Olivia in Sweden: A Swedish Easter!

April 17, 2017

Happy (Belated) Easter!

 

I hear that it’s common for many Swedes to travel to their holiday cottage in the countryside for a family celebration.

For those more comfortable in the city, its not uncommon to see these beautiful trees on balconies, or in this case, the city center. (Usually, they are much smaller!)

 

 

Here in Flogsta, we had our own little celebration!

 

 

We all brought meals and desserts that we had prepared.

 

We even put up our own little Easter tree.

 

 

And finished the day with a successful egg hunt, which we had all hidden in our rooms!

 

More spring festivities are on its way! Until next time!


Janus in Singapore

April 3, 2017

Nasi Lemak from Adam’s Corner – for S$6, the perfect post-night out meal!

It’s difficult to describe what exactly Singaporean cuisine is. It’s not like the other Asian cuisines where you can say that a certain dish is uniquely Japanese, or Chinese, or Indian, or Filipino. Rather, Singaporean cuisine, like many other facets of the nation’s characteristics, is made up of the recipes and ingredients that Singaporean citizens have brought from their home countries, modified over time by exposure to the many other cultures and tastes present. Perhaps the most famous meal in Singapore is Hainanese chicken rice, an extremely simple dish made up of rice cooked in chicken broth or chicken fat, boiled chicken, a light soup on the side, and your choice of dipping sauce, usually spicy. Like many things in Singapore, it isn’t entirely clear where it comes from. Although the name suggests that it’s a dish taken from China’s Hainan Province (an island at the southern tip of China), it’s also a fairly common meal in Malaysia.

A lamb shank from a Lebanese restaurant in Kampong Glam. On the pricey (S$24) side, but the meat is unbelievable tender and flavorful

At first, I thought it was ridiculous that such a plain meal would become the face of Singaporean dining, but after spending the last three months in Singapore, I’ve come to appreciate it. It’s a dish that doesn’t have much in terms of taste – there’s only so much you can pack into boiled chicken and rice – but somehow, the restaurants in Singapore that specialize in it have all mastered it. I think part of the appeal, part of the reason it’s so famous, is because the taste is so basic and natural that you can never get sick of it. This last week, for example, I had it three or four times, a fairy low number compared to some of the busier weeks I’ve spent in Singapore. And yet each time, I was satisfied, and went home happy because I ate a meal that was cheap (around $3-4USD), healthy, and filling.

 The Singaporean take on wings and barbequed meat on a stick. S$10 gets you what’s in this picture.

Nasi Lemak, another rice dish, is also quite famous. Unlike simple-flavored Hainanese chicken rice, I would describe a Nasi Lemak dish as quite full of flavor – and at at some restauraunts I’ve eaten at, the flavor is bountiful to a fault. The rice is cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf, which gives it a fragrant and cooling touch. I imagine this is to serve as a counterbalance, a palate cleanser of sorts for the extremes provided by the sides that come with the rice.

These ground beef noodles are some of the most delicious I’ve ever. When I have time in the mornings, I trek about 10 minutes to a corner of Little India and eat two of these S$2 delights.

My personal favorite Nasi Lemak comes from Adam’s Corner, a small 24-hour outdoor restaurant just a short walk away from away from our flat, which serves as the unofficial rally point for my group of friends after a night out. I order the chicken Nasi Lemak, which comes with cucumbers, fried chicken, a fried egg, VERY salty dried anchovies, and a very spicy chili paste on the side. A lot of my western classmates don’t enjoy it – they say it’s simply overwhelming. But my Singaporean classmates are all in love with the meal, and personally, it reminds me a lot of the cuisine from my home in the southern islands of the Philippines. This is unsurprising, as Mindanao is known for having quite a bit of Malaysian influence.

A Malaysian food platter from a resutauraunt in Haji Lane. S$30 for a dish that’s supposed to feed three, but easily fed our group of five hungry tourists who’ve been walking all day.

Nasi Lemak and Hainanese Chicken Rice are dishes that, for lack of a better term, I would describe as street food. They’re both quite cheap and common in Singapore, and often served by mom-and-dad style restaurants that often only offer outdoor seating and may not exactly meet health or cleanliness standards in the U.S. However, these types of foods are probably the most characteristic of Singapore, and the restaurants that serve them can often be found densely concentrated around Hawker Centres, which are sort of like outdoor food courts. The popularization and government support of these centres have all but eliminated actual street foods in Singapore and have made eating this kind of cuisine much more sanitary and tourist friendly.

Chicken Rice – usually, the chicken is boneless and sliced, but this one is supposedly “sea salt infused.”

However, if you’re still not convinced and want to go somewhere where that offers an opportunity to try all these different foods but in a much more upscale setting, I suggest going to the food street in Kampong Glam. Right next to the beautiful Masjid Sultan and the quirky Haji lane, this street offers a variety of cuisines, from Malaysian to Thai to Persian to Lebanese, all in a much more tourist-friendly and traditional sit-down setting. The prices are much higher and comparable to sit-down restaurants back home, and I honestly couldn’t justify eating there except to splurge on a weekend dinner with the flatmates, especially given the easy access to equally delicious food at much cheaper prices.


Olivia in Sweden: Ducks and a Birthday!

April 3, 2017

I have been sick this past week so I haven’t been as active as I’ve wanted to be.

However, I was able to briefly enjoy the last bit of snow with some friends I made.

 

 

A herd of ducks swarmed me down by the river. What a delight!

 

I also couldn’t miss a birthday dinner with my international friend from Japan. We decided to give her a taste of home and took her to Yukiko’s Sushi, a popular restaurant here in Uppsala.

 

 

When we got home there will still surprises to be had! Look at this beautiful cake adorned by friends.

On the cake is written: Happy birthday Haruna! (in Swedish, of course!)

 

 

Hopefully, I’ll be better soon.

 

Til next time!


Janus in Singapore: The Green City

March 22, 2017

Singapore is one of those cities that’s had many names over the years. Many of them sound quite cool at first, like the literary Javanese and Malay name for Singapore, “Temasek.” Disappointingly, however this turns out to be derived the Malay word for “Sea Town,” a fairly accurate but uninspiring name for a city. The opposite is true for how the Mongol Yuan Dynasty referred to Singapore in its records. When you hear the Chinese word “Longyamen,” I imagine that most people with no exposure to Mandarin would picture a bowl of soup, or some time meat bun. Longyamen actually means something like “Dragon Tooth Gate,” a much more creative name than “Sea Town,” and a name that I could imagine in a high fantasy novel. The name Singapore itself is derived from a word in Sanskrit that means “Lion City,” which is one of city’s many contemporary nicknames. It’s interesting, though, because unless my 7th grade biology professor lied to me, I’m certain there are no lions Asia (except maybe India?), not to mention Singapore. But it’s a fitting name, anyway.

The Supertrees in the Garden, in the middle of their special holiday light performance

The moniker I didn’t expect, though, was “The Green City.” When I think of a highly dense, urban area, green is probably one of the last adjectives that come to mind. I think of some of the most densely populated and urbanized places I’ve lived in my life – New York, Beijing, Manila – and I can think of pockets of gorgeous greenery, like New York’s Central or Prospect Parks, Beijing’s Temple of Heaven or Summer Palace, and Manila’s… nevermind. But outside of these special places, I don’t think of green, and a few tourist attractions hardly justify calling a city “green.” Before I did my research, I thought Singapore would be like these places. Not quite dirty like Manila, or overcrowded and full of strange smells like Beijing. More like New York, where it’s crowded enough but not terribly uncomfortable, where some some streets can get dirty and smelly at times, and some streets are dirty and smelly all the time. I pictured that like New York, Singapore would have a few tree-lined streets and the occasional small park, but for the most part would be more ‘concrete jungle’ than actual jungle. Especially when you think of the meteoric rise of its economy over the last century its land and natural resource constraints, the thought of Singapore putting such an emphasis on nature is unfathomable. You would think that to get where it is now, Singapore would need to make certain environmental sacrifices.

SMU’s Library, hidden in greenery

But somehow, the opposite has happened. Singapore has actually become greener as its population and economy grew. In 1980, Singapore’s green cover stood at 36%, but is at an impressive 47% today. That’s a figure that seems unbelievable at first – but once you walk through the streets of Singapore, it becomes clear that the nation has really placed nature near the top of its list of priorities. Even the busiest streets in the financial and commercial centers are full of vegetation, and most roofs are covered by either gardens or solar panels. One of the nation’s biggest initiatives is its rules regarding new developments – you have to replace any greenery you remove. Additionally, many sectors in Singapore have “green rating” requirements, which requires that buildings meet a certain environmental friendliness standard.

Another garden just outside the gardens – space is a premium near the Bay, as it’s one of the busiest parts of Singapore

The Gardens by the Bay, a nature park in Singapore right next to the heart of the city, and right next to the Marina Bay Sands, arguably Singapore’s most famous building, is the perfect symbol for the city’s progress. The central exhibit is a series of massive trees covered in steel rain collectors and solar panels. It was one of the first sights I got to see in Singapore, and also the most inspiring. Before I came here, I was always under the impression that economic development and urbanization are necessarily at odds with environmental protection, at least when you seek to maximize them. But Singapore disproves this idea. Singapore is indeed the greenest city in the world, but somehow all of its environmental protection is productive, too.

A view of the river running through the Gardens by the Bay


Olivia in Sweden: Back in Stockholm!

February 23, 2017

Went back to Stockholm!

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We went to one of the Royal Palaces that hosted the Treasury! This museum hosts some of the monarchy’s most treasured jewels, crowns, and swords. We were not permitted to take photos of the artifacts but here’s a stunning picture of what you see when you first enter the museum.

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The Hallwyl Museum allowed for some photography! This house once belonged to the Count and Countess von Hallwyl and boy oh boy did they live up to their noble names. It was a really cool insight into the late Victorian period of Stockholm (and it was free!) Check out their pool table, their marble bathtub, and marble shower!

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We also swung by the Royal Dramatic Theatre. The beautiful building was founded in 1788 and renowned architects, artists, and interior designers worked to make it so breathtaking. Unfortunately, most of the shows are solely Swedish, but maybe if I learn Swedish in time I can give it a try?

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Here is also a pic of Gamla Stan, or the Old Town. Very interesting to see where old meets new. It’s one of the greatest preserved medieval areas in Europe. Stockholm was founded in 1252.

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There were many attractions, such as bookstores, bars, restaurants, and little ice cream shops, including this Nutella haven.

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There’s so much to do in this city. It is so convenient that it’s only 40 minutes from Uppsala. Uppsala itself has some great historical attractions, which I can’t wait to share.


Olivia in Sweden: Screaming and Food!

February 3, 2017

I’m a little biased but I’m pretty sure I live in the best student residential area in all of Uppsala University.

To prove it, here’s a little tradition I’d like to share:

 

The Flogsta Scream occurs every evening at 10 p.m. sharp. Students open their windows and scream out into the night. Simple, right? The tradition goes back decades! Though I haven’t measured the decibels, I think the loudest screams occur on Sunday nights.

 

In addition to traditions, I have made some wonderful friends in Flogsta. In the Flogsta residential area there are several apartments. The apartment I live in has 7 floors. Each floor has two corridors on opposing sides. Each corridor has one kitchen shared by approximately 12 people. I share a floor with native Swedes and other international students hailing from Brazil, Australia, the Netherlands, Japan, Canada, and USA.

 

 

Swedes really love cabbage. I tried a stuffed cabbage roll, which proved to be very savory.

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It’s also been confirmed by some Swedish friends that they like to put bananas in almost anything. It can be found on pizza or mixed with some rice and chicken. I had the latter, which made my dinner subtly sweet.

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As I’ve been introduced to food from Sweden, I’ve also been introduced to food from other areas of the world.

 

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Here is some fairy bread, which is sliced white bread spread with butter and covered with sprinkles. Apparently, it has to be cut into triangles and the Australians are quite proud of this delicacy!

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This is a Dutch Stroopwafel. It tastes best when placed in a microwave for 2 seconds! This lets the caramel inside melt. It was heavenly!

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We also had a sushi night on Sunday hosted by my Japanese friend. I got to roll Sushi for the first time in my life! We were all proud of our handiwork.

 

It’s nice to know that wherever you go, you can discover other cultures!


JanusInSingapore: The Flat, The Mates

February 2, 2017

A Filipino, a German, a Belgian, a Brit, and two French girls walk into a bar…

It sounds like the beginning to a drawn-out and not-so-funny bar joke, but it’s a weekly reality for me in Singapore as I happen to live with these people. One of the things that makes that’s made this semester abroad so special for me is that I actually have had the opportunity to spend time with and get to know people from all over the world.

Yes, last semester, I did get to interact with Chinese people every day. Yes, I did get to meet a bunch of Europeans and Australians and New Zealanders while playing rugby in Beijing. But, there’s something different about actually sharing a living space with foreigners every day: sleeping in the same house, eating dinner on the same table, and telling jokes and exchanging stories on the same couch. It feels like a deeper connection because the conversations extend beyond “so how is your country different when it comes to ___?” You actually get to experience the differences yourself rather than hearing the redacted version from someone telling you about their country and culture, and start seeing habits or common themes in how they perceive things, particularly the mundane.

An example. Stereotypes are obviously quite harmful, but many of them exist for a reason and are probably based on some truth in the real world. I’ve heard of the stereotype of German uber-efficiency before, but didn’t quite realize how widespread it was until I found myself in our flat for the first time with my Belgian roommate Loic, one of my French flat mates Lucille, and our German flat mate, Anna. While Loic, Lucille, and I were stunned at how wonderful the space was, Anna walked around and started listing the things that were less than ideal about flat.

Most people in Singapore live in public housing commissioned by the HDB, the Housing & Development Board

Most people in Singapore live in public housing commissioned by the HDB, the Housing & Development Board

The refrigerator wasn’t cold enough. There was a slight smell in the kitchen. The shelf is a bit dirty. There aren’t enough sockets in the living room. Is the air conditioner inverter? If you were to just listen in to the conversation happening in the room, it would seem like we were scammed into an awful living situation for the next four months. To be honest, I started doubting myself – are my standards that low that I didn’t notice all these faults?

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The front of our apartment complex, the most common form of housing chosen by exchange students at SMU

When we went out for lunch afterwards, Anna split off to run errands, and the three of us that remained looked at each other and started laughing. “I’m not crazy, right? The flat is sick,” I said. Loic and Lucille agreed. “Germans,” they said in unison.

We need someone like that in the flat, though, and I appreciate what Anna brings because I think of myself as a fairly wasteful person. While it’s a bit annoying to have someone remind me to close the the door and shut the lights every time I finish using the bathroom, I do admit that some of my habits, like leaving the AC on when I leave the room for an extended period of time or using two laundry loads when one would suffice are habits that I can change. And every time Anna leaves for a trip to Malaysia or Indonesia, the flat quickly ends up becoming something of a mess. The chairs in our dining/study table don’t get pushed in, the dishes start to pile up, and doors and windows are left open all over.

One look at the difference between my room and Anna’s tells me that I have a lot to learn from her, however annoying it can be.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The flat itself is gorgeous. We six exchange students share a three-bedroom flat on the 24th floor with a fantastic view for the price of S$1000 a month, or roughly $700. While the price may seem excessive for a shared bedroom, the flat’s location and the complex’s amenities more than make up for it.

The complex’s lap pool – usually filled with children taking swimming lessons in the morning, but empty at night!

The complex’s lap pool – usually filled with children taking swimming lessons in the morning, but empty at night!

There’s an outdoor lap pool as well as few smaller pools for children or for those who prefer to lounge about in shallow waters, as well as both an indoor and outdoor Jacuzzi. At one end of the lap pool are a few barbeque stations that can be reserved for parties and events, something we definitely want to take advantage of before the semester is over. There’s a gym, too. It’s a bit small, so I’ve decided to purchase a membership at a local gym, too, but it does allow me to get a morning or evening run whenever I decide to be particularly ambitious.

The complex’s lap pool – usually filled with children taking swimming lessons in the morning, but empty at night!

The complex’s lap pool – usually filled with children taking swimming lessons in the morning, but empty at night!

The flat’s common area. The six of us spend most evenings together here, eating, watching Netflix, or doing what work we couldn’t finish at the library.

The flat’s common area. The six of us spend most evenings together here, eating, watching Netflix, or doing what work we couldn’t finish at the library.

We’re located just outside the city center. Kerrisdale Residences (our complex) is right smack in the middle of Little India, so there are already a variety of unfamiliar food choices to explore. Kampong Glam, the Malaysian/Middle Eastern ethnic quarter is a twenty minutes walk or five-minute bus ride away, while Chinatown is a ten minute MRT ride. A fairly large mall, CitySquare Park, is a three minutes walk away, complete with an MRT and bus station. SMU and Clarke Quay, the nightlife center for college students, are both fifteen minutes away by public transportation.

The flat assembles for its first night out!

The flat assembles for its first night out!

The one downside to having all these opportunities to try new foods or visit sights in Singapore is that I’m already way over budget for the month I’ve been here. Hopefully, I can catch my parents in a good mood sometime soon.


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