Licheng: Making Friends in Singapore

There are a lot of different ways to go about this topic, and building relationships with others depends a lot on your personality. Some people are social butterflies and establish themselves in multiple friend groups, while others spend more time with people they see the most often, such as roommates or people in the same housing. There are also the rare bunch of exchange students who travel to a new country every week and buddy up with whoever happens to join the trip. There really isn’t a best method here and it’s important to know what you’re most comfortable with. Personally, I’m an extrovert so I love the notion of meeting new people and becoming acquainted with different crowds. There are always moments where you can introduce yourself, whether it be in the stairwell, the elevator, or even in the laundry room. A helpful tip to meeting new people is to remember names. In the first two weeks you’re likely to meet upwards of 50 new people so if you’re able to connect a name with a face, it goes a long way towards developing your relationship with them.

There may be some rough first impressions here and there, but it’s important to keep an open mind because at the end of the day, everyone’s going through the same thing. If you’re not that comfortable being around a lot of people, spend more time in smaller groups and know that it’s okay to take things at your own pace. There’s definitely a lot of excitement at the start of the exchange and it’s really easy to get caught up in other people’s pace. At the very least, I challenge you to not watch a single episode on Netflix for the first two weeks and spend most of the day outside. The best time to make friends is at the start of the semester – it’s as easy as striking up conversation with the person at the same bus-stop as you. There are several events organised by the NUS GRO (Global Relations Office) that give students the opportunity to do stuff together, so it’s not a bad idea to check those out. I like to frequent populated areas so I’ll often be chilling at the pool, at the study area next to Starbucks, or inside Starbucks.

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Making friends with Singaporeans should also be on your to-do list because it’s always nice to hear things from a local perspective. NUS receives a high volume of exchange students so most of the locals are accustomed to exchange students around campus. You’ll find that work culture here is a fair bit more intense than back home, in fact it wouldn’t be surprising if most of the locals you meet average around 6 hours of sleep. So don’t be disheartened if you don’t get to spend too much time with them, but do make the effort to invite them out for dinner or drinks.

Within Singapore there are these open-air areas with a large variety of food stalls called hawker centres. These centres contribute significantly to the food culture in asia, and can also be found in Malaysia, Indonesia, or Hong Kong. There are many uncles/aunties at the hawkers who specialise in a signature dish, passing their recipe from generation to generation to finetune and perfect the taste. Be sure to try iconic dishes such as chilli crab, satay, hainanese chicken rice, hokkien mee, char kway teow, and popiah!

My local friend took the liberty to label some of the dishes he brought us out to try, so take a cheeky gander and prepare your bellies! (hint hint: invite people to go hawker hopping!)

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Hamish: First Impressions of Singapore

Arrival

The first day of Singapore. Oh boy – let’s just say it was a very vivid memory that will be etched in me forever.

Changi Airport.

6:35am.

I wake up after an hour’s sleep at the end of a rough 10-hour flight as the overhead speaker lets me know that we’ve arrived in the land of cheap food, hard-working people and of course, humid climate – Singapore. My young, sleep deprived brain was struck by the size and beauty of the 4-terminal sized Airport. Having to wait 8 hours at Changi airport for my 2pm check-in at halls wasn’t an issue for me since Changi Airport is insanely beautiful and something to experience in and of itself.

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Some badly taken photos at Changi Airport due to my tiredness

 

 

My first meal at the airport was cheap relative to New Zealand, but expensive relative to on-campus food. I ordered a dumpling noodles and tea set (interesting) which cost me about $7 and the conversation went something along the lines of:

Me: One dumplings noodles and tea set please
Cashier: What tea you want?
Me: What types do you have?
Cashier: ________ and black tea
Me: What was that?
Cashier: ________ and black tea
Me: uhhh, pardon?
Cashier: ________ and black tea
Me: … one more time please : ))
Cashier: ________ and black tea (annoyed)
Me: uhh, yeah the first one

Yeah, I had no clue what he said. Turned out to be milk tea.

My first impression of the Singlish accent was not great, especially knowing that I probably wouldn’t understand half of what Singaporeans would be saying during my 6 months stay. From what I’ve learnt and experienced, the accent is strong, spoken quickly, and often informally with the combination of Mandarin and Hokkien.

The Country

The very first thing I noticed as soon as I stepped foot outside was the hot blast of the Singaporean humidity – absolutely destroying me in my chino pants and t-shirt. On average, it’s about 31 degrees every day here and at night it drops to an (all-time) low of about 27 degrees. But it’s usually the humidity that gets to you so if you’re packing for Singapore, I probably wouldn’t suggest any jackets or jumpers!

Singapore itself is a very, very small country – you can probably travel from one side to the other in about 40 minutes or so. The Grab that I ordered (Singaporean Uber) cost me about $15 for a 30-minute drive which is pretty cheap compared to taxiing/Ubering around in New Zealand and since Singapore’s so small, it doesn’t get much more expensive than that during the day time.

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Gardens by the Bay!

Generally, living costs in South East Asian countries are very, very cheap compared to New Zealand. To get around in Singapore most people use the underground MRT system where you usually won’t be paying more than about $2.00 to get from one side of the country to the other. And since NUS is around the middle of the country rather than one end, your average train cost is about $1.20.

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Surreal views on National Singapore Day
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Marina Bay Sands

Food

I was thinking of putting this under ‘Country’ but I think food deserves its own category here. Just like most other Asian/South East Asian country, food here is super cheap, since a lot of the costs are subsidised by the government. Singapore is known to have a lot of food canteens or what they like to call hawker centres around the city, where food is probably the cheapest you’ll get. These prices are on par with campus prices – but I’m here to talk about campus food.

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There are food canteens everywhere on campus – about 6-7 off the top of my head – but there are probably a few more seeing as I haven’t actually been to every faculty around campus. Basically, what you’ll see is that the shops don’t actually have names, instead it’ll be just the type of food that they sell, for example ‘Japanese’, ‘Western’, ‘Si Chuan’, ‘Northern Indian Halal’ etc. Every food canteen has a super diverse range of food that you can buy, but at what price? On average, you’re looking at $3.50 per meal.

That’s right.

$3.50.

And what can you get in New Zealand for $3.50? Absolutely nothing. Maybe like a sub-optimal $1.80 Irvine’s pie at Munchie Mart topped off with a cheap chilled beverage of your choice, which is everything but healthy and doesn’t provide you with enough nutrients/energy to keep you going at your optimal state for study. Compared to meals in Singapore, the quality and quantity of food that you get for $3.50 is quite amazing. They also serve small things like ‘dim sums’ which are small Asian bite size snacks which cost around $1. Since Singapore strongly promotes a healthy diet, you’ll be able to buy a bag of chopped fruit for about $0.70 or convert it into a large smoothie drink at about $1.50.

Cheap right?

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$0.90 iced coffee after I took some sips heh

The Campus

The NUS campus is massive – so massive to the point where there are literally about 6 types of buses specially made for convenient travel around NUS that come every 5-10 minutes to every stop around campus. If you were to walk from one side of the campus to the other, it would take about 30 minutes. At first I didn’t know the buses were free, so I made my first mistake of asking the driver how much the ride costed. He replied ‘free’ as everybody just stared at me while I walked to my seat, happily.

That wraps up my first blog in Singapore and please keep reading if you’re going/interested in going to Singapore for exchange – I might just convince you! 😊 Also, feel free to hit me up if you have any questions on the paperwork/admin processes or anything in Singapore at hcha330@aucklanduni.ac.nz! I know the process is gruelling and many factors can dissuade you from going but I’m sure I can turn things around for you!!

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Licheng: Tips and Tricks for life in Singapore

I had different ideas on how to approach this blog, and after thinking it through, I feel that it would be most helpful to just structure this as a personalised tips and tricks guide. The aim is to help you deal with unfamiliarity as well as introduce some of the issues and challenges that I faced. The first part of this blog shall detail arriving and setting up life, here in Singapore.

Now if you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You have been nominated to the #1 ranked university in Asia. There’s a new adventure just over the horizon, and it’s bound to provide you many character defining experiences.

The NUS application process tends to throw a lot of information at you, and it can be quite challenging to keep track of everything. Here are some key bits of information to help you get through the administrative experience.

  1. Student card ≠ Student pass

The student card is also known as the Matriculation card. This is a physical card that allows you to enter NUS facilities/housing. You will mainly use it for the elevators though.

The Student pass is essentially your student visa. It is card that you receive shortly after settling down on campus. Make sure you finish the relevant paperwork for it though!

  1. Don’t be afraid if you didn’t get your modules the first time

In your NUS application you would’ve been asked to select 10 modules for your workload. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t get any of the modules you were looking for! I only got 1 out of my 10.

Around 2 weeks before semester starts there will be a module add/drop period in which you can apply for the modules you want. If there is a capacity issue and you need the module to meet graduation requirements, you can write to the course administrator and present your case. They tend to be fairly reasonable.

  1. Regarding housing, most people end up in Utown Residence

So to make it simple, you want to avoid Prince George’s Regional Park (PGPR) accommodation as the rooms are smaller and all the fun is situated at Utown. Within Utown you have Utown Residence (UTR) and the Utown Residential College Programme (UTRCP). It can be a bit confusing here, but UTRCP consists of 4 residential colleges (CAPT, Tembusu, Cinnamon, RC4) which has a larger local community. They have a greater emphasis on developing culture and community so they’ll have some sort of activity running every night. UTR is essentially two 25 storey twin towers (North tower and South tower) where students share an apartment with 3 other people. There are fewer locals at UTR as it is predominantly exchange students and postgraduate students. The majority of people either end up in UTR or PGPR.

Alright, moving on:

Upon touching down in Changi airport you should really just take your time and wander around. Changi has been rated world’s best airport for 6 years running so it’s really worth your while to find out if it’s worthy of that title. After you’ve looked around a bit, you should start considering how to get around:

  1. Uber in Singapore was acquired by a company named “Grab”

Typically, ride sharing in South East Asia will be through Grab instead of Uber. There’s an interesting discussion here over why Uber lost the market to Grab so you can go do that homework in your spare time.

  1. Singapore has a very consistent railway transport system

Singapore’s railway system is called the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and features several lines that spans throughout the entire island. To use the MRT, you need to purchase an EZY-LINK card (AT-HOP card equivalent) so find a booth at the airport and you’ll be good to go. To get to campus, take the East/West (Green) line from Changi to Buona Vista, then transfer to the Circle (Orange) line to HarbourFront and get off at the Kent Ridge stop. From there either walk to PGPR, or take the D2 (free student) shuttle to Utown. Alternatively if that’s too much to take in just take a Grab to Utown Residence.

Download this app (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.exploremetro.sg&hl=en) if you want to familiarise yourself with the stations.

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So, after you’ve arrived at your accommodation you should think about buying some bedroom essentials as well as some plants/lights if you want to curate a nice living space. Typically there’ll be a Facebook group for exchange students, so take this opportunity to post and ask if anyone wants to go visit Ikea as a group. Alternatively, just knock on your neighbours door and see if they’re down to go with you. If you’re planning on staying at NUS for two semesters, I really recommend buying a mattress topper as the given mattresses are very hard and uncomfortable. For stuff like detergent, laundry hampers, pillows, and shampoo, you can find them pretty cheap at Clementi shopping mall. (Be sure to try some Tian Tian’s chicken rice while you’re there!)

Settling in is a great opportunity to meet new people. Be sure to challenge yourself and really put yourself out there!

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Travel – John

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A café in Penang, Malaysia

To travel to other countries from NZ, it can be costly and uncomfortable due to its remoteness. But from Singapore, travel options are easily accessible and there are so many locations to choose from! Out of all the places I went to during my exchange, I’d like to introduce you to the two best places that I would recommend going to or else this blog would be too long and boring. Keep in mind that this is only out of my own experience and I’m sure there are many other awesome places to explore depending on your personal taste, so don’t be confined to these places!

  1. Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

From my knowledge, the city of Bagan applied to UNESCO for recognition as a world heritage site but is not yet accepted (I’m not 100% sure of its current application status). Bagan is an ancient city of Myanmar and it is full of pagodas (Buddhist temples) everywhere you go which are mostly banned from climbing for maintenance reasons. But while our stay in this city, we asked some locals if there are any pagodas that are open for climbing and a few teenage locals led us to a secret pagoda that we could climb on to watch the sunrise/sunset. We were grateful that we finally got a chance to climb a pagoda but their ultimate purpose was to sell some painting. We thought it was a win-win deal so we just bought one for them. Our main purpose of visiting this city was to watch the sunrise and the sunset. Especially during sunrise, the hot air balloons would fly over the air with birds flying and I managed to get a satisfactory shot of them both with the rising sun. Getting up at 6am to get this shot is tiring but let’s say I did it for the gram 😀

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SUNRISE was beautiful – there are special places to see the sunrise and it’s always good to ask locals for advice or do sufficient research in case you might fail. The big black dots are the hot air balloons and the small dots are the birds flying. You can also ride the balloons if you pay but we thought it was just way too expensive and risky
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SUNSET was also beautiful – we paid to get on a boat from a nearby river to watch the sunset and it was a great idea indeed
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On a side note, the boats do look quite dodgy and looks like they’re about to collapse in any minute so just make sure you can swim. We took the risk and managed to survive but our boat was quite shaky
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E-bikes – this e-bike is the best transportation method you can possibly get in Bagan. With it you can explore the whole city as the city itself isn’t so big. There are no ubers, grabs or whatsoever. There is also an option to hire a driver for a day but it was too expensive and we thought it would be fun to ride e-bikes instead. This was the best part of Bagan for me to be honest, it was so fun
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Pagoda (temple) – I forget the name of this pagoda but Bagan is said to have three main pagodas described by a local as the biggest, the most beautiful and the oldest (from my memory). Finding these temples aren’t that hard so it’s best to explore every one of them possible until you get sick of them!
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There are so many dogs lying or strolling around pagodas and the city in general but don’t touch them just in case, you know, things happen
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It really is a thing for restaurants in Bagan to decorate tissues like this inside a cup
  1. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai is a very chill city and also has a number of interesting tourist attractions. It’s a city that I want to visit again if I have the chance to travel around South-East Asia again. The food here is great and the best part is, the locals aren’t too eager to sell stuff to you just because you look like a foreigner. I just loved how the people I saw in this city were all chill and looked satisfied with their lives.

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“Sah wah dee kraap” – Ronald Mcdonald from Chiang Mai airport
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The best beer I’ve tasted so far in my life. Part of the reason why I want to visit this place again
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This restaurant is called Lemongrass Thai cuisine. We tried Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, and Tom yum soup and all of them tasted fantastic
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Chill vibes of Chiang Mai streets make it an attractive city too
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This temple is called Doi Su thep and it’s on a mountain. I’d recommend booking a tour guide package to go here. From up the hill, you can enjoy the night city scenery of Chiang Mai
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These elephants are intelligent. They know how to draw paintings, play football, troll their trainers by not giving them their hats and when you give them money they dance to express their happiness
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“Tuk tuk” taxis are a convenient method of going around places when you’re not going too far
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White tigers’ visuals are 11 out of 10

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Campus Life – John

Living on campus was a whole new experience for me as I have never lived for this long outside home. At first, it was quite a depressing start as my room had no air conditioning to survive the humid weather and I knew of nobody to meet. (It does get quite depressing when it’s pouring with rain outside and your room looks like a colourless prison).

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Typical room of RVRC

It wasn’t long however before I got to start meeting new people, especially those on exchange as well from Korea. (I really can say there is a thing for Koreans to group wherever they go). Staying close with these people made my campus life a lot better as we ate and hung out almost every day. We also celebrated each other’s birthdays and made food together on public holidays as well for a good Korean food session.

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Celebrating one of our fam’s birthday (faces blurred for privacy)
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Making Korean food for ourselves on Chinese New Year
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UTown Residence (UTR) – one of the accommodation in UTown
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UTown – #NUS sign in front of ERC (Education Resource Centre)

I’ve introduced this place before in my second blog and it is called University Town (UTown for short). It is a small town-like area located on the northern part of the campus. It is in my opinion, the most modern area where all the good things are such as good food, air conditioned indoors, plenty of study spaces inside ERC (and a Starbucks that’s open for 24 hours). This place is where I stayed the most often during my stay at NUS.

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UTown Green

One time, we were chilling at UTown Green and met a few other students who were exchange students from Italy and the US who were singing with guitars. My friends and I asked to join in, and sang the whole night long. Something you would only imagine happening in movies came into reality on that day for me.

UTown is equipped with a few other of the on-campus accommodation including UTown residence, Tembusu college, Residential college 4, etc. Most of the people that I was close with during my exchange lived in UTown so it was a meet up place for us to study or chill together. If you happen to be allocated to one of the UTown colleges, here are some brief impressions of them from my point of view.

Cinnamon college – If you’re into board games, its lounge on the ground floor has a lot of them so give it a try. On an additional note, apparently this college is where the smarties are so it’s noise level is quite low compared to other ones.

UTown Residence – It has a pretty big lounge on the ground floor that is relatively accessible to non-residents as well unlike other on-campus lounges of UTown.

Residential college 4 – This college is the furthest one on the other end of UTown and its quite a pain walking to the UTown bus stop.

College of Alice and Peter Tan – I don’t know much about this college and I hope its name has no pun intended.

Tembusu college – From my impressions, this college seems to have the most social events.

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Ridge view residential college (RVRC)

To be honest, these two places are the main places that I went to on campus excluding lecture halls or tutorial rooms. RVRC is where I stayed during my time in NUS. Five of the friends from our group including me lived in this part of the campus and meaningful time was also spent with them. I recall how when one of us wanted to eat something, we would always go and cook our midnight noodles. Overnight talks with these lovely people made unforgettable memories during my stay.

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Korean spicy noodles a.k.a. shin ramen

My most favourite thing about living on campus is that you get to live within walking distances with your friends. The good thing about meeting other exchange students is that they are quite open to making new friends and trying new things. Also, quite a lot of local Singaporean students stay on-campus so try making friends with these nice guys too because they are such a lovely bunch of people. Luckily for me, I got to meet people who were very keen on travelling to nearby South-Eastern countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia and so many more. The location of Singapore is perfect for travelling around as it is not pricey whereas from NZ, it would cost thousands. So, continuing from this blog in my next blog, where I get to talk about a topic of my choice, I’d like to talk about my experience in travelling to countries around Singapore! (Because to be fully honest, I feel that I have lived about half of my exchange life out of campus.)

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Food, Glorious Food – John

Hello guys! For this blog, I’ll give you some tips and introduce you to the three best dishes in my opinion and a few bars you should visit while in Singapore! I’m not going to talk about the famous chicken rice of Singapore because it’s too cliché and I still don’t quite understand what it’s so famous for (It’s literally just chicken on rice). I won’t be too wordy on this blog as the pictures will describe for itself! 🙂

ALWAYS REMEMBER that MOST (but not all) of the food sold in places have additional charges of 10% for service charge and 7% for GST charge. When you go to places like the hawker centre (food courts) or on-campus food courts, you don’t have to worry about these charges.

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This first dish is called “ayam penyet” or smashed fried chicken and is commonly sold in hawker centres under the Indonesian category. It is the first dish that my Singaporean buddies suggested to me during orientation week. I’d say it is one of the top dishes under $5 that you could get for a fulfilling lunch. There are various types of “ayam” or “chicken” so it’s always a good idea to also give other ones a try too!

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If you happen to stay in the NUS campus quite often and want to try something new, try this dish called “ma la xiang guo” or also known as “mala hotpot”. This dish is a combination of meat and vegetables chosen by you and cooked on the spot. It’s commonly sold in on-campus food courts and it also isn’t too costly. You can choose what to put inside and when you go to the counter to pay, I recommend you to ask for a “xiao la (little bit spicy)” or you could challenge yourself to a “zhong la (medium spice level)”. At first, I didn’t really prefer this dish but the more I ate it, the more I loved it.

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The third one is also quite a famous dish of Singapore and it’s called “chilli crab”. It is one of the main dishes you should try while in Singapore. But brace yourselves because it is quite pricey if you want to get a good one at a restaurant and some places even charge you the “market price”.

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This famous place is called “TWG tea” and they sell a massive variety of teas from all around the globe. When you go here, there’s a thick booklet which introduces you to all the different kinds of teas and it’s quite interesting to have a read and choose which tea you would like. If you feel like being classy one day, an afternoon tea with some chatter would make a great day.

Now that’s enough of food, let’s get to the second part of the blog; drinks! A moderate (be a sensible drinker guys or else you might get spanked by the Singaporean police) amount of alcohol goes well with enjoying the night life of Singapore fully. If you like to enjoy your weekend nights, you will fall in love with the night vibes of this city and who knows, you might even also fall in love with someone special.

 

 

This place is called “Level 33” and is a craft-brewery. They make their own beers and it tastes great too! We ordered a beer set which gave us stout, pale ales, lager, and wheat beer for a reasonable price. This is also known as one of the best places to see the night view of Marina Bay Sands (MBS) and in my opinion, the best place to feel the MBS vibes. Other great rooftop bars I recommend other than level 33 are “1-altitude” which is the highest rooftop bar in the world and “Ce la vi” on the top of MBS.

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This cocktail is called “Singapore sling” and is commonly seen in most bars. This one was when I went to “Holland village” which is the nearest place from campus where there are a lot of bars that open till late. This drink is for those people who like fruity cocktails and would like to try a Singaporean cocktail.

To be honest, there are more good food places than just these that I’ve introduced to you. Now it’s your job to explore more of the tasty and EXPENSIVE Singaporean food! 🙂

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Accommodation Awards – John

I’ll introduce you guys the on-campus accommodation that I’m currently staying in. The place is called Ridge View Residential College (RVRC) and it consists of five blocks (A, B, C, D, E), a tower block and the main administration building where the dining hall is. I’ll divide this blog into three sections so it will be somewhat of a review.

Location 

I’d say that RVRC has one of the best locations out of all the on-campus housing / school hostels. Most of the on-campus shuttle buses (A1, A2, B1, B2, C, D1, D2) are within walking distances of around 3 minutes from my place. And yes, NUS have on-campus shuttle buses that operate on a regular basis because the campus is too big to walk around. Also, it is quite close to University Town (UTown), where all the good things are at such as good food, plenty of study spaces and STARBUCKS. I have classes all over the place including the science block, Biz (Business school) and FASS (Faculty of Arts and Social sciences) so the location was perfect for me as all the buses were within a few minutes of walking distance.

Facilities

As RVRC is quite a large residential college, we have many cleaners working to clean the walkways, toilets, and other facilities. Other than the cleanliness, I’d say that the number one necessity while living in Singapore would be an air conditioner. But in RVRC, we don’t have one.

The good thing about facilities is that we have the University Sports Centre within 5 minutes walking distance. It has an outdoor and indoor swimming pool, and a gym. If you’re a student at NUS, it’s all FREE. As the weather in Singapore is extremely hot and humid, staying in the pools is the best thing to do when it gets too hot.

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Food 

Here’s a picture of a typical dinner meal in RVRC. RVRC has a compulsory meal plan included for students. I’m not sure whether it applies for other students but it does for exchange students. The food is undoubtedly cheap as it costs about $3 per breakfast and $4 per dinner. For this price, the food is worth the price. It’s not that great, but it’s not too bad! I normally wake up late so I rarely eat breakfast but I’ve heard that the breakfast meals are better than the dinner meals. The meal plan is divided into a few cuisines including Asian, Malay, Indian, Western and Noodles so you are given quite a variety of choices.
In conclusion, I personally like RVRC except for the fact that there is no air-con! I made quite a few good friends from RVRC, so I don’t have to eat every meal by myself. We made some good memories while having some late night noodle sessions and overnight talks. Overall, it has good accessibility to plenty of facilities and the food here is not that bad, too.

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