Maxwell: Routines and Travels

Hi again everyone, it’s Maxwell! After two months of being in Singapore, I’ve definitely started to fall into a routine. Due to the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, the majority of my classes have unfortunately been moved to E-learning, meaning that I have no physical lectures. As such, my days have mostly consisted of sleeping in, and trying to muster up the motivation to study. However on the bright side, I’ve also gained a lot more free time in the absence of lectures! Whether that means spending more time with my friends, or even heading over to Malaysia for the weekend, my days here have be super vibrant and colourful!

The Famous Petronas Twin Towers at Night

Speaking of travelling, the most exciting part of every exchange student’s time overseas occurs around this period, and that’s recess week. During recess week, local students and international students alike take the opportunity of a free week to travel all across Asia! As a kiwi who was born and bred in New Zealand, thoughts of travelling to foreign countries have always been more fantasy than possibility. This mostly because flights to any country outside of Australia were at least several hours long, and crazy expensive as well. Flying from Singapore however, is a different story entirely, with many countries famous for their tourism located less than a 2hrs flight away. From South Korea to Myanmar, no country is safe from Singaporean university students during recess week.

Friends and Elephant Friends at Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary


Me personally, I chose to go to Thailand and Indonesia. My friends and I came to this decision mainly because of two factors. The first reason was basic: both Thailand and Indonesia are quite close to Singapore and therefore flight tickets are dirt cheap. The second reason is more exciting and that’s because we had heard AMAZING things about both countries. Whether it was their beautiful beaches, sky-high mountains or historical temples, Thailand and Indonesia sounded like they had what it took to make a dream holiday.

Crazy Blue Waters at Phi Phi Islands

Our first stop was Phuket, and right off the bat we learnt a very valuable life lesson. Bad things happen, no matter how careful you are. Upon arriving at our Airbnb, we were expecting to be greeted by our host as had been arranged. Instead, we were forced to wait an hour outside, with no real method of contacting our host(we didn’t have any data or minutes on our phones), hoping that the next minute of waiting in the scorching sun would be the last. When we host finally arrived, we all let out a collective sigh of relief, glad that we could finally seek some shelter, only to find out that the Airbnb had not yet been cleaned. And so, there was naught we could do except wait outside for another 2hrs while the cleaners tidied up. After that misshap, everyone was so exhausted that we simply decided to call it a day.

Fortunately, the next day made up for it in spades. When people think Phuket, they think of the famous Phi Phi Islands, and that was exactly where we were headed. Phi Phi Islands really was gorgeous, worthy of its fame. From the crystal water, to the white beaches, we as if we were in paradise. The only downside was that since the islands are huge, we were regrettably only able to explore a small portion of it. I can also thank Phi Phi Islands for teaching me another life lesson. Life lesson number two for me was that no matter how much a place resembles paradise, you should never fully drop your guard. Being a popular tourist destination, there are tourist traps everywhere that you need to watch out for, such as compulsory donations before entering the island, and toilets that require fees to enter (this was surprisingly common throughout Thailand and Indonesia).

Golden Temple, Chiang Mai

Our next stop was Chiang Mai, and I can say that the Elephant Sanctuary was easily the highlight of that journey. Unfortunately there are many cases of unethical elephant treatment around Thailand such as elephant riding or manual labour, but the elephants in this particular sanctuary were treated like royalty! After hearing about how an elephant spends up to 18 hours a day just eating, I was really starting to question why I couldn’t have been born as an elephant. Once I got over being a human, we participated in the care taking of the elephants, which I found much more enjoyable than I had originally anticipated. We fed the elephants bananas, helped grind up their digestion medicine, and even gave them a bath in the lake! Oh, and did I mention that I also ate a scorpion at a local food market?

Early Morning Sunrise at Mount Batur

I love Bali. I really love it. Did I mention how much I love Bali? There were so many gorgeous and amazing places to see, I even started to lose track of world-class tourist attractions. One particular highlight of my time in Bali was when we woke up at 1am in order to trek up Mount Batur. The trek up was cold and hard and possibility even dangerous, but the view when the sun rose into the sky was simply majestic. At that moment, nationalities faded away as every hiker on that peak watched the sunrise quietly, and in collective awe.

Unfortunately, the hike back down was nowhere near as nice. After we tripped over for the 10th time, we decided that we had to find an alternate method. Conveniently enough, it was at that time that our tour guide mentioned the existence of motorcyclists nearby who were willing to take tourists down the mountain, for a fee. Any nagging worries I had about cheating the hike quickly disappeared as I got onto the motorbike. That ride quickly took its spot as one of the best moments of the trip, as we were treated to amazing views of lakes and villages; all while racing along at exhilarating speeds!

Broken Beach at Nusa Penida

Located to the east of Bali is Nusa Penida, the final stop on our recess week trip. Never had the phrase “saving the best until last” rung so true to me. As far as I’m concerned, Nusa Penida is just a collection of the world’s most beautiful places all placed conveniently on one island together for us to enjoy. Weaving along the ridiculously tight two-way road with only one lane , we visited places such as Angels Billabong, Broken Beach, and the famous Kelingking Beach. Is there such a thing as too many beautiful things in one place?

Kelingking Beach Ft.Me
Ianely Steep Hike, But Every Step Was Worth It

That’s about it for my travel story! The amazing sights I saw during those eleven days were definitely worth my currently messed up sleeping schedule. It’s been a long blog post, but I’ve really enjoyed sharing the stories of my trip with you. Thailand and Indonesia definitely exceeded my expectations, and if you ever get the opportunity to visit these two countries I highly recommend it! For now, I need to start studying again ugh. Until next time!

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!

Reflection: John

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It has been an eye-opening journey to complete my student exchange programme at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. I definitely would love to go on exchange again.

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At the mooncake festival

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Priests at a Hindu ceremony

It was joyful to experience the Singaporean culture. I always enjoyed my attendance at local celebrations and ceremonies. They feel different than the ones back in Auckland. For instance, at the mooncake festival, I was having fun with my lit-up lantern until my friend accidentally burned a big hole in it. Despite the unfortunate incident, I had an amazing experience because I was able to participate first hand.

Getting to know the locals is a benefit. I learned a lot from my local Singaporean friends. For example, it is polite to remove your shoes before entering a home, and it is respectful to address older people as ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’ according to their gender.

I like the local food in Singapore which is a fusion of Chinese, Indian and Malay food. If you would like to know more about Singaporean food, I wrote a post about it: click here.

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My good friends Albin and Holger with me on a trip to Malaysia

I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people from all around the world. Other than meeting friendly locals, there are about a thousand exchange students from all over the world at NTU. In fact, I made good friends in Singapore who are from Europe who I have plans to visit in the future.

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The Singaporean evening skyline

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Inside the Cloud Forest which houses the tallest waterfall in the world at 50 meters high

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You can actually dine on top of the ‘Supertrees’ at Gardens by the Bay

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View from the tallest brewery in the world – LeVeL33

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After a fun day at Universal Studios Singapore

I had the chance to travel frequently as I only have classes four days per week and I had three days off every week. I took this opportunity to travel around Singapore often. While travelling, I am always astonished by Singapore’s architecture. For starters, Singapore has a beautiful busy skyline. Singapore also has an impressive 50 meters tall indoor waterfall which is the tallest in the world and a bright ‘Supertrees’ garden, both which are built on the same reclaimed land. On top of that, I visited the highest brewery in the world located on the top of a 33-level skyscraper and was able to do beer tasting. It had a fantastic view of Singapore’s city accompanied with delicious craft beers. I also visited the Universal Studios Singapore theme park which was a blast with adrenaline pumping rides. I actually made a vlog of my Singapore travel experience: click here.

There is one thing I wish I would have done more which is to travel more to the neighbouring countries. Many exchange students used the opportunity to visit Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and had a wonderful experience.

Lastly, going on exchange makes financial sense too. If you are a New Zealander, you might be able to qualify for the Prime Minister’s Scholarship which pays almost for your entire exchange experience including the expensive flight tickets. As an international student, I did not qualify for the Prime Minster scholarship, but I was able to obtain a University of Auckland’s Auckland Abroad Awards which was able to cover my flight costs to Singapore. However, the cost of living at Singapore is still less than Auckland.

If you are contemplating on going for an exchange programme, just go for it! It will be an eye-opening experience which you will not regret. I would do it all over again. I miss Singapore.

Questions?

I am always happy to help anyone interested in going exchange to Singapore. Make sure to comment on this blog post, and I will reply whenever possible. Alternatively, you can email me at jlee575@aucklanduni.ac.nz

If you want to check out more of my pictures, please follow my Instagram account: johnleekw.

As this will be my last post, I would like to thank the incredible 360 International team for making this opportunity possible!

Cheers!

Adobe Spark (2)

Campus Life: John

Hey!

Having spent the past three months at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), I think that NTU’s campus is an amazing place to live and study in. NTU’s campus feels like a town itself even though it’s just about 2km2 in size. It has everything from hairdressers to supermarkets.

Let me show you around!

1Welcome to The Hive! It’s one of NTU’s two iconic buildings, designed to look like stacked dim sum baskets! I have my business classes here.

2Let’s go inside. On the lowest floor, there is a student-managed restaurant where you get your favourite coffee, snacks and pasta.

3This is the Art, Design and Media (ADM) building, the NTU’s other iconic building. The coolest feature about this building is its accessible grass-covered roof.

4Feel free to walk up to the roof anytime. It is a great place to hang out during the evenings when the weather is cooling. One thing I noticed in Singapore, no one ever lies down on the grass to relax like in New Zealand.

5Now, let’s head over to the Sports and Recreational Centre. If you like running, you can do it here at the outdoor running track.

6Also, take a dip in the pool whenever you like.

7We can play some outdoor sports here next time! We can choose to play basketball to archery outdoors. If it’s raining, we can head indoor and play sports such as netball, badminton and squash.

8Let’s go to the canteen. We will rent the e-scooter because it’s fun and convenient. You can also rent these scooters at one of their pods located around NTU using our smartphones. But if you do not feel like riding the scooters the next time, you can always rent a bicycle or take the free bus provided by NTU.

9.jpgOther than the canteen, there are many more places to eat from a variety of eateries from cafes, McDonald’s to hawker-style food. The prices of the food here at the campus are mostly lower than outside eateries.

10.jpgMoving on, let’s head to Giant, one of NTU’s two supermarkets – which you can see on the left. Next to it is 7-Eleven which is a 24-hour convenience store.

11.jpgLet’s take a visit to the Chinese Heritage Centre’s museum. Isn’t it cool to have a museum located right in NTU?

12.jpgIf you look towards the opposite of the Chinese Heritage Centre, you can see the Yunan Gardens which is a relaxing place to do your evening walks.

13.jpgThe Nanyang Lake is located close to it which is another good place to de-stress.

14.jpgNow, let’s make our way to the North Spine building. Inside here, there is always have a big screen that is always showing live performances of music artists. I love it. It sets the atmosphere.

15.jpgOver here is the Student Activities Centre at the North Spine building. Shall we play the PS4? Or would you prefer playing either foosball, table tennis or pool?

16.jpgWell, that was a fun game. I will show you the global lounge now. Over here, they always have 9 TV screens showing different channels. You can choose which channel to listen to with your headphones plugged into the controller next to the chair.

17.jpgI guess I shall end the tour with the library. This is one of NTU’s nine libraries. You can book a private pod for your group meetings or study with one of those dual-screen computers.

Hope you liked the tour!

Questions?
I am always happy to help anyone interested in going exchange to Singapore. Make sure to comment on this blog post, and I will reply whenever possible. Alternatively, you can email me at jlee575@aucklanduni.ac.nz

If you want to check out more of my pictures, please follow my Instagram account: johnleekw. https://www.instagram.com/johnleekw/

Cheers!
Adobe Spark (2)