Throughout my trip to Kuala Lumpur I wrote down snippets of what I was thinking whenever I was feeling particularly poetic…
At 7am Saturday:
Our overnight “sleeper” bus deposited us in Kuala Lumpur ahead of schedule at 4:30am; the five of us spent the last two and a half hours wandering the street to find our hostel, then parked ourselves in front of (of all things) a Krispy Kreme donut shop. We have been sitting in front of an expensive hotel with beautiful marble and decorations, but even walking down a side street made it easy to see the garbage and grime that makes Kuala Lumpur distinctly different from Western cities and especially Singapore. There were burned out and hollowed buildings filled with trash on the street behind the hotel, and several rats which scurried away from their early morning meal when we walked by. The contrast with Singapore is painfully clear.
In a taxi on Sunday:
Many drivers selectively disregard lane markings and traffic signals. Motorcyclists seem blind to them.
On the overnight train home:
One thing I’ve noticed is that people here are less concerned with looks than they are with functionality. The train we took back to Singapore was clean and perfectly functional, but the plastic on the seats was an aged yellow and the uphostery had seen better days. In Canada this would deter customers to the point of putting the operator out of business, but not so in Malaysia. I suppose that’s why it’s possible to travel from KL to Singapore for the equivalent of $15 Canadian.
Monday, at home:
What a whirlwind trip; I’m not sure I would do that again, but I certainly experienced much of Kuala Lumpur. Most obvious to me was the culture shock I experienced the entire time I was there; Singapore has a small but existent white population, but what struck me the most in Malaysia was often being the only person of my skin colour. Not only that, but the expectations and culture of Malaysia are less Americanized than those of Singapore, which left me feeling out of place and confused. It is the first time I have felt out of place to this extent, and made me homesick for the relative familiarity of Singapore.
Today was rather busy, and started with traveling across the city to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to have my student pass application approved. The entire process took about an hour and a half, and now allows me to stay in Singapore beyond the 30 day limit imposed on visitors.
I’m also starting my travels to surrounding countries this weekend, starting with KL (as I mentioned below). I’m going with four friends, leaving Friday night and taking the overnight sleeper train which arrives around 7:30am. We spend Saturday and Sunday in KL and return by sleeper train on Sunday night.
I’ve also finalized plans for my Reading week trip to Vietnam with my roomate, Pooja. We fly to Ho Chi Minh City on the Thursday before Lunar New Year (which is February 13) and return on Monday, February 22. We plan to visit some beaches in the south, which has weather similar to Singapore, then travel north by train or bus to Hue and Hanoi. While in Hanoi we plan to take a 2 day cruise to Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Island, which I have heard is one of the most scenic parts of Vietnam. On our return we may also take a short detour into Laos, which has come highly recommended as a beautiful part of Southeast Asia. Should be an exciting trip!
My first week here is done! It feels like I’ve already been here for longer than I have because I’ve adjusted so quickly to life in Singapore. I know most of the transit routes around me, the major parts of the city and, for the most part, what my courses will entail and how to order food. I’ve also started plans for some traveling to surrounding countries with friends – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is next weekend’s destination and Indonesia is planned for future weekends. Travel by train, bus or air is inexpensive relative to Canada, and my trip to Malaysia is likely only going to cost about $100 for the weekend. However, driving here is very costly; vehicles are prohibitively expensive (I saw a Kia advertised at $75,000 SG or $55,000 CAD) and registering a vehicle is thousands of dollars. The upside is that Singapore does not have much traffic congestion as far as I have seen, and the public transportation system is unparalleled. Toronto could learn much from Singapore if they wish to get drivers off the highways!
It seems funny to think that Canada is still in the middle of winter now. I’m working on a tan already (with sunscreen of course) and I have to continuously remind myself that it is January; I saw snow in a TV show I watched this week and it seemed very out of place until I remembered that it’s normal in North America at this time of year. I hope I’m not making anyone jealous! ;)
I feel like I’m much more settled in today, and I finally met all of my suitemates: Wendy (Actuarial Science at UW), Meghan (Psychology/Business at UW) and Pooja (Graduate Business at McGill). We chatted this morning before heading to school and it seems like we’ll get along very well.
I’ve also started noticing the effects of some seemingly minor differences here. First, since driving is done on the left, people also walk on the left side of the sidewalk and stand on the left side of the elevator; this has confused others several times when I automatically swerved right instead of left. Second is the letter paper, which is slightly longer than what is used in Canada and only has two holes – meaning the sheets of paper I have printed are a tight fit in my Canadian file folders. However, one aspect I have really appreciated is the absence of pennies; all prices include tax and are rounded to the nearest ten cents or dollar, making paying for purchases much more straightforward.
Phew, what a day! It started at 3am because I’m still partway between Eastern Standard Time and Singapore Time – meaning I couldn’t keep my eyes open past 4:30 last night. I can’t check into residence on the weekend so I stayed at Fragrance Backpackers Hostel near Little India last night, and met a girl who is backpacking across Southeast Asia and just came to Singapore from a tour of Cambodia and Vietnam. She loved Cambodia and suggested I travel there if I get the chance, then headed off to Malaysia this morning. It was really neat meeting someone like that!
The residence is very nice by Singapore standards, and like most tropical areas has the stairs and hallways open to the outside. The suites are very utilitarian, but if they were built according to Canadian standards they would be ruined by the humidity. Although I have a small kitchen, buying meals is very inexpensive, particularly on NUS campus: I paid $2.20 SG or about $1.60 Canadian for lunch today. The campus is accessible by shuttle during peak hours, or public transit all day; it takes about 15 minutes on the shuttle and half an hour using the subway and bus systems.
Although my purpose for going to campus today was primarily to deposit my residence fees, I ended up spending about 4 hours finding my way around and discovering other things that must be done. I now realize how much I took for granted the fact that I know UW so well – at NUS I don’t understand any of the software, the process for registering, the choice of modules or how to get around campus! It can be very frustrating but I feel that I accomplished a lot – with the exception of actually attending my single Monday lecture.
I’m in Singapore! It’s absolutely beautiful and completely worth the 28 hours of travel.
I kept worrying about the heat because as many of you know, I am not a heat-loving person by nature; anything above about 30 has me complaining and in Singapore it’s about 30 degrees but the humidity adds about 10 degrees. Fortunately, almost every building has great air conditioning so it’s really only hot outside and since I just came from winter, I can deal with that.
Whew! This past week has been a whirlwind of visiting, preparing and packing. I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, and was accompanied by an entourage consisting of Diana, Mom, Dad, Brenda, Nana, Grandpa and Matt. I’m feeling excited about the trip ahead, but also a little nervous and tentative as it’s a big step out into the world. I fully expect to return as a different person.
At the moment I’m on my first flight to Vancouver and time is still passing quickly. I’m in a Boeing 777 jet on its way to Sydney for this leg of the trip, and I have lots of room since the seat next to me is empty. It’s only 10:30pm EST but I’ve already reset my watch to Singapore time so I can start adjusting, and it’s like starting my day all over again – it’s 11:30am Saturday in Singapore, and I’m getting ready to eat lunch.
Made it to Vancouver! I thought I’d take advantage of the free internet to post my first actual update since I left. I still have about an hour and a half to kill before my flight to Taipei – running laps around the airport maybe?
Being on the other side of the Pacific means this trip has really hit home. I’m sitting in Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport waiting for my next flight and it really struck me that I’m here now and I can’t go back. I’ll be glad to get to Singapore and get a decent night’s rest.