Thursday, July 9, 2009

I want a salad first thing when I get back!

Hey everyone!

To start things off, some basic business:

I’ve been sick with a cold these past few days, but I’m (luckily) feeling better before the 5-day trip to Kanchanaburi and Ratchaburi for outdoor trekking. So for those of you who were worried about my feeling ill, rest assured, I’m fine. And before you even ask, no I do not have swine flu.

In other news: Monday through Wednesday most of Thailand was on holiday, literally. The past three days have been quiet around the University. Full-time students and staff had a holiday break, which unfortunately made finding food a little difficult. The street vendors across the street were open in the evenings, but fewer were open in the mornings or afternoons. I always found something to eat, whether it was at the hotel restaurant or somewhere else in the general area, so no worries, I’ve been fed & I’m generally physically well, just a little tired from traveling and class and life in the outskirts of Bangkok.

During my stay I’ve done lots of things; I don’t know where to begin. My favorite thing by far was the elephant ride, but I’ve got mixed feelings about that experience. We rode elephants when we visited Ayutthaya (the ancient capital of Thailand), but the place where we rode them was definitely a tourist attraction. I’d like to think that the people who care and train the elephants at that place take care of them and watch out for their well being, but there were elephants painted to look like pandas and trained to do tricks and lots of things that elephants generally do not do in the wild. Of course, elephants would not take me for rides in the wild either— but I’m not sure what other option exists when lots of these elephants are dependent on humans for survival. I really enjoyed the elephant ride but I feel a little guilty at the same time. I imagine they’d be happier just left alone to be elephants and do elephant things, but they’re far too profitable for that to ever happen…

I’ve taken several trips to the Night Markets here in Thailand – including one at Lumpini (where there is a large stage with free performances) and one called J.J. Market. At the market, especially as a Westerner, it’s important to be on your game. They stall owners will inevitably try to give you a grossly inflated price, and it’s your job to bargain it down. At the beginning this process is novel and interesting and exciting and engaging – but after a few visits, I began to miss the price-tag-no-negotiating type of shopping I’m so accustomed to. Bargaining is exhausting (and sometimes the stall owners get angry)!

Cabs here are a lottery, but they’re the best way to get from place-to-place. Because Mahidol University is on the outskirts of Bangkok, not a whole lot of public transit is easily accessible – it’s generally better to split a cab with three or four other people. Of course, because most cab drivers speak limited English and we speak all of “hello,” “thank you,” and “chicken fried rice,” in Thai, establishing where we want to go is a challenge in and of itself. There road system is so convoluted, there’s no way to tell whether or not the cab driver has taken the shortest or longest route. Some will and some won’t, but it’s really a toss-up. And the traffic in Bangkok is like nothing I’ve ever seen— there are girls riding side-saddle on the backs of motorcycles, flying down highways like it’s nothing, and contraptions known at “Tuk-Tuks” which are some strange hybrid between a wagon and a motorcycle and a tricycle.
I hope this post doesn’t sound too critical—Thailand really is an amazing place to be, and particularly relevant to the class I’m taking on international migration right now. We met the other day with the Bangkok chapter of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees) and learned a fair amount about UNHCR’s involvement in legally protecting refugees in Thailand (particularly those from neighboring Burma, or Myanmar). Prior to our meeting with UNHCR we met with Sally Thompson, a leader for TBBC – the Thailand Burma Border Consortium— an organization of NGOs that deal with Burmese Refugees in Thailand.

I’ll be gone in Kanchanaburi/Ratchaburi for a few days, so no one worry if you don’t hear from me – I’ll try to post an update later after our trekking trip. It’s just been hard for me to wrap my head around this experience, so I’ve been hesitant to update my blog the way I really should. Know that I miss you all and can’t wait to see you when I get back home!

All my love,

p.s. I will post pictures when my internet is not so slow that they won't load. I promise!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Land of Smiles

Me at the Singapore Zoo! No, that is not a real seal...


Some interesting vintage furniture featured in an exhibit in the Singapore Museum -- the designer wanted furniture that was fun!

Hi all!

Since I last posted, I have thoroughly enjoyed my last week in Singapore, and am now settled in Thailand -- the land of Thais, the land of smiles!

During my last week in Singapore I was very busy traveling around & doing planned program activities & working on the final, small reserach paper I had to do for Dr. Emmanuel's class on Malaysian history. Dr. Emmanual was also kind enough to guide us on a historical tour through Singapore, so during my last week I took another trip to Arab street in addition to the Singapore Spice Gardens. It was so neat to see a real cinnamon tree!

Speaking of plants...

I went out with a few people and our friend Yong to do a walking tour of Hort (as in Horticulture) Park three or four days before we left Singapore. Singapore has a lot of parks, but it's a small enough island that it plans to actually LINK all of the parks together. The Hort Park part is linked to two other parks, and the entire thing links to Vivo City, the HUGE mall at the east end of Singapore. We all walked for about two and a half hours, which made breakfast at the end taste quite delicious (if not sweaty).

There's so much to update! I'm sorry if this post seems disjointed -- being in Thailand already makes Singapore seem so far away, although it's only about a two hour plane ride. I did much, much more during my last week in Singapore -- including a visit to the Singapore Zoo, a tour of the Urban Development Board, a ride on the Singapore Flyer, and a visit (or two) to the National Musem of Singapore and the ajoining Art Museum. There's no way I can possibly condense all of these experiences on one blog post or twenty, but I am so grateful to be here in SE Asia, learning about the cultures and histories of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Thailand. Thailand, THAILAND! Have I mentioned how excited I am to be here in Thailand? We landed in Bangkok on Wednesday afternoon, but we didn't stick around long -- a bus (laid out in ridiculous psychodelic-colored interior) came to pick us up and take us to Mahidol University International College, which is about an hour away from Bangkok by bus, give a little more or even more due to crazy Bangkok traffic.

Upon arriving we recieved the warmest welcome I could have imagined. Not only did Mahidol students help us get our bags from underneath the bus, they insisted upon bringing them to us on the sixth floor (luckily be elevator), so we wouldn't have to trouble ourselves. Afterward, we went downstairs to eat a lovely Thai buffet. They "lei'd" us when we got off the elevator as another sign of welcome, and after dinner we treated to performances by both Thai student dancers and Thai Boxers (who practice a martial arts discipline called Muy Thai).

Yesterday we got a campus tour & were treated to a Muy Thai lesson! My shin is sitll sore from kicking (ouch).

I need to go get ready for class now -- I hope everyone is safe & happy back at home! I can't wait to see you!



Monday, June 15, 2009

Back from Malaysia!

Hello everyone! I'm officially back in my room at PGP in Singapore safe and sound after a very exciting trip to neighboring Malaysia (and more specifically, Melacca). It's possible to reach Malaysia from Singapore by driving over a big bridge -- some people who live in Malaysia actually commute to Singapore each day for work. Before we reached Melacca, we visited Tanjung Piai Johor National Park -- basically, a preservation of Mangrove trees/environment on approximately 956 hectares of land. Coincidentally, this park also contains the "southern most tip of mainland Asia," a perfect photo-op moment for all!

After the trip to the Mangrove Park (where we saw wild monkeys and snails!) we finally arrived in Melacca. Friday night we had free to roam around the night market and surrounding restaurants/food vendors near our hotel. On Saturday we started off our walking tour of the city at the Port de Sandiego (I think this is what it was called?) -- the ruins of a once very prosperous military fort used by the Portuguese, and later, the Dutch.

Right up the hill from the fort is this old church. It was built originally by the Portuguese on a hill, but when the Dutch took over the area they decided to use the church as a sort of garrison -- they took off the roof and removed most (if not all) traces of Portuguese Catholicism. The building was really very beautiful. I'm not sure if the picture can do it justice -- nor can I possibly recount all the history associated with it. I know that it's dedicated to the man whose statue sits just outside the doorway in the above picture (his name is maybe Saint Peter, or something?) -- his statue is missing a hand, which is apparently linked to some legend about his body not decaying after death (and this being empirical proof of his saintly status).
Sorry for not being clear on my details. We visited many churches/mosques/temples while we were in the area, and I don't want to put down TOO many misleading facts.

... On Saturday night I did something VERY frightening! I apologize now for the gross description that is about to follow.
Apparently it is acceptable in this region to have your feet cleaned by little fish that eat dead skin. At the price of 22 ringet for 45 minutes (a little less than 10 US dollars), how could I resist partaking in such a unique cultural phenomenon?
In my defense, my friends Peter and Stephany wanted a third person to go with them, and I ran into them just as they were about to walk into the foot-fish-spa. In short: the experience was rather strange at first (because the fish TICKLED!) but I relaxed after about five minutes. There were also some bigger fish, but after the initial readjustment, the feeling was really pretty relaxing (and the whole experience a lot of fun).
I hope I haven't grossed anyone out TOO much. So on a lighter note...

After getting my feet all nice and clean, I woke up on Sunday morning to go bike riding through a rubber plantation! The bike ride was about 2-3 hours (maybe 10 or 11 kilometers?) and a bit intense considering it had rained earlier in the morning and the off-road portions of the trail were a bit muddy and sandy. Still, the group suffered only minor injuries, and we persevered!
I know I've been a bit slack about posting -- things have just been busy and exciting, and it's impossible for me to write about everything that's been going on. I'm sure I'll have lots of stories to tell once I come home!
Take care everyone. I promise I'm well!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Weekend Excursion

Hi everyone--

This week has been full of work for the most part, but my group gave its presentation in class on Thursday so for the rest of the trip (both remaining here and in Thailand), I don't have to worry about anything other than the assigned readings/journals/papers for classes!

This weekend we're going to take an excursion to Malaysia, so I'll have a lot more to talk about once I get back to Singapore Sunday evening. Malaysia and Singapore are really close (check it out on a google map), so although it's about a three hour bus ride, it IS still accessible by automobile. There's a big causeway that people cross, and it apparently gets crowded on holidays and weekends (so hopefully we won't be in traffick for too long).

Other than that -- stuff's going on but nothing so unusual that I need to share it just this second. I went East Coast park yesterday with some people and rode around on a bike (very fun). There should be a bike ride in Malaysia too -- one that's roughly 10 km. We'll see if I survive!

Hope everyone is staying in good health & spirits. Miss you all!



p.s. Did you know they have curry sauce in their McDonalds here? They have chili sauce for their fries, too.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Good, The Bad, The Durian

Me holding an unopened "sweet" durian -- apparently this one is from Thailand. It was really pointy!

Hello everyone! It's been a while since I've updated so I've got a lot to talk about -- they keep us busy over here in the Garden City. On Wednesday a few girls and I went to China Town to look around for some good shopping deals. The Great Singapore Sale is going on, which means that a lot of merchandise is anywhere from 20-70% off -- still, that's not very useful if you do not fit into the "free size" dresses designed to be worn by much, much smaller people. Although I was unsuccessful at finding anything I actually wanted to buy, it was an interesting experience nonetheless.

Wednesday night everyone went to a club called Zouk. Wednesday is officially Ladies Night in Singapore, so we all get into the clubs for free. The guys have to pay a $25 cover charge, but since there are 20 of us girls on the trip and only 5 guys, we just made them pay $10 and split the rest among us. We then proceeded to dance until 2:00 or so in the morning to fantastic 80's and 90's music. The strangest thing about the club was probably the groups of people who danced the entire night with synchronized hand motions. Sometimes the regular dancers (like us) would just follow them, although I'm pretty sure we just looked silly.

On Thursday I finally went to Little India! A group of us had lunch there and some were adventurous enough to try the "fish head soup" and even fish eyeballs (yuck). I stuck with a small vegetarian meal. I like it when my food does not still have a) eyes and b) teeth still in tact.
While we were in Little India, my group also conducted some research for the presentation we're giving on Thursday. I'll be working on that a lot today, in addition to the paper I need to write for Dr. Quek's class, and studying for the open book test that I have tomorrow... I think I'll really be grateful for the weekend after this week!

On Friday I had an interview with an NUS professor about the topic my presentation is on and then met with Nadiah and a friend of hers for lunch with some other students. We then proceeded to go to the Ministry of Home Affairs where a nice lady talked to us about "CEP" -- some organization that's designed to promote racial harmony in the event that there is ever a national (terrorist) crisis in Singapore.

For those that didn't know: Singapore has a population that is majority Chinese (or rather of Chinese descent -- many do not feel "Chinese" but "Singaporean"). The Chinese constitute about 75% of the population while Malays are about 14%, Indians 9% and "Others" a mere 2%. Singapore's pretty big on promoting tolerance and dispersing tension, and they do that through various iniatives (like the CEP, I guess?) and other techniques that seem completely foreign to me. For example: the government housing (HGB) has quotas on the number of individuals from various ethnic backgrounds that can reside there, in part because the government wishes to promote "greater understanding" of different cultures, but also as a preventative measure. The government doesn't want to see some parts of towns turn into slums with any particular ethnic group predominantly living there.

On Friday we also visited the Harmony Centre, a cultural centre devoted to teaching about the practice of Islam and opening up discussion between 10 religions represented in Singapore. They tour was very informative and a got to see a lot of really neat and beautiful things (and then eat some really, really delicious food that they provided for us!) Needless to say, I was already a bit tired before the group of us (almost all of us) went to Zirca (another club -- this one is mainly techno and R&B music) with our Singaporean friend Yong.

Monique, Hanna, George and me outside the Peranakan museum near the City Hall interchange!

Saturday was our homestay! Rather, it was our home visit -- George and his parents were kind enough to show us their home and then show us around town. Saturday consisted a lot of EATING. I am convinced that this is the favorite activity of Singaporeans. Between about six of us we put away a plate of fried chicken rice, a HUGE dish of beef kway teow, some oyster omelette, fried tofu and brocolli and mushrooms. We then proceeded across the street to a fruit stand.

Later George's parents left us and we continued to walk around, visiting a museum and later attending the annual "Rock the Sub" concert at the Sub-Station, a music venue. "Rock the Sub" consists of about 16 Singaporean up-and-coming artists who play alternative/indie music, so that was exciting!

There I tried durian again. This is an opened portion of durian. It was pretty tasty this time, since apparently durian comes in "bitter" and "sweet. It is known as the King of Fruits.

The Queen of Fruits is Mangostein! It's very sweet but almost impossible to get in the U.S.

Dragonfruit is pretty, I think.
On Sunday I didn't do too much... mostly read and read and read and read. Nadiah was also kind enough to host all of us (including Dr. Steiner, his wife and three children) at her house for dinner! We owe so much to her hospitality and organization!
Keep me updated on life at home! Miss you all.
- Allie

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Exploring the East Side

These birds are everywhere! I'm not quite sure what they are called, but the remind me a bit of grackles...

Hey everyone! I know it's been a few days since I've updated -- things have been a little busy with school work and exploration, but things are settling down a bit and I'm getting used to a schedule (and the buses on NUS campus). On Sunday I didn't do too much other than rest, read, and find the pool on campus. The water was a little warm for my liking, but it was an outdoor pool in Singapore, so I'm not really sure what else I could've expected. A few of us decided to go to Holland Village for dinner that night, so we got on a bus, and once we got off went in the direction where we thought Holland Village was... instead we found a nice hawker stand that had yummy food and ate there instead, although it's debatable that the little dried fish pictured below could be classified as "tasty." They were more-or-less just really salty and, surprise-surprise, fishy.

On Monday a lot of people went with groups to various places around Singapore. I guess we're finally getting the feel of the place, and being a bit more adventurous. Some people decided to go to Sentosa (this little-er island off of the island of Singapore that you can access by cable-car) to swim at the beach while others decided to explore Little India. I've not done either of those two things yet, but I definately plan to before I leave.

Instead, I ventured off on my own (yes, by myself) to find Geylang Serai Malay Village (pictured above) on the east side of the island. Mostly I just wanted to try to navigate myself in a foreign country. There wasn't too much in the village -- just a lot of nice people, fruit, and funny knickknacks. Of course, I got abysmally lost once I got off the MRT at the Eunos stop and promptly walked in the WRONG direction, at which point I stopped at a Buddhist temple (the last picture on this page) and asked for directions. A very kind Monk took the time to tell me that I was on the right road, just walking the wrong way.

While I was in Geylang, I ate this wonderful thing called "paper prata." Basically prata is this dough that gets thrown around a bit like pizza dough, only it's much thinner. I eat it a lot for breakfast in the food court at PGP, but there it's thicker and generally filled with something like cheese or banana or pineapple, etc. In Geyland the prata was very thin and they folded it in the shape of a cone. The brown stuff you see is Hershey's chocolate syrup (as delicious in Singapore as it is in the United States!) The prata almost had the texture of a potato chip. I'm not sure if I've done a good enough job explaining this food, but if you think really thin pancakes (but more crispy than crepes), you get the gist.

Today I spent most of the day in class and the library, reading. But this evening the group of SEAS students went out to see a Chinese acrobatics show entitled "Les Sept Planches de la Ruse," or "The Seven Boards of Tricks." According to the playbill, the show was created in December 2007 in Dalian, China by a french director named Aurelien Bory. The title of the play refers to a "game from Chinese antiquity: qi quio ban, which quite literally means "seven boards of skills" (or tricks)." It goes on to explain that "qui quio ban is a solitary game comprised of seven geometrical elements: five triangles of three different sizes, a square, and a parallelogram that, when placed altogether in certain positions, form a big square." The performance used a REALLY BIG version of this game that the acrobats interacted with and controlled. In short: it was pretty awesome.

I'll keep everyone updated on any new adventures!

Lots of love,

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Back from the City...

So I don't quite know how to explain this. Apparently Singaporeans have these machines in 7-11's where you can get mashed potatoes out of a machine (which you can then top with BBQ sauce). Beats me, but I thought it was pretty funny.

Me and the Merlion

So I made it to downtown and back, although not necessarily alone...

When I walked downstairs most of the group was there, so we made it to the bus stop (I knew where that was, so I would've been okay without them, of course) and got on the 200 bus and took that to the MRT.
Yesterday Nadiah met the group at this nice Thai restaurant after class before we went to the Asian Culture Museum, where we toured a few exhibits on South Asian (India), East Asian (the middle east), West Asian and Chinese culture. The tour was just a little over an hour long, but I plan to go back the museum because there was so much to see! The most memorable artifact was the sheild decorated with human hair from a head-hunting tribe...

There were other interesting things there too, of course. For example, there were the two costumes of two "assitant" God-type things. I think the red one was in charge of listening for lost sailors and the green one was in charge of watching out for rough seas. Either way, they're pretty fun to look at.

After the museum tour we took a boat ride on the Singapore River. We saw the merlion and an ampitheatre shaped like a durian (a local fruit that smells pretty awful, in case I haven't explained). After that the group split up and I went to Orchid Road, a pretty big shopping area with lots of very expensive stores (that I didn't go into).
Today I caught up on some sleep and ate lunch with the group at a vegetarian indian restaurant in China Town. I briefly visiting a small Hindu temple in China Town with a few people before heading indoors (in search of a bathroom), at which point a few people decided to get their feet cleaned by fish that eat dead skin. From what I heard and saw, it was a pretty, uh, terrifying experience...

Later I went to Arab Street and tried the Satay (basically chicken on a stick that you dip in peanut sauce). We also briefly visited a mosque! While I was in the Arab area of town I also tried durian. It was pretty smelly. It tasted a bit like mushy, yellow onions at first, but the more I ate the more it tasted like fruit. I'm still not quite sure what I think.
I hope everyone is well. Let me know how you are! I love hearing from you all.