Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Singapore Chapter

It's hard to put into words what my time in Singapore has meant to me. Within the last semester alone, I've taught 263 students, four courses, 15 weeks. I've conducted a research study. I've traveled to Japan, seen museum exhibits, eaten incredible meals, had cultural experiences... and interviewed for and was accepted for a tenure track position with SUNY Fredonia, a post I will take up in the Fall of 2016.

I am full of a range of emotions. I am jubilant that I have been chosen to work at Fredonia, a beautiful, close-to-home campus bursting with vibrant energy. I have been working toward this moment since I started my Ph.D. This is the career path on which I have been hoping to direct myself.

But I also feel a bittersweet sense that is best described through a metaphor. You finish an excellent book. It's been full of ups and downs, and the reading experience has changed you forever. You are ready to read another book. You know you can always re-read that same book you've just finished, but it will never be the same as the first time you read it. And the future books you read will forever change your perspective.

I am closing the Singapore chapter. I hope to return to teach summer courses, if I am invited to, and if the logistics work out. But my full-time teaching time in Singapore is ending, after four years.

I started teaching at SIM with a freshly minted Ph.D. at the age of 28. I planned to stay for a year. Now I am 32, and leaving full of experience and memories. I feel like my four years in Singapore have been a degree all of their own.

I was sitting at my desk in SIM as I started to write this post, between my 8:30 and 3:30 classes. I flew out the next day, and I had just spent an hour on a reflective journey back through my photos of my time here in the Lion City before running off to the classroom on the third floor of Block C (where I was to be surprised by a delightful sending-off party by my students). Now, I finish this post as I sit on the sofa with Ginny snuggled up next to me. It seems appropriate that this post should be started and completed on two separate sides of the planet.

Would you like to go on a journey of reflection with me? Unfortunately, it will not be terribly linear, but instead I shall show you the kaleidoscope of memories I've gathered.

In the scope of four years, I've made twenty-two transoceanic trips - back and forth from Buffalo to Singapore 11 times. That's approximately 220,000 miles. But who's counting.

Changi Airport: 2012. My journey is just starting. 
I'm about to become a different person, and I don't even know it yet.

I've stayed in three different apartments during my four years in Singapore:
Fraser Suites on River Valley, my first apartment, Fall 2012

Fusionopolis, my second apartment, Spring 2013-Fall 2014

Treetops, my third apartment, Spring 2015-Spring 2016

I've experienced so many incredibly different cuisines.

I've taken in the unique beauty of classical buildings
set against the modern backdrop of this city-state.

I've done fun, random things, like seeing the world-traveling Harry Potter exhibit, Fall 2012

I've appreciated Singapore's iconic sights by day and night.

I've planned experiences, and I've stumbled upon some, too, like this regatta in Spring 2014.

I've gone exploring, been lost, and found, and dazzled.

I read scores of guidebooks, and learned that nothing compares to the experience of being there.

I found new favorite places, like Chinatown.

...Where I made new friends and had new experiences, like this wine and mooncake event.

I learned that some of the quietest places by day...

...Are a whole new world at night. Fort Canning Music/Art festival, Fall 2015

I was lucky enough to be invited to cultural experiences:

like this community dinner at a Taoist Temple...

This Chinese New Year dinner at a student's house

And this student's Bollywood themed 21st birthday party.

I learned how it feels when the drums of the lion dancers actually replace the beat of your own heart.

I saw two concerts thanks to my students - 
Death Cab for Cutie in Spring 2016 and Mute Math in Spring 2013.

I saw performances, ranging from theatrical: those found at beautiful, local festivals.

I've enjoyed new traditions with new friends, like a regular dumpling run on the picturesque East Coast of Singapore to indulge in local delicacies, to the regular German food and beer buffet at Paulaner's for some more home-like fare. And each of the four years, I enjoyed hosting a springtime egg-dyeing party for my colleagues. 

Everywhere I looked in Singapore, there was new beauty to take in:

From the unique blend of cultures influencing its architecture.

To that of the wild, natural jungle in which this city-state is built.

My proximity to Japan, combined with the generosity of my "Japanese Parents," has enabled me to visit Japan four times, packing in numerous unique experiences with each visit.

I also visited Malaysia to experience the similarities and vast differences between these two countries that share the same peninsula.

Each November, I've enjoyed the grand "Light Up" of Orchard Road for the Christmas season before flying back for a snowier version at home:

I also can't deny that spending misty mornings and afternoons in San Francisco, my stopover city between Buffalo and Singapore, has also become something of "tradition" during this chapter.

I've lived in Singapore during its clearest days:

...And during some of its haziest.

I've watched Singapore change in many ways. I've witnessed depths of sorrow while Singaporeans mourned their leader, and I've seen the height of jubilation as they celebrated their 50th National Day. I feel like I've given Singapore a little piece of me, and I've gotten a little piece of her in return.

I've watched students grow.
I've watched a university grow.
I've watched a country grow. 
All in four years.

I feel like I've really soaked in the new experiences all around me, and gained comfort over the course of this chapter in my life. I'm coming home, but I know home will never be the same, because I'm not the same. And I'm okay with that.

And now, I embark on a new chapter, forever changed by the last four years. I am excited to think that a life well-lived is, in fact, full of chapters, and I can't wait to see what the next one holds. I'm grateful beyond words for the experiences that I've had in Singapore. On my last Saturday in Singapore, I went to some of my favorite spots - Chinatown for Dim Sum. The Bayfront for the views of the city on the river. And finally, the Flyer for a birds-eye view of the country I had called home. At the top of the Flyer, a voice-over announced that we should take this moment to look at the scene before us, and to take in the fact that Singapore had started out as a small fishing village. The voice-over went on to suggest that through hard work and aspiration, we viewers, too, could achieve our dreams.

I have grown professionally. I have grown personally. I have secured a tenure-track position in my hometown. I have just bought a house. I am moving on to the next chapter, but like a well-written book, each chapter builds the ones to come. My Singapore chapter has laid the foundation for the rest of my "book." Majulah! Onward!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Part 2: Autumn in Singapore: Of Haze and Mooncakes

So yesterday I shared the less-pleasant side of autumn in Singapore... now let me get to the good stuff. 

The really, really good stuff.

The sweet treat that equates the caloric intake of a full day's worth of meals...

The Mooncake.

You may remember my mentioning mooncakes during my very first semester in Singapore. Well, I'm pleased to tell you that I have become something of an expert in these particular desserts since that time, if expert status can be gleaned from just eating a whole lot of something. 

Mooncakes are served as a traditional treat during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The most traditional of mooncakes, seen here, is a baked pastry shell containing the rich, densely caloric lotus seed paste scattered with melon seeds, packed around a salted egg yolk. It sounds strange, but it is at once smooth and nutty and sweet and rich with just a hint of salt.

It is, in short, incredible.

Mooncakes are not cheap, either. This one, pictured above, was one of the most reasonably priced ones at SGD$8.50 ($5.95 USD). They can work their way up to nearly $50 a cake... or more. Over time, the mooncake has been modernized and riffed and created and recreated, all with delectable results. This Saturday, a new colleague friend and I ventured down Orchard to a vendor fair which was like Mooncake Heaven:

And the best part? FREE SAMPLES.

And it wasn't like free samples in an ice cream shop, where you feel
self-conscious and slightly guilty for asking. Here, vendors pushed samples upon you - before you can speak, toothpick-speared chunks of mooncake are being shoved into your hands, and the vendor is excitedly telling you about this particular variety or that one. There WAS great variety. Snowskin mooncakes, which are named for the frosty appearance and cold temperature of the skin, are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Some mooncakes were dusted in edible gold, while others packed a punch of a vodka- or gin-infused center. Still others contained dried fruit, nuts, or more, er, surprising elements... "What is that... other flavor I'm getting?" "Barbecued chicken, miss!" It was as much a feast for the eyes as it was for the taste buds.

It was great fun, and I felt very much like a child that had been turned loose on a bag of Halloween candy with no parental supervision. Finally, my own stomach slammed on the brakes, and I stated that if I didn't get a bottle of water and non-sugar containing food in me soon, I was, in fact, going to die.

Perhaps I wouldn't have died, but I certainly was able to tell I had had enough...

Until later on that evening, when I remembered my purchases sitting innocently in the fridge...

Surely one little piece wouldn't hurt...

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Part 1: Autumn in Singapore: Of Haze and Mooncakes

The view of trees & buildings from office window. #nofilter
Autumn has come to Singapore, and the change of "seasons" brings pluses and minuses.

One of the things I miss terribly about Buffalo are the very distinct seasons. This time of year, you can feel a crispness growing in the air; this time of year in Buffalo, you can smell winter approaching in the dying leaves and sweet apple cider.

In equatorial Singapore, summer is eternal, but there are nuanced changes that one can note.

This is the time of year that Indonesia burns off the old fields to ready them for new crops. The smoke from the fires blows over Singapore and Malaysia, where it settles in like a blanket. 

An early afternoon at the Bayfront. Within two hours the skyline was a ghostly silhouette.

It's labeled "haze," which can cause a misconception, especially in countries removed from the situation, that it is simply urban smog caused by over population of cars and factories. But the truth is that it's smoke. The fine particles that get in the air can only be blocked out by special respirators (N95 masks), and Singapore tracks the haze like we Buffalonians might track snowfall - in fact, they have a unit of measurement called the PSI, or Pollutant Standards Index, which is tracked in 1-hour, 3-hour and 24-hour increments. When it reaches an "unhealthy" level, school may be cancelled for children.

The entire situation, as you might imagine, is a touchy geopolitical issue among these nations. It's as much a question of economics as anything else: slash-and-burn methods are the fastest, cheapest, and most effective. This article from the BBC is concise yet informative.

The interesting thing about the haze is that it's very comparative, to me, to Buffalo's sudden snowfalls. Just as you can set out in the morning to clear skies and roads only to be hit by a sudden storm in the afternoon, so the haze can also seem to creep in without notice. 

Sunrise and sunset present a pink marble of a sun. 
Taken at neighboring Ngee Ann Poly university.
On Tuesday morning, the haze was only faintly visible, with just a slight smokey smell to the air. By the afternoon, as I walked to my 3:30 class, I could not clearly see the end of the long, open-air corridor. My eyes burned, and I held my breath, and was relieved to get into the air conditioned class room. Now, I keep a mask in my bag like one keeps an umbrella. The mask is extremely efficient in filtering out those fine particles - I can't even smell the smoke when I'm wearing it - but it also makes breathing more difficult as every breath your lungs pull in is being filtered through layers of mesh. 

Suffice it to say, I've stayed indoors a lot this fall! ...But, as they say, the sun will come out tomorrow... Until then...

Stay tuned for a brighter sign of autumn in Singapore: MOONCAKES!

How many visits?