Life really brings you to unexpected places at the most unexpected times. Just spent my 24th birthday last week in one of the 7 wonders of the modern world – Petra – trekking in the hot, blazing sun with 5 of my friends in the desolate, desert country that is Jordan. If you told me a year ago that I’d be spending my 24th traveling in Jordan, I would have scoffed at the ‘crazy’ thought. Well I certainly did not plan for this; it just so happened that a chain of events caused it to happen. If I did not make a last minute decision to go for exchange; if I did not receive Technion as my exchange university; if my birthday did not fall on the 10-day Pesach (Passover) break, if I had my own plans instead of tagging along… I wouldn’t have ended up there. Petra is worth a visit, it isn’t called one of the 7 wonders for nothing, but I feel that the entrance fee is a tad expensive. We got the 55 dinar 2-day pass to make sure that we didn’t miss anything out, but by the second day we were tired of walking. In case you’re wondering, 1 dinar is about 1 euro. If you go on a one day trip straight from Israel, it’s 90 dinars… talk about daylight robbery. But I didn’t like the fact that it has become so touristy and commercialized. I mean, are people really that lazy to walk that they have to take horse, donkey or camel rides up and down the attractions? It pains my heart slightly to exploit animals for such frivolous purposes of men. I can understand if the elderly or young kids require assistance up the hills but otherwise we have no reason to ride those animals. We’re given a pair of legs for a reason. It’s not pleasant to have dung all over the paths and steps too.
Wadi Rum was a really refreshing experience for me, I really love the feeling of the wind whipping across my face when I ride the open-top truck across the soft sand trails and dunes. Not to mention the sand and dust in yours eyes and ears while the UV radiation eats away at your exposed skin 😛 Thankfully I went prepared with shades and cap with neck protection so it was pretty alright. I was eagerly anticipating a clear starry night with an unobscured view of the constellations at night but regrettably it wasn’t as cloudless as I had wished for it to be so we didn’t get an excellent view of the stars. Dinner was awesome and I ate 3 plates each for both nights after going a couple of days without a proper meal when we were in Eilat previously. Love how they cook the meat, potatoes and onions by burying them in the sand along with tinder/coal so the end product is pretty awesome. The Bedouins strike me as really humble and pleasant folk during my stay of the campsite. Our jeep tour guide cooked lunch for us in the desert and I was surprised to learn that he was only 20-21 years of age. Talk about maturity… One of the highlights for me was sand surfing from atop of a dune of considerable incline. It was definitely an experience not to be missed. The climb up was really exhausting though; it was like 3 steps forwards 2 steps back trying to climb up the soft sand carrying the heavy board. I’m glad I didn’t give up and completed the descent from the very top.
The trip was tainted by an infuriating experience with cab drivers in Amman towards the end, which I don’t really want to elaborate too much. In short, there are a lot of unscrupulous cab drivers who are out to scam tourists. Let’s bring the focus back to Haifa instead… 2 days ago, I got reminded of how hot summer days here are going to be. Having checked the weather forecast, I breathed a sigh of relief when it showed that the searing heat was an anomaly in the week to come. For now at least, I must treasure the splendid weather and enjoy the gym and swim sessions that I have been picking up on a regular basis. Because it is usually cloudless here, the land receives almost maximum radiation from the sun and it’s really bad for the skin, so I should get sunblock as summer arrives. In Haifa, which in closer to the north, it isn’t so bad because there is elevation and lush greenery so the temperature doesn’t sky rocket like the south, where the arid desert and low-lying areas are. I shudder to think how summer would be in the Dead Sea, which is 400+m below sea level. The dry weather here can be a double-edged sword for people accustomed to the tropical areas though. The lack of humidity negates the need for more than a shower a day because the sweat leaves the skin instantly leaving you feeling clean and dry but the skin may need some moisturizer from time to time to prevent excessive peeling or cracking. I’m used to it now though so I’m fine.
Now, some personal reflection and + points:
1) I like the fact that I can easily watch champions league and premier league matches at night without having to stay up late or wake up in the middle of the night. Internet speed here is decent so streaming is usually smooth.
2) A couple of my courses have working professionals from the industry as lecturers teaching us so they have relevant expertise in their respective fields which is really good. I think we should have more of this in NUS engineering too, instead of full-time professors.
3) Really fortunate to have access to the gym and swimming pool at a convenient distance from my dorm. Classes are also 5 minutes away from dorms so I don’t have to wake up too early to prepare.
4) Students here are not afraid to speak their mind in class and at times there is a gray area between class participation and rowdiness. It would be nice to strike a balance somewhere in between the class culture here and back home, where hardly anyone speaks up during class.
5) Lucky to be able to borrow a guitar, though only after a month here have I gotten one. Better late than never, because it has rekindled my joy and desire to sing and play music, making me realize that music really can heal your soul.
6) Count my lucky stars to have met the lovely people here who have made my life more colorful and fun, because really without them things around here would be less interesting. (Rawan, Aya, Malak, Bob, Wen Hui, Haggai, just to name a few, as well as random travelers along the way who have helped one way or the other) And for that, I am undoubtedly grateful…