June 27, 2015

Blog 9: Going on a trip to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia! Part 2


 I will continue my story about the trip to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. If you want to read the previous one, please read blog 8: Going on a trip to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Laos is by far my favorite country I have visited during the exchange period. It is cheap, the people are very kind, and it has a rich culture.

As we arrived in Luang Prabang, we did not have place to stay. However, we met a man near the bus station in Luang Prabang, who offered us to stay at his Guest House for only 5 Euro per night, including breakfast. His English was not so good, but we were able to understand each other. We as backpackers didn’t have much choice accepted his offer. Once we arrived at his Guest House, I noticed many bicycles standing in front of the house, which we could rent.

As such, we took the bicycle and cruised through the city of Luang Prabang. There are not so many tourists in Laos, and everyone wanted to greet us. Moreover, there are many Buddhist monks walking around in the city. We visited many temples where these monks do their religious practices. We got short briefing about their religion and made a picture together with the monks.

On the second day, the wife of our host made us some very delicious breakfast. Afterwards, We hired a bus from the guest house to go to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world, which is called the Kouangxi falls. We went very early on a Saturday morning. 

You enter via the bear rescue center, which is worth the time to have a look around. The falls themselves cascade over many levels and the water is a beautiful turquoise blue. We explored the area a bit which is full of beautiful trees and plants. After the walk a dip in the pool was a must and although a number of people has arrived by this point we had the bottom pool to ourselves.

At 3 PM, we decided to go the infamous elephant riding. The ride itself Is not very long. It is more or less like a short walk through the forest. Some places can be very steep for the elephant. But the best thing is the river we had to cross on the elephant. It was a warm day, and the wanted to experience the fun of swimming with the elephants. For 4 dollars extra, we were allowed to bath and wash the back of the elephant whilst being in the water, which is a very fun experience as each elephant tend to splash water over you.

After being three days in Laos, we decided to take the plane to Cambodia. On the next blog, I will continue the story about my experiences in Cambodia. I highly recommend everyone to go to Laos to experience these things in person. You will not regret it!

June 25, 2015

Blog 8: Going on a trip to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia! Part 1

Blog 8: Going on a trip to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia! Part 1

During this week, I might have experienced the real Asian Culture. There were no courses scheduled during this week, which was a great opportunity for my friend and me to explore the amazing placing around Asia. A group total of 5 students planned out a trip starting in Bangkok Thailand, to Chiang Mai Thailand, Luang Prabang Laos, and Siem Riep Cambodia. An insane plan that we would execute within 12 days.

So off we GO!! From Singapore to ThailandBangkok. After arriving in Bangkok on the first day, we were very tired, we just finished the midterms and we were not planning to stay very long in Bangkok. My first impression of Bangkok is that is is very lively. There are people everywhere! people selling food at the food stand for the price of 1 dollar! The food was amazing as well. We ended up walking in the city took many pictures.

After staying 1 day in Bangkok, we decided to take a night bus to Chang Mai. There are so called sleeping beds in these night buses. However, these beds are designed for the Asian body. This means that the mattresses are only 1.80  cm in length. For me being 1.82 cm long, this was very uncomfortable to sleep in. Good thing that we arrived in Chiang Mai the next morning.

Chiang Mai has many amazing things to offer. First of all, there is a safari where you are able to take pictures with lions. These lions are tamed for you to hug them and take pictures with. On top of that, the people in the city are very kind and are willing to help you to find you way. At night, we took the taxi to the border of Thailand-Laos. Since there was no-one to help us cross the border, we had to stay at the nearest city of the border.

The next morning, we crossed to border to Laos, where we took a 20 hour bus ride to Luang Prabang. Compared to the night bus we took from Bangkok, this bus was way worse! Imagine the bus you take in Amsterdam from Bijlmer Arena to Schiphol. Rock hard seats that are not adjustable, combined with the infrastructure in Laos, made it hard for us to sleep during this ride. The worse thing is that the bus driver had put up some very loud rock/metal music. I have nothing against rock music, but hearing it for over 20 hours can be very depressing.

In the following blog, I will continue the story in Laos. For those who will stay a semester in Singapore, I advice you to travel a lot! You might miss some important things if you do not!

June 24, 2015

Blog 7: Trying out the delicious culinary in Singapore

Blog 7: Trying out the delicious culinary in Singapore

Singapore is known for its delicious culinary As there are multiple culture - Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, Indonesian – many traditional foods are available in the restaurants. This is also noticeable in the campus’ canteens. First of all, there are 5 canteens on campus, with each having their own set of traditional culinary offered. The most famous dish has to be the  “chicken rice”, which originates from the Hainan province in southern china. You can get this dish for as cheap as 2.50 Singaporean dollars, which is 1.5 euro. You must know that I eat this dish almost 4 times a week.

This week however, I felt that I need to change my diet. Instead of eating chicken rice 4 times a week, I wanted to explore the extensive culinary of Singapore. As European students, I am not familiar with any of the Asian dishes. Moreover, the local Chinese restaurant in Amsterdam offers different dishes compared to here. The funny thing is that the So I asked two of my Singaporean friends to introduce me to best restaurants in Singapore. They were more than happy to help me out.

I asked an exchange students to tag along. Together, we made a plan for each day to visit the famous restaurants in Singapore. On the first day, we started with eating carrot cake. From the name you would think it is a desert. This is far from it. Carrot cake is made from eggs, flour, white radish and is formed to resemble a white carrot, hence the name.

On the second day, we tried the famous chilli crab. This dish is definitely my favorite dish and the most expensive one. It is crab infused with sweet spicy chilli sauce and has a side of some fried buns. I really love this dish due to the crunchy texture and the spicy sauce.

In the end, we tried at least 10 different dishes in the four days. I think I gained a little over 2 Kilograms, but it was all worth it. For those who are going to visit Singapore, keep an open-mind for these dishes. You will see that the eating habits or so different from the European habit. You might even like it!

Arvi Martono

June 21, 2015

Trip to Dazaifu (Japan) with classmates Part 2

This is the follow up of my other blog post Trip to Dazaifu for homestay event Part 1.
The dad of the Japanese girl of my university picked us up from the traditional area of Dazaifu. It was really great to get picked up because during my exchange in Japan I always had to use public transport. Also, being in a car gives a different view of Japan compared to a train, the surroundings were much different. Once I and my classmates arrived at the house, we were welcomed by her mom. Also, we saw a display with many dolls in a room next to the hall and the dad told us it is for Hinamatsuri, also known as doll festival. It is to celebrate their daughter’s good health and future happiness. Their doll set was handed down from generation to generation, and usually for each newborn girl the family adds new dolls.
It was already evening and the student’s mother had luckily prepared food for us! We ate tempura, vegetables and rice. Also, we learned how to make Takoyaki, which are snacks in the form of small balls with small pieces of octopus. We had to put the ingredients in each round form of the plate and roll it with a little stick until it forms into a ball. It is actually quite difficult to make a ball because it can easily break when rolling it too fast. Patience is the key to make a Takoyaki ball! I have to say they were delicious, but the octopus pieces were a bit tough.
Video of me making Takoyaki and the dad of the Japanese girl helping with his superb Takoyaki skills!

The mom of the Japanese girl did her best cooking food and I have to say it was one of the most delicious foods I have tasted in Japan. We also gave the decorated cake which we bought on the way to Dazaifu. Together we ate the cake and talked about how life is in Japan.
Also, a funny thing happened, when the other student came from the toilet she told us how the toilet lid opened automatically when she approached it. We as foreign students that never saw an automatic toilet were interested in seeing that of course. The Japanese girl showed us what kind of features the toilets has such as heating of the seat, bottom cleaner (small spraying jet),  and adjusting the height of the toilet. The Japanese family was laughing that we find the automatic toilet interesting because it is totally normal for them.
After having fun times, we had to unfortunately go home. I really felt like they cared for us like a real family in a Japanese way, which was the purpose for the 1 day homestay event. Together with the other two foreign exchange students I went home by train.

Trip to Dazaifu (Japan) with classmates Part 1

I went to Dazaifu with two other classmates for a 1 day homestay event, where we could visit the family of a Japanese girl of our university.  It should give us a view of how a Japanese family lives. I was excited because foreigners usually do not easily get invited to the home of a Japanese person unless they really like you. On the way from my dormitory in Fukuoka to Dazaifu, we bought a decorated cake to thank the Japanese family for letting us stay at their house. However, first we were guided through the traditional area of Dazaifu.
When we arrived in Dazaifu the Japanese girl was waiting for us and guided us through a street with souvenir shops up till the shrine of Dazaifu. I really liked the area of the shrine; it was a very clean area with cherry blossom trees and koi carps swimming in a pond. The shrine is dedicated to the spirit of Sugawara Michizane, a scholar and politician of the Heian Period. At the shrine you can buy an amulet (Omamori) which should provide luck or protection. The Japanese girl told me she bought an amulet and keeps it with her at all times to provide her luck in her studies. I thought that was a nice idea but for me the amulets only look nice and they were quite expensive too.
Dazaifu Tenman-gū/Shrine
After visiting the shrine, we went to an event that also took place on that day, the Kyokusui-no-en Festival. It was really crowded and difficult to find a seat for the ceremony but luckily there were spots here and there. There was an awkward moment where Japanese people secretly took pictures of another student that came with us because she has blonde hair and blue eyes. I guess they rarely see people with those features, but I still think it’s weird too take pictures. Anyway during the festival there was traditional music and dance. Also, participants wore ceremonial kimono and someone was reading poems out loud which I unfortunately did not understand. The participants looked like they came straight out of an old Japanese Samurai/Romance movie taking place in ancient times. I really liked how graceful a lady playing the princess walked to her seat; also it must be difficult to walk in a layered kimono.
The Kyokusui-no-en ceremony with archers, princesses, and old wise men!

On this day I also saw various bonsai trees and visited a traditional Japanese museum that has dolls, masks, clothes etc. This is the place to go when you want to see as much of the Japanese traditions as possible. I will visit this place once more to check the other areas for which I did not have the time to visit because there should be smaller shrines and a beautiful Zen garden. Read my next blog post Trip to Dazaifu with classmates Part 2, where I and my classmates visited the house of the Japanese family.

June 11, 2015

Cherry blossom viewing in Japan, Fukuoka

It was late March and the time of the Sakura finally arrived, something I always have wanted to see but only saw on a photo or in a video. When the cherry blossoms are in bloom, many Japanese people go to parks to picnic and enjoy the beauty of cherry blossoms; this is known as Hanami (cherry blossom viewing). For Hanami, I went along with my teacher of the class Japanese and classmates to a park in Fukuoka. My teacher had chosen a park of which she knows there aren’t many people, because it is packed in most other parks. On the way to the park, I saw many Sakura trees in bloom and how the cherry petals were falling when a breeze came. It was really beautiful and made me feel relaxed. But it also made me think that the Sakura only looks best for a few days which also highly depend on the weather.
Sakura blossoms!
In the park we went picnicking and ate lots of Japanese food such as mochi (rice cake) and onigiri with fillings such as salmon, sauces and vegetables. My favorite is the salmon mayo! I really miss eating onigiri now…and what makes it even worse, supermarket in the Netherlands do not sell onigiri. L Anyway, in the park I had to write a Haiku which is a short poem that uses sensory language to capture a feeling or image. It was a bit difficult for me to think of a special situation and write something that does not sound cheesy. Furthermore, we talked about various things and it was a real good time.

The Japanese garden I went to!
The next day I decided to take pictures of the Sakura trees in Fukuoka. In order to find the best places I looked them up on the Internet which provided me a map with all Sakura locations.. All the locations were luckily easy to reach by subway. First I went to Atago Jinja Shrine which is located on a hill. From this hill you can have a great view on Fukuoka and the cherry blossoms; it is my favorite place in Fukuoka. The next place I went to is a large park called Maizuru Park, and it was packed! Under each Sakura tree there were people sitting on a mat and having fun. In the park there was also a Japanese garden. There were well-maintained bushes and trees, but no Sakura trees, still beautiful nonetheless. Furthermore, while walking through the park it occurred to me that Japanese people often have a small dog as a pet, probably because most Japanese people live in houses and apartment with small rooms.

Maizuru Park in the evening, less packed with people!
All in all, it was a beautiful day with beautiful cherry blossoms I will never forget. I took many beautiful photos and walked the whole day. I would love to go to Japan on more time to see the cherry blossoms again. 

Blog 6: Feeling like a celebrity in Asia!

Blog 6: Feeling like a celebrity in Asia!

This week, I got a new Professor for the Management and Organization Course at the NTU. In previous blogs, I already explained about the way Singaporeans tend to talk. “Lah”, for example, is a slang used by man Singaporeans to put emphasis on a word or situation. This new professor had a strong Singaporean accent, and used “Lah, Leh, Loh, bah, Walau-eh” in almost every of his sentence. Personally, I had a difficult time understand what he meant as each suffix have different meaning based on the context. You have to be living in Singapore for at least 6 months to fully understand it. My fellow exchange students in the same class had the same problem trying to understand him, which can be frustrating. It withdraws exchange students from participating fully in in-class activities. Fortunately, the PowerPoint slides are very helpful.

At the end of the week, some exchange students and me, total of 4, decided to go short trip to Jogjakarta Indonesia, from Friday until Monday, to visit the infamous temple Borobudur and Prambanan. The moment we arrived, a large group of locals offered to help us. Eventually, a kind man offered to help us to go to the guest house which we rented. We rented 2 rooms, 2 beds in each room with a bathroom attached.

First, we cruised through the city with the motorcycles we rented for only 3 dollars per day! It felt like everyone was staring at us, like we were famous. Jogjakarta does not have many tourist despite all the tourist attractions. Everyone was also willing to help us to find the way. Also, there was one lady who offered food for free, just for us to taste the fine cuisine of Indonesia. The food that we ate was “Padang Food”, which is rice with side dishes made with  coconut oil and spicy chili. We received it on a plate without any fork, knife or spoon! They expected us to eat it with our hand. Before going to Asia, I learned how to eat with Chopsticks, but eating rice using my hand was very new to me!

On the second and third day, we went to the temples by car. We hired a tour guide to bring us to the destinations. Again, the first time we left the car, a bunch of people ran up to us screaming: Mister, Photo Please! They even asked for our autograph. We felt like we were celebrities in Indonesia. We received gifts, such as the rice hat and the blue robe you see on the picture below. In the end, we were stuck for one hour as everyone wanted to take pictures with us! This was the most interesting trip had so far during my stay in Asia.

June 2, 2015

What is in the After(school)Life?

Being in school, fulltime, for the past 19 years or so has made it hard to imagine what exactly my life would look like after I graduate. The automatic and unconscious presumption is of course to start working..fulltime. After all ,that was the reason, the goal, the final destination I went to school for all along. Now, gradually coming closer to the end of my course, and with that the academic chapter of my life, I can’t really say I’m excited or even feel very accomplished… I rather feel anxious about it. 

When I come to think about why this is, it probably has to do with the people around me I have seen made the transition from student to adulthood when graduating and starting to work. They seem to have accepted the 40-hour workweek life without a moment’s thought. After about 40 hours a week for 19 years being ‘’prepped’’ for another 40 hours a week for the next 40 years is a scary prospect if you ask me. I mean why is that something to look forward to?

As a person who naturally can’t seem to feel very attached to material stuff or even most people the most precious thing I own in this life would be ‘time’. Handing the majority of it to a corporation in exchange for some money just seems like not a fair deal..Especially considering the fact I’ll probably hand it back to other corporations in the weekends and evenings in exchange for some food and ‘’stuff’’ that will make me look like ‘’I live comfortably’’. 
No no..I want to actually live comfortably in the real meaning of the word. As in not having to set an alarm every morning to go to a job to make someone else rich, get back home tired, not having time to do anything I like or to develop myself any further on any other field than it being work-related. There has got to be more to life! As cliché as that may sound I do believe it’s true. The hard thing is to figure out what exactly that is when you were  born in a society where your life path was pre-designed  to lead to what is believed to be productive, meaningful (or just to meet the needs of industrialism and capitalism today).

I mean in a way you could say we don’t know any better than this.  It seems like people trying to do this (life) differently are generally being dismissed as lazy, seeking for the easy way out, or simply as unambitious. You now may probably think ‘’okay, interesting but what do you advice me to do then?’’ Well I don’t have the answer either. Hahahahaha..