I spent this past weekend in the Siem Reap area in Cambodia.  Siem Reap is known for it’s surrounding temples, in particular Angkor Wat which has been labeled the 8th wonder of the world.

If Siem Reap was not known for housing the largest temple, it would be known for having the most in any one area.  A quick drive around town showed you countless temples built by various kings to show their devotion to the gods during their rule.

Angkor Wat is about 1000 years old, and was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu.  Over time though the Khmer people (the Cambodians) moved more toward Buddhism, so now many Buddhas are in and around Angkor Wat.  The culture is very interesting as most of their beliefs and stories are same as those in India.

We stared our trip by going to a local buffet and eating food local to Cambodia and the surrounding countries.  While we ate, we were entertained by traditional Khmer style dancing.  These dances told stories of the gods and of daily life in the fields.

The day after, we set out to see one of the smaller temple groups while working our way back toward town.  We finished the day by going to Ta Prohm, one of the temples in which_ Tomb Raider_ was filmed.

The next day we woke up at 5:00 AM to catch sunrise at Angkor Wat, a must do while in Siem Reap.  This was absolutely georgeous, though it did take a minute to find the sweet spot.  There we were, barely awake, honestly unable to really understand what the hype over the sunrise was all about, when we saw a large crowd of people seemingly all trying to get in the same spot.

Sure enough, there is definitely a spot where every thing looks great.  I was able to get some pretty cool shots as the sun rose over the west side of Angkor Wat.

After that, we headed back to eat breakfast and rest before taking a tour of the floating village.  One of the largest freshwater lakes is south of Siem Reap, and as you enter the lake, you are greeted by was sums up to be a floating shanty town.

As we rode out to the lake, we passed a father and a young boy; the boy couldn’t have been over 7 years old, but probably not even that old.  They smiled, and we waved.  Next thing I know the boy is pulling a large circular basket out of a cooler and his father is driving over.  As their boat neared the boy jumped out and landed on our boat announcing: “One dollar sir, one dollar”.  He was selling drinks.

The level of poverty was horrendous.  On our way to the boat tour, we passed what no American would consider a home.  It was basically a large shanty town beside the river.  The poverty worsened as we got further away from Siem Reap, and culminated in the floating village. Very few, if any, Americans live in this level of poverty.

So that was our morning, after which we rested, ate lunch, and went back to Angkor Wat.  For lunch, I decided to have a classic Khmer style meal, and ordered Amok Chicken.  Basically, it was chicken and a sort of sauce cooked inside a coconut.  Needless to say, it was very good and left me stuffed.

The photos from Angkor Wat on the outside don’t really do it justice; the place is huge.  It is surrounded by a mote that represents the universe, and your crossing it represents a passing from the land of mortals into the realm of the gods.

The walls are filled with bas-reliefs depicting various Hindu stories.  The two prominent Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata had a large wall dedicated to each of  them.  From what I understand, Ramayana is centered around Vishnu and one of his incarnations, which aligns with the temple being built in honor of Vishnu.

After watching the sun set at Angkor Wat (another beautiful sight), Nick and I decided to rest up for the next day.

The next day, we started out by going to see Angkor Thom, which literally means large city.  The location had been used as a capital for many years, and one king finally decided to enclose and enlarge it.

It now is surrounded by a large stone wall, with the south entrance being the main entry point.  The entrance is lined with statues of gods and demons holding the Naga (a snake), which is symbolic of the churning of the sea of milk, a common theme in Hinduism.

Upon entering, Bayon will be the first thing you see.  It is a temple with countless facial depictions of a god; it is estimated that at one point there were 216 faces within Bayon.

There are countless other things to see in Angkor Thom, including a bridge decorated with lavish stone reliefs, quite a few large temples, what appears to be an old palace, and a Buddha the size of a house.

After leaving Angkor Thom, we went to Siem Reap’s war museum where we learned about the horrors that much too often face the people of South East Asia.

Our guide told us of loosing his family as a boy, then joining the army well before the age of 18.  He has now lost most of his family to land mine explosions due to anti-personnel mines left behind.

His leg (only one, he lost the other in a land mine accident), has scars where bullets went in and shattered the bone along with a large piece of shrapnel stuck under the skin near his knee cap.

We learned that there are 4 million land mines left in Cambodia from their civil war and past conflicts and that there are approximately 36 deaths a month due to these.  I left there feeling very somber and with a new appreciation for the lack of violence on American soil.

From there, we basically just checked out local culture and stayed within Siem Reap.  I had another Khmer dish, Chicken Lok Lak, which was chicken with an interesting lemony spice to dip it in.

Overall, Cambodia was a wonderful trip that exposed me to what the rest of the world faces.  Seeing Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom is an unforgettable experience that everyone should have the opportunity to see.

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Having seen only bits and pieces of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve while my family was in Singapore, I decided to go back and take a more in-depth hike around Singapore’s well known hill.  I’m glad I did.

Bukit Timah is home of the highest point in Singapore and is, from what I can tell, it’s last real rainforest.  Much of the state’s nature has had to give way to make room for Singapore’s every growing population, making this one of the few nature reserves left on the island.

I read a sign while in the park that said Bukit Timah housed around 240 plant species only found there.  Everything was beautiful and the hike was very nice, particularly because you remained coolly shaded by a legitimate rainforest.

There were multiple paths to take around the park, so my friend and I decided to take the scenic route both up and down.  We were in for some pretty steep walking, but did get a great view of the surrounding forest.

In the United States it is not uncommon to see squirrels wondering around parks or campuses, particularly because the public, in complete disregard of the “don’t feed” signs, are always willing to lend a helping hand to the round bellies of these so called “tree rats”.

Not the case in Singapore.  Instead, you see signs with an crossed out Banana along with a note informing visitors that eye contact is considered an act of aggression in monkey language.  I mean these things were every where.  Crossing the streets. Running around.  Sitting around. If there was an open spot you were bound to see a monkey.

The entrance to the park had a map with a center location marked VHF Station.  Having an interest in Ham Radios I recognized this as a radio station.  Sure enough, when we reached the top of the hill we were greeted with every Ham operator’s dream (always at the dismay of his significant other): two giant radio towers, which I thought was pretty cool.  I know that’s what I’d do if I owned a giant hill. (No, seriously…)

So that was my Saturday last week.

Here’s the slide show of some of the things I saw.

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I can’t believe that recess week has come and gone, and with it so has my family.  Not only that, but another week after that has flown by.

Coincidently, Nanyang Technological University’s recess week coincided with my brother’s spring break.  So to do something out of the norm this year, we decided a family trip in Singapore was in order.

Though I believe they had lots of fun, I think they may have gotten more than they bargained for.  As I was leaving to meet them at the Changi Airport on Friday the 11th, I decided to have one last look at my email just to make sure there were not last minute flight delays.  To say the least, there most certainly were.

My parents had a connecting flight in Japan, which was hit by one of the largest earthquakes to hit the region in years at most a few hours before they were to land in Tokyo.  Luckily everything was alright and they were able to get redirected to Singapore through Hong Kong, but only after having to spend a few nights in Nagoya, which is the airport south of Tokyo.

I can now officially say I have seen nearly every part of Singapore.  We started out each day with the goal of seeing as much as we could, and I can say certainly accomplished that (well, my feet said we did anyway).

We started out in Little India, went to the Botanic Gardens, ate at Hawker stands, trekked through a part of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, wandered around the Zoo, got lost in gigantic malls, marveled at the size and successfulness of the clothing stores on Orchard Road, sat jaw dropped as the Singapore Flyer brought us to high enough heights to see the entire Merlion Park and business center and on out into the bay, and took in historic Singapore as we biked around Pulau Ubin, an island that has retained the look and feel of a non-urban life in Southeast Asia.

They adjusted to the time change well; we all came in and passed out every night.  I thought the botanic gardens was a particularly interesting part of the week, as was the zoo.  In both, I got to see animals and plants that were very different.

The botanic gardens in Singapore is well known for its variety of Orchids, but oddly enough it also had an entire cooled greenhouse dedicated to recreating the feel of the upper layer in a South American rain forest.

While it was neat having a whole week off to see Singapore, it was great being able to do it with my family.  Having been away from everyone I know has been different, and seeing some familiar faces was a welcome change.

They had to fly back home through Japan, but have made it safely.  I’ll miss ‘em, but I’ll be seeing them soon enough.  It’s hard to believe that I only have eight weeks left before getting home.  It’s already half way over.

Here are some of the pictures taken throughout the week.

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Sentosa Beach

Today I went down to Sentosa, the man-made island off the coast of Singapore.  I believe all the sand on the island was imported from Malaysia.

Sentosa is targeted at tourists and families; there are multiple family hotels, a Universal Studios, among other touristy things.  These family hotels are different from the rest of hotels in Singapore, since they likely let you get accommodations for more than two people.  Hotels in Singapore proper only allow rooms to have at most two occupants.

I realized again how urbanized Singapore is while getting to Sentosa.  I took a bus to get on the east-west line at a mall, switched to the north-south line at another mall, and got off at a final mall before getting to Sentosa, which was full of malls.  Did I mention that I went to a mall?

The island was pretty fun.  We got there kind of late, so there wasn’t much time to see a lot of it, but it was very relaxing.  Got to go for a swim and play around in the sand.  Always a fun thing to do at the beginning of March.

Overall, today was a nice relaxing Saturday in Singapore.  I’ll have to make sure and go back in order to check out the rest of the island.

Hard to believe, but I’m half way through the 6th of my 14 weeks in Singapore.  Seems like it’s going by really fast.

Since the last time I posted I think I have been to Little India, explored downtown a little more (I have even been to the top of the Sands Hotel, a modern Singapore icon), and, believe it or not, studied here and there.

On that note, classes have been going well.  Discrete Mathematics is interesting because it is just logic plus a lot of wordy jargon.

As I mentioned in previous posts, NTU has tutorial sessions for each class.  Having been to a few of these I can say that these are pretty great.  I work out the discrete problems before I go, and there are always one or two that I end up having a specific question about, or if I complete it, I wonder if the manner in which I solved it is applicable to all problems.  The professor goes over the problems and answers these questions in tutorial.

The reason this particular tutorial is so great is because with any math course there is going to be specific rules that at first are not intuitive to the student.  This professor comes up with examples to highlight these potential problem areas in addition to the assigned tutorial problems.

I had been under the impression that tutorials were led by TA’s and grad. students.  Much to my surprise these are actually given by the professors themselves (a point of contention among some of the faculty).  While they may sometimes disagree about whether or not tutorials are a good use of their time, I for one can say that the whole process is very beneficial, assuming the student attempts the tutorial before going to his assigned session.

Not only do these help the students, it also helps the professor(s) know how the students are doing in the class and whether or not there is a consistent problem among the students.  This is the kind of feed back that can help students come to a better understanding of the topics at hand.

Another interesting aspect of the education system at NTU is the emphasis on technology usage.  I’ll have to dedicate a post to some of the various intricacies this university uses to streamline everything a student does.  The other day I missed a discrete lecture, but found out they are put on edveNTUre, NTU’s variant of Blackboard, the popular online learning package for universities.

The neat part was that this was not only a recorded lecture, but a full fledged learning session.  The lecturer uses a tablet computer to write on his slides and show examples, thus making attending lecture a far more beneficial experience than merely just reading over the slides.  Or so I thought.

This online session had a small box where you could see the lecturer’s hand motions and body movements, below this there were selection points identified by key slides so that you could just to a particular point in the lecture.  The majority of the screen though was dedicated to the output of the professor’s computer with his notes being added and erased just as if you were attending lecture.  This could then be easily paused as you tried to work out a particular example before the professor.

I thought that was pretty clever, and realizing I couldn’t work a tutorial problem similar to a problem done in class a few lectures back, quickly pulled up that lecture, skipped down to the part I needed, saw the professor work a problem and then was able to complete my problem with no trouble at all.

To further push faculty to become familiar with the available technologies (of which there are many), NTU hosts an e-learning week every semester.  This is to foster technology usage while also doing a stress test on the university in order to make sure students can learn in the case of a major disaster.  During this week all lectures will be online, and I believe there will be online chat groups for discussions.  That will be next week, so I’ll have to see how it goes.

Chinese class has been going well.  I am getting somewhat better at being able to identify phrases.  The teaching style is very interactive.  Monday after learning new vocabulary about buying and selling goods, students were given pats to role play.  I ended up being a clerk in a high end clothing store who would not bargain on anything.  It was pretty amusing.

So that’s what I’ve been up to over the last little while.