Saturday, 3 August 2013

RDU-DCA-FRA-BLR-BKK-CNX-HKT-SIN-KCH-SIN-KUL-REP-KUL-SIN-DPS-SIN-CMB-SIN-CEB-SIN-NRT-IAD-RDU-(SFO-SEA-ORD-RDU)

I apologize in advance for this slightly disjointed post- I started it this morning in Singapore but haven't gotten a chance to finish it until 20 plane hours later, a twelve hour time difference in DC.  I don't even know which way is up anymore but I'm chewing on gum (illegal in Singapore) and happy to be back in the States.  Even though I spent over two hours waiting in immigration and security lines, which would never happen in Asian airports (the guy next to me said "so this is what hell feels like.  Crowds, chaos, ill-functioning air-conditioning.  Well, if it was really hell, Celine Dion would be singing.").  I'm pretty pumped there's only another hour of waiting, a 75 minute flight and a squishy ride under my suitcase in Zach's Miata between me and home.  So here goes nothing!

Whew!  I don't know how many of you were following my blog from the beginning but I started this summer's journey with a list of booked airplane codes.  The list has since exploded!  I'm currently in the  Changi airport (Singapore), a place that is starting to feel like a second home after being here almost every weekend.  But it's quickly nearing time to say goodbye, not just to the airport but to all the places and all the people that have made the last eight weeks so perfect.
This week didn't disappoint.  As I mentioned, on Tuesday, I met up with Etkin and Zooey, my Turkish and Vietnamese couchsurfing friends respectively, for an evening in West Coast Park.  Poor Zooey had an accident where she toppled off Etkin's longboard "like an unbalanced potato" just prior to me meeting them at UTown.  But she was a trooper and still enjoyed the evening, rocking an ice pack like a sexy, off-kilter hat.   I love discovering new places until the very end and West Coast Park was a perfect choice, especially after giving the NUS-Yale talk and finishing my slides for the final presentation.  I've had a lot of fun this summer, but made an effort to remain a responsible adult, living and working in a foreign place.  Playing in the park felt reverting to childhood, devoid of externally or internally imposed responsibilities.  We hopped on the bus, made a pitstop at 7-11 to stock up on snacks which we consumed while walking around.  We settled "seaside" to watch the illuminated boats and tankers floating in and out of the port, dropping off shipping containers and dissolving back off in the distance.  The scene helped me appreciate the transience of life- people constantly come and go, things change but sometimes, you just need to stay calm and let things happen.  A beautiful Australian Aboriginal Proverb that captures the experience far better than I can is as follows: "We are all visitors to this time, this place.  We are just passing through.  Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love and then we return home".  And all I can say is: mission accomplished!
I forgot my camera but here's someone else's picture of the Park
To switch to a less serious note, after about an hour and a half, Ken, Louis and Kevin found us (apparently West Coast Park is big enough that its important to confirm a more specific meeting place than "close to the 7-11" because 7-11's are everywhere in Asia).  We climbed the jungle gym, the boys took turns pushing each other on the baby zip-line and the evening ended with milkshakes in McDonalds.  Definitely an evening designed for teens without licenses, but also ideal to get me ready to throw off the bowlines and sail away from the safe harbor that's been my home for the past two months.Wednesday was the much anticipated wine and cheese in an al fresco bar at the top of one of the supertrees.  
"Charlie's Angels" enjoying our wine above Gardens by the Bay
Sipping on French/Australian wines and nibbling on cheese, watching the sunset with excellent views of marina bay sands and the port was the perfect way to enjoy the company of many of my favorite people from this summer.  Dawn, Deb and Alissa came and Alissa brought her mom and sister who just got into town to visit.  Meeting Alissa's mom made it clear where her adventurous spirit came from... Her parents took the whole family with four kids on a road trip across Australian when Alissa was six.  At some point, they were given the option to enjoy a local delicacy where you load your mouth full of ants smack your lips in such a way that they urinate.  Alissa's mom, Pat, was the only one brave enough to try.  Alissa also remembered napping while her family decided to share their staple food, wonderbread, with the local wallabies.  She woke up to a baby wallaby eating bread off her stomach!  Alissa got to do the semester at sea program as an undergraduate and her moms considering doing the same, through their life-long learner a program.  I hope I'm that spunky when I'm her age- I have a hard enough time convincing my parents to visit me in Raleigh, never mind halfway across the world!

Alissa's sister, mom, Alissa, Lauren, Deb, Dawn and me: sunset and MBS

Lauren (who gave me Japanese cooking lessons) was the one who invited me so she was there and we finally got to meet her fiancĂ©.  They're also amazingly adventurous, living in Asia for the past three years.  They are getting married in Bali next month and their wedding sounds dreamy.  Duly, the dumpling girl, also materialized out of thin air, dressed all in black and looking like a ninja.  It was fun to be surrounded by some of my favorite people from this summer (some more random than others), especially since everyone got along so well.
Thursday, I met my host researcher for lunch and Thursday night, Kevin, ken and I met up with some couch surfers for a foodie tour of bedok.  While we were in the Philippines, Deb met up with Jan, the queen foodie multiple times for delicious dishes and good conversation.  This time, we were joined by four girls from the Philippines and three Singaporeans (two were native).  Jan and her friend took us to a hawker center and they sure knew their stuff- most of the dishes had meat so I just learned about them but jan ordered me some delectable braised tofu, bean cake and eggplant at a vegetarian stall.  I wish I had met them earlier in the program because I wasn't all that impressed with food in Singapore but that probably would have changed if I knew what to eat.  I couldn't stay for the whole evening since the following morning was an early one but after I left, they continued their excursion with a supermarket tour and durian.
Friday morning was our closing ceremony.  We gave talks on each of our research projects and a group talk on our experience in Singapore, got more free swag and heard speeches from their national research foundation and representatives from the universities.  Then had a catered lunch and it was over!  As suddenly as it began.  Pretty hard to believe.
I went for one last swim, donated my dolphin kick board to future generations and said goodbye to the lifeguards and cleaning lady (who approaches me daily, so excited you'd think I was her long lost daughter.  I don't really understand what she's saying but I always smile, laugh and wave vigorously back).  Some of us did dinner at "the flaming Indian" (actually called "flames of India" but that's so much less dramatic) then ken and I met up with Kevin, Dave, Louis and the irrespective girlfriends at boat quay.  New neighborhood even on the last night!  We hung out for awhile, tasted some green beer (brewed with spirulina... supposedly good for you!?!), danced to some acoustic punk rockers and I called it a night, considering my 4 am wake-up call the next morning.
So that was my amazeballs summer!  Between having the round-trip flights taken care of, generous stipends in Singapore and the US and SE being so cheap, I'm not even going to end the summer "in the red", despite having all these priceless experiences.  All my weekend trips together cost less than a roundtrip flight to one of those places.  I highly recommend SE Asia to all my readers!  Deb and I definitely want to backpack Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia and visit Myanmar before it gets too touristy so I don't think this summer will be my last excursion in that part of the world.  But I'm in no immediate rush for that... it's crazy enough that in about 36 hours, I'm leaving for a road trip from San Francisco to Seattle with two of my roommates from undergrad.  Then it'll be realllly nice to stay in one place for the awhile.  I'm planning to just enjoy (and not blog) that trip.  But thanks for reading this summer- I know I'm hard to keep up with- last I checked, I had 4281 pageviews which is pretty ridiculous!  Signing off until next time!  Oh and if you want to see a video slideshow from my photos this summer, check it out here