Saturday, September 26, 2015

Day 71 - Bye Bye Work

This morning, after we drew money at the NUS campus, I had my last osteopathy appointment. Because we were extremely fast and early, I decided to go to the NUS Coop shop directly afterwards, and not wait for lunchtime. I bought NUS running shorts (in addition to my very cool NUS sweater) and another polo shirt for my father.

Just as a remembrance of that pungent durian smell. 

I wasn't too enthusiastic about having lunch all alone. Therefore I went home and did some workout in the afternoon - not only because I feel guilty of yesterday's dinner lol.
In the evening, we went for a walk to the next hawker centre near our residence. As some sort of "goodbye" to four intensive working weeks in Singapore, we tried the Indian Roti Prata as a last opportunity there which was great. And some satay sticks with that incredible peanut sauce. I wish you could have tasted this together with us.

Day 70 - Record Haze and an Evening at the Swiss Club

No kidding, the haze was already that dense in the late morning, and it even got denser in the afternoon.

This morning, we could only imagine the neighboring highrises in the haze. On these days, the most important website is http://www.haze.gov.sg/haze-updates/psi-trend-graph where you can find hourly updates of the 24-hour-average and, what is more important, the current 3-hour-average. After a peak of 245 after midnight, it went down to 160 in the late afternoon, only to increase again up to 320 in the early evening. What that means: You cough, your eyes burn, it smells, it is dark even during the day. The official recommendations are:
0 - 50: good air quality
50 - 100: moderate air quality, normal activities
100 - 200: unhealtly range, reduce outdoor activities
200 - 300: very unhealthy, minimize outdoor activities
> 300: hazardous, avoid outdoor activities

It was just below 300 at when we took an air-conditioned taxi at 18:00 (walking is too dangerous) to the Swiss Club Singapore. Since the Club is located close to the "green lung" in the middle of the island, it was a little better there. The Swiss Club is one of the oldest in Singapore. It started as a shooting club of Swiss expats in the 1890s. Now the compound also hosts the Swiss embassy, a German and a Swiss school, and lots of sports facilities (tennis, pools) - and of course a shooting range ;-)

The main building was erected in the late 1920s


The trail signs on the club grounds resemble those
that you find on the mountains in Switzerland.

Sorry, St. Gallers - They don't serve Olma sausage here
so that we had Züri veal with Rösti instead

Day 69 - The Festival that did not Happen

After trying yummie Chinese food at the University canteen, we bought a NUS sweater and polo shirt as a memory of our working stay here (I wonder how all this stuff fits in our suit cases). In the afternoon, I had my first review talk about my assignments here at NUS. After these two hours I was killed of exhaust - a long discussion in business English is quite challenging even if you are used to speak the language and like it.

In the evening we planned to attend one of the most important Islamic feasts of the year: the hari raya haji. We expected crowds of people, fancy lights, and here and there a slaughtering. As its name says, the "sacrifice festival" on the last day of the hadsch, the pilgrimage to Mekka, usually is centered around slaughtering an animal (usually a goat) and dividing the meat: 1/3 to the owner, 1/3 to the family and 1/3 to poor and needy ones.
We went to the centre of the Islamic community in Singapore. Nothing. The only mentionable sights include a celebration of some Chinese sect with lots of incense, noise and two man-powered dragons - and a terrible smell of animals around one of the big mosques. These poor animals are obviously spending their last night here, and the big thing will happen tomorrow.

So we had an Ice Teh O and a Ice Teh Tarik instead and rode to a the magnificent Sultan's mosque in Bugis. Beautiful mosque, especially a nice "Arabian Nights" flair at night. Again no slaughtering today. What a fail. Maybe that was due to the increasing PSI readings from the Indonesian forest fires. It was about 120, which is already in the 'unhealthy' range.


Just an iPhone shot, but you nicely see how the modern city is eating up traditional areas like here Little India. It is the same in Chinatown. The increasing haze is also visible and creates a somewhat spooky (and smelly) atmosphere...

Day 68 - 15 Kilometers though the Jungle


Yeah, what a hearty welcome to today's hike through the MacRitchie Reservoir Park (known as "the jungle" or "the city's lung"). Fortunately we didn't encounter any snakes, and only one single monkey that even wasn't aggressive (you are advised not to carry plastic bags because the monkeys will steal them). It was quite impressive that you drive though a really big city full of highrise buildings for 40 minutes and then all of sudden are in deep forest. The forest by the way is all primary forest (never cleared). 
 
Wooden snake - only scary from a distance
The hike around MacRitchie Reservoir is rich in variety. Some stretches are paved, some a narrow jungle paths. There is a long suspension bridge through the tree tops. You walk on wood footbridges along the embankment of the reservoir for several kms. There is even a tower to observe birds. All in all some 15 kilometers. There are several simple huts to seek shelter in case of heavy rain, but there is no food or water along the trail.
 


This is not dirt! Many plants are partially covered with parasite algae


The view from the bird observation tower -
The haze is starting to increase again
 

2-3cm long ants - quite impressive when occurring in large numbers





At the embankment of MacRitchie Reservoir,
all kinds of exercise equipment is provided for free
 
After hinking 15 kilometers, we were not in the mood to look around for a food centre at Marrymount, the area east of the reservoir. We stopped along our MRT ride at Adam food centre where we had been two times before. In addition to black "carrot cake" that we had before, we tried "mee goreng" - which are fortunately less spicy than their red color may suggest. 
 

 
 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Day 67 - Rock Bottom

Another working day. Since nothing particular happened at work, I take the opportunity to mention a few things about Singapore that I find interesting.

  • Sockets: It might be quite convenient if you are used to it - but I am not used to it and constantly complain. In Singapore, like in Australia, New Zealand and UK, all power outlets have an on/off switch at the socket. Sometimes I am wondering why the hairdryer isn't working or why the laptop is on low battery although being plugged in - yes, I have of course plugged everything in, but didn't switch the socket on. Over time, the problem disappears - but not because I learn to use the switch, but because all the sockets are switched on...
  • Loo brushes: I am very sorry for mentioning, but this certainly seems to be a problem all over Asia. How should you keep your toilets (at home or in public space) clean, if the concept of a loo brush seems to be unknown? We didn't see any brushes even in Japan.
  • Bus stations: Now I understand poor Spongebob standing all alone in the dark for days at a bus stop in "Rock Bottom" (if you don't know that episode: Rock Bottom is the creepy counterpart of funny "Bikini Bottom"). He waits for the bus back home, but nothing happens for hours and, once he is distracted for a short time, three buses come in a row and are instantly gone. Our experience at Singapore bus stations is quite similar: Regarding whether we want to go east/west, north, or to our office at NUS, we either need bus #33, #183 or NUS-BTC. Whatever the bus is we are waiting for, **ALWAYS** first at least five wrong ones arrive first - always! When we need a #33, several #183 pass, and it's the other way round when we need a #183. Once, even five #183, three #188 and four "OFF SERVICE" buses passed before the #33 arrived - of course nearly instantly followed by another #33. Spongebob, my good old childhood fellow.
    (Disclaimer: The Singapore Mass Rapid Transit System works efficient, is clean and convenient. It's us that arrive at the wrong bus stops at totally inappropriate times. Maybe we should download one of the apps that tell you exactly which bus will arrive at which time at which stop. But without 3G or 4G, you just try and wonder...). 

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Day 66 - Nothing but TV

I don't even have a single snap of today. Because we arrived as late as 2 a.m. at our flat, and did not go to bed before 3 a.m., at least I slept until 12:30 lunchtime. It felt so good but I felt so sorry afterwards, because the whole day was wasted. I did not take off my pajamas, we ate breakfast at 1 and lunch at 5, and watched TV the whole day. Then we came across a funny program on "truTV", a channel for reality TV shows: Hair Jacked. Persons that wanted to go to the hair salon were surprised by a game show moderator, had to play games against each other and the first winner won 5'000 $. This winner then could chose whether to play further and win either another 5'000 $ or get "hair jacked". That means if you lose, you get a terrible looking hair cut like a second mustache or a red hair tomato with green hair leaves. But enough is enough.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Day 65 - Formula 1 and Maroon 5

CAUTION: This post contains even more pictures and videos than yesterday !

WHAT A DAY. When we arrived at the Marina Bay promenade, we thought wow this is already crowded. At around 4 p.m., a first race of tuned compact cars was scheduled. The organisation was great, as this is already the eighth Grand Prix in Singapore. Like miracle there was neither a thunderstorm nor significant haze today - our steady companions during the last two weeks. Sweating from the burning sun, we sat on one of the podiums before exploring the area. What a location, between old colonial buildings, lots of high-rise business buildings, the Singapore Flyer ferris wheel, and the Marina Bay Sands hotel with the ArtScience Museum on the other side of the bay.


This is where Maroon 5 will play later tonight. I'll tell you more about the white fence you see next to the stage.

The next race was one of tuned Porsche cars (see the video below) - already a little louder and faster than the tuned compact cars.
 
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Since turns are most interesting, we went to the turn after the high-speed stretch along the bridge. Yes, it can be much louder and much faster than tuned Porsches - the Formula 1 practice session lasted one hour. 

This is where we watched the "practice" of
F1 cars. The awesome Marina Bay Sands
in the background.

Must have been hard to take pictures at this speed level (my father took it)

After the practice session, we grabbed some food and joined the thousands picnicking on the Badong lawn. Too bad that the organizers maximized their income by not allowing visitors to bring any food into the circuit area. Spoiled by cheap eating in Singapore's food centers, we found the food prices quite expensive. At the end, they were however not higher than regular fast food back in Switzerland.
Trying to find a place where the cars run really fast, we watched the one-hour qualifying session from the bridge - a long straight stretch where the cars accelerate to 300kmh and more. As the cars fought for fast lap times instead of race positions, "watching" meant constantly moving our heads from left to right, left to right, left right left right and left right - 18 times every two minutes. After 30 minutes, our ears already got a little numb so that we decided to head to the stage area to secure a not-too-bad viewing spot for the concert.
 
The picnic lawn between qualifying and concert. Quite crowded - But this is
nothing in comparison to what awaited us later.

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The area in front of the stage was divided into two zones. In the "fan zone" directly in front of the stage, people gathered already seven hours before the concert started, sweated the entire afternoon (in the sun) and evening and watched the racing action on big screens to the left and to the right of the stage. That area was closed some time before we arrived.
Two hours before the concert was scheduled, the rest of the large lawn constantly filled up with people. We decided not to sit down some 100 m away from the stage, but instead join a standing crowd at the fence that separated the areas.
In the picture below you can see the situation at the little, 2 meter gate between the big lawn and the fan zone. The two "tall" people are security guards that were screaming "DON'T PUSH! HANDS UP!" into the crowd, and illuminating the people below with torches to see what they were carrying. Oh my gosh, you didn't even had to move your feet, you were jammed and "walked" with the stream automatically, I swear! No place for claustrophobic persons or people who aren't too touchy-feely, no way. A couple next to me was quite fighting against the crowd, the boyfriend tried to rescue his shorty girlfriend from getting drowned in the masses. Lucky me with my 1.80, otherwise I would have been lost (because my father moved more strategically and passed the gate before me). You almost couldn't lift your hands for the security check, because you were so jammed. It really was confusing and frightening, even for me.



Above the situation on the concert lawn in the fan zone. This literally is more than one hour before the beginning of the concert at 11:30 p.m.! We were jammed together, watching the last laps of the qualifying race on the two big screens on the two big screens. It's amazing how many people were standing in such a small space. And, how could it be different, we were the standing behind the only fidget of the whole audience. He kicked my bag with his butt, and I almost lost my camera because of his head, he shook ("danced") so hard. His make-up girlfriend instead stood still like a rock. But, as we all know, opposites attract.

And how everybody began to applaud, when the stage lights illuminated. And how everybody yelled when Adam appeared on stage. And how everybody screamed when Adam was seen on the big screens! What a pity that he just shove his head really short ;-)

The concert in key words:
  • awesome interaction with the audience. 
  • awesome songs.
  • awesome song bridges.
  • awesome bass sound.
  • awesome that he undressed his hawaii shirt.
  • awesome how he introduced the whole band.
  • awesome how repeated the guitar in the introduction.
  • awesome how high he can sing.
  • awesome that they played all my favorite songs.
  • awesome light show.
  • awesome how loud it was.
  • awesome good performance.
  • awesome how they sang a cappella Payphone.
  • awesome how the audience sang along.
  • awesome how far away he actually was.
  • awesome how near we actually were.
  • awesome how much I could see.
  • awesome drums closed the actual concert.
  • awesome that the audience first yelled "we want more!" and then sang the Daylight melody all together and convinced the band to perform three bonus songs.
  • awesome how rehearsed the bonus was ;-)
  • awesome that they even played Move Like Jagger and Sugar as the last tracks.
  • awesome that we were part of that performance.
  • awesome that a lucky girl could catch his sweat towel (yummie).
  • awesome that he finally even undressed his tank top ;-)

Enjoy the pictures and videos.

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Here we were singing all together for the bonus:
 
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After such a noisy day, you learn to appreciate silence again. It seemed to be particularly silent on your way home at 2 a.m. Gosh, how my feet and back hurt, but it was certainly worth it! :-)


Day 64 - Famous and Forgotten Gardens

CAUTION : This post contains a large number of photographs !

Today was a green day. After I had my second osteopathy session this morning, I met my father and we visited the Botanic Gardens of Singapore together. This time we started at the South Gate. Along our way to the center, the National Orchid Garden, we came across the Ginger Garden, where we were surprised by shocking orange and red rows of ginger hanging from the trees or growing out of bushes. 





As if these leaves were painted


The sun was burning the sweat out of us, but we were certainly amazed by the many variants of Singapore's national flower: the orchid. Have a look on how different variations of a single species can look like.




These wonderful "VIP" orchid hybrids have been created to memorize the visits of VIPs to the orchid garden. This variation was created for the visit of William and Kate. They should symbolize the process of "melting together" of two people in a marriage by "melting together" two orchid variants into one.


You also find this amazing orchid hybrid
in the VIP orchid garden, whose leaves
are (more or less) naturally twisted - WOW!





In German it's sometimes called "Frauenschuh" (women's shoe) which seems very appropriate for that one



We even could watch a squirrel gnawing its way through the Mist Garden (also a part of the Orchid Garden) and a beautiful red-blue hummingbird in a ginger-like plant. After almost two hours and 300 photos we were quite hungry. On the photo you see that we were quite thirsty, too. Together with two dishes (Wantan mee with a Fishball Soup, and Laksa) that you certainly should try some day, we drank a total number of five different drinks: a watermelon juice (as it got a daily ritual 'cause it's just fantastic), a "Kopi Ice" (a cold sweet milk coffee with ice cubes), a "Kopi-O Ice" (a cold sweet milk coffee with ice cubes without milk), a "Teh Tarik" (a hot sweet milk tea, from red tea I guess), and a "Teh Halia" which is drinkable one time a month (a hot sweet milk ginger tea that tastes pungent).
An interesting "coffee specification efficiency" observation: We order "coffee", "coffee with cream (or sugar)" or "coffee with cream and sugar". Singaporeans do it the other way round: "Kopi" is coffee with condensed milk and sugar, "Kopi o" is Kopi without milk, and "Kopi o kosong" is Kopi without milk and without sugar. What is more efficient?

As this half day was quite exhausting, we allowed ourselves some relaxation in the afternoon, before we left a second time for the Chinese garden which, according to a web site we read, should be illuminated to celebrate the "moon fest", a kind of mid-autumn Chinese thanksgiving. The haze situation worsened unexpectedly because the wind direction changed, blowing again smog from the Indonesian forest fires.
And even the Chinese Garden seemed to be a flop: nearly everything except the white seven-storied pagoda was closed due to different reasons. No double pagoda, no big arch, no turtle museum, no bonsai garden, ..... But after the crowded Botanic Gardens (A World Heritage Site), the place was at least pieceful and relaxing :-)

The light red circle between the Twin Pagodas is the sun behind the increasing haze.....

Confucius and the seven-story pagoda (both from the 1970ies)