The Night Festival

I only went for the lights but was quickly drawn into the festival itself. The lights are a lure you see, they tempt you down to the museum and then, since you’re there, why not peruse what else the festival had to offer?

The light show projected onto the outside of the National Museum was short but intriguing. Another story for the mind to tell. Whereas, the light show at Marina Bay told the full emotive story, this time a prompt, a mere whisper of an idea was seeded in the watchers’ brains allowing us to continue and conclude to story as we wished. Here, we delved into the Sci-Fi genre. The geometric lines that define each feature of the building begin to warp and twist as reality changes. The façade shatters, the shards blown around by an invisible wind before they settle into a new shape and a stone lion peers out from the wall.

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Suddenly, the world glitches. Strips of white static followed by the whine of a feedback loop and colour bars signalling a hack. Points of light fly across building’s surface, warping the image as they move. We know now that we are not the only reality and that all realities are nothing more than a computer program, a network of ones and zeros, susceptible to both glitch and hack. But what is this? As successive realities shatter and warp out of existence, how do we know if this if glitch or hack? Will the program reboot? Or is this the end? This is the question left to the watcher, the opportunity to dive to the depths of imagination and explore the world through another’s eyes.

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From Sci-Fi to fantasy, with the end of the show I dive into the world of the night festival. For a fantastical moment, I see the festival trough my mind’s eye, not as the modern day world of electricity and AstroTurf, but as a faire in a foreign land, filled with enchantments and magic. Here the grass underfoot is transformed from plastic to thick turf, spongy and spelled to not become mud under the tread of a thousand people. Fairy lights strung between trees become beads of magic, dancing through the air and bathing the world in their soft glow. Drinks that flash with the piercing blue of LEDs, are painted as exotic and exciting elixirs, promising all the fun of ale without the lingering headache. Only the white peaked food tents remain untouched, they already fill the night air with a heady array of smells and flavours. Perhaps if I was closer and could see inside, I would see wisps of magic as food is cooked over open flames and tossed on to waiting plates.

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As I wander through the night, strains of music call to me. Whispering in my ear to watch this show for just a little while. To relax in the lawn hammocks and let the music roll over me as I soak in the lively atmosphere and sounds of laughter and joy. While it may be odd for a physics student to wonder around with magic in her eyes, it is hard to resist when an extra layer of life adds a whole new world to this program of reality.

Kooza

If we open our eyes to the world, beauty can be found everywhere and with it, art.  It comes in many forms stretching from the traditional portraits of long past monarchs to the modern realms of “I could do that”.  Included under its sweeping title are the marble statues of Rome and the preserved animals of Damien Hirst.  There is art to be found in music, dance and fashion, be it the BBC Proms and Paris Fashion Week or a tinny iPod and Strictly Come Dancing.  It is all around us, waiting to be seen.

The Cirque du Soleil is art, or rather a culmination of many pieces of art into one grand masterpiece.  To see the costumes alone is to enter a new world of imagination and wonder.  I can only imagine the hours upon hours that must have gone into creating them.  It takes me a day to sew the most basic of piece so I cannot fathom the patience required to add such intricate details that will only be seen for the briefest of moments.

A picture paints a thousand words, but here music completes the visual story.  It weaves in and out of every scene, warning of danger and singing of childlike glee.  Each flick of the wrist and explosive change of direction is underscored with sound.  Every show of strength and impossible contortion is perfectly in time with the music.  Not only this but in moments of humour sound is used to leave the audience chuckling.  The use of music in the place of words brings the audience together and bridges the barrier of language.  Here everyone understands the story being told.

I’ve left the best to last, mostly due to intimidation.  My words are a poor substitute and can do no justice to the extraordinary feats of strength, flexibility, and acrobatics of the dancers.  The slow ascent to a handstand while balanced upon a tower of chairs is made to look completely and utterly effortless.  Every motion is fluid as hoops are spun, no awkward jerking or momentary fumbles as the swirling hoops spin faster.  I watched with bated breath as people twisted, not only themselves but their height’s worth of stilts, through the air in complex backflips and cheered as they rode bicycles along the tightrope no circus is complete without.

Be it balance on a rope, or contorted to impossible shapes, there is not a single wasted movement throughout the show.  This is art in motion.  Visual and auditory blending together in a tale of a boy who receives a box full of magic and who, for a few hours, we are permitted to join in a colourful world of childlike wonderment.

Check out #kooza on Instagram for a glimpse of this awesome performance.

 

Between Sightseeing

As happens at the beginning of any school term or university semester, Sunday evening saw me filled with the age-old feeling of “I don’t want to go to school”. It is a feeling that slowly creeps up on you throughout the day, gradually encroaching on your mind as you realise the summer months of lazing around and doing nothing personal betterment and motivation are over and that tomorrow you are going to have to start using your brain.

This causes the awkward realisation that you are not sure how to use your brain, having forgotten about five microseconds after that final “pens down please”. In fact, you are fairly certain that even before then your brain nothing more than a pile of mush, regurgitating frantically memorised, but long since forgotten, flash cards. Furthermore, what was that thing? You know? That thing you were taught two years ago? The one your lecturer claimed was a cornerstone of modern physics? You don’t really need it, do you?

Aside from this. I was excited to experience the learning and teaching style used at such an acclaimed university. I was also nervous about my module choices, two of which I was still waiting for confirmation on. The nature of an exchange program always means that there will be some things you have already studied and others that you’ve never heard of but are assumed knowledge.

Monday dawned bright and way to early with a two hours of quantum mechanic at 8 o’clock. There’s nothing like a bit of quantum mechanics to jump start the brain. Especially when the lecturer announces he will be using lots of Dirac notation and vector spaces, two things I have barely touched on. So much fun.

Understandably I did not consider this a auspicious start to the semester. Fortunately, biophysics was the next lecture and was a pleasant balm to my worries. It promises to be an interesting course with one of the lecturers researching DNA sequencing and even a little lab time. The dual nature of the course also means that neither the physics nor the biology will be overly challenging and instead provide me with a wider scientific base. It is also my smallest class with only ten other people taking it, half of whom are also exchange students so there is a wide range of academic backgrounds and perspectives.

My final lecture of the day was modern optics and when I eventually worked out how to get into the building (through the third floor of the neighbouring one) it proved to be a nice, gentle introduction that focused on what optics was and why we should study it. Having since had a second lecture since, I’ve realised I am stuck in the awkward position of having studied a fair amount of the material already but not wanting to change because there promises to be some really interesting bits later on. If only quantum mechanics was the same (sigh).

Electromagnetism the next day appears to be a bridge between the impossible challenging quantum mechanics and easier biophysics and optics. While it requires the addition of “learn what a tensor is” to my to do list, the information content appears to be at the same level where I left off in Bath. So, all in all not a bad start and after talking with other exchange students I was relieved to find out I’m not the only one who will be spending the weekend teaching myself new notations and mathematical methods.

The Botanic Gardens

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Sometimes I remember to look at the bigger picture, not just the flowers.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that I have a major weakness.  The moment I see a flash of colour nestled in greenery or a particularly satisfying petal shape, I absolutely must take a photo of the entrancing fungus or flower in question.  Hence, when I go on walks or visit gardens, I prefer to go alone.  This means that no one else need be subjected to my irregular pace.

On my recent visit to the Singapore Botanical Gardens this meandering approach was further compounded by the presence of signs about both the plants and history of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Even greater than my photo taking habit is the desire to read every sign and poster ever written; a desire no doubt borne of a constant thirst for new and unique information.  If only my physics notes were so compelling.  Of particular amusement to me was the different minds behind the descriptive plaques for some of the gardens’ plants.  While some authors took the scientific approach, describing in detail the size and shape of a leaf, others preferred a more poetic angle, unable to resist the tempting lure of an well placed adjective.

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The impressive root systems bought back memories of building “fairy houses” in the Le Guet as a child.

Though three hours in the Singaporean heat almost had me persuaded of leaving the Orchid Gardens for another day’s adventure, in the end I was unable to resist the thought of more flowers to photograph peruse.  In this secluded corner of the botanic gardens I was not alone in my over-enthusiastic photography.  Indeed, while my knowledge of orchids is limited, I do believe that every flower of the species projects a sense of serenity far beyond what one would expect, driving people to capture them for time immemorial.

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The start of the Evolution Garden. It always amazes me how trees cling to rocky cliff faces.

I would have happily wondered in peaceful tranquillity down the secluded paths and under the blossoming arches forever.  However, I was still interested in seeing the evolution garden so was forced to drag myself away.  The evolution garden – despite being walked in reverse – presented an informative history of life on earth with the landscape designed to show the descendants of each age’s plant life.  Sadly, with evening beginning to loom, it was at this point I took a mosquito to the leg.  While it is the only bite I have sustained so far and nothing beyond the capabilities of a little tiger balm, I decided it was time to begin heading home.  Naturally it took me another hour to return to the MRT station as there was no way I could miss the Herb and Spice Garden, and it would have be downright foolish of me not to see the Eco Lake.

All in all it was a very pleasant, if somewhat hot, afternoon out.  Now without further ado allow me to present you with a mere selection of the flower photos I took:

National Day

Every year, on the 9th August, Singapore celebrates its independence from Malaysia in the form of a National Day Parade.  Anticipation for the day has been building for weeks now as the city slowly rolls out colours of red and white.  While residential blocks and schools are draped in flags, public buildings proudly support banners and signs wishing Singapore a Happy 52nd Birthday.  It is impossible to miss this display of national pride when even the lamppost across from my room bares a banner proudly proclaiming this year’s theme: One Nation Together.  Hence, it was with much excitement that I looked forward to yesterday’s celebrations.

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In keeping with the spirit of the day, I donned my red and white before making my way to the Marina Bay Waterfront with a group of fellow exchangers.  We left with plenty of time to spare, aware that access to the Waterfront would close if it became overcrowded.  While this allowed us to find a seat on the wooden decking with relative ease, we were left exposed to the beating sun of Singapore until it sank behind looming skyscrapers.  Thankfully, we were able to put our umbrellas to best use and were sheltered from the worst of the sun’s rays, if not the oppressive heat.

The cries of the crowd drew our attention as everyone rose en masse, bringing their phones to bare.  The helicopter is little more than a dot in the sky and remains so as figures begin to leap from it.  Slowly they drift down jetting red smoke, tiny figures gradually growing larger on their parachutes.  As they land out of sight, the crowd returns to their conversations; where we are seated offers no commentary and the main performance is out of sight so we sit and talk while we wait for the next feature: the flyby.

I have heard the planes practicing overhead every day since I arrived in Singapore and on a couple of occasions had even spotted the F-15 SG fighters at a distance.  However, nothing could have prepared me for the thundering roar that shook my bones as they flew directly overhead before sweeping up in a twisting show of the jets’ capabilities.  Sweeping away, the two jets are replaced by two Apache helicopters and a Chinook who perform a sweep of the bay.  The Apaches fly off, leaving the Chinook as it lowers itself towards the water, sending up a swirling spray of water as figures dive into the water.

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Next in the Dynamic Defence Display (or D3) was a high-speed jet ski versus RIB chase, complete with the crack of gunfire and small explosions.  With the conclusion of the chase in a towering fireball, we were forced to wait while the display continued out of sight.  The occasional firework would startle everyone to their feet in time to see the final flash of colour and smoke.  The conclusion of the display was comprised of two parts; another flyby from the three helicopters in which the Chinook bore a huge Singaporean flag and a thundering 21-gun salute from a military raft that had slipped into the bay.

Something that struck me in that moment was the relative silence and motionlessness of the crowd.  Where once upon a time helicopters baring a national flag would have been met with loud cheers and vigorous waving, here it was met with barely a raised voice as everyone jostled to get the best photo.  As I looked around, faces were obscured as everyone pointed their phones to the sky.  Indeed, this was the case for the majority of the event.  The only exception was the fireworks.  My somewhat cynical hypothesis on why is that after the first few photos everyone despaired of taking a none blurry photo and was instead forced to watch and experience the display through their eyes instead of through a screen.  This phenomenon of viewing life through a lens is something I know I am equally guilty of but to encounter it on such a large scale was eye opening.

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But I digress, with the display finished we were left to watch as the sky faded through pink and orange to black.  The light pollution, as in any city, blocked out the stars so I was confused when a swarm of stars seemed to move and hover over the bay.  They hung out over the water, waiting to catch everyone’s attention before changing colour and shifting to form ever changing images.  Some were indistinct, such was our angle of viewing but other were more obvious.  My favourite, a ring of people holding hands as they rotated through the sky, captured the theme of One Nation Together perfectly before the drones returned to white and flew away.  This show was yet another example of how technology captures what I imagine magic must be like, though on this occasion my imagination was led more down the path of a futuristic sci-fi than that of a fantasy.

And then, finally, at last, at last – not that I like to describe myself as impatient or anything – the fireworks.  There is just something so thrilling about flaming bursts of colour exploding across the sky.  However many time I see fireworks I shall never grow bored off them, whether it’s straining to watch them from an attic window or watching with a front row seat as they erupt over the Singaporean skyline.  At last the crowd was properly enthused as they oohed and aahed over the fleeting lights.  Bangs and fizzes roared out, preceded by the lights that produced them and echoing around until they had no start or end.  Dancing lights and fiery rain fell to Earth, fading to darkness and lingering smoke as the show came to an end.

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Finding a Tribe

Countless Scouting events and University have trained me well.  I have mastered the art of blending into groups and joining their forays into Singapore.  At least, this is what I like to tell my ego.  In truth, as exchange students, we are all in the same boat.  We have all of us been separated from our tribe and the reptilian part of our brains is shouting at us to find a new tribe so that we may survive.  While the lack of a tribe does not lead to imminent death in this island city, it can be isolating and magnifies the littlest of stresses to insurmountable mountains.  Hence, it is not uncommon for group chats and Facebook pages to be filled with people arranging to meet up for dinner or visit a particular attraction.  Indeed, I would think it more irregular were this not the case.

An example of the easy companionship I share with my fellow wanderers was a trip to Marina Bay Sands.  On my way to dinner, I spied a gathering at the entrance to the residences.  Intrigued, I headed over, asked to join, and was quickly welcomed into the fold.  Upon asking where we were going, I was informed that we were going to watch a light show.  I had no idea what a light show was, but considering it sounded cool and the reptilian part of me was looking for a tribe, I headed out with the group.

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This was my first glimpse of Singapore at night and I was not disappointed as the brightly lit skyscrapers towered over us.  It was wholly different to the skyline of Guernsey but strikingly beautiful in their illumination against the dark of the night’s sky.  While these towering monoliths were not draped in green like many of their counterparts, the spaces between them had small areas of grass or trees, preventing any feeling of oppression.  Furthermore, unlike so many cities, Singapore is amazingly clean.  Not only is there little to no litter but there are no gum lined pavements and the only times I have encountered the smell of mouldering rubbish is when I have passed stores that sell durian, a fruit so pungent in odour, it is forbidden on the MRT.

Even if the light show had been a disappointment – which it most certainly was not – my delight at getting to finally see the “boat hotel” and the warm, contented feeling of sharing an experience with other people would have carried the night.  As it was, the light show was spectacular and I was so inspired I wrote it up in a separate post the moment I returned to my room, despite the late hour.

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It was a beautiful display of lights projected on water jets and spray creating images and shapes of all kinds.  Some were recognisable as birds and flowers, others merely geometrical patterns.  The array of swirling colours on stage were accompanied by music which made the experience all the more immersive.  I could not tear my eyes away and came away convinced that while magic may not be real, technology has done an amazing job of capturing it.

After the light show, we ventured into the Marina Bay Sands shopping centre for dinner.  While the architecture and interior design was beautiful, the price tags dissuaded us from lingering once our grumbling stomachs had been filled.  Ready to return home, we strolled along the Helix Bridge, continuing to talk and get to know each other before we ordered an Uber back to the residences at the conclusion of a wonderful evening.

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I have a terrible memory for names, but as I begin at least to learn faces, it is not unusual to run in to a familiar one, nor for me to sit with those who I will likely be calling friends down the line.  I think I am beginning to find my tribe.

A Show of Lights

It begins with the thrum of music through my body.  Enticing me.  Drawing me into the performance.  The giant geometric bulb flashes on, one colour, then another.  Narrow search beams light up the sky as mist begins to cover the watery stage.  Jets of water leap up, scattering jewels of light, first blue, now red, soon to be purple.  The dance has begun.

Projected images dance and swirl through the spray and the music draws us in.  We are captivated.  We are captivated as a story is told.  There are no words to this story and to each the tale is different, but for me it is an amalgamation of ancient culture, futuristic technology, and above all, love.  The narrative does not suffer as these themes meld seamlessly together with the surrealness of a dream.

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The rumble of drums sets the scene as a spaceship escapes the final hours of a doomed planet.  We watch from afar and with bated breath the final moments of what was once a refuge.  Before sadness can overwhelm, a stain glass bird flies around the stage.  The music whispers of his grief, but we are hopeful.  He escapes his confines in a swirl of silk as bow is drawn across string.

We move on.

Shapes come and go, as in the transience of life, and we are carried through all by the tide.  We crest a wave of notes as the dragon offers his wisdom and a bird remains a friend, though our descent is imminent.  The melody lulls, we have reached the trough and the flowers usher in a new act.  A white peacock spirals across the stage, her song speaks of how she is trapped and dreams of flying higher to her escape.  As the lights dim and shrink away we are know that this will not happen.  The end is near.

But wait.

All is not lost.

The music sparks back to life, bringing with it a kaleidoscope of flowers, blossoming and singing out the hope of new life, of rebirth, of spring.  Now the music is unstoppable.  It charges towards its crescendo.  Onward and onward, and all the while, the lights follow it in its dance.  Then, for a second…  silence breaks.

The page is turned.  This, the last page, is softer.  The story tells of a happy end.  We have returned to our spaceship and the birds are together as it lands on a new planet.

A new start.

A new beginning.

 

First Impressions

It is common knowledge that when one meets a new person, crucial first impressions are formed in the initial seven seconds.  It is not quite the same with places.  Here the generous time slot of the length of the trip to ones hotel is the allotted time.  My journey to the university campus left me with two main conclusions:  one, the weather is very hot and two, Singaporean architects love plants.

On the first point, there was very little surprise.  I had been thoroughly briefed by every man and his dog that the weather was going to be hot, humid and often times rainy.  I had come prepared.  I had two fans, air-conditioned rooms (a splurge I decided was crucial to my sanity) and summer clothes galore.  However, walking into a solid wall of air is something no amount of planning can prepare one for; it is no more pleasant the hundredth than it was that first time at the airport.  Sadly, my small hope that it may be possible for one to acclimatise to this brutal climate was cruelly shot down in this morning’s orientation briefing where one of the speakers assured us that, despite having lived in Singapore for thirty years, he had still not adapted to the climate.

My second observation was how every other building was shrouded in greenery.  It some cases, it was overflowing balcony planters but in many more the plants were as much a part of the uniquely shaped buildings as the glass and concrete.  This thought has remained with me since my initial taxi ride.  Every spare bit of space is filled with plants while trees rise up between buildings.  This green-fingered approach to architecture unequivocally brightens the city and rejuvenates the weary traveler with spectacular shades from grassy green to emerald forest.  I am undeniably curious to see whether this design is carried out throughout Singapore or if it unique to my corner of this cosmopolitan island.

And so it Begins

Leaving home is never easy, the packing alone is enough to make one shudder in horror, but to fly halfway around the world with only a vague idea of when one will return is even harder.  At some point between the 132 miles to Bath and the 6885 miles to Singapore there is a line where the prospect of going away becomes exponentially more terrifying.  This fear does not diminish the excitement buzzing through my veins.  However, it does produce a few tears as I say goodbye to my parents at the airport.  

Boarding the plane in the fog I consider how there was a time when this would have delayed my plane, but now it seems not an issue.  Perhaps there is a part of me that wishes the flight would be delayed, if only to halt the approaching unknown for a little longer.  The plane charges down the runway and begins to climb steeply through brightening white.  I stare out the window for the moment when we will erupt into the ever changing but increasingly familiar cloudscape that accompanies so many flights.  As always, my anxiety melts away with the start of my journey.  Undoubtedly  it will return on occasion but for now I am content to stare out the window and read my book as the plane to Gatwick soars on.

I spend the night in Heathrow’s Yotel, a small hotel chain that draws their inspiration from Japanese pod hotels. Each cabin is complete with a bed, bathroom area and a small pull out table.  Singapore noodles seem the most fitting food on offer from reception so I tuck into the warm meal in my small but comfortable cabin. An early night sees me prepared for an early start and I drag my suitcases to Terminal 3 in time to catch my flight.

There is little to be said for most flights; they are crowded, loud and difficult to sleep on. Furthermore, when one finally does asleep, they are abruptly awoken by turbulence, someone needing the toilet or for food.  The one enjoyment of my flights to Singapore was the opportunity to fly on an Airbus A380, seemingly a trivial matter but still something to cross off the bucket list.

As we finally touch down in Singapore, I am filled with nerves and I can’t help but think to myself “what have you done now? Flying all the way to Singapore to study physics! Bath was perfectly acceptable” but life is about pushing oneself above and beyond normal comfort levels in order to improve and grow. So I may be tired and missing home but instead I chose to think of the adventures to come and the stories to discover.