Week 3 | Up and Away


Allowed a bit of a breather this week, but nonetheless still full of adventures: getting an equivalent of Montezuma's revenge (but still trudging on), visiting the awesome Mustafa Indian centre, a trip to Malaysia, biking and plenty more. Let's dive in.


Apparently he was the father of body building in Asia.

Allowed a bit of a breather this week, but nonetheless still full of adventures: getting an equivalent of Montezuma's revenge (but still trudging on), visiting the awesome Mustafa Indian centre, a trip to Malaysia, biking and plenty more. Let's dive in.


We encountered several janky places while wandering about Melaka.

First trip outside Singapore and it was short and sweet. Several others and I went to the Kranji MRT station and boarded the 170 bus across to Johor Bahru, Malaysia's capital. This itself was an interesting journey, involving two separate times when we had to alight to get past customs, several MIT students getting questioned for not having their white cards and a ridiculously low fee of ~S$1.50 for the entire bus ride. We arrived at the Larkin bus station and boarded another bus heading for Melaka, several hours journey north into Malaysia. As a small aside, changing USD to SGD to RM is a sure way to lose money. The way to Melaka was uneventful, but traveling along the highway gave great views of the jungle, which rolled over small hills and stretched for miles into the distance. It is a breathtaking sight and a bit overwhelming for one born of the desert. The rain was intimidating--sudden and then gone in a flash. I, along with the others, dozed off at lengths and all awoke with a start thinking we'd missed our stop, but we made it there alright, arriving at Market Sentral (yes, that is how they spell it) in the early evening.

These bikes were dazzling and would proceed to play loud music when someone boarded.

Upon arriving, we made our way to the hostel where we were staying and unloaded our stuff. It appears that even for a one day trip, people still load their backpacks with endless things they will never use. Ah well, we wandered over to Tesco, a kind of department store, waiting for a Taxi to take us to Jonker Walk, a street market. The first one that came denied us entrance (on odd, unexplained grounds), so we walked past AEON, through some janky rundown place, over a half-built bridge and back onto the main road. Quick aside, janky became the word of the trip to describe various scenarios/things we ran across while in Melaka; it is a great substitute for sketchy.

These dragons have bodies too long and slender to be anything approaching useful. But they look sweet.

After a bit of wandering, we ended up at Jonker Walk and encountered a dazzling array of lights, sounds and smells. Like many bazaar/street markets found throughout the world, this one had the prerequisite variety of stalls with trinkets, catchy shirts (one brilliant one had "I give 100% at work: Monday, 15%; Tuesday, 20%..." and so on until it added up to 100%), and interesting food. Cody (a MIT grad student working at SUTD) and I ordered rendang beef and oyster omelet; both were delicious but the small portions found here still take getting used to. They were also selling potato shish kebabs (they had a roller to cut the potatoes then stretched them out over a skewer and fried them) and froyo in egg-shaped containers. There were a couple cool items, namely a golden goblet (i.e. the best shot glass in the family collection), that I wanted to get, but I didn't have enough money to. Lame. There were other surprises, like bikes that would take you around and had large speakers on the back and were decked out with an assortment of colorful lights.

Pizza in a cone. Enough said.

Anyways, we wandered around trying to find a river boat cruise, but didn't take it due to the really long wait. We ended up chilling near a bar and Nate amazed some of the locals with his ability to remove a beer bottle top with his Brass Rat. We had an Aussie and Canadian join us partway through the night. I left early to get some rest, but the rest found a bar cum club to go dancing at. Overall a good time and the trip back the next morning was uneventful. While I shouldn't be that suprised, I was able to communicate in English the entire time, in contrast to my time in Mexico.


Biking trip through East Coast Park. Yes there was a skate park, which was awesome.

We succumbed to our urges to be free on Sunday and went to East Coast Park. There are several shops that rent bikes out to people for a couple hours. We got a couple of mountain bikes and proceeded to speed down the park's bike path. It was exhilarating and one of the best experiences of my time here. Vivaek, Bryan and Bryan were the original crew that I rolled with and we took pictures at piers along the way. Because they drive on the left side of the road here, we had to keep making sure we weren't biking into incoming traffic, but all turned out well.

We were eventually joined by Seth (a Briton from Imperial College), Quynh (another MIT student) and some others. As we rode, it was amazing how often people here disobeyed common sense and biking rules, in stark contrast to my rides along the Washington and Old Dominion Trail near D.C. When people got off their bikes, they would sometimes just congregate on the bike lane or just drop their bike in the road. Anyways, we cruised down the bike path and past a water ski facility (people held onto rungs that were tied to lines that were connected to a main line which propelled them around in circles). Someone wiped out trying to grind on a platform as I zipped by. We were going full-speed when we passed a skate park.

Now, everyone knows that when you are on a bike and you encounter a skate park, you must go in. So we did. Rolling in, we saw people of all different ages and abilities tearing up the park. There were a couple people on BMX bikes doing tricks and a skateboarder here and there. Seth borrowed a skateboard from someone and took a ride while Bryan, Vivaek and I rode around the park for a bit. We'll have to go back with better bikes.

Left/Middle: Don't think I'm supposed to be here... Right: Vivaek's first BK Whooper. America!

So we continued down the trail and eventually I pulled ahead of the others and went off the main trail to a sketch part of the park. There was a bridge with no real walkway that leads to a trail that looked quite abandoned. This being Singapore and not the US of A, I'm not too keen to find out what happens when you go into areas where you ought not to be. I turned around and we ended the night eating some good ol' BK. Hey, you can't eat exotic food 24/7!


Preparations for national day or just crazy high beams.

I am waiting to work on a project in which everything goes as planned. Several snags were encountered, almost all of them technical and a couple more general. The drug is not being encapsulated correctly and the method to measure the drug loading efficiency is somewhat suspect. However, after talking with Ian at length, it seems we have a solution and next week we'll find out if the different liposomes and drug loading methods I have been trying are working as planned.

Working in Ian's lab also involved finding out about things outside biology. He mused about the origin of the base twelve in the Imperial System and noted that it might be related to music, as there are twelve semitones in an octave. I also learned about CUDA programming, an instruction set that Nvidia has wrapped into a separate driver for its parallel processing enabled GPUs. It should allow programs to run much faster that doing the same sort of parallel processing commonly seen on a CPU with multiple cores. We went over several mathematical concepts related to the algorithm he has been developing (unfortunately I can't go into details) and he told me a bit about the small Raspberry Pi-like motherboards that Intel makes to test CPUs before manufacturing. They have USB, video and other ports and is quite small, seems a bit akin to a Arduino. Can be used to implement the algorithm faster by making the board dedicated to particular calculations, thus speeding up the whole process. Cool stuff, can't wait to see what next week holds.


This place was crazy packed and the food was delicious.

The food here continues to delight; though, due to being more busy in lab I've reduced the breath of my sampling to a couple meals that I particularly like: Japanese chicken and fish with rice and seaweed soup; Indian rice with curry and mutton (a type of biryani dish) and Korean marinated pork with rice, anchovies and delicious onions (with a sauce whose name I forget). But there were some culinary adventures to be had.

Eating up at Broadway.

We ventured out on Sunday to find Chomp Chomp, a hawker centre at Serangoon gardens. You have to take the red line to the Ang Mo Kio metro stop then head over via bus. When we arrived, the place was packed. You are supposed to find a stall here and then order from a place and they will deliver it to you. But finding a stall proved to be a problem and we just ended up ordering food then waiting for a place to open up. People are ruthless and often what appeared to be an open table was far from. I ordered carrot cake, which was delicious. It consisted of egg cooked with different spices and served with shrimp. Like an omelet only with a wider range of flavors than I'm used to. We also got sugar cane juice, which they make on the spot from sugar cane. It is intensely sweet, especially once you get to the bottom of the large jug we got, where all the sugar has settle to. Chicken wings were also order and they tasted quite fresh, we never found out it the chicken had been killed on the spot or elsewhere.

Delicious dish from Mustafa centre.

There is a hawker centre near us called Broadway that contains a couple shops, mostly Japanese, Chinese and Muslim. Bryan and I ordered dishes from the Muslim shop; I had the roti prata and mee goreng. The roti prata is like an omelet and the mee goreng was a noodle dish with strong spices and a reddish tint.

Mustafa is an Indian centre located near the Little Indian or Farrer Park MRT stations. Like always, I took a round-about way to get there but saw some cool sights as a result: a building with blue and red sparkling lights hanging from it and patterns projecting onto the street in front of it, a Hindu temple with some beautifully sculpted cows at the top and a street with colorful lights and banner strung across it. Eventually I made it to Mustafa and encountered a variety of shops selling all kinds of things: dazzling jewelry, succulent fruit and cheap shirts. I met up with Bryan, Vivaek and others after they had finished dinner; Vivaek was able to get me a dish with a rice dosa and some orange colored rice (forget the name). Anyways, we went into the main store and got lost in its endless hallways filled with carpets, spices and all manner of other things. We'll have to go again when our main goal isn't getting juice and breakfast foods.

I seemed to have regained my obsession with juice.


Singapore continues to reveal its secrets and this week I learned more about their healthcare system, retirement, maids, school and much more!

School is broken up into interaction, nursery, primary, secondary and junior high/poly. Children often start in interaction school (partially made-up name, no one would give me a formal name), where they go for several hours to play with other babies. Afterwards, they attend nursery, which is more like a daycare where parents can leave their children for the day. Primary school covers grades one thru six normally while secondary school covers seven thru eleven. Afterward people have a choice of whether they want to go to junior high (more theoretical) or poly (more technical), which award certificates and diplomas, respectively. They are on a Western system more or less: Aug-Nov and Jan-Apr are school and May-July and December are breaks. During primary or secondary school, people often attend enrichment classes during their breaks, which normally meet for several hours three or four times a week. When people get older, their aim for internships and the different junior high/poly schools have varying reputations, which influences what spots you will get. There is no age limit on work, but people will generally not hire the very young. Schools sometimes help students from poor families find work and then arrange with the company to set hours that work around their class schedule.

I continued to see NUS orientation events occur and it appears that clubs also involve students. I also learned about the different interest groups at NUS which are mainly Buddhist, Christian and other religious groups. Apparently the Christian group is called Crusade for Christ and they were banned for a time after putting up a poster that read, "[insert # here] many people live in Taiwan, [insert # here] many people are also Christian in Taiwan. There is a lot of saving to do." Wild, wonder who thought that was a good idea.

It seems housing it quite expensive here and the rules surrounding it a bit complex. For example, if you are not married, you won't qualify for government housing (and thus need to buy private housing) and the same is true if a couple makes more than S$8,000 per month. Government flats normally starts at around S$200,000 while private ones can be around S$500,000. That's insane, especially for younger people. This leads to many staying at home well into their late twenties.

There are a variety of things that gain one tax breaks for in Singapore, among them having a maid. Maids are apparently quite common in Singapore and most come from Indonesia or Malaysia and live with the family. Families have to pay ~S$5,000 to the government since the owner is responsible for the maid and if something happens, they foot the bill. So if the maid becomes pregnant or anything else happens, this pays for the expense. This often leads to tension and people being unsure whether to give the maid the keys for fear they will abuse the house or cause other trouble, leading to monetary loses.

Healthcare in Singapore is a mix of private and government. To avoid the free-rider problem, there is a base set of services provided almost free by the government, but more costly procedures require a co-pay and emergencies can be paid for out of ones retirement account. Like social security, the retirement account is composed of money taken from ones income; here around twenty percent is removed and placed into the account. It is meant to be locked away until you turn fifty-five or in case you have a medical emergency or want to use some as a down payment for a house. Anyways, the healthcare system also has things like tiered wards that run from the nearly completely private (A-level) to the entirely public (D-level), this allows people to pay for better care if they want but ensures some baseline level of care.

The government has been allowing increased opposition parties to emerge, but there is still a tendency to use underhanded tactics to pressure people into voting for the People's Action Party (PAP), the ruling party. This includes making the offending district last to receive repairs or other similar actions. Apparently Lee Kuan Yew maintained the British system of imprisonment without trial to swiftly deal with threats and then to release the offenders once their political clout had faded. This was the case with fellow founder of the PAP Lim Chin Siong, whom he accused of being a communist and detained for a time. It appears that the older generation both admires and fears Lee Kuan but that the younger generation has become more rebellious.


The leadership program is an endless adventure.

The MIT students continue to help SUTD students develop plans for their extracurricular activities and relay to them valuable knowledge gained from our time at MIT. The leadership session this week focused on helping the kids formulate strategies for their new clubs. The deadline to apply for funding from SUTD is fast approaching and some of the students are applying for club grants. The MIT students split into teams focused on different aspects of the club-creation process: finance, pitching, constitutions, etc. I went with the financing group and worked with a girl who is starting a Korea club focused on getting the members to learn the language. She plans on hiring an outside teacher for two lessons a week as well as put on a couple other cultural events. A lot of the work revolved around asking her what she and the members wanted from the ground and the best way to get initial funding. SUTD gave them a pretty wonky budget spreadsheet to work with, so I advised her to learn Excel really well as it would help her in the future.

Then we went over possible avenues of acquiring outside funding, I suggested several possibilities: contacting various Korea language learning schools and see if they'd be willing to sponsor some classes, have members as their parents if they would be willing to foot the initial bill for the classes or trying to get a Korean University to help fund the club on the hope that these students would then go for exchange programs. There were a myriad of other routes we went over and I think it is also best to give someone slight suggestions and hints then see where they go. They'll often surprise you.

Night Life

Attica had a A+ entrance, but the dancefloor and layout were B-grade otherwise.

Attica was the club of choice this week and while it had a large crowd outside on ladies night (Wednesday) and a swanky looking entrance (they rays of light emanating out at you when you peeled back the last cloth to the entrance), it ultimately wasn't as fist-pumpingly awesome as Zirca or Avalon. Nevertheless, it was still fun. They had a weird rule in effect were the dance floors were girls-only for random periods; this applied to both the main dance floor downstairs and the smaller one upstairs. As is wont at a club, you run into people; this time I met someone named Daniela from Bard College in NYC. Though she was European in descent, she was actually a native Singaporean, go figure. She also suggested we visit MINK. We'll see.

On Friday we went in search of Helipad, a bar/club with a rooftop lounge style after its namesake. Now, like any good search-for-the-place-by-asking event, we wound up wandering around the Clarke Quay area, entering random hotels and getting false instructions from several people. After finding Helipad, it turned out their free rooftop bar was anything but and we ended up meeting Lisa at Orgo, a Japanese bar located on top of the Esplande.

Also, Bryan told me about this place called Filter, which is a members only club. Basically, there are members and they are allowed to invite one guest per night, who has to pay a cover of S$100. Eventually as a guest, if you are invited often enough, you can become a member yourself and get in for free. Crazy.

And to end it, Singapore has an endlessly entertaining slew of ads, public service posters and other signage that make you think "Wait, someone had to sit down and create this...". Till next week.

Singapore loves signs...

bahanonu [at] alum.mit.edu

more articles to enjoy:

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This Spanish short focuses on the trial of a man accused of rape. It is a look into his mind, more specifically, the dreams he had and their possibly explanation of events that occurred. It is an analysis of the possibility of confusing our real memories with ones created by our dreams.

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