More travel than school

14 Oct

Thanks to Singapore’s paranoia of a pandemic, I spent twice as many days in September traveling than I did in class. NUS has an annual e-learning week to practice watching lectures online and having tutorials on a discussion forum in case of something happening like a disease outbreak that would keep us from coming  to campus. Without having to be physically present, most of the exchange students took that as an opportunity to travel! I spent the week (plus the weekends around it) in Bali with four friends I traveled with to Tioman Island in Malaysia two weeks earlier.

Bali was beautiful, filled with terraced rice fields, volcanoes, forests, and Hindu temples. Ubud is the cultural capital and from there we discovered gorgeous rice paddies, saw dozens of the ubiquitous temples, and had some fantastic Indonesian food. Two temples we visited were water temples, which contain pools people can cleanse themselves in. We also stopped by a small small plantation where they produce kopi luwak, or civet coffee, which is made from coffee beans eaten, digested, and excreted by a civet cat. The cup I tried was delicious, and much cheaper than abroad, though I’m not versed enough in coffee to really tell a difference. In Amed on Bali’s northeast coast, two of us took the exciting opportunity to learn how to scuba dive. We did five dives over two days and also did readings and watched videos. After focusing on skills the first day, the second day we dove at the shipwreck of the USAT Liberty. It was very exciting to swim around the remains of a WWII ship now covered in coral. I saw clownfish in anemones, trumpetfish, a garden of eels sticking out of the sand, a stingray, an enormous pufferfish, and countless other fish and reeflife. Our last couple days were spent in Kuta; it’s the awful developed part of Bali overrun by Australian vacationers and touts, but the beach was nice and I got to try out surfing. It was tough at first and I swallowed a bunch of seawater, but I was able to get up a few times and ride the waves.

After getting back early Monday morning I had to face the reality that I was behind in a couple classes, with readings and a paper due for my Middle East Politics class, homework problems for chemical engineering, and some practice for Chinese, plus I had to prepare for my next trip!

For that I was going with two friends from Denmark to Borneo, the world’s third largest island. On the way out Changi proved once again that it’s the best airport in the world as I used one of the free leg and foot massagers throughout the terminal. When we arrived in Brunei, a small wealthy country ruled by a hereditary sultan, the first thing I noticed was the flags everywhere. They are very patriotic, though a lot of it also seemed to be government-encouraged nationalism. The capital city Bandar Seri Begawan is quite small, but its two main mosques are stunning, and there’s a fascinating water village on stilts with over 20,000 residents. The Royal Regalia Museum shows the cult of personality around the sultan, as well as his incredible wealth, exhibiting his early life and education, coronation, silver jubilee, and gifts given by foreign leaders.

Sunday we took a ferry to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, and along the way I saw Pulau Tiga, the site of the first season of Survivor. KK is a small city that mostly serves as the gateway to the rest of the state, but we enjoyed our three days there. We made friends with some of the other backpackers in the hostel and went with them to Mount Kinabalu Park around Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain to hike in the surrounding forest. One of my highlights of the trip was scuba diving at the marine park near the city. I was so excited to see two cuttlefish on the second and third dives. Despite never having seen one in person before cuttlefish have been my favorite animal for several years, and these two did not let me down. They were about two feet long, a bigger species than I expected, and had amazing coloration. When I came near one of them, he immediately changed from camouflaged white to black before changing back again. I loved how they just floated there in the water watching me with their arms raised. During the dive and snorkeling later I also saw pufferfish, triggerfish, barracuda, a small blacktip reef shark, a sting ray, and plenty of other fish.

In Kuching, Sarawak,

Now I need to get back to the study part of study abroad

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