Saturday, February 27, 2010

So Long Singy

When I initially decided to come to INSEAD, the prospect of completing a small part of the program in asia was definitely part of the draw; however, I was most interested in INSEAD for the the opportunity to live in France, so I didn't ever expect Singapore to be a significant part of my program experience. Two months there, tops.

Ultimately, after consulting with students and alumni, I decided to start in Singapore, which meant spending a minimum of four months there. I was certain that this would be plenty of time to satisfy my curiosity about the region and to take in the island nation. Some travel before the start of the program, combined with a few weekend trips - a lot could be accomplished in four months, right? Well yes, but it's all relative. My wish list of things to see and do in the region just kept getting longer. So, I stayed another two months. Besides, Fontainebleau in January/February was reputed to be dark, cold and lonely - how could I possibly leave the tropics.

Staying an extra couple of months afforded me the chance to see a few more places, and a bit more of the city. In total, I've squeeeeeeezed in a number separate trips over the last six months:
- papua new guinea (various)
- indonesia (
- indonesia (
- japan (
- malaysia (kuala lumpur)
- sri lanka (
- indonesia (
pangkil pulau)
- thailand (
koh phi phi)
- brunei (bandar seri begawan)
- vietnam (
- cambodia, thailand (
bangkok), myanmar
- china (
hong kong)
- thailand (koh phangan)
- australia (sydney)
- malaysia (kota kinabalu)

I've also enjoyed a number of Singapore's own offerings:
- Singapore Night Safari
- Chinese New Year
- Deevali
- Sunday Brunch at Raffles Hotel
- Singapore Flyer
- Singapore National Day
- Formula 1 Night Race
- Singapore Marathon

After six months in Singapore, it's time to say goodbye and look ahead to finishing my MBA program in France. I'll miss this place, but I feel like I've accomplished a lot during my time here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Doin the Tourist thing

Do you like animals? Do you wish that you could see them in the wild? Do you get frustrated when you go to the zoo and you have to use your camera zoom lens just to get a closer glimpse of the animal hidden at the back of its cage? Then, seriously, you need to check the Singapore Night Safari out out.

I went last night as a part of my effort to see the city's main attractions before I leave Singapore. I don't know how the zoo here has set things up so smoothly, but it's unlike any zoo I've been to before. Cages are more like habitats - very few (if any) signs of cages and fences.
Even with the lions
and the rhino's,
it feels as though you are right in the same field as the animals (indeed, sometimes you are). Somehow, animals are all in an easy to see location - sometimes sleeping - but nevertheless visible. It was amazing. A great way to spend a night in Singapore. My only wish is that I would have taken more time - I could have easily spent 3 more hours there.

I also checked out the Singapore flyer - a the city's version of the London eye.
A pretty way to see the city, though slightly less impressive than the zoo! It was a tough act to follow.


The fifth in our National Week series, Russian (Vodka) Week took the campus by storm this week. As a part of the festivities, the Russians hosted a treasure hunt around Singapore. I formed a team of 5 girls and, to properly get in the spirit of the event, we decided on a team name - Douchebusters.
To express our enthusiasm and awesomeness, we put together costumes and gave ourselves some douchebabe names. Blondie, Money Penny, Nancy Drew, Snow White. I was Maple Sugar. Even the driver that we hired gave himself a nickname - the Black Mole!

Considering that I've been in Singapore for six months now, I was shocked to discover so many new places. Such a shame to just be doing this at the end of my time here. As it turned out, we were the only team that thought to dress up, but I'd say that it only added to the fun. After three hours of clue solving and bombing around the city, we finally reached the finish. We didn't win the hunt, but it was unanimous that we'd had the most fun.

To finish the night right, we decided to hit the town together. We pulled a superman move and tucked into the restroom at the Swisshotel with our Douchebuster packs. 15 minutes later we were ready for action. Not bad.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mt. Kinibalu, Borneo

One of my last weekends in Asia, but one of my first to enjoy the outdoors here. We travelled to Borneo this weekend to climb Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak on the island.
We took the typical route, which entails a two day venture, going most of the way up on the first day, then summiting for sunrise on the second day and taking the rest of the second day to complete the long (and severe) descent.
The first day took us above the clouds. I haven't been in that position for a long time except in an airplane. It is much nicer when you can feel the wind against your skin and not be interrupted by inflight announcements regarding duty free offerings, etc.
I hiked most of the first day with my good friend, Laura. She's from Switzerland, so she 'gets' my love of the mountains. When we got to the lodge at the end of the trail for day 1, we felt like we could make it to the top - no need to pack it in for the day. We were so full of energy, it was like we were high. We walked into the lodge to the sight of another group, who, apparently, felt a bit differently about the mornings exploits.Starting out late on the second day was slow, on account of a few of the tardier members of our group. This would not have been an issue, except that it meant that we were stuck behind a long line of slow people. We quickly became frustrated (it was cold out, and we were moving at a snails pace). We decided to make a pass and took an aggressive pass (off 'path') in the dark. We paid the price, as I bailed on some rough granite and skinned my knee and a few others suffered rolled ankles. It served us right, but it was worth it. At some point we ended up close to the front of the pack. It wasn't like we were in a hurry per se, we were just trying to keep warm. We were the last to leave the lodge and ended up to be the second (only by a matter of minutes) to reach the top. It was a good thing, too. There was very limited space to sit up there on the tippy top of the mountain. We basically took all of the vacant space.
It was still dark at that point, with no sign of sunshine and we all speculated on the direction in which the sun would rise.
Eventually, the sunlight began to peak through.
We hogged our space at the top until it was bright and warm.

And we enjoyed the views all around. Talk about being on top of the world.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chinese New Year - in style!

This being Chinese New Year, I elected to stay back and do something unusual; enjoy a weekend in Singapore. With the Chinese comprising a large percentage of the population here, the entire island seemed to be decorated for the occassion. Our Saturday night plan was to check out the fireworks in Chinatown. Sounds like a good plan, eh? Well, apparently everyone else in Singapore thought so, too. The show itself was confined to an area smaller than Olympic Plaza and was closed off by walls of buildings on every side (*hello* who's brilliant idea was it to have the show here?). By the time we arrived, which was just in time for the fireworks, about a zillion people were already there. The courtyard sized area was already over capacity and we were stuck behind a building. We could hear and smell the fireworks, but could see nothing.

Not to let a good weekend be lost, we packed it in early so that we could get up for brunch on Sunday. One of the essential stops on any proper stay in Singapore is the Sunday Champagne Brunch at Raffles (for those who don't know, Raffles is an over-the-top colonial era hotel named for the founder of the city/country). It's not cheap, but I'd say that we did our best to get our money's worth.
When the place eventually shut down, we headed to the casino - the first (legal) casino in Singapore (since the 'good old days'). It opened today. The government has developed a dual entry scheme in order to capitalize on foreign money, while discouraging gambling among citizens. That is, when you enter the building, you have to show your passport; foreigners enter for free, while locals must pay S$100 just to enter. My guess is that this is a deterent not only for locals but for some foreigners as well. When you combine this with a culture that is, by nature, more reserved than the community in vegas, the result is an empty room completely devoid of enthusiasm. As I don't gamble myself, I realise that I might be missing something; however, it would seem to me that the uninhibited enthusiasm is an essential ingredient in a successful casino. This was neither a fun place to be, nor the sort of environment in which one might get totally carried away and bet the farm. It will be interesting to see how this place does in the long term.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Ever thought that Australia was just a stone's throw away from asia? Do you know how long it takes to fly from Singapore to Sydney? 7.5 hours! and that's a direct flight.
Erik was 'Down Under' last week to do a bike race, so I jumped on a plane to meet up with him in Sydney while he was on his way back to Canada. My journey was till shorter than Erik's, but...really...would you have thought Singapore-Sydney flight would somewhere approximate Calgary-London?
The last time I was in Sydney was almost 20 years ago, so it was interesting to see the city through my adult eyes and also how things have changed.
Our hotel was right near the Opera house, which made it i) a beautiful place to relax, ii) close to some great dining, and ii) a wonderful starting point for some rainy but warm cycling.
By day, our adventures mostly took us North of the city. Moving around by bicycle allows you to appreciate the little differences - the sounds and smells. And it's a great excuse to check out the Aussie hospitality when you stop to take a break. In usual Erik fashion, this included indulging in a fancy drink.By night, we checked out the waterfront restaurant scene. A nice range of world cuisine. It was fun to just walk about and fool around. Good place to spend a long weekend, even if it was a long journey (for both of us).