Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hello From Singapore!

So a few months ago Bryan (now Dr. Koenig : ) found out that he was hired for the position of "research engineer" at the Singaporean government's Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR)--in the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC)--in the Computational Cognition for Social Systems (CCSS). Singaporeans really like acronyms. And I'm still not sure what Bryan will be doing at work, but it has something to do with computers and psychology...and robots (kind of).

Much paperwork and planning and packing ensued, and before we knew it we were landing at Changi Airport in Singapore. We got here at 1 am last Friday night (July 25th). After gathering our numerous bags, we got a taxi to the Orchard Parade Hotel, where we've been living ever since. It's only been a few days, but we've already had a chance to explore a few different parts of the city.

The hotel is on Orchard Road, which is the trendy shopping district for Singapore, analogous to Fifth Avenue in New York. We're right down the street from Armani, Chanel, Tiffany & Co., Gucci, etc.- all the places that Bryan and I would never dream of shopping. We've had time to get to know the area though, and we've found that the food on Orchard Road is really good. There's two kinds of places to eat- restaurants, which are a little pricey in this area, and hawker centres, which are generally on the basement levels of the shopping areas. Hawker centres are much more reasonably priced, and the food from the vendors is super tasty.

We even went to a movie in one of the theaters by our hotel. We were surprised to find that the movie tickets were reasonable, even in this part of the city (S$15 for two tickets- about USD$10). It seemed really strange to be this far from home, but still able to watch a movie in English ("A Haunting in Connecticut"). Some things were different- you picked your seats when you bought your tickets, and there was food for sale that could be delivered to your seat once the movie had started. And no one put their feet on the seats, which was probably one of the most noticeable differences to me.

The other day, we walked to the Singapore Botanical Gardens, which include the National Orchid Garden. We passed by the U.S. Embassy on the way- it appears very much like a fortress: large and imposing, with dark stone walls, standing up on a hill. It seemed a bit over the top, but it was a little reassuring to see it there. The gardens, on the other hand, were open and sprawling and lovely. I was surprised at the amount of wildlife we saw- turtles in the ponds (red-eared sliders and Chinese softshells), some frogs (I think they were Malayan giant frogs), and a number of squirrels (plantain squirrels...pretty much like the gray kind in Ohio).

The flowers, of course, were the real attraction. There are so many different types of orchids- all different shapes, colors, patterns, and sizes. After hours of wandering through the gardens, they all pretty much ran together. We also went through the ginger garden, where we learned that bananas and plantains are part of the same plant family as ginger. Hopefully some day that will come up when one of us is on Jeopardy, haha. Bryan and I both especially enjoyed the carnivorous plants- the huge pitcher plants (picture below) and the little Venus fly traps.

The gardens were amazing, but after hours of wandering in the equatorial humidity, our thoughts turned to food and water. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped and ate at an Indian Grill, where I had some of the most delicious dal that I have ever had. Bryan had chicken curry, and he also ordered a drink that he had never heard of. The waiter set it down in front of him, and Bryan took a sip. The face he made was priceless- I've only seen him make it once before, when he was choking. His eyes got very wide, and I couldn't help but laugh. The drink looked like swamp water, and it contained all sorts of ingredients that have no business in a beverage- cumin, curry, salt. I tasted it and was immediately sorry. The food has been awesome so far- the drink has been our only misadventure.

We've done lots more since we got here, but it's 11 pm and that is far past my Singaporean bedtime (I'm still getting used to the time change), so I'll have to post about our monkey encounters some other time.