Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Crunch Time


I'm freaking out, correction my mom is freaking out. But that's nothing new and I don't blame her this time, though, considering my flight is in a week and I haven't even started packing yet. I should also mention I never unpacked when I got back from school in May so that helps/hurts my cause depending on how you look at it.

Nonetheless, some important and interesting things I have failed to mention up to this point. Singapore is really REALLY hot no matter what time of year you go. However, the highest recorded temperature ever in the country's recorded history is 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Not too bad, right? Ehh, not so much since it is always above 50% humidity from my understanding. It caught me off guard when I read this considering this nation is located very close to the equator.

However, sad times in the life of J Coco; my dorm room is going to have no A/C!?! I don't care too much besides the fact that I love it to be freezing like 60 degrees F when I'm sleeping. It's going to be like the time I went to freshman orientation at UConn and stayed in a dorm with no air conditioning, in July. I slept that night just in boxers on top of sheets with no blanket and woke up almost every hour that night. It was a nightmare. What was I thinking signing up for this? OK OK everything is going to be fine. Worst case scenario, I take the family Marriott points and use them whenever possible to get some rest at the hotel down the road. Let me tell you something about the Marriott in Singapore, damn...check out the photo above of the lobby (it's a five-star hotel in case you were wondering). Not a bad back-up plan if I may say so myself. I've also considered the possibility of not packing any clothes and just bringing fans and A/C units with me. I can buy cheap threads abroad, no worries. Something tells me my parents may having something to say about that.

Something else worth bringing up is that while a country, Singapore is roughly 1/4 in size of the state of Rhode Island (really called "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" for you trivia junkies) by total land area. How about that New York City is bigger than Singapore by 30 square miles? I might end up seeing all 274 square miles of the country without even trying.

By the way, I went through the trouble of crunching those numbers after one of my cousins asked me to compare Singapore to a state in the United States. Well there you go. Another topic that has been brought up to me is the height of Singaporeans. I have frequently heard "You're going to tower over everyone there." It may be Asia, but not so fast my friend. The average height Singapore's citizens sits around 5'7". The United States only stands two inches taller on average at the 5'9" benchmark. So while I may be "above average" with my 5'10" stature, I don't think I will be looking down at people as often as one may think.

I'm beginning to ramble so I will cut myself off here. Seven days until I depart for the "Lion City."

P.S. I just found out that in Singapore they drive on the opposite side of the road from the U.S. (the British just HAD to have that kind of influence too). Things could get dicey crossing the street.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish

I really did love that book as a kid. It is all the more reason for me to refer to this childhood classic when talking about entering a country that is a "melting pot," full of people belonging to different religious, ethnic, cultural groups.

To give you an idea of what Singapore is like, let me break it down for you since I have been researching the subject for a few months now.

For starters, I have previously talked about how far Singapore is from the United States. But at the time of this post, the longest direct flight in the world comes out of Newark and goes into Changi Airport in Singapore, direct. That's eighteen and a half hours in the air, non-stop.

Once you do reach Singapore, there are many different cultures that can be seen throughout the country. These diverse groups of people, while mostly coming from other parts of southeast Asia, each have their own distinct customs that they abide by.

For example, for the Chinese, men and women may shake hands, although the woman must extend her hand first. Regarding Indians, when being introduced to someone of the opposite sex, nodding the head and smiling is usually sufficient. For the Malays, never present alcohol to one as a gift. Why? I really couldn't tell you that. That's unfortunate since as a college student giving alcohol as a gift has been a go-to move because of its convenience and the enjoyment by people who have received said gift. Let me just quickly note here that the drinking age in Singapore is 18. Expect some good stories in the future with regards to that.

Great Britain, also, has had an influence on this country from when it was colonial ruler of Singapore during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They speak in English as their primary language! Oh sweet glory, hallelujah. My American ignorance can be retained for not having to learn another language. Look I tried Spanish, but the world language department from 5th to 12th grade just had me watching "Destinos" all the time and making stupid projects about "El Dia de Los Muertos" that taught me nothing. Not my fault. Although, I do feel guilty when I do run into an old Spanish teacher and they start talking to me in the language and I usually reply with a "No, I have no clue what you're saying." It's pretty sad.

The interesting thing is that while everyone speaks English there, the names of the country's citizens are anything but. The Chinese traditionally have three names. The surname or family name is first and is followed by two personal names. Take for the example the e-mail I just received ten minutes ago from someone in Singapore. Her name is Lim Mei Mei. Or maybe you fancy something more like an Ong See Min, who initially sent the acceptance letter to me for NUS. I won't even get started with the Malays and Indians. I have no clue how I am going to remember anyone's name! I should be honest with my readers by saying that I am not even sure if I am writing the order of those names correctly (i.e. it could be Mei Lim Mei or See Ong Min). I can't be sure regarding this issue considering I only have these individuals e-mail addresses to go off of.

The Singaporean style of English or "Singlish" as it is called is somewhat unique as well. An American can understand it, but its similar to when you hear an Englishman talk and you're just thinking "Wow, I guess that's another way of saying that." A quick example being that everyone likes to end an e-mail with "Cheers" rather than "Sincerely" or "Warmest Regards." I will update you in future posts about my experience trying to get through this tiny language barrier.

Talking about government regulations in this country that are taboo to most Americans, let me mention a few things that can lead to punishment in Singapore. You cannot chew gum unless it is for medical purposes and prescribed by a doctor. Oral and anal sex used to be against Singaporean law but were legalized three years ago, just an FYI. Although, homosexual activity is, in fact, illegal and could lead to a life sentence in prison. The list, just mentioned, of things not to do in Singapore can all lead to prison time or caning, which I hear is quite painful and leaves a scar for life :/

I will spare you with the details about food, urban life, beaches, housing etc. until I actually see them. For now, chew on this since I won't be able to in little time.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Breakdown

For those of you keeping track at home, Singapore is 9487.74 miles from my hometown. In case anyone at school was wondering, I will be anywhere from 18 to 21 hours from UConn by plane, depending on if you are taking a direct flight.

In that time span, you could do the following:
- witness Joey Chestnut eat sixty eight hot dogs in ten minutes 108 times
- see 36 episodes of HBO's Entourage (that's season 1, 2, and 3 plus four more
episodes from season 4)
- watch the movie "Avatar" almost 7 times over
- work 2 eight hour shifts at work (with 2 two-hour long lunch breaks thrown in there)

The point being that getting to this country is no joke. Kind of ironic considering my application to do this study abroad program in Singapore seemed like when I applied in September.

I have always wanted to go abroad for one semester because of how inexpensive it is compared to vacationing outside the U.S., but also provide me with the opportunity to try something different from Storrs, CT (I will say that I've also heard its a damn good résumé booster).

I love Storrs: friends, classes (that's kind of a lie), student life, the smell of cow dung in the morning coming from the farm, etc. However, at the end of the day no matter who you ask, people will agree that once the cold and windy winters of northeast Connecticut come around, weekends get toned down quite a bit. I will also say I'm not going to miss having to drive to football games let alone take the hour long bus ride!

Tangent: For those of you at school who have heard this story please bear with me. I am taking the bus with a bunch of friends freshman year to the UConn football game. People are drinking in the back and what have you. One individual stands up in the last row facing towards the rear. The bus driver gets mad that someone is standing up since, literally, bus drivers look forward to getting to yell at those one or two people that do so on a daily basis. The kid doesn't comply. We then come to realize he was peeing in a Poland Spring water bottle. Fine. I don't care so much, the man's got to go so better there than anywhere else. Of course, he then fills up the water bottle and, subsequently, starts peeing on the floor. Then to make matters worse just drops the water bottle altogether. The urine goes all the way down the aisle of the bus. People are all scrunched in their seats with their feet up off the floor. The kid gets talked to from an officer when we arrive at the stadium but that's about it. For the sake of time, I won't even bother to talk about what happened on the way home from that game here. Maybe a future post possibility...

Anyway, as I sit here in my cubicle at work, I am able to soak in what all of this means to go so far from home. Sure we all have been to sleep-away camp for months at a time and many of us to college for a few semesters.

This is different, though. I never really cared much about having to go too far from home for college. Don't get me wrong, I never come home from school except for Thanksgiving, Winter Recess, and Spring Break. It's not like I have a thing about being near home, I chose UConn two years ago because it fit me well and is one of the best bang for your buck finds out there. Plus in 60 degree weather or better, it is a lot of fun to be around campus. So you would think it wouldn't be that big of a deal, right? Maybe for the high bastards that go to school in Cali and already go 3000 miles away from home for college.

Even so, this is not the same as the west coast, just to state the obvious. It's a different world with a very different way of living. Speaking of California, did I mention Singapore punishes its inhabitants for being involved with drugs in any way (including consumption/dealing of marijuana) with the death penalty? I will talk more about what makes Singapore unique, next time...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Opening Post

Dear Readers,

I am writing to you in order to get a few formalities out of the way before we begin this exciting journey through time and not so much space but rather a several thousand mile journey.

First, thank you for taking the time to read whatever portion of this blog you feeling like reading. I do appreciate constructive criticism if you do have any questions or comments about my writing style, attitude towards anything written here, or just want to discuss a post in person/phone/e-mail (since I won't be in the country, the in person part of that will have to wait till Christmas time).

Second, I will do everything in my power to consistently update this blog say at least once or twice a week. Worst case scenario I pick one day a week that you can count on a new post. I will be sure to not hold back from providing entertaining and enlightening excerpts to you. However, under advisement there are certain topics I won't mention for reasons that cannot be discussed here. This should have little to no effect on the quality of my writing.

Third, I will do my best to keep the language as PG as possible. I will do my best to keep the reading light and more on the humorous side without having to be vulgar in the process.

Also, if anyone has any recommendations for the name of this blog feel free to comment below or contact me regarding this subject. I would like it to be more clever than just the straightforward title it holds now but I will consider any suggestions.

Finally, hope you enjoy reading these excerpts about my trip to Singapore and my studies at their flagship university, the National University of Singapore (NUS as I will often refer to it as).

Sincerely,

J Coco

P.S. Please refer to the map of Singapore at the bottom of the page in order to help understand any references I may make about my excursions throughout the country.