Friday, November 5, 2010

Closer Than You'd Think

It was a just a normal Wednesday in Singapore: I picked up my tourist visa for China early in the morning, hung out in the t.v. lounge for a bit, and did a fair amount of studying to top it all off. At about 3:00 P.M. in the afternoon, a friend of mine told us he had a room at the Marina Bay Sands hotel downtown for him and his girlfriend adding that we should join them later on. While it was Wednesday, the biggest night of the week to go out in Singapore, this was an incredible opportunity that only a fool would shy away from. It was decided that the other three of us would meet up with our pal and his lady friend at the hotel in time to catch sunset from the pool.

Around 5:00 P.M., we met up as a group at the hotel and made it upstairs as a group of five to settle down in the room for a few minutes. The room that our friend had been given was on the forty sixth floor of the fifty seven storey building, offering to us a fantastic view of Marina Bay. Once we made it up top to the pool area, we were able to take in one of the best views an individual can get in Singapore. A 150 meter long infinity pool stretched across one side of the roof of the building with much of the Singapore skyline in our line of sight. It was a very enjoyable couple of hours spent in the pool area, watching the sun set, taking photos, and seeing the city's skyscrapers lit at night. A quick tangent here: I was joking around with everybody that I was an "expert photographer" because of how many pictures I was taking of the skyline and everyone else. A stranger who overheard me came over and asked me to take a photo of him and his wife since I was such an "expert." I gladly played the role of professional photographer and snapped a shot or two of them. Afterwards, he asked me if I was American (everyone in Asia seems to know I am American just from my accent). I replied that I am and that I was in Singapore as a student at NUS studying Civil Engineering. Turns out this guy was a Civil Engineering professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, which I have been to before. He then enlightened my friends and I for a few minutes explaining some of the architectural features of the building. Following his mini-lecture of sorts, I said he had stimulated my interest in the field of engineering more in that moment than any teacher or advisor I have had in my time at college. He had a good laugh after hearing that.

Later that night, we went for a walk around Marina Bay for dinner at a nearby hawker center. I cannot recall if I have mentioned to my readers back in the States what a hawker center is so I will describe it here whether it is the first time or not. A hawker center is pretty much a food court that is outside containing many different stalls of inexpensive food. Recently, one of my Singaporean buddies has told me about ten specific foods that I have to have in this country before I leave. With less than a month to go I have only had two up this point, one of which I had at this hawker center. Known to be a true Singaporean dish, I had chicken rice; the dish is pretty much what it sounds like with the addition of various Asian sauces and spices thrown to the mix. After our meal downtown, we had some more friends join us in the room at the Marina Bay Sands to play drinking/card games (it only seemed appropriate on Wednesday night in one of the nicest hotels in Singapore). I ended up coming home earlier than I normally do on a Wednesday after leaving the hotel at a time when it was too late to go clubbing. Even so, it was still one of the best nights in Singapore.

A couple days later, that same friend who had the hotel room, his girlfriend, and I headed to the northern portion of Singapore to see the Singapore Zoo. It has been said to be one of the best in the world, making it a staple for any trip to this country. By saying this, I am admitting that it took about three months of being in Singapore to finally become a tourist here. August to November was pretty much studying, traveling to other countries in southeast Asia, and clubbing. Not a bad three months if you ask me. I had not been to a zoo in years, the last time probably being either the Bronx or Beardsley Zoo sometime ago, but I could tell this place was huge. They had all the animals one could ever ask to see (minus gorillas, I would have liked to have seen them) in addition to numerous gardens and views of calm and tranquil waters. For the animals that were there, we pretty much saw everything the zoo had to offer including penguins, pelicans, baboons, zebras, giraffes, rhinoceroses, lions, jaguars, pythons, turtles, elephants, kangaroos, and many more. Three highlights in particular I will point out to you: first the sea lion show we saw at the end of the day that included Stan the Sea Lion balancing a ball on his nose, catching frisbees, and doing backflips like the one here. Another highlight was seeing so many orang utans swing about the trees in an open environment above everyone watching from the ground. We also got to see one of the people who worked at the zoo playing around with the orang utans. He pretty much would hit them or tickle them at the belly, then the orang utan would come back at him by giving the guy multiple five fingers or open fist slaps to the back. It made for good entertainment to see this go back and forth between both the guy and the giant ape for a couple minutes. The final significant moment of the trip, at least for me, was when I was taking a picture of a butterfly over railing.

All of sudden in my periphery, I saw something approaching me. Next thing I know, whatever this animal is, I found him about a foot away from me just going about his business. It scared the crap out of me not that I thought he would harm me at all but just for the fact that he startled me and his demon eyes aren't the most welcoming.

Overall, it was a great day that validated to me, for the second time in one week, that you don't have to leave Singapore in order to have a good time (without clubbing) in southeast Asia. I will also note here that my Bali trip did in fact get cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. I do still have my week long trip to Myanmar starting this Saturday to look forward to after my final week of classes. Crazy how fast the semester has gone by...

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