A chandelier with rows of lights I'm...gonna swing...

A New Yorker’s bucket list for the holiday season in New York

New York is less smelly this time of year, and generally happier. You might still witness a cranky commuter or two (or a few million), but the overall atmosphere quietly shifts during the holiday season. Maybe it is the shopping high that everyone is on.

My toes tell me it’s cold, but my hair couldn’t be happier to escape the humidity of Singapore. I’m back in New York, and I have a few things I’m looking forward to this holiday season.

Thanksgiving

The radio station playing in the kitchen has already started with the Christmas carols. The sales have started. I’m in the mood for hot chocolate. But first, my favorite holiday of the year is Thanksgiving, which is in less than one week! The best part is definitely the sticky rice stuffing that my dad puts in the turkey. It isn’t like your usual bread stuffing! I’ll get some photos this year and post a recipe sometime after, but the gist of it is sticky rice with celery, chestnuts, and onions.

The tree at Rockefeller Center

It is always a bit sad to know that a tree was sacrificed to be placed at Rockefeller Center each year, but it is still nice to see once in a while. They also usually have a light show on one of the buildings nearby, and then there are the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue which can’t be beat. You can’t help but smile when you are surrounded by people who are just as happy to be alive as you are. Even the tourists are less annoying, except when it is packed and you can’t get through the crowd. I think I’ll go at a non-peak time.

Those other lights, on Broadway

I would like to see Pippin if possible. I still need to see the Lion King, but anything else that might be affordable would do as well. If you are looking at my track record, you might be ashamed for me for not taking advantage of all the good shows that go on in New York. I’ve seen 2 shows this year so far, and that is more than the past 10 years combined already…

Stage with map curtain and green lights

Wicked the Musical stage before the show

Cat cafe

Finally! There will be a cat cafe in NYC, opening on December 15th. I’ve got a browser tab open waiting for the moment I can book my half hour slot (who am I kidding, probably more than just that…). I probably post too many cat photos already, but it can’t be helped. You can fork out $4 for half an hour, or $30 for 5 hours. The cost effective approach would suggest that I opt for the latter…

Long walks with Sidney

Two of my close friends in New York have a dog, the one you see in the photo. I went on a long, snowy walk with them earlier this year. She is not only stunning, but fun to be around. The humans are pretty cool, too. ;-)

If you haven’t done much exploring of Upper Manhattan (which you should), I would suggest checking out Inwood Hill Park and the Cloisters. It is much less crowded than Central Park and apparently has caves, and the Cloister are basically a castle by the river. Yeah, it’s that cool, and you can get there within 40 minutes from Midtown!

Dog in snowy woods

Sidney in Inwood Park, Manhattan, New York

Visit my favorite restaurant

Pisticci has been my favorite restaurant in New York since about 6 years ago. It is proudly one of the few green restaurants, sourcing things locally. It also happens to make delicious Italian food, and conveniently hidden in my neighborhood.

Pasta with peas, mushrooms, and cheese

Fresh homemade pasta at Pisticci



Ok, so this might be a pretty short bucket list, but I don’t want to get my expectations too high and then not deliver. I still have loads of friend and family time that need to get squeezed in somehow.

Wherever you are this season, what is on your list?


#TravelTuesday

Pizza with bacon, cheese shavings, arugula or rocket, and egg in the middle The English Breakfast, $24 SGD

Skinny Pizza Review (Westgate Mall, Jurong East, Singapore)

I shared a pizza at Skinny Pizza in Singapore (Westgate Mall, Jurong East), and thought I’d do a quick review. Its style of pizza uses a crunchy, cracker like base instead of the doughy base that pizza is known for. This is probably what makes it so “skinny,” because it will have fewer calories than a traditional pizza crust (even thinner than thin crust).

Skinny Pizza restaurant sign

Skinny Pizza in Westgate Mall in Jurong East, Singapore

There were lots of options for pizzas, and other items too, but we only focused on the pizza. Most ranged from $23 to $30. Continue Reading

Box lid with the side ripped Damaged box with the lid on

First bad experience with airline handling my luggage

I’ve never had an issue with my luggage when going across the world several times in the past several years. I’ve never checked in anything very valuable, and I’ve always used a lock to deter unnecessary tampering.

But, this time on Jet Airways, some of my items were damaged pretty badly. I was shocked to see the state of my boxes:

Box lid torn at two corners and along one side

My damaged box lid

This feels sketchy to me because

  1. The main damage was to the lids to the two boxes, mainly on the larger box.
  2. Nothing else seemed to have been touched.

Continue Reading

brunch menu on wooden table Ambience was nice at W 39 Bistro, I'll give them that!

W 39 Bistro review (Clementi, Singapore)

The nice part about living in a new place is finding little things tucked away that make you feel like you know a secret. W 39 Bistro is one of those things. It is smack in the middle of a residential area (landed properties, aka houses, which are not that common in Singapore). It is in the West along the East-West line, the nearest train station is the Clementi MRT station.

I went to W 39 Bistro on two occasions: once for brunch, and once for dinner. The brunch wasn’t a real brunch, because we only ordered coffees and the bread basket. The dinner was a light one, where we only ordered appetizers and tapas and no mains. I had some issues with feeling really cheated on one dish, but overall the experience was ok.

Ceiling fans, always a plus in Singapore

Ceiling fans, always a plus in Singapore

The Brunch

The coffee was pretty good. Not insanely special or anything, but good. I had a flat white.

Flat white at W 39 Bistro (Singapore)

A flat white coffee, $4.5 SGD

Same with the bread basket. Pretty decent selection of different types of bread, but nothing to shout about.

Assorted bread basket, comes with regular butter and jam

Assorted bread basket, comes with regular butter and jam, $7 SGD


Continue Reading

Feet in yellow shoes tiled floor Taking a look at myself

Women wear what they want to in Singapore, or How awesome it is that there is no catcalling in Singapore

Sure you have heard that Singapore is a safe and clean city, or that it’s the most expensive city in the world to live in (mostly skewed by the price of cars, which are not essential, but that is another story). But what you may not know is that women wear what they want to in Singapore. It’s remarkable, and simultaneously a sign of old stereotypes/gender roles and a sign of hope in the face of gender issues. There are a few things that I really like and admire about Singapore, and this is one of them.

The recent video of a woman walking in New York City has gone viral because it shows just how much harassment a woman can receive just by walking around in New York City. I’m so glad that they are drawing attention to this issue, because this is at the root of what I don’t like about NYC. Catcalling is nonexistent in Singapore, which one reason why I think women can have the freedom to dress as they wish.

My feet in yellow shoes

Taking a look at myself

Fashion freedom

In Singapore, at first, I was a slightly appalled that so many women wore short dresses and skirts around campus, offices, malls, wherever. I found myself thinking things like “that’s too short” or “that is too see-through” or “that is way too fancy for just being on campus.” The thing is, women here can wear whatever they want to, without having to worry about their safety, or other people thinking that they are slutty. In fact, you could maybe say that most people in Singapore are quite conservative when it comes to sexuality, but that is another story.

In any case, I was judging them, and by standards that I would say almost sound like the ultra conservatives who blame the victims (I’m ashamed to say).

BUT I’ve realized now that I’m not truly offended or appalled by the way that they are dressing…I’m actually jealous of them. I’m jealous that they feel confident and secure enough to walk out of their homes in the clothes that they like. I’m jealous that it’s not a big deal to them.

Most of all, I’m jealous that I haven’t been able to do the same.

Continue Reading

What should the next theme be? #morethemeparties

It’s that feeling of things aren’t quite right. It’s not hard to live in Singapore, but it isn’t perfect. You’re not exactly depressed, but you can’t call it happiness either. I’m calling it the Singapore Slump.

Why is this happening to us?

My friends and I have narrowed down some of the reasons to be the price of alcohol and the incessant heat and humidity. It isn’t a city that is very friendly to people without very much money, which I’ll discuss in more detail in an upcoming post. We’re trying to make the most of it by working hard when we need to, and then getting creative with more theme parties. Otherwise, it is easy to fall into a state of routine where your mood is at a constant low.

Me with my hair in a beehive

My hair gave me at least an extra 6 inches

The Themes

One solution that we have come up with has been to have more theme parties, such as Eurotrash/Glamazon, Malaysian+Singaporean 1960s psychedelic pop, bananas, and hats. The beauty of a theme party is that you can be silly. You can escape your day-to-day in a fun and easy way, without having to really do that much work.

We got really into the first two themes, with the hair, the clothes, the nails, and the makeup. But the other themes were simpler and just required some preparation.

It’s a good way to flex your creativity muscle, and, especially with Halloween this week, witty themes and costumes are so much better.

It gives us something to get excited about that is not the usual dinner and a movie type thing.

The photos from the Eurotrash/Glamazon party turned out to be a little more scandalous, but here’s what my hair looked like at the 60s party. To give you an idea, for the Eurotrash party I wore a leopard print, tight, wide neck dress with 3/4 sleeves, and that ended just under my butt.

And at the banana party, the main event was, of course, the banana. So we had a selection of banana-y goodness including banana bread and banana salsa.

Gluten free banana bread

Gluten free banana bread with walnuts and nice sugar crust on top

Spicy banana salsa in a bowl

Spicy banana salsa with red, green and yellow bell peppers, green onion, and cilantro

What will be the next theme?

I’m leaving Singapore in a few weeks for an extended period of time. We need a theme for my going away party. I was thinking maybe gender role swap? Or maybe favorite color? In any case, that will probably happen 2 weeks from now.

What do you suggest? I want to know!

Thunder clouds above HDB flats 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 Singapore 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 liked hugging friends again, either when we first saw each other 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.

Even among my international friends, there isn’t much hugging or touching. This cultural norm is just so pervasive, but we’re trying to change that.

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!