So now that the trip is done I get a chance to look back over it all. It was a great first adventure overseas I’ve decided because due to it being a Uni event we were forced to interact with many different facets of the countries life. We had a chance that you generally wouldn’t have traveling to engage with academics from many different fields as well as still explore the cultural aspects of Singapore. By staying on college at NUS we made friends with several students and added them to social networks so that if we ever go there again or them here we will have a contact that can steer us in the right direction.
After leaving the college several of the other students and myself stayed at a place called the Prince of Wales in Little India while we explored and waited out the time until it was time to go home. It was a great place as public transport was very close as well as lots of shopping for cheap electronics and clothes. As well as some of the friendliest and most helpful bartenders I’ve ever seen, if you’re ever in Singapore i highly recommend it.
The one thing I think I’m going to miss most about Singapore is the cheap amazing food. I literally don’t know how I’m going to be bothered to pay anything over $4 for delicious and healthy takeaway ever again.
Last day of the study tour before I’m free to go where I want, YAY. So today we visited IMB where we got shown around their facilities that contained lots of interesting microscope instruments that could view living and dead cells. Several of these instruments also had the amazing ability to break the diffraction limit of light using clever innovations available through super resolution techniques. These microscopes could even be coupled to allow pinpoint accuracy when using different techniques for imaging, eg. One can do superfast rough scans to help you find the desired area, the other then allows for amazingly detailed images to be taken.
We then went and visited the NUS synchrotron. It was amazing. I’ve been to the Aus synchrotron that is massive in size but I never realised you could make one as small as they have. When I say small I mean its about the size of a van but slightly taller, you could almost fit it in your living room assuming you have an old house with a high roof. Another interesting fact about this synchrotron is that they have two. They have one that is fully functional and that they use for experiments, the other sits in their lobby for people coming to the synchrotron to look at. Although the one in the lobby is also used for spare parts to keep the other going it is amazing that they have the money to have a “spare” synchrotron.
Today we visited another subsidiary of A*STAR, Fusionopolis. The best description I can think of is a science works (the Melbourne kids science facility to engage young people in science) level of science, if not less, to try and engage and sell their services to possible investors of A*STAR facilities in Singapore. Admittedly it was entertaining to see some novel technologies I had never seen before like a game controlled completely on how well you could concentrate or a hospital bed that had sensors for heart rate, breathing and movement built in. The game that operated on how well you could concentrate was marketed towards primary schools, to help students that suffer from ADHD learn to concentrate and block out external distractions. Though these and other technologies shown to us were quite enjoyable the level of science explained and presented was very low, especially when considering they got us to skip the “kids” area which was filled with what appeared to be Tron like bikes. I can understand that this was all made to engage possible corporations that had a little understanding of science as well as school groups of kids, but if the level of science was that low, the least they could have done was let us go on the Tron bikes, they looked fun.
In the afternoon we got to meet up with the Biodiversity students again (the students from the aquarium trip) but this time at the Singapore zoo. We were treated to a behind the scenes look at the zoo which included the veterinary clinic, the animal’s kitchen and the roofs that seem to have a constant drip of bat feces coming from them, it’s the only way to explain the amount of poo in some areas. After that we were set free in the zoo to observe all the animals in their “natural” habitats which in general were large in size for most but I sincerely hope that the few zebras and the like het to rotate into bigger fields from time to time. To be honest I’m still not 100% sure how I felt about the elephant shows. On one hand they were entertaining and showed a way of life in south east Asia, on the other though I felt kind of dirty watching these animals move logs and do tricks like spinning their trunks and going to sleep on command for our entertainment. I guess though it would be good for the elephants to be able to get out and have some enrichment and variety to their day to day lives rather than being cooped up in an enclosure day in and day out.
Last day of study tour here I come.
Today was a nice easy day to relax after that crazy weekend of doing not a lot. The day started with us getting into our groups to work on the group projects. This went reasonably smoothly with us all sorting out who had to do what.
The afternoon then kicked off with a visit to the SMART CREATE centre where we were shown around their lab facilities. The facilities they had were quite similar to that of the MCN in the non-clean area. They had an area that was set up to create microfluidic devices using basic polymers that was very similar in lay out to that found in the MCN however due to their more specialised device creation lot less cluttered. The devices they have created there have some interesting properties like spiral devices that allow the separation of cancer cells from other cells.
The day climaxed however with a showdown between Nano and Pico in the greatest intelligence arena of them all. The Basketball court. Now you may think that a bunch of nanotech nerds may not have been overly agile and co-ordinated but gosh we put on an exhibition. Sinking 3’s from all over the court like Larry Bird, lay ups that Russell Westbrook would be jealous of, smashing backboards like Shaq and breaking ankles like AI3. But seriously now, a couple of us may have been mistaken for NBA prospects…. Could be just to do with the height factor however.
So originally for the weekend we had planned on going to Malaysia by catching a bus that was meant to take half an hour to get there. After talking with some people in Singapore we found out it would be closer to 2 hours and that most of them didn’t really rate the experience as the only cheap things we’d probably find would be petrol and some nick-knacks. Well that and a possible dirty syringe being held against us with the promise that we wouldn’t be stabbed if we handed over our money, according to one person anyway. So with thoughts of going to Malaysia out of our heads we decided to set ourselves up for a late night and some soccer/football. All in all was a pretty goodnight until a student from one of the other colleges who had been at a party decided to pass out in the hallway and was completely unresponsive prompting a quick call for an ambulance.
We spoke with one of the friends of the student the next day and they assured us he was fine.
To be honest other than that my weekend was pretty boring, staying up late for soccer while at the same time trying to catch up on sleep from all the early mornings is hard admittedly but too much sleep can’t hurt you.
Today we visited NTU where we were given a presentation about the scholarships available. This presentation helped exemplify the amount of money available to Singapore institutes to attract the best and brightest to increase their “human resources” which I’ve mentioned before, as their most important resource. When I say a scholarship I mean they are getting everything paid for as well as a sizable allowance on top. I must admit I really did think about the possibility of taking such a scholarship and living in this great country and being paid to study here. However I then remembered they take the best and brightest and at the minute my academic record needs a little work.
We were then given a presentation similar to the other day by graduate and honors students about the research they had done. Some of the presentations involved using lasers to supercool a solid which to me sounded quite interesting while others were a struggle to sit through were still good in their own way. When being shown around their lab facilities we got a chance to see a set up of a super cooling laser array holding around 1000 atoms near absolute zero. This lab tour I found more interesting than some of the others as they showed us the equipment and gave a brief description without lingering too long on the equipment we had seen before.
We visited NTU in the afternoon where we had many presentations from PhD and Master graduate students on projects they had completed previously. This was a different experience to what we’d had so far as previously they had all been professionals who had been in science for decades. It was good to change it up a little.
Now on with the more fun stuff.
Tonight was my first real chance to go and see what a hawker market is like and I seized it. It was located in a part of Singapore known as little India. Little India had experienced riots fueled by alcohol after a man had died from being run over by a bus on the 8th of December last year. Little India is where all the workers that get bussed in from the main land of Asia for cheap construction jobs on high rise buildings come to drink on their one day off in the week and to them this area feels like a home away from home. In Singapore there is unrest amongst its citizens over these workers coming into their country as it will take jobs away from their children as well as crowd the city more. These tensions probably also leant themselves to increasing the amount of damage that was caused in the riot. Since this has occurred there have been strict policies enforcing no public alcohol in Little India just in case such a set of events should happen again.
Some of you reading this may have heard about this in the news and write this not to scare you (specifically you mum) but to let everyone know what an interesting part of Singapore it really is. The streets in this area aren’t as clean as the city center but I would say are still cleaner than a lot of streets in Melbourne if not a little narrower with all the cars parked randomly along the street. They all have a different character to them too whether it’s because of the dirt that you don’t get from some other parts of Singapore that appear sometimes sterile, it’s easy to believe people actually live in these areas.
The hawker center itself was great with rows upon rows of food vendors cooking Asian food from all over the continent at amazingly cheap prices or providing drinks to thirsty customers (cheapest place I’ve found for beer too, anywhere else in the city don’t be surprised to pay upwards of $14 for a pot). The stores set up right near it all provided the unwary traveler an easy way to burn their money quickly with stalls set up with watches, jewelry and clothes, all of good quality (or at the very least, and more likely, good quality knock offs).
Today we had to get up super early to get everything done. By early I mean 6 (which is still 8 in Aus but I’m going to use the fact that I’ve got used to this time zone as an excuse). We first went to Republic Polytechnic which is an institute not dissimilar to a TAFE in its nature. It provides students out of high school a chance to obtain a diploma in their chosen field like aerospace engineering or applied science. This allows students from high school a chance to get a head start on their future studies while providing them a chance to get hands on work in the industry. The students that showed us the facilities at RP had come to Aus earlier this year and met many people in our group, for me however this was the first time as I’d been sick on their visit. They were all friendly and helpful and can’t wait for them to come visit again.
We then rushed back to NUS to meet the Bio-diversity students who were here on exchange from all over the world and to share a bus to the aquarium here in Singapore. It is home to the biggest aquarium tank in the world with glass sides for observation (well that’s what they claim, I’m not fully convinced), though it was cool to see dolphins swimming in real life as I had never seen that before. They also offered an interesting service, underwater hotel rooms, these rooms backed directly onto the larger tanks and could be booked for an exuberant amount that I would never consider using but found interesting as a concept.
When we visited the NUS’ science buildings today we had a chance to meet and hang out with students who were studying similar subjects. They were all very interested in what classes and opportunities are presented through the nanotechnology course like being able to operate in a clean room out of the MCN as well the prospect of having access to a synchrotron. This struck a chord with me, I knew that our course in Australia was unique and that the opportunity to use the Australian synchrotron by undergraduates was a rare privilege but NUS has a synchrotron in the middle of their campus and yet it’s almost unheard of for undergrads to be granted access.
Over lunch we got to have a good talk with the students from NUS and found that many of them had traveled to many places in Asia, which isn’t overly surprising when you consider the size of Singapore and the fact that the Singapore airport could be considered a hub for more of south-east Asia. With this ease of travel to other countries it is of little surprise that over half the students go on short term study abroad programs with 30 % of them staying for at least one semester. By sending their students out to other countries they gain a greater understanding of other cultures not to mention the advertising it does for the Uni itself, which draws in exchange students to them in turn. I’ve talked about how Singapore has very little to offer in terms of physical raw resources previously and that is why a lot of money is focused into ensuring that they have the brightest minds around so that they may stay one step ahead.
We visited the Australian embassy today to meet the High Commissioner. Unfortunately due to illness she was unable to meet with us. Instead we got to have an in depth conversation with two ladies who also worked there. They provided us all with great insight into the political world of Singapore as well as Australia’s relationship with it.
The current political party in Singapore has been in power since the country gained independence 49 years ago and has run pretty much unopposed until recent times. This is in no way due to riggings of elections or the persecution of opposing parties as one may expect but because they genuinely trusted and liked their government. Lee Kuan Yew, as in power for 31 years and guided and shaped the country Singapore into what it is today, a prosperous and clean country that is second in the world for private wealth among its citizens (first is Switzerland). For a small island with no land or natural resources this is an interesting occurrence that can be attributed to the government’s actions in attracting large businesses to Singapore. By providing large international companies with lower tax’s many have flocked to Singapore to set up factories for high end electronics and more recently, pharmaceuticals. Singapore’s greatest income however comes from its oil refining rigs they have offshore that they use to generate large amounts of money that they can then funnel back into the country.
Australia has had a long standing relationship with Singapore which has resulted in a free trade agreement between the two countries which has lent itself to larger investments from Singapore into Australia. Singapore is the fourth biggest foreign investor in the Australian market which is amazing considering its size, it has a population smaller than that of Melbourne! Due to land constraints in Singapore and its insistence that all men join the army after they turn 18 for 2 years, they run many joint training exercises with Australian troops, not to mention that their air force pilots HAVE to be trained in Australia due to a severe lack of runways for their entire air force. All this interaction with Singapore helps bring our two cultures closer together so we both flourish.