Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Singapore

"Why are you going to Singapore?"

This was the typical response when I told people I was studying abroad in Southeast Asia. Once these people googled Singapore, they read about its tropical weather, upscale shopping and strict government. While these qualities are certainly a core component of Singaporean culture, they haven't been the defining elements of my Singapore experience.

My Singapore isn't the expensive shops and restaurants on Orchard Road or the beaches lining Sentosa Island. My Singapore is the daily $2.30 lemon chicken rice and $1.40 iced green tea from Canteen 16. My Singapore is the sweat that trickled down my back after walking a mere five minutes in the extreme heat and humidity. It's the lizards that crawl all over my dorm room walls and the bouncers at Attica who give me too many free drinks. It's staying up till 2 in the morning every Tuesday on the computer watching Glee and skyping with family and friends. It's the weekly four-hour-long group meetings followed by two-hour-long dinner meetings. It's the constant stares from Asian men on MRT rides, the local food from hawker stands and the numerous Sunday afternoons spent at the campus pool with fellow exchange students.

I expected to have amazing experiences while studying abroad. The snorkeling in Thailand, sandsurfing in Vietnam, shopping in Hong Kong and temple exploring in Bali were all part of my plan. Regardless of the fact that I've lived abroad and travelled quite a bit before, I knew this experience be life-changing. But I didn't expect to discover my passions. I'd always been so jealous of musical theatre majors because they seem so madly in love with their careers. Being here has made me realize that traveling has been my passion all along.

I've never lived in the same place for more than five years and I like it that way. There are (arguably) 195 countries in the world and I've got approximately another 70 years to see them. Whoever said ignorance is bliss obviously didn't read any Lonely Planet travel guides. Living abroad again has reignited my love for meeting new people and exploring new places. Especially those with nice weather.

Being here has made me realize how precious life is and that it is meant to be enjoyed. I have been so simply HAPPY these past five months. I have a few wonderful friends, beautiful weather and delicious food. I'm eternally grateful for my parents who encourage and support me in everything I do. I couldn't be more blessed.

Initially, the idea of going back home made me depressed. But I realized that I only have two precious years left of college and they are something I will never get back. Asia will always be here waiting for me. So Asia, you have two years to recover from Hurricane KaraKona before I come back in full force for good. Consider yourself warned.

My view every day at 6:30 PM

Daily dim sum meal
My fellow Hall 3-ers - Hall Olympic Champions!
Typical 20-minute thunderstorm. Oh, Singapore.
NTU, home of the Fighting Dumplings
Addicted to green tea. The first of many adjustment-back-to-USA problems.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Highlights from Southern Vietnam

Leah and I booked a flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam about a month ago for some pre-exam explorations around southern Vietnam. We had no idea what to expect and it turned out to be our most amazing travels yet. Writing down every single detail from the trip would take hours, so here are a list of my top ten favorite moments from southern Vietnam.

1. Floating down the Mekong Delta river
The Mekong river is one of the world's greatest treasures. It is the 7th largest in Asia and flows through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Yunnan China and Burma. The Mekong Delta is the region that flows through southern Vietnam. We took a one day tour to My Tho, a riverfront town about 2 hours outside of Saigon. We wore signature Vietnamese conical hats and floated down the river all afternoon, soaking in the local culture.

2. Crawling through the Cu Chi tunnels
The Cu Chi tunnels are the famous underground tunnel system used in the Vietnam War. I had learned a lot about them in school and was so excited to experience it firsthand. It was incredible to see the barbaric war tactics used by the Vietnamese. As an American, it was both heartbreaking and fascinating to get a hands-on glimpse of life during the war. 

3. Firing an AK-47 at the shooting range
There was a shooting range in the Cu Chi area. We had made friends with the coolest Canadian chick ever and decided to split a 10-bullet pack while testing out the AK-47s. I went first and tried my hardest to hit the target, but sure enough was about ten meters off. I didn't realize how powerful the gun was and after my first shot, my entire body was jolted backwards. IT WAS AWESOME.

4. Crossing the streets in Saigon
Sounds simple, right? Saigon traffic is one of a kind. Our tour guide said it best, "When a Vietnamese person turns 17, they go to driving school. Once they graduate, they never follow the rules again." This includes all traffic lights, too. People literally cross the street while thousands of cars are zipping around them. At first, we sketchily creeped on a local woman and crossed the street with her. By the end of our trip, we were brave enough to cross them on our own. It was scarier than shooting a gun and crawling through underground tunnels.

5. Sledding down sand dunes in Mui Ne
Mui ne is a lazy beach community five hours outside of Saigon. It is famous for fishing and the incredible natural landscapes. We explored the red sand dunes and even got to sled down them. It was actually quite heartbreaking because all of the local poor children hound tourists upon arrival. We were quite literally attacked by a group of about 8 kids, begging us for money. They taught us how to sled down the dunes and even took pictures of us.

6. Riding an ostrich
I can now confirm that it is not safe or sanity to ride an ostrich. It is downright terrifying. They look like dinosaurs and their necks can turn 360 so when you are sitting on it, it can still look you directly in the face. We accidentally stumbled onto an ostrich farm when exploring Mui Ne. For a whopping $1, we got to ride the ostriches. I may or may not have peed my pants.

7. Vietnamese diet: pho, spring rolls, beer
I used to think Kraft macaroni and cheese was God's gift to the world but boy, was I wrong. Enter "pho" - a beef and rice noodle soup garnished with scallions and onions.  I ate it at least once a day, accompanied by vegetable spring rolls and a large Saigon beer. I was so excited to finally try Vietnamese pho and it did not disappoint. I'd go back for the food alone. Bie Han Oi is the world's cheapest beer and it is produced in Northern Vietnam. One can of Bie costs 3000 dong (20,000 dong = 1USD.) Vietnam, the country where drinking beer is cheaper than drinking water. Sweet!

8. Renting a motorbike
We decided to skip the jeep tours in Mui Ne and visit the sites via motorbike. For a total of $3 each, we rented a motorbike for about four hours. We figured it would be easy in Mui Ne than the streets of Saigon. The guy we rented it from spoke no English and spent 30 minutes with us teaching us how it works. Nothing was cooler than cruising down the Vietnamese coast with the wind blowing in our faces. 

9. Souvenir purchases
THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES ROCK! I bought a massive hammock for $7 which I can't wait to hang in my room. Not sure how, but it's going to happen. I also bought Photoshop for $4 and it actually works! Also purchased pants, tank top, bathing suit and a Lonely Planet guide for about $20. Vietnam = shopping heaven.

My time in Southeast Asia is coming to an end and I am heartbroken about it. I've had the time of my life in Singapore and can't believe how fast time has passed. I've learned more about myself, my interests and goals than I ever thought possible. I'll be spending the next twelve days studying for finals. Leah and I have one final trip to Hong Kong to celebrate her birthday before my departure. I have a six day layover in Madrid and will reunite with my old neighbours from England and my college room mate from Elon. I can't wait to see them. Then it's back to the good ole U S of A, where I have an internship lined up with E! Entertainment. So while it physically pains me to leave, I am looking forward to diving back into my original love - the entertainment industry.

And hey, only two more years till I graduate. Then it's back to Asia :)