Tom: Weekend Traveling

It hasn’t been that long at all since my last post, but it feels like a lifetime ago that I was writing it. Part of the reason that my time here has felt so long is because of the amount of travel that I have been doing. From Singapore it super cheap and easy to fly to destinations all over Asia, and the exchange students here at NTU have been taking full advantage of that!

Despite some slight worries about the COVID-19 Virus and its spread, most people continue to travel often. In fact I know some particular exchange students that have been away every single weekend since the start of semester… whilst I may not be at that level of travel I have gone to a few places and plan to go to even more in the future. 

Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia

My first trip from Singapore was an organised weekend away with a bunch of other exchange students from both NTU and NUS universities. This ‘organised format’ of travel allowed me to ease into the trips overseas. Included in what I paid was a bus trip to KL (Kuala Lumpur), multiple meals, accommodation, two insane nights out and tours of some of KL’s most famous attractions.

The trip up from Singapore through Malaysia to KL was quite memorable. We all jumped in a party bus from central Singapore which took us the entire 5 hour journey. After making our way through immigration we drove for an hour until we reached a small traditional Malay roadside restaurant. Here we had a meal of local dishes, including chicken, seafood and vegetarian options. I enjoyed the spicy Tom Yum Style soup the most, as it was the perfect blend of spice and powerful flavours.

After this pit-stop we continued on our long journey north, and the trips host distributed the long awaited drinks. We had a long time to socialise with our fellow passengers and made a bunch of new and interesting friends from around the world (some of which I have hung out with afterwards aswell!). Four hours and a few too many toilet stops later we made it to our hotel. The Hotel became our base to explore the city and we immediately spent a long night out in town (we made full advantage of the comparatively cheap prices in Malaysia).

Petronas Twin Towers
Previously the World’s Tallest Buildings (1998-2004)

The next day we spent exploring some of KL’s more famous sights. Attractions such as the Petronas Towers, Central Market and Chinatown… The contrast between Singapore and Malaysia was quite clearly visible walking around the streets. Whilst Malaysia had beautiful buildings and districts akin to Singapore there was also a very clear undertone of poverty and the city was very clearly nowhere near as developed as Singapore. The contrast between rich and poor was very clear when looking at luxury apartment complexes next to neighbourhoods made entirely of corrugated metal. As such our trip was quite an eye opener as to how lucky we all were to study in Singapore, which is so incredibly safe, efficient and well-polished.

After yet another long night out, the next morning was spent at the famous Batu Caves Temple Complex. It was a few days before the Hindu festival of Thaipusam in which the deity of Lord Murugan is celebrated, and as Batu Caves has the world’s largest statue of Lord Murugan it was a perfect chance to experience Malaysia’s minority Hindu culture!

43 Meter Tall Statue of Lord Murugan

We went back late that night to Singapore, and it felt comfortably like I was arriving back home as soon as I saw my dorm in the distance. Overall I really enjoyed Malaysia and will definitely plan to spend a week or so there in the future after my exams.

Bali – Indonesia

The Friday after my trip to Malaysia I was already jetting off to Indonesia. You can’t get more stereotypically Kiwi than going to spend a long weekend in Bali, especially since I went with my mate DJ from Australia!

Indonesia is super cheap compared to Singapore and NZ! Therefore me and my group of 4 friends were able to afford a very nice villa in the heart of Seminyak to call home for 5 nights. I thought it wasn’t even possible, but Bali was even hotter than Singapore… So having a pool to cool of in after the long sweaty days was super nice and our villa definitely felt like paradise on earth.

I can neither confirm nor deny if I jumped off the roof into the pool…

One of the first things we did after our arrival was hire scooters. These are by far the best method of getting around the island on your own and at 5 dollars a day hiring them was also well within budget. I hadn’t driven one before getting there yet got used to it really fast and although the traffic was absolutely mad it was a bunch of fun weaving between cars, other bikes and over footpaths. In fact the most fun I think I had all week was hooning down country lanes between the rice paddies.

Using our scooters we explored various parts of the Island, including waterfalls, the famous monkey temple and many of Bali’s beautiful beaches. We also spent a day on Nusa Penida (a smaller island about 40 mins away) which has world famous beaches and amazing seascape vistas.

Kelingking Beach on Nusa Penida

Another thing that Bali is known for is its nightlife… We spent time at various beach clubs such as Potato Head, as well as the Brazilian themed La Favela bar! Bali was definitely a heap of fun and I believe I’ll probably head back here in the future as a break from NZ!

Future Plans

All this traveling has amped me up to continue my trips from my home base of Singapore. One great opportunity for travel is the mid-semester recess break. During this time I’ll be spending 10 days in the Philippines on the southern islands of Cebu and Bohol.

One thing about studying abroad in Singapore was that I missed the majority of the summer holidays back in NZ. But since my last exam will be taking place on the 8th of May this means I have approximately two months before semester two starts back at UoA! I’ll be using the most of my time and have brought my hiking backpack from home to continue my travels throughout South East Asia. I plan to backpack my way through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam… spending two months or however long my funds last.

Till next time!

Not bad for a long weekend!

Tom: Arrival in the Garden City!

Arrival

I arrived in Singapore on Monday the 6th of Jan, admittedly still slightly dusty from RNV over New Years. Yet still ready to get fully immersed in the exchange experience.

I had made sure to get to Singapore a few days before the opening of the dorm accommodation at NTU in order to get a feel of the city on my own. This did mean that I had to book a hotel, but I have to say it was definitely worth it.

The first thing you notice in Singapore is the heat, it truly is a city within a jungle. Situated only just above the equator, temperatures in Singapore vary between 30-35 degrees Celsius, with humidity hovering around the 70-80% mark. This can be quite jolting to some people (especially some of my exchange friends from colder climates), but I love the heat here. If it ever gets overbearing it is super easy to seek out the sweet relief of air conditioning or even better a swimming pool (of which there is a free one on campus). That being said, Singapore probably isn’t for those that love the cold.

Looking at Downtown Singapore from the Civic District

Another thing that is great about Singapore is the absolutely insane amount of infrastructure that is present in the city. Massive public parks such as the infamous Gardens by the Bay litter the city and there is an MRT station seemingly every third block in some parts of town. The trains are fast, cheap and extraordinarily convenient. They come past every 5 mins and a trip won’t ever cost you much more than a dollar… I walked out of the terminal at Changi airport directly onto a train and arrived within a block from my hotel (Auckland Transport take notes!).

More of Downtown during Sunset

Accommodation at NTU

After a sick couple of days exploring the city on my own it was time to head to NTU and check out where I would be living for the next four or so months…

Accommodation in the on-campus housing halls is guaranteed for all exchange students at NTU. I really see no reason why you wouldn’t stay in this housing. It’s probably cheaper per month than the weekly rent in an Auckland apartment and provides insanely easy access to the university. More so it also allows you to get right amongst the action on campus with locals and other exchange students from all over the world (it’s been really easy to make friends here, remember everyone else is in the exact same boat as you!).

Me and fellow UoA Student (and blogger!) Maxwell

The only disadvantages of NTU’s campus is that it is about as far away from downtown as you can get within Singapore, however it is still only an hour MRT ride to the centre of the city! And the trip is a breeze for anyone used to commuting in Auckland.

Also your accommodation will be allocated on ballot style system. Keep in mind single rooms are in especially high demand and as such are hard to get. I got given a twin room located in Hall 12 which looks like it was recently refurbished. Living with a roommate, whilst taking slight adjustment to begin with, has been a heap of fun. Once you get the air conditioning system figured out (which did take a while!) life on campus is literally a breeze…

Actual Uni – Classes & Slight Hassles

Unfortunately exchange isn’t just a giant holiday, surprisingly you will need to take classes whilst here…

As Finance and Management are my Majors my classroom experience here is limited to the Nanyang Business School. I am taking four papers as of the moment, all of them are in the format of a 4-hour long seminar style session once a week. Each of these seminars has about 30-40 students in it and the level of education seems pretty consistent with what I would expect from third year commerce papers back home. At the moment I have one of these seminars each day from Tuesday through to Friday. This is quite a difference from the 1-hour long lectures at UoA, and I have found it a little hard to maintain my attention span for such a long period of time. However most professors here are quite relaxed and allow plenty of breaks as well as often finishing class up to an hour early.

My classes have been a mixed bag in relation to who is actually in them. Two contain about 70% exchange students (not surprising as they are both international business related papers), whilst in the other two I am one of perhaps three exchange students in the entire class.

It’s not all been study… Clubs in Singapore are a step above Bar101 back home

Whilst my classes have been quite interesting, they did involve a lot of hassle to organise. The system for allocating your courses here is called STARS, and local students have accurately named the allocation period ‘STARS WARS’, it can be difficult to say the least.

I would recommend having at least 6 courses pre-approved before arrival in NTU. This would help you avoid the majority of hassle involved in getting courses during the two week add/drop period at the start of semester. Keep in mind that ‘approved’ does not mean ‘registered’. I had many courses approved that I simply could not get registered due to the class size restrictions and lengthy waiting lists. Definitely something to keep in mind if you are in desperate need of a certain paper for graduation back home.

Food

If there is one thing Singapore is known for then it would be its food… From the tastiest Chicken Tikka Masala you’ve ever had in Little India to Michelin Starred $4 Chicken Rice in Chinatown.

A filling delicious meal in Singapore will cost you approximately $3-6, the canteens at NTU are all around this price point and have an insane amount of variety for you to choose from. Including a decent amount of vegetarian options. In total there are about 10 or so canteens scattered amongst the campus and its halls. But don’t worry there is always a Macca’s and Subway right on campus for when the inevitable cravings for something other than rice or noodles hit.

$5 for all this!

These incredibly cheap prices are offset by the high prices you can expect to find in Supermarkets. Staples like milk in NZ are all greatly more expensive here ($6 for 2L), due to the fact that most of these foods have to be imported.  

Till Next Time…

I hope I’ve been able to provide a decent overview of my time here so far through this post. For all those at home wondering if they should embark on their own exchange I can only recommend it to the absolute maximum. I’m having the time of my life and will continue to do so for the remainder of my trip.

I have already started planning further travel overseas for during my semester, so the next post should highlight some of these travel experiences! In fact I’m headed to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia this weekend and Bali the next! The fact that Singapore is a major travel hub results in some insanely good deals on flights, which I’m sure I’ll be taking full advantage of…

An American, Kiwi, Two French Canadians and an Aussie…
Singapore has been the perfect place to make a bunch of mates from all over the World!