Category Archives: Singapore

My SEASIAN Summer

Now that I’ve left Singapore, as horribly depressing as this is, I can take a step away from the jumble of words, emotions, flights, late nights that seamlessly blurred into early mornings, and of course, lots and lots of cheap, delicious food, that defined my summer.  I don’t think I had the mental awareness to do this at 5:30 in the morning when I left our apartment at Tiong Bahru and climbed down those four flights of stairs for the last time on Wednesday, when all I could think about was whether I’d be late for my flight to Bangalore, India.  On the actual flight, I was too sleepy (the product of averaging three hours of sleep per night for the past four nights) to be able to truly comprehend the fact that eight weeks of another life had just gone by.  It was only later that night, in my grandmother’s house in Bangalore that it suddenly hit me.  It was no longer a night with a spontaneous decision to watch a movie with my roommate.  It was no longer a night when I heard four sleepy, yawning “good-nights” before closing the door, or even one where for no justifiable reason at all, I would find that all of us were still awake at 4:30am despite the fact that we had to be at work in another four hours (in case you were wondering, microwavable noodles taste pretty good at around that time).

It’s not that my summer is completely over yet.  I still have a week in India with my family, much of which will be spent traveling in the north (stay tuned!).  But it’s easier now to look back on everything that happened and see just how indescribably unique this summer has been.  So, just for you, I’ve put together my “Top 11 of Southeast Asia list,” or as I like to call it, “SEASIA” (because 10 is too arbitrary of a number, and it was hard enough to restrict myself to 11)– except it’s too difficult to actually order them in some sort of a priority besides chronological order.  Here goes:

1. Singapore Night Safari— So when I heard that Singapore had a night safari, I imagined creepy eyes glaring in the darkness.  Now, the reality of it is not supposed to be that dramatic.  Yes, you can see animals in the dark in creepily close proximity, but still there are definitely precautions against the whole thing being unreasonable.  Unless of course you come with us.  Unless you watch the Creatures of the Night show with us at the park, and believe that the alarm and guides screaming at the top of their lungs that an animal was on the loose is actually real, resulting in mass pandemonium (by “mass”, I mean only our row in the entire auditorium) in which all (four girls) decide to run for their lives, tripping on top of me and several others, causing one of them (oh, Teresa) to land two rows below your seats.  Other than that, of course, it’s pretty chill. 🙂

The view from the Sentosa Cable Car

2. Cable Car from Sentosa– After a long day at Sentosa Island, taking the very last Cable Car ride across the ocean was the perfect end.  My camera-crazy hands kept on snapping pictures of the skyline, and when I finally had my fill, I just sat back and relaxed for the rest of the ride.

3.  Banana Boating in Bintan, Indonesia— It was the first time I’ve ever stayed at a resort, and what’s not to love?  Also I’m sure the guys driving our banana boat were only further encouraged by our screams and laughter as we held on for our dear lives.

4. East Coast Park/Beach, Singapore–  First thing: don’t expect a typical beach scene.  What’s really special about this place is its liveliness: restaurants, stalls full of street food, a boardwalk, large rocks where you can sit on a full moon night, as the wind gives you a temporary break from the inescapable humidity and listen to the waves crash against shore.  And of course, long bike rides through the trails 🙂

An evening at East Coast Beach

5. Swimming at Phi Phi Islands, Thailand– Imagine clear blue-green waters and white sandy beaches– the kind you see in movies (if you have, it’s probably from these islands anyway because so many movies are shot here).  After the bumpiest, scariest speedboat ride alive, our boat stopped in a little nook for about fifteen minutes and let us jump into the warm waters.  Absolutely surreal.

6. Elephant Riding in Phuket, Thailand – I’ve only ridden an elephant once before in Jaipur, India, but it was for all of 10 minutes.  After climbing onto Lucky, our elephant, who, for the most part, was pretty well-behaved in comparison to our friends’ elephants, we took a ride up the mountains right near the Big Buddha statue.  With our feet resting on the soft carpet of elephant skin, we bounced through the forest for a relaxing hour.

7. Thai Massages – Speaking of relaxing… best $10 I spent that whole weekend in Phuket.  After a tiring weekend, all of my soreness seemed to melt away.  I could definitely get used to this…

8. Gardens by the Bay, Singapore– I’ve already talked about this before, in that the gardens themselves are a great work of architecture.  The best part though was the fact that it began to rain when we went up on the Skybridge, and while everyone else ran down the stairs, I couldn’t help but stand there and get complete soaked.

The view from the Skybridge

9. Bargaining at Night Markets – Most of us who traveled refused to pass up a chance to get a good deal (I won’t deny that the racial composition of our group probably had something to do with this tendency).  And let me just say, both in Thailand and Cambodia, the night market scene was a complete success!

Torture weapons in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

10. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia– This was one of those things that makes you feel like a horrible American who is absolutely unaware about other parts of the world.  I vaguely remember hearing something about the Khmer Rouge in 9th grade history, but like all of the other Communist countries, it seemed too distant in time and space to wrap my mind around.  However, to actually see the torture rooms, with blood spatters still on the wall, thousands of skulls in glass cases, paintings of torture methods, the tiny cells, and the stories of being taken away to the Killing Fields, was a whole different story.  I almost never cry, but even this brought tears to my eyes.

11. Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia– Everything you hear about how colossally magnificent these temples are is absolutely true.  It’s impossible to put the size, space, architecture, and sculptures into words.  The hot Cambodian sun seems to strike the carved rock in every way to maximize beauty, and although we only had one day, we could have spent a week there and still not seen all of the temples Angkor Wat has to offer.

So there you have it: my SEASIAN summer in 11 bullet points.  It’s impossible to write it all down, or even try to convey everything that I felt, experienced, and witnessed, and as I go through the rest of my life, a few things here and there will suddenly bring a memory of this summer to the forefront for me to experience all over again.  To experience, to feel, to relive.  Because not everything has a word.

If All the Raindrops Were Lemondrops and Gumdrops…

…oh what a rain that would be.”  Or so the song goes.  I actually beg to differ because that would be pretty painful, and it’s only really profitable if one falls right into your mouth.  (Question: How many of you actually know where that song is from?)

Okay first things first.  I love rain.  That’s probably an understatement, and I would have bolded it or something, except that if I “love” rain, then I LOVE thunderstorms (so obviously using the font modifiers on rain would make thunderstorms indescribable on the word scale).  Though I think my high school English teacher would put his head down in shame, knowing that I resorted to bolding and capitalizing my letters instead of “capitalizing” (see what I did there?) on my skills in diction.  I love rain, but I adore thunderstorms… relish thunderstorms…cherish, venerate, worship, idolize thunderstorms.  Oh thesaurus.com

Anyways, I’m not quite sure what it is about rain.  Now that I’m on the English train of thought, I immediately thought of the metaphor of a rebirth, like a baptism or something… but that’s not quite it.  It’s just refreshing.  The best kind of rain is on a hot summer day, when you can feel the sky wanting to burst open, and suddenly this cool, amazing, goodness somehow seems to wash away everything– every concern, every worry, every confusion.  I defy anyone with a personality to not want to spin and dance around.  And when it starts to absolutely pour, to the point where the drops are so hard they almost hurt, but not quite there yet– that’s when you want to just stand perfectly still with your face up to the sky, your eyes scrunched closed, and your arms spread out to catch every drop.

This is what happened yesterday.  When: 6:30pm.  Where: National University of Singapore (NUS) tennis courts.  What: Getting completely drenched in the middle of a tennis workout.  Now if this was high school and I was with my high school doubles partner/best friend, we would have just continued playing, priding ourselves over our inclination toward “danger,” as everyone else ran off the courts.  I mean, we even played through tornado sirens once (to be fair, we thought they were thunderstorm warnings 😀 ) This time I was with people who are definitely more adept at tennis than either of us, and refused to let me do this for my personal safety and the safety of my racket. (But I mean, it’s a thunderstorm, how can you possibly refuse?!)  So instead, I just stood there.  I spun.  I twirled.  I laughed.  (side note: Yahoo Answers to the question, “Have you ever played tennis in the rain?” says “Yes, but I stopped when I discovered that a smile makes a lousy umbrella!”  To which I say, who needs an umbrella when you have a smile?)

Now I could spend the next paragraph discussing the larger-than-life realizations I made in those twenty minutes while the rain poured down on me.  I could talk about how the rain was a turning-point in the development of my character (typical college-essay material).  And I could spend a not-insignificant amount of your brainpower trying to draw a variety of analogies, metaphors, allusions (where is that literary handbook…) relating the rain to a spiritual force that interacted with my soul or something.  I could.  But I think it’s simpler than all of that.  Sometimes it’s just standing outside in the rain.  It’s just having a childish carelessness about whether or not you’re going to get sick as long as you have some fun.  That’s what it is.  Fun.

A Garden in a City or a City in a Garden?

Marina Bay Sands
Marina Bay Sands

I have to say, there are a lot of things about Singapore that really impress me.  The excitement that the grandeur inspires wears off after the first week, but it’s beyond that when you start to really appreciate (or reject) this unique city-state.  Take MBS, for example, local acronym for Marina Bay Sands, an indescribable building. (side note: I love Singapore’s inclination for acronyms– reminds me of MIT where everything is either a number or an acronym.  For example, what’s the name of the program I’m in this summer? SMURFs: Singapore-MIT Undergraduate Research Fellowship 😀 ).  When you stand across the Singapore River, next to the Merlion and look out at MBS at night, there’s a huge, snazzy light show that comes from the ship on top of the buildings.  And the first time, it’s cool.  But the second time, and especially the time you actually go into MBS, you realize you can do without the show, without the facade.

But one of the first things I noticed about Singapore that has stuck with me through the past 5 weeks (how has it been 5 weeks since I got here?!) was how good Singapore is at promoting greenery throughout the city.  Yes, I know, it’s a tropical region, they probably get enough rain to fulfill all of America’s needs for precipitation and more, but it’s still impressive because they don’t have to do it.  But they do, and it makes the city all the more alive and natural.  Vines cover bridges and buildings are architecturally designed to incorporate garden hangings, trees, unique flowers, and plants.

One of the several balconies in my office building.
One of the several balconies in my office building.

I also must confess that I have a bit of a personal history with the idea of greenery in a city.  In fact, I almost spent all of last semester on a class project related to it.  I’m in a program (a “learning community”) at MIT called Terrascope, which would probably require an entirely different blog post all together to describe.  It’s kind of one of those things which once you start, if you get hooked, you can’t do without it, and yet you want to gripe about it at every waking moment (ask any of my friends for proof of the last part).  Anyways, for a quick synopsis, in the fall, we take a class that involves sixty or so freshmen creating a plan to solve some large complex problem (it was the biodiversity crisis for our year) with little to no professional/adult guidance, create a website for it, and put together a presentation for a panel of experts.  No biggie.  Just a couple of all-nighters, hair-pulling debates, and enough drama to create an entire season of soaps.  Second semester, we wise up a bit (not really) and focus on solving a specific design/engineering problem relating to the topic.  And OUR topic, for a long time, was going to be creating a model of the incorporation of greenery and growth into the Innovation District in Boston.  That is, of course, until we decided that it was impossible to complete in the time frame we had, and turned instead to creating a switching system for a pedal-powered monorail (come back later for explanations). 🙂

Supertrees!
Supertrees!

Either way, that’s my personal bias.  So when I went to Singapore’s latest attraction last Saturday, the Gardens by the Bay, I already had some expectations for a city that finds a way to incorporate these things in daily life.  Instead, I was transported to somewhere far, far away from the concrete jungle that is the Marina Bay area.  As soon as you enter, you meet the “supertrees,” which, I have to admit, although a bit unnerving at first, were a pretty interesting combination of city and nature.  After all, you don’t see artificial trees that use solar panels to capture the sun’s energy every day.

Waterfall in Cloud Forest
Waterfall in Cloud Forest

Without a doubt, though, my favorite attraction was the Cloud Forest.  Imagine the vegetation and greenery you would expect in a mountain high above the tops of clouds, but in a glass dome.  A crystal-clear waterfall cascades gently down, spreading a thin mist in the surrounding air.  Climb up to the first level to find yourself in the midst of flowers with colors you didn’t even know could exist and Pitcher Plants that catch and eat insects and other small animals.  Another level displays an entire exhibit dedicated to the energy-saving, sustainable features of the garden, its usage of biodigesters, and renewable energy.  Walk across a bridge with the mountain fog spreading around you, and only when you look up to the glass and see the Singapore Flyer or Marina Bay Sands Hotel outside do you remember that you’re currently inside the nature in one of the most modern cities of the world.  (And maybe after, if you’re like me, you kind of stand there, with a weird mix of awe and disgust, wondering at the amount of money it must have cost to create this).

 

A Drop on a Petal Pitcher Plants Sparkling in the Mist

Regardless, I think it’s worth it.  The importance of greenery in a city is highly underrated and if a small country like Singapore can afford to show the world how it’s done, then all the power to them.  But I don’t think it’s far-fetched to say that it’s more than just for show; it’s for the health and mentality of people.  You just have to look at the battle going on back home in Kendall Square near MIT for proof of that, where petition after petition is signed to prevent the public roof garden from being torn down.  And I don’t know about you, but on a bright spring day, with a gentle wind blowing green grass, sitting in that garden, I can’t help but smile.  Smiling for true beauty.

Revelations on a Bus

Random thoughts on a bus yesterday evening.  

So after a super long week and super short previous night’s sleep… it’s Friday!  Friday’s kind of an end but it’s sort of a beginning too.  The end of a week of “work,” or I guess if you’re lucky, a week of exercising your strongest passion in life that you also get paid for (gotta work on figuring that out).  But also the beginning of the weekend.  The week end– the end of the week.  The beginning of the end of the week?  Well that was enlightening.

Okay so it’s not just that.  It’s the beginning of…plans.  Of free time (at least, supposedly..I’ve yet to experience the meaning of those two words).  Of fun.  Of sleep.  And on this particular Friday evening, I’m on a bus–typing away on my phone, probably (definitely) looking like a stereotypical, self-centered teenager, wrapped up in the cyberworld  Right now I’m on my way to a family friend’s house.  It’s the first time I’m taking the bus to their house so I decided to count the number of stops until Merrimont Convent, where I have to get off (even though I know the name of the stop).  25.  Right now I’m at #7.  Or maybe it’s 8…Yeah I totally got this.  (Fun fact:  it can’t be 6 because 6 is afraid of 7 because 7 8 9!)  (Sorry couldn’t help it.  I would totally understand if you never visited this site again… just saying).

So the other day I was completely baffled when I saw a sign on the bus door that said:

Taking this picture without looking like a complete sketch was a feat of incomprehensible skill (I turned my camera on discreet mode, which turns off flash and all noise, and pretended to be looking at my pictures…)

Like the idea that you could actually scan your card before your stop so that you would be charged less, never even OCCURRED to me.  How am I that naive?  It’s such a brilliantly evil idea!  And after reading the sign, I pretty much thought, well no one would actually do that anyways.  It’s Singapore.  Land of the rule-followers.

And then TODAY, on stop #2, I saw someone do it!  An old man (at least I think he’s old considering he had like no teeth), simply reached back and scanned his card, but didn’t leave the bus.  People actually DO THAT?!  My mind was literally blown.  And the worst part was that.. no one DID anything.  All of us on the bus sat there, like accomplices to a crime.  Actually I’m pretty sure I was the only one to notice, because no one pays attention to anyone else on a bus (side note: that’s why whenever my friends and I get on a bus, it gets really noisy… we are pretty much the only ones talking…)  But I’ve been thinking about it, and well, that’s kind of what we’ve been socially trained to do.  Like in school, if someone finds the answers to a test online, you don’t tell on them.  If people are sharing answers on homework, you’re not supposed to be a taddle-tale.  You can’t judge.  Because then you’re not cool.  You’re not cool because you’re not indifferent.  It’s indifference that really makes everything work sometimes.  But if you can’t judge anything then how is anything right or wrong?  Plus if you don’t have a vested opinion or interest in a matter, then you get distanced from it.  And whether or not you want to believe it, the ability to not “judge,”  possibly one of the most valued qualities in society today, might just lead you down the road of simply not caring.  And when you don’t care anymore, who are you?

Stop #25.  Over and out.

When Productivity Fails: Laugh

I wrote this last night, but the horrific internet monster in our apartment decided it didn’t want me to connect to the outside world, so I couldn’t post it.  Here it is!  

When I opened my computer just now, the intention was to blog about my weekend in Thailand.  Only then, my roommate, Felicia, decided to finally act on my earlier request to push the beds against the wall and despite putting all of her body weight (which is like nothing) into moving the bed, it didn’t budge.  So then I got up to help her.  Distraction #1.  Felicia got a splinter.  So guess who ended up moving the beds?  (it was me by the way, in case you couldn’t guess).  (also, fyi, I speak parenthetically a lot.)  Back to the computer.  Only then two more of our roommates came into the room to listen to music.  Distraction #2.  You don’t want to be with the Tiong Bahru girls if you want to get anything done. (Side note: at first we called ourselves the “Girls of Tiong Bahru” but then we decided that sounded… well, you know…)  (another side note:  in the time it took me to write this last side note, I was distracted 3 times.)  Something was bound to happen.

And it did.  In an attempt to help Felicia with the splinter, our premed roommate, Elana, hovered over her with this indescribable mad scientist/surgeon face, which of course set us off.  Distraction #3 (or 6 depending on how you’re counting).  So of course our other friend, Preeti, (holder of an unofficial master’s degree in creeper camera usage) convinced Elana that she was going to take a picture, so would she kindly make this face again.

If only I could actually take credit for this awesome picture…

After the 4th or 5th time of telling Elana to please repeat the face because she “didn’t get it on camera” I finally decided to enlighten her of the fact that the camera had actually been recording video.  Distraction #4 (yes this one was my fault).   If our neighbors hadn’t heard our laughter before, it was now a certain fact that the entire block did, because we were LOUD.  Like if laughter actually extends your life, we might actually live forever.  And when Felicia mentioned the words “pillow fight,” I couldn’t resist (I mean, really, who can?).  Note:  being ticklish is not a good asset to have in a pillow fight.

This is the story of what happens in the hours of night while Anisha tries to blog and fails miserably because she has amazing friends who love to laugh.  And I guess laughter doesn’t always have the right words.  Phuket, you will just have to wait.

On my own.

I have to say, buying plane tickets and booking hotels is extremely gratifying.  A huge pain in the butt, yes.  But still, amazingly powerful.  There’s something just incredibly empowering about the fact that my friends and I can simply look up a flight online in a matter of minutes (by that I mean, long hours of flight price comparisons, splitting migraines, and frustrating conversations with parents), type in a few numbers (from my parents’ credit card), repeat the process for hotels (yup, parentheses repeat too), and soon we’re ready to travel to an entirely different country.  To become *ahem* citizens of the world (cue in booming, echoey voice).

Okay, I’m not doing a great job of convincing anyone, but still, this life is just…different.  The other day when we came back from work and picked up dinner, we plopped down on the sofa in front of the tv and just channel-surfed.  I tried to remember the last time I had done that, but failed miserably.  And I said something unsophisticated like “Guys, this is the young working person’s life!”  I know, I know– we’re not paying rent, filing taxes, or any such scary adult nonsense.  But maybe it just starts with that pasta I made last night for us (yes, I, sworn enemy of the kitchen and anything in it, made REAL EDIBLE FOOD, THAT’S RIGHT MOM).  Or the fact that at the ungodly hour of 4:30am, tomorrow morning I will be on my way to the airport to experience Phuket, Thailand, a trip that my friends and I planned ourselves, only one week after our trip to Bintan, Indonesia, and three weeks before our trip to Cambodia.  And yes on top of that, we are actually getting work done, contrary to popular belief.  Speaking of which, I should get back to that… Lunch hour is almost over!  Back to climate model analysis and more attempts to understand a world that refuses to make itself intelligible for me.