Madelyn In TCI: A Morning Dive

September 16, 2019

Hey y’all! So far I’ve been on the research base for nearly a whole week. Our actual classes begin on Monday; this week has been dedicated to tours of the island, the water front, and swim/snorkel/dive tests. Our schedule is usually packed with activities from 7am to 8pm, Monday through Saturday. Saturdays are particularly fun though! This Saturday I woke up at 5:30 am (it was still dark!!!) and enjoyed some quiet time to read until breakfast at 7am. I usually sit on a bench by the conch wall, which drops down to the ocean about 30 feet below, and the sound of the waves on the rocks is very soothing. After breakfast a group of us headed out onto the boat to scuba dive for the first time of the semester. We went out to a dive site where a plane had crashed and formed an artificial reef for many different and colorful fish to congregate around. From the boat, we sunk to the sea floor, which was about 60 ft. down. There were little patches of coral with all sorts of organisms. I saw a giant Caribbean Sea Anemone and the invasive Lionfish almost immediately. I’m currently having some issues with my underwater camera but will be including pictures in future blogs, so stay posted!

On the boat to explore the ocean.

We followed our dive leader to The Wall, where the seafloor drops from 60 ft. to about 300 ft. We felt like Nemo, going to the edge of the coral reef to stare out into the great expanse of open blue water. Along this edge a Great Barracuda saw me and began swimming directly towards me, probably curious. Their scales flash black if they’re truly being aggressive and this one remained silver, but it was still a little unnerving and I was relieved when it turned away. As the group meandered our way back to the boat, I saw a Green Sea Turtle swimming through the coral off to the side. I’m always fascinated by how unbothered and relaxed sea turtles look while they swim. A bit further on in the dive, a huge black fish took an interest in our group. It was about two feet tall and long and kept swimming around all of us and getting very close. Our dive leader and interns didn’t know what kind of fish it was, but it was very cool to get checked out by a fish. The experience just emphasized the idea that we were visitors in another creature’s home.

One of my favorite parts of diving and snorkeling is experiencing such a different world without harming it. We will be doing a lot of this for my classes this semester and I’m very excited to learn more about the marine environment and the creatures that inhabit it! I’m also excited to become more comfortable and skilled underwater with all of the practice. It’s going to be a very fun semester!

Watching another beautiful sunset over the ocean.

A Caribbean sunset.


Madelyn In TCI: Starting the Next Adventure

September 12, 2019

Hey folks, I’m Madelyn, a junior and studying Biology with an Environmental Studies minor. I’m currently on a plane from Milan to Toronto. I’m actually studying abroad in Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), but I have two 7-hour layovers in Toronto and then Montreal before heading to TCI. That’s just what happens when you buy the cheapest plane ticket, I guess! Anyways, I spent all of my summer in Greece WWOOFing (definitely look this up if you’ve never heard of it; it’s a great way to experience new countries). Then I took a terribly long ferry ride and spent five days in Bari, Italy, with my Italian host family from high school. It was really fantastic to be able to see them and my friends there again! And the food… my host mother is the best cook any of her friends know, which in Puglia, that’s saying a lot. I learned how to cook focaccia, panzerotti, fresh seafood, and so many different types of pasta. At least in southern Italy, the pasta stereotype is not much exaggerated! I also tried squid raw, which is something very unique to Puglia. It was surprisingly good with just some lemon, olive oil, and pepper!

Fresh squid from the local fish market.

So, after a lovely few days in Puglia, I took a flight to Milan. I can’t begin to explain the amount of struggle it took to make all of my suitcases fit the weight restrictions for this flight. You see, I had to pack everything for 6 months into one big suitcase, one carry-on, and one back pack. This includes my scuba and snorkeling equipment, because I’ll need it for my fall program. This flight to Milan was through Ryanair, which is usually very strict about their baggage allowances policies. By the time I was done organizing all of my stuff, I was dripping sweat and my back pack was quite possibly heavier than my suitcases. But guess who didn’t have to pay extra baggage fees!

In Milan I stayed with an old friend for a few days. Ironically, we were both neighbors in a rural Pennsylvania town, meeting up several years later in Milan. Not only did we explore the city of Milan together; we also took a train up to Lake Como, which is absolutely beautiful. If you ever get the chance to go there, definitely take the ‘funicolare’ up the mountain to the town of Brunate. It’s a quaint little town with many places to walk and enjoy nature. There is also a lot of folklore there about gnomes and fairies and it seems quite natural to imagine little mischievous creatures hiding behind the ancient trees of the mountain.

The tram station going up the mountain from Como to Brunate.

 

Walking through the forest by Brunate.

 

The Duomo at midnight.

So that is the story of how I ended up on a flight from Milan to Toronto as an American studying in Turks and Caicos. My study abroad program is a bit abnormal. It’s actually a marine biology research program, where I’ll be studying the marine environment and learning about how the population and tourism impact the ecosystem, as well as helping to develop policies to minimize the harmful effects. Most of my courses will be science-oriented, and emphasize really getting into the area of study, hence why I need my scuba equipment. My classes should spend a lot of time outside, whether it be hiking around to explore the various ecosystems on different islands, or snorkeling in the coral reefs to see in person the species that we learn about in the classroom. This sort of thing is exactly my jam, so I’m really excited to see how it goes! I’ll keep you all updated on whatever weird stuff I see or do!


Olivia in Sweden: A Swedish Easter!

April 17, 2017

Happy (Belated) Easter!

 

I hear that it’s common for many Swedes to travel to their holiday cottage in the countryside for a family celebration.

For those more comfortable in the city, its not uncommon to see these beautiful trees on balconies, or in this case, the city center. (Usually, they are much smaller!)

 

 

Here in Flogsta, we had our own little celebration!

 

 

We all brought meals and desserts that we had prepared.

 

We even put up our own little Easter tree.

 

 

And finished the day with a successful egg hunt, which we had all hidden in our rooms!

 

More spring festivities are on its way! Until next time!


Olivia in Sweden: School and Flowers!

April 13, 2017

One thing I miss from UR is our dining hall, which is a sentence I thought I would never write. Students here don’t have a meal plan, and must frequent the local grocery store for all their eating needs. Thankfully, there are some eating areas to be found in the multiple academic buildings on campus.

 

 

The building I frequent the most is Engelska Parken! Here is a picture of the eating area. Not as much variety as our dining hall, eh? But the coffee and food is always delicious.

 

The style of teaching here is also a little different from back home.

 

 

It is very discussion based. Usually, we read an article for class, and then the professor breaks us up into smaller groups to discuss what we read. To finish up the class, we come together as a class and share what we learned. Much of what we learn is self-taught. This has taken a lot of getting used to. I am also enrolled in a class that never meets until the final exam!

 

 

The self-motivation for academic pursuits will only get tougher as the weather keeps getting more and more beautiful. At last, some flowers are beginning to bloom! So excited to see the full impact as spring gets closer!


Janus in Singapore

April 3, 2017

Nasi Lemak from Adam’s Corner – for S$6, the perfect post-night out meal!

It’s difficult to describe what exactly Singaporean cuisine is. It’s not like the other Asian cuisines where you can say that a certain dish is uniquely Japanese, or Chinese, or Indian, or Filipino. Rather, Singaporean cuisine, like many other facets of the nation’s characteristics, is made up of the recipes and ingredients that Singaporean citizens have brought from their home countries, modified over time by exposure to the many other cultures and tastes present. Perhaps the most famous meal in Singapore is Hainanese chicken rice, an extremely simple dish made up of rice cooked in chicken broth or chicken fat, boiled chicken, a light soup on the side, and your choice of dipping sauce, usually spicy. Like many things in Singapore, it isn’t entirely clear where it comes from. Although the name suggests that it’s a dish taken from China’s Hainan Province (an island at the southern tip of China), it’s also a fairly common meal in Malaysia.

A lamb shank from a Lebanese restaurant in Kampong Glam. On the pricey (S$24) side, but the meat is unbelievable tender and flavorful

At first, I thought it was ridiculous that such a plain meal would become the face of Singaporean dining, but after spending the last three months in Singapore, I’ve come to appreciate it. It’s a dish that doesn’t have much in terms of taste – there’s only so much you can pack into boiled chicken and rice – but somehow, the restaurants in Singapore that specialize in it have all mastered it. I think part of the appeal, part of the reason it’s so famous, is because the taste is so basic and natural that you can never get sick of it. This last week, for example, I had it three or four times, a fairy low number compared to some of the busier weeks I’ve spent in Singapore. And yet each time, I was satisfied, and went home happy because I ate a meal that was cheap (around $3-4USD), healthy, and filling.

 The Singaporean take on wings and barbequed meat on a stick. S$10 gets you what’s in this picture.

Nasi Lemak, another rice dish, is also quite famous. Unlike simple-flavored Hainanese chicken rice, I would describe a Nasi Lemak dish as quite full of flavor – and at at some restauraunts I’ve eaten at, the flavor is bountiful to a fault. The rice is cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf, which gives it a fragrant and cooling touch. I imagine this is to serve as a counterbalance, a palate cleanser of sorts for the extremes provided by the sides that come with the rice.

These ground beef noodles are some of the most delicious I’ve ever. When I have time in the mornings, I trek about 10 minutes to a corner of Little India and eat two of these S$2 delights.

My personal favorite Nasi Lemak comes from Adam’s Corner, a small 24-hour outdoor restaurant just a short walk away from away from our flat, which serves as the unofficial rally point for my group of friends after a night out. I order the chicken Nasi Lemak, which comes with cucumbers, fried chicken, a fried egg, VERY salty dried anchovies, and a very spicy chili paste on the side. A lot of my western classmates don’t enjoy it – they say it’s simply overwhelming. But my Singaporean classmates are all in love with the meal, and personally, it reminds me a lot of the cuisine from my home in the southern islands of the Philippines. This is unsurprising, as Mindanao is known for having quite a bit of Malaysian influence.

A Malaysian food platter from a resutauraunt in Haji Lane. S$30 for a dish that’s supposed to feed three, but easily fed our group of five hungry tourists who’ve been walking all day.

Nasi Lemak and Hainanese Chicken Rice are dishes that, for lack of a better term, I would describe as street food. They’re both quite cheap and common in Singapore, and often served by mom-and-dad style restaurants that often only offer outdoor seating and may not exactly meet health or cleanliness standards in the U.S. However, these types of foods are probably the most characteristic of Singapore, and the restaurants that serve them can often be found densely concentrated around Hawker Centres, which are sort of like outdoor food courts. The popularization and government support of these centres have all but eliminated actual street foods in Singapore and have made eating this kind of cuisine much more sanitary and tourist friendly.

Chicken Rice – usually, the chicken is boneless and sliced, but this one is supposedly “sea salt infused.”

However, if you’re still not convinced and want to go somewhere where that offers an opportunity to try all these different foods but in a much more upscale setting, I suggest going to the food street in Kampong Glam. Right next to the beautiful Masjid Sultan and the quirky Haji lane, this street offers a variety of cuisines, from Malaysian to Thai to Persian to Lebanese, all in a much more tourist-friendly and traditional sit-down setting. The prices are much higher and comparable to sit-down restaurants back home, and I honestly couldn’t justify eating there except to splurge on a weekend dinner with the flatmates, especially given the easy access to equally delicious food at much cheaper prices.


Janus in Singapore: The Green City

March 22, 2017

Singapore is one of those cities that’s had many names over the years. Many of them sound quite cool at first, like the literary Javanese and Malay name for Singapore, “Temasek.” Disappointingly, however this turns out to be derived the Malay word for “Sea Town,” a fairly accurate but uninspiring name for a city. The opposite is true for how the Mongol Yuan Dynasty referred to Singapore in its records. When you hear the Chinese word “Longyamen,” I imagine that most people with no exposure to Mandarin would picture a bowl of soup, or some time meat bun. Longyamen actually means something like “Dragon Tooth Gate,” a much more creative name than “Sea Town,” and a name that I could imagine in a high fantasy novel. The name Singapore itself is derived from a word in Sanskrit that means “Lion City,” which is one of city’s many contemporary nicknames. It’s interesting, though, because unless my 7th grade biology professor lied to me, I’m certain there are no lions Asia (except maybe India?), not to mention Singapore. But it’s a fitting name, anyway.

The Supertrees in the Garden, in the middle of their special holiday light performance

The moniker I didn’t expect, though, was “The Green City.” When I think of a highly dense, urban area, green is probably one of the last adjectives that come to mind. I think of some of the most densely populated and urbanized places I’ve lived in my life – New York, Beijing, Manila – and I can think of pockets of gorgeous greenery, like New York’s Central or Prospect Parks, Beijing’s Temple of Heaven or Summer Palace, and Manila’s… nevermind. But outside of these special places, I don’t think of green, and a few tourist attractions hardly justify calling a city “green.” Before I did my research, I thought Singapore would be like these places. Not quite dirty like Manila, or overcrowded and full of strange smells like Beijing. More like New York, where it’s crowded enough but not terribly uncomfortable, where some some streets can get dirty and smelly at times, and some streets are dirty and smelly all the time. I pictured that like New York, Singapore would have a few tree-lined streets and the occasional small park, but for the most part would be more ‘concrete jungle’ than actual jungle. Especially when you think of the meteoric rise of its economy over the last century its land and natural resource constraints, the thought of Singapore putting such an emphasis on nature is unfathomable. You would think that to get where it is now, Singapore would need to make certain environmental sacrifices.

SMU’s Library, hidden in greenery

But somehow, the opposite has happened. Singapore has actually become greener as its population and economy grew. In 1980, Singapore’s green cover stood at 36%, but is at an impressive 47% today. That’s a figure that seems unbelievable at first – but once you walk through the streets of Singapore, it becomes clear that the nation has really placed nature near the top of its list of priorities. Even the busiest streets in the financial and commercial centers are full of vegetation, and most roofs are covered by either gardens or solar panels. One of the nation’s biggest initiatives is its rules regarding new developments – you have to replace any greenery you remove. Additionally, many sectors in Singapore have “green rating” requirements, which requires that buildings meet a certain environmental friendliness standard.

Another garden just outside the gardens – space is a premium near the Bay, as it’s one of the busiest parts of Singapore

The Gardens by the Bay, a nature park in Singapore right next to the heart of the city, and right next to the Marina Bay Sands, arguably Singapore’s most famous building, is the perfect symbol for the city’s progress. The central exhibit is a series of massive trees covered in steel rain collectors and solar panels. It was one of the first sights I got to see in Singapore, and also the most inspiring. Before I came here, I was always under the impression that economic development and urbanization are necessarily at odds with environmental protection, at least when you seek to maximize them. But Singapore disproves this idea. Singapore is indeed the greenest city in the world, but somehow all of its environmental protection is productive, too.

A view of the river running through the Gardens by the Bay


Janus in Singapore: Which God?

March 20, 2017

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd – Singapore’s oldest church, right across from the SMU Library

Something struck me when I was going through the various photos I’ve collected from my time here in Singapore – there are quite a number of religious buildings in the city. I’ve never thought of Singapore as a particularly holy place, unlike certain parts of China or the Philippines that I’ve been to with comparable numbers of religious buildings, nor did I think that an extremely industrialized and advanced city would have such a strong presence.
There are five religions that have a significant presence in Singapore. According to the 2015 census, 33% of Singaporeans practice Buddhism, 18.8% practice Christianity, 14% practice Islam, 11% practice Taoism, and 5% practice Hinduism. These numbers make sense to me; a majority of Singaporeans are Han Chinese, with Malay and Indian groups representing about 10% of the population, each. It makes sense that Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Hinduism play such a big role in the lives of Singaporeans – these religions are the religions in the various ancestral homes of the people living in this city.

The Masjid Sultan

I didn’t expect such a large Christian presence, though. While I was in China, I didn’t encounter many Chinese Christians, nor do I know of a large enough presence of Christianity in Malay and Indian countries that could explain the 18.8% figure, a percentage that has apparently increased in recent years. According to census figures, 12.7% of the population was Christian in 1990 and 146% in 2000. While one I can understand that there should be a a small presence – Singapore, after all, was a British colony – I’m not quite sure why Christianity has a growing presence. You would expect that the Singaporeans’ ties to religions more closely related to their ancestral homes would increase in popularity, rather than a religion that was introduced by foreigners that no longer have a strong hold on the country.

One of the larger Buddhist temples/museums in Chinatown

Another interesting aspect of religion in Singapore is that the number of highly educated Singaporeans practicing a religion, particularly for Taoism, Hindiusm, and Islam, is increasingly noticeably. This goes counter against a fairly commonly observed phenomenon where religion becomes less and less important the higher the level of education. I’ve seen this myself at SMU – the various religious clubs are very active in the community, and it isn’t uncommon for me to run into classmates at Sunday masses during the weekends, or even the odd weekday mass that I attend. Practicing my Catholic faith has definitely been much more easy to do in Singapore, simply due to the number of parishes that make it almost impossible to not attend Sunday mass. There’s a church a 10-minute walk away from my flat, and on weekdays or Sundays spent at the library, Singapore’s oldest cathedral is simply across the street.
There’s much more to learn about religious life in Singapore, particularly for the non-Christian religions. While I feel like I’ve touched the surface of what can be learned – living in Little India lets me experience many of the Hindu religious holidays, my many visits to Chinatown have allowed me to enjoy the various Buddhist temples, and the largest mosque happens to be on my favorite food street in Singapore – I do plan to eventually attend a service for each of the major religions in Singapore. It’s an opportunity that I wouldn’t necessarily have elsewhere, and my fellow exchange students who have done the same say that it’s a truly interesting experience to have.

Decorations outside a Hindu building in Little India, a minute or two’s walk from home.

St. Joseph’s Church – another relatively large Church in Singapore. Unfortunately, the building isn’t very well kept, and almost seems like a relic of a past decade.


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