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Going Native

I'm finally "here" now -- I just finished unpacking my bags. 4 weeks isn't too bad for living out of a suitcase, right? ... right? I also bought some flip-flops. It'll feel really weird to be wandering around in them (especially on the MRT and busses), but when in Rome, do what the Romans do, lah!

Last Saturday, I had to brave downtown Singapore. Well, maybe I didn't have to... but the closest music store (I mean, a real music store, ie one that sells musical instruments, not CDs) I could find was downtown. At the Esperante mall, which is at the Esperante theatre, which is Singapore's version of the Sydney opera house. Real swank, in (what seemed to me) the best part of town, etc.

I had to walk through prime tourist terrority to get there, though... for that matter, the whole complex was tourist territory. It wasn't as horrible as I thought it would be, but I still felt like an idiot. Especially since I was wearing a "Canada" t-shirt, since it had the most red of all my clothing. Red is an auspicious color for the Chinese New Year, which is apparently 15 days long.

In the evening, my supervisor had a "Spring music evening" party. Almost all his 14 students (including research staff) came, as did four or five professors and assorted wives and boyfriends (I'm pretty certain that was the exact breakdown). I know that all you Canadians don't believe that anybody can have "spring" stuff now. Neither do I, albeit for a different reason -- it feels like summer here. Although everybody's been saying how I came at the best part of the year because it's so cool and refreshing. WTM?! 30 degrees is `cool' now?!

Anyway, all the students did something musical. About of them did Chinese pop karaoke (complete with youtube videos for the background music), while the other half played guitar, sang (non-karaoke), and played piano. One guy did some magic tricks, and I improvised three pieces on the violin. I only had 10 minutes to practice violin in the afternoon (oh, I didn't mention: I was buying a shoulder rest and rosin. I could play without a shoulder rest, but the bow was in desperate need of rosin, so I hadn't practiced in the previous few weeks), but it came off relatively ok.

Monday lunch was a Chinese banquet (on the 8th day of the new year) for the School of Computing. It began with a... well, until today I thought that everybody here was calling it line dancing. I couldn't figure out what on earth Texas line dancing had to do with the Chinese New Year, but I always just nodded and smiled.

Turns out that everybody was talking about "lion dancing", not "line dancing". Whoops. Part of my confusion is that my vague memories of the Chinese New Year in Vancouver -- stemming from a grade 5 or 6 project on multiculturalism -- talked about "dragon dance", wherein a dozen or so people would dress up as a dragon and parade around.

I asked my supervisor about this after the banquet, and he'd never heard of "dragon dancing". I'll also note that the group at the lunch -- I'm sure they were professionals; they were very good -- only had two people in the costume. The quick, sharp movements were the same, as was the lavish costume. Maybe one area of China does a 12-person costume dance ("dragon"), while another area does a 2-person costume dance ("lion")? Or maybe the Vancouver version has evolved from the original Chinese tradition? Or maybe I'm misremembering from my elementary school classes 20 years ago and getting confused with the dragonboat races.

The actual lunch was an 8-course affair. Unfortunately it was quite lavish... luckily I had chickened out and declared myself a vegetarian for the affair, otherwise it would have been a disaster. Oh, for those who don't know: I'm very contrarian with food. The more expensive the food is, the less likely I am to tolerate it. If a meal costs more than about $10, I'm into "choking down the food (or not) to be polite" territory. There's no question of me actually enjoying the food. That's why I turned down a $75 salmon meal at the Empress Hotel in Victoria at ISMIR 2006 -- I enjoyed my $0.99 Kraft macaroni and cheese (plus about $0.20 in ketchup and $0.50 in diet coke) at home that night much more than I would have the banquet.

Anyway, it was all vegetarian stuff, so I could eat it without qualms. Other than the vegetarian shark fin soup. That was really thick -- it almost seemed like jelly! Even though it was vegetarian, the texture was so off-putting that I gave up after a dozen spoonfuls.

The location was really fancy -- it was the "alumni house" or "guild hall" (I heard it referred to by both names). Quite new, and quite expensive-looking. Not quite "Four Seasons" or "Pan Pacific" expensive (those are swanky hotels in Vancouver), but definitely on par or better than most places in downtown Vancouver. Not that I really know what there is in downtown Vancouver, since I avoid downtowns like the plague.

Anyway, I seem to be well-established here. There's still one local shop I should check out -- a "comic house". I'm not certain if it's a manga cafe (pay an hourly rate to read whatever books you want) or a store... and I'm not certain if they have Japanese manga or just books from other countries... but I figure that I should take a look. Buying real manga in Asia definitely seems like a worthwhile thing to do.

Then I think I'll check out the Chinese Garden. It's also within walking distance. So I might start doing really touristy things on the weekend after next... I'm not really breaking my resolve to do tourist stuff once a week; it's just that the local streets are sufficietly novel that I think they qualify. Everybody here says that it's good that I'm only staying for 5 months because otherwise I'd get bored with Singapore because it's such a small island... but I really don't think that'll happen. I mean, if it takes me a month to almost cover the area within a 5-minute walk of my house, I can't possibly imagine covering even a quarter of the island in 5 months.

Also, it rained for the first time today. I went outside and walking around in it; it was quite a downpour. On par with the heaviest rain I've seen in Vancouver. The rain gutters were very impressive! They were one of the first things I noticed about Singapore, but I always thought they were overkill. But having seen the massive downpours that we get here, I think they're very appropriate. Setting up the entire island with this system to both provide appropriate drainage and save water for consuption was a very smart move by the government. I have no idea how much it cost to implement the system, but it can't have been cheap.