Thunder clouds in Singapore One of the things I like in SIngapore, watching the thunder clouds roll in

Singapore is top country to visit in 2015…Really?…Why it really isn’t

I didn’t know that Lonely Planet is now targeting rich travelers, because what they are promoting as the top country to visit in 2015 has essentially become a playground for the rich in terms of tourist-y things and nightlife. Singapore is an expensive city, as you may have heard.

I have to say first that I don’t dislike Singapore. I’m not dissing Singapore at all. Having lived here for nearly 2 years, there are good things and bad things, just like with any place. There are some really great things about Singapore, which I will blog about soon. But my main point here is that Lonely Planet seems to have lost its direction with its choice of Singapore as the TOP country, out of ALL countries.

Thunder clouds in Singapore

One of the things I like in SIngapore, watching the thunder clouds roll in

This is the blurb they include:

“Singapore has an extra reason to party in 2015: it’s her Golden Jubilee. Since sealing its independence in 1965, Singapore’s heritage buildings, hawker centres, green spaces and shopping malls have lured travellers, but new developments have elevated the experience. First there’s Marina Bay, a new entertainment precinct, then there’s the new crop of swanky hotels, new attractions like the National Art Gallery and the Singapore Sports Hub, and more than a dozen metro extensions in development.”

Read their full post

Marina Bay? Sure it is cool to look at, if you like huge buildings, but after a few minutes you may get bored of craning your neck. If you don’t really have cash falling out of your wallet, the most you can do is try to go up to the rooftop bar before they start charging cover fees.

Main reasons for why this seems to be an unfit choice for top country are:

  • It’s expensive to stay here
  • It’s expensive to do things here
  • There isn’t much backpacker culture

There are other, more controversial, reasons why, but I won’t get into them here. The takeaway here is that Singapore is not a cheap city to visit, and if you do come, 2 or 3 days is usually enough for anyone, and maybe too long for someone who subscribes to the usual Lonely Planet style of travel.

I’m from New York City, a place notorious for being expensive, but I find it more expensive to do things in Singapore than there. For example, the tickets to the zoo in Singapore costs $22.39 USD for one adult. In New York, you can get in for $17 USD. The average beer in downtown Singapore may cost about $9 to 15 USD. You can get a pint in midtown New York for $4 (that’s at least less than half!). This is partly why graduate students in Singapore are so sad (which I’m also posting about soon). There are exceptions, of course. For example, it’s about $14 USD to see a movie in New York, whereas it is normally around $10 in Singapore.

I could see that Singapore could figure into the top countries to visit because of the 50th anniversary of the country. But the number 1 country to visit? That just makes me think that someone in the tourism office has a friend at Lonely Planet…and if they did cut a deal, they should have been a little smarter and gone for somewhere lower in the countdown, like 8th.

Sure I’m a little racist, but am I THAT racist?

Everyone’s a little bit racist, it’s just the way things happen to turn out in this world. But how little is that bit of me that is racist? Is it bigger than I like to think it is? Am I kidding myself that it is as small as I want others to think it is?

This came up when a few weeks ago I saw a childhood friend in New York City post something about her boyfriend who had passed away a year ago. My first thought was maybe he was shot.

Nope. It was cancer and an infection.

This thought came up so quickly and naturally, that it caught me by surprise. I felt ashamed that my immediate and uncensored thought was that he was involved with gangs or crime somehow and was shot. Am I really that racist? It’s a weird and scary realization to come to. What if I’m not as open minded as I think I am? What if I’m really not as good a person as I want to be?

I know I’m not the best, but I at least thought I was doing pretty well. I hope that I won’t have a thought like this again, and hope to catch myself when I have other racist thoughts (which can be somewhat often in Singapore, but that is a different post).

What should I hope to achieve? What is the best case scenario?

Is it possible to be so unracist that you never have these moments?

Race is such a touchy subject. It is there, but then people want to ignore it. People want to be treated equally, but also want to keep their identity. Maybe the main question is how to strike that balance between having a common human “race” mentality, and still remain rooted in where we are from.

It’s like how when people say that they don’t “see color” and they think they are being less racist, but actually they are being offensive to people “of color.” A few friends posted about the Whiteness Project, and that seems to get at this idea (like this guy) and brings up some interesting perspectives.
Continue Reading

headstones on the grassy hill Bukit Brown cemetery in Singapore, August 2014

Walk through Bukit Brown

First split in the road in Bukit Brown

First split in the road in Bukit Brown

Bukit Brown is an old cemetery in Singapore. It is one of the more natural areas on the island, but is under heavy construction now to build a highway through it. I went on a walk through it with some friends a few months ago, and it was really cool to be in such a quiet and secluded place. So if you are looking to escape the crowded malls, try going there for a walk or a jog.

Old tree and small bridge

Old tree and small bridge

Headstones on a hill with flowers

Headstones on a hill with flowers

Hug deprived in Singapore

Me and my roomie hugging at our '60s party

Me and my roomie hugging at our ’60s party

Hugs are great! Give me hugs!!

One thing I wish was different about Singapore is that friends hugged each other more often. When I went back to the USA for 3 months earlier this year, I really like hugging friends again, either when I see them or when we’re parting ways. It isn’t a big deal, but no one does that in Singapore.

People hardly touch each other. Heck, even during rush hour in Singapore, there is not much touching, especially if you compare to New York‘s rush hour where people will take a small running start to jam through like it was a mosh pit. You will probably get off of the train smelling like someone else.

For all of the Western influence, I reckon this is coming from the very conservative side of Singapore. Maybe it is also partly the British influence. But, it’s one of the things that surprised me about Singapore. While they can accept and adapt to so much Western culture and influence, a very deep rooted conservativeness remains. This is not a bad or a good thing, just something that seems to be.

I’m not a very touchy feely person to begin with, and even feel awkward sometimes with very touchy friends, but it is nice to have some physical contact with other people. I don’t think my friends here would refuse a hug from me, but I don’t know about forcing it on them.

There are some classic studies showing how physical touch is important for performance. There was a study that kept track of NBA basketball teams that slapped hands versus teams that did not, and teams that did slap hand often tended to perform better.

So touch is important for cooperation, communication, and probably other social interactions. I wonder if this would help with non-physical performance related activities, like research and academia. Maybe in our research group we should give each other high fives more often!

Pirate face, my recent surgery, and healthcare in Singapore

Sorry I haven’t been around the past few months! It has been a bit of a strange period of time, but I’ll explain later.

I’ve had the pleasure of experience healthcare in Singapore, now on 2 occasions. I fractured a few bones in my right hand last year, and a few weeks ago I suffered a collision during an ultimate tournament that resulted in facial fractures.

It’s called a zygomaticomaxillary complex fracture. Basically, there were some fractures in the parts of my skull supporting my eye and the tissue around my eye. The tissue under my eye was shifting or falling downwards because the bone there (orbital rim) had some slight displacement. Some of the bones to the side of my eye were fractured, and then there were some fractures in the lower part of my cheek (at the level of the bottom of my nose).

Blood spots in my eye from bruising around the eye

After a week of painkillers, I got to see a surgeon in the head and neck center at the National University Hospital (NUH). He recommended that I get a CT scan, which I did, and then he referred me to a surgeon in the eye surgery center. This doctor recommended surgery to at least fix the part of the bone underneath the eye because tissues had shifted down where the bone had been displaced, and if I could manage it to also fix the fractures lower in my cheek and at the outside of my eye.

Long story short, I went through with the full surgery and now have 3 titanium plates in my face! These are unmagnetized, so I should be ok for MRIs and metal detectors, etc. I stayed in the hospital for 3 nights. For my first time staying in a hospital, this was really nice. The lady that organized the logistic of my operation had requested the best room, a single room in ward 7B in the Kent Ridge Wing. It had an attached bathroom, TV, and fridge. It was very close to being in a hotel room, only with nurses that come in to check your blood pressure and give you medicine.
Continue Reading

[Map] Where NOT to go if you don’t want tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease that lives in the lungs. It is a bacterium that can be spread through droplets from the mouth. There aren’t very many obvious symptoms other than coughing, but can remain latent (like it’s in hiding). One common way to check for an infection is by x-ray of the chest to see the state of the lungs.

I’ve been sifting through the World Bank data (World Development Indicators), and I’m considering using the data for new cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 people. This is the map of the data for 2007:

Map of tuberculosis cases per 100,000 people in 2007.

Tuberculosis cases per 100,000 people in 2007. Source: World Bank.

In any case, why might this be interesting? If there are many new cases of TB in a country, that might be a sign that the healthcare system is not very strong. Another thing to think about is why might some countries have more difficulty controlling TB just because of geographic reasons. There is also a link between TB and HIV and AIDS cases. People living with HIV and AIDS have a weakened immune system, and usually fall ill to other diseases as a result. This might be important in Africa, where rates of HIV are highest in the world and TB seems to be a big problem in some places.

That this is a measure of new cases is also important to consider because it can show us if there are areas with an ongoing epidemic that may take effort to get under control. The map shows that most of the countries with lots of new cases relative to population size are in sub-Saharan Africa. The stats are for per 100,000 people, which might mean that a low total number of cases may still be important if the population is also small.

If you are worried about contracting TB, this might be a good way to decide where not to go next. Mind you, this is the number of NEW cases in 2007, and does not include counts of already existing cases. Low numbers could mean the beginning or the end of an epidemic. There might be some bias to consider that some countries may be less unable to conduct tests for TB affordably and widely. TB can be treated by antibiotics, although there are some strains that are resistant. Check the World Health Organization website (WHO) or other health agencies for info when planning your next trip!

Ultimate is my passion

Ultimate (frisbee) is my passion. It’s the ultimate sport in my mind, and many will agree. It is the one thing that I know I will be passionate about for the rest of my life. It is how I’ve met many of my closest friends, and how I’ve met every guy that I’ve ever dated. Why am I so passionate? Let me explain!

[This is part of the Indie Art Travel Project, Day 5 Prompt: What else (besides travel) are you passionate about?]

So I just came back from my favorite ultimate tournament, Fools Fest in Fredericksburg, VA, USA. This was a weekend full of ultimate, sunshine, grass, dogs, babies, families, food, beer, wine, dancing, silly games, costumes, and music. It might seem strange that one event could encompass so much, but that is just what the ultimate community is about.

On the field

When I’m on the field, nothing else matters. I’m more present in my body than any other time, and making a good play makes me happy. Being a part of a team also brings out a special feeling. These are people that I might have trained with for years, or people that I just met, but either way, the bond and love for our sport links us together.

As a sport, I love the purity of it. The movements, the strategies, everything can get complicated if you get into it enough. But the basic part of ultimate is that if you are faster, or smarter, or more athletic than your opponent, then you have a chance to beat them.

It’s not about how we can bend the rules or stretch the clock to try to win. It annoys the heck out of me to watch sports where the players are “acting” to try to get the referee to make a call, or where the game gets stopped every 10 seconds because of a violation. The rules are there as a guideline, and the Spirit of the Game tells us to play by the rules to have the best experience.

I love this sport for the moments of purity. Beating an opponent to the disc, or throwing the perfect throw for that exact person at that exact moment, the feeling of the disc in your hand when you didn’t think you could catch it. I live for these moments of pure skill and athleticism that say I just reached a high point in my physical ability.
Continue Reading

Grad school pro tip: Present a poster at a graduate student conference!

Although oral presentations may be viewed as the more prestigious way to present your work at a conference, do not underestimate the value of doing a poster!

Me and my poster at the 18th Biological Sciences Graduate Congress

Me and my poster at the 18th Biological Sciences Graduate Congress

In January, I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a graduate student conference in biological sciences organized by University of Malaya, Chulalongkorn University, and National University of Singapore. It was interesting, even though many of the presentations were in areas of biology that I am completely unfamiliar with. The biodiversity, ecology, and systematics theme was one of 4 themes, but dominated by people doing taxonomy work that is pretty different from what I do.

It was good practice for me to put together a poster and talk about what I’m working on. I knew that my results were just preliminary and not so impressive, so I didn’t have high expectations when it came to judges and awards. The two judges that talked to me were both pretty serious taxonomists! I don’t know how much they know about ecological modeling, but hopefully they thought well of my poster.

As a poster presenter, you may be required to be at your poster for a total longer period of time than what would be required to present orally. This means you could have double or triple the amount of interaction with conference goers. At this graduate student conference, I had to be at my poster for a total of 180 minutes! If you compare that with 15 minutes that an oral presentation is allotted, that is only 8% of poster time (not even considering that only 3 minutes is for questions, the only time when the speaker interacts with the audience). Ok, I wasn’t talking to people for the entire 180 minutes, but I had in depth conversations with at least a handful of people, which is at least about the same amount of time as an oral presentation.

The main differences would be I was directly interacting with people at a 1 on 1 level for most of the time, and not as many people may have been exposed to my research. As a graduate student though, and at my current stage, it was more helpful to talk through my research and think about problems with other people rather than talk at people for 12 minutes and hope that someone is interested enough to ask a question.

One of the disadvantages to this being only a graduate student conference was that it was broadly in biology and not focused on a specific field. This meant that the audience varied greatly, and may not know much about your area of research. Many people didn’t seem to have enough exposure to mathematical modeling to be able to make sense of what some of us were presenting. It was fun though, and we even got to see a bit of Putrajaya, the new capital city of Malaysia. They have already moved the government into the new parliament buildings there. We saw the largest man-made freshwater wetland and Putra Mosque.

Here is a tip: get or make your own name cards and display them with your poster. I had a plastic box that I stuck to the board using the Velcro provided by the organizers. To get the cards to not lay completely flat in the box (and therefore be difficult to get out), I folded an index card into a prism and put it under the cards so they laid onto the index card at an angle. It makes it easy for someone to just grab one whether you are there or not.

For tips on writing and designing for a poster, Colin Purrington has an excellent detailed explanation. I ended up using OmniGraffle to design my poster, and since I had used Adobe Illustrator in the past, it was pretty easy to pick up. I encourage you to not use PowerPoint, and read up a little bit about basic layout and design concepts. And please, for the love of earth, don’t fill your poster with too much text!

“The Walking Dead” perspective on life

I was down with a sickness last week, so I stayed home a few days and watched the first three seasons of The Walking Dead. It’s a TV show adapted from a graphic novel about a group of people during a zombie apocalypse. Although I know it is gory and not real, it has been an interesting experience to watch it while my own head is feeling a little foggy. But coming out of the fog, I thought about how the show really gets down to the point and distills some interesting philosophical ideas and perspectives on life.

Things to live by in the world of The Walking Dead

Don’t lose sight of why you want to live

It might be soul crushing to have lost something so precious to you, but if you want to survive, you have to keep on keeping on. Whatever it is that you believe is the worst thing that has ever happened to you in this reality, it probably pales in comparison to what happens to the cast of the show. Didn’t get that promotion or got dumped by your beau? Well, you have the luxury to have these problems. You could call it #WalkingAliveProblems if #WalkingDeadProblems include having walkers all over the planet and not being able to be safe anywhere.

Fight to keep your humanity

There were several points where the group nearly made a decision to sacrifice a living person for the safety of the group. The writers do a good job of not taking this issue lightly, because it is too easy to let yourself fall into the convenience of taking a life or shooting a gun. It somewhat begs the question of, if we have to kill living people and sacrifice our humanity to continue to survive, is it really worth it to continue living on in that way?

Cherish your loved ones while you can

Along the same lines, it’s really not a great strategy to hold petty grudges. You will probably regret it when the person you love has turned into a walker.

Life after The Walking Dead

Now, I haven’t seen any of season 4 yet (the season finale of which just aired!), so please, no spoilers! I will have to see for myself all the gut wrenching details (and read articles like this one). Despite some loopholes and questionable etiology, I think it is a good series. I’m hoping that this new, walker ridden, perspective on life can bring me out of this mental place I’m stuck in. Everything should be easy since I don’t have to worry about fighting off zombies and struggle to find safety, right?

On a side note, if I were able to choose where to be holed up indefinitely, I would choose the American Museum of Natural History in New York!

Hall of North American Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, USA

Hall of North American Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, USA

How traveling has changed my view of the world

I’m participating in the Indie Travel Art Project for the month of April 2014!

Day 1 prompt: How has your view of the world changed because of travel?

For me, there are maybe 2 things that have changed about my view, one positive and one negative.

The Bad

The downside to traveling in parts of the world like South, East and Southeast Asia are the various ways that women are oppressed and/or treated poorly. These are not the only places in the world where it happens, but these are the regions I have seen most outside of my home country. It’s not the same in every country, but it’s hard to accept and get used to it as a female traveler. The truth is, travel is not always the mind-blowing greatest thing that ever happened to you. I feel closer the some of the worst parts of humanity sometimes when I’m traveling and sometimes when at home in the USA. That is just the uglier side of travel and opening up yourself to seeing more things. You can’t just ignore the bad stuff.

The Good

The more positive thing that has changed is that I want to keep learning and experiencing from other cultures. I want to move past glorification of other cultures, and really appreciate everything about a place (the good and the bad). I want to understand the history of the place, and what factors are influencing changes and evolution of the place. I want to be able to embrace change abroad and at home for what it is, lots of interesting things interacting.