Swedish Meatballs, Holi 2014, and a Liuqin

It was a busy week in Singapore. The fun really started last Wednesday. To preface the evening, I should let it be known that two of my roommates are Swedish. Additionally, there are many students from Sweden and Norway here (in fact, there are many Swedes across all of Southeast Asia!) and I’ve become friends with quite a few of them. So, I’ve learned a bit of Swedish, and finally had the chance to practice it at a dinner hosted by the Swedish and Norwegian Church in Singapore.

I truly love Asian cuisine. It is spicy and flavorful and quite nutritious. However, I do occasionally miss meat and potatoes, as well as salad, which is incredibly uncommon in Asian dishes. Dinner at the Swedish Church was Swedish meatballs (yes, real Swedish meatballs!) with lingonberry sauce, deliciously simple boiled potatoes, boiled carrots, bread and butter, several salads, “rice-a-la-malta” (how the Swedish word would be said in English) and crème brûlée. It was essentially the perfect combination of food for what I have been missing, all-you-can-eat, and homemade. Little English was spoken, if any, except to me. I felt a bit guilty for forcing the Swedes to speak English to me at their only real haven for Swedish language, but I tried to pick up as much Swedish as I could and conversed with those who had chosen to speak English. Swedes probably have the best English of any European nation. It’s really quite good and I often forget that their English is not native. I spoke with the priest, as well, who spent some time in the U.S. and had road tripped across the country. It’s always nice to hear someone speak fondly of home. It was a very memorable and enjoyable evening, and just reconfirmed how excited I am to visit everyone in Sweden when time allows, and really everyone I’ve met on exchange, for that matter.

Saturday was Rang de Holi, a Hindu festival of colors in celebration of spring (in a nutshell). We attended the festival with our Singaporean friends and enjoyed an uncharacteristically cool (maybe 80 Fahrenheit) afternoon’s worth of color, good music, Bollywood style dancing, and color fights. The place was packed. Everywhere you turned was a new friend screaming “Happy Holi!!!!” as he or she threw color in your face. Good friends told me that I looked like a goblin as I was greeted by an undesirable amount of green offenders. There was green everywhere: in my nose, eyes, ears, and scalp. In fact, my hair is still a bit green, but also pink, and a bit orange in some lights. Many in Singapore with light hair are currently sporting this same style, so it’s really just a way of bonding and is quite funny. I’ve been told that chlorine will do the removal trick.  The colors were literally caked on us in layers. It was amazing.

Holi is celebrated around the world, but it was especially awesome to celebrate with such a large Hindu community and with our Indian-heritage friends. I wish I could share a picture, but bringing a phone or camera (besides a go-pro, maybe) to an event like that would not be wise!

Sunday was a day for studying until the afternoon when I met up with my “friends of NUS” buddy (now just a friend), Hong. We met up with two of her friends for sushi at a Japanese restaurant before visiting Esplanade – Theatres by the Bay for a two-hour Chinese Orchestra performance. Hong is very involved with the orchestra, so I decided a while ago that a performance would be something different and interesting to attend. I had no expectations going in to the performance.

I was blown away. The orchestra had many of the same sounds as a traditional orchestra (cellos, etc.) but what I found most wonderful was the unexpectedness of the music. I did not know the melodies, nor did I know songs with melodies similar to those played, so I remained attentive to the music and in awe of the composition. I look forward to attending a Chinese orchestra performance again very soon, now that I know a few of the instruments. A liuqin, for example, is the Chinese mandolin that comes to mind when you think of Chinese melodies!

Such a weekend is not uncommon for Singapore. Cultural activities are available nearly every weekend, and if nothing formal is happening, one can visit Arab Street, or Little India, or Chinatown. Yes, many of these places are quite touristy, but if you know where to go you can get a very sincere taste for a culture. This is one of the beauties of Singapore: North America is diverse, but Singapore is diverse in a different kind of way. It has been very fun exploring the city, meeting people, and finding out how this side of the world works. I’m beginning to get nostalgic, already, as I look to my remaining six weeks here and reflect on the past two and a half months. I really have had so many amazing experiences and have learned so much.