free admission and free drinks) so that will be our clubbing night. We quickly learned how expensive a night out on the town will be, so Wednesday nights are our designated club nights. Leah and I made a Singapore Bucket List of free and inexpensive things to do, so our schedules are full.

Meredith, JJ, Chrissy, me, Leah and Rachel on our first night out
This weekend we took a tram to Sentosa Island which is a man-made island right off the coast of Singapore. We ended up getting there later than we hoped because we waited for the wrong bus for an hour. We finally made it and the weather was overcast but still beautiful and hot. We plan on going back this Saturday with friends for the day. On Sunday, Leah and I took the MRT to Clarke Quay and wandered around. There was a street market happening along the river and although we did no shopping, we saw great deals. Clarke Quay is a touristy district filled with trendy restaurants, shops and bars. It reminds me of Florida.

Sentosa Beach

Room mates conquering the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia
Leah and me in Clarke Quay
I had my first day of classes today. I purposefully left an hour early because I knew I'd get lost -- and of course I did. But I made it on time! I'm taking four classes at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information - Integrated Marketing Communications, Organizational Communications, Public Relations Writing and Creative Strategies. The class schedules here are really bizarre and totally different than at home. For each class, I have a lecture either once or twice a week and a tutorial once a week.

Today I had my marketing course and creative strategies course and both seem really great! I've never taken a strictly communications course load and I'm excited about diving head in to my major. I am the only American in both of my classes so far and between the blonde hair and American accent, I stick out like a sore thumb. But let me tell you, I don't hate it!

The Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information... my new home :)

There is a gym on the ground floor of my Hall so I've been working out (almost) every day. The campus is huge so between all the walking and working out, I've going to be in great shape. Leah and I are trying to embrace the Chinese culture so we are signing up for Beginner's Meditation classes in downtown Singapore on Monday nights. Should be interesting! I actually accidentally walked in on a cheerleading practice in the auditorium in my hall one night. I was so excited and they asked me if I would like to join them. I got changed and went back to the auditorium and they let me practice with them for about an hour. It was a lot of fun to see the differences between cheerleading in Asia and the US.

Singapore "Wildcard" Cheerleading team
Today Leah and I began discussing travel plans for the next five months. One of our new friends has been in the exchange program at NTU since August so she has been a great wealth of information for travel. Our plans are still in the preliminary stages, but we hope to make it to the Boracay Island in the Philippines, Bali in Indonesia, Siem Reap in Cambodia and Koh Phangan in Thailand for the "Full Moon Party" in February (my birthday!!) My parents are coming to visit Singapore in April so I am going to go with them to Hong Kong for three days as well. Lots of look forward too!! Luckily we have a few days off in February for the Chinese New Year, a week off in March for spring break and a few long weekends sprinkled in between. We are motivated college students on a tight budget but we WILL get it all done!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The NTU Dumplings

I've moved onto campus!

Cathy took me to get my cell phone fixed on Tuesday and we went into Chinatown. It is very different from Chinatown in New York -- it is like one massive market. There are red and gold decorations everywhere because Chinese New Year is happening February 2nd. We visited a Buddhism temple right in the middle of Chinatown which was unlike anything I've ever seen before. They even made me wear a scarf around my shoulders.

There are thousands of these buddhas all over the temple walls.
Cathy and me
On Wednesday morning, I moved onto campus. I am on the seventh floor of Hall 3A. My room mate's name is Leah and she is great! She's from Connecticut and goes to Clemson. We get along really well. After I moved in, Leah and I explored the campus. We walked all over and tried to get a feel of the campus. It is SO huge! There is a hair salon, 7-11 and multiple restaurants on campus. (Our favorite - Sakae Sushi, a convertible-belt-sushi-bar where you sit on bean bags.) We found a small grocery store on campus where we bought some room supplies. . Cafeterias are called Canteens here and there is a Canteen right next to our dorm. The food is really cheap too. Lunch yesterday (noodles and dumplings) only cost me $2.50. Although, I'm already getting sick of noodles and chicken/dumplings and its only been a few days. They don't have knives in any of the eateries which has been a real pain.

My bed

Hall 3! The metal rods hanging from each window are used to dry wet clothes. Hopefully my clothes don't fall down...

Our room! We have a porch right across from the door. It is customary to leave your shoes outside the room in the two cabinets next to the door.

Yesterday we got breakfast at this eatery called The Palette which serves Western food. I had french toast and yogurt which was actually pretty good. We headed over to the pool around 10 am and planted ourselves on two lounge chairs. It was heaven. We met three exchange students at the pool - our first friends! We were so excited.

There are three pools in the area - a main pool, a diving pool and a kiddie pool. The main pool was being occupied by the NTU "Canoe-Waterpolo" team. Leah and I were cracking up watching all the Asians yelling in Chinese and paddling around a pool in canoes. We also realized that the NTU team don't have a mascot. So we decided to name them. Our choice? The NTU Dumplings!

The NTU Dumplings' Canoe-waterpolo team! My life is not real... 
We ended up staying at the pool for the afternoon (where I achieved a nasty sunburn) and ventured to the mall in the evening. I had to go get my cell phone fixed (again) because I haven't been able to make/receive calls or access the internet. I went to customer service and after working with them for nearly two hours, they told me they couldn't fix it. Leah and I were tired, hungry and cranky by that point so we grabbed some Pizza Hut for dinner and called it a night. Unfortunately, this means I won't have a Blackberry anymore, so no more bbm-ing :(

Today we had international student orientation. We met a bunch of new friends from the US, Canada, Germany and all over. We were so excited to finally meet people and we all made plans to go party downtown tonight. I have my first class on Tuesday so I'm definitely enjoying myself before reality sets in.

I miss everyone a lot but minus the sun burn and cell phone issues, everything has been great!

Monday, January 17, 2011

A near-Russian disaster and my Singapore arrival

Thirty hours, five episodes of How I Met Your Mother, 2 movies and 1 layover-turned-disaster later, I have FINALLY arrived in Singapore!

Moscow, Russia 
I was lucky enough to have a window seat near an emergency exit so I had extra leg room. I had a two hour layover in Moscow, Russia where I nearly missed my plane. I was tired, it was snowing outside and I had realized I left my carry-on luggage in the plane. I got lost in the Moscow airport because everything was in Russian. When I finally found where I was supposed to be, security wouldn't let me through because I didn't have a "Transit Pass." So after arguing with a man who spoke no English, I was escorted through the airport to some line. I had to go through security again and then I finally got this Transit Pass business. I boarded the plane and found my carry-on luggage, thank God. I fell asleep about thirty seconds after falling into my seat and woke up just before we landed in Singapore.

The Singapore airport is absolutely beautiful. It is carpeted, lined with palm trees (yes, on the inside) and there are flower pots and little fish ponds throughout the gates. I was SO happy to have arrived. Immigration was quick, I found my luggage immediately and got into a cab. The cab driver spoke English and we chatted. He laughed at everything I said (none of which was funny..) and I was laughing at him for laughing at me. It was entertaining.
Immigration at Changi Airport, Singapore

I've spent the past two days at a family friend's house - the Jones. We met the Jones when we lived in England back in the early 2000s. Cathy Jones has been my saving grace. She has taken me all around the country (it only takes 45 minutes to get from one end of the island to the other) and I do not know what I would have done without her. On my first day, Cathy took me to the Singapore Botanical Gardens. It was beautiful. Yesterday, Cathy took me dorm shopping, to buy a cell phone plan, open a bank account and to visit NTU, my new school. We went to a mall called Plaza Singapora which was just huge. The food court was beautiful - it is nothing like an American mall. I saw my first Hello Kitty store where I will be purchasing many souvenirs for a very special 7 year old girl :)

For Sabrina - the Hello Kitty store!

My room at Cathy's house... and yes, that is Gerard sitting on my bed :)

Cathy's beautiful home

Singapore Botanic Gardens
Such a tourist.

Christopherburger's twin!

NTU couldn't be more different than Elon. The campus is absolutely massive. The buildings are huge and modern. My dorm is seven floors high and of course, I am on the seventh floor.  But - I have my own terrace. Yes, you read that correctly. My dorm room is small, clean and new. The architecture of the dorm is indescribable. I get to meet my roommate on Wednesday when I move in.

It took me approximately 35 seconds to adjust to Singapore. The country is just gorgeous. Everything is so lush, green and clean. The people are helpful and friendly.   The weather is hot and humid but I am loving it so far. The food is AMAZING. I even got to eat my dinner with pink glittery chop sticks :)

I've only been here for two days and it has felt like a week. But I'm looking forward to spending the next five months here! I wish my family and friends could be here to experience it all with me. Please send me an email or message me on facebook to keep in touch. I also have a blackberry which I am still setting up, so message me your pins so we can bbm :) I am thinking of everyone all the time!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pre-departure rant

Three days left! This time on Friday morning, I'll be sitting economy on a flight to Houston. From there I'll continue to Moscow, with Singapore as my final destination. Singapore is an extremely safe, stable and developed nation. English is widely spoken (or so I'm told...) so the language barrier shouldn't be too much of an issue. I'm going as an exchange student studying communications at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communications at Nanyang Technological University. I'm living on campus in a regular, hall-style-bathroom dorm. I'll have an international roommate. I know absolutely no one at NTU. It'll be a far cry from my perfect life in the Elon bubble. But I couldn't be more excited.

I've worked full-time as a waitress for the past two summers and am using that money to travel all over Southeast Asia. I created this blog to keep my family & friends up to date with my experience and travels. It feels like just yesterday I was filling out my study abroad application and I can't believe it is finally here.  My next blog post will be written 9,500 miles from home. Talk to you then!