Week 2 | Day and Night


This pace can't keep up. Saw some crazy animals at a night safari, wandered around NUS's campus late at night (the place is chaotic, beautiful and slightly eerie at night), met with SUTD's president and more. It seems that staying in Singapore for most of the summer is a go, there is so much here to find out and explore. That might also be because I severely underestimated the size of the country (e.g. don't glance at a map's scale and assume 20 miles = 2 miles, haha). Anyhow, here goes, another eventful week summarized in small snippets.


This pace can't keep up. Saw some crazy animals at a night safari, wandered around NUS's campus late at night (the place is chaotic, beautiful and slightly eerie at night), met with SUTD's president and more. It seems that staying in Singapore for most of the summer is a go, there is so much here to find out and explore. That might also be because I severely underestimated the size of the country (e.g. don't glance at a map's scale and assume 20 miles = 2 miles, haha). Anyhow, here goes, another eventful week summarized in small snippets.


Korean girl who had a snake wrapped around her. She was terrified.

The Night Safari is awesome but hard to photograph when you only have a camera phone, haha. Before entering the safari-proper we saw fire breathers. They did things like chain together bursts of fire, which was awesome in action (my phone's camera fails me). We started off being entertained at a small arena by a variety of animals, among them a dire wolf...just kidding those don't exist (except in a Song of Fire and Ice, read the books!), but they had a large white wolf that they brought out. I want one. Anyways, the performance was a hoot, they brought up a Korean girl and had her hold onto a python; she looked terrified the entire time and they actually left the stage for a bit during a mock mix-up. There were several other cool parts, like when the Asian otters took trash and put it in the proper container. We went on a tram around the safari and at several points got off to see the variety of leopards, bats, and other animals. There were also elephants (that's for you Adanta)! If you're in Singapore, go here.


Sentosa here, there and everywhere!

We went by Sentosa Saturday afternoon, a resort island given the name around 1972 and slowly built into a tourist attraction since. Along the way we met Wei (one of the student in Nate and I's SUTD white team) and she showed us around the island a bit. We went by the Luge, where Nate and I raced down a hill on carts probably meant for children. It was endlessly fun and flying past slower participants and skidding around corners never gets old. Walking over the Siloso beach, we played beach volleyball against some locals. It started off well, but trying to win a game with a rag-tag team and no real strategy/tactics doesn't normally work out. Didn't this time either. Oh well, it was fun. We saw a couple other sights, like a giant Merlion (Singapore's mascot) or a cool walkway that had tiled, multicolored wavy sculptures. The island is pretty cool, but the artificiality of it gets a bit tiring after awhile.


NUS at night is a labyrinth of buildings, dead-ends and hidden gems.

Went searching for a SIM card. For some reason, everytime I tried to get one, my plan was foiled either by other students (e.g. "let's go to dinner now!") or by some act-of-god scenario, e.g. machines at all the stores visited are broken or there are no cards available. Well, a week and some days into my trip, I'm finally able to make calls! Awesome. But it's prepaid. So I'm the only person with a number starting in 9 instead of 8. Cool. Actually someone else is in my boat, but let's ignore that for now, haha. Anyways, on the first SIM card trip, I happened to wander into Biopolis and also into a nearby park. Seeing buildings named Synapse and Aminos is cool (aka it's a bit like Janelia Farm, where I worked last summer). The campus is quite pretty, like most modern bio-tech parks, and walking by the site of a building under construction is also fun. I was able to explore the site a bit before being sooed away (apparently foreigners walking around a construction site at night is suspicious and sketchy).


Working under Ian (my PI at Temasek) is a bit different compared to lab at school (in the Tsai/Jasanoff labs) and my other summers. He is always in and there for me to drop. While the same was true at Janelia (under Vivek Jayaraman), CRG in Barcelona (under Matthieu Louis) or at UB in Basel (under Thomas Hills), there were often long stretches when they were away. And while large labs have their advantages, for training purposes having a small number of people can be really helpful. It seems that the first couple experiments are going well and I'm learning something new almost every day; this was a much better idea than taking a summer off. Because we aim for the project to transfer to a company, we need to use a low-cost, high-throughput method to encapsulate our drug in liposomes (increases efficacy by retention in body and localization to tumor site). However, so far the yield is low, so we'll see how things go on that front.

Khansama, the Indian restaurant Ian took us out to after lab meeting.

Ian is also keen on doing lab meetings different than all the other labs I've worked in. His motto is that people probably know what others in the lab are doing, so better focus on other things. We had one of the lab members, Sahil, share a bit about his life up to that point. He is a rising senior in biotechnology at IIT in India and hails from a city near Delhi. We then reviewed Bayes' Theorem and did a couple exercises on probability. It was quite stimulating and it'll be interesting to see how future lab meetings go. We also went out to Khansama, an Indian restaurant, afterwards. More on that in Food.


Once again, the center-piece of Singapore, I had a variety of delicious food from the polarizing durian to super-sweet gulab jamun. I finally had some durian and I'll admit that while this fruit might not be among the best, it is an interesting one. It has a waxy texture (not a particularly enjoyable feeling in the mouth) and is a pale yellow in color (at least the one I had). The taste was both sweet and a little tart at the same time. I can see why this fruit receives yes-no responses to "So, do you like it?". I'm on the border, maybe I'll try it again to give a final judgement.

Collection of food. Lady in the right-most picture is Queenie, our dorm manager.

We were invited to Kim's Family Restaurant by our hostel/dorm manger, Queenie. On the way there we passed through some Korean neighborhoods and I asked Queenie about the elevated buildings. She said the reason for the open-air first floor was to promote community space and because people did not want their rooms there since others could peer in. Also learned that maeul is the Korean word for village. Interesting. Back to the main story.

Kim's is Korean food at it's best, served in small little platters and with k-pop blaring in the background (but more on that in a bit). We had pork, chicken, a variety of vegetables, and some delicious kimchi. They brought a pan over and put a bunch of different seafood inside: muscles, baby squid, and others. Not keen on seafood, but had a go at it anyways and was pleasantly surprised. Oh, and the k-pop. There was some kind of American Idol for Korea playing and a variety of interesting bands performed, many with ridiculous outfits and dances to boot. Surprisingly, I knew some of the bands, like SNDS. Without a doubt a great place to visit while in Singapore.

Delicious rice with curry, chapatis and potatoes.

The NUS canteens (aka their in-house hawker centres) continue to provide a variety of delicious food. The other day I had a common Indian dish: rice, chicken curry, chapatis and some chicken. While simple, that's probably why it is the best. This was complemented by honey and water chestnut juice, which is sweet but has a refreshing taste to it as well, as if you are sipping from a pond. There was also a Japanese meal of rice with curry, small slices of chicken and a fried fish fillet.

We went to a Chinese hawker center two different days and both were pretty good. The first hawker centre was off the Chinatown stop and was filled with 20+ shops. It is a bit overwhelming sometimes and you want to try everything. This leads to several minutes spent going in circles. Anyways, I got rice with egg (they used a little pot to make the egg into a cylinder) along with some chicken. I'm a chopstick eating pro (if I wasn't already) except when you get down to the last grains of rice, not sure how they deal with those. The other centre (off the Buona Vista stop) had some really good rice with spicy curry and a bean soup that had this pale-brown vegetable that pops in your mouth, forget the name. Chinese food is always a go. Surprise! haha.

Awesomeness reincarnated as a fruit.

And then there is this fruit called dragon fruit or pitaya--the former is 1000x cooler (for any Phi Sig's reading this, I owe you no snacks for typing that word). It looks like a crazy pokemon cum fruit, aka the greatest thing in the world. Unfortunately, while even the interior looks sick (in a good way), the taste is very bland. Like watermelon that has all sweetness removed. But it has a crunchy texture, so that's a plus. I'll try to sneak one back into the States.

Ian took us out to Khansama after lab meeting. It was a blast: I had some amazing Indian food and learned a bit about my lab members as well. The menu was thirty pages long! It was buffet style, which I think is the perfect avenue to explore 6+ dishes on one plate. I ordered a mango lassi, which is like a mango smoothie, but it was a bit more creamy and delicious. Another ordered teh tarik, which is an Indian tea in milk that they make by pouring the liquid between two glasses several times. Proceeding to the buffet, they had naan (Indian flatbread), papadum (a kind of chip, these were quite spicy), and gulab jamun (flour rolled in a ball, fried and soaked in syrup). There were a variety of rices (white and spiced) and different curry to complement the meal. Overall it was excellent.


Temasek Life Sciences, where I work, is located on NUS's campus. Turns out this week that NUS had several orientation events going on. Incoming freshmen join teams and compete against one another, the teams are assigned based on faculty (department for those in the States) and dorm/hostel location. It is hilarious to see people running around with green bunny ears, singing nonsensical chants and doing ridiculous events (like trying to spell out words using their bodies).

The Singapore military turns out to be an interesting institution. Talking to several people, it appears that it is common to give Muslims and non-Chinese positions like driving and other lower posts. Driving is often reserved for Malays or Indonesians because that is where Singapore would most likely do much of its fighting and they can speak the native tounge. Recently a Muslim, Ishak Ismail was promoted to general and this apparently caused quite a stir. But the person I talked with about this had met him and said that he wasn't quite the typical Muslim, e.g. he renounced the [given name] bin [surname] that is common in Indonesia for Muslims. This might have been a reason why he was promoted. Anyhow, people in the military get weekends off and are allowed to return to their homes, it is interesting to see people in fatigues walking around, but it is much less intimidating than in the United States or elsewhere. They are also a purely defensive military, for obvious reasons.

One of the most amazing things about Singapore is how much they try to ease any racial or religious tensions. Each religion/race is has two official holidays and normally everyone celebrates each other's holidays. In addition, the populace, while clumping quite readily into different groups as is man's wont, can also be seen to visit places outside their cultural zone. For example, at Khansama (the Indian restaurant) there was a large Chinese group eating. I'll have to ask the locals more about possible racial tensions that exist, especially seeing how it only appears that Indians work construction jobs.


SUTD's slick logo.

We had a meeting with Tom Magnanti, the president of SUTD. It was quite informative and he gave us a clear run-down of the history and vision of the university. SUTD was created as a way to boost the number of students attending universities in Singapore but instead MIT proposed (around 2008/2009) to Singapore that it create an elite univesity. The vision is different than other universities in that it is very design orientated (classes are taught in fifty student cohorts that work actively, instead of passively, with the professor), there is a three semester froshmore (freshmen+ sophomore) year, the different years are at staggered schedules so the campus is never dormant (none of this Western-style agrarian business, e.g. fall/spring=school, summer=free time) and other things. The students are mainly Singaporean, but also come from other parts of the world and they are general enthusiastic. They are hoping to reach a class size of a thousand students a year and to produce MIT-grade tm graduates. It is interesting to see MIT pour so many resources into building a new university and I'll be interested to see where the place is in twenty or thirty years.

Susan Hockfield comes to MIT.

Susan Hockfield gave a speech at SUTD about education and technology, both MIT's changing views and role in the world and toward education. Several MIT students attended along with a bunch of SUTD staff/students. It was an interesting discussion lead by Tom Magnanti. Before they started, I met Kim Vandiver, an MIT professor who directs D-LAB and focuses on projects ranging from water sanitation to energy. MIT asked him if he could come to help setup a D-LAB-like venture at SUTD that uses Singapore as a base from which they can explore problems in Southeast Asia and India. He agreed and had just arrived, we had a good chat about problems facing the developing world and how to best combine technology and education to solve them. Back to the main story. President Hockfield discussed the MIT Energy Initiative, the impact of and initial response to edX and MITx, the sorry state of science and technology education in America and many other topics. It was enthralling to listen to her views on many different subjects and some personal stories from her time as MIT's president.

Night Life

Some pics from the Zircus dance floor. It was crazy.

There is something to be said for caving into peer pressure from time to time. After a little prodding by Nate, we left for The Butter Factory. Along the way, we ran into some 40+ year old business men who knew where the club was (0_o) and then arrive to find out you needed a passport to get it. Next time, so we instead went near the Clarke Quay stop and went to Zirca on Wednesday night. It was a blast; the music was a mix of top 40, remixes and some old favourites (think Saxo Beat and Danza Kuduro). The atmosphere was crazy and there seemed to be an obsession with lollipops. Not sure, but it seems if you dance well enough, they give you one. I got one. Besides that, there was smoke in the air and people were really energetic. The DJs talked a lot to get the crowd pumped up and to introduce one another. There was a main dance floor and another one hidden back that played more hip-hop. However, the more open floor proved much more fun, especially when dancing on top of the platform.

Part of the light show in front of the Marina Bay Sands.

We returned to Avalon Friday for round two. There was a Facebook promotion that go you on the guest list for free! So there was pretty much no reason not to go. It was awesome. But a slight detour is in order. We got there a bit early (no one clubs before 2300) but the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) happened to be putting on a light show. It was pro-rated, to bring back an old term. They had lasers coming from the MBS at several points and the purple high beams reached to the clouds. It was amazing to see when they had several pointed skywards and several clouds were lite up. They then had water shooting out of the ground, Bellagio-style if you've seen that, and then projected movies onto the mist and near the end created rainbow-colored 3D waves several feet above the water. It was fantastic, I'll have to stop by another time when I have a real camera.

Alright, back to the main thread. So we arrived early and upon going inside, not many people were there and fewer still on the dance floor. Nate and I decided to change that. Rounding up a couple of the other MIT students, we went down and brought the party to life. About four hours and uncountable calories later, we left. Along the way, as is wont at a club, I met several people such as two friends vactioning in Singapore. One was Rebecca, whose from Dallas and is an HR person here on vacation, and Jessie, from Munich and who happens to play soccer. Nice!

the dance floor, the party and the DJ. Perfect.

Anyways, that's the end of week two in Singapore. Seems like the ride never ends here. Still honing my design skills in the background and I'll leave you with a recent poster that puts Obama in a positive light. Hopefully the presidential campaign isn't too acidic this year.

Obama support poster mock-up.

bahanonu [at] alum.mit.edu

©2006-2018 | biafra ahanonu | updated 31 january 2018
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