Applying for a B2 Visitor Visa at the Singapore U.S. Embassy  

While I’ve been accepted for a visitor visa and two student visas before, I was afraid my recent marriage to a US citizen would be a problem for the “visitor” visa. I’d read in the deepest trenches of the Internet that some spouse applicants were rejected because marriage may suggest “immigrant intent”. After scouring the Internet for other experiences, I thought I’d add mine to the collective pool. So, here are my notes for applying for a B2 visitor visa.

Application Stage

  • Filled out the DS-160 application form, available online. Useful information to have that might take up some digging: the visa number of your previous US visas, dates you visited the U.S. previously
  • Generated a unique CGI code on website and paid the application fee. The fee was USD160 at the time of application, but this had to be paid in local currency. Of course they use a conservative exchange rate, so I paid SGD232 at a SingPost branch. Instead of a Standard Chartered receipt, a post office receipt was given, which worked fine. There are plenty of options on how to make payment on the CGI instruction sheet.
  • After submitting the application, I made an appointment online. The CGI fee needs to be paid to make an appointment.

Arriving at the Embassy

  • Sitting in the Queue: When I got there, the guard didn’t ask what my appointment time was and directed me to a general (outdoor) seating queue for entrance into the embassy. The appointment confirmation advises arrival 15 minutes prior to appointment, so I only came 15 minutes early. For all I knew, the people in line had later appointments but just wanted to get a head start at the queue (TL;DR: come to queue early). The guard calls people in the queue about 4-5 at a time to go through security. Bring reading material.
  • Going through Security: While the website mentions to leave cell phones at home, and to not use shoulder bags, if you do bring your cell phone (you rebel, you), you can leave it at the guard house. After walking through the scanner, the guard exchanged my phone for a token. Also, my tote was allowed inside. Most people seemed to have their bags. If you bring a beverage, the guards have you drink it, then let you take it in.
  • Walking Inside the Embassy: Everything is so guarded at the embassy, that after passing security and walking up a long-ass ramp, you can’t help but feel like Jack Bauer/a badass. Although Jack Bauer probably wouldn’t be walking through the front door. There’s another security desk, after which you turn left into a room and take a queue number for Nonimmigrant Visas.

Inside the Embassy

There are three windows to go through. But if you don’t remember, fret not, the waiting room has an informational video about the procedure on loop.

  1. Check-in: Submission of DS-160 confirmation, appointment confirmation, passport, and 1 photo. Very fast. Also, if your photo doesn’t cut it, there’s a photobooth in the waiting area. Bring cash/coins.
  2. Fingerprinting: Your ten digits will be scanned, and you’ll be given a folder with all the documents you submitted at the first counter.
  3. Interview: Probably the longest part to wait for. A consular officer asks probing questions (ranging from personal, professional, and financial), while the rapt waiting room audience listens to every word of your interview. The room is basically a waiting area with seats and 7 windows, so don’t expect privacy–it’s really difficult not to eavesdrop. I brought papers with the intention of reading them, but it was more interesting to hear about the outcomes of others’ visa applications. The number of rejections was surprising and slightly nerve-wracking. The bottom line from all this kepo eavesdropping is the officer wants to see you have no immigrant intent, and will be sure you’ll be leaving the country. An applicant was rejected because she had more immediate family members in the U.S. and didn’t have enough convincing ties to Singapore. Another, a recent graduate who’s been in his job for a year and half was also rejected because of weak ties (no property, no family, etc). Some interviews were longer, with vigorous paper checking (so have all your supporting documents with you), some were not more than 5 minutes. But each applicant awaits to hear those golden ticket words: “You can collect your passport in 3 days.”

Passport Delivery/Collection

Aramex manages passport distribution, with the option of pick-up or delivery. No changes are allowed once selected. My passport mysteriously texted me the day it was ready for collection, and for the next two days. Passports have a ten-day pick up window before it gets sent back to the Embassy. I was on thTexts from my passporte ten-day mark after a series of unfortunate events, but called Aramex and requested them to hold it for one more day, and they obliged.

You’re Done! Yay, congratulations on your visa–enjoy the land of opportunity!

 

Surprisingly Difficult Grocery Items to Find in Singapore

Maybe this is only applicable to the wild wild west side of Singapore. I was pretty surprised from these observations (maybe shouldn’t be), but it’s also interesting to see what’s hot and not in (parts of) the country:

  • Natural peanut butter: By natural peanut butter, I mean the ones that actually contain just nuts, oil and maybe salt. None of that hydrogenated oil shit. We usually get Adam’s, but apparently the grocery stores only stock peanut butter once every two months. Skippy Natural was only very recently introduced into the market, and we aren’t huge fans of that because it still has palm oil in it. Need to start making my own.
  • Burger buns: I went to a grocery store and three bakeries (the French bakery suggested I go to McDonald’s or KFC. Hmm.) before finding something resembling a burger bun. [cue grumpy pregnant lady]
  • Maple syrup: But “maple-flavored” syrup is so easy come to by.

Hard Knock Life

A surveyor comes around to our unit on Sunday and looks for a working adult in the residence.

Surveyor: Are there any working adults in the house?

Me: Technically, no. We have a retiree and two students on scholarship stipends.

Surveyor: How do you survive?

I’m not sure myself.

Buying Organic Produce in Singapore

I’m trying to eat more organic, and source local produce as much as possible. Cost, next to availability and convenience, is probably the most prohibitive factor that keeps people from choosing to buy organic, and is the reason I haven’t been. After hours of furious Googling, it became clear the most efficient way to obtain organic produce in Singapore is via online ordering and delivery. Fortunately, there were a few places that specialize in organic produce, including local farms (reducing distance bonus!). I like to think I’ll eventually try all of them and see which I like best. In the mean time, I’ll share my experiences here.

Buying locally will mean reducing the food miles travelled, and therefore carbon footprint, before reaching my plate. Cities are big on consumption (and waste), and even moreso in a resource-limited place like Singapore. Imported goods are inevitable to feed the growing population (that is being encouraged to propagate the species and up population numbers). This posed a greater dilemma than I expected in how to proceed. So for now, the less food miles, the better, which means eating more seasonally. Pai tsai, cai xin, wild bayam and sweet potatoes are not part of my regular grocery list and encouraged me to be more creative in preparing meals.

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The other day I volunteered at Comcrop, Singapore’s first sustainable rooftop farm. They use aquaponics and grow organically. Well, the thing about not using pesticides is someone’s got to remove the bugs off the leaves, and this is painstaking work! No wonder organic is always more expensive. There’s an organic food store here that charges exorbitantly high prices on their produce that it’s not even funny. It’s ridiculous that the evolution of the food industry has led to high costs associated with eating healthy. It’s no wonder that diet-related health problems are a growing problem, and will continue to do so unless we do something about it.

But fortunately eating well doesn’t have to break the bank too much. I found some farms that charges reasonable rates and I only paid slightly more than usual for produce. It’s also nice to know my hard-earned dollars will be supporting someone, versus a faceless multinational corporation. I’m voting with my dollars, and you should consider it too! On that note, the Environmental Working Group‘s guide to organic will help you prioritize which food items to buy organic.

Have you purchased organic products online? What are your thoughts?

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Eating In: Hummus + Baguette Chips

Hummus and baguette chips were next in the next series of “using up what you have” ingredients, namely baguette near its end, as it gets hard. In the tragic phase where bread no longer becomes bread as it hardens, chips are the next best thing. Hummus is expensive (and mostly unavailable) at the nearby grocery store, so why not make hummus? It’s just chickpeas all mushed together right? Well… apparently it’s chickpeas and tahini, but of course it would be without tahini this time.

hummus + baguette chips

hummus + baguette chips

hummus + baguette chips

hummus + baguette chips

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Eating In: Tempeh Bruschetta

I tried to find something to cook using ingredients that were sitting around before they start growing mould, namely the baguette and pasta sauce from the other day. Insert the tempeh bruschetta. Growing up, tempeh was a staple for our family dinners, deep-fried deliciousness. Much like tofu, it takes on flavours of the host like a charm but is more firm in its consistency, since it is made out the soy beans themselves caked together with yeast.

bruschetta

bruschetta

For the tomato sauce I used:

  • 1 cup of pasta sauce
  • 8-10 cherry tomatoes sliced in halves
  • Half a block of tempeh, diced and marinated (at least 4 hours) in balsamic marinade

Air-fry the tempe at 200ºC for 5 minutes, (or pan-fry) or until golden brown. While tempeh is frying, heat up the pasta sauce and add in the sliced cherry tomatoes. Add tempeh into the pasta sauce. (Note: I didn’t dice my tempeh till after frying since I didn’t know what I wanted to make, but doing it before marinating will allow the marinade to soak in the tempeh more).

bruschetta

To serve:

Cut up 5 thick pieces of baguette and toast the baguette. I toasted mine for 2-3 minutes until soft (all about soft loaves). The bread would be good with a little drizzle of olive oil as well. Garnish with some parsley.

bruschetta

All that’s left to do is eat it up, and that’s the easiest part.

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Eating In: Beans and Barley Inspired Balsamic Tofu Sandwich

Beans and Barley is a wonderful deli/café/grocer at the heart of Milwaukee’s East Side, and a place I happily frequented back in the day. There’s not a Milwaukeean that doesn’t love this place and it’s not hard to see why. Their mouth-watering offerings, available at the hot bar or at the restaurant, including scrambled tofu for breakfast, artichoke parmesan dip, housemade kombucha, and burritos dripping with cheese, and are enough to keep the hungry soul coming back for more. As an added bonus, day-old hot bar meals are available for student-wallet-friendly options, and visiting the hot bar at the end of the day will get you 50% off your purchase.

One of my favourite meals at the café is the balsamic tofu sandwich, with balsamic marinated tofu (obviously), spinach, red onion, pepperoncini, and Veganaise served on a stirato roll. I’m a former vegetarian, but to avoid the recent pain that plagues my stomach after eating meat, I’ve been choosing vegetarian protein sources, and was inspired to re-create a great classic with a bit of a twist.

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For the balsamic tofu:

  • UNICURD plain Tau Kua tofu
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Rice vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, flattened and sliced
  • Basil leaves

Cut the tofu in half into two square pieces. For the tofu marinade, I mixed about two tablespoons of olive oil and added balsamic vinegar until there was enough to marinade the tofu evenly, continually adding as necessary. I also added 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar and sliced garlic into the mix; sprinkle in some basil leaves. I let this marinade for 4 hours, although it wouldn’t hurt to let it marinade for longer. To prepare, I used an air fryer at 200°C for 8 minutes (lightly pat the tofu dry before air frying). Cook time depends on tofu thickness, but be sure to flip the tofu at the halfway point. Alternately, pan fry the tofu until it browns and (for tau kwa tofu) the outside is a bit crisp.

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Instead of Veganaise, an avocado spread:

  • 1/4 of an avocado
  • 1 tsp of apple cider vinaigrette found here

Mix the vinaigrette with the avocado. Hopefully your avocado is more ripe than mine, in which case, smush up the avocado to create a spread. For less ripe avocados, just cut into thin slices and mix in the vinaigrette.

For the rest of the sandwich fixin’s, here’s what I used:

  • 2 slices of beefsteak tomato
  • 2 pieces of lettuce
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced thinly
  • Alfalfa and broccoli sprouts (more is always better in my book!)
  • 4-5 thinly sliced cucumber
  • Baguette (ciabatta would have been delicious, but the baguette was the closest thing I could find)

Lightly toast le baguette! Arrangement idea: from baguette bottom, lettuce, tofu, tomatoes, onions, cucumber, avocado, sprouts. Of course, if the avocado spread was actually a spread, it would probably be better on the top side of the baguette.

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I over-explained a lot of things, but we’ve come to an end here. Yay! Serve with a side of carrots and as always, enjoy.

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If you try this, let me know how it goes! What are some of your favourite “eating out” recipes you’ve re-created at home?

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Exploring: Pulau Ubin

If there’s any place to get away from the concrete jungle that is Singapore, Pulau Ubin is the place to be, and this is exactly what we did this past weekend. Of course my camera decides to konk out the minute we reached the island (I had checked the batteries to be full in the morning, but by the afternoon there wasn’t enough juice to take one photo. Perhaps turning off the camera is a good idea too), so all that remains are iPhone pictures.

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We took bumboats from the Changi Ferry Terminal (accessible by bus 29 from Tampines MRT station) which cost S$2.50 per ride. The boat ride was an adventure itself: boats left at the operators discretion, so there was no set schedule. If there weren’t enough passengers, you could always buy out the entire boat? Lucky for us, we barely waited 5 minutes before boarding; no tickets were issued and payment was collected on the boat. The boat ride wasn’t longer than 10 minutes.

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It seems tenacious property developers have not reached Pulau Ubin (thankfully) and what we found were remnants of kampung livin’ in Singapore. The island is peppered with old-style kampung homes surrounded by nature, a picture of a quieter and idyllic life before the all the hustlin’ and bustlin’. Apparently, weekends are a busy time on the island, but it wasn’t overly populated with nature-seeking city dwellers on this occasion. Cycling is probably the most favoured activity on the island, and there are a number of trails to choose from. Bike rentals are available everywhere and this is clear the minute you get off the boat. We paid S$20 in total for 2 cruisers and 1 mountain bike.

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We ran into a wild boar (which was pretty scary, it may have been only 10 feet away from us) on a narrow path to Chek Jawa Wetlands, but there were some local dogs who tried to keep the boar at bay. We also spotted some monkeys hanging out in the trees. No bikes were allowed in the wetlands, so a lock would have been useful, but we made like other bike renters and left our bikes with crossed fingers to walk along the wetlands boardwalk. The mangrove loop was part of the route and we caught a few glimpses of mud crustaceans. Since the recent lack of rains, the water levels were probably lower than usual and several plants looked dried up, much like the rest of the city plants. On the path, the Jejawi Tower is 21 meters high, and once you make it through the endless flight of stairs, is a breathtakingly gorgeous panoramic view of the greenery.

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The boardwalk included a Trash Loop. And what views! Eye-catching sights such as the great red plastic chair, the plastic bottle army and flying bags amongst other things. Our mangrove walk was accompanied by music, via styrofoam stuck along roots. Trash littering parts of such a beautiful place was sad to see: a reminder that taking care of the environment is everyone’s job!

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When our legs felt like jello from an excess of uphills, we ended our day with cold Tigers at one of the eateries before journeying home. Despite Singapore having a good amount of green lining the city, being at Ubin was different. It was refreshing to unplug and escape to all the flora, fauna and wild things running around. I will be back; next time with a camera full of charged batteries!

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Eating Out: Chinatown Food Street

The other day we explored Chinatown in search of food and crafting goodies. Chinatown hosts a multitude of eating places offering local and international fare, nestled in between rustic shop houses, and is home to some of Singapore’s trendier social gathering places (Club Street or Ann Siang Hill anyone?). This time we opted to dine at Chinatown Food Street.

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The stalls were designed to give an “old-timey” feel. It’s borderline kitschy but somehow it works. A majority of the vendors offered variants of Chinese food, from steamed fish head to chicken rice, though there was an Indian vendor as well. We circled the stalls indecisively multiple times…

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… before deciding on Kung Pao Chicken (S$15, Large Portion) and Baby Kai-lan in Oyster Sauce (S$10, Large Portion). It was a good decision, namely because it had been one of the best kung pao chicken dishes I’ve had. The chicken was very tender and the sauce actually spicy, though I wouldn’t recommend eating the chili pepper unless you’d like to cry for the remainder of your meal (or, if you decide to, at least do it at the end of your meal). The kai-lan in oyster sauce didn’t disappoint, though this is a hard combination to mess up.

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Mother told me to eat my greens.

We worked off those calories walking along the rows of shop houses that line the area. I used to scour stores in Chinatown (and Arab Street) for unique cushion covers, and found some beautiful embellished ones for S$10.

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A day in Chinatown is always a good day! Have a lovely day!

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Hello Goodbye!

So, I cut my hair the other day. The last time I had hair above my shoulders was maybe more than 7 years ago. Haircuts in my adult life have been few. The reason probably (I’m no psychologist) had something to do with haircuts being filled with tears and “traumatic” memories. Post-adult haircut thoughts? Long overdue and LIBERATING! No more spending hours talking to my hairdryer.

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Haircut. At first I was like: are you fo’ real do you realize you’re going to expose yo’ ugly self to the world?

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Long hair is beautiful. And painfully high maintenance for someone with thick, wavy and unruly tresses. I kept it up for years, never realizing I had placed upon myself some unrealistic expectation to be some feminine, pretty, <insert other ladylike adjective here> and Photoshop perfect version of myself as a public service to not scare the shit out of people. Of course, Photoshop perfection never happens because life’s a bitch and humidity is your hair and make-up’s worst enemy. So while secretly hoping to channel ethereal Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund in Casablanca, the final result is always more like Krusty the Clown. The long hair was a fantastic way to hide from my own self-loathing and perceived shortcomings. I associated short hair with exposing my ugliness, and so shied away from haircuts.

Anyway, after a lot of convincing, I walked in to the salon and said, CUT IT ALL CUT IT ALL. The hairdresser (bless you Gordon) reluctantly did so and I came out with a new ‘do. What I never expected was the self-acceptance that came along with it: I looked in the mirror and didn’t hate what I saw. In fact, I thought it was pretty friggin’ awesome. What? I’m not ugly? But it doesn’t even matter. I felt like a million dollars and ready to take over the world because I was so darn happy. Not because I thought I looked great, but because it was so freeing to no longer hide and not live by the chains of some unattainable standards of beauty (because, let’s see, um that thing called genetics) that I was constantly trying to go along with for so long (My nose isn’t a lovely sculpted thin nose? No amount of airbrushing will perfect my face ARRR, etc. etc.). This realization was truly empowering. Sure, it took a couple of years, but better late than never right?

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I was so happy that day, and something that rarely happens here happened: I talked to a couple of strangers on my bus rides! If you know me, I particularly enjoy chatting up strangers, it helps to make the world a smaller place. But this isn’t as commonplace since people are generally more shy around here.

It’s hard not to be concerned about looks. I mean, seriously, good looking people get paid more. I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad about wanting to look good, it’s just human nature. But looking good isn’t everything, and the good people that love you will take you even on seemingly bad daysA few things Caroline Heldman had to say really resonated with me and how I felt about this self-imposed need to look good (or, try to anyway). More importantly, if we are consumed with this search for fulfillment through looks, it just becomes a hindrance for us to accomplish other things. Dressing up’s a-okay, but it’s all about loving who you are and what you’ve got! In any case, happiness projects outward; that’s more than any Photoshop effect can do.

Change isn’t always a bad thing. Watch out, world!

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Feel like something new? My cut was an asymmetrical bob by stylist Gordon at Shunji Matsuo at Jurong East Mall (Jem) for S$39. They have some great packages which may include cut, colour and treatment so make sure you ask!