Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Puttin' on the Ritz

It's hard to believe our time in Singapore is halfway over but as Alissa said last week "we're about to embark on the CRAZIEST MONTH OF OUR LIVES".  With all these trips and the awesome things that keep happening, July is going to be pretty epic.
Fortunately, July seems promising research-wise.  I've been able to do some interviews this week and Peter arrived from MIT and he's going to be a great resource for advice, information and good connections.  I've had lunch with MIT/SUTD people every day this week and I love hearing their interesting stories.  One of my favorites is when the SUTD students did a summer study in Boston, some of them 3-D printed a ring.  They figured out how to remove the magstrip from their Charlie Card so they only have to flash their ring at the turnstile to hop on the T.  They've been in communication with Massachusetts Transport Authority about potentially mass producing their product- so cool!  
Today I ate with Max, a young italian physics professor who Reddy used to know at NUS and who taught in Australia for 10 years.  He's going to provide a pizza bribe for his students to be interviewed by me in a couple weeks.  We were joined at lunch by other young male professors who really exemplified the young, creative energy of SUTD- another Italian (frisbee coach), guy from the UK and a smiley silent guy.  It was interesting to hear about their perceived cultural differences working with Asian students here and they also had some interesting expectations of Americans and their education.   
Walking up to Lou's mammoth mansion
Yesterday, we went to Lou's house for happy hour.  He's the C.O.O. (Chief Operating Officer at the US embassy, one step down from the ambassador), he talked to us at the embassy then talked more extensive to some of us at Saturday's Fourth of July celebration which scored us this invite.  His house was absolutely beautiful- supposedly worth S80 million and he moved into it fully furnished with a full fridge.  They added decorations and wall hangings from around the world so we got a tour, met their cats and enjoyed story time.  Their Indian chef cooked us up some delicious samosas, Mexican mini-tacos and brownies- we were all in heaven.  His wife, Didi, is really cool too- she was a high school math teacher that he met in Malaysia.  She volunteers to help handicapped kids through horse therapy and she's into triathlons.  They're both so adventurous and down to earth.  Supposedly, Lou is the only American governmental employee who took the train into Mali.  The people at the embassy freaked out and tried to bribe him to take a plane using every technique possible but he refused and arrived to Mali on a train, after a very crazy ride.  They love trying street food and they impressed Anthony Bourdain with all the foods they had tried.  They gave us advice about Cambodia, since Marie, Deb and I leave tomorrow and they just reinforced my feeling that this is the trip I've been the most excited about!  Apparently, US is the preferred currency, which is surprising and convenient.  Marie read that the people from whom you buy a Visa on arrival request "crisp bills" and have refused wrinkly ones so we might have to bust out Deb's iron depending on the state of our cash.  
Kevin, Dawn, Ken, Alissa, me, Didi and Lou
Front: Marie, Dave, Deb
After happy hour, Ken, Alissa and I decided to take advantage of girl's night, partially because we were supposed to meet up with some couchsurfers who never ended up materializing.  We tried to find Ken a suit for the embassy shindig (more details later) but his arms were wayyyy too long for Singaporean suits so we gave up pretty quickly and enjoyed walking around the Bay and on the DNA bridge to see the city lights.  On August 9th, Singapore has their national day and they've been preparing all year.  People on campus have been making floats and practicing various performances.  We got to see people at the stadium do a performance to music where they held up colored papers and created a dynamic ship that moved.  So that was pretty cool- it's too bad that we have to leave the country a week before this celebration.
Flashing peace signs on the DNA bridge
Eventually, we hit up Ku de Ta and Avalon at Marina Bay Sands to get our weekly dose of dancing.  We met this awesome group of guys from all over (Germany, Sweden, India and Indonesia) who are currently studying at James Cook University.  They were especially jubilant, re-united after a month-long break.  They had ridiculous dance moves and we hung out with them all night.  They invited us to a party at a mansion this weekend but I'll have to miss it unfortunately.  
Speaking of fancy parties, earlier this week, the ambassador sent us invites to his fancy fourth of july shindig at the Ritz Carlton grand ballroom.  Unfortunately it interfered with veggie sushi making with Lauren (hopefully we can reschedule) but it sounds like it's going to be amazing.  Lou was surprised we got invitations- supposedly it's usually diplomats and "key business contacts" who get invited.  He says the Embassy has been trying to avoid answering the phones this week because people are trying to get invitations.  So I'm definitely looking forward to seeing Lou again, free food, open bar and jazz entertainment- supposedly they go all out for this event.  
Invite from the ambassador