One of the Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore is the Chingay Parade.  It occurs two nights in a row, and involves many different groups of people.  Apparently it is very large;  all the media networks were there including CNN and many other local media groups.

Star Wars

One thing I thought was pretty funny was the fact that the parade started with the loud roar typical of Harley Davidson bikers because a group of about 20 bikers followed by women in large bunny hats (it is the year of the rabbit) were the first to come out.  This was flowed shortly after by Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers.  See?  Everyone loves motorcycles and Star Wars; it’s universal.

Balloon Rabbit

It is the year of the Rabbit, so you could see various balloons and dolls to that effect.  There was also a large red dragon that looked like a dragon used in a traditional dragon dance.  This was later joined by lion dancers.  These are particularly interesting, as their movements really do look like a dog or some sort of animal as it shakes it head at you.  I have seen a couple of lion dances now, and they interact with the audience very well.  They throw oranges (symbolic of wealth and good fortune) at the crowd, or hand them to the crowd directly out of their mouths.  Then they come up to you and nudge you expecting to be petted.  As a side note, oranges are the main gift during this time.  I have been given multiple oranges at various events, and even by my taxi driver in Malaysia in order to celebrate the New Year.

Lions Lion in the Sky

The parade had a theme of “we are one”, and many of the floats were manned by people from various Community Development Centers (CDC’s) around Singapore.  There was even one float made by the local Mexican group.  The floats ranged from large and elaborate to a group of young kids doing a kind of dance.  There was a group that did traditional Indian belly dancing, and the participants varied in age (16 to 61 as a rough guess).

CDC's We Are One

You can clearly see the emphasis being placed on youth in Singapore.  I imagine most of the population is fairly young, and the largest group in the parade was the Youth’s Association.  I believe the parade had 8,000 participants, and 2,000 of them were in this group.  They were wearing pinks shirts, and there was pink for as far as the eye could see in both directions as they went past.  This was the last group to go by and was followed by a statement from the prime minister and a large firework show.

In my Government and Politics of Singapore class we just talked about how the early Singapore government was faced with building a sense of national pride and uniting the varying groups to be found on the island.  There is much diversity to be found here; there is a Chinatown, Little India (more on that later), a large Malay population, and then other folks from all over the world who have come to Singapore for business interactions.  Judging from the various CDC’s and vastly different cultures represented in the parade, I guess they must of alleviated this issue.  Here are some more pics from the event:

nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image

Sunset on the beach

Last weekend was Chinese Lunar New Year.  This can be compared to Christmas time in other parts of the world.  I mean this in the sense that all the shops close, public transit is reduced, no one is out, there is no readily accessible food on campus, etc., etc.  Any one who is ethnically Chinese and a lot of those who aren’t will return to their families and have a large New Year’s Eve feast.  This is known as a time of reunion and rebirth.

Something interesting is how the Chinese New Year holiday season differs from the Christmas Holiday season in America.  Most people in America put up decorations and have people over for dinner, or go visit people _before _Christmas day.  From what I can tell, even though the New Year was Feb 2nd through 3rd, there is still a festive sort of spirit until somewhere around the end of February.  Tonight I am going to the Chingay Parade downtown, which is a massive Chinese New Year parade, but interestingly it does not happen on “New Year’s” day.

All this is good and well, but as a foreign exchange student, it means that there will be nothing to do on campus during the few days off.  So what to do?  After talking to some friends, the general opinion was that it would be fun to go to Tioman Island off the coast of Malaysia.  I ended up going with Jerika, Nick, Jo (from Germany), and Ville (from Finland).

Getting to Tioman was interesting.  That is the farthest I have ever taken public transit.  I took the NTU-D bus to the MRT station, got on the Green line, transfered to the Red line, got on another bus to cross the border, took a different bus to Larkin Station (the bus stop) at Johor Bahru in the southern part of Malaysia, split a taxi between four people to get to Mersing, stayed a night in Mersing, and finally took a ferry to Tioman. This was a very educational experience because we had to figure out how to use the public transit in a completely different country, where it was sometimes hard to find someone who spoke English.

The island was a blast.  There was lots to do and see.  The water in this area is gorgeous; very blue and very clear.  We ended up taking a boat tour around the island that included stops at a small waterfall and snorkeling points along the way.  The island felt very isolated, a nice contrast to the city life in Singapore.  Overall the trip was a great success.  Here are some pics from the trip:

nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image

Here are some pictures that I took a few days ago in the China Garden.  The pictures below should rotate through, and you can hover on top of them to stop the slide show.  The view from on top of the tower was pretty sweet.  You could see the skyline of the surrounding city and had a great view of the entire park.

nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image nivo slider image


Here is a tower that was in the center.  It was messing up the slide show so I’m putting it here.

Tower

I finished up my third day of class a little while ago (by 12:30 today).  I am currently in Discrete Mathematics, Operating Systems, Government and Politics of Singapore, and, after talking to the teacher, Chinese II.  Classes have been really interesting thus far; I think Government and Politics is going to end up being my favorite, I’ll explain why in a minute.  You first need to understand the structure of class at NTU (Nanyang Technological University).

Lecture vs. Tutorial

What is particularly interesting is how courses are divided up.  Just to get the lingo down you need to know that classes are called “modules”, but you have both lecture modules and tutorial modules, and the occasional lab.  Tutorials are led by various people that could include either a TA, an Assistant Professor, or (as is the case in my Govn.’t. of Singapore course), the Professor himself.  The idea is that lectures are too big for teacher-student interaction, so students are divided into smaller tutorial sections.

Assignments

There is essentially no homework at NTU, you just study on your own.  There may be a few assignments in a course, but these usually only count about 10% of the grade, so 5% apiece.  While this may be true, in order to learn anything in the tutorials you must do the tutorial assignments before you go to your designated tutorial time.  This allows students to do work, come up with questions, and then interact with the professor directly to answer any questions or doubts.

The idea of a tutorial is going to make my Government and politics of Singapore course really cool.  Each week we have designated readings, a lecture, and a tutorial.  A student has to lead the week’s discussion during the tutorial, and debate is encouraged.  It will be interesting hearing from locals and see how their opinions of the political world differ from my own.  Apparently Singapore is a single party system, and from what I have seen works very well.  I am looking forward to learning how this system developed and about the current political atmosphere in Singapore.

I ended up having only one class Friday, and it is pretty early.  That should make for some adventurous weekends to some of the surroundings areas.  So far everything else is going pretty good.  I’ll update with more later.

Well, I’ve been here for three days.  So far I am having a lot of fun.  I am still feeling the Jet Lag a little.  I’ll wake up feel like I should be going to bed.  Being fourteen hours ahead is just kind of weird.

I just got back from downtown earlier; some friends and I went out in search of one of these Lonely Planet books for Southeast Asia.  I had never heard of these, but apparently if you are going to be traveling around you just have to get one.  It has information on all the must see places, notes on the local culture, and suggestions for various types of budgets.  This last item is really nice because it can help you find really cheap rooms to stay in.  I have heard stories of international students traveling around and getting rooms for $3 a night after dividing the room between three or four people.

Flights in this area are extremely cheap.  My friends and I are already looking at tickets and planning trips around the region.  You can buy tickets while they are on sale and then use them sometime in the next three months from what I understand.  And when I say cheap, you have to understand I don’t just mean relatively cheap for a plane ticket; I mean really really cheap.  I think a ticket from here to Bangkok is like SGD$40 which is a little less when converted to US dollars. That is about what I would pay for a round trip out of Starkville and back by car, so that’ll work for me!

I finally got my class schedule more or less figured out.  Class starts tomorrow morning, so I figured that is something that I ought to start looking at.  I realized after roaming around for two days that I better start looking at what courses I am suppose to be taking; kind of a bummer.  I don’t start until 11:30 tomorrow morning, so that should give me some time to be able to find out where my classes are.  Everything on this campus is huge, so it really makes finding your way around pretty hard at first.

My roommate and neighbors are nice.  In fact, everyone I have met has been extremely friendly.  Lim (my roommate) did tell me thought that people in the area are typically less likely to talk to random strangers.  I have met a few other guys who are also international students.  Jirka from the Czech Republic, Michael from Germany, and Nick from Connecticut.

Well, I’m super tired.  Been forcing my self to stay awake during the day so that I’ll be able to sleep, but now that it’s night, I think that’s what I’m gonna do.