Janus in Singapore: Kuala Lumpur

April 17, 2017

Finally got around to a trip to Malaysia. I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t happen – all but 1 of my flat mates had been before, and the rest of my friends in Singapore were already busy reviewing for finals at SMU, which apparently is a bit of a colossal affair. My roommate Loic and I sat down one day and found a three-day period that we were both free of obligations, though, and decided to take a rather spontaneous trip to Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital. In hindsight, given that I have four finals in a five days as opposed to the usual two week spread, it probably wasn’t a great time to go. But I wasn’t about to go back home after spending a semester in Singapore without a Malaysian immigration stamp on my passport.

A view from the bottom of the Petronas Towers. Inside are a series of malls full of luxury brands, like fifth avenue or orchard road compressed inside a city block.

The trip was absurdly cheap. I spent just under $120 or 3 days without really worrying too much about my budget, either. Roundtrip bus tickets cost about $30, two nights at a nice hostel were another $30, and the remaining $60 afforded me the opportunity to try anything I wanted from the famous Jalan Alor Street Food Night Market, a 90-minute massage, uber/grab transportation, and a few drinks at the local bar.

A view of Kuala Lumpur from the top of the KL Tower. It’s no New York, but it’s impressive that you can still see tall buildings in what seems to be miles away from the city center.

The hostel was probably the price that shocked me the most, as I expected something much cheaper. My classmates who had taken trips to other Southeast Asian counties like Thailand, Vietnam, or Cambodia, found similar quality or better lodging for around $5-10 a night, whereas even the luxury villa we booked on our earlier trip to Bali cost about $50 for 4 nights for much more extravagant lodging. But it was ultimately worth it – the hostel was right in the middle of the food street, and was at most a half hour cab ride away from the sights we wanted to see.

One of the many food stalls in the Jalan Alor Food Street. Like in Beijing and Xian food streets, nothing beats the lamb skewers in both taste and value.

When Loic and I found ourselves complaining about the price of the hostel as we sat outside the hostel eating lamb skewers and drinking sugar cane juice, we stopped for a moment and laughed at the absurdity of it. Back home, $15 a night for housing, especially of this quality, was nothing. We felt like living in Asia had given us a different conception of cheap and money. It was a realization that my classmates from the first semester and I had, too, towards the end of our stay in China. It’s probably one of the things I appreciate the most from spending so much time abroad – you get a better appreciation of money. If people can live off of x amount, it’s harder to justify spending at the rate you do when you’re back home in the U.S. on luxurious things.
There were five big places that we experienced – the Petronas Towers, the KL Tower, the Batu Caves, and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, and of course the Alor food street. If TripAdvisor and my flatmates’ advice were to be heeded, these were the must see spots in Kuala Lumpur.

The outside of the Batu Caves. There are about 250 steps to get to the caves, with perhaps just as many wild monkeys to greet you on the way up.

The towers were absolutely gorgeous, though to be honest it felt like they didn’t fit in their surroundings. What I liked about Kuala Lumpur was that that there was a very nice and not too stark contrast between the old and the new. Like Manila, there were many worn down and dirty buildings, and interspersed among them were newer, cleaner, taller buildings that served a variety of purposes, from government buildings to corporate headquarters to residential areas. But they were never TOO clean, TOO new, TOO tall, so as to be strange – it just seemed like a city that, like many others, was growing up. Like Singapore, there was a lot of greenery in the metropolis that helped smooth out the edges of old and new, too. Parks flowed seamlessly into untamed jungle, and this somehow made the abandoned shacks or construction sites next to bank buildings seem natural, too.

We were wondering where the lights came from as the inside of the cave was well lit, and we were treated to this view after about a minute or two of walking inside.

But the Petronas Towers were just… too different. It wasn’t just the fact that the Towers (and the 30m shorter KL towers) were over 100m taller than the next tallest buildings, though that definitely played a big role. There was something about how the towers looked that made it seem distinctly not-so Kuala Lumpur. Its metallic silver color and the layered outside texture gives it an almost violent feeling that makes it seem like a ripple in the much more relaxed and low-key set-up of the rest of the city. Maybe that’s why it’s such a famous building – not just for its size, but for the emotions you get when you look up from the earth in Kuala Lumpur and see something so alien.
The KL Towers, unfortunately, didn’t impress quite as much. It wasn’t so much the fault of the building – it, too, is quite tall, standing at 420 meters, though aesthetically it’s quite plain outside of the sphere-like structure at the top of the tower. It was the fault of the view, really. The sky and observation decks of the the tower, which are its main attractions, offered a great vantage point to view the rest of the city. But that was just the problem – there really wasn’t that much to see. Besides the Petronas Towers, most of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline is quite unimpressive, though it was surprising to see just how far out the city stretched. The view, though, did cement the contrast that I talked about previously – sometimes you would see two buildings next to each other that looked identical, only one was a cleaner, newer, and taller version of the other.
The Batu Caves were the the highlight of the trip, for sure. The site’s main attraction is the series of cave and Hindu temples inside. When my flatmates who had been before talked about it, it sounded like they weren’t too impressed: they said they didn’t really understand the religious significance or what was so impressive about a bunch of caves. To be honest, I don’t either – it seemed just like any other Hindu temple that I’d seen. But it’s one of those things where once you walk up the stairs, past all the wild monkeys eating fruit and drinking from bottles left behind, and into the damp, naturally light caves and see the monuments and altars scattered around, as if they were just left behind by their creators, there’s a really strange and almost magical feeling you get inside you. This place just seemed so remote, so far away from society, so serene – and especially in contrast with the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, the moment of quiet is special.

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Currently under renovation, so we couldn’t go inside – but the outside served for a good enough background photo.

The Sultan Abdul Samad building was just a pretty thing to look at, to be honest. We didn’t spend much time there at all, but my flatmate and I did end up relaxing in the green just across from it. It had a very country club feel to it – there were a few fancy restaurants and a beautiful white marble forum right next to it – but somehow, there were very few people in the green itself, even though we were there during what I would imagine to be peak hours, just after people would start getting out of school or work and just before it got dark.
A really interesting place. I don’t think Kuala Lumpur is a must-visit by any means, but I’m really happy I made the trip out .

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Olivia in Sweden: School and Flowers!

April 13, 2017

One thing I miss from UR is our dining hall, which is a sentence I thought I would never write. Students here don’t have a meal plan, and must frequent the local grocery store for all their eating needs. Thankfully, there are some eating areas to be found in the multiple academic buildings on campus.

 

 

The building I frequent the most is Engelska Parken! Here is a picture of the eating area. Not as much variety as our dining hall, eh? But the coffee and food is always delicious.

 

The style of teaching here is also a little different from back home.

 

 

It is very discussion based. Usually, we read an article for class, and then the professor breaks us up into smaller groups to discuss what we read. To finish up the class, we come together as a class and share what we learned. Much of what we learn is self-taught. This has taken a lot of getting used to. I am also enrolled in a class that never meets until the final exam!

 

 

The self-motivation for academic pursuits will only get tougher as the weather keeps getting more and more beautiful. At last, some flowers are beginning to bloom! So excited to see the full impact as spring gets closer!


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!


Tori in Spain: Saying Yes to Hard Things

February 2, 2017

“How was abroad?” “Did you love Madrid?” “Your semester looked amazing, tell me about it.”

These are the questions I returned to. I have found it incredibly hard to sum up such an impactful experience, and honestly since being on campus abroad has felt like a distant dream. I lived in a faraway land for 4 months, got to learn a different language, and developed friendships that I wasn’t quite able to pack up in my suitcase and take home.

The one theme that has permeated my thoughts and reflections on abroad is how rich life is when we say yes to hard things. “Say yes to hard things” has become my slogan of the semester, and it is my biggest take away.

Showing up at a Spanish speaking church alone was not the most comfortable thing in the world. The prospect of leading a group of students, into a city I barely knew, to speak with strangers living on the street, in a foreign language, left me feeling unequipped and frustrated. Walking into the little bar next door to Amalie & I’s apartment on our last night in Madrid felt very inconvenient due to the flight I had to catch in the morning. Stopping to chat with Karrol when I was late to class seemed unproductive. Initiating conversation with the woman next to me on the subway felt awkward.

None of my sweetest memories abroad came from choosing to do what was the most convenient, socially acceptable, or comfortable. Life begins when we get out of our comfort zone and push ourselves. This can manifest itself in big ways or little ways, but it always involves leaning into the moment and being present. Even when I said yes to hard things begrudgingly, it lead to really special times. I need to ask, Lord, what do you have for me here? And it will lead me to love and think in a way that is more people-conscious, out of the knowledge that God is enamored with every soul I encounter on the street. Every little human bopping along in Madrid, Richmond, Winston Salem, or wherever I am, is created in the image of God and so in my every interaction I am interacting with one whom is dearly and sacredly loved by God.

 

 

 


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.


Clara in Italy: The Mostra

January 9, 2017

This isn’t so much about Italy as it is about the culmination of my semester at UGA Cortona, which just happens to be in Italy. I’ve been in four studio classes for over 10 weeks and we put on a final show at the end exhibiting our best work from each class! It was really fun to set up–maybe that’s the theater kid in me, but I like working together on a show. I was on the matting team, so I was helping to frame all the flat works that were going to be hung on the wall. Starting bright and early at 8:30am woo woo! Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of pictures of that?? Or any?? I was really tired and out of it, but I still think I did a bomb job along with the rest of the team. 😀 Worked until 2pm, and then had to run off to the Italian language exchange (which I also have no photos of because I suck). But anyways, it was a really cool learning experience! Unsurprisingly, all the materials for matting cost way more than I want things to cost, but that’s the #artlife for you I guess. (Ten euro a board??? RIP wallet if I ever need any of this for the future.)

Anyways, the most important pictures first. Me as a cthonic monster entering the premises.

Taken by my friend Angel, the photo champ.

Actually I might post a bunch of her pictures, since she did a much better job than I did of documenting the ridiculousness of opening night.

Still there are a few good ones (or halfway decent ones idk). Such as this picture of horrible (jk I love her) roommate Hannah pointing at Angel’s sketch of the David.

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Hannah please.

If you were curious, by the way, here are three of my pieces. (I did take these ones.)

We also all received flowers from our professors who are the sweetest, and I somehow ended up with two, so I stuck them both in my hair.

Super crappy lighting, I know. Sorry. I get really awkward while taking selfies in public, which is why I look like I’m dying slightly on the inside even though I was actually having a great time.

There’s not much to say about the actual show except that I was really proud of our work and it was also really really really cold!!!! I was so cold. Most people spent a lot of time eating snacks in the sideroom where it was slightly warmer and shielded from he wind.

Here are a couple shots of the hall with people in it:

And now, a showcase of Angel’s photos (with permission):

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There’s Angel in the middle, with our art history professor Eva and Hannah the Roommate all making the Hannah(tm) photo expression.

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Me in front of my oil painting.

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Me, UNCOMFORTABLY CLOSE HECK YEAH.

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The hall empty and looking very respectable.

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Our book arts professor Julie and Hannah posing grumpily next to Julie’s piece.

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Jeff, our photography professor, ALSO UNCOMFORTABLY CLOSE HECK YEAH (but I think it’s a pretty adorable photo and he thought so too)

Anyways, that’s about it. It was a really good academic culmination. Stay determined guys! Happy holidays!


Naomi at Akita Week 16: Finals

December 29, 2016


Isabella invited a couple of us to come over around 10pm since she was making a huge pot of stew. The stew came out soupy but it was still super 美味しい (delicious). It was a very chill night. We became pretty nostalgic knowing that it was the last week of classes. Isshin started playing the guitar and we sang some songs together, including Sorry by Justin Bieber and Closer by The Chainsmokers. I found out that Isabella bought the guitar on the “AIU Buy & Sell” Facebook page for only ¥1000. I was surprised considering Isabella doesn’t play the guitar; she said she always wanted to learn though which is why she bought it. Turns out Isshin wanted the guitar too but someone had beaten him to it. He found out it was Isabella when we got to the room HAHA!


I’m really going to miss my Japanese classes – JPL300, Reading, and Kanji. We all had such a great time joking around and attempting at understanding Japanese grammar. Our JPL300 teacher never spoke English so it made us try harder in speaking Japanese. We all struggled together with the exams, ポスター発表 (poster presentation), and endless amount of homework. I’m feeling sentimental just writing this all down. I’m most likely never going to see any of these people again but we all became a family. It was nice meeting so many people that shared the same interest as me in learning Japanese. Man, what a great semester.


Isabella and I decided to get dinner together at the AEON mall as a goodbye, although I’m going to see her again next week before I actually leave Akita, thankfully. We got McDonald’s for dinner…I was planning on getting the エビフライ (shrimp burger) but when we got up to order Isabella pointed at the Mega Mac picture. She told me I should get it and I felt up to the challenge so I ordered the burger with four patties in it…oh man, I was so full. And to top it all off, Isabella practically forced me to help her finish her food. I ate four more chicken nuggets and finished up her fries. I couldn’t walk afterwards. After McDonald’s…oh, by the way, I don’t know what it is exactly but McDonald’s in Japan is so good. Compared to the states, it’s more flavorful. Like I said, I don’t know what it is but man, I love Japanese McDonald’s. Okay, so after McDonald’s, we took プリクラ (sticky pictures) together! I look so funny in the pictures with my big eyes and weirdly shaped heads. I love taking these pictures though because you always turn out looking super girly. Also, you get to design the pictures and write/draw whatever you want on them. We walked around the mall some more, looking in shops, and ended up buying some Mister Donut. Oh, and Isabella asked a random mom to take our picture in front of the Christmas tree. We’re trying to get in the holiday spirit so you know.

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This is a funny story. Annabelle found a bug in her room; apparently it jumped on her hand while she was writing her paper. She immediately freaked out and started messaging everyone to come to her room and kill it. No one was willing to do it because everyone else is also afraid of bugs. I asked her if it was a cockroach before going over to kill the bug for her because if it were a cockroach then I wouldn’t want to kill it. Cockroaches creep me out…along with centipedes. Anyways, when I walked in her room, I found her standing 6 feet away from her desk (where the bug was), staring at the bug to not lose sight of it. I immediately started laughing. I took some tissue and killed it. I held it up to her to show her that the bug was harmless but she started trying to get into the suitcase and wow, I laughed so hard tears started rolling down my face. Turns out the bug was a stink bug and it actually started smelling a bit.


This past week has just been snow…everywhere. I don’t have boots so walking around has been quite the struggle. To top it off, my shoes have holes in them so my toes are basically frozen by the time I get back inside from walking outside. The snow looks very beautiful though. I couldn’t believe it when I woke up one morning and walked to my morning Japanese class. I was in awe.


Sandy and I got lunch together at the restaurant near campus as a goodbye lunch (I’m also going to see her again next week before I leave though, thankfully). I never thought to go to the restaurant because I have a meal plan on campus. All students from AIU get a discount from this restaurant though so that was nice! Sandy was craving meat so she got pork cutlet with a small bowl of udon. I decided to follow and ordered pork cutlet with egg. The egg was still bubbling when it got to the table and it was absolutely delicious. Sandy enjoyed her meal so much she literally said “yum yum” after every bite. You know, after knowing her for this long, I still don’t know her age? She won’t tell me. She said she’s going to wait until we say bye to each other to tell me….oh brother.

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Well, this post isn’t as eventful since it was just finals week. Many people are leaving tomorrow to go back home or go on trips before they leave Akita. Next week is finals week but many students were able to get their finals pushed up, like me. I was able to move up my International Trade final to this week; thankfully all of my other classes had finals scheduled for this week. Since I have another 6 days till I leave Akita, Isabella and I decided to take a trip to Osaka! We leave tomorrow morning and will be there till the 21st. We come back to Akita on that day and leave the following morning. So, I’ll still be able to see my friends when I get back on the 21st. I can’t believe this semester has come to an end. Time flies when you’re having fun, huh? I’m trying not to get to nostalgic and upset about leaving Akita…yet. I’m going to enjoy my time in Osaka – sightseeing, shopping, and eating good food! I’m super excited! I also definitely have to buy some birthday and Christmas gifts for my mom, Tyler, and Patrik. Like I said, Patrik is going home to Okinawa with me this winter break. They all have December birthdays….can you believe it?


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