Sometimes it feels like life should have a record button that nicely parses the endless stream of awesomeness that comes at you. Not a camecorder or microphone, but a program that understands the world, can automatically find and retrieve the most useful links then type-up a nicely formatted document to present to others. Alas, while some of this technology exist, it isn't in one nice little package. Plus, writing about Singapore is almost as fun as experiencing it. Below are some finds from my fifth and sixth week in Singapore, from adventures in Bali to savouring the taste of Ayam Goreng Pedas Ramen (super spicy!).
Sometimes it feels like life should have a record button that nicely parses the endless stream of awesomeness that comes at you. Not a camcorder or microphone, but a program that understands the world, can automatically find and retrieve the most useful links then type-up a nicely formatted document to present to others. Alas, while some of this technology exist, it isn't in one nice little package. Plus, writing about Singapore is almost as fun as experiencing it. Below are some finds from my fifth and sixth week in Singapore, from adventures in Bali to savoring the taste of ayam goreng pedas ramen (super spicy!).
Bali is a tourist destination in Indonesia and is well-known for its beautiful beaches, sights and interesting locales. We started off at Changi, Singapore's top-notch airport that has some of the fastest security lines (both leaving and returning) of any airport I've been through. There we saw the Kinetic Rain art that graced the entrance, it had many teardrop shaped objects hanging from strings and they were pre-programmed to create different shapes (waves, islands, etc.). It would be awesome if they allowed people to interact with it. We landed in Kuta and immediately started haggling with taxis; though, I recommend biting the $1 or so you will save and just take the first taxi you find. While waiting for our main vans to the villa where we were staying, we came across Beachwalk, an open-air complex that housed several stores and is still in development. Wandering around the back-alleys nearby, we came across street vendors selling everything from wallets to mushrooms...what type we didn't take time to find out.
We stayed at Villa Puri Purnama, which was a beautiful beachfront villa. It had an infinity edge pool, a nice view looking out at the ocean naught 100 meters away and room enough for the fourteen of us that came.
Left: The airport had cool Kinetic architecture. Middle: What to not call a moving walkway. Right: Open-air shopping complex in Bali.
Around 0200 the following morning, we woke up and headed over to Mt. Batur for a climb up the volcano. It has erupted several times since 1968. The guide said he could feel the eruption from his home in Bali during the most recent eruption in 2000. Luckily for us, we had no such luck! The journey took about an hour and the morning mist obscured any visibility we hoped to have. Though, it does create a cool effect where you just see radiant points of light in the distance from other people's flashlights. At the top, we waited for the sunrise, but the mist never lifted! All was not lost and because it is an active volcano, we were actually able to go near some vents and feel the hot steam rising out.
Left: People sell interesting wares in Bali back-alleys. Middle: Coconuts! Right: They never confirmed if these rabbits were pets or to eat...
After a bit of resting in the afternoon, we headed over to Ubud, a small town located on the southern portions of Bali. We went looking for a message as they are much cheaper here than in other parts of the world (you can get a full hour for around $10). That proved unsuccessful and we instead ventured into the city and had nasi goreng (fried rice) and other treats at a local restaurant. They also had a Mancala board lying about, so we played a couple rounds while waiting for dinner. Afterwards we saw the Fire and Trance Dance performed by the Taman Kaja Community performers. It was mainly a play about Ramayana, a prince of the kingdom of Ayodya. His wife, Sita, is stolen by Rahwana, a demon who lust after her. The story then unfolds with different characters helping Rama and restoring peace. After the main play, they have a fire dancer kick and walk on hot coals. It was very well done and is a must-see.
With the night growing old, we settled in at Murni's Warung, a beautiful restaurant located on the side of a cliff overlooking a rivulet. We ordered an assortment of different foods (discussed in Food section): tutu ayam, black rice pudding, coconut milk, etc. Side note: Kampung means village in Indonesian.
The next morning some of us were whisked away to partake in snorkeling on the beach. After getting used to the salting conditions, awkward fins and crashing waves, we padded out into the ocean and found beautiful sights below the waves. There was a small reef and old ship located offshore and all manner of colorful fish could be seen, such as the regal blue tang fish. Spent a good hour or two on the waves, something I haven't done in quite a while! The buoyant salt water helped me tread water longer than I've done since childhood. Good stuff.
That night we headed over to Gianyar City for some street market festivities. The main street has several vendors selling all types of food: different dishes with ayam, nasi and ramen. The street market buzzed with activity and clothes were offered for cheap (a replica Chelsea F.C. jersey only cost $3). We caught some food, a variant of nasi goreng, for only $5 for three people. Coming from a first-world to third-world country does wonders for the pocketbook.
Left: Fire Dance. Middle: Dinner at Murni's Warung. Right: Nate showing off near our snorkeling location.
There are several other things in Bali we were unable to do, but would be fantastic places to visit in the future. Klungkung Palace is located in Semarapura, the capital of Klungkung on the southeast part of Bali. In addition, Sanur holds Pura Blanjong, an old Hindu temple. Gua Lawah is a Hindu shrine located in East Bali that hosts thousands of bats in its interior. Side note: Someone said The Goonies was pretty good, I cannot confirm that as of this writing.
Food, food, food! You can never get enough while in Singapore and these past weeks were no exception. At Lau Pa SatI had ayam goreng pedas ramen (spicy ramen with fried chicken) from a Japanese stall. The noodles and chicken were awesome, but the soup was a bit strong to finish by itself. Nasi goreng (fried rice) is a common dish that often goes well with marinated pork (Korean), chicken karaage (Japanese) or other dishes.
Left: Ginseng and other teas or coffees. Middle: Coffee beans roasting in Bali. Right: Tutu ayam, slow cooked for eight hours.
SUN Asian Bistro, located on the campus of the National University of Singapore (NUS), had a nice assortment of food. There was Nonya asam fish, Cereal chicken (which was served with a dry, but tasty, cereal), and vegetables with mushrooms. There was a weird show playing involving a monkey battling some demons that was at odds with the more classy atmosphere of the place. Ignoring that, I would recommend this for an outing with friends.
Left: A biryani dish. Middle: Some crazy leaves cum food. Right: Ayam goreng pedas ramen - fried chicken with spicy ramen.
On our way back from Mt. Batur, we stopped by Bali Agrowisata, Spices and Coffee Plantation that sold Kopi luwak coffee, made from Lubaks, Balinese name for a civet (type of mammal). They feed the coffee beans to the lubaks, they excrete them, and the beans are then dried over a fire and ground into usable coffee. We also had rather good lemon grass tea, which was quite sweet. Robusta, arabica, and ginseng were other types of coffee served at this shop. They also offered us slices of tamarillo and mangosteen, both were delicious.
While in Bali we had a plethora of foods, a sample talked about here. There was tutu ayam, chicken slow cooked for eight hours in various spices. I washed this down with kelapa muda, or a young coconut. For desert we had black rice pudding, which was really good and had a sweet flavor to it, but was unlike anything I've had before. Nasi campur is normally an assorted mix of rice and other ingredients. Es rumput laut was a kind of desserts we found on the streets of Gianyar, it is sweet and served with ice. While I wasn't able to have it, locals talked of palak paneer.
St. James Powerstation is host to a small number of food stalls, one of which served chicken murtabak, which is a bread that has chicken fried in the middle and served with spicy curry. It is quite good and the curry can be drank like soup afterwards. To spice up the atmosphere, there was a giant TV showing F1 then UFC while a cover band played music on a nearby stage. Nice place to visit on a weekday.
Sometimes the best way to explore a culture is to wander about it without the glitz and glamour of its main tourist hubs. I did so the best way I know how, by wandering through the streets, taking in the sights and sounds that are normally hidden from view, tucked away so the unassuming tourist is left unperturbed and perhaps unaware. For there are hidden gems tucked away in every city, Singapore is no exception
The journey started at the Newton hawker centre, located near the Newton MRT stop (surprise!). Ordered carrot cake, which is delicious as always. Afterwards, I began wandering toward Little India and came across the Singapore National Eye Centre, whose building is quite amazing. Next to it is a lovely pond; though, like most the water is a bit...janky. So I continued on.
Walking north towards the Novena MRT stop, I encountered a rather nice apartment nearing completion. So I did what any unassuming American would do, I asked to enter. However, this security guard instead suggested I contact a Mr. Eric Lee. We'll see. Anyways, I continued wandering and spotted the United Square Office Building, which has a wedge-like shape. United Square Mall, located under the office building, has a variety of shops, such as the familiar Toys "R" Us. Overall the mall is nothing special; though, I did come across a door sketchily opening up to the roof. Being Singapore, I decided not to go any farther.
Having finished in United, I ventured toward another interesting sight in the distance, the Novena Square Mall, right above the Novena MRT. It is home to a variety of shops and I encountered a dance competition along the way. Not sure what it was for, but random entertainment never gets old. After a bit of finagling, I happened upon the National Neuroscience Institute (almost applied for a job there...) and the Ministry of Home Affairs. The guards at the later building were reluctant to tell me which government building I was ogling at, but then I realized they had the name printed in big, bold letters on the inside. Guard fail.
Left: Apartment under construction near Novena. Middle: An apartment near Toa Payoh. Right: United Square Office Building.
Swanky apartments dotting the horizon were hard to ignore and there I ventured. Some people were having a small gathering at Ah Hood Gardens, it is nice wandering through these apartment blocks because many are designed with the first floor being an open space that meld seamlessly with the places next to it. It allows you to experience a bit of community life without intruding too much.
Now, everyone likes shiny stuff. I was about to turn back, having become completely 'lost' (deep down I knew where I was) and sweating like no other (hot sun + ridiculous humidity = deodorant fail). But out in the distance, maybe a mile or so away, three towers gleamed with yellow-gold colored tops. A bit later, I was passing the Toa Payoh MRT toward the Toa Payoh town centre, one of the first of its type in Singapore.
Onward, toward Toa Payoh sensory park, I passed a series of bland areas and arrived at one of SAFRA' buildings. SAFRA, Singapore Armed Forces Reservists Association, is an organization that puts together recreational activities for national servicemen. Near the SAFRA building was a sports complex that contained the Toa Payoh Stadium, home to Balestier Khalsa FC. Quick side note about Singapore's S.League, i.e. soccer league. There are thirteen clubs, but according to a local, they are not very good and people aren't fanatical about soccer the way they are in Mexico, England or Spain. Anyways, it appears that Singapore has started an initiative called Vision 2030 to help promote getting more people involved in sports.
The Toa Payoh Town Garden popped into view. I wandered around for a bit and encountered a group of kids participating in laser tag. After talking to Singaporeans about carrying guns, even toy ones, I was surprised to see this. I returned to the Toa Payoh MRT and headed towards Bugis.
Bugis is centrally located.Sim Lim Square and Sim Lim Tower are both nearby. Wandering over to Sim Lim Square, I entered inside and was bedazzled by the array of electronics on display. Phone covers, video cards, TVs and a variety of other gizmos lined shelves. It was a bit of a sensory overload and took a while for me to filter through the noise and find anything interesting. Sifting through piles of electronics and the warm breath of a salesperson trying to do their job kept things interesting.
Well, that's what you can find in a couple hours wandering through a city. Always thought that's one of the best ways to find interesting things, assuming the city lends itself to that. Phoenix, Arizona, does not. Barcelona is A+ in this regard. Singapore is reaching that level, but the artificial feel of many places hampers the fun in finding things that are out of the way.
Started A Song of Fire and Ice, a great fantasy series that begins with A Game of Thrones. The book was started and finished entirely on the Kindle and I think this device might single-handily revive my passion for reading fiction. The past couple years at MIT have been spent reading non-fiction, even in my free time that was par the course. But the Kindle removes the biggest barrier, carrying around a thousand-page book, and allows me to access more books than ever before. On top of that, the Kindle Touch allows me to look up words that befuddle me. Just began the second book in the series as well as Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!. With a growing library of other books, both new and downloads of books I already own, the coming near looks to be a return to pre-university form. Grad school will likely shove sharp, rusted thorns in that plan, haha.
We watched a Ted talk by Rory Sutherland about the role of intangibles in society. It was a rather good talk that got us thinking about the different aspects of each club that could use developing beyond the obvious infrastructure, membership and other details. Some of the examples he used, such as changing the orientation of the Shreddies cereal box to increase sales, show ways in which thinking outside the box with given resources can really pay off.
Sanjay Sarma is the director of the MIT-SUTD Collaboration Office. He has met with us several times both before the program and during our time here. We talked about the progress being made by the SUTD students, how we were impacting them and future directions. While mulling over the problems facing SUTD's growth, we saw that the students could break away from a hierarchical system. This was partially due to their fear of speaking in big groups, which derives from their fear of failure and the constant competition encountered here. This seems in contrast to MIT, where collaboration is encouraged and failure is a badge of honor, indicating you took a risk and learned something. Part of the problem in terms of us helping them appears to be that the MIT students don't know exactly how to help the students and there is a divide, in that they view the MIT students as superiors who don't have to deal with the same problems.
Thus, a possible goal is have the leadership program be a safe space at SUTD that gives them a test-bed from which they can launch more ambitious ideas. In addition, I encouraged Sanjay to ask the administrators to do away with any grading curves currently in the system, as this only leads to excess competition and back-stabbing.
The current crop of students will have to be in an internship for a while and SUTD is in the process of securing jobs for them. I suggested that they search for jobs themselves, as I did for my summer internships, but it appears that some MIT students disagreed with this sentiment. They suggested a combination of assisted internship finding along with their own route. It appears that some MIT alumni are willing to step-up and full-fill the alumni role that SUTD doesn't currently have. Lastly, a SISTI program was discussed that could operate like the MISTI program at MIT to help send the students abroad. One last idea of VentureShips to help fund students who want to go into business.
St. James Power Station was host to Powerhouse, a crazy night-club located in the re-used power station. It had rather nice atmosphere, with fog permeating the dance floor and other environs throughout the night. The DJ played a standard mix of top 40 tunes, from America, and some other, more unknown, songs. But he had a habit of interrupting the music with his talking or ads for future gigs. Very amateur and horrible form. As always, Team America (i.e. us) got things rolling.
Mink had a rather small dance area but made up for it with a continuous string of good songs, from Mat Zo's Superman to Junkie XL's Stratosphere. Halfway through they gave out wands that changed color and with everyone waving them about to the beat, it created a rather fun atmosphere.
Sydney in one week! And should be at the top of the Marina Bay Sands this coming Tuesday! I'll finally get to see the infinity edge pool!