5 months in Singapore: The beginning

Writing this blog swaddled in my sleeping bag, which has become my best friend since returning to Dundee. Last semester I was in Singapore, and while I had great intentions of weekly blogging, going on an exchange tends to fill up your time pretty effectively. However, now that I’m back I thought it might be nice for future exchangers (or anyone who wants to look at pictures of a place much warmer while getting through the darkness of January and February) to share a bit of my experience. So let’s start at the beginning!

Just two weeks after we arrived in Singapore, it was National Day on the 9th of August, which is when Singapore’s birthday is celebrated – it only became independent from Malaysia in 1963. The two weeks leading up to it we increasingly saw Singaporean flags hanging from balconies and any shop you walked into blasted nationalistic songs on repeat (look up “We Are Singapore” if you’re interested). On the day itself, there was a big parade in town, then the Singaporean Air Force performed a deafening air show and it ended with huge fireworks over Marina Bay. It was really cool to experience the national independence celebrations this way, sitting amid all the Singaporeans who had brought out their picnic blankets and tons of food to watch the entire show.

Before classes started we decided to head off to Malaysia for a weekend trip, to a UNESCO-heritage site town called Malacca with a tumultuous past, having previously been colonised by the Dutch, English and the Portuguese due to its strategic location on Malaysia’s west coast. The traces of this can still be seen in some of the preserved buildings; for example, the former city council was modelled after a town hall in a small village in the Netherlands, and on the other side of town stands a 500-year-old Portuguese fort.

The riverside with little bars and terraces in Malacca, featuring my phone case in the upper left corner


Nowadays though, it’s a super funky colourful town with street art on every wall. The streets are lined with narrow and seemingly small traditional houses, but when you enter they keep extending back further and further and inside there are small courtyards with reservoirs to catch the rain and cool the house a bit.

Some of these houses have been preserved and turned into museums. They’re beautiful but a bit like a golden cage, because women at the time were not allowed to go further than the hallway from where they could watch the street through paper screens.

We visited the night market, sipping sugarcane juice and eating steamed rice balls, found an insane abandoned house (well, abandoned by people but not by mosquitoes as we later discovered, pro tip: do not do this in a country where dengue and malaria exist), and we enjoyed the sunset from a highway bridge because we got lost on our way to the beach and then it started to set so we ran off to the highest point in the vicinity. Still worth it.


Nature reclaiming this abandoned mansion


And then we returned to Singapore and classes begun, and professors would occasionally begin anecdotes with, “Oh, back in Harvard…”, which was only mildly intimidating. I’ll save the university experience for the next blog post!

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