Wednesday, March 31, 2010


So, I'm finally getting around to writing about my recent trip to the Philippines.  First of all, the Philippines in general was really awesome.  I think this is mostly because being in the Philippines didn't feel like being in Asia anymore, it really felt more like being in Central/South America.  A refreshing change!

The entire trip consisted of several days in Manila for a conference with all the other Southeast Asia Fulbrighters, then a quick hop down to the island of Cebu for some island vacationing with my friend and fellow Fulbrighter Clayton.  Because I know you'll all (all five or so of you) be waiting on the edge of your seats to hear about the trip, I'm going to split it up into two parts just to up the suspense factor.

First, Manila.  This city is crazy.  Metro Manila actually consists of 16 cities - it's huge!  The first thing I experience about Manila is the traffic.  Often, taxi rides of 10km take up to 1.5 hours!  Remember those pictures of motorbike traffic from Vietnam?  Well, the traffic in Manila is similar, except all the motorbikes are replaced with cars, jeepneys, and buses.  What are jeepneys, you ask? Well...
 Jeepneys were adapted from American army jeeps and are one of the more common methods of public transportation in Manila.  They are always brightly and individually decorated!

The conference was held in a branch of the ShangriLa Hotel.  This was by far the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in.  The most remarkable thing about the hotel was the breakfast/lunch buffet at the hotel restaurant.  It was HUGE!  Every type of food you could want - Indian food for breakfast, an entire roasted pig for lunch, handmade sushi, and (I was particularly excited about this one) an excellent salad bar!  The dessert area was completely out of control - after surveying an entire area of delicious looking Western desserts and selecting a few, I turned around to find an equally large area of Filipino desserts!

I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet all the other Fulbrighters - everyone in the group was really interesting and accomplished (besides the Fulbright, I mean).  Seriously, compared to some of the people there, I felt quite boring!  Everyone was asked to give a short presentation about their grant research/work and these turned out to be way more interesting than I expected.  Not to be a science snob, but at the beginning of the conference I wasn't super excited to listen to two days of presentations about humanities/social sciences research.  But here I was pleasantly surprised, because I found many of the topics to be very interesting.  Random examples include studies of female Muai Thai fighters, traditional Khmer dance, and reporting and ethics on the Thai/Burma border. 

On Friday afternoon, a couple others and I skipped the scheduled cultural activity (museum trip) and headed out on our own to visit Intramuros, one of the cities within Metro Manila.  Intramuros was the headquarters of the old Spanish colonial government and the site of the ruins of the Spanish fort.  First, we visited the San Augustin Church, built in 1607.  It's survived various earthquakes as well as WWII (no small feat, considering that Manila was the second-most bombed city in WWII).

Next we visited the Manila Cathedral; this church is not as exciting since it's been destroyed and rebuilt several times.  The most recent version was built after WWII.
At the cathedral, we sampled some Manila street food: fried bananas on a stick.  I think they had also been coating in sugar.  They were kind of delicious.  Then I spotted on of the guards at Fort Santiago, and had to take a picture of him.
The strange part was that he seemed confused about why I wanted to take his picture - surely this must happen pretty often?!?  We then headed to the fort.  Here's the entrance archway.
Over the arch is a wooden carving of Santiago Matamoros, the patron saint of Spain.  In case you're wondering what "Matamoros" means, it literally means "kill Moros" (Moros is the traditional Spanish word for Muslims, or more specifically North African Muslims).  Very cheery art.  The park outside the fort was quite nice, though.
The conference ended on Friday evening with a reception featuring native Filipino music played by a very cheery and skillful group.  They played xylophone-like instruments as well as big Pan pipes.  They also danced around while playing said instruments.  It was impressive.  However, I headed to bed early since our flight to Cebu was leaving at 4:30 AM the next morning!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Philippines pictures


Proper entries in a few days.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Greg Mortenson!

Today, I got the chance to attend a talk given by Greg Mortenson, the director of an NGO that builds schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  He's written two books about his works,  called Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools.  His story is pretty crazy and the books are very interesting to read.  I learned a lot about the Middle East and the causes of fundamental Islamic movements through the two books.  Mr. Mortenson was speaking at an International Baccalaureate conference here in Singapore.  I initially started out just trying to talk the IB Organization into allowing me to come hear his talk, but ended up giving a thank you/closing speech after the talk as well!  Later, I got to meet Mr. Mortenson:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Singapore vs. The Media

.Here's an interesting article about one of Singapore's more recent attacks on various media outlets that criticize the government.  Apparently this happens a lot here.  This probably explains why the vast majority of Singaporean "newspapers" are no more than tabloid trash.

Oh yeah, and posts/pictures from my Philippines trip coming soon!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pulau Ubin

Last weekend, I finally made the trip to Pulau Ubin in the company of some friends.  Pulau (meaning island) Ubin is a small (Singaporean island) just off the east coast of Singapore.  It only takes about 10 minutes to reach the island by boat.  However, it's completely different than regular Singapore.  No high rises office buildings or HDBs!  Just small restaurants, a tiny temple, and lots of bike rental shops.  This is because the preferred method of transportation on Pulau Ubin is by bike.  Those of you who have had the opportunity to witness my bike riding skillz (or lack thereof) may be a bit worried, but I am happy to report that we enjoyed a full afternoon of bicycling around and I managed to stay on the bicycle the whole time!

The island is very scenic and features some nice beaches and a wetland.  Here's one of the beaches:
Here was a cool tree that we spotted off the shore from the wetlands.
Also in the wetlands there were a lot of crazy looking banyan trees.
A little later, we rode by a very scenic quarry.
And then we spotted a monkey!

Although it was extremely hot and sweaty (35C=95F and high high humidity), it was a really fun day trip and definitely someplace I'd like to go back to before I leave Singapore.

Exciting news alert!  On Wednesday, I'm leaving for the Philippines.  I'll first be heading to Manila, where I'll be attending and presenting at a conference for all the current Fulbrighters in Southeast Asia.  Then, I'll be heading south to Cebu with my friend Clayton to do some scuba diving for a few days.  So, exciting pictures will be coming up soon!   

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chingay Parade

A couple weekends ago, I attended the Chingay Parade.  Apparently the word "Chingay" is an anglicized version of a Hokkien word that means "the art of costume and masquerade".  The original Chingay began in Penang (Malaysia) and the tradition worked it's way south through Johor Bahru (border city) to Singapore.  Because everything in Singapore has to be advertised as the best or largest of something or other, Chingay is promoted as "the biggest street parade in South East Asia"!

As I've said before, my camera sucks at night so it was kind of hard to take pictures.  I tried taking some of the floats when they would stop midroute - they were really absolutely ridiculous.  Huge, gaudy, and often inexplicable.  A lot of them had national themes.  Here is the Japanese float:
The Chinese float seemed to have some sort of odd theme that we didn't really get:
The weirdest part was that there were people in those yellow boxes on top of the float.  We expected them to pop out of the boxes in some sort of grand finale, but they didn't.  They just stayed inside and wiggled around a bit instead.

There were also a lot of Singapore themed floats.  The Housing Development Board, or HDB, turned 50 this year, so there were several floats celebrating this milestone.
This is, of course, supposed to be a bunch of people from different racial/ethnic/economic backgrounds, all living happily together in harmony in an HDB building.
So, I understand the birthday cake, and I understand the lion (Singapore is the "lion city") but why is the cake in the middle of the lion?!?

Finally, there was this guy.  His float was somehow associated with a  Universal Studios theme park that is opening soon, but I was laughing too much at this guy to really pay attention to the rest of the float.