For the next installment of the “Through New Eyes” series, I have decided to interview my sister, Stephanie. Now, you could say that my family is quite the adventurous type (see Through New Eyes, Story One for reference), and really, nothing could be truer than that. Growing up with a flight attendant for a mother, and a father who was equally intrigued and fascinated with the world, it was ingrained in us kids early on that nothing is comparable to the gift of travel. Traveling opens your eyes to so much more than you could ever imagine and it gives you a new perspective on life that simply cannot be achieved any other way. That said, my brother, sister and I jump at any and EVERY chance we get that involves traveling. It doesn’t matter where the destination is or how far from home it is, we like-no, LOVE-it all.
So, what place could be more exotic than Singapore? My sister had the opportunity of a lifetime this summer to partake in an internship program for Cincinnati students where they could work and live in Singapore for a ten week period. Although I was drooling with envy when I found out she was doing this, I lived vicariously through her during her adventures. From visiting an elephant sanctuary that Steve Irwin deemed heavenly, to floating through the floating markets in Thailand, she took on as many adventures and new experiences that she could, no matter how exotic or unusual they might have been.
Here is her story, in her own words…
Tell me about your program at Cincinnati. What is the structure of the internships? How often do you have an internship? How do you find out about these internships?
Well, let me first tell a little about myself. I’m studying Interior Design in DAAP at the University of Cincinnati (GO BEARCATS!). Currently I am in my 4th year, out of 5. One of the coolest things about my major and about Cincinnati is our amazing co-op program. Cincinnati was the first college to start the co-op program in 1906 and now it is one of the biggest draws for new students. The program connects with businesses from all over the U.S to give students real world experiences that are more than just a normal internship.
The co-op program (for DAAP students) alternates between classes and working. So for me I had my first co-op the spring of my sophomore year and I had to take classes that summer term and then I was back at my co-op job in the fall. Every major that is part of the co-op program has a personal advisor that helps find new jobs, helps connect students to companies and is basically your go-to person for anything co-op related. The nice thing with the list that UC has is that it is guaranteed that you will be paid-it’s one of things that is mandatory if a company wants to be a part of the co-op program. That is one of the things I love about co-op. You get real world experience, you get to get a taste of a new city, and you get paid. So for my first two terms I was in Dallas, TX working for a hospitality design firm. I worked on hotels both new designs and renovations.
Ok, so Singapore. How did you set that up? Did Cincinnatti set that up or was it an outside program?
It’s actually a funny story. When I was down in Dallas for my last co-op I had, I was not even thinking about Singapore, let alone I didn’t really know where Singapore was. After work one day, I was chatting to my friend who had a co-op back in Cincinnati and she was telling me about this program where you go and work in Singapore. I thought it sounded really cool and it would be an amazing experience. That week I got an email about this program and it was literally a “what the hell” moment and I applied for it not thinking that I would get it. A few weeks later I got accepted to the program.
How long were you in Singapore for and did you go with anyone that you knew?
I was in Singapore for about 10 weeks. There were 16 Cincinnati students total. I knew like 4 people before that. We had a good group of different majors such as business, design, engineering, and pre-med.
What was the weather like over there?
It was amazing! Singapore is so close to the equator so it was always sunny and humid. I thought that Ohio summers were hot and humid but nothing prepared me for Singapore. Every once in a while it would rain but for no more than 10 minutes. That was nice because after the rain it was cool and sunny-not humid at all. Coming back to the US and people are complaining about how hot it is and I’m like “this is nothing! I love this weather”.
Were other people staying in your dorm?
Yes. In total there were 60 US students in the same program as I was. There were students from the University of Southern California, students from Michigan State, and students from Texas A&M. There were a group of Berkley kids but they stayed in a different hostel than us. The place we were staying at was still under renovation when we got there. The hostel was just bought by a new company so they were re-doing rooms, building a small gym and other amenities. So for a really long time it was just us and the workers in the hostel. But then one week in the middle of my trip the hostel was bombarded with little kids. There had to be around 50 7 year-olds running around early in the morning. One thing that hostel provided for everyone was complimentary breakfast from 7 to 9. But when the kids were there they ate all the food so that there was nothing for us. It was a nightmare.
How many days a week did you work at your internship? What kind of projects were you working on at your internship?
It was like normal job hours. I had to be at the office from 9 to 6:30 every Monday to Friday. The company I worked for is known in Singapore for their landscape architecture, but they have recently been expanding into other design fields. I worked a lot in their strategic planning. They were working on rebranding, and doing an in-house clean-up/assessment so I worked on a little bit of graphics that they wanted to put on their website showing the 300+ projects they did just in Singapore.
Was the company that you interned for large?
No it was absolutely tiny. There had to be no more than 30 people in the office. I’ve never worked at a place where I could stand at one end of the office and see everyone that works there. One thing that I thought was funny was that at my last internship in Dallas, there had to be over 30 people in the office and I knew everyone, but in Singapore I only knew a few names.
How much free time did you have?
I had a lot of free time. I mean I still worked 9 to 6:30 Monday to Friday everyday but I always tried to do something after work and we had all weekend to run around Singapore. It was never a dull day or night in the hostel-a lot of us wanted to do something after work because we didn’t want to waste our time in Singapore.
What did you do on your time off?
I did so much stuff I don’t even know where to begin, literally everything under the sun! At the beginning a group of us would go see movies like Monster University, Superman, and Now You See Me. Then on the weekends we would go exploring around Singapore so one weekend we went to this island called Sentosa which has beaches, a Universal Studios, an Aquarium; everything! We went to night clubs on ladies nights, ate at fancy restaurants, went to the zoo, ran around Little India and Chinatown the list is endless. I think everyone’s logic was “we are in this amazing and beautiful country. Why would we want to sit inside when we could be having adventures and running around Singapore?”. One of my favorite things we did was that we had a BBQ on the 4th of July. Everyone brought whatever they could and we grilled out, listened to country music, ran around with sparklers- just being the cool Americans that we are.
What was the craziest thing that you ate or COULD’VE ate?
Ordering food at hawker centers and cafeterias a lot of it wasn’t in English. So when I had to order I just picked the thing that looks the best, point to it and then wish for the best. I never had a bad food experience except for this one time. I honestly do not know what I ordered but basically it was noodles with beef (I think), tofu (I think), and veggies in this really thick gravy/syrup sauce. Keep in mind it was like 97 degrees plus humidity, so this thick hearty soup was not the best decision.
But the craziest thing that I ate was chicken feet. Not like America’s chicken fingers that I hold dear to my heart, this was like fried chicken’s feet. The claws and everything was still on it. Surprisingly, it didn’t taste bad.
The craziest thing that I could of ate was probably scorpions on a stick. Before going to Singapore I told my family and friends “I would totally eat a bug. When in Rome….” but actually seeing a giant fried scorpion on a stick and seeing people chowing down on it really made my stomach churn. Some of my friends did eat deep fried frogs and grasshoppers but even they had a hard time acknowledging the fact that they were about to eat bugs/amphibians.
What kinds of things were to do in Singapore? Was it expensive?
Everything under the sun. What a lot of people don’t know about is that Singapore is just a normal metropolitan city. There were museums, concerts, bars, restaurants, clubs, theaters, festivals, parks…you get what I’m saying. So there was never a dull moment in Singapore. There were multiple times that I just happened to stumble upon a festival or a big event that were going on.
When it comes to if the city was expensive it depends. Going shopping at the shopping centers was expensive because they would have boutiques of brands I’ve never heard of. But my favorite place was to hangout, eat, and shop in Chinatown because everything was so cheap. There is always free stuff that was going on throughout the city, and a lot of theaters and museums had student prices.
Singapore has these really cool eating stops called Hawker centers. It is basically outdoor cafeterias that were on almost every block. And the food there would be so cheap- I had a full plate of Chinese food (rice, orange chicken, collard greens, crab rolls, broccoli) and the whole thing only would cost me 4 Singapore dollars (2.50ish in American) and a drink would be 1.20 Singapore. You cannot find food that is good quality for that cheap. Even their fast food was cheaper.
But everything in Singapore isn’t cheap, like going out to fancy dinners or going out to bars. The Singaporean government heavily taxes alcohol to try to promote less public intoxication. A good quality shot would be 25 dollars, beer would be between 10-15 dollars, mixed drinks and wine were usually 15+ dollars. Getting into clubs would be around 25 dollars. But this didn’t stop Singaporeans at all. Bars and clubs were still packed with people. Every Wednesday night was ladies night so I got into places for free and sometimes got free drinks, but the guys had to pay so much money to get into the place.
So you were able to take weekend trips. Where did you go and for how long?
I ended up traveling to Bali, Indoensia one weekend with a group of friends. And then the next weekend I went to Bangkok, Thailand with almost the same group of people as before. I don’t think I could of gone alone on weekend trips and it was so fun getting out of the hostel and just running around South East Asia with crazy fun americans. We were only there for the weekend, so we left Friday right after work and usually we got back early on Monday morning. It was hard going to work after sleeping for only an hour back in the hostel.
How did you organize and plan these weekends trips? Did you stay at a hostel or hotel? Did you go with a group of people or just a few others?
Coming to Singapore, my advisor and even my boss told me to travel as much as possible outside of Singapore. Keep in mind, Singapore is a little bit smaller than the greater Cincinnati area-aka tiny. So there was always something to do in Singapore for the 10 weeks that we were there, but for people who actually live in Singapore permanently they travel like it’s no business. The Singapore airport is the number 1 airport in the world. So I knew that I wanted to go somewhere. During our orientation a group of us started talking about going on trips and where we would want to go. There was always a group going to a different country, and they always offered an invite to anyone that wanted to tag along.
I ended up going to Bali and Bangkok back to back weekends. One of the cheap airlines had a deal going on for Bali where a round trip ticket ended up being like 200 dollars (which is fairly cheap). The group I was with all bought tickets for Friday to early Monday, but when I tried buying a ticket all the Friday flights were sold out. So my friend Shelby and I ended up leaving Singapore on Thursday night instead. We found a really cool hostel right in the heart of Bali. Then on Friday, we checked into our villa that we rented for the weekend.
Bangkok for me was very last minute. My friend Travis was planning on going to Bangkok from day one and he offered an invite to anyone else that was going. One night they were all hanging out talking about it, and it sounded so cool that I had to go with them. Bangkok is known to be a little sketcher than Bali and Singapore, so Travis ended up booking rooms for a really nice hotel that was downtown Bangkok. When we were walking to the hotel, I thought it was going to be like a Holiday Inn, nothing too swanky. I was so wrong-the hotel was beautiful. So we had 11 people with us and 2 rooms and the staff only allows 3 people per room. So a few of us had to sneak into the hotel to get to our room.
The really cool thing about both of these trips was that the groups weren’t big where it was hard to figure out what to do. A lot of the time, we would split into two groups so that if someone didn’t have money for something there was always another group of friends to hang out with.
What was the greatest, most memorable thing you did while over there?
There are so many things that I did that I will cherish with all my heart. I got to cross off so many things on my bucket list, with the help of my friends that I really thought that I would never be able to cross off. I got to swim in an infinity pool on top of a hotel that overlooks the skyline of Singapore. I got to spend a day playing with elephants in Bali. I got to race the streets of Bangkok in little tuk tuks with my friends. I saw people skydive and land on a busy street. I talked to local surfing fanatics on the beach in Bali. I crashed, explored and almost got lost in a private 5 star hotel….the list is endless.
But the most memorable thing wasn’t something that I did; it was something that happened to me was when I went to Bali for the weekend. My friends Christopher, Jake, Shelby and I all arrived to Bali earlier than the rest of the group. That night, we decided to go to the tourist area and find food. So we were walking on the beach, watching a beautiful sunset out in the ocean. As we were getting closer to the food area we noticed this mob of people taking pictures-like there had to be over 100 people on this beach. There was no way to walk around them so we had to walk through them. As we were walking through the mob of people I got a tap on my shoulder, it was this young teenage girl asking if she could get a picture. At first I thought that she wanted me to take a picture of her and her friends so I said ‘of course’ and started reaching for the camera. What she was asking was that if her and her friends could get a picture with me in it. The rest of my group just stood there waiting for the picture to be done. The next thing we know was that we were getting bombarded with photographs. People left and right were asking us for pictures, young kids, grandpas and grandmas, families etc. I am not joking when I say that we stood there for maybe a half an hour just smiling and swarms of people would take pictures left and right. Having our photos being taken like we were celebrities really boosted myself esteem up and literally made me feel like a celebrity. After a while getting our pictures taken started to slow down and soon people were running and playing in the ocean. Before we left I went up to this girl and asked “Where are you from? And why are you taking pictures of us?” She told me that they were on a school trip from Java and that she has never seen white people before.
No words can describe the feeling when someone says “I’ve never seen a white person before”. Even now just thinking about this really puts me in my place and makes me remember how different parts of the world really are. It’s like reality punching you in the face saying “everything doesn’t revolve you!” People say that traveling opens your eyes up to the world, and I agree with that- but having someone say something like that not only opens up your eyes but it opens up your mind as well. Writing this right now is making me tear up and I’m so grateful to that young girl from Java for opening up my eyes and my mind to life outside of what I know. Writing this is my way of sending out to the cosmos my “thank you” to that girl.
Was there anything you regret not doing?
There were a couple of small things, like I never got to try the durian fruit aka their national fruit. It smells terrible like a dead skunk but somehow Singaporeans love it. A couple of my friends tried it when I was on weekend adventures and they were so scarred by it that they didn’t want to eat it again. These fruits are huge so I didn’t want to buy one on my own and no one eat it with me.
If someone was going to Singapore, what would be the one thing they should know?
That I want to go with them! I absolutely loved it there and wish I could go back. But in seriousness I do have some advice:
1). Don’t go grocery shopping there, you can get cheaper and better quality food at wet markets (farmers markets), & hawker centers. If you do end up going to a grocery store, get Pandan bread. Its made from Pandan leaves so its green but it is the best smelling bread in the world. I’m trying to find some in the U.S but I’m having no luck.
2). Check out the free events always happening by the Esplanade- they have free concerts and you can watch the Marina Bay Sands lazer show
3). Sneak up to the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool on the 57th floor- you won’t regret it
4). If you’re staying for more than 10 weeks, check out the neighboring countries around you. There are ferries that take you to Indonesia for really cheap, and Malaysia is only a bus ride to Johor Baru
5). Groupon, groupon groupon. I found so many deals for everything on groupon
6). When ordering food, fair warning that the picture always look better than what it really is
7). Check out Mr. Prata on Evans Road. It’s a 24 hour Indian Restaurant with over 200 items in the menu. Be ready to have 2-4 back up meals because they always say “We’re not making that”. Try the Maggie Gorang-its fried spicy ramen noodles with chicken and an egg
8). Fruit juice!!! They have stands that sell fresh fruit juices-better than a smoothie and they are addicting. Try the lime juice with fresh limes. It sounds gross but it’s really good
9). Use the MRT and the busses instead of taxis. Traffic is really bad there so taking the subway and the busses will get you to your destination faster. Just route out where you are going before you get on the train/bus
10). Clarke Quay, Robertson Quay and Boat Quay (Quay is pronounced “key”) are really cool areas along the river with a lot of bars and restaurants-its pricy and very touristy but it’s a lot of fun