List: Tips for Future UCEAPers

It’s over.

I am writing this blog post from a hotel room in Malaysia, having spent the previous week in China and the week before that in the trenches of finals. I’ll catch up on blog posts during my winter break and continue to update this blog until I feel that it’s complete–which, given my update schedule, won’t be for a few months. I haven’t emptied out everything I need to write.

Studying abroad was the most radical decision I’ve ever made. In one sense, I don’t feel like I’ve changed in terms of my personality, grown spiritually deeper, etc. like I expected from returnees I’d talked to. It also delayed my academic schedule rather than helping me fulfill needed classes, and to put it bluntly, cost a lot. In another sense, planning, traveling, and living abroad gave me (or more accurately, I earned from it) a sense of maturity and independence that even living alone in California never would’ve. I feel both more wary of (though thankfully, I didn’t have any incidents) and more open to talking to strangers in uncertain settings (such as a language barrier). I feel more confident recognizing when and how to take initiative in situations that call for it, and how to budget and schedule efficiently while traveling beyond looking at credit card statements and taking notes on my phone. I feel more comfortable (and actually, eager) about the idea of living or traveling by myself (with safety precautions) anywhere in the world–as if I’ve gained a sixth sense in knowing how to prepare myself for anything. In summary, I feel like more of an adult.[1]

Anyways, on to the tips. This blog post by Mohit Agrawal was probably the most helpful student blog I read in advance out of the several that I did, and my tips below generally echo and expand on what he said. More links to student blogs, as well as a returnee list for contacting, are available through the UC study abroad website and/or Facebook page(s).

1. Unlock your phone before you go abroad. Not jailbreak; unlock. If you don’t know if your phone’s unlocked or not, it probably isn’t; call your phone company about it. Otherwise, you’ll just not be able to use that phone abroad and’ll need to buy a new one once you get here, regardless of whether or not you also buy (which you’ll need unless you have free roaming/long-distance calls in your plan) a local SIM card. I found SGD$50 to be the perfect amount for a prepaid SIM card; mine (the carrier was Starhub, by the way) even came with free data for the first month. Between the additional data plans I bought (~$15/month), long-distance birthday calls to the US, and text messages, I used up all of this and never topped up. I’m also not a super-social person, so YMMV. Most local Singaporeans are as fond of WhatsApp (a free app) as texting or Facebook messaging.

2. Studying abroad in Singapore grants you the opportunity to visit nearby Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and even Australia or Hong Kong/China at a much cheaper price than if you’d flown to them from the US. Your costs will vary[2], but a 3-day trip to Thailand for me during Recess week cost $360 total (including all meals, transportation, souvenirs, and attraction costs). In total during this semester, I visited China (Shanghai and Beijing through a group tour–it’s actually not cheaper from Singapore, but I was going to visit for personal reasons anyway), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), and Thailand (Bangkok and Krabi). Some other people in my UCEAP group probably went to like 4+ countries during the Recess and Reading semester break weeks (before midterms and finals, respectively, as well as after finals) combined, hopping from country to country.

3. Trains between Malaysia and Singapore are cheap (US$8-20), although so is airfare. Someone I knew traveled across Malaysia using sleeper trains in such a way that he didn’t even need to book any hotels during his trip. Malaysia’s somewhere a lot of people just visit during 3-day weekends, since it’s so close to Singapore.

4. Bring your own shampoo, body wash, and conditioner (in checked luggage, of course), especially if you have a brand preference. Name-brand body care products are expensive here. For example, I have eczema and use sensitive-skin body wash. It’s like four bucks for a bottle in the States and about three times that price here.

5. Speaking of eczema and health-related issues, it’s hot and humid here, but you’ll be spending a lot of time indoors with a fan or air conditioning on anyway. Regardless of what you have or need, take care of medication prescriptions early so you don’t have to deal with UCEAP insurance reimbursement, even though you should be aware of physical and mental health services offered, including free counseling. My skin didn’t any get better for me as opposed to being in Irvine, CA, but it did get much worse when I visited China, then improved drastically once I returned to Southeast Asia.

6. Tap water in Singapore’s safe. Don’t assume the same for other Southeast Asian countries.

7. If a local tour agency advertises a cheaper price for visas than the service centre or embassy, check to make sure there are no hidden fees or additional processing fees.

8. The best time to book a flight is, according to a study, 54 days before departure, though this is only an average. Prices tend to skyrocket in the last 2 weeks leading up to departure.

9. Most airlines are extremely strict and expensive with cancellation and change policies, and if you book through a third-party service, you may not be able to alter your booking at all. In contrast, many reputable hotels and hostels will allow you to cancel a reservation up to 24 hours in advance for free.

10. When traveling, check multiple airfare comparison sites every time, and while it’s not always the cheapest option, consider multi-city booking. Sites I particularly favor (in order from most to least, with others not even being considered for SE Asia) are: AirAsia, Kayak, FareCompare, CheapOAir, Expedia, and Skyscanner.

11. AirAsia tended to be the cheapest airline for me, especially when they had promotions, but they also have hidden fees for paying with debit/credit (most likely your only option), picking a seat (which you have to do), and taking carry-on baggage (which you won’t need if your trip only lasts a few days). Remember to uncheck the additional flight insurance that they tack on. This applies to other sites too–if the fare looks cheap, click on it, go through the steps, and get final price statements before budgeting them.

12. Unless you have extremely bulky baggage, are in a rush for time, or have four people splitting the costs, the MRT (subway) is a better way to get to the airport (SGD$3/person, assuming you already have a card) than taxi ($25-30/trip). It’ll take an hour as opposed to half an hour, though. The nearest MRT station to campus is Kent Ridge, on the green (East-West) line, accessible from UTown or PGP through the D2 internal shuttle line.

13. Check the outlet types for each country you visit, including Singapore itself, and buy converters and/or adapters accordingly. You can still find them after you arrive, though.

14. Stores to visit when you first arrive: IKEA (take a taxi or find the closest MRT station and walking directions), Mustafa Centre (the Wal-Mart of Singapore, a bit of a walk from the Little India MRT stop, or take a taxi with some friends), Daiko (discount household-item store; the closest I know is at the Vivo City Mall at the Harbourfront MRT station, which is really close to the Kent Ridge MRT). If you’re lucky, you can use your housing community’s item pickup/giveaway event to score a pillow and bedsheets or something and not even need to go shopping for furnishings. I personally brought over twin bedsheets and a pillowcase, bought a light blanket and pillow, gave the pillow away when I left, and took the blanket with me. YMMV.

15. Don’t pack your luggage too fully or too heavily when you depart for Singapore.

16. This only applies to those studying at NUS, but worst parts of living in North Tower at University Town were the drain flies that settled on the ceiling of the showers (though they’re harmless), printing at the PC or Mac Commons (I ran into mysterious issues literally every time I tried, and only succeeded part of the time–use the Central Library unless it’s late at night and you have no other option), and using the laundry rooms (they were alright, but don’t put in too heavy a load, and use the other Tower’s laundry room if the machines are broken in yours). That all having been said, I still enjoyed living on-campus.

17. Check both your UCI and NUS email often, both before and during your semester.

18. Clubs/organizations at NUS are active, but unlike at UCI, they only really advertise at the beginning of the semester (there’s no “Ring Road” where you’re reminded of club presence daily), and they don’t send out meeting reminders to their mailing lists or update Facebook pages with meeting times that often (though they do so for events or other fundraising efforts). If you want to get involved with volunteering at NUS, do so early and consistently, or else it’s easy to lose track of opportunities.

19. If you drink (the legal age in Singapore is 18), note that alcohol is extremely expensive here. This doesn’t prevent most people who want to drink from drinking, though.

20. Keep track of the time difference between Singapore and the US, especially right after Daylight Savings Time ends or begins.

21. Postcards cost SGD$0.60 to send internationally. You can’t buy stamps at the SAM postal kiosks without a (local!) credit card or eNets card, so you’ll have to locate a SingPost office and buy them in person. Two notable SingPost drop-off locations that I remember are at Changi Airport and in front of S17 at the Science faculty. Also, you’ll probably forget to send out postcards for the most part since it’ll feel like you’re living here rather than visiting.

22. The people at UCEAP, including Daisy (your local UCEAP Singapore guide), are awesome.

23. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)–UC Irvine or whatever your university is offers one–to access country-restricted content such as UCI Library e-resources or even Netflix. If you go to mainland China (I think Craig and I were the only ones in our UCEAP group who did, since it’s too far north compared to other countries), Google, Facebook, and Youtube access can also be secured this way.

24. Singapore’s too hot for jeans, but bring some if you plan on visiting countries further up north like China, Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan. Actually, in addition to jeans or shorts, bring knee-length pants or long skirts/sarongs. In conservative or Muslim-majority countries like Thailand or Malaysia, you’ll need to cover up out of respect even in hot weather, especially when visiting temples or traveling outside of major cities.

25. Tipping is unexpected in Southeast Asia, except maybe for a bellhop at a classy hotel. Unlike in the US, waiters are not paid with the expectation that they’ll receive money in tips. This is almost irrelevant since you’re probably eating at canteens, casual restaurants, or hawker centres most of the time. Most people in restaurants will still welcome and appreciate tips[3], but many restaurants add on a 10% service charge anyway.[4]

26. It may become easier to forget birthdays because of the time difference, and since you don’t see or hear from people you usually have contact with.

27. Mosquitoes will bite. Thunderstorms will wake you up. You’ll stay out past 11, when the MRT/internal shuttle buses stop running, and need to take a taxi or walk home. You’ll make the mistake of telling taxi drivers where to go through the window instead of just getting in and, cherry-picking their destinations, they’ll drive off. You’ll stumble trying to stand up on the internal shuttle buses. You’ll stumble anyway, because that’s a side effect of wearing flip-flops all the time. Noises outside will bother you during nights when it’s too hot to close the window. A flatmate might come home drunk on Friday or Wednesday night[5] and not completely clean up their vomit. You’ll miss seeing stars at night due to light pollution. But worst of all, you’ll miss all of it. Singapore. Maybe not the mosquitoes. But you might have the impression, walking to the gate after five months on the other side of the world, that you’ve left a little bit of yourself here.

[1] Which sucks, sometimes

[2] Variables that affect trip costs: how early you book flights, what quality of hotel/hostel you’ll settle for (and if you have any employee or associate discounts), how many people you split travel costs with/can successfully sneak into a hotel room, whether the country you’re visiting requires a visa or not, whether or not you get ripped off by taxis[6], what you buy and eat while you’re there, which attractions you visit, where you exchange money[7]

[3] The only culture that I’ve heard of that gets offended by tips is Japan. [citation needed]

[4] Craig and I tipped in Malaysia. The waiters came to clean up our table and were like, “Wait, you left behind some money”

[5] Wednesday night = Ladies’ night, where women get into clubs for free. I don’t typically go clubbing or partying, but it’s popular among study abroad students, and it usually happens around Clarke Quay.

[6] Each country has their own set of common scams/safety issues, from counterfeit money to suspicious strangers approaching you (though you’re just as likely to encounter a genuinely friendly person). Two that I’ve found common in Asia are pickpockets and ripoff taxis (though both are rare in Singapore). Once you’re through with the baggage claim at the airport, someone with a name tag in a suit, pretending to be working for airport information, will ask you if you need a taxi. They’ll attempt to direct you away from the official taxi queue into a ripoff taxi. Even from the official queue, you might get a taxi that’s unmetered, has the meter turned off or rigged, etc. and will need to haggle down with the driver. It helps if you hand the driver a piece of paper with your destination written down in the native language of the country, next to the estimated taxi fare (research that on TripAdvisor or your hotel’s website). Some countries, like Malaysia, have coupon taxis where you prepay the fare at a kiosk at the airport. Also consider public transport and airport/hotel (check your hotel website) shuttle options to get to your hotel/hostel from the airport. Finally, consider contacting Uber, an independent worldwide taxi company, from their app.[8]

[7] Most malls in Singapore, as well as most hotels (for non-student tourists reading this), Changi Airport, and maybe even some MRT stations, have a money changer. My personal favorite place is the at the Arcade near the Raffles Place MRT stop.

[8] Sometimes they’re as cheap as local taxis, and additionally, they won’t rip you off. You even get bottled water with every ride. The two downsides (besides cost–they’re not always cheaper, especially in certain areas or late at night) are that they’re criticized for threatening the livelihood of local taxis, and that they’re not available in every country. Using it helped my group greatly in Thailand, however.

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Picturebook/Long Read: Meals in Singapore

Picturebook AND Long Read, because I’m a pedantic writer and I hate you all[1]. Okay, quick updates with my personal lifegoings:
– I have free time. A stupid amount of free time, because it’s the break week before finals (Reading Week), then I’ll have one final next week and two the week after. I thought I liked the quarter system at UCI better than the semester system here until now.
– There’s still stuff on my to-do list (find an honors thesis research adviser for next quarter, plan my schedule for next quarter, get caught up in Python so I don’t get schooled when I take the last course of an introductory programming series for my minor next quarter after a few months’ break from learning to code), but at least I’ve finished some stuff already (find housing for next quarter, calculate and update my parents on my budget for trips and this semester’s expenditures). Since I’m a 4th-year, I’m a little anxious about returning home and having to deal with my impending graduation/gap-year planning.

Enough about me–it’s time to talk about meals I’ve had here, because three posts about food culture in Singapore already isn’t enough. So as a primer, Singapore has maybe a dozen or so dishes that could be considered famously Singaporean, some of which I’ll show here and some of which’ll just be mentioned. To summarize Singaporean cuisine, even though I’d be painting with a broad brush here: it’s not very oily, it’s very saucy and soupy, it welcomes but doesn’t overly embrace spices and spiciness, and it borrows a hella lot from other cultures, especially Peranakan (Chinese-Malaysian-Indonesian hybrid) cuisine. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Peranakan cuisine is Singaporean cuisine.

Prices are listed, but as an overview, SGD$1.00 = USD$0.80. So eating out at NUS canteens (what cafeterias are almost exclusively called here) and hawker centre stalls (which have similar pricing, though I’d argue the school canteens are slightly cheaper) is generally cheap, unless you’re eating out everyday (compared to cooking at home), which UCEAPers kind of have to do. If you’re going to a sit-down restaurant, a foreign casual chain restaurant, or a cute hipster-like café, food is going to cost way, way more (think SGD$12 for burritos–or actually, don’t think about it, you’ll sleep better at night that way).

Enough text–picture time. Most of the following are my favorite things to eat on a day-to-day basis (excluding rice with vegetable side dishes at the Mixed Veg Rice stall, forgot to take a pic of that). It’s why almost all of these are canteen food at the National University of Singapore rather than outside “street” centre food (which, again, is comparable in selection). This is more a representation of what I eat rather than the totality of what’s available to eat; I tend to pick cheaper options.

Figure 1.1: Kaya toast, kopi, and eggs           Figure 1.2: Egg tart and Congee (porridge)
IMG_4118[1] IMG_3569[1]

Figure 1.1 Canteen: Koufu at UTown, Coffee Stall
Kaya toast combo, pictured: SGD$2.10 (USD$1.70)
Kopi = Malaysian for coffee, which I may’ve mentioned already, and is actually (my opinion only) more popular than tea here.
Figure 1.2 Canteen: Koufu at UTown, Dim Sum Stall
Egg tart, part of selection of dim sum snacks: SGD$0.70 (USD$0.55)
Congee, only available for breakfast: SGD$1.50 (USD$1.20)

Figure 1.3 – Taiwan Noodle                             Figure 1.4 – Su Udon
IMG_3934[1] IMG_3938[1]

Figure 1.3 Canteen: Koufu at UTown, Noodle Stall
Taiwan Noodle: SGD$3.00 (USD$2.40)
There are multiple dishes named “taiwan noodle” with different interpretations, most including shredded braised pork. This is just with peanut sauce (another hard-to-find-outside-of-Asian-culture food item), which tastes really good with sliced cucumber, peanuts and carrots.
Figure 1.4 Canteen: FASS’s (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) “The Deck”, Japanese Stall
Su (“simple”) Udon: SGD$2.20 (USD$1.75)
So udon isn’t Singaporean food, but it is one of the cheaper hot meals you can get here (considering that I can’t cook for myself).

Figure 1.5 – Pattaya Fried Rice     Figure 1.6 – Hainanese Chicken Rice

IMG_3958[1] IMG_3590[1]
Figure 1.5 Canteen: FASS’s “The Deck”, Roasted Delights Stall downstairs
Pattaya Fried Rice: SGD$4.00
This is probably my favorite dish in Singapore. Fried rice overlaid with bits of seafood (including octopus) overlaid with an omelette, then served with light chili sauce.
Figure 1. 6 Stall: Chicken Rice Stall at some mall food court (I’ve lost track of which one, sorry–I think Bugis Junction, one of the largest malls in Singapore)
Hainanese Chicken Rice: $4.50 (note: you can find it as low as SGD$2.30 on-campus)
Chicken rice is Singapore’s official national dish! It’s deliciously flavourful here even if you’re used to eating the Chinese style of poached/roasted chicken, which is less oily than American-style rotisserie. It’s served with a salty soup that I grew up drinking–different than your Campbell’s chicken, now that I think about it, though I can’t explain why–that Craig disdainfully calls “chicken water”.

Figure 1.7 – Fish & Chips and Egg Salad        Figure 1.8 – “Mushroom Noodle”
IMG_3568[1] IMG_4008[1]

Figure 1.7 Canteen: FASS’s “The Deck”, Western Food stall
Fish & Chips: SGD$3.00 (USD$2.40)
Egg Salad: SGD$1.40
Western food is actually pretty cheap outside of sit-down and chain fast-food restaurants, given that a meal like Figure 1.7’s at an American sit-down restaurant (maybe of slightly higher quality with the sides) would cost upwards of USD$7. That being said, Singapore has a unique idea of Western food that’s similar to Hong-Kong-café-style dishes–every Western stall I’ve been to, on or off-campus, characterizes Western food as fried fish, grilled chicken/beef/lamb, cheesy (*disappointing-impostor-cheese, tyvm) fries, coleslaw, cold baked beans, corn, mixed vegetables, baked potatoes, iceberg-lettuce salad, spaghetti, and creamy or tomato soups. I’ve never found mashed potatoes, burritos, burgers, grilled fish, grilled cheese, salads without iceberg lettuce[2], pizza, sub sandwiches, or hot dogs at a Western stall, though one can get burgers/pizza/sandwiches at international fast-food chains.
Figure 1.8 Canteen – Science Faculty’s “The Frontier”, one of two noodle stalls
Mushroom Noodles: SGD$2.00 (USD$1.60)
Despite the fact that this is the only dish from the Science faculty canteen pictured, the food stalls at the Sciences are actually my favorite ones on-campus, since most of their dishes are cheap (<SGD$3/USD$2.40) and to my tastes. Also, button/portobello[3] mushrooms are way less common than enoki mushrooms or shiitaki mushrooms here.

Figure 1.9 – That Kim K. photo everyone’s giving her free publicity about on Facebook
Figure 1.10 – Chicken Katsu
IMG_4123[1] IMG_4124[1]

I’m just kidding, that’s Mushroom U-Mian in Figure 1.9.
Figure 1.9 Canteen: Koufu at UTown, Ban Mian Fish Soup Stall
Mushroom U-Mian: SGD$3.00 (USD$2.40)
More specifically, the mushroom u-mian (“thin noodles”) here is a sub-variety of Ban Mian, aka noodles in soup–in this case, specifically fish soup. Usually served with some leafy green vegetables (resembling kai-lan, I think?[4]), a raw egg cracked in it halfway through cooking, and topped with dried anchovies.
Figure 1.10 Canteen: Flavours/Foodclique at UTown, Japanese Stall
Chicken Katsu: SGD$4.00 (SGD$3.20)
Again, definitely not exclusive to Singapore, but definitely delicious. Singaporean food centres are the only places I know where you can walk in and find four different kinds of rice being served at nearly-adjacent stalls–mushy, pasty Indonesian rice (maybe drowned in a mild, creamy yellow chicken curry), Indian basmati rice (including the spiced rice dish biryani), traditional slightly-nutty Chinese jasmine rice (sometimes with curry sauce or soy sauce), and chewy, short-grained, lightly-vinegared Japanese bento-style rice (sometimes with mayonnaise or teriyaki sauce).

Figure 2.1 – SEA-exclusive Cup Noodles     Figure 2.2 – Sandwich Vending Machine

IMG_3432[1]IMG_3564[1]

So sometimes I get up after noon, have a light breakfast or a heavier brunch with fruit (SGD$0.50-SGD$1.00 or USD$0.40-$0.80 for a fruit serving, e.g. honeydew or watermelon sold by the slice, or watered-down but blended-to-order fruit juices, around SGD$2.00/USD$1.60), and don’t eat lunch until 3pm or ever (not a good habit). I’m not hungry for dinner until 9 or 10pm on some lazy days, at which point most canteens on campus–including the two in University Town (my housing area) within walking distance–are closed.

I have a few options at this point: a plain convenience-store sandwich (SGD$2.50-$3.50/USD$2.00-2.80), ramen (around SGD$1.20/USD$0.95; I buy a cheaper brand than what’s pictured in Figure 2.1–that was just to show off more Singaporean dishes the flavours were based off of, like chilli crab and laksa), a microwaveable-plain-burger-in-a-bag (SGD$2.50/USD$2.00, BBQ beef or chicken with surprisingly decent cheese and mushrooms), and a TV-dinner vending machine meal (SGD $3.50-$5.00/USD$2.80-4.00). Yerp, they have hot meal vending machines. Pictured in Figure 2.2 is a hot-sandwich vending machine (SGD$2.30-2.80/USD$1.85-2.25), but that’s located at the Central Library on-campus, too far away for a late-night snack.
I’ll usually get one of those with an apple or banana or cherry tomatoes and probably some extra slices of bread with kaya jam, all bought from the convenience store (or Fairprice-brand market, though the closest is on the 2nd floor of the Kent Ridge MRT station, which is a 20-minute daytime bus ride away).

Overall, my food budget works out to approximately SGD$10/day, sometimes less or more, which is slightly more expensive than my diet back in Irvine (formerly mostly consisting of noodles, cereal, oatmeal, omelettes, fruits and fruit juice, TV dinners, lots of random carby snacks, tofu, frozen and fresh vegetables, grilled cheese/quesadillas and veggie-meat/PB&J sandwiches, and eating out ~three times a week)[5].

Not pictured or mentioned: Many other key Singaporean dishes like char kay teow (which is almost just like beef or seafood chow fun as known in Chinese cuisine–stir-fried soy-sauce noodles), mee/nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice and noodle, respectively), bee hoon (fried thin noodle), oyster omelette, fish head curry, and nasi lemak (coconut rice dish with cucumbers, peanuts, chili, a fried egg or small omelette, anchovies, and a fried chicken wing). Also, the Mixed Veg Rice stall (which is like even-cheaper Chinese takeout minus heat lamps, so your food’s cold if you go during non-peak hours), the Korean food stall, Indian cuisine, which I mentioned in my previous post is mostly Tamil.

For other dishes I missed: Wikipedia’s Singaporean cuisine article is arguably better than this entire post, but….uh…they don’t have prices and pictures of NUS canteen food, and I do. So…heh?

Moving swiftly on from spontaneously-developed inferiority complex, ideas in mind for upcoming blog posts, not in order:
– Encore post where I insert pics of/discuss topics I’ve covered then took more pictures of/learned more about later (if I don’t ninja-edit instead, that is–I’m making this blog an ongoing project where each post is considered unfinished until the entire blog is)
– The Arts Culture in Singapore
– Political History and Demographics of Singapore
– Tips for future UCEAPers
– Singlish
– The Flora and Fauna of Singapore
– General Landscape/Sidewalk/Day-to-day pictures of Singapore
– Obligatory Self-Growth Reflection Post

Conclusion: Food is awesome here. And I say this as an Asian-American kid who grew up disliking Asian cuisine, as an armchair-nutritionist who can complain about the lack of vegetables in most stall food, and finally, as a student who sometimes grew tired of the food here but also knows that she’ll miss it. Dearly.

[1] ❤ I’m kidding. I write because I want to, and rarely, because I need to, but if you’re reading through my crap you have a special place in my heart, even if I don’t know about it. There’re lots of things in our hearts we don’t know about.
[2] On a completely random note, and at the risk of sounding like a crunchy neo-health-craze hipster, I really miss kale.
[3] Fun fact: portobello, portabella, and portabello are all commonly used. Poor “portobella”.
[4] Despite the fact that I grew up eating Chinese food, I still don’t know the names of maybe 25% of them. Even for the ones I do, I know their names in Cantonese, which is a much less common dialect than Mandarin (which Singapore uses for labelling their dim sum, even though dim sum was originally Cantonese). Example: woah, they have the delicious, crispy long salty donut that I’ve always liked at dim sum, you jah gwai, but I guess it’s actually called youtiao here. Cool.]
[5] Vegetarian diets, contrary to what some people think, aren’t necessarily healthy. They can be incredibly healthy, and even quick and healthy if you combine frozen pre-cooked food and fresh, simple-to-prepare food OR cheap and healthy if you take care to stock up on rice/beans/frozen vegs/etc., but a lazy, frugal/broke college student with limited time to prepare meals is going to be consuming a lot of carbs and processed food.

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List: On Dietary Restrictions at Canteens and Food Courts

In analyzing the food culture of any place, one must also consider how those with minority diets are treated. Is Singapore halal-friendly, vegan-friendly, celiac-friendly, etc.? Would my friend–let’s call him Robot since I didn’t ask for permission to include his personal info on my blog–with numerous allergies (egg, peanuts, shellfish) be able to survive eating at the canteens at NUS (which are where I get the majority of my meals) if he visited Singapore?
Note: This post is centered more for tourists and study abroad students (aka those who can’t cook for themselves or visit farmers’ and wet markets vs. eating out at hawker stalls and canteens, and also those who aren’t continually visiting higher-class restaurants, which are probably more likely to be attentive to unique customer needs) rather than commenting on how local Singaporeans deal with these.

IF YOU’RE A VEGETARIAN:
– I was vegetarian for about nine months before coming here, and gave it up about a week after visiting. Part of it was because I wanted to try Singaporean cuisine to its fullest, and the other part was that I was frustrated with
– Random meat. What looks like plain sauteed green beans may actually have been cooked with fish sauce, and many dishes have a few random anchovies (or a scant few pieces of chicken) thrown into it if you don’t look hard enough. Certain stalls at the NUS canteen (which function similarly to food courts/hawker centres off-campus) work like buffets where you pay per side dish ordered, and those usually don’t use labels.
– Not that it’s impossible, by a long shot, to stay a vegetarian here (and/or just avoid meat as much as possible). Breakfast options: waffles (a lot of waffles here are pandan-flavored, aka sweet and slightly green), chilled sweet bean curd, dim sum, the fruits and fruit juices (sometimes with fruit ice, red bean soup, or agar agar, even though those are more desserts) stall, pastries, kaya butter toast with eggs and coffee, oatmeal (microwaved in dorm). Savory options: the Mixed Vegetable Rice stall if you’re discerning enough and probably have asked a few people which dishes have meat in them, the Taiwan Noodle at the UTown noodle stall, Indian food, salad or spaghetti arrabiata at western food stalls if available, a hot pot place if you don’t mind the high prices for the small servings (>$5 SGD, aka >$4 US).
– Overall, vegetarians will probably be eating roughly the same food every day–and I mean this for NUS students who live on-campus (it’s probably a bit easier if you can cook for yourself).

IF YOU’RE A VEGAN:
– There’s not as drastic a difference here between being a vegan and being a vegetarian as there is in the United States, since no one really consumes dairy anyway. You’ll still miss out on a lot of dishes that have egg in them, like fried rices, most pastries, the traditional kaya toast breakfast, and the ubiquitous half-egg so often added to dishes or thrown into noodle soups (though you shouldn’t be ordering those either, since they usually have meat in them). What you can eat: I’m imagining mostly rice and vegetable options, but check to make sure the vegetable wasn’t cooked or simmered in a meat-based sauce.
– Overall: hope you like Indian food.

IF YOU’RE SENSITIVE TO GLUTEN:
– I honestly don’t know that much about gluten other than that gluten-free products are expensive here, but they’re probably normally expensive anyway.
– Fortunately, rice is way more popular than grains here.
– Unfortunately, depending on how sensitive you are to gluten, I wouldn’t be surprised if cross-contamination was common[1].

IF YOU’RE RELIGIOUSLY JEWISH:
– Kosher laws vary in strictness depending on interpretation, and I don’t know that much about it, but I found two good links. Generally, the Jewish community in Singapore is pretty small, and I rarely see kosher labels.
Kosher products in Singaporean supermarket chains
– The two kosher restaurants in Singapore, as well as comments about the community

IF YOU’RE HINDU:
– There’s a significant Tamil population here, which means that South Indian food[2] is commonly found at most food courts (not to mention Little India).
– Beef is somewhat common, but also pretty easy to avoid.

IF YOU’RE ISLAMIC:
– You’re in luck–there’s a significant Muslim community in Singapore. Food is often labelled Halal or non-Halal here (especially at ambiguous places like bakeries, where items may or may not be made with lard), and pork isn’t overly popular (unlike in, say, Spain, which has a culture based around ham).
– Random story: My Chinese tutorial leader, who’s well-meaning but awkward in many ways, hosted an in-class competition. One of the two girls in the winning team was wearing a hijab, and the prize was a bag of gummy candy[3] (which the two girls generously distributed to the rest of the class anyway). He didn’t notice.

IF YOU HAVE ALLERGIES:
– Everything: Cross-contamination’s always possible.
– Seafood: A bit more common here than in the US.
– Nuts: Random peanuts may be added to certain noodle dishes. I get that if it’s Thai cuisine, but here you get peanuts added to spicy seafood ramen at a hot pot place. Alrighty then.

Conclusion: Robot would die here.

[1] I don’t know how to explain what I mean to convey here, but I tolerate ‘dinginess’ (I typed ‘dirtiness’ at first, but that wasn’t the right word) at sit-down Chinese restaurants a lot more than at Western restaurants due to cultural expectations. And I haven’t generally experienced Chinese restaurants caring much about customer service like labeling gluten-free items or taking care of allergic sensitivities. Craig was surprised to see so many Bs given to eateries from health departments here at first; I wasn’t. In the United States, Asian restaurants that my family frequents (usually in the San Gabriel Valley, particularly Asian-American communities in the City of Industry, Rowland Heights, Alhambra, Monterey Park, etc.) are way more likely to get Bs and even Cs than As compared to other restaurants. “Real ethnic food places have Bs and Cs,” a Yelp commenter posted when I tried to look for a discussion on why (quality of linked discussion may vary, and I don’t support all of the opinions expressed in it).
There’s also an LA Times article linked within the above discussion link that takes this to a journalistic level, if you’re interested.

[2] From what I can tell, the main difference between North and South Indian food is that North Indian food places a higher emphasis on dairy products, which is why I’ve found my favorite South Asian dish–palak paneer–only once here despite visiting numerous Indian food stalls.

[3] Gelatin is sometimes, but not always, derived from pork. Sidenote: my vegetarian cousin still consumes gummy candy and rice krispies (and I did too a few times, by accident), but I didn’t realize how much vegetarians differed in scale (lacto-ovo vs. ovo vs. lacto vs. neither: whether you also eat dairy or egg products, and also the degree of strictness and reason for becoming vegetarian–whether it’s a lifelong lifestyle, a personal-health-spurred phase, or an environmental pledge), and the perceptions people had of them (“you don’t even eat fish, even sometimes?” my sister asked; “no, that’s pescetarian,” I responded, surprised that she didn’t know the distinction between the two).

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Long Read: The Diversity of Singapore

If someone were to ask me what my single favorite element of Singapore was, I’d probably tell them of the immense diversity the city-state has: in its food (most of it is Peranakan, aka Chinese x Malaysian, but most kopitiams[1] have a variety of Asian cuisines and maybe one Western stall), its national holidays, the variety of random things to do[2], its environment[3], and its languages spoken[4].

Well, dangit, this was originally going to be a full-blown post about the national holidays in Singapore, but I typed out all the footnotes, decided that I didn’t want to delete any of them, and then also didn’t want to burden my blog readers with /too/ long a post (though if you dislike maximalism in writing then this blog is defs not for you). So. I’mma end this here.

[1] Food courts; literally translated from Malaysian as “coffee shops,” though they’re more like low-end coffee shops run by aunties (what locals call older female service workers here, plus uncle if male, but not to be used in more formal or polite settings) where you can get soft-boiled (like, liquid) eggs and toast with kaya (coconut jam) and butter for SGD$2.30 (<US$2).

[2] Singapore’s a city, so evidently it’s going to have a lot of events going on in addition to local hobbies like hiking and karaoke, but have you ever heard of prawning, where you try to catch shrimp indoors? How about escape games, where you’re locked in a room and given an hour to solve riddles with your friends to “break out”? Or cat cafés, which is kinda just like paying to go to my future self’s living room, but still worth trying once? There’s also board game cafés, time cafés with freeflow snacks and games where you pay by the hour, a small but happening tabletop gaming (and gaming-events) scene if you know how to look online and don’t mind playing with strangers, gaming/cyber-cafés as is ubiquitous across Asia. The only problem is that all of these (except the hiking) cost a significant amount of money.

[3]  I’ve been to a small organic frog farm among a cluster of farms, the rushed heart of the Central Business District, parts of it where it’s incredibly suburban, parts that seemed a tangled tropical wilderness, and old ports where the shore meets the ocean. I hear thunder more than I see rain, and I miss the cold pattering of heavy raindrops in California as opposed to the soft, warm torrents of Singapore. Most of all I miss stars.

[4] Singapore, despite being Asian by a vast majority, is one of the more heterogeneous places I’ve been to, and its languages showcase that. In addition to the 4 official languages of English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil (very few people know all four, though generally speaking, most are bilingual), many of the students I’ve met immigrated from other countries during secondary school or even university on scholarship to study in Singapore (Korea, China, Vietnam, Indonesia…), which adds to the number of languages known by a significant portion of the population. And because it’s an economically-prosperous English-speaking Asian city, its population of 4 million people also see 7 million tourists a year–obviously per year as opposed to everyday permanent residents, but nonetheless.

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Picturebook: S’porean Snacks

I haven’t dedicated a blog post to local food yet; how strange. This covers dry snacks and junk food you probably wouldn’t find outside of Singapore, even though there’re also western snacks like Ritz crackers, Oreos, etc. available (see my previously posted list of international food brands available in Singapore, in addition to noting the following, which you can also find in Asian supermarkets in the US: prawn crackers, seaweed strips, dry ramen snacks, and this Asian trail mix I’ve had plenty of times but never quite found out the name of).

I didn’t include Cheezels, commonly found in vending machines, since it’s technically Australian, and I probably missed a few other snacks anyway. There are also vending machines for tiny bottles of Yakult, a popular yogurt drink that I think might also be available in the US. Asia has the strangest vending machines, though I’ll cover more about that when I blog about meals in Singapore.

Figure 1.1 – Seaweed Popcorn    Figure 1.2 – Swiss Cheese Lay’s

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So seaweed is a popular flavor for anything salty here. McDonald’s promotion? Seaweed shaker fries (also a tamago–aka egg–burger, and lime or green-apple swirls on their ice cream cones). Potato chips? Make ’em seaweed. Popcorn? Yesss.
Though it boggles me that for a country so opposed to cheese (when you order prata, a flat Indian pancake, at a stall and ask for cheese on top, you get like spray-cheese stuff that’s below the tier of even Kraft American), there’s a Swiss Cheese Lay’s flavor.

Figure 1.3 – Jagabee Chips          Figure 1.4 – Almond Fish
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The weird part about these purple potato chips isn’t that they’re made of purple potato, but rather, that I can’t stand it when chips masquerade as crunchy fries. That’s the most trivial thing ever to be annoyed by, but you–you just don’t understand my agony.

No comment on the almond fish other than that dry anchovies is a common addition to noodle-soup dishes here.

Figure 1.5 – Couque D’asses                          Figure 1.6 – Choco-Banana Hello Panda

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I put in the Couque D’asses chocolate biscuits just to make a horribly immature joke, but I’ll coward out and just leave the picture here.

I believe we don’t have a chocolate-banana flavor for Hello Panda biscuits in the US (just chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla), but I could be wrong.

Figure 2.1 – Ice Kachang                                  Figure 2.2 – Bean Curd and Honeydew

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I’m sorry I couldn’t show off more fresh Asian desserts like red bean soup, but the Ice Kachang (tricolor shaved ice with condensed milk various toppings) at the Yushof Ishak house’s canteen on campus is cheap (SGD$1.50, ~USD$1.20) and tasty. If you’ve never had grass jelly or red bean before, it might taste strange for you. It did for me anyway, because corn. I don’t get it, but I don’t need to get it to find it delicious, do I?

And the sweet bean curd (basically sweetened silken tofu) reminds me of the dou fu fa found in dim sum, but chilled and lacking the ginger syrup. As for the honeydew, that reminds me: papaya, honeydew, watermelon, and pineapple are the most common fruits here. Guava’s also more common than in the States, and cantaloupe is called rockmelon here.

Bonus section: Thailand

Figure 3.1 – More Lay’s                Figure 3.2 – Packaging

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I should’ve put this in my previous post about Thailand, but apparently Singapore and Thailand are a lot more comfortable using young women with makeup to market completely irrelevant products like chips and fruit juice. And the other picture was just to illustrate, again, how cool Thai looks even in product packaging.

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Long Read: The Other Kind of Learning

I don’t know why I haven’t posted about my education abroad yet–it is why I’m here, after all (even if it seems like many of my fellow exchange students came here to party, and even this blog has been focusing on cultural exploration).

How class registration works here: So most students take 3-6 modules (what they almost exclusively call classes here) per semester. The majority take 4 or 5, and UCEAP requires us to take at least 4. International (non-graduating) students apply for 10 modules a few months before arrival, then get automatically approved for 3-4 of them shortly after they arrive. Then there’s a bidding period where you can apply further to get into modules, even though exchange students get low priority. Another tip for prospective study-abroaders reading this: from UC Irvine, if you go with UCEAP, grades you get abroad will transfer over, but if you go with IOP or another third-party exchange program, only the units will. Also, save all the uploaded lecture notes and syllabi from IVLE (NUS’s centralized online class portal, the equivalent to UCI’s EEE), because those all disappear at the end of the semester, unlike at UCI, where some older class sites are still accessible. I use too many commas.

My experience: I personally got into my top choice for modules. I’m pretty close to graduation and just needed to take a few common classes (GIS and petroleum exploration for expanding my skillset, math to improve a previous grade, and Chinese for personal reasons[1]). Craig applied for both math and computer science classes, and only got into one computer science module, and that was after the active bidding period. My impression is that Chinese, Business, and Computer Science are the most impacted fields of study for exchange students here.

My modules: I also may or may not sneak-update this post with my final grades (they won’t be great or horrible, I predict) and commentary after the semester, if I remember.

GE2215 – Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
The National University of Singapore (NUS) doesn’t have an Earth System Science major, and in fact, it bugs me that my major is different at every school. I like how UCI has it set up, with an Environmental Science (B.A.) and Earth System Science (B.S.) program to differentiate between the policymakers and the scientists, but other UCs have Environmental Science (B.S.), Environmental Management (B.A.), Earth & Space Sciences (B.S.), etc. NUS has Environmental Studies (NUS-honors-only) and Geography. 2 of my 4 modules here are in Geography, and GIS is a pretty in-demand software program to know right now in my field. They have an upper-div GIS class series at UCI for social sciences majors, but its first course isn’t offered every fall quarter, and they’ve discontinued the GIS class for Earth System Science in favor of remote sensing using ENVI (which is also a useful tool).
So GIS is insanely cool. A lot of Earth System Science is working with specialized software behind a computer as well as doing fieldwork or being in a lab,  so I’ve had light experience with the MATLAB and ENVI software before from previous classes. The difference between this class and those are a) GIS is actually more user-friendly, with little to no coding or special commands needed beyond possibly Python (regarded by many as the easiest coding language, and definitely preferable to MATLAB), and b) the lab instructions provide all the data with thankfully specific instructions for you, so you’re really working with the software for most of the lab rather than dealing with technical problems or hunting down relevant data on government websites. The last one’s a valuable skill to learn, but you get enough of that already in other classes.
Now to what GIS actually does: it’s like advanced Google Maps, where you can tag and record data points for tracking sociological and environmental trends. With the correct datasets gathered and synchronized off of government websites, many of which are underanalyzed, you can predict the spread of wildfires or diseases, track and classify populations and urbanization across years, or estimate where the best place to build the next hospital in Singapore is. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too; NUS has an entire GIS minor, and this class is just the first core part of it.
The lectures aren’t much worth going to, though (for me). They don’t correspond to lab very well, and are either incredibly simple or needlessly technical.

MA1104 – Multivariable Calculus
The equivalent of Math 2D at UCI. I’m actually retaking it here to replace my previous grade, even though I don’t need to, since it’s the last math class my major needs and I didn’t fail the class last time. Still, my last grade (D+) was the lowest grade I’ve ever gotten in any class ever, which serves me right for underestimating college in my first quarter at UCI. I’m also just bad at calculus.
I’ve always had a mixed relationship with math. On one hand, I love numbers and computations. I’ll bet myself against anyone on multiplying or adding numbers in my head[2]. The math section of the SAT (the American high school equivalent of A-levels, but with less academic questions and more of a specific style of reasoning) was fun for me. But when it comes to “actual math”–to identifying patterns, to reasoning abstractly, to anything more complicated than single-variable calculus–my mind just checks out.
The good news is that this module is organized really well, and I feel confident in what I’ve learned even if I don’t think I’m doing that well in class. The professor uploads files early and makes students teach each other during tutorial, and we even got an introduction to MAPLE (a powerful math software, even if I’ll still stick to WolfRamAlpha for graphing needs) in one tutorial. For our homework, we get each individual problem (we do about 4-5 per assignment, and they’re tougher than the tutorial problems) graded, as opposed to maybe 2-3 random problems out of about fifteen simpler ones at UCI. The questions on the midterm exam here were much harder than the Math 2D exam questions, though–we had 6 multi-step problems ranging in difficulty (including a proof, I can’t stand doing proofs) as opposed to 10 elementary homework-style questions. I also believe the grading curves in NUS are less generous than UCI’s, from what I’ve read and heard (only the top X% of people in a class can get an A or B, etc.). That being said, most of the classes at NUS depend on the final exam for the grade–more than at UCI–so I still have time to study more. The way retaking classes at UCI works is that you can retake a class that you get a C- or lower for, and your second time replaces the grade of your first time–so all I need is a C- or better here, and my overall GPA will improve. Takes a bit of pressure off.

GE3244 – Fundamentals of Petroleum Exploration
This is the class that I’m most confident I’ll do well in, even if part of it is because I’ve already taken a geology class at UCI. I’m still learning a lot, though (both about the geology of oil and gas specifically and about oil and gas exploration worldwide), and the professor uploaded a sample midterm so we’d know his testing style–I love when professors do this. The one gripe I have about this class is the structure of our group project. Group projects in general seem more common at NUS than at UCI.
So each group was assigned one country and told to analyze its geological features and history in order to make an argument (in the form of a powerpoint presentation to the class) for drilling there for oil and gas; my group was assigned Nigeria, the world’s de-facto capital for oil spills and other atrocities[3]. In short, this class completely brushes over the sociopolitical and ethical ramifications of petroleum exploration, focusing on the geologic and economic side of it. The project was easily manageable, though, and introduced me to NUS’s library resources.

LAC1201 – Chinese I
I’ve already posted about learning Mandarin, but this is where I’ve met the most fellow international students (and interacted with people outside UCEAP the most), so I highly recommend taking a language class at NUS if you have the module space for it. That being said, the pace of the class really picks up during the semester. Due to a quiz early on that I forgot to study for, and my nervousness about taking a real language class[4] given a genetic hearing problem that I have, I elected to take this class P/NP (pass/no pass). I regret that now–the class isn’t difficult to do well in if you study. Chinese characters seem really complicated to memorize until you realize that a lot of the more complex ones are just the components of more basic characters put together.
My least favorite part of this class is the textbook, which pretty much determines our lesson plan. It lacks a more thorough appendix at the back, and doesn’t teach us the most relevant phrases (it does a decent job, but misses “bathroom,” “airport,” “what time is it,” etc. and numbers are scattered throughout chapters instead of being listed in one place).

Some more ramblings:
– Two of my classes–Chinese and Petroleum Exploration–offered optional field trips/outings (the former to celebrate the mid-Autumn festival, and the latter to study rock formations in Sentosa, an island off southern Singapore). I didn’t go to either, but I thought that was cool that they had those.
– Library resources are decent, though I’ve only used them briefly, and I’ve also only been to the Central Library. I don’t even know where the other libraries on campus are, besides the Chinese library. My biggest aid in finding scholarly papers for research projects is still good ol’ Google, so it didn’t bother me, for example, that I had to connect to UCI’s web VPN to access EBSCOhost’s academic search engine.
– Generally, my professors are excellent with email responses and with updating us about upcoming deadlines. It’s also a lot less common to visit professors during office hours here, but I rarely did so even at UCI (not that it’s not a good idea). I’m not the ideal student.
– All of my labs and tutorials are personally run by a professor rather than a graduate student/TA, and class sizes are generally slightly smaller than at UCI. I’d say the educational quality and workload is about the same overall, though I prefer the quarter system to the semester system by far.

[1] On a card–was it Mother’s Day? Father’s Day? A birthday? I wrote to one of my parents almost a decade ago, I googled how to write “Happy __ day” in Mandarin, and impressed them with my writing. Then I randomly promised them that I would learn Chinese. To be honest, I had only the faintest bit of interest in it then, but they’ve always nagged me about it.

[2] Everyone has different microtalents, like party tricks, they like to indulge themselves in to show off at the right moment. For some people, it’s casual parkour. For others, it’s unwrapping Starbursts in their mouths, knowing the first hundred digits of pi off the top of their head, or carrying on a spontaneous string of witty but groan-inducing puns. Mine is racing to beat someone who pulls out a calculator when they don’t need to do so.

[3] Oil is to Nigeria (specifically, the Niger Delta off its southern coast) what diamonds were to Sierra Leone. Shell came in during the 1930s, drilling started in the ’50s, and the rest is history. While petroleum companies led much of the advance in knowledge that we have of Western African geology today, the petroleum industry has led to gratuitous and unaccounted-for oil spills, funding of Nigeria’s governmental corruption, circumstances leading to minor local rebellions and escalation of existing conflicts, locals taking in pollution and needing to walk across large, shallow pools of oil just to get to their work and back, and economic reliance on a volatile, foreignly-dominated sector. In one instance, Shell, under guidelines or PR pressure to improve the surrounding community they were drilling in, built (among other structures) a hospital and a water tower. In the case of the hospital and water tower, they didn’t provide medicine, doctors, equipment, or water along with the buildings. Those structures remain empty to this day.
The government’s currently working on a landmark piece of legislation called the Petroleum Industry Bill that will enforce(?) increased accountability for oil profits. However, it’s been in the process of approval for at least five years, and has an unclear future. The good news is that oil is slowly overtaking less of Nigeria’s economy, even if it remains the source of more than 90% of the country’s GDP.
Source: Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta, a 2010 photobook by Ed Kashi

[4] By ‘real’ language classes, I mean that I took Latin for two quarters at UCI, and plan on finishing the elementary series during my last quarter before graduation later this year. You are encouraged to enunciate words correctly, but you’re not tested on listening and speaking, which is a relief. Unlike Chinese but like Spanish, you also have to deal with conjugations right away.
Another note about Latin: You learn a lot of Roman myths and stories in the process, which is always fun, and a lot of your vocabulary is focused not towards communication with others in Latin (“how are you,” etc.), but rather, reading old stories and poems. So you end up learning a lot of words related to war, betrayal, politics, and death. Cute.

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Picturebook: ราชอาณาจักรไทย

Apologies for the lack of posts lately; just went through midterms, flight booking for later travels, and group project miscellany–anyways, I’ll make it up this week! That’s ‘Thailand’ in the post title there. I may or may not wanted to showcase the Thai language there since it’s just gorgeous. Not that I know an ounce of Thai, which was my biggest concern when eight of us from our UCEAP group decided to visit Thailand for Recess Week from 23rd September-26th September. Turns out it’s not that big of a deal–a lot people are pretty fluent in English.

We (as in Craig, Jackie, Jenny, later Vivienne, and I, along with Rida, Ramsha and Salena, even though the last three mostly visited different attractions) spent two days in Bangkok[2] and one in Krabi, which was perfect since we all still needed to get back and study for midterms afterwards. Honestly, I’m not going to do justice to Thailand in this post, especially since you’ll create your own adventure if you go to Thailand yourself. One last point was that my group and I mainly stuck to the more crowded areas of Bangkok instead of heading off the beaten path more. I don’t regret doing this–it was our first time in a country where we didn’t speak the language, and we enjoyed ourselves and learned a lot about the culture anyway–but know that the Thailand I present here is a tourist’s Thailand.[3]

Figure 1.1 – Thailand Food Fair

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One of the best parts of Thailand is the food, even for a spice wuss like me. We randomly stumbled upon a food fair while walking a few blocks away from our hotel selling fried squid, fried quail egg, coconut/sugarcane juice, skewered meat, and more snacks that I can’t remember for less than SGD$3 each (which is already pretty expensive for a snack in Bangkok). In general, central Bangkok is way more street-foody than Singapore is.

Figure 1.2 – Moar food.
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I can’t remember for the life of me what we ate at this place, but it was delicious. We also had mango sticky rice after, though it wasn’t made that well–half of the dish’s flavor comes from bathing the rice in sweet coconut milk, which wasn’t the case here. I had better mango sticky rice at the airport (Suvarnabhumi–there’s also a cheap Krispy Kreme there) for breakfast while leaving later.

Figure 1.3 – Asiatique, Bangkok, Thailand

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This is a great, cheap (actually, most of Thailand isn’t too expensive, save for taxis for people who don’t know how to haggle) shopping and foodie destination if you don’t mind that it’s somewhat touristy (still less touristy than Singapore’s Chinatown, though, and with much better food). It also has a ladyboy/cabaret/comedy show called Calypso–I didn’t go due to the price and a previous mediocre experience in Las Vegas[4], but the other three people I was with did (Craig, Jackie, Jenny), and they thoroughly enjoyed it.

Figure 1.4 – Down the city
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This picture doesn’t show it that well, but traffic in Bangkok is cramped. It still doesn’t take too long to get from place to place by taxi or tuktuk (Thailand’s open-air carts whose speed, combined with their fearless drivers, brings thoughts of your last will and testament to mind).

Figure 1.5 – Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho
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I should’ve included some form of scale, but this was one of the more impressive sights I saw while temple-touring (and in my opinion, the temples are a must-see while visiting Bangkok[5]).

Figure 1.6 – Temple of the Dawn – Wat Arun

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Behold the rare picture of me that doesn’t look awful, though it’s not the best picture for two reasons: a) I’m only standing there because I was too tired/sore to go into the temple and/or walk up the surrounding stairs like Craig and Jackie did, and b) Wat Arun is famous for how it looks when lit up at night. It still looked stunning, though. Also, this is like the stray cat central of Bangkok, which is already teeming with street cats.

Figure 2.2 – …I like rocks, okay

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The next place we flew to was Krabi, where we’d booked a cheap (~US$25/pax) all-day boat tour. The tropical fish bit us while swimming, we went snorkeling (the water wasn’t too clear, though, and the tour guide neglected to warn our group of ~50 people about sea urchins–two women got very painfully, if not that dangerously, stung), and we caught a brilliant sunset followed by a fire-baton-twirling show. I should’ve taken more pictures.

Figure 2.3 – Again, the picture can’t do it justice.

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So to wrap up our trip to Thailand (again, I left a lot of details and photos out): it was the best ~US$370 I’ve ever spent (all expenses included, though we did get a promo price on flights to and from Singapore) for a three-day trip to Bangkok and Krabi. (The last day was just the morning flight.) If I could do it again, I’d probably branch out more: I’d visit a smaller city, stay in a hostel instead of a hotel (I’m spoiled because my sister works for a major hotel chain), and try more experiences (like elephant riding–though sources differ on the internet on how ethical these places are in making the elephants move/work, or whether they’re helping preserve or hurting the animals–and climbing or cave-exploring).

[1] Fewer people, not less, is grammatically correct, but dangit it sounds uglier

[2] Bangkok’s full ceremonial name is actually one of the longest place names in the world, translated as (thanks, Wikipedia): “City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Visvakarman at Indra’s behest.” This actually captures its cultural image–or at least the one it wants to promote–pretty well.

[3] 80% of the country’s poor live in rural areas.

[4] If there’s a city that leaves an ashy taste in my mouth, it’s Las Vegas, which for some unknown reason I’ve been to at least four or five times. Funnily enough, Bangkok is touted as the Vegas of Asia. There are some beautiful parts of Las Vegas, and I treasure a lot of my memories of it, but it’s an unsustainable city that panders way too hard to its own image on The Strip, and collapses into chaparral weariness off of it.

[5] Note on the temples in Bangkok: Most of them are fairly close to each other, so it’s easy do a walkthrough around and call it a day. The Grand Palace is the main draw, but it’s also the most expensive temple grounds by far, with a 500 Baht (divide by 25 -> 20SGD) entry fee. If you go there, be prepared for swarms of fellow tourists. It kinda takes away from the ambience, but it’s still worth seeing. Head into the indoor museums included with your ticket to cool off in rare air conditioning, and in fact, just go to the temples early–the inner Grand Palace closes at 3, even though you can still walk around the surrounding grounds later (and for free).

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