Yale-NUS has organised a welcome week for all exchange students. We are 46 in total. Between the more formal information sessions about academics, cultural adjustment and activating student cards and the struggles of module registration, they also planned some visits of Singapore. We also took advantage of the free evenings to discover the city by ourselves.
On Sunday, after doing a tour of Yale-NUS campus and University town - also called U-Town - , we went to Clementi mall to set our SIM cards (even if we didn’t have our passports with us and so couldn’t get a contract) and buy the last pieces of furniture we needed. We then went to the Clementi hawker centre. Hawker centres are the most common places to eat in Singapore. It is an open area circled by different food stalls with food from all different Asian countries. Some of these stalls can even have Michelin stars. Every person buys their dish from the stall they want and then everyone eats together at one of the tables of the open area - once you manage to find a free table. You can also reserve your table by putting some tissues (traditionally) or any other object you have on the table. After the delicious Chicken rice (one of the most popular Singaporean dishes), we decided to go to Marina Bay. Marina Bay is where the financial centre is located. All the different bank’s skyscrapers are truly impressive. There is also the very famous Marina Bay Sands hotel, which has a shape of a boat standing on top of three buildings. On its rooftop, there is an infinity pool - where you can only go if you book a night at the hotel - and a bar open to everyone (but you have to pay for the entry). The mall at Marina Bay Sands complex is also very impressive. The most luxurious shops are sided to an artificial river going across the whole mall. This river is sourced by a fountain outside the mall which goes down into it as a waterfall. The only luxurious brand that you will not see in the mall is Louis Vuitton : they decided to build their own shop as an island on the river in front of the mall. When you continue walking pass it, you arrive to a lotus flower which is “a sort of weird museum” as some passers-by told us. It is actually the ArtScience Museum. To go the other side of the river we took the DNA bridge. It is like going through the double-helix DNA . On the floor there are a, t, c, g shaped lights representing the nucleobases. We finished our tour seeing the Merlion. The legend says that when Utamata beached on Singapore after his boat capsized during a storm, he saw a lion. He decided to call the island Singa (lion) pura (city), now Singapore.
On Monday evening, we decided to go explore the Gardens by the Bay that we didn’t have time to see the day before. We went there for the light show. When we arrived, there were three tall artificial trees. I thought that there were the ones to see but no: going further into the park, we saw the actual super trees. Their name suits them very well. They are spectacular. The combination between the artificial structure and lights and the natural plants that are on them provides a stunning impression. We spotted some benches on which we lay to better see the show. The light show was very nice with the music and the different colourful lights but I had very high expectations for it so I was a little disappointed.
On Tuesday, we visited Little India. We first just walked through the little streets with the different Indian stalls. It really looked like India. Multiple stalls are flower stalls, as they need them for the different ceremonies. We arrived at the Sri Mariamman temple. After taking our shoes off and putting on a cloth to cover our legs, we entered. We arrived for the end of one of their ceremonies. They were celebrating one of their goddess. Women arrived with candles that they light up and then put on different shelves in the temple. Some traditionally dressed men were near the goddess singing and praying out loud. Multiple candles surrounded the goddess they were celebrating. Everyone was watching and praying very attentively. At the end of the ceremony they all queued for food and drinks. The atmosphere was very awe inspiring. At first, we didn’t know if we could take pictures as everything was so solemn but after asking they were very nice and happy that we were interested. We finished our Little India tour by going to Mustafa. It is an enormous (I insist on the word) mall where you can find anything you want. There were multiple endless floors and buildings. After getting our group lost many times and finding other YNC exchangers that were also there we decided to leave. On the evening, we had the NUS exchangers party at the Fullerton’s pavillon. It is a night club just in front of the Marina Bay Sands. The view was spectacular and the party very fun.
On Wednesday, we went to Pulau Ubin. It is a Singaporean island in the North East of Singapore. We took a ferry to arrive to the island and then rented some bikes. We were told some rules before going on the island including not smiling at monkeys, as showing teeth is a sign of aggression which I didn’t know. Sadly, with our group we didn’t see any monkeys but we did see a mother boar and her baby, turtles and hornbills. The island was very pretty. We biked through the forest and passed by two temples where we stopped. We also walked on an over-the-water path that lead us to a tower on top of which there was a magnificent view. We took a break to buy some coconuts and enjoy them near the sea. Some also asked for take-away coffee that they were served in some plastic bags with a straw, we didn't expect that and it was quite funny and interesting. When we started biking again it started raining, as the rain became very strong, we decided to stop under a shelter and we improvised a little music party. When the rain calmed down, it was time to go back to Singapore. We finished this day with a well-deserved dinner in a hawker centre.
On Thursday, after my medical examination, I joined the others at Chinatown. We met at the Buddha tooth relic temple. We also arrived during one of their ceremonies. It is a ceremony that they do four times a year. They also had tables of food outside the temple to distract bad spirits. According to one of the exchangers, the temple was very different from the ones in Thailand as this one was very clean and large. I guess I will have to find out by going to Thailand. After visiting the temple, we walked around the different streets along which there were several Chinese stalls. The particularity of Chinatown is that all the houses are very small, and besides the malls there are not tall buildings. After stopping to drink an iced tea, as we all were very hot, we went to the Pinnacle@Duxton. It is a three buildings complex, reunited by a rooftop on the 50th floor. We arrived for the sunset and the view was breathtaking. The vegetation on the rooftop also spiced up the buildings and port skyline. We stayed there until the sun set completely and then had dinner at the Maxwell hawker centre. Sadly, the one Michelin star stall was closed, but we will definitely go back to queue for it. Instead I had carrot cake. It is absolutely not what you are thinking of. It is an egg, rice flower and white radish mixture that is steamed and fried. You can have it white (plain) or black (with soya sauce). After going back to the campus, we headed to Clarke Quay. It is one of the most animated streets for nightlife. There are multiple bars that play music, clubs and karaoke clubs. Even if it was a very nice evening, it is not the kind of evening you can do every day: there are very strong taxes on alcohol in Singapore, so even a beer can be very expensive.
This is all for the welcome week as the day after was National day and I keep this for the next post!