Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Fair Affair

Thanneer
Singapore is a fair city. Both in terms of justice and celebration. Anything and everything here is fair and just. Last week, a travel fair was being held here. This week there is a career fair and next week there's going to be an IT fair. Mostly of these fairs/exhibitions take place either in Suntec (http://www.suntecsingapore.com/index.pl) or Expo. (http://www.singapore-expo.com.sg/), the two big convention/exhibition centers/halls. These fairs are the most happening places if you're looking for information on any subject. Usually, these fairs last for approximately two or three days and the places to get exciting and cheap deals.

From my last post, you guys must now know, I love to travel. Last year, I travelled to Cambodia and Vietnam during my summer vacation. It was an unforgettable trip. But I'll talk about it some other time. This year, I'm planning a trip to Bangkok and Pattaya in late June. I also have to attend an official trip to the USA for a conference this August. So I've got lots of travel lined up this year. I'm eagerly waiting to say 'time to go!' So to check out some good deals for my trip I went to last week's travel fair.

NATAS Travel – 2009, National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (http://www.natas.travel/) conduct a travel fair twice a year. This year it was held at Expo. Compared to last year, this year’s fair was huge. More than 200 stalls from all travel agents, tourism boards and flight carriers spanned the 2 halls of Singapore Expo. You can imagine the scale of the event! It has earned S$45m in travel sales this year.

I got some really fantastic deals. Like to and fro to San Francisco from Singapore via Japan in ANA for S$980 including taxes {FYI: A normal round trip (SIN to SF) would cost nothing less than S$2100}. But the bad news was the travel dates had to be in the month of Jun – 09. So I planned to wait till the end of this month because the US taxes and fuel surcharge are expected to come down in the coming budget.

Some Chinese drummers performing there. I took some pictures and videos, do have a look at them.

I've also planned on getting a new laptop so I'm going to next week's IT fair. I will update you guys with photos of how laptops and LCD/Plasma TV’s are sold here. The IT fair here is similar to the street markets in India. You can get very good bargains.

Some people also call Singapore a fine city Stay tuned for more. Later.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Passion in Paradise

Hey guys, I've just got a new video and some photos from my university regarding our engineering faculty. I've put it up on my Flickr account. Have a look it and get to know more about my university, NUS. Okay, enough about campus and academics. I'll come back to them later. I want to tell you guys about my passions. I've wanted to write about this for a while now. My passions are travel and food. I love to travel and discover new stuff, in fact that’s one among many reasons why I chose Singapore for my graduate studies.

To visit all places in South-East Asia, residence in Singapore is very ideal. Beginning with currency exchange till airfares and trip planning, it's very convenient and cheap if you reside in Singapore.

Whether it was my time at school or under graduate days or even now in my life as a graduate….I've had a million trips (well, not a million but quite a few). I am neither a holiday planner nor a back packer. I'm somewhere in between. My trips mostly focus on venturing out and experiencing something new always and of course, different cuisines. I've had many, many fun filled trips during my stay here. If I started talking about all of them, I will run into pages. So I better make it short and sweet and talk only about a few of my best ones.

My trip to Tioman (www.tioman.com) was something I will never forget. I actually commend this as a perfect trip. Everything, from climate to travel to accommodation came our way easily. We had great fun. I took this trip to experience (experiment) snorkeling and scuba diving.

I started out on a Saturday morning, in a car with a few friends and headed toward Mersing Jetty (in Malaysia) with a lot of doubts about the climate. In fact the weather was so bad that our ferry from Mersing to Tioman was to get cancelled. But luckily, they agreed to sail. During that 2 hour journey we were terrified of the rash sea. You can imagine what it would be like, when on a heavy, windy, rainy day; the driver speeds the big ferry at 200Kmph against the huge waves and switches off his motors when it comes down. Oh God! I was totally terrified.

But when we got off at ABC jetty, I really felt the journey was totally worth it. I was overwhelmed by the nature’s creation. It was an awe-invoking scene. The beautiful mountains covered with fog and astonishing green scenery at its foot were on one side and the boisterous sea on the other. Just a few steps out of the jetty terminal and that was it. I was speechless as I looked as a small school of fish moved and jumped in the crystal clear sea water.

Later, Tiong-Man, now called Tioman continuously puzzled, dazed and even inspired me with its beauty. Be it the white beach sand or the coral islands or even the water falls. I didn't miss a single chance to explore everything. My most favourite spot was Monkey-Bay. The multi-coloured fishes, colourful corals, live sea urchins and everything else was a different experience in itself. You have to try out snorkeling at Monkey Bay…you will really want to go there again and again and again! We spent almost half a day there and yet, didn't manage to cover the complete land scape. Do go through my pictures and videos of Tioman. You will be spellbound and who knows you may want to visit Tioman for your next vacation.

All in all, it was among one of the best trips I've had. The only drawback was, all these activities required a lot of swimming. And I'm not much of a swimmer so I missed out on a lot of fun stuff like exploring the deep sea. Otherwise, it was an astonishing trip. I hope to return there during the next season with better swimming abilities. But for now, I am leaving for the NATAS travel fair in the EXPO. Hope to get really cheap holiday fares for my next trip. I will update you guys in my next post. Till then, goodbye and keep watching this space for more details on my other trips.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Journey across the seas - part 2

Journey Across the Seas Contd
Sorry, I was really sleepy the last time I was writing....so here is the rest of my in-flight escapade.

The next morning, when sun suddenly made its presence felt I woke up. I had never before realized nights could be so short (and this was when the realization of global timings dawned on me). One peek through the window was enough to take my breath away. The scenario was splendid. This was the first time I was peeping out of a plane; I always used to assume that people who fly get lucky sometimes to get a glimpse of some marvelous scenes from their window. But you can rest assured you will always end up getting glimpses of some splendid natural beauty. As the clouds whizzed by I felt as if I was floating on air. The pilot announced that we were approaching Singapore in 15 min, while the air-hostesses were busy distributing the embarkation/ disembarkation card. Something they forgot to do earlier.

The arrival of Changi airport was promptly announced . And then came the airborne view of the concrete jungle (Singapore city). This was the first time I was getting a chance to see some city from a plane and that too the financial hub of South East Asia. I got a breathtaking view of the city as the plane took a U-turn to align itself in the direction of the runway. And the landing was perfectly smooth. Many things happening now were my 'first time' experiences. Like getting on a plane, getting off a plane and so on. I always had this dreaded fear that landing of a plane was one of the most harrowing experiences of life. I still remember vague images from my childhood as I conjured up passengers dangling in zero gravity in air as the plane nose dived for landing (I guess inspiration from the ONIDA television ad which levered the weight of the passengers to align the plane up and down, with the help of TV set pairs at the front and back of the plane). The descent however wasn’t so unpleasant after all, though I felt giddy from the 'hanging in air' sensation, it was smooth.

Before the plane landed I enquired all about Changi, so I could leave smoothly and quickly. While disembarking, the fact that I was new to this place and knew nothing about international travel was written all over my face. Certain other factors were clear indicators of this. The fact that I was clutching my only possession, a file, which housed all my documents such as VISA, passport and plane tickets so tightly as if my own life depended on it (although in one way it was true).
At the airport I really felt as if I was in a multistory shopping complex. Changi was too big. It actually had 2 terminals (now three) filled with more duty free shops housing all sorts of international brands. Walking through Changi Airport was truly an amazing experience in itself. I felt as if I was walking in my dreams as I flitted along the corridors of the airport with a spending view of airplanes taxiing on the hangar on one side and beautiful shops and suavely decorated interiors of shops selling various items. It was almost like a dream come true and it seemed to me as if I was watching an episode of travel and living. It was a drastic change for me from Anna to Changi. With fellow passengers I managed to reach the arrival counters in less than 5 min.
I was amazed to see 20 officers working at parallel counters to abate the crowd. To top it off, all Singaporeans and permanent residents have separate automated doors through which they can leave. Knowing me as a student from Tamil Nadu, India, the Malay officer greeted me with a “VANAKKAM” with a heavy Malay accent. She asked me for the IPA letter. It was a fraction of seconds and I was out of Changi along with my luggage. The entire process took less than 20 min. This was indeed a great welcome to a new country.

I headed out to meet one of the GSS (Graduate Students Society) members from NUS, holding a board on which my name was written. Actually the GSS have a meet and greet facility, so you can register with them to send a senior student who can guide you to your residence. Though I did this, I was also prepared to take a taxi straight to my residence, in case I missed them. But these guys were on time, looking out for me. I went forward and introduced myself to them at the Airport Terminal and to my immense relief, I received a warm welcome from them. Whoa...I think I have written a lot today. I think I'm done.
Keep an eye for more stuff...Until then bye from me

The best part

Singapore’s flagship university with 14 faculties and schools across 3 campus locations is educating over 30,000 students from more than 100 countries. It also shares a close affiliation with more than 100 research based national and university level institutes and centers. Does it sound big??? And that’s my university, NUS. A global university, thriving to be a global knowledge enterprise.

I have the best campus ever. It’s a mini city in itself with world-class infrastructure ranging from sports & recreation, libraries, food outlets to halls of residence. To start with, it’s a high tech campus which strongly believes in the use of modern electronics. Beginning from your purchase of books, laptops, etc. in the co-op society (local market) to the use of sports facilities such as the swimming pool, gymnasium and borrowing books from the library, you need your electronic student/metric card. With this one card you can live the life fit for a king on the campus.

Other than most of the common facilities such as wi-fi broadband, sophisticated and very frequent internal shuttle bus facility, a big center for instructional technology (which takes care of all e-needs like hardware, software, networking, etc…) is present on campus. Most of the top class universities have this. Some of the specialized sections of NUS are YIH (Yousuf Ishak House) serving only students' non-academic needs, Central Forum for student bazaars and a University Cultural Center (UCC) also housing a beautiful cultural and heritage museum.

During my course, I’ve met students from all over the world giving me a uniquely global outlook. The multiracial and the multicultural nature of this place really gives students a proper blend of fun, creativity and imagination and hence education in the true sense of the word. The usage of multimedia in NUS is commendable. Most of the lecture theaters are equipped with well versed multimedia systems (such as Bose speakers) and all the lectures are recorded and web-cast for further reference.

As a PhD student, I also have access to the latest and best in teaching and research facilities. Ranging from sophisticated research equipments to rare books and journals and what not??? I get everything I need for my research. Strong collaborations and joint programs with world class universities such as MIT, UIUC, etc. gives us good networking possibilities and a chance to learn more from the west.

Overall, my experience at NUS is very close to my heart and wonderful. In a nutshell, the university provides me with a conducive learning environment with its great passion in producing outstanding research talent and a well designed education system with a good balance of curricular and extra-curricular activities, with a focus on entrepreneurship is a diamond on its crown. I hope to learn more and can envisage my future plans with the support of NUS.

For those who believe in numbers here are some fact sheets for u
1.Times Higher Education - QS (THE-QS) World University Rankings, NUS was placed 30th among the world's top 200 universities - and 4th in Asia
2.NUS Engineering ranked 11th in the world (http://www.topuniversities.com/)

Wanna know more about my campus??? Then do take a virtual tour and have a look at few of these videos.

VIRTUAL TOUR: http://www.nus.edu.sg/vr/

Other Links:
http://www.nus.edu.sg/
http://www.youtube.com/nuscast
http://www.nus.edu.sg/aboutus/corpvideo.php#corp
http://www.nus.edu.sg/campuslife/

Festive Season

I've been wishing everyone a great new year. I know it's been 3 months since the New Year began but I'm talking about the Chinese New Year. The month of Jan and Feb are two lively months in Singapore. This is when you get to see many lively and exciting activities taking place all around.

CHINESE NEW YEAR: Lunar New Year/Chinese New Year is a very big festival in Singapore. Since 80% of the Singaporeans are Chinese descents, it's one of the official festivals of the country. It's celebrated here with much splendour and the goodies are to die for. The variety is amazing. I can write a lot about the Lunar New Year because I've represented this festival for the past 2 years. But to put in a succinct form, it’s basically the festival of 'GET-TOGETHER'. People from families come together and visit others, share gifts and meals.

It’s supposed to go on for the first 15 days of the Chinese calendar but in this modern era, the Singapore version goes on only for 3 days. The first two important days and the fifteenth day. This is when the lantern festival takes place in the Chinese garden. Want to know more?? (Learn here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_New_Year )

But for me and my friends the actual celebration is at China Town and Marina Bay. We usually take a trip to Chinatown to marvel at the festivities and the celebrations followed by a midnight fireworks show at Marina Bay. This is the time you can get a taste of many signature Chinese dishes and chocolates at Food Street. For shopaholics, this is the perfect time to treat themselves to some street shopping at cheaper rates. You actually get to see many varieties of gifts and goods. Want to know more about Chinese New Year? Have a look at my pictures.

Other major festivals Indians in Singapore celebrate during this season are 'Pongal' and 'Thaipusam'. Let me tell you something about them.

PONGAL: When someone talks about Pongal, what instantly comes to mind is this hilarious incident that happened with me. A Tamil speaking worker man who worked close to my house, explained what Pongal is, to a European friend of mine. According to him Pongal is a festival of “over boiling the rice”. In addition to this he said, on one day it's celebrated for man and on the next, for animal. My friend went crazy on hearing his explanations and I too, was shocked by his literal translations. Kudos to him! Guys, Pongal is not how we actually prepare Pongal. Rather, it's actually a festival celebrated to thank the sun god and mother nature for a good harvest in the preceding year.

Since there are approximately 20% Indians in Singapore, of which a majority speaks Tamil, the so called Tamilar thirunal / sankaranti/ pongal/ baisaki in India is actually celebrated in an extravagant fashion here. Apart from the usual rituals at home and the temple, it is widely celebrated at Campbell lane. During this time it is converted into a mini village, with stalls displaying various festive goods used during Pongal.

And guys if u want to see live cattle around Singapore this is the right time. Go to Little India, you'll definitely can find them there.

THAIPUSAM: Believe it or not, Thaipusam and the Theemithi (walking on fire) are two other important festivals in Singapore. They are celebrated in a very grandiose fashion which is equivalent to any famous temples in Tamil Nadu. It’s actually the festival of Lord Muruga. All the deities start the procession from Sreenivasa Perumal Temple in Little India and end in Thandayuthapani temple at Tank Road. You can see all sorts of Kavadis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kavadi) during this time.
And you know something? Some of the major participants of these festivals are Chinese!! Ha....I just love this melting pot of cultures.

The good old days

Someone's moved in next door and it's reminded me of the time I moved in. I don't think I wrote anything about that. It was so much fun. I found a place so easily and the people here are so helpful, they made moving in so much easier. At the time I didn't know anyone here so it was quite a relief.

My first accommodation in Singapore was Gillman Heights Condominium. Actually before I even landed in Singapore, I had my first residence. How cool is that? Singapore is actually an online world. All the essentials u need are only a click away. With a click from India I got my bookings done through NUS. So when I arrived I landed directly in my own apartment.

It was quite a big apartment with three bedrooms, one very big hall, a dining room and a kitchen equipped with some basic requirements like a hot plate, refrigerator, microwave, etc. Obviously, I wasn't alone in this big house. I actually shared it with a few of my other mates from India. Some of the other facilities included a sophisticated gym and one of my favourites, a huge swimming pool.

Gone are those good old days. By penning this down I'm actually painting myself those good old memories. No research, little work because everything was new and it was the first year of my course. Hence, I had more free time. We totally rocked at Gillman. I had friends who were Americans, Eurasians and Asians. We really had a very big gang. It’s very easy to get along with the locals. It’s during this time I realised, how colourful a student's life really is.

We did everything from cooking over night barbeques at the poolside to more rigorous stuff like workouts at the gym and some relaxing activities like midnight chats. I enjoyed every moment of my experience at Gillman. But later we had to part ways since the great beautiful Gillman was coming down due to an en-bloc sale.

After that I've moved to 3 places in 2 years. So you can understand how simple it is to move around in Singapore. It's not like I had any kind of trouble at any of these places, it’s just that I wanted to stay close to the university. And now, I actually live right beside my university in my own rented apartment. I think by now you guys must've got the flavor of what it takes to be here and what kind of a life a student would lead here.

Apart from this to help you out, here are some common Housing Terminologies used around Singapore:

BHK: Bedroom, Hall and Kitchen
HDB: Housing Development Board houses. These are more common and cheap accommodations.
Condominium: Private developed accommodations which are a little more expensive than HDB houses but far more sophisticated, like Gillman.
Fully furnished house: Comes with all basic needs such as television, refrigerator, hot plate/ stove, etc…In addition you also get all rooms furnished with wardrobes, cupboards, beds, etc…
Partially furnished house: U might find some basic essentials missing.

I don’t know much about other universities but as far as NUS is concerned. Undergrads and married graduates, don’t worry you've got a place to stay inside the campus. Postgraduates…You will always be taken care of once you land here, just like me. Later you have to figure it out yourselves, which is really simple, just like my experience here. Some quick links u can follow.


For student’s hostel: http://www.yoha.com.sg/

For long term private/public rentals ST701: http://property.st701.com/

For NUS students: http://www.nus.edu.sg/osa/housing/