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Second to Fifth day in Singapore

I forgot the power cord for my laptop at NUS on the second day, was too hyped up to write anything on the third day, and was too tired and stuffed to write anything on the fourth day.

Second day - Thursday

On the second day, I had breakfast at a cafe called "The Grinning Gecko", overlooking a jungle mini-valley at NUS. You'll be amazed at the pictures when they come probably next Sat. I had their breakfast set C, which consisted of eggs, toast, chicken bacon, lettuce, and a tomoto. I also had some mango lemonaid, which tasted ridiculously good.

I then filled out more forms, collected a PC from tech support and a mac mini from my supervisor's other lab, and met most of the other people in the research group.

I've never been in a research group before. Sure, at UVic there were a bunch of people who occasionally worked on projects together and some of whom sat in the same room, but it wasn't like this. Dr. Wang's group gets together to play sports and have spring music evenings and stuff. They even eat lunch together!

Speaking of which, the first lunch was a disaster. They all got Chinese food, so I followed suit, but that particular stall was out of vegetarian dishes, so somebody suggested something with chicken in it. For those who don't know me, I'm very picky about meat. Fatty or bloody parts trigger my gag reflex. This chicken dish was not composed of pure breast meat. I managed to choke down about half of it.

Oh, and you know those little spoon-like things that you use with chopsticks to pick up hard-to-get pieces of spoons? I thought they were spoons, so I took one and left the chopsticks alone. Score another point for ignorant Westeners! (if anybody knows what those spoon-things are called, I'm curious)

In the afternoon I got a walking tour of NUS from my supervisor and discussed research plans in general. He also commented that I was very overdressed (black jeans and an olive button-up shirt), and that nobody at NUS cared how you were dressed and he could even give lectures in what he was wearing. That relieved me, since I'd noticed that working Singaporeans all wore buttoned shirts, but I figured it was better to make an initial impression as being too smartly dressed rather than insufficiently dressed.

For dinner, I went back to the same food court but had pasta (spaghetti) from the "Western" stall. Their notation of "Western" seems to resolve around fried chicken, and included a few dishes that definitely weren't Western... but pasta definitely qualifies. It was very cheap (S$1.80, which is about CDN$2.00 or US$2.25), but I discovered that it didn't have any meatballs in the sauce.

Third day - Friday

opened a bank account. I then had the same breakfast as as the second day, followed by more forms.

The morning ended with a presentation to 33 high school students from a "top high school" -- evidently Singapore does the sensible thing and streams students, instead of the silly Canadian system where everybody goes to the same schools. Anyway, he gave a short presentation about music computer research. As part of that, I inserted a mini-lesson about the relationship between frequency and string length, mass, and tension. He had the formula on the slide, but I figured that a one-minute speech with violin demonstrations wouldn't hurt. The kids even predicted what would happen when I put my finger halfway along the string... although in retrospect, grade 12 students aren't stupid. If I couldn't have done that by grade 8 -- even without having played cello -- I'd have been mortified.

I also criticized the slides just before the presentation. One slide in particular had a lot of black text and was unnecessarily confusing. I suggested removing some text (in particular, "music -- appreciation -- ears -- brain". You can't appreciate music until it's reached your ears, let alone your brain!), as well as adding some colours. After the presentations, I also sent more criticisms to him.

I was a bit cautious about my initial comments, because some people don't like criticism, but he loved it. That was a great relief for me, since I hate working with people who don't like criticisms. Eventually I stop making suggestions to avoid upsetting them, and then I just sit and stew with the knowledge that I could have made things better. But that isn't the case here; I definitely made a positive impression with my suggestions.

I also wrote a long email with suggestions and links for the mobile device orchestra. They were using the accelerometers in the ipod touch to trigger drum sounds. Some of you may remember my performance of the Swan and Rachminoff's Vocalise while I was an undergraduate student at UVic. It seems like I'll be returning to that kind of work, which is nice -- this was the first area of music technology that I pursued.

For lunch, I tried the Indian stall and got something that looked like a big, thick crepe. It might have been mashed potatoes covered in batter, although that sounds a bit weird. It came with some sauce which was somewhat spicy.

For dinner, I didn't eat before I left campus, since I'd spent all my cash on my initial bank balance deposit (actually, I had to withdraw some cash from my Canadian debit card... I shudder to think of the bank charges I incurred in doing so), and the first bank machine I visited was out of cash. So I started walking along the main street in front of my apartment, and eventually (10-15 minutes?) arrived at a shopping plaza. It had a McDonalds, which I started to walk towards, but then I noticed a pizza hut sign.

I got a regular (9") pepporoni pizza. It was S$16 (including drink), which is ridiculously expensive by Singapore food prices, but I figured that I deserved a treat. I think this might become my standard Friday night thing... it's too expensive to have on a regular basis, but I was dangerously low on one of the main food groups (grease), and it felt very good to stuff myself.

Fourth day - Saturday

My normal breakfast place at NUS was closed, so I went straight to the lab and started working. After about half an hour, some more people arrived. Just as I was going to leave to have breakfast (about 10:30am), my supervisor arrived. He was horrified that I hadn't eaten yet, so he took me to eat. We went to a Chinese stall, and I got him to order something vegetarian for me. Apparently at this stall, you get rice plus X side dishes, so he simply pointed at three different vegetables. There were some asparagus-like things that were quite good. I think they were a type of bean?

More discussion about research projects followed, and in the afternoon I finished proofreading my second paper and started looking at iPhone/iPod touch development. Around 2pm I went and got lunch at the Subway on campus, and by 3pm I headed home to sleep.

I dozed for a few hours, but then woke up at 7pm and went to find more food locally. I found a food court almost immediately, but it was really intimating -- very noisy, everybody speaking non-English (and non-French and non-Japanese) languages, and not a scrap of English on the signs for each stall. I ignored that area and kept on walking.

After 5-10 minutes of walking, I discovered another food court, but this time I went in. The best bet seemed like a Muslim or Indian place, where I got some small pancake-looking things. Judging from a quick glance at wikipedia, it was naan. Anyway, that came with a soup (or maybe just runny curry?). I tried dipping the pancake-like thing in the soup, which seemed quite nice. I have no clue if that's what I was supposed to do, but it seemed to work.

Fifth day - Sunday

I'd decided early on -- actually, I meant to add this to my resolutions for Singapore -- that I wouldn't go in to university on the "day of rest". That was reserved to catching up on lilypond, writing blogs, and housework. (Mao, it's already 16:15!)

My MRT station is almost at the end of the line, and I'd heard that there was a big shopping centre at the end, so I went there. I also needed to buy a SIM card for the phone my supervisor lent to me, and I figured this could count for my "tourist thing of the week".

I ended up having breakfast at Burger King. As per usual with Western food places, a meal comes to around S$7. That might not sound too bad (and it certainly isn't), but complete meals at non-Western places are generally S$3 or S$4. And you know that I'm a ridiculous skinflint.

I returned to my apartment, then set out for lunch. I went slightly farther than last night, since I'd heard that there was a mall there. I found the mall, then went to a food court. I got some sugar cane juice. This is produced by putting a length of sugar cane through a juicer. Like, right there and then. Fresh squeezed sugar cane juice!

It turned out to be quite bad. Somehow it had the consistency of milk, with a sugary taste. Almost like strawberry-flavored milk, but... somehow wrong. I'm sure it could be an aquired taste, though. Anyway, to choke that down, I found a vegetarian food place and asked for rice and 2 veg, then pointed at two of the vegetables I'd had for breakfast on Sat (including the bean-like things). To make life more interesting, I tried using chopsticks.

I really should have learned how to use chopsticks before coming to Asia. I'll have to ask somebody to teach me at lunch tomorrow.