Well here I am, the furthest from Fife that I have been so far (it terms of distance) and it certainly feels far from home! I’m currently undertaking a Year Abroad as part of my degree programme at the University of Edinburgh and this South East Asian country will be my home whilst I conduct Chemistry Research at the University here until May.
When I decided to apply for a placement in Singapore I had many mixed feelings about it: I would certainly be distant from friends and family; there is no white water in Singapore itself so my kayaking would be jeopardised; and there were other options in Europe and the States which seemed appealing. In the end, what swung my decision was the simple acknowledgement that an opportunity like this doesn’t always come up twice – when else would I have the time to travel around Asia, to experience the different cultures here, to try new food and visit new places. I’ve come here to experience a destination that I doubt I will ever live in again (unlike Europe/Americas) and I intend to make the most of it, and hopefully keep you all informed of anything exciting too!
After a 7 hours flight, a 3 hour stop over, and another 8 hour flight, I landed in Singapore around 3.30 in the afternoon on the 28th of August (which is 8.30 am in Britain). I flew with my friend Ruby who is also from Fife and on the same course at Edinburgh Uni, and together the two of us collected our luggage and made our way out of Changi Airport. BAAM!! That wall of heat hit me like a train. Everybody who has been to Singapore warns you of the heat and humidity, “you’ll be sweaty all the time”, “you’ll need three showers a day”, and although I had heeded their advice, nothing could prepare me for that feeling. A film of stickiness clung to my skin as we hopped into the taxi and were taken on an hour journey, across most of Singapore, to our campus at Nanyang Technological University.
Our friend Isabelle met us and helped us into our accommodation. My hall is a newer one which is pleasant and clean, and my lovely roommate, Rachel, is Singaporean (yes, I have a roommate!). Rachel took me to dinner at the nearby canteen that night and disoriented and jet-lagged I did my best to chat with her friends and choose some food. It was then that I came across my first issue with life here (other than the humidity) – there is very little vegetarian food. I order something called a Mushroom dish, as it was the only thing that didn’t have the word beef or chicken in it. Unfortunately for me, it had beef, squid and kind prawns in it. I ate the rest though anyway, picking around. Since then I’ve become better at hunting down the food I want to eat, though I’ve noticed that there is a lack of vegetables in this country. Anything that is green is usually sautéed or fried to hide as much of the green colour as possible, and I’ve been craving salad for a while.
Whilst they don’t have much veg, they do have a wide selection of interesting fruit. Dragon fruit was a cool one with its shocking pink exterior and firm white flesh with black spots. My absolute favourite is the freshly squeezed orange juice (or any fruit juice you want) which is just delicious. Whilst most food and veg in imported, making it just as expensive as in Scotland, other food – particularly in Uni Canteens and Hawkers Centres – is cheap! A Claypot containing rice, beef, chicken and some veg etc, can cost as little as $4 which is roughly £2. For lunch the other day I went to a canteen stall called “economical rice” and it certainly was: I was given a plate of rice and selected my accompanying veg/bean curd and it cost $2.80 for a full plate of food. That’s £1.40. Whilst it is cheap and easy to eat at a canteen, I think I lived fairly cheaply in Edinburgh at I do miss having a kitchen. I think the food here is great for meat eaters as it becomes affordable to eat meat here everyday.
With a last mention on food (for now), due to the mix of cultures here; Chinese, Malay, Indian etc., then there is an interested mix of food but almost all of it is rice based! And the few things that aren’t are usually noodle based! Along with salad and fresh vegetables, I deeply miss potatoes, bread and cheese here!! Mmmm cheese….
Alcohol here is ridiculously expensive. Two cans of Tiger will cost, at best, $10 (£5) and that’s for a local beer. I’ve noticed that all the exchange students here make essential stops at Duty Free on their way back from their trips to neighbouring countries!
That first weekend in Singapore I covered a lot of popular destinations. I visited Little India, Marina Bay and Chinatown. The city is very clean but full of people. With the favourite pastimes of Singaporeans being eating and shopping, the shopping centres and food courts were full everywhere! I’m sure I’ll visit all of these places many times during my stay here, particularly the Bay where the Night Grand Prix will be taking place next weekend. I’ve also been to Sentosa, to the point which claims to be the “Southern Most Point of Continental Asia”. I’m not sure if you can really say that though since Sentosa (and Singapore!) are both Islands connected to the mainland by bridges.
I won’t bore you all with talk of my work here, but I will mention how crazy it is. My boss works from 8am until, well I don’t even know how late he works, but certainly it’s after 9pm. That’s every single day, Monday to Sunday! The PhD students also work incredibly long hours. My PhD supervisor said he wanted to leave early on Friday and I asked him what time. His answers? “Oh 8pm, maybe even 7.30…”. I think the face I made alerted him to my surprise (and disgust) because he started to laugh. I’ve been working long hours here, usually from 9-7, but I’m hoping that this will slowly change as I get more productive and better used to the lab so that I finish work a little earlier. We’ll see.
I’m excited to plan my first trip. That’s what keeps me going when friends and family are back home and don’t wake up until 3pm my time! It’s great to have Skype to talk, and Facebook lets me know what’s going on, but sometimes it seems more of a curse as I miss my old flat mates and kayaking buddies and life is just going on as normal in Edinburgh with the start of the new academic year. Hopefully I’ll have more exciting trips to tell of in my next post to keep everyone entertained! (Scuba Diving?!)