Suddenly, the food in Sydney (even in Newtown) seems extremely expensive; WiFi internet is frustratingly occasional; our city is congested with cars and many outrageously-overpriced taxis; it lacks in ethnicity, its streets are dirty, and it is simply cold.
At least that’s how it seems after a week in Singapore. Where else can you eat a meal for one dollar? access the internet (to find a bus stop, a restaurant, or a better price) for free on most street-corners? walk past buddhas, mosques, hindu temples, a variety of churches and a still-in-use 19th century synagogue in a 10-minute amble?
Singapore is an curious mix of cultures from across southern Asia, with a Western sense of security and East Asian technology thrown in. Quite a pretty city too, if you like the geometry of modern architecture and Singapore’s multi-colour take on it.
Though young as an independent country — it celebrated its 44th birthday on the day I departed — Singapore certainly has enough to be proud of.
The conference was also very good, and left me with many ideas, very few of which actually had to do with the direction I thought I was heading for a PhD, but still, nice to have some inspiration. Good to see again those people I had met at EACL; to meet others for the first time who I’d cited, who I’d seen cited, and who I’ll be likely to cite in the future.
Other highlights included (more-or-less chronological):
- The wonderful Jewish community there and their hospitality for the shabbat that opened my trip;
- Having at least one token vegetarian stall in most food courts / hawker stalls (at least four in the one near our hostel), and elsewhere on the streets;
- The entertaining restauranteur at Ci Yan on “Chinatown Food Street”, who had been recommended to us along with the food;
- The Night Safari (much better than Chiang Mai’s, and probably less cruel to the animals), its shows, and Nicky wearing a boa constrictor;
- Musical entertainment, unicycling polyglots and an academic dance-off at the ACL banquet;
- Riding bikes (and teaching Matt how to do so) around Palau Ubin;
- Running around Sim Lim Square looking for the few retailers with DDR3 RAM for my computer (ended up with 4GB at AU$125, which I think is a pretty good buy);
- Ordering one of the most expensive menu items (a paper masala dosa) for dinner, and still paying only SG$2.50 (AU$2.10);
- Some of the yummy Indian sweets from Chella’s, even if they each cost as much as a meal;
- Being woken by the call of the Sultan Mosque muezzin too early on Friday morning;
- Watching papers with my name on them being presented very well, but not having to present myself;
- Awesome fake meats in the herbal mutton soup at Eight Immortals in Koufu food court (the closest to the conference centre with a vegetarian restaurant, and yet somehow I managed to avoid it till the last day of conferring);
- Terrible cover-band music under the misnomer of “Gypsy” as a free National Day performance at the Esplanade;
- Playing around with Yefeng’s tripod on the last night (to my fortune, his camera ran out of space);
- Lots of green-bean, red-bean, sesame, and other Asian delights…
Somehow, food features quite prominently — even without chilli crab — doesn’t it?
And no, Sydney isn’t so bad. But there’s nothing like taking a holiday and intellectual inspiration at the same time.