Monday, September 17, 2012

A visit to Hogwarts and a lesson in Herbology

A few months ago, my mother came to me with some news. News, that, according to her, would win her "the best mother of the year award." As if she wasn't winning already. Her news was that she had discovered that the ArtScience Museum at Singapore would be hosting a Harry Potter Exhibition, and that it would be there right at the time I'd be arriving in Singapore. Naturally, I was beyond excited.

Friday morning finally came. I took the complimentary shuttle offered by Fraser Suites to the Marina Bay Sands convention center. The map at the right should help illustrate the enormity and grandeur of this complex.  Marina Bay Sands is shown in the image below; it is three separate buildings (housing three hotels) that are topped by one cantilever structure which holds a Sky Bar.  

At the base of the Marina Bay Sands hotel are a number of other buildings. As I was dropped off at the convention center and had an hour to spare before the exhibit opened, I took the opportunity to stroll around.  

The convention center leads directly into a huge, glamorous mall, complete with not only the obligatory food court and posh designer boutiques, but also a canal complete with boats and floating restaurants. I also enjoyed the spectacular views of the Singapore skyline, both from indoors and outside. I made plans to return to enjoy the sky bar as well as the theaters on other occasions! 

I made my way over to the ArtScience museum, which was beautifully designed as a lotus blossom meant to welcome people to the city.   This unique building is surrounded by a pool of water on which float colorful water lilies. It was exciting just to be there in that moment seeing such beautiful places, let alone what I was there to see!

The Harry Potter Exhibition, for which Singapore was its first stop in Asia, is definitely something that fans of the books and movies should see. It contained costumes, complete sets (I sat in an oversized chair IN HAGRID'S HUT!) and props used in the movies. An audio tour enhanced the experience by providing interviews with various people who made the movie magic possible. All in all, it was a great experience, and topping it off with a visit to Au Chocolat, a French chocolatier for a decadent dessert just completed this perfect day!

The following day, I joined my friends Mary and Jes on our first trip to Singapore's Botanic Gardens. I had heard that this place was huge, but I wasn't exactly prepared for just HOW huge it was! We came armed with floppy hats, shade umbrellas and bottles of water, and felt well-armed against the heat as we strolled along. 

We all decided that a wise strategy for the Botanic Gardens is to plan on making several trips in which we would see parts of it for about an hour or so, rather than trying to do the whole thing in one day. A map below shows both the vast size of the gardens and all the incredible variety there is to see there. We even saw people picnicking and jogging through the Gardens; it was less of the tourist attraction I had previously perceived it to be, and more of an everyday park - but on a mammoth scale!  Aside from seeing gorgeous flowering trees of all kinds, we also saw swans, koi, catfish, turtles and lizards.  So the Botanic Gardens isn't just about the flora - there's plenty of fauna, too, if one keeps an eye open!

It was a "magical" weekend full of adventures of all kind! And this week is my fourth week of teaching at SIM! Other projects that keep me busy include writing a paper, grading students' work, creating three exams and designing a new course I'll be teaching next semester! I've been enjoying each and every day in Singapore - and I can't wait to see what this week and the upcoming weekend hold!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Life at SIM

Block A Atrium
Today my third week of teaching at SIM begins. SIM, called "S-I-M" by Singaporeans and "Sim" by us UB folk, is a management school with a full series of Bachelor of Arts programs created and awarded by UB offered among its other academic tracks. I was hired to teach COM101, the introductory communication course.

These koi clearly know a food
source when they see one.
The campus itself is beautiful, with two huge atriums. One is enclosed and features a massive, glass roof and the other is open to the air and contains, to my glee, a series of koi ponds. When my friend Morgan and I went to explore the campus the Sunday before we started teaching, we were amused that although prolific signs advised people not to feed the koi, the fish actually swam in groups toward us and opened their mouths - literally opened their mouths - above the surface of the water. Don't believe me? Check out the picture.

"Hello Panda"
chocolate cookies
The classrooms are well equipped with technology, wifi internet and speakers, so I can play music as I do when I teach in the States.  My classes range in size from just about 30 to just over 75. The students are wonderful, actively engaged, funny, observant and kind. One of my students brought me these yummy chocolate-filled cookies. It may have ranked among my best days ever.

Amanda, Mary, Mark, Morgan,
Kris, Jes, Chris, Daniel, Dinesh
The campus is alive with activities, both social and academic. One day after lunch, one of my colleagues mentioned that the Management school was having a contest for ice cream marketing campaigns. Naturally, we were all game to go check it out. The students' marketing ideas - ranging from a ball throwing contest whereby hitting a target meant the marketer himself would be doused with water, to a free cotton candy with every ice cream purchase - were inventive and entertaining. We all enjoyed it tremendously - AND there was ice cream!

View from the open-air balcony
outside one of my classrooms
An interesting fact that I did not really take in until I was here is that SIM is more or less plopped right in the middle of jungle terrain.  Birds and crickets fill the air with sound, and the morning bus ride goes past huge trees, vines, palms and other beautiful flora.  This map shows the proximity of SIM to a nature reserve and several large reservoirs. It gives this place a unique environment all of its own.

I am thrilled to have a beautiful office space located on a polytechnic campus right across the road from SIM.  As time goes on, I plan to post about other things I enjoy about day-to-day life at SIM. For now, I'll close this post, as I'm about to leave the office to teach my next session of COM101!

Monday, September 3, 2012

What a weekend!

As I enjoy my quiet Monday morning (I don't start until noon!) I reflect on how after one full week in Singapore, it's already starting to feel more comfortable - and like a home-away-from-home.  I'm excited about Week 2 of teaching - and I'm armed and ready with my camera today so that I can post about it soon - and I'm also excited about how much more of Singapore I'll get to see week-by-week.  Take just this weekend, for example.

Lau Pa Sat: Satay Street
On Friday, I let myself completely indulge in the need for rest.  I slept in, watched one of my favorite movies, and was just generally lazy.  That night, I met my new friends - colleagues in the UB-SIM program - for satay at the Lau Pa Sat Festival Market!  I've included a video so you can get an idea of the surroundings - all the hustle-and-bustle of an old-world food market surrounded by glossy, glassy sky scrapers near the heart of the financial district of Singapore.  There, we enjoyed one another's company and some truly wonderful satay.

Mutton, pork and chicken satay
Satay is marinated meat cooked on a skewer over an open fire and seasoned with a blend of spices.  It originated back many generations ago when the proportion of men to women in Singapore was roughly 10:1.  These poor, helpless bachelors had no one to cook dinner for them when they emerged from their workdays, tired and hungry, so the street vendor found his niche.  (I mean really, barbecued meat on a stick - it's the quintessential guys' food, right?)  It was absolutely a wonderful experience, one I plan to repeat again and again while in Singapore.  Equally enjoyable was the companionship of my colleagues - individuals from departments ranging from my own (communication) to history, economics, sociology and others.

Mary with some cheery
decorations for the office
Then the next day, I met my friend Mary for a journey to IKEA - my first time ever in one of these stores!  The day proved to be quite an adventure, filled with bus trips, MRT rides, shuttles, and a good deal of walking - but we made it!

Me, lost forever in the
IKEA was like nothing I've ever experienced - a bit like Target on steroids.  I found myself flitting from bin to bin, room to room, shelf to shelf, and by the time Mary and I left, we each had giant IKEA sacks full of awesome new things.  We also took the time to indulge in Swedish meatballs, lox, marzipan cake, chocolate mousse, and lingonberry juice!

Among the items I procured at IKEA were a small pot and stick-free pan for cooking individual sized meals, storage containers for leftovers or for packing a lunch as well as a soft woven throw blanket for my sofa - yes, I'm wrapping up in a blanket in Singapore!  The air conditioning, while absolutely indispensable, can also get a bit chilly at times!

My first view of the National Museum through the trees
The next day, I took a shuttle provided by Fraser Suites to a shopping center for my newly-traditional weekend breakfast of kaya toast and coffee (called "kopi" in these shops) and then took a bus to a stop where I could walk to the National Museum of Singapore.  This gorgeous, classical building was full of exhibits that gave me a deeper understanding of the Singaporean people - where they had come from, the important events in history that shaped their world.  I spent the day taking in the creative, interactive history exhibit, as well as enjoying others on food, photography, fashion and even a visiting exhibit on wedding dresses from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  A brief walk around during lunchtime took me down Armenian Street, where I discovered the Peranakan Museum and the National Museum of Art.  Looks like my next two Sundays are already in the works!

How many visits?