General Impressions of Singapore
Despite having taking URBNST 1500 which introduced me to the climate, literally, and culture of Singapore, I felt an initial distance and unfamiliarity with my surroundings. Perhaps this feeling is true of all foreign places until confronted with and immersed in their culture. I want to first discuss “The Basics” – meaning weather, housing arrangements, and food – as these were my first encounters, albeit superficially, with everything Singapore.
Weather: The nitty gritty of Singapore’s basics is this – the natural air, at times, is stiflingly humid, the threat of a thunderstorm nearly always imminent, and the brutality of the sunlight constant. Those who are lucky to find refuge inside are greeted with air conditioning which seems to run on full blast turning exposed toes into small icicles. Singaporeans and those adjusted to the weather wear jeans or pants, long-sleeve dress shirts or sweaters, and closed-toe shoes. I am easily identifiable as a tourist or non-native with my shorts and tank tops, or summery dresses, and sandals. I can barely imagine not having my hair pulled up in a bun away from my neck, let alone a full-coverage outfit. The thought of straightening my hair becomes absolutely repulsive and pointless then. Use a heated tool to straighten hair that will only revert to frizzy fluff? No thank you. Perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic – but learning to dress appropriately and not overtly like a tourist does take practice and some getting used to. A few days here have served me well, however, and I feel a shift towards acclimating better to the weather.
Housing/Campus: Dormitory-style living here has been very similar to those of the conditions at Pitt, especially for lowerclassmen. The security feature of having a programmed electronic key, which limits access to the dorm based on room level, is a handy, reassuring feature. The general feeling of the campus though would not lend itself towards any feeling of uneasiness. Students are frequently seen roaming the campus, milling in and out of Foodgle and Nanyang – the campus cafeteria and supermarket, respectively. Having our own rooms while still living on the same floor has made it easier, I think, for the girls to stay connected. The aesthetic of the campus, at least at Prince George’s Park Residence (PGPR), is unlike anything at Pitt, however. In my opinion, Pitt would never have chosen a landscape such as the one created in the central PGPR area. There are no school pride motifs for pathfinders and prospective students to gawk at. It’s refreshing in a way. You almost lose sight of the fact that you are at NUS – it could pass for a hotel or resort. In expanding the focus beyond PGPR, the rest of the campus is much more diverse in terms of landscaping, architecture type, and layout. In that way it does remind me of Pitt but also of the University of Michigan. In particular, the fact that busing is seemingly necessary for getting from place to place on campus.
Food: As Ricky observed, the food of Singapore is diverse and plentiful. I thought the dishes were going to be primarily Chinese and Malay with a mix of purely Singaporean dishes. Really the options include all Asian cuisines, including Indian. The real reason for the inclusion of my thoughts on Singapore’s food boils down to one sage piece of advice, more unrelated to the food itself and rather about the experience of eating here. If you are a vegetarian or vegan thinking of travelling to the island city-state, I strongly encourage a change in diet. I think it’s very fair to say that most dishes incorporate meat or fish, sometimes both, as a main component. Aside from searching for something to eat which meets your dietary restrictions, the limitation prevents you from trying a lot of local favorites and traditional Asian dishes. Trust me, former veggie-head of a few years – try everything! Be unabashed about trying everything! Even pork floss…!