Arrived home

I'm back in Vancouver!

Due to the creative time-keeping imposed by tradition (time zones are stupid; we should just do everything with GMT), this blog post is approximately 24 hours after the last one, despite the actual local time reported on each blog post being only being 12 hours apart.

Singapore Changi airport definitely is a nice airport, but I must admit that the novel was starting to wear thin after 12 hours. I was really glad to finally board the ANA flight to Narita.

That flight had the individual seat-mounted movie/video/music/game screens. No power on the seats, though, which made it considerably less comfortable than the flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong. I managed to spend about S$35 on souveniers and S$100 on food+drinks (including buying dinner and drinks for the two group members who came all the way out the airport to visit me, and in one case carry my luggage. Thanks again, guys!)

Narita airport was... ok. Not as bad as Heathrow, but nowhere as nice as Changi. After waffling for a bit, I decided to switch my remaining Singapore cash into yen. I didn't know if I'd actually find something to use it on, but I was in a rare spending mode, and I figured that S$64 wouldn't get me far in other countries anyway. After changing all that cash at the first place I saw, I had 3884 yen. What can you do with that? In particular, what can you do with that inside the controlled area of the Narita airport?

First, I went to a bookstore, and picked up volume 26 of Mahou Sensei Negima. Yeah, that's no way I'll be able to read it (there's lots of kanji), but... it's Negima! I had to buy it! ... ok, at least one of you will understand that, and that's more than enough approval for me.

I also picked up a simple manga that had the hiragana and katana written beside the kanji. And, for that matter, there weren't many kanji to begin with. On later inspection, I think it's really aimed at young girls... but I was getting it for reading practice, not to evaluate it for a literary award.

No, I don't know what the actual title is, since it's written in very stylized characters. It's by peach-pitt, which is a team that's turned out some quite nice work in the past.

Then I stopped at the last store before my gate and looked for things to waste money on. Eventually my eye came to rest on the display of cell phone strap decorations. I don't even have a cell phone, and everybody that I know which has cell phones don't attach decorations to them... but these seem to be really popular in Japan, and most of them were just so gaudy that I figured that I had to get a few.

Unfortunately, I didn't really think about how many I was getting... and I didn't really think about what "380 - 400 yen" meant (i.e. approximately $4). So I ended up buying something like $20-worth of silly, gaudy, impractical cell phone straps.

Oh well. It's not like 2150 yen would do me much good in Canada, either. After that, I only had coins left, so I bought a bad muffin and some mango juice. I ended up bringing 134 yen home.

The flight home turned out to be in a refurbished A330-300, so I had power for my laptop! And individual video screens, although the movies being offered this time weren't very good. Apart from "Bolt", which was a great animated movie about a dog actor that thinks that his super-dog powers are real.

The flight wasn't perfect; there was a crying baby right next to me... but it was still a good trip. In addition, I was at the very front of the economy-class cabins. So I got food and drink first, I could leave first (other than the business-class people), and I had a bit more legroom than normal economy-class seats.

Canadian immigrations wasn't bad -- it was much, much better than when I returned from Belfast in late Aug. That was the same time as all the international students were arriving in Vancouver, and it was on a weekend, so it took about 90 minutes to get through immigration. This time it was only foo minutes.

My cat was very happy to see me, and I'm uploading this blog post while laying on the floor of my living room -- if I went anywhere else, my cat would complain.

Only 1.5 hours since I arrived in Vancouver!

Posted at 2009-05-28 14:15 | Permanent link | Comments

Sin Airport is Fantastic!

I've decided that I like airports. Everything is clean and tidy, the staff are so helpful and polite, etc. Granted, you pay over seven dollars for a chocolate mint frappe, but you can't have everything!

Out of all the airports I've visited... yes, all of Vancouver, London Heathrow, Belfast, Vancouver, Hong Kong, and Singapore Changi... the Singapore Changi airport is the best. I've heard other people say it, and I really believe it.

I managed to get my boarding pass and dump my large suitcase ten hours before my flight. So I'm now in the post-immigration checkpoint area with my small suitcase, enjoying the free wifi and power. And somewhat struggling to stay awake... I'm scared that if I fall asleep, the kittens will eat me. Err, I mean, I might sleep through my flight time.

But hey, I wouldn't be a computer geek if I couldn't stay up all night, so I'm sure that I can make it onto the plane. And at that point, the more tired I am, the better -- I normally can't sleep on planes, so hopefully I can sleep this time.

While I was wandering around, I noticed a post office. So I sat down to write postcards to Canada and the US... but when I was finished, the post office was closed! Yes, it closed at midnight, and I missed it by two or three minutes. :( I forget when it opens in the morning; I may or may not send postcards before I leave Singapore.

Only six hours until I (start flying) to Vancouver!

Posted at 2009-05-28 02:15 | Permanent link | Comments

The End is Near!

Things are winding down now. I went to the Science Centre, which was disappointing -- I'd seen many of the exhibits at Science World (in Vancouver) 15 or 20 years ago. And it was a lot more kid-centered than Science World... or at least, it was much more kid-centered than I remember Science World being. From when I visited it. When I was a kid.

I discovered that there was a "snow centre" right next door. Judging from the website, it's an indoors area with snow! The temperature in Singapore has only dipped below 20 degrees once in recorded temperature-history (since 1934, IIRC) -- and it was still 19.4 C degrees then! So it must be a real novelty to natives here.

On one hand, I wish that I'd discovered this months ago -- I could have spent every Friday evening there, or something! On the other hand, it's probably good that I didn't discover it, because I would have spent a lot of money there. :)

Yesterday, the research group went to MacRitchie Reservoir, went along the Tree-Top Walk (it's like the Capiliano suspension bridge in North Vancouver, except long and narrower -- it's one-way only). I think we ended up walking about 10km. Inside the canopy of the rainforest, it wasn't as hot as outside. Sometimes I think it was even below 28 degrees!

Near the beginning of the journey, we saw a few monkeys in a tree. While most of us were saying things like "aww, so cute!" and taking pictures, one of the few Singaporean citizens in the group commented that monkeys were viscious little buggers and were not cute at all. He went on to explain that he'd been chased by a bunch of monkeys, and it wasn't fun at all.

I proceeded to mock him for running away from cute little things like that (he'd served in the army, making the mockey especially irresistable for me), and claimed that I could intimidate a dozen of those cat-sized critters. I then paused, and remarked that this was the perfect setup for ten monkeys to swarm down from the trees and beat me to death.

That didn't happen, of course. Comedy: 0, hubris: 1.

Later on, we were walking down a hill on the trail, and the dirt track had a few loose stones (size of a fist) scattered along it. He commented how annoying it was to avoid the rocks or balance on them, and I proceeded to boast about how easy it was, when you had proper footwear and experience doing so. "I love jumping from rock to rock when hiking in the mountains in Canada, and--"

-- in mid-sentence, I put my right foot down on a rock that rolled to my left, causing my weight to descend on right ankle at an angle that the human body was not designed to support. Yep, perfect setup, perfect timing. Comedy: 1, hubris: 1.

After a few moments of pain, and longer moments of dizziness, I limped on. There wasn't much else to do, and it didn't seem too serious. As long as I walked funny, it didn't hurt. Any injury that you can walk away from is a good injury, right? For some value of "good", at least.

Three hours later, after a great meal at pizza hut with the group, I got home, had a shower, then looked up "ankle sprain" on wikipedia (the most reliable source of medical diagnoses and treatment in the world). I put some ice cubes inside a hand hand towel folded in half, then settled down to watch Singaporean TV while alternating between having ice on my ankle, and putting my ankle on the top of the couch (the only way to elevate it above my heart, which is apparently one of the recommended treatments, according to the ultra-reliable source).

The first few times that I got up after being stationary for a while, it was worse than ever. But later in the evening, it felt better, and I could hobble around the apartment without a steady stream of obscenities. It's a good thing that all my roommates have moved back to their countries! May 13, May 20, May 28... we've been counting down the days anxiously. :)

Anyway, right now (approximately 24 hours after the injury), I can walk almost normally, and I can rotate my ankle with only a few twinges of pain. I'm going to be fine... so this just makes for a great story of comedy and hubris.

(I will, however, note that I did not literally fall down. I'm still agile enough to pull my weight off the foot, reposition it, then catch myself before hitting the ground.)

Only 4 days until I return to Vancouver!

Posted at 2009-05-24 11:59 | Permanent link | Comments

Botanical Gardens, Zoological Gardens, and KITTIES

More touristing stuff: the whole research group went to the Botanical Gardens, which is right next to one of the university's satellite campuses, and later I went to the zoo. Oh, and I've changed the settings on the picture website, which now includes photos of KITTIES.

The botanical garden trip began with dinner at the other campus. This becomes important later, because this campus canteen was quite inferior to the Arts canteen in the main campus (where we normally eat). It's not just me, either: everybody at my table was complaining about the food.

After that, we walked around in the botanical gardens for a while. I hadn't brought a camera, but one of the group members did.

The following weekend (on the 9th), I went to the zoo. That was way better than the bird park. I also ended up keeping 101 photos. The zoo contained waterfalls (I like waterfalls) and KITTIES!!~!

I had more to write, but it's been almost a week since then, and I'm exhausted. Today I gave a 90-minute talk about user interface design, followed by a football (soccer) game in the rain. And I didn't eat at lunch because I thought I'd be eating an early dinner (after the talk, before the game).

I ended up eating dinner at 8pm, and as a special treat, I went to pizza hut. This was only the third time I've been there in Singapore, since it's kind-of out of the way. And more expensive than other food places.

Oh, that is one amusing tidbit about the zoo: on the way there, I was telling myself that I really needed to take care when being outside in the sun for this long. I would drink lots of water (even when not thirsty), eat ice cream or whatever I felt like eating, etc. Regardless of the cost; I've saved plenty of money from my first few months here.

Sadly, when I really wanted ice cream, there was no washroom around to clean my hands. On the way out, I considered stopping for pizza, but the pizzarea was selling slices for over S$ 7 each! I mean, things I'd normally pay $1.50 for in Canada. I shuddered and walked by. Then, in the shopping mall where I transferred from bus to MRT, the pizza hut was full! So I ended up going all the way home and getting a S$2 chicken burger at the local food court.

Yeah, I fail at spending money. I need more practice or something.

I'll probably go to the Science Centre this weekend -- I'm quite tired, and apparently this place is within walking distance. Well, a 30-minute walking distance. I may take the MRT there. And more importantly, it's indoors.

Only 13 days until I return to Vancouver!

Posted at 2009-05-15 22:37 | Permanent link | Comments

Touristing is Bad for your Health

Touristing can make you sick. Tomorrow I'm off to the zoo, leaving Sunday for recovery.

Interpreting it strictly, "touristing" can give you diseases such as Miliaria rubra. You see, touristing involves going outside a lot -- since just about everything indoors is lame and boring -- which exposes you to hot, humid weather.

I diagnosed myself with this on Monday. While the rest of the country was in an Orange Alert over H1N1 and doing manditory temperature screening of all university staff and requiring students to be screened before allowing them into exam rooms, I was trying to cover up the "unsightly red blotches" (as one website put it) on my upper arms and legs. I found that splashing cold water on it helped, but I couldn't splash water on my chest and back while at university. After three days of showering twice a day, the chemical balance of my skin was restored, so everything was back to normal.

Oh, for the non-condescending people out there -- this disease is more commonly called "heat rash" or "sweat rash". Not at all contageous, and only irritatingly itchy. No, I wasn't talking about anything serious like malaria. :P

And yes, I'm delightfully aware of the irony of my previous paragraph. :)

Interpreting it loosely, "touristing" can give you diseases such as Americanus Shapus. You see, touristing invoolves going to a foreign country -- since the grass is always greener in the Sahara desert, or something like that -- which exposes you to foreign food.

I diagnosed myself with this on Monday. While I was sorting through the pictures from Sentosa island, I found myself deleting pictures because they made me look fat. Then I realized that I was fat. Apparently eating a lot of hamburgers -- both at Burger King, and at food courts -- makes you gain weight. What a surprise!

I'm kind-of stuck. If I don't eat enough or get enough sleep, I get sick. I can't get enough sleep -- my 25-hour schedule clashes horribly with a steady work week, and there's still enough meetings and whatnot that I don't feel that I can go back to 25 hours while in Singapore. So I'm never getting enough sleep. To keep myself healthy, I try to make sure that I eat enough.

However, most of the food here is Asian. What a surprise! Ok, not a surprise at all... but it still makes eating problematic. I mean, I have problems eating in Canada. Scarse wonder that I have problems here!

As a result, I tend to go to a Western food place (Subway, Burger King, or a pizza place) once a day, to make sure I have at least one real meal. Yeah, that's pretty bad. But the alternative is worse... I mean, although my long-term health is degrading, at least I can still do my work and whatnot. If I tried to survive on non-Western food only, I'd end up spending days in bed.

Oh, for anybody who hasn't figured it out yet -- Americanus Shapus is more commonly called "being overweight" or "looking like a pig". No, I wasn't talking about anything serious... at least, not anything that can't be cured with a better diet and running 10km three times a week.

As I did when coming back from Belfast, within 24 hours of the plane touching down, I'll run 10km. And soon after that, I'll do at least 30km each week. Don't worry; for the first week or two, I won't push my speed.

By the end of summer, I want to run a marathon a week (not necessarily in one go; two 20km runs and one 5km would be fine), and also be able to run 10km in 40 minutes.

I also need to regain my musical skills, so I'm imagining an hour of practice at least every other day. Basically, I'll spend one hour a day on self-improvement, alternating music and running. Oh, but by "music", I mean "serious practice", not fun stuff like chamber music. The above will be put aside for one week in July (where I'll be playing music for 8 hours a day or so).

Only 19 days until I return to Vancouver!

Posted at 2009-05-07 23:04 | Permanent link | Comments


For the last two weekends, I did touristy stuff: visiting the Jurong Bird Park, and Sentosa Island. I also watched X-men: Wolverine and Xmen III: the Last Stand, thereby filling in some horrifying gaps in my education. Also, pictures.

Before going to the bird park -- that's a zoo just for birds -- I tried to do the responsible thing in buying a hat and some sunglasses. However, either the nearest big mall (Jurong Point, maybe 80% the size of Metrotown in Burnaby) failed me, or I fail at shopping. I spent an hour wandering around the mall, but couldn't find any non-designer sunglasses, and the only hats I found were either designer fashion things, or fishing hats from a sport store. I just wanted cheap, ugly sunglasses, and maybe one of those straw hats. I figured I could find them easily in Canada for $5-$10 each.

I found a ridiculous number of handbag stores, though. Granted, in my mind, "a ridiculous number of handbag stores" means "more than 1 per 100,000 people" or so... but still, I really can't figure the interest. Clothes, sure. I mean, there was a lot of those -- especially a lot of generic upscale clothing stores, with only two or three dozen dresses -- but those make sense. You change clothes at least once a day. But handbags? Especially ugly box-like handbags that could almost hold a basketball?! How many of those do women need?

As an aside, it's a pity I don't have a girlfriend. At the local mall (not the big one; this one has about 30 shops), I keep on seeing nice-looking dresses in temporary stalls in the hallway for S$ 10. I doubt you could buy a pair of female socks in Canada for that price, let alone an actual dress! It seems like a shame to pass up this bargain... then again, I couldn't imagine myself buying dresses without a girl by my side, even if I did have a girlfriend in Vancouver to give them to. Given that I have long hair in a braid, I think that people here might misunderstand...

Ok, actual impressions about the Jurong Bird Park. First impression: wow these things are colorful. I mean, "fake animal"-type colorful. You just don't get vibrant colors like these in Canadian wildlife, so my first instinct upon seeing many of these was to think of a child's coloring book, when they haven't learned that animals have dull colors to aid in camoflage.

I have no clue how these tropical birds manage to survive in the wilderness. I mean, it's like blaring out "hey, tasty snack here!" to all the cats. Then again, I can't imagine panthers bothering with some of these small birds, and I don't know if housecat-sized cats live in the jungle.

BTW, if you didn't follow the link to my pictures, I would recommend it now. I didn't take many photos, since I couldn't figure out how to turn of flash, and the batteries were running out. But there's a few nice ones there.

I discovered what must be one of nature's most ridiculous animals: the rhinocerus hornbill. I didn't take a photo, but here's a link to the wikipedia page, including photos. I have no clue what the third beak is for.

I also saw some ginormous (gynormous? sp?) pigeons -- almost twice as big as my cat. Sadly the photos of them didn't turn out too well; there was no convenient size marker to show how big they are. They just look like birds sitting in a jungle; the surrounding foliage could be at any scale, so it doesn't help in showing how huge these things were.

They had a penguin pond in an air-conditioned building (behind some glass, so I would guess that their area was even colder). I finally saw the way that penguins fly underwater, which was neat.

The "birds of prey" section was slightly disappointing. Ok, there were some big creatures there... but some of them were smaller than the pigeons! This was more a case of unrealistic expectations; after seeing the hornbill, the monster pigeons, and the child-colored felt birds in the "lorry loft", I was expecting fire-breathing monsters that could take on fully-armoured knights, instead of eagles. Oh, for any Americans out there: yes, they had two bald eagles.

I was impressed by the vegetation. Each cage was set up appropriately (or "approximately appropriately") for their normal terrain, so sometimes you had thick jungle next to desert.

There was one section devoted to an African rainforest and those birds; it was a huge cage that you could hike around inside. That was actually quite nostalgic -- with a surprisingly little bit of imagination, I could pretend that I was in British Columbia. Actually, the concrete pathway was the thing which was the hardest to ignore; the eye-level vegetation was quite similar to certain sections of hiking through the Coastal Mountains.

There was a small museum-like section about birds, showing egg sizes, nesting habits, etc. As always, I found the museum extremely boring and walked through it without slowing (unless forced by gaggles of children). But the boringness of it was quite nostalgic: it reminded me of family vacations twenty years ago. Umm, that came out wrong. I mean, it reminded me of family vacations, when I didn't have to worry about how to get places, or what to eat, or what I was going to do next on my job... or how long it'd take until I got home. I mean, vacations were at most two weeks long, so I always knew that I'd get home soon.

Yeah, I kind-of miss being nine years old. I had this awesome 8088 computer with an amber monitor. Mao, those monichrome amber screens were fantastic.

Huh. Now I need to figure out how to set my current computer to amber only. My friends will be so jealous if I can show them that when I get back to Canada.

Sentosa Island: this is an "amusement park" island, very close to the mainland. Walking over the bridge would take about three minutes, but there was no sidewalk. Another car-only bridge. :(

As a result, we -- yes, for the first time, I was going out with lab-mates (plus one person's roommate); we watched the Wolverine movie (more later) and then went off to Sentosa Island; you can see them in the photos -- took a train across. If it hadn't been so crowded, it might have given us a nice view of (part of) the island, but as it was, I would have rather have walked.

Hmm, I'm drawing a blank at further descriptions. We walked around a bit, ate, then walked around for a bit more. Saw some monkeys. Saw a huge statue of a mer-lion. Went home. Well, I went home; I exhausted from the heat, and was much too tired (and too hungry!) to try more Asian food. They were interested in a food court in the mall, so I told them to eat there.

X-men: two weekends ago, I watched the second movie on TV. Last Sat, I saw Wolverine. Last Sun, I watched the third movie on TV.

Don't worry, no spoilers for the new movie. Wolverine was... well, it was an action movie. An action movie with better-than-usual special effects (as least as far as I'm concerned... I'm much more appreciative of magic-like mutant powers than big explosions and military stuff). And, sad to say, worse-than-usual dialogue. And, unlike the other X-men movies, and (from what I hear) the comic books, no attempt at provoking thoughts.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I mean, as long as you know you're getting mindless violence, and you're in the mood for mindless violence, then it's great! And thankfully I'd read a few reviews before going to the theatre, so I knew what to expect. Also, being a Canadian, I always had to cheer for Wolverine during the "present-day" movies (apart from his ridiculous interest in Jean Gray), so it was great to see more of his backstory.

Only 22 days until I return to Vancouver!

Posted at 2009-05-06 21:38 | Permanent link | Comments

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