Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Present My Case

Let me just hit the ground running by saying this: I really want to go to China. By "really want to go" I mean I must go before returning to the states or I will feel like I have missed out on a big part of coming to southeast Asia. By "China" I mean, more specifically, the Great Wall of China. I have already expressed my desire to go to Beijing to numerous people in Singapore and let me assure you, I'm not just blowing smoke when I say this.

It is well known to myself as well as the people I have discussed this with that it is one of the more expensive trips you can make in this part of the world. Why? Well, China just has so many people that every flight can be made to be ridiculously expensive and overpriced. In addition, getting a visa to go to China as an American citizen is no bargain either. I have found ways of getting to Beijing for less than market value, but still are a little pricey.

I now turn our attention to judges that I will have to state my case in front of, mom and dad. Now I feel I have a pretty solid support points to convince them to let me embark on a once in a lifetime journey. The first point I will make is that I am saving them $1350 this semester by living in a room that doesn't have air-conditioning. The amount I am saving here is already significantly more than the total airfare and housing costs that would be incurred in a trip to Beijing.

Second, the whole purpose of me not getting a plane ticket home from Singapore was to give the most flexibility possible in traveling around the world while making my way home in some reasonable fashion. I will mention here that I will have 23 days between my last final at NUS and the time I should be home. This is because my family is going on vacation to Barcelona and Madrid at the end of December; from Asia to America to Europe then back home to America, all in a short timeframe.

Finally, the most important point of them all, I apologize in advance for the redundancy but I only repeat myself to stress the importance of seeing the Great Wall of China, is that it is the place I would like to see the most in Asia. As one of the seven wonders of the world in the Medieval Ages, it would be amazing to be able to marvel at such a structure in person.

So that's my pitch. Hopefully I am able to sway the parental unit in a favorable fashion. On a similar note, I have a few other trips in the works as we speak. One of which involves going to Tioman Island this weekend, I've already mentioned this a few times so I won't say anymore about that. I have been talking with people about going to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam at some point in October, more about that down the road.

I had another fun and exciting weekend that involved the Shabbat dinner at the synagogue (as mentioned in my last post), hanging out at the bridge, and hours upon hours of basketball in the scorching how Singaporean sun.

For a good laugh, I would check out this video I took here from a few Wednesdays ago at a restaurant in Clarke Quay:

I would fast forward to the 2:00 minute mark when some guy decides to get in on the action. I was offered to go up and dance with her, but as you will see, I think I made the right to choice to just stay seated and take it in. Enjoy.

Anyway, I think I've written enough here to make reading this post worthwhile. I had a long day at the ICA getting my student pass and then running back to NUS for a lab so I'm looking to relax for now and hit the courts later. Have a great first week of classes fellow Huskies! I'm very excited at the prospect of going out Saturday night and watching the UConn/Michigan game at 3:30 A.M.

For now, au revoir!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Rice, Noodles, and Soup

Forget Slim Fast, the South Beach Diet, or NutriSystem. If you want to eat well/less, come to Singapore where the food is cheap most likely going to consist rice, noodles, and soup. I kid you not, you can get a plate full of a little bit of chicken, some veggies, rice or noodles, and soup for S$2.10, which comes out to about $1.55 (S$ denotes the Singaporean dollar). I feel like I'm stealing from them, but I didn't tell them to make their prices so inexpensive.

It is funny how little I have spent on the essentials up to this point: food, water, and shelter. Housing at NUS is cheap, especially since I endure having the crappiest kind of room in PGP, the dreaded Type C with no air conditioning. The ceiling fan that comes with the room, has been on for 21 days straight. I'm typing this blog with a smaller plug-in fan directed right at me. I'm getting better adjusting to the humidity and somewhat high temperature levels, but it is still hard to go to class without breaking a sweat.

Classes are going, alright. Nothing drastic has changed regarding my approach to doing well in school. I don't miss lectures or discussions. I just hate that there is no homework to help your grade and that the classes are all reading intensive in boring textbooks the professors mandate we have. There is nothing more likely to put you to sleep than reading for "Mechanics of Materials," a tough subject as it is, while the author tries so hard to relate to college students and ends up missing the mark completely.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was going to Bintan this weekend but the IFG basketball team I am playing for now has games this weekend so I stayed back. We are playing at 3:00 P.M.; I'm hoping to get a lot of good basketball in against some of the best NUS has to offer. I was pretty bummed about not being able to go to Bintan, especially since I was a click away from making a ferry reservation to go and it looked amazing based on what I have read online. Maybe I will get the chance some other weekend.

Instead, tonight me and two other friends from UConn headed over to the synagogue in Singapore for some Shabbat dinner. It ended up being the best meal I have had in Singapore thus far. Sure it didn't come with a typical Singaporean price tag but it was worth the amount we paid. An unlimited supply of challah, brisket, chicken wings, Israeli salad, and a lot of alcoholic beverages. I met some of the members of the Jewish community in Singapore, apparently there are 1500 in the country, who would have known? What really got me was at the end the Rabbi met all of us and when he heard my last name he began raving how I should come back since it signifies some level of importance within the religion. It will probably happen since I said I would play in the synagogue's weekly basketball games and possibly play American football with them too. It ended up being a fun night even though the taxi driver couldn't get us to the club, La Maison, after we were done with dinner and schmoozing at around 11:30 P.M.

But, tomorrow is a new day and I look forward to some reading in the morning, midday basketball, and nighttime clubbing. More to come...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Keep 'Em Coming

I've acquired this "I'm going to be here once mentality" over the last few weeks even though that is probably not going to the case. Subsequently, I have this idea in my head that if people want to go somewhere outside the country for the weekend that I can't turn down such offers. The more the better, I guess. My parents are too enthusiastic about me traveling to all these third world countries considering how safe they and I both feel when I'm in Singapore.

It still could very well be that this weekend I take on Bintan, Indonesia. Just an hour ferry ride away, it is a beach haven with an excellent nightlife that would fit the bill for a short vacation. The weekend after, I will trek to Tioman Island in Malaysia, heralded for having one of the best beaches in the world. Many exchange from NUS saw this island a few weeks ago when I first arrived and knew no one on campus. Fortunately, I am not the only one who didn't but now will get to experience this tropical paradise.

Finally, I just recently booked my flight to Thailand over the week long break NUS students get in the third week of September. The plan is to travel with a few friends and see the islands of Ko Phi Phi and Ko Pha Ngan. Ko Phi Phi apparently has some very nice beaches and has plenty of places to go snorkeling, kayaking, etc. Then we will make our way over to Ko Pha Ngan to the Full Moon Party that takes place a day before or after every full moon on this island. It will hopefully be a fun and relaxing week long vacation.

Yes, I still am spending a lot of time in Singapore during the week, however, I am trying to see as much of southeast Asia as possible. This makes it hard to turn down visiting all these exotic places throughout this part of the world that offer up beaches that Singapore only has on Sentosa Island but aren't as nice as in say Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, Bali, you name it! By the way the photo on the right is from Sentosa Island last week at a place called Wave House. It was a pretty cool place and I had a good time except for the injury I suffered getting pushed into a two foot deep pool as if it were five feet.

What was unfortunate was seeing one of my friends get kicked out because he didn't have any identification that he was of age to drink. He is over 18 years old but just didn't have any ID on him, so I got him a drink once inside but then security saw what was going on and threw him out. I wanted to say something to the guard since it wasn't like we were trying to break the law, but I knew better since we were in Singapore and I am not looking to get kicked out over such a minor incident. I still feel somewhat guilty about the whole thing.

I'm in the middle of a relatively long day, so to speak. I already had a 9 A.M. tutorial (discussion) class then I have another tutorial at 1:00 P.M. (13:00 as they would say here) followed by a two hour lecture from 4-6 P.M. Later on it's ladies' night, which means it is time for everyone to converge once more the Clarke Quay bridge! Should be a good time, stay classy westerners. You stay classy too, fellow exchange students.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

They Were Right

I was told this was going to be an amazing experience for reasons x, y, and z. You can fill in the blanks for what those variables equal. More importantly, this should clue you in that I am in school mode that I am using variables in my blog post. Point being, they were right. I am focused (for the most part) on the readings and homework I have to take care, yet I'm having a great time. Possibly to great of a time, actually, to the point that I feel guilty that maybe I'm enjoying myself too much.

I've gotten into a great routine that involves going to daily lectures, meeting up with friends for lunch and dinner, playing basketball soon thereafter, then on some nights heading downtown to go clubbing. It must be that I have way too much free time that I am able to maintain this balancing act. For now, I have only 1-2 hours of lecture Monday thru Thursday. That leaves what feels like an infinite amount of time to get work done while still being able to go out and gain a full appreciation for what Singapore has to offer.

I will recall my week so you can see what I mean. Monday and Tuesday were pretty straightforward: class, lunch, relax, dinner, basketball, sleep. Wednesday is ladies' night in Singapore so that is the big night for everyone to go out. So I found myself on the bridge at Clarke Quay where dozens of foreign exchange students start their night before going to the club of their choosing. I enjoy such forums because of the opportunity it provides for people to catch up with friends who live on different parts of the NUS campus in addition to having the chance to meet new people, as well. Later, we went to Attica, a club located right at Clarke Quay and I think it's safe to say everyone had a great time. I could still hear the house music ringing in my ears the next morning.

Thursday started out a little rough considering I had a two hour 10 A.M. lecture for "Mechanics of Materials" and I was feeling less than 100% to put it lightly. I went anyway since I am trying to preserve the balance between work and fun. I am a huge proponent of the "work hard, play hard" mentality so there was no way I was missing class.

Friday was the most hectic day of the week for me. It included, two lectures, a meeting with my USP (NUS Honors Program) advisor, and going out to Sentosa, an island resort located right off the coast of Singapore. I had a very engaging conversation with the USP advisor about adjusting to life in Singapore and getting more involved in USP activities. I'm going to be honest and say now that I have very little interest regarding said activities. I just can't see myself sitting through seminars on Tuesday, playing board games on Wednesday, and watching movies on Thursday. I came to Singapore to participate in things that are unique to the country and/or region of southeast Asia. No offense but I'd rather meet local Singaporeans on the court or hang out with other exchange students downtown or elsewhere on campus.

I am, however, playing for the USP basketball team. I have training from 4-7 P.M. today. I am very curious about how good (or bad) of a decision this may end up being. It is for the Inter-Faculty Games (IFG) at NUS where different departments or schools compete against each other in a variety of different sporting events. My USP advisor suggested I play since I mentioned I've been at the PGP courts almost everyday since coming to Singapore.

I mentioned going to Sentosa before, which was nice to see but the club we planned on going to, azzura, didn't seem to be as good as advertised so myself and a few other friends left early. From what I saw, I got this weird Disney World vibe that made me feel like I was in Florida when in Sentosa. It must have been a combination of the Universal Studios Amusement Park and the quaint atmosphere provided by the shops and bars in the area. I have heard that it is much better to go during the day to hang out on the beach and relax. I will do what I can to find out for myself considering it only takes thirty minutes to get there by public transportation.

That's all for now. I will keep posting entries and photos as often as I can. Now I must do some reading, go train with the USP team, then head out to who knows where later...

-J Coco

Sunday, August 15, 2010

You Get What You Pay For

I will say before telling you about the trials and tribulations we encountered that it was a very fun weekend and I got to meet a number of friendly and outgoing people also on exchange at NUS. It couldn't have been planned any better except for maybe the city itself, which was a little shady but we will get to that in just a bit.

The five of us, myself and four other individuals embarked on a journey to Kuala Lumpur on Friday night at 9:00 P.M. MYT (Malaysia Time). Things got interesting early on since I wasn't aware how exactly we were going to get to the border of Singapore since we were taking a bus to the city and had to first get to Malaysia. As a result, we ended up taking the MRT in Singapore in the wrong direction, initially, before going towards the border. That gave us a good laugh, despite the wasted time and money.

Once we finally reached the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority of Singapore (ICA), I had an issue with my Singapore visitors pass that led to me getting split up from the group temporarily. With the help of one of the guys in the group, I was able to meet up with them in Johor Bahru without an issue minus that I looked like a fool running through security asking everyone where to go and what to fill out.

By now it is almost 12:00 A.M. MYT on Saturday and you already see how different Malaysia is from Singapore. There are stray cats all over the place, everything is dirtier, the people practically attack you as soon as you get off the bus to take their bus or buy food at their stand et cetera, et cetera. It wasn't annoying at first, just different. I met up with the group at the bus terminal and off we went on a four hour bus trip to Kuala Lampur.

In the early stages of Saturday morning we found ourselves in the outskirts of the capital of Malaysia. I'm the first of our group to get off the bus. Right on queue, I am bombarded by a Malay taxi driver bothering me to hire him for his services. I ignore him, instinctively, not wanting to have to deal with that sort of nonsense so quickly. Once we are all off the bus we end up actually having this individual drive us into the city. Before getting in the car, we were having an issue to get the man to put on his meter. He refused to and wanted to charge us 50 Ringgit (Rm, about $15). We had heard that this may happen to us so we were ready to refuse to get in the taxi until he put on his meter. He kept declining our offers until he finally did it "so we could see how much it would cost." I will try and keep this post PG by saying this guy thought we were stupid but it was clear he was the idiot because of the logic he tried using on us to not use the meter. We eventually squeeze into the taxi having one person in front and three in back with one of us laying across. Good times. On our way we are until the guy has to get gas. He doesn't stop the meter and just goes about his business like its nothing. Fine be that sleazy if must. Once we get to the hostel we are staying at, the driver demands 50 Ringitt even though the fare says 22.40 Rm. We told him we would not pay the 50 Rm since we knew it was a scam. One individual from the group gave him the 50 Rm asking him to give the difference back. Game over. Now the driver had all the power. It was 4:30 A.M. MYT and we find ourselves arguing with a taxi driver trying to charge twice as much more than what we owe him. He keeps saying things like "Ahh Yess," "I already explained to you," and "No meter" in his thick accent that has become quite the inside joke between the five of us. The debate goes no where and we give up after seeing that he wouldn't back down.

You would think that would be the end of our troubles for one night. Things somehow got even worse. The hostel we ended up staying in was a dump. Literally. One of the most disgusting establishments I have ever set foot in. Granted it was dirt cheap at 28 Rm (about $9), so we got exactly what we payed for. The place was filthy (see above); two of the guys walked into the bathroom only to find rats running around. When the other three of us walked up to another floor we found three more hanging out for a little "pow wow" or something only to run off into darkness after seeing us. My gag reflexes were ready to be put to use, if necessary. To quote a fellow UConn peer who stayed at the hostel with us that night, "they were the size of basketballs." While the rats weren't that big, they were some pretty large critters. It was a rough nights sleeping knowing they could slip under the door into our room at a moment's notice.

9:00 A.M. MYT on Saturday. We book it real fast out of the hostel to see the parts of Kuala Lumpur that are rat-free, namely the Petronas Towers (see left). The two tallest buildings in the world from 1998-2004, located in downtown Kuala Lumpur standing at a remarkable 1482 feet. It was really cool to see up close in personal.

Now that we saw the fifth tallest buildings in the world, what to do? Times Square Mall was the group decision for a McBreakfast and to check out the indoor roller coaster. It looked like a lot of fun but at 43 Rm I wasn't willing to puke out my just eaten Egg McMuffin for that much. In the meantime, I thought I would take advantage of being able to chew gum so I found some Doublemint for 1 Rm at the 7-Eleven. It tasted like garbage. I payed the equivalent of $0.32 for six pieces of gum and got back $0.32 in terms of gum quality. I don't know how Doublemint could taste any different in Malaysia but it was crappier than Big League Chew for those who can remember back ten years ago.

It was time to get out of the air conditioned mall and back outside to check out the Batu Caves. To no one's surprise it wasn't easy to find a metered taxi to get to the caves. Everyone see's a bunch of white guys wanting to go somewhere and they immediately think they can take advantage of us. Anyway, we finally get a taxi and take the twenty minute ride outside of the city to the Hindu shrine. You can see the giant statue of Murugan from the highway, clearly showing where the Batu Caves begin. Once we got to the bottom of the staircase that leads you up into the cave, we came across one of the high points of the trip to Kuala Lumpur, monkeys. Boat loads of them up and down the mountain scavenging for bananas hand fed to them by tourists. The caves were great to check out and gave us an amazing view at the top of the hill but what a workout it was getting up there in the humid air of Malaysia.

Later that afternoon, we had dinner at a local eatery that had some inexpensive food and drinks nearby the condominium we crashed at with other people from NUS. There was a 0% chance of us going back to the hostel from the night before. We then had a few drinks with our group of five plus the fifty or so other NUS Exchange students in Kuala Lumpur that weekend and headed out to the club Zouk for a night on the town. It was one the most enjoyable nights I have had thus far in southeast Asia since I was able to meet a lot of great people from all over the world. Hopefully, there are will be more opportunities back in Singapore to hang out with everyone I met on Saturday. I strolled in late that night and slept on the floor of the condominium using a seat cushion as a pillow. More good times. It was an improvement as far as comfort goes compared to the night before knowing there were no rats in the vicinity.

The next morning three of the five in our group made the trip back together. First, we had to go through the trouble of finding a metered taxi, again. We were really sick of going through the trouble of hailing cab after cab and asking them to use the meter at this point. I also should mention that I was offered a prostitute the night before so I really had dealt with enough of the sketchiness that Kuala Lumpur offered. Caught a bus from Kuala Lumpur back to the border of Malaysia, Johor Bahru. We were home by 5:30 P.M. MYT on Sunday.

It was a very good trip, overall. However, Kuala Lumpur doesn't seem to offer as much to a tourist as one may think. If we had been there any longer, we would have resorted to just window shopping or walking around malls, things that could be done back in Singapore. Still we saw almost everything we wanted to see in the capital (we missed out on seeing the KL Tower up close) and there was much fun to be had while not breaking the bank.

Looking forward to another week of classes, basketball, and hanging out at Clarke Quay.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Routine

It happens to everyone. At home, at school, wherever. You fall into a pattern where one may do the same things over and over again in a similar manner on a daily or even weekly basis. It's still very early in the game, (having only had three days of classes) but I can already tell that there will be no repetitiveness in my daily routines.

Before I get into that, let me talk about how those first three days of school have gone. Dependency on a school's bus system to get to class is something I have never had prior to coming to Singapore. However, while UConn may be a bigger campus than NUS, there are no shortcuts (or at least I haven't found any) to cut across campus. To be honest, even if there were any quick ways to get from one side of the school to another I would still take the bus since the heat is so brutal as I have mentioned non-stop like a broken record. The point of me bringing this up is I had to figure out the quickest route to class so I didn't have to wake up at 11:00 A.M. for a 12:00 P.M. class. Although, there are worse things that could happen to an individual than sit on the NUS-run coach buses to kill time before class (picture above). Seriously, comfy seats, air conditioning, you have the option of people watching or socializing, whatever suits you.

I was forewarned, though, that once you do get to the Department, or Faculty as they say here, of Engineering, it is quite a hike to get from one side of the building to a lecture hall. This I learned very quickly on Tuesday getting to Fluid Mechanics. A decent class but one that seems to follow a similar pattern that I didn't see coming.

What trend am I talking about? Well, at UConn and I'm sure this applies to the majority of colleges and universities in the United States, your class grade is comprised of a few different elements. Ten percent for participation here, another twenty percent for quizzes here, forty percent for two mid-terms there, sprinkle in a five percent for attendance then twenty five percent for the final. Not so fast compadre. NUS classes seems to all have their final exams take up around eighty percent of the class grade.

Depending on who you talk to this can be both good and bad. Good in the sense of not very much work to due until the end of November, which actually could make this great so that there is time to enjoy Singapore and see more of southeast Asia. This could be seen as bad just as easily as you can imagine. Bad in that you basically have one shot and one shot only to show the teacher how well you know the material taught in lecture. Also bad since it provides less incentive for the student to keep up with the lectures and to instead play catch-up at the end. Now I'm not saying I will be that kid that loses sight of the reason I am here to begin with. These are just thoughts that have gone through my mind in hopes that I don't get caught into any of these traps.

I should add that the word on the street is that the curves you get on exams are not student-friendly, either. I'm talking belt curve-esque. Bom Bom Bommmm!!! But that's OK since it will get curved back up when my grades transfer back to UConn, WINNER!?!

Classes aren't just unique based on their grading systems but how often they meet, as well. Each class only meets three hours a week and in contrast to having lab about fifteen times at home for Physics I, my Physics II module at NUS has two labs the entire semester. I have been reminded numerous times that despite the decrease in lecture/lab time, that these classes are going to be harder and more competitive than anything I have ever experienced.

The only constant part of my day thus far has been making the two minute walk from my building to the basketball courts. It is hit or miss whether you get a good group to play with but I'm happy to be there either way and improve my game.

I have also been able to check out Clarke Quay, the go-to spot for fine dining and hanging out with other foreign exchange students in Singapore. It is a very nice area, one that I can't compare to anything I have been around back in the States. Not that I've been there but from video and photos I would compare it to the River Walk in San Antonio but the river is wider at Clarke Quay. Nonetheless, a very cool place to hang out with other twenty-somethings for its restaurants and night clubs in and around the area.

Last night, I went to an Indian restaurant with a friend in addition to a few other fun and cool people I had never met before we went to Clarke Quay. The food was interesting but very good. What was unique about this establishment was that they had no prices next to the items on the menu. Now when I was picking out what I wanted to eat I didn't think much about that, especially since I didn't know what to get so other people ordered for me. I didn't realize until halfway through the meal that it was a "pay what you want" kind of thing. While tempting to walk out having paid very little compensation for the meal, apparently if you don't pay a respectable amount then some Indian Goddess will smite you, but don't quote me on that.

While on the subject of things that seem taboo to myself and I'm sure many of my readers, I have noticed since day one that all the other rooms in my hall leave their shoes outside their room. It makes sense to not track dirt in but I can't see myself going through with that; someone who doesn't really care about germs and the like could snatch up a nice pair of my Nike SBs that I got in SoHo. I say NoHo to the possibility of that happening so I have no plans on joining the crowd. There are also in ground toilets. I won't elaborate on that other than by saying it is funny when I do see them considering it is literally just a hole in the ground with plumbing. I saw them in Tokyo-Narita Airport on the way to Singapore and I didn't know what they were, initially. I actually thought that I went to the bathroom on a normal toilet then had to do "something," I still am not sure what I was thinking at the time, in one these squat toilets but then kind of realized what they were. No joke, I kind of was freaking out that I didn't know what to do in a Japanese bathroom with all my luggage to make matters worse.

Moving on, I will close by saying be happy you are not me during the day tomorrow (I guess you guys will be sleeping but you get the idea) for I must endure five hours of lecturing between Physics II and European Literature. I will be looking forward to most likely going to Kuala Lumpur this weekend, the capital of Malaysia and home of the famous Petronas Twin Towers. It will be nice to get off the island for a few days and see what the rest of southeast Asia has to offer.

Stay classy readers!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Get Lost!

Amazing that I have been outside the U.S. for almost a week and I haven't posted anything about Singapore. Well that ends now. I have a lot to tell you guys about what's transpired since landing in Changi Airport, which by the way is located at far east of the island as seen on the map I provided at the bottom of the page.

Let's first talk about the weather here. Since stepping outside at 2:00 A.M. local time last Thursday (2:00 P.M Wednesday EST) I have been in a constant battle with the humidity. I'm sorry to report that I am losing the battle pretty badly. Whenever I'm in the room I have three fans on me at all times to keep me cool. My mom keeps telling me to buy an A/C unit for the room but I think I'm just going to suffer like everyone else in my building. I literally have to speed walk from place to place to get into air conditioned rooms as soon as humanly possible. Otherwise, the weather is pure bliss; so far it has been sunny everyday with at worst an hour of rain coming and going followed by more sunshine.

The jet lag was pretty bad, initially. I would wake up at 3 and 4 in the morning ready to start the day only to welcomed by darkness. It's been great though being able to text, call, and Vidchat with both friends and family so the transition from home to Singapore has been relatively smooth.

So I will tell some stories that have taken place over the last few days. Now the title of this entry takes on a few different meanings. In the first sense, it refers to the fact that I have gotten lost a few times by accident trying to meet up with my exchange buddy or getting around campus to do administrative stuff. For example, two days ago I was supposed to meet my exchange buddy downtown, so I tried navigating the city via public transportation. Fail. I ended up about a half an hour away from where I was supposed to go landing somewhere west of NUS. By the way everything in Singapore has an abbreviation for it (see the list I compiled at the right of acronyms I have seen around the country thus far). Point being that I just hate asking for directions compiled with the fact that while people speak English, I still may not understand someone since it isn't uncommon for an individual to have a thick accent. It ended up working out since I just took a taxi across the country to get to where I needed to be. There are other instances, as well, that I just get lost and end up making my exchange buddy wait for me. Yes, I do feel bad about this but I'm trying.

Then there are cases like yesterday where I felt like being adventurous and went in with the mentality that I wanted to get lost in the city. So that's exactly what I did. I took the bus down by Orchard Road, one of the main shopping destinations of Singapore, and walked around. My goal for the day was to buy a basketball so I could practice on the courts right next to my building. Not only did I get what I came for, but I got some great photos of the city (also see on the top right portion of the page).

Being in Singapore doesn't feel as weird as I heard it may seem coming to a foreign country. I haven't gotten "culture shock," yet. However, its strange being a minority here in contrast to my hometown that could be considered anything but diverse.

As discussed in previous posts, the name game is getting tough. No joke, the names of the people I have been meeting are running through me like water. I hear it once then forget it in a matter of seconds. I'm working on this but it's kind of hard when I can't visualize the spelling of "Yohannes" or "Peng Huay" the first time I hear it. The people are so friendly and understanding here that it ends up working out.

My final thought before I go is that this is a baller's paradise. An infinite number of basketball courts at my disposal, so many fellow combatants ready to compete at a moments notice, and beautiful weather. It's the perfect storm that can only mean hitting the courts everyday. I wish UConn would have as many facilities to accommodate my insatiable appetite to play this game on a daily basis.

Classes start tomorrow, hopefully I have good professors. Thanks for reading and Happy National Day!

-J Coco

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Up in the Air (Part 2 of 2)

Before you continue with the second part of my trek across the Pacific that I have included a list of all the songs I listened to, in order, during both flights. The link to download the file is on the right-hand side of the page. -J Coco

August 4, 2010
12:07 A.M.→ Listening to “Moar Ghosts N Stuff” by Deadmau5. A very awkward encounter took place a matter of seconds ago. On my way back from the bathroom, a little Japanese kid gets up and doesn’t see me; he ends up running right into my stomach. He then quickly says “hello” in his thick Japanese accent that provoked a grin out of me. Now that I made it back to my seat I would like to again thank my mom for something else. She gave me advice about this flight based on when she went to Singapore about ten years ago for business. She said to just chill and accept that you will be flying for a long time. Having attained this mentality, I am still doing very well from a mental standpoint.

1:43 → Listening to “Action Satisfaction” by Jurassic 5. O.K. now I feel worn down from this ordeal. I just woke up from another nap in hopes that it would be time to land. Instead it is feeding time, again. And to think that when this first flight lands, I will have to wait on the ground for a few hours in order to board a seven-hour flight thereafter. I’m tired and not really seeing a light at the end of the tunnel at the moment.

2:11 → Listening to “ It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube. No wonder they’re still feeding us. It looks like it is lunchtime based on the amount of sunlight outside. They must be as confused as I am.

3:28 → A smooth landing in Tokyo-Narita Airport.

5:28 → I am all settled on my second plane, a Boeing 777-200 Dreamliner. It was only sixteen hours ago that my dad was “ooh”ing and “ah”ing that I was going to ride on one of these planes to Singapore. Well, at least this plane has personal tvs, which is good enough for me. Although, I had to walk by the beds in business class in order to get to my seat in the back in of the plane. It looked infinitely more comfortable than the tiny confined space I find myself in at this moment.

6:29 → Take off from Tokyo-Narita Airport.

7:56 → Listening to “I’ve Got Your Number” by Passion Pit. It became harder to write in my notebook as of five minutes ago when the lady in front me decided to recline her seat back into my rib cage. Anyway, I have been watching an Asian version of “You Got Served” on someone else’s television. It is pretty entertaining even though I have no idea what’s going on. Mentally, still feeling better than expected as I continue to listen to my iPod. I am very curious what percentage of the time spent traveling today that I have been listening to music. If I had to guess I would say 70%. I will crunch the numbers to figure that out when I have a moment. Five more hours of air travel to go.

10:33 → Listening to “Sir Psycho Sexy” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I woke up a few moments ago to the worst turbulence I have ever been through. It just became a bad rollercoaster ride that made me really feel how fast the plane was going. Of course, I look over at the guy sitting next to me in hopes of seeing the same scared reaction I was displaying. Instead, I see no reaction on the man’s face as if someone told him to put on his best poker face right when I looked over. I’m still freaking out.

11:16 → Listening to “This Velvet Glove” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I saw someone just start “Avatar” with only an hour and forty-five minutes left in the flight. They are in for a big disappointment.

12:00 P.M. → Listening to “Wet Sand” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s glory hour! One more hour until I can regain my personal space.

12:13 → Listening to “Everlong” by Foo Fighters. Here are some closing thoughts to this marathon by air. First, no flight will ever feel long ever again after these thirteen and seven hour-long flights (unless I take a direct flight home from Singapore). Second, this wasn’t that bad of an experience in hindsight. As long as you are relaxed and find some things to keep you busy (like writing for a blog) you should be fine. Finally, I am ecstatic after visualizing for the last few hours what the next four months will be like. Of course, I have quite a heavy load of luggage to get to the hotel before I can really wind down. It was a pleasure bringing you along for the ride. I won’t try to convince you to make this trip but you are more than welcome to come out for a stay! Well, time to prepare for touch down.

12:50 → We land in Changi Airport located on the tiny island of Singapore.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Up in the Air (Part 1 of 2)

I was going to apologize in advance for the length of this entry rivaling a thesis. I then decided to break it up into two parts in order to not overwhelm my readers. You will find below a log or journal, whatever you want to call it, that I wrote up for the duration of both flights from New York to Tokyo and then from Tokyo to Singapore. I included the songs I was listening to when writing each entry as well as the entire list of songs I played in flight. There are some facts about my trip at the end of this entry that I thought may be of interest to you readers. The times presented below are Eastern Standard Time with the first day being Tuesday, August 3, 2010.

August 3, 2010
1:00 P.M. → I make it to the gate where I will board the plane. Nothing memorable happened with me getting through security, which I take to be a good thing. I just left my Dad and sister at the security checkpoint and now I’m on my own until December. I’m starting to realize exactly what I signed up for.

1:11 → There are no seats at the gate so I stand aimlessly in the middle of the terminal. Then some random dude taps me on the shoulder and asks if I went to school with him; he says his name is “Eddie.” I say “no” (I’ve never met someone named Eddie in my entire life). We have an awkward conversation for a solid five minutes about life; I learned that he graduated from the University of Alabama and he’s going to law school next semester. I didn’t want to leave the conversation on a bad note since I didn’t know if he would be sitting nearby me. Luckily, my mom bails me out by calling me from work to make sure everything is together and that I’m alright. Good save mom. Then again I could have just faked a phone call earlier on.

1:40 → I settled into my seat, 60G. It’s the back of the plane for me. I am one of the few Americans onboard. I quickly become engrossed by the sound of Japanese conversation mainly from the three boys right behind me. Little kids may not make for the most enjoyable plane ride experiences. However, this annoyance gets amplified tenfold when you don’t even understand what they are screaming at the top of their lungs. The icing on the cake was even before take off some of them started to play some chasing game in the aisle. Fantastic.

2:10 → We still haven’t left the gate yet, what gives? I am doing whatever I can to remain calm. I take a look at the flight plan on the projector. It shows that the plane will be navigating up through much of Canada and eventually pass through Alaska. After touching the coast of the Arctic Circle, we will come back down in latitude on course for Japan. It seems crazy to think that this would be the fastest way to get there.

2:32 → Starbursts are so flippin’ good! Sorry had to get that out of my system. I’ve just been munching away at them like a mad man. I’m still on U.S. soil.

2:39 → Takeoff.

3:14 → Listening to “Award Tour” by A Tribe Called Quest. A very attractive stewardess cuts in mid-song and offers me a drink. Someone was thinking of me when they made up these assignments. I’m comfortable with my situation so far; I will continue to stick with the iPod rather than watch the really bad sitcom being shown on the projector.

3:33 → Listening to “Florida” by Starf*****. Fact. One of the stewardesses looks exactly like “Jessica” from True Blood.

3:38 → Listening to “A Peace of Light” by The Roots. Timeout. I don’t mean to write about this flight so frequently but why in the world are they serving dinner right now? There’s college dining hall early, then nursing home early, then THIS!?! If this is dinner, midnight snack is going to be at 8:00 P.M.

4:19 → This flight has already been well worth it. I just watched some kid get carded for alcohol. He wasn’t twenty-one and got really flustered when asked how old he was. Noobasaurus. I enjoyed watching that over a salad and some chicken teriyaki. No complaints here.

6:00 → Listening to “Get Innocuous” by LCD Soundsystem. I just woke up from a nap only to realize I should probably go back to sleep considering we are not even remotely close to Japan, yet. It is kind of a problem, though, to sleep in this aisle seat between “Jessica” and attractive stewardess from before constantly walking up and down the aisle bumping my shoulder. I need to go into a really deep sleep to not feel these disturbances. Where’s Cobb when you need him?

7:19 → Listening to “Cha Cha Cha” by The Little Ones. All is quiet on the western front as I figure we are somewhere over Canada or even better, Alaska. Considering how long I’ve been sitting here doing nothing but listening to music, eating whatever the plane has had to offer, and reading Sports Illustrated, I’m doing pretty darn good (knock on wood). I will say that it would be better if they would play ONE good movie. I doubt it will happen. For now I will just watch Gerrard Butler and Jennifer Anniston act out in some bad romantic comedy to sound of my music.

7:50 → Listening to “Weekend Wars” by MGMT. I just had the privilege of taking a baby’s foot to the shoulder. Very exciting…and ow.

9:20 → Listening to “Matchbox” by The Kooks. It’s feeding time again! Let me also mention that the stewardess has rubbed her butt on my elbow at least ten times while helping the person behind me. A definite low point on my flight since I have so little room to myself and now whatever personal space I have is being crowded. Now, back to the point of this entry. So what are they force-feeding me with? It is a mystery meat sandwich, of course. Very nice…

9:32 → Listening to “Na├»ve” by The Kooks. By the way, that mystery meat sandwich from ten minutes ago, still not sure what it was. I would have to say its either foul turkey or ham but still under review. I must also bring up that I keep getting friendly reminders from people opening the window shutters that there is broad daylight outside. It is really confusing based on the time it is at home right now. It could very well be two in the afternoon wherever we are.

11:01 → Listening to “Royal Oil” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I’m starting to run out of gas from shear music overload and eating too much. Pretty lame on my part that those two things could ever wear me down. I have been thinking for the last hour or so that in a few hours I will be in Japan! It’s almost surreal to think back to learning about this country in second grade with Ms. Ikle. While I will only be in the country for two hours, it still brings back memories.

To be continued...

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Calm Before the Storm

That is probably the best way to describe how it feels on this last day before I leave for Singapore. This has been building up for weeks with the non-stop conversations between family and friends about this upcoming trip as well as the uniqueness of Singapore, itself.

I will now go through some questions and comments that have come up over the last few days.

"You better not chew gum while you're over there"
I know, it's going to be hard but I've gotten it out of my system over the last few weeks. It may have taken a pack a day to do it (I sound like a smoker) but its not like I have a choice anyway. Not worth being caned.

"Are you nervous?"
No, at least for now. I'm not even thinking about the plane ride, the cultural shock, or the strangeness of it all. I'm trying to keep a blank mind so I don't get overwhelmed at any point over the next week. But I do know that when I get there I will be jet lagged, exhausted and potentially freaked out about being in a part of the world that I have never seen before.

"Are you excited?"
Not really, but that's just because nothing ever hits me until a few days after whatever takes place has had some time to settle in my mind. It is probably better this way so I don't set sky high expectations and end up not being let down. I hope to be blown away being in southeast Asia; a new set of laws that apply, a new set of customs going on around me. I picture it being surreal but very exciting at the same time. NOTE: As I was typing this question up for the blog, my mom walked into my room and asked me if I am excited. Funny how that works.

"Is anyone else from school going to be there?"
Yes, I know one person who went to high school with me and now we go to the same college who will be at NUS. There is also another person who went to high school with me who will be in Singapore as well. Sorry, no name dropping.

Where is Singapore?
It is a little island right off the coast of Malaysia. It is near Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and India.

Why did you choose Singapore?
As I have mentioned in this blog previously, I never took myself seriously to go through with this. That being said it was the only study abroad program I applied for and I really wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. I decided to go through with it because I just felt it is the least expensive way for me to see a part of the world I may never see again (not including potential job openings that may lure me back over to southeast Asia in the future).

I will stop here considering the fact that I will be writing a very long entry on the plane ride over. Should be very entertaining.

Thanks for reading,

J Coco