There is such a vast variety of places and things to do here in Singapore. One of my favorite unique places here is Gardens by the Bay, which is a large nature park that combines city views with natural wonders. Gardens by the Bay includes several outdoor gardens, two indoor conservatories, and the famous Supertrees. This past weekend, my aunt, uncle, cousins, and I spent the afternoon and evening enjoying the gardens at Christmastime. These photos show a brief snapshot into this cool place!
I’ve been in Singapore for several holidays, including Halloween, Deepavali, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Here is a summary of how these holidays are celebrated here:
Halloween: Traditionally, Halloween is not a holiday that has been celebrated in Singapore. However, more recently, Halloween has become a bigger holiday here. I was here to witness trick or treating in one of the neighborhoods, and it was crazy! Thousands of people come to this neighborhood to trick or treat, and in the past there have even been buses from Malaysia that have came to this neighborhood just for the candy! So, some select neighborhoods do trick or treating, and some of the more American areas celebrate it more, but overall there is not a big emphasis on Halloween.
Deepavali: This is an Indian festival that is one of the biggest holidays here. There is a large Indian population in Singapore, and there is even an area of Singapore, Little India, that has many Indian restaurants and shops. This festival is based on tradition, and is celebrated by many. We even got the day off of school for this holiday.
Thanksgiving: This was the least celebrated out of the holidays I have been here for. Since I am teaching at an American school, we did get the Thursday and Friday off for the holiday, but as a whole Singapore doesn’t recognize this holiday. Most of the students and teachers take the long weekend to travel or spend time with friends.
Christmas: Christmas here began almost as soon as I arrived here! By late October, many stores were decorated and Christmas music could be heard just about anywhere. Orchard Street, one of the main shopping hubs, is covered in lights and dotted with Christmas trees. In general, Singapore seems to celebrate similarly to the US. One of the perks of being in Singapore until the 18th has been enjoying Christmas activities while in here, with knowing that I get to go home to spend Christmas day. Of course, not everyone in Singapore celebrates Christmas, and at school celebrating all holidays is emphasized, there is a big emphasis on Christmas in the city. The only thing missing is the snow!
Angkor…what? When I first heard of Angkor Wat, I was clueless about this incredible place. The Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The whole site measures 402 acres and is the largest religious monument in the world, consisting of many temples both large and small. It is a huge tourist destination, and in my opinion, a must-see in Asia. My friend and I spent two full days exploring the temples and taking tons of pictures and visited a few of the smaller temples on our final day in Cambodia. Below are a few of the highlights of our days of exploration.
Angkor Wat is the largest and most famous of the temples. The next largest complex is Angkor Thom, with huge faces carved into the stone. We got some cool nose-touching photos with the faces!
This was definitely a trip rich in culture, history, and architecture! It was so interesting to see the intricate carvings and think about how much time went into creating such huge and intricate temples. I hope to see the temples again someday!
My Thanksgiving didn’t include turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes this year. Instead, it included temples, tuk-tuks, and fried noodles! My friend and fellow student teacher at Singapore American School decided to travel to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to spend our 4 day Thanksgiving break.
Before arriving in Singapore, I knew essentially nothing about Cambodia and hadn’t heard of the Angkor Wat temple complex. However, once I arrived in Singapore, I quickly learned that it is one of the major tourist destinations for those living in Singapore, as it is a quick and easy two-hour flight. We went to Siem Reap, the town including the Angkor Wat temple complex, which is a huge draw for tourists. We got around the city by riding in tuk-tuks, which are essentially motorbikes with a cart for up to 4 people to ride in. Our guesthouse was near Pub Street, the central hub of restaurants, bars, spas, and night markets. We spent a couple of our evenings trying all sorts of food, getting inexpensive foot massages and pedicures, and bargaining for good at the night markets.
If you are interested in hearing more about the temples, please read my post titled “Angkor Wat.”
Thanksgiving dinner in Cambodia, complete with spring rolls, Khmer curry (traditional Cambodian food), and rice.
Bright and colorful pub street, the hub of activity both during the day and at night.
The finished pieces of pottery I made during a Khmer pottery class.
On our way to our guesthouse from the airport, riding in a tuk-tuk.
Pictures from Phare, the Cambodian circus. The circus included teenagers who had gone through a circus arts training program. This organization provides children with difficult home situations or nowhere to go with training in circus arts and then provides opportunities to perform. It was a wonderful thing to see!
My friend Emma and I at one of the spas on Pub Street, getting a “foot massage” from the fish!
Rolled ice cream! I got this ice cream at a little stand on Pub Street, where they use dry ice to freeze cream into a sheet, and then roll that sheet into tasty ice cream rolls.
Before my 21st birthday, I had never left the United States and my travels in the country were not extensive. Last May, I went to Vienna for the Vienna Summer School May term through Hope, and that was my very first airplane ride! When I came to Singapore and started talking to people here, I realized travel is the norm here. In the weeks and days leading up to a break (Fall break, Thanksgiving break, and Christmas break), people don’t ask each other what they are doing or even what they have planned for the break. Instead, the question is, “where are you going for break?”
The response typically goes something like this…
“Oh, we are going to Korea to visit so-and-so…”
“We’re going Thailand again…”
“We’re visiting a friend in Japan…”
“We’re spending a relaxing weekend in the Maldives…”
And the list goes on! Many of my students have been to so many more countries than I have been in my whole life. Granted, I am working at an American school with expatriate families (families who live outside their native country) and Singapore is a wealthy country as a whole, so I am sure it is not this way for all families. But with other countries being so close and flights being fairly inexpensive, travel is easy and expected.
Oh, how I wish I had more time here to explore all the surrounding countries! However, in just 10 weeks, I have been to a total of 4 countries: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia. Each of these countries gave me a new understanding about the world and about how different cultures work and the incredible diversity in the world. I suppose I will just have to come back to Asia at some point to do the rest!
Last weekend, I had this huge desire to go somewhere on my own, to travel by myself. I know my independence has grown during my time abroad, but especially since I am living with family, most of my time has been spent with other people and I rarely have had the chance to do anything on my own. This past weekend, I decided to take the bus from Singapore to Melaka, Malaysia to do some adventuring on my own. The bus ride was about 5 hours each way so it was a good weekend trip. I had heard that Melaka is the “Europe of Asia” which was a very fitting description. The city even has Dutch settler roots and I took a selfie in front of a windmill – it was almost like I was right back in Holland, Michigan!
The town is quite quaint, with a river running through the heart of the town. I went on a short river boat cruise where I was able to see all the cute cafes, interesting murals, and touristy shops along the river. I visited an art museum, went in Christ’s Church (built in the 1700’s), saw the colorful trishaws (decorated bicycles the blasted pop music), and spent some time taking pictures in the town square and drinking watermelon juice out of a whole watermelon! That evening, I ate dinner at a cafe along the river and went to the night market, where vendors sold everything from selfie sticks to coconut water balls. These pictures will give you a little glimpse into the town of Melaka and my short trip exploring the town.
This past weekend, I explored Chinatown with two friends who are also student teaching at SAS. Singapore has three main “cultural” areas: Little India, Arab Street, and Chinatown, and all of them are wonderful areas to try different foods, shop, and explore. We began our exploration at a little coffee shop that sold Kaya toast, a delicious and popular Singapore breakfast or snack that consists of a sugar, egg, coconut milk, and pandan (a plant used for cooking in Asia) mixture spread on top of thick slices of toast.
Our lunch included some traditional Chinese food, including fried rice and dumplings. Before my trip to Singapore, I was not one to try new foods, but now it is one of my favorite ways to explore the city and the mix of cultures that make up Singapore.
We wandered the streets in search of souvenirs, interesting sights, and the perfect selfie spots. The brightly colored buildings and the hustling and bustling streets were around every corner.
We went in one of the temples, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. It was amazing how intricate every detail was. In order to enter the temple, you must have covered shoulders and covered knees, and the temple provides wraps and scarves with which to cover yourself. Here is a glimpse into Chinatown…
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, Singapore maintains several large natural areas perfect for enjoying nature. MacRitchie Reservoir is one of those places, dense with tropical trees and alive with the sounds of monkeys and birds. My Saturday morning was spent breathing in the humid rainforest air and trying to capture the beauty of Creation on my trusty Nikon.
MacRitchie was packed, with crowds of people enjoying the beautiful morning. The hiking trails were great, as was the observation tower, but the highlight was the treetop walk. My friend and I made our way slowly from one end to the other, enjoying the rainforest canopy view and taking advantage of a few selfie spots. At several points, we could see the city skyline just beyond the trees. We saw lots of monkeys, who didn’t seem to notice that we were just a few feet away. After hearing the many “monkey horror stories,” about monkeys scratching, stealing, and ruining electronics, I did remember to keep a bit of distance, even though it was tempting to go closer for pictures!
Exploring and being right there in the middle of a gorgeous natural area was exactly what I needed to rest from the busy week of student teaching. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far!
Student teaching at SAS has been quite the experience! The curriculum is academically challenging, and often I have been surprised at how much my third graders know and can do. The entire school is huge, with a student body larger than that of Hope. As third grade teachers, my cooperating teacher and I work alongside twelve other grade three teachers to plan curriculum, assess data, explore teaching methods, and engage in professional development. Teachers consistently use new technology and research-based strategies to teach. We write as many lessons as possible so they are inquiry-based, which essentially means that lessons include many questions for students to explore, with the object of students creating their own understanding and knowledge.
To give you a little taste of what education looks like at SAS, watch the video
below of all the third grade classes participating in a “task party.” This task party was organized and led by a team of third grade teachers. A task party is essentially a huge group of people who receive tasks to work together on, in a room full of various materials. This task party focused on inventions, so student received tasks such as “create a new school uniform that incorporates new technology.” I was impressed with the creativity and innovation that many of the students demonstrated as they participated in this fun lessons!
This past weekend, another student teacher and I explored Pulau Ubin, a Singaporean island just off the coast of the mainland. The island was advertised as rustic and relaxed, which we found it to be.
It was enjoyable to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city for the day. We spent the day biking, hiking, eating, and exploring. We took a small, rickety “bumboat” to the island, which is essentially a very small ferry. When we arrived we were greeted by fresh air and hoards of bicycles, the main mode of transportation on the island. We rented a couple of them for the day and biked to Chek Jawa, a wetlands area on the island. We hiked across boardwalks and through rainforest, stopping to walk up flights of steps to a lookout area.
We stopped for lunch at a seafood place in the “city” area of the island, which included bike shops, drink stands, and restaurants. As I’ve been in Singapore, I have began to love trying new food…and enjoyed my prawn (similar to shrimp) seafood rolls along with a whole coconut!
The remainder of the day was spent biking around the island, looking at a Buddhist temple, and hiking up to the top of a small mountain, with an incredible view of the water and of Indonesia. We steered clear of the many monkeys, who are known to steal anything they can get their hands on!