The Opportunity of a Lifetime

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Spending the past 7 months in Asia has been the opportunity of a lifetime. The decision to go on university exchange has been one of the best choices I have ever made. I made some great friends, had various cultural interactions, learnt a lot about business in Asia (at NUS), learnt Chinese, travelled to many awesome places, and learnt a whole lot about myself. Thanks to everyone who helped me make it possible including Ivey, and my Mom and Dad! The chance to have this experience over the first seven months of 2011 is an opportunity I will never forget.

What initially started off as a university exchange for 5 months in Singapore extended to 7 months by continuing my travels across South East Asia and pursuing further Mandarin studies in Beijing.


Here’s a breakdown of some trip facts:

Total Number of Days: 212

Number of Countries Visited: 10

Number of Cities: 25

Total distance travelled: 30,638 km / 19,038 miles (not including to and from Singapore)

Air miles travelled: 25,231 km / 15,678 miles (not including to and from Singapore)

Number of posts on somewhereawesome: 32

Route Map: 

Route Map – Asia 2011


Highlights included:


  • Making friends with many exchange students and local Singaporeans
  • Learning Singaporean slang. It’s okay lah!
  • Trying many different types of food. Singapore has the best food in Asia.
  • Learning Mandarin in Singapore and further in Beijing
  • Reliving the exchange experience again in Beijing by making many more friends and travelling some more
  • Seeing many of the world’s wonders

Broken down by country:

Singapore: the numerous cuisines, the people, and the fact that this country looks like a paradise (so clean!)

Malaysia: visiting Taman Negara, the oldest Rainforest in the world

Hong Kong/Macau: looking at a beautiful skyline and getting the chance to visit twice to hang out with friends from exchange and home

Nepal: trekking in the Himalayan region and seeing Mount Everest for myself

India: visiting the Taj Mahal and experiencing what life is like in the slums of Mumbai

Philippines: relaxing on the beautiful beaches of Bohol

Cambodia: visiting and seeing the magnificent ancient ruins of Angkor Wat

Vietnam: travelling through the bustling liveliness of Ho Chi Minh City and driving a motorbike in Mui Ne

Thailand:  relaxing more on the beach and the chance to get up close with tigers

China: visiting the Great Wall of China, learning Chinese, and the chance to visit Shanghai and climb mountains in Xi’an and Huangshan


keepsakes from each country:

I decided to keep some currency from every country that I travelled to. Light and easy to carry, they were my favourite keepsakes as they came in different sizes and colours.

the place you’ve got to visit:

Since coming back to Canada, I’ve been asked a few times what my favourite country was among all my travels. Besides Singapore, my favourite place was Nepal (check out my blog post on Nepal here). Nepal was the poorest country I travelled to bringing more awareness to all the issues that many people in the developing world face today. The people there were so kind and polite and also happy with the basics that they had (compared to materialistic North Americans).

Trekking in the Himalayan regions during part of my trip in Nepal brought about a stunning view. I had never felt so insignificant in size given that these mountains were several thousand meters in height. I definitely want to go trekking in Nepal again in the future to pursue a higher ascent.

Elephant riding

a new appetite:

I had always been a picky eater up until first year of university when my friends introduced me to a variety new dishes (and kind of forced it upon me, but thanks!). Since coming to Singapore, I made a conscious effort to try all the different authentic Asian delicacies. Almost every blog post included on somewhereawesome included a food section. Dishes/New food I tried included:

  • Stingray
  • Durian – a smelly fruit well loved in Singapore
  • Oh luah (Oyster Egg)
  • Prawns
  • Lamb
  • Scorpion
  • Beijing Kaoya (Duck)
  • Laksa! (my favourite dish)
  • Several asian desserts – Longan with Jelly, White Fungus with Red Bean, Bubur Chacha
For the full breakdown on dishes, check out my past blog posts. I never thought I would eat new dishes such as Prawns, Stingray or even Scorpion. But hey, you only live once!

til’ next time…

There is so much more to see in Asia. For those who havent been, there are many beautiful places to visit. I’m signing off for the last time on the exchange section of my somewhereawesome blog. It’s been a blast sharing my experiences with friends and family.

I’ll definitely be back some day. Til’ next time,

– Ranji / 元安迪

Categories: Exchange


August 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I mentioned in my last post that today is my last day in China. I head back to Canada on Tuesday (after being in Asia for 7 months!) and enjoy some down time before starting work in September. I’ll be making one grand post shortly after I am back in Canada that wraps up my 7 months abroad.


On my last day of school, two of my friends and I decided to head out to Shanghai. The government opened a high speed bullet train (at a cost of $40 billion USD) linking Beijing and Shanghai on July 1 so we decided to check the new ride out. The train was quite comfortable and very smooth.

The train maxed out at 306km/h

Mason and I feeling the high speed "force" of the train

Upon arrival in Shanghai we checked out the city and walked around the French Concession Area, an area that was developed with French influence.

French Concession Area

We then headed to The Bund (along the Huangpu River) to check out the famous skyline.

Mason, Myself and Nick with the Shanghai skyline

Traditional architecture on the opposite side of Shanghai's modern skyline

An interesting note on picture taking in China: Locals often approach foreigners to take pictures with them. Mason and I were asked a couple times throughout the trip to take photos with locals. Here is one shot I had with a couple:

Posing for a picture with locals

That night, we headed up the Pearl Tower (the tower with the 3 spheres) to check out the night view of Shanghai. The Tower is about 100 metres shorter than the CN Tower but still provides a great view of the city.

View of Shanghai at night from the Pearl Tower

View of Shanghai at Night

We also checked out Nanjing (the equivalent of Yonge Street in Toronto). Good food and lots of lights at night:

Nanjing Street at Night

The following day we decided to check out a famous garden in Shanghai and the Expo Site. We went to the Yuyuan Garden located in the city. The garden was very beautiful with many trees, shrubs, ponds, and several old buildings with Chinese architecture:

Yuyuan Gardens

Another shot in the Yuyuan Gardens

Shanghai hosted the World Expo in 2010 and attracted the largest attendance ever to the event (73 million visitors). Today, the China pavilion remains for tourists to check out:

China Pavilion at the Expo Site in Shanghai

Large story map display showing some of China's history inside the China Pavilion.


That night we took a night train to Huangshan to do some trekking in the mountains. The area is built up with steps but it was tiring nonetheless to climb up so many steps. The site in Huashan (Xian) was pretty cool but the view in Huangshan was even more impressive. The mountains reminded me of Avatar (Director James Cameron did get some of inspiration for Pandora in China)

Avatar like - Huangshan

At a viewing post

Another site of mountains between mountains in Huangshan

Climbed the highest peak in Huangshan! (LtoR: Nick, Mason, Johan, and myself)

Up at 5AM for sunrise


After two days in the mountain, we headed to Hangzhou, a popular tourism destination in China. The city encloses a large lake and is well known for its Longjing Tea. We met a nice lady who took us to a tea shop where she was buying some tea to try some longjing:

Longjing Tea

Tea yards in Hangzhou

That evening, we went for a boat ride in the lake and a man approached us and asked if we could take his grandson with us on the ride. He did not speak much English but Nick was able to translate. We ended up teaching him a few words including the word “bro”.

On the boat ride with our new bro

Sunset in Hangzhou


We headed out to Nanjing the next day to wrap up our last day of the trip. Nanjing stands for South Capital and was formerly the capital city of China. We checked out the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum and the City Wall at night. Dr. Sun Yat-sen was a leader during the 1911 Revolution:

At the bottom of Dr. Sun Yat-sen mausoleum (LtoR: Mason, myself, and Nick)

Night view of the lake in Nanjing:

Nanjing at Night

The following morning (July 29th) we wrapped up our week of travel and headed back to Beijing. I have been in Beijing ever since and returning to Canada tomorrow! So long China. It’s been a blast!


Next Post: 7 Months in Asia

My Grand Finale post highlighting my 7 months in Asia is coming up next when I’m back in Canada. Stay tuned!

Categories: Exchange

Xi’an – 西安

August 1, 2011 Leave a comment

I did some travelling one weekend to Xi’an with some friends of mine. The trip turned out to be me with four girls after another friend couldnt make it.

Four of them all prepared for the trip with luggage

Xi’an is about 13 hours away by train from Beijing. The seats that we got were bench seats and were pretty uncomfortable (luckily none of us got back pain). With only the weekend there, my friends and I got right to it exploring the local streets and also taking a bike ride along the city wall.

Chinese calligraphy

The girls riding on the wall

On the city wall

These buildings were located along the wall

The next day we went to Huashan to see the mountains in the area. Huashan is located 2 hours away from Xi’an by train and is more of a small town. The area has very little people (with the exception of tourists) and many places looked more run-down compared to the modern look of big cities:

The town area before Huashan Mountains

Upon arriving at the base, we had to wait two hours to get the cable car. We also took a cool shot imitating a statue near the base of the mountains:

one of my favourite pictures

On the cable car:

The cable car ride up


At the top of the mountain, many people engrave their names on locks and place them on the chains for good luck.

Locks lined up along the chain

We also got a picture together near the top of the mountain:

near one of the peaks (L to R: Jasmine, Nina, Clarissa, Ailyn, and myself)

In China, the train station oversell tickets and assign people to the carriages to stand for the duration of the trip. We ended up buying little stools for the trip there and back. It did get a little annoying though to get up every time a food cart or someone with luggage passed by…

The girls sitting in the aisle of the train

The next day we headed out to see the Terracotta Warriors, the tourist attraction that Xi’an is famous for. The Terracotta Army was built by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The sculptures were built to protect the Emperor in his afterlife.

Terracotta Army

A shot with the army

Up close. Some heads were missing when the ruins were pieced together

That’s it on my three day trip in Xi’an. The view of the mountains were amazing and the Warriors are definitely worth a look.

Today marks my last day in Beijing (more on that later). My month long program wrapped up a week and a half ago and I did some more travelling further south in China. That’s next.

Categories: Exchange

Beijing, China – 北京,中国

July 30, 2011 Leave a comment

As the capital city of China and host of the 2008 Olympics, Beijing has alot to see. One thing I was initially surprised about was how developed the city is. Beijing looks like any other North American city (except that it is 3 times the size of New York). I can sum up Beijing with three thoughts: new infrastructure, lots of smog, and chaotic traffic (all signs of a big city modernizing).

Over the past month, I have checked out several sights after school or on weekends. Check them out:

Perhaps the most famous site in China is the Great Wall. My classmates and I went there on our first weekend. The Great Wall is quite an impressive site. There are alot of access points to the Great Wall. We went to one close to the city:

Trekking up to the Great Wall is a journey in iteself

The Great Wall!

A magnificent view

Elaine and Myself on one of the towers


Later on in the month, my friends and I went to Wanfujing. The area is well known for its’ street market and also its’ high class shopping. My friend Trevor and I tried something out of the ordinary…a mini scorpion! I’ve got a video of me eating but can’t upload in China though since Youtube does not work. Check out the pictures below of my friends eating for now:

Scorpion, Seahorses and a Starfish all meant to be eaten!

Only Trevor and I ate the scorpion. George (middle Singha) and Nina (right) refused to eat!

Mason taking a bite of a much larger scorpion


Another famous site in Beijing is Tiananmen Square. The square is the location of the country’s central government and also the Forbidden City.

This year marked the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China so there are many displays marking the CPC’s 90th accross the country including one in the square:

The Square with the 90th Anniversary sign and the flag

I also caught site of the flag being taken down at sunset:

The Chinese flag being taken down at sunset


The Forbidden City was the imperial palace  from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. The complex is huge with 980 buildings covering 7,8 million square feet. At the entrance of the City is a portrait of Mao Zedong’s face hanging above the main doors.

Mao's portrait at the entrance of the Forbidden City

Inside the Forbidden City

The complex is huge...

The 4 corners of the Forbidden City each have a pagoda


Another site in Beijing is the Summer Palace. The Palace is famous for its architecture and landscape and features an entirely man-made lake covering approximately 2 square kilometers.

Walkway at the Summer Palace

Nick and I at the Summer Palace (palace in the background)

Sunset at the Palace


Lastly, the most recently built major site is the Olympic Park. The Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube is impressive when viewed up close:

The Bird's Nest up close

Olympic Tower in the middle of the park

The Water Cube at night


I did some travelling outside of Beijing one weekend with some friends. That’s next. Stay tuned.

Categories: Exchange

北京语言大学 – BLCU

July 29, 2011 6 comments

I am a month behind on posting and I have done alot over the past 6 weeks. I’ll be churning out a post a everyday of what I have done since leaving Singapore.

For the latter half of June and most of July, I took up Chinese at Beijing Language and Culture University [BLCU] (北京语言大学 - pronouced “Beijing Yuyan Daxue”). I took Chinese in Singapore for four months so I had learned some of the basics already (see my previous video post of “我爱汉语!”) Over the past month, I have been able to build on that foundation learning how to communicate to:

  • go places and tell direction
  • tell time, the date, and what I am doing
  • introduce myself and talk about my family
  • order food and talk in a restaurant
  • and more!
The university gave me a Chinese name since I did not have one. The pronounciation is similar to my English name. Yuan AnDi, in Chinese: 元安迪。The meaning of the name is broken down by the three characters with: Yuan (元) meaning first/primary. An (安) meaning peaceful/safe and Di (迪) meaning enlighten.

BLCU is quite a popular university for foreigners. The university is made up of approximately half foreign students and half local students. I took some pictures of the university and my dorm:

First meal off the plane. Sushi!

My dorm

Another shot of the dorm.

Smallest bathroom I have ever seen...smaller than Singapore

Dining Hall - dishes are 6-15RMB ($1-2.50 USD!)

Basketball and Tennis Courts

Gym/Athletic Centre

Going to BLCU has been like doing exchange all over again. I came to Beijing by myself and did not know anyone. On my first day I met two Americans in my placement test and was later introduced to a bunch of them that night.

Some great friendships made that night. (LtoR: Nina, Mason, Eric, Steph, Matt, Tom)

I have done some travelling and sightseeing since arriving in China. More on that soon!

Signing off on this post,

– 元安迪。

Categories: Exchange

Singapore One Last Time

July 18, 2011 Leave a comment

I just can’t get enough of Singapore. I’ve always told others that Singapore is like a modern utopia with everything being quite progressive (yes, even with the ban on chewing gum).

I returned to Singapore from my month long of travels in Hong Kong, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand to prepare for my next trip abroad and to say a final goodbye to many locals that I made friends with during the term.

My last 100 hours in Singapore meant that I had to make the most of it. I went for a few dinners and hung out with various friends.

The first night I ate out at a hawker center for one last time and went out with some friends:

Eating in a hawker center one last time

Clarissa and I at Avatar

The following few days after, I ate out at a few more restaurants and enjoyed the most popular bubble tea in Singapore:

Cabin cooking at the Hot Pot restaurant

Dinner with Steph

Lamb Bak Kut Teh with Valerie and Joshua

KOI Bubble Tea! There was a long line as well (see behind me)

Hanging out at the waterfront with Jermey


My final picture in Singapore with a great friend and host:

Cabin and I - My final departure from Singapore


Singapore is truly an “awesome” place. I can’t wait to visit here in a few years to see how the country has changed (there is always something new being built).

So long Singapore. Till next time…

Categories: Exchange

Amazing Thailand

July 17, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been really slacking on the posts since coming to China (more on that later) because of the difficulty in uploading photos and logging in with a proxy to access this blog. I heard that my Vietnam photos are not visible so I will try reuploading them shortly.

[ Update: My Vietnam photos have been reuploaded and should be fine now! Check out that post here ]

Nonetheless, here is my post about Thailand:

After Vietnam, Mariko and I met up with Wiktoria, another friend from my classes back home. We started off our Thailand tour in Bangkok, the country’s capital. On our first day, we took a river boat through a local area of Bangkok to see how the local people live:

Homes along the river in Bangkok

We also caught in some temple sites:

One of many temples in Bangkok

That evening, the three of us tried something new – a fish massage!

Little fish ate the dead skin off my feet. It tickled!

The following day we went to the Royal Palace in Bangkok. Thailand still maintains a royal family but with limited power. The family is highly respected and there are monuments, pictures and statues of the royal family all across the city.

At the Royal Palace - A lot of buildings were painted in a gold colour.

Royal Palace Grounds

Support for the King was everywhere

After spending a few days in the city, we decided to head south to Kanchanaburi to check out a Tiger Temple. I was able to get up close to a tiger to pet while sleeping. People are able to get close up because of the way these tigers have grown up around humans (making them less agressive).

Up close with a Tiger!

Mariko, Wiktoria and I with a baby tiger (less than a year old)

We also had an elephant ride the following day. While I had already rode an elephant in Nepal, this time around I got to sit up front on the elephant for part of the ride:

Riding an elephant!

Within the same area is the Erawan Waterfall. The falls had seven different view points with the most impressive one being at Tier 3:

Taking a break while trekking up the Erawan Falls

The Erawan Falls at 4th Tier - Mariko, myself and Wiktoria in the water.

After Kanchanburi, we headed further south to catch enjoy the beach (not that I need more tanning…). I took a picture of one of the many islands we saw on the ferry:

There were many of these small islands off the coast.

Every night there were beach parties with various activities including fire juggling and a foam party:

Playing with fire on the beach

Lots of foam. Reminded me of Western's first year o-week.

My trip ended early (in Phuket) as I had to head back to Singapore to prepare for China. I did get a picture of the main tourist street with all the restaurants and bars on my last night there:

Phuket was very "touristy".

That’s a wrap on Thailand. I’m about a month behind in posting but I will try to get some more posts done over the next few days. Stay tuned for some more exciting sights in Asia!

Categories: Exchange