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Singapore Blog

This blog is dedicated to my internship in Singapore at the National University of Singapore Library in the Summer of 2012.

50 Things in Singapore

posted Jul 1, 2012, 6:50 AM by jj pionke

1.  You will sound more Singaporean if you add la or na to the end of almost any noun.  Example: I went to the grocery store-la and found dragonfruit-na.

2.  Its ok to point at the food pictures.

3.  Bus drivers mostly don’t speak English, but they are helpful anyway.

4.  The MRT is fast, efficient, often crowded, but worth it.

5.  Hawker Centers are really the only way to afford to eat here.

6.  You can get sweet popcorn at movie theaters.

7.  Be prepared to sweat a lot.

8.  There is not much in the way of recycling.

9.  Smell the food carefully.  If it smells like it will upset your stomach, it probably will.

10.  Singaporeans are very polite.  They are also very conservative and avoid talking about controversial topics.

11.  Durians reek and taste worse.

12.  Cane juice is better than you think.

13.  Traveling from Singapore to anywhere else requires a great deal of patience.

14.  Floss that is on food is actually desiccated pork dust (it’s pretty tasty).

15.  Singaporeans love to eat.

16.  Fruit is cheap and plentiful here and often eaten as a dessert item in whole chunks or slices.

17.  The heat will kill your appetite.

18.  There aren’t a lot of bugs or animals.

19.  Everyone wears flipflops or similar easy to take off footwear.

20.  No shoes in the house!

21.  Students wear uniforms (but not college students).

22.  Everyone speaks Singlish but will switch over to “proper” English when it’s clear you can’t understand a word they are saying.  That said, they might not understand a word you are saying either, so at least the confusion is mutual.

23.  Ethnic groups tend to live together and this is reflected in the MRT announcements.  All announcements are made in English but they might also be made in Malay, Chinese, or Tamil depending on where you are.

24.  Youth are just like youth everywhere else.

25.  It often looks like it is going to rain but  that’s the weather trying to psych you out.

26.  There’s not much of a recycling program here.  L

27.  Housing is ludicrously expensive.

28.  Work culture revolves around harmony which is very different than American work culture which revolves around get it done (I wish I had known/remembered this far far far earlier in my internship). 

29.  There are no bus maps.

30.  Postcards and letters are pretty much a standard price, but mailing a package will cost you every penny you own.

31.  There isn’t much in the way of plus sized clothing here so if you are at all remotely close to plus sized, bring everything you need.

32.  That said, many of the same brands and products in the US are available here.

33.  Do not underestimate the power of “Thank You”.

34.  Smart phones are ubiquitous here.  Seeing people watch tv shows on the trains and buses is a common sight.

35.  Bring a swimsuit.

36.  Make sure your passport has plenty of blank pages if you are going to be here for an extended period of time.  Immigration practices good stamp management because the borders are fairly porous, but if you are going to go in and out a lot, it adds up fast.

37.  Singapore is a city state – it pays to remember that.

38.  Singapore encompasses an area of 274 miles.  Next to the US, it’s the size of a pea.

39.  Religion is taken very seriously here.  There are Bible camps that many youth and adults attend.

40.  Everything is expensive.

41.  Get a native to take you around to places.  You will be so glad you did.

42.  There is almost always some festival or event going on.  Go check them out!

43.  It’s hot and there is nothing you can do about it except sweat.

44.  Did I mention it is hot?

45.  There is some truly amazing cuisine here for every level of your wallet.

46.  This is an up and coming bar/night life type of place, if you know where to look.

47.  The people here are friendly.  You may not always understand each other, but that is ok.

48.  Never underestimate the power of kindness, generosity, and thank you.

49.  Be courageous.

50.  Have fun!

and now, off to Uganda.  See you on the Uganda blog!

Hungry Ghosts

posted Jul 1, 2012, 6:30 AM by jj pionke

My condo, that is mine for all of another hour and a half or so, is near the Chinese Garden MRT stop.  It's aptly named as there are a lot of Chinese people here.  Earlier last week, I saw tents going up here and there as well as flags in some areas, like these:

Hungry Ghost Flags

I asked around and discovered that this is the 7th month of the lunar calendar and according to the Chinese, that means it's Ghost Month.  It also means that the temple across the street from the condo has had a lot of traditional sounding music coming out of it all day.  So, I wandered over there for a few minutes to see what was up.  Apparently, it's traditional Chinese theater.  I am not sure if it was a comedy or a tragedy, but it did involve a bride.

Chinese theater across the street

Little India

posted Jul 1, 2012, 5:40 AM by jj pionke

I slept for 6 hours, got up, took some tums for my slightly sour stomach, and headed out to Little India where I was meeting a friend from my internship at NUS.  She brought her son along (he's home for Summer break from Yale).  We started by wandering a bit and then landed up at a small diner type of place where I had the equivalent of Indian pancakes.

Indian pancakes for breakfast
They were quite good and not at all what I expected.  The whole shebang is basically fermented rice.  The orange stuff is brown sugar and the white stuff in the metal bowl is coconut milk.  You dip the pancakes in both according to taste.  After breakfast we went to temple.  We took our shoes off (and socks in my case), washed our feet, and entered the busy temple.  My friend explained that this temple was where more South Indians came.  As we walked around the temple, praying to each God or Goddess, my friend and her son explained each one and why they were important.  It was fascinating.  You could certainly light candles and so forth, but I settled on showing proof of my blessings here.  Mom, think of this as the equivalent of lighting candles in a church.

Closeup from going to Temple

I didn't really notice the red having a smell but the white just above it is ash from sandalwood and other aromatics.  I can still faintly smell it on my hands.  By the time I got home, I was drenched in sweat so I took a shower and washed my clothes.  Most of the red came off except for in the worry line between my eyebrows so I look like I got whacked in the forehead by a small projectile that then left a tear in my head.  I find it rather amusing.  I also got quite a few shocked looking stares from Indians on my way home.  *grin*

After going to the temple, we went to the Little India wet market.  When we think of markets in the US, we usually think of Farmers Markets and usually those are flowers, fruits, veggies, pastries/breads, and the occasional meat seller if you are lucky.  A true wet market is where the fresh caught or slaughtered fish and animals are brought for sale.  I didn't see anything being slaughtered thankfully and this wet market was mostly about fish. I saw a few stalls selling goat and mutton, as well as chicken.  See the Flickr page for several pics from the wet market of fish, fruits, and veggies. Here is one to wet your appetite:

Little India Wet Market

We stopped for some chendo and water at one point and just chatted.  I don't really know how to describe chendo other than it is good but I was worried about it being a bit rich for my guts especially so close to a long flight so I didn't finish mine.  :(  All in all, it was a great adventure to Little India.  I am so glad that my friend offered to show me around.  I would never have appreciated as deeply or understood what I was seeing if it had not been for her and her son. 

Happy Birthday Jakooleenu!

posted Jul 1, 2012, 12:45 AM by jj pionke

That's a sort of transliteration from Japanese of Jacquelyn.  Jac is the friend I visited in KL a week or so ago.  Anyway, it's her 30th birthday and her and Bruno came down to Singapore to celebrate.  They were off doing things all day while I was packing, cleaning, doing laundry, and listening to the rain.  Jac told me to meet her at Esquina.  You can check out the website for complete details, but let's say that this place is not inexpensive by any stretch of any imagination.  I was roughly on time but the place was packed the waiting time for a table was an hour.  We left a cell phone number with the hostess, who was really quite nice, and walked across the street to what turned out to be a karaoke box.  The walls were covered in plastic grass.  It was interesting to say the least.  Bruno checked on the hostess at Esquina after 30 minutes and there was a table ready so we went over and landed up changing tables 3 times, but 3rd time is a charm.  The head chef is an Irishman and spent some time in NYC.

I would say that the menu was exotic.  Jac and Bruno ordered some seafood dishes as well as veal shortbreads, ox cheek and tongue, and these fantastic little ham and cheese croquettes that were to die for.  I had sourdough bread with aioli for starters and then had ribeye with garlic and roasted rosemary leaves (and other things, the menu on the website doesn't appear to be quite up to date).  It was fantastic.  The meat just melted in my mouth like candy.  I was a bit concerned that the garlic was going to do a number on my stomach but it was like all the bite was gone from it and left in it's place was a gentle mellow taste.  I mostly stuck with water all night as I did need to take my malaria medication and it was only the second night on it.  A nurse friend told me to take it only on a full stomach and she was most definitely right.  My gut has hurt both times after taking it but it was very easily manageable.  I can't imagine what it would be like on an empty stomach.  Anyway, I was trying to be a bit gentle with my stomach.  We were good sports about the waiting and a few other things.  At the end of dinner, we did a champaign toast and this was followed by this sangria ice cream that was a refreshing delight as well as a very sweet sherry (I think that is what it was).  We met the chef who, when asked about a good place for a cocktail, had good things to say about 28 Hong Kong St.  He texted the guy in charge, Mike, that we were coming.  We took a cab over.

28 Hong Kong St is this very understated and very chic cocktail lounge.  It's a place where people like me don't go.  It's young, hip, and everyone is dressed to impress.  I was dressed for comfort - shorts, gym shoes, my Michigan t-shirt (the only all cotton tshirt I have with me).  Still, the service was impeccable and the cocktails were brilliant.  I had a what amounts to a fancy gin and tonic (keeping with the antimalarial theme).  It was a fantastic drink.  It had gin, lemon citrus of some kind, and honey syrup.  Jac was on an Old Fashioned kick, which Bruno made fun of and he tried two different cocktails while I was there, one of which came with Baby's Breath in it.  These weren't large cocktails but after drinking most of mine, I was feeling pretty buzzed so I took my leave.  It took forever to find a cab home but eventually I got there.

I had a lovely time with my friends filled with good food, good booze, laughter, stories.  A good night overall.  Happy Birthday Jac!  Here's to the next 30!

God is in the Rain

posted Jun 29, 2012, 8:49 PM by jj pionke

Bonus points if you know where the title for this post comes from.

I find it serendipitous that in the first full night or so that I was here, it poured so hard that it woke me up and I was comforted.  The month of June saw almost no rain here.  A little here and there but nothing substantial.  It's pouring right now.  I'm home because I decided to laze about, sleep in, and pack.  Tomorrow I am going to Little India with a friend from work, then back here for more laundry and a shower and packing.  Another friend is going to give me a lift to the airport in the late evening.  I have my windows open (those that are protected by eaves) and the roar of the water is glorious.  I can hear hooting and hollaring as people welcome the rain and the thunder sounds like an old friend.  I came with the rain and I leave with it.

Last Day at NUS

posted Jun 28, 2012, 11:29 PM by jj pionke

Well, it's been fun.  It was one month of working on various information literacy projects and giving two different presentations - one on Summon (the search backbone for MLibrary) and one on physical preservation.  I also met a lot of interesting people and had a lot of interesting conversations.  I learned a lot about myself and I honed my skills.  I tried not to melt in the heat.  I tried different foods and shared my culture just as the people I worked with shared theirs.  I've been on the receiving end of extraordinary generosity and for that I am very thankful.  I know that my contributions here have at the very least given people new things to think about and new perspectives.  I feel like I have made new friends and I hope, that even with the distance, we are able to maintain those friendships. 

S$10 Haircut

posted Jun 28, 2012, 4:33 AM by jj pionke

For those of you who don't know me, I tend to keep my hair in a male type of short haircut.  My hair is dark brown with grey sprinkled in and it's incredibly thick.  I had a haircut a week before I got an airplane to come to Singapore and now it's time for me to get on another plane, this time to Uganda.  The cutter I go to in Ann Arbor is the owner of the Coach and Four and he is fantastic.  I love getting my haircut from him.  His cuts tend to keep their shape even as the hair grows out.  At any rate, I've gotten to the shaggy stage and I figured I would be better off getting it cut here now that I sort of understand some Singlish then going to Uganda and trying to navigate everything and a haircut. 

Some of the people at the office told me about these shops that do the S$10 haircut and that there is one in JCube, the nearest mall to me.  So, today, I took off work early, mailed some packages and what not, and then made my way to JCube for a haircut.  It was an experience.  You put a 10 dollar bill, no other kind, into what kind of looks like a vending machine.  Then you sit down and tell the person what kind of cut you want.  There was a bit more negotiation going on with my haircut since she didn't really speak English and I sure as heck don't speak her language.  We muddled through.  From the moment I put the money into the machine, she has 10 minutes to get me back out the door.  She did a pretty good job and best of all, at the end, they vacuumed my head!  I was tickled pink by the vauuming.  Literally, they run a vacuum all over your head and neck.  It was great fun.  What do you think?

S$10 Haircut

Traveling While Fat

posted Jun 28, 2012, 2:53 AM by jj pionke

When I was in Japan in 03-04, I was asked if I was pregnant about every 2 months or so.  The first time left me flabbergasted, the subsequent times just left me reassuring the asker that I wasn't pregnant, I was like a sumo wrestler.  Being fat here has been a little surreal.  I've been approached by three different thin men who have described themselves as managers for a Biggest Loser type of show here in Singapore.  I am not sure why people go on those shows - you are degraded, ridiculed, and have your life put in danger doing extreme exercise.  What makes these men (and yes, I find it very interesting that it is all men) hilarious is that they get so excited about seeing me and my weight and then get crushed under my heel when I tell them in no uncertain terms that I find them offensive and there is not a damn thing wrong with my weight.  While I find the whole exchange annoying, I do admit to a certain amount of glee in crushing their hopes.

I just had a conversation with a female guard here at the condo that I am staying at.  She made a comment that she was impressed by my bravery for traveling while fat.  This quickly segued into a short conversation about age.  I moved on quickly because I was hot and since I had just had a run in with one of the television chubby chasers, decided that I probably shouldn't verbally flay her alive and instead should move along.  That said, I did want to say to her, what does my weight have anything to do with traveling?  If I want to travel, I will travel.  It means knowing my limitations and knowing when to sit down and rest.  It means not doing maybe everything that a young and thin person might do but I would sure as hell rather go and see the world then let something like weight leave me chained to home.  Does the guard think I am defenseless or weak because I am fat?  I just don't get it.

The more I travel the world and interact with people, including at UM, the more I realize that I am very different in my thinking in terms of what I can and can not do.  If I want to do something, I do it.  Why would I let anything stand in my way?  I am absolutely not advocating for doing anything stupid, like walking into the middle of the wrong side of a mosque.  That's disrespectful and honestly, idiotic.  Is all of this just me or are people in the world becoming more insular and judgmental?

To my fat sisters and brothers I say, we are united in our weight!  Let the thin people tremble before us.  I'm not a jolly fat man, but I damn well am a determined, stubborn, and confident person who is not afraid to see the world.

....  :P  so there!

Books, Presentation, and Food!

posted Jun 28, 2012, 12:23 AM by jj pionke

Tuesday night I ventured to Bugis which is an MRT stop in the central part of the city but it's also a mall.  The reason for my trip was to pick up a few books for the various planes and layovers that I have while I travel to Entebbe, Uganda.  I leave in the wee hours of Monday morning so it is my fervent hope that I will sleep at least for a little while on the plane and then read for awhile, land, have a layover where will read more, and then read on the flight from Johannesburg to Entebbe.  We'll see.  At any rate, I went to a bookstore in Bugis.  It was easier to get to than the bigger store on Orchard Rd.  I did find a few books including one written by a Sri Lankan, one written by a Singaporean, and an American book.  I'm only going to take one additional book with me on the plane and put the rest in my luggage since I still have 600 pages left of The Wise Man's Fear.  Before I went up to the bookstore, I stopped for some dinner.  As I was leaving, part of a girls rowing team of some kind came in and I spotted this on one of their paddles.  How cool is that?

Decepticon paddle

Wednesday, I had a presentation on preservation which went really well. 


Afterwards, there was lunch at a really nice Chinese restaurant on campus.  The food was excellent and I learned what floss is on food.  It's desiccated pork dust.  Sounds gross but it was fantastic.  On the left are vegetables, to the right is eggplant strips that have floss on them, and in the background is sweet ginger chicken.  So good!

Chinese dinner with floss on eggplant strips

KL: City of Experiences

posted Jun 26, 2012, 7:10 AM by jj pionke

KL is a very young city.  Though it has been around for well over 100 years in terms of European awareness, the city as it stands now is only about 30-40 years old and as such there just isn't really a lot to see.  The city has had phenomenal growth over the last 30-40 years so everything is a little weird.  Roads aren't all that straight or well thought out, the traffic is like sludge and doesn't seem to move all that much, and the public transit system isn't exactly connected to itself.  That said, it's a city of experiences.  It's not as dirty or crowded as Bangkok and I didn't find it as intimidating, though there might have been other factors at work like I went to Bangkok first and I've been living in Southeast Asia for the last 3 weeks. Here are a few experiences that didn't make it into the quick overall posts:

Getting out of a taxi, my shorts caught and ripped.  Not a big tear but an L shaped one.  I got a good look at it when I got back to Singapore and determined that I could probably fix it.  It looks like Frankenstein sewed it closed, but the shorts got washed and the repair held.  Fingers crossed everyone.

I flagged down a blue cab (reliable and seemingly all speaking English, not to mention clean), and the gentleman driving was very kind and helped me find the bar where I was meeting Jaquelyn.  He had on a CD of Buddhist chanting that was really relaxing and we talked about it and Buddha and religion in general.  It was one of the nicest conversations and interactions with someone there that I had.  OTOH, what is up with long thumb nails on guys?  I saw several guys (including my this taxi driver) there with long thumb nails (I mean woman long) and I've seen several here in Singapore as well.

There were two durian carts all of 10 feet from each other on the way from the Chinatown street to my hotel and the smell made me breathe through my mouth every time.

I was approached by a team of young people who asked me to say Gatsby for them while they recorded me.  I gather it was for a class project of some kind.  I asked them if they meant the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald but the leader said, "You are confused. Just Gatsby.  Like the movie."  What is youth coming to?  *headdesk*  Yes, I obliged them.

I'm rather enjoying sitting in posh hotels and having tea while I write out postcards.  I will have to continue this for the rest of the trip.

I liked that the city and it's people were Islamic.  I found it oddly comforting and I am not sure why.

There was a delightful young man in a wheelchair that was a wire artist.  He had a small table set up in Chinatown.  If I hadn't been traveling for the next two months, I would have gotten one of the larger and more delicate pieces.  As it was, I bought a more sturdy looking keychain.

My hotel was an example of messed up architecture.  The reception desk was on one street and the restaurant for my included breakfast was on another street.  To get from one to the other you had to walk up and over two flights of stairs basically into another building.  Oh and besides the toilet not working on the first day, housekeeping had my room down as unoccupied so it didn't get cleaned either. Good thing I am not really a messy person.  I asked them to bring me two bottles of water and a roll of toilet paper and we would call it even (they did).

The massage I had was pretty basic but what made the facility interesting was the fish.  Fish eating dead skin off your feet is wildly popular here in Southeast Asia.  The spa was doing quite a brisk business in it.  Part of me wants to try it and part me is kind of, no thanks, I like my dead skin to slough off naturally.  That said, those fish were definitely fattened up cause they were quite a bit larger than the ones in the promotional pictures.

See what I mean about experiences?  KL was fun.  I am glad I went.  It was good to see Jac and just chill out.  I read.  I slept.  I didn't pressure myself to see anything other than what I absolutely wanted to see.  It was good.

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