Columbia is also called the Athens of Missouri as more than half the population have a bachelor's degree. -ST
By Nicholas Yong
Undergraduate Ivan Gerald Lee, 24, says his stay in Columbia, Missouri, has been the road less travelled for foreign students in the United States.
'A lot of Singaporeans who come to the States choose to go to either the east coast or the west coast. Not many have actually been in the mid-west,' says Mr Lee, who is studying for a bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy at University of Missouri. He is on a scholarship from the Singapore General Hospital.
Colleges on the east and west coasts are popular for their business and economics courses, he says.
Columbia, a city of more than 100,000 people, has a rich history dating back to 1678, when French explorer Robert de La Salle claimed the entire Mississippi River basin for France. Before that, it was populated by Native American tribes.
Today, Columbia is renowned as a college town and is highly ranked as one of the best places to live in in the US. It is also known as the 'Athens of Missouri', as more than half of Columbians possess a bachelor's degree.
The best way to explore the city is...
To have your own vehicle. Unlike Singapore's transportation network, bus services there run at intervals of one hour, so it is not easy to organise your schedule around the public transport network. But it is cheap: A bus ride costs a flat fee of US$1 (S$1.40).
Some people prefer to cycle around the city when the weather is warm enough to do so.
The best time to visit is...
During autumn, from early September till late November, when the temperature averages 16 deg C. The colours of this season are amazing and the scenery is picturesque and breathtaking.
What is the weather like?
The winters can be quite bitter and harsh. The coldest weather I have experienced was minus 30 deg C. In spring it is nice and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 8 to 15 deg C, similar to autumn.
The weather during summer is closest to what we have in Singapore. It can go up to 40 deg C with almost 100 per cent humidity.
Which places in the city excite you?
Columbia, being a college town, has as its focal point the University of Missouri. It is said to have one of the most beautiful campuses in the US. The flagship state university is also maintained as a botanical garden.
The Faurot Field, which is the home ground of the University of Missouri Tigers football team, is just 10 minutes' walk from the main college campus. It is exhilarating to see Americans from all walks of life go there for 'tail-gating', which is the local slang for having a barbecue off the tailgates of trucks, and for the actual game itself.
The football season from September to December is one of the highlights of autumn.
The rich tradition of baseball is enshrined locally at Busch Stadium, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals of Major League Baseball.
Sitting among the cheering crowds, it is not difficult to comprehend America's rich sporting culture and the national obsession with baseball.
FOOD AND WINE
Where can you find food that is close to Singaporean fare?
Bangkok Gardens (811 Cherry Street) serves Thai food, which satisfies my craving for the spicy fare I love in Singapore. It is reasonably authentic Thai cuisine and stands out from the usual American restaurants. A meal there costs an average of US$15 plus tax.
Chinese food in Columbia is typically Americanised - deep-fried and accompanied with sweet gravies. So if I crave some good old Singapore food, I make my own dishes such as curry, with ingredients my family members send me.
Your favourite breakfast is...
A good old American breakfast, consisting of biscuits and gravy, sausage links, hash browns and scrambled eggs. It is relatively easy to find in any bistro located downtown.
Your favourite eating place is...
Kojaba Korean Restaurant (601 Business Loop 70 West) serves authentic Korean food and provides me with my monthly fix of Asian food. A bibimbap with a selection of side dishes costs about US$14 with tax and tips.
What do you do on your weekends?
Chill out at IMO's Pizza or Buffalo Wild Wings, watching a UFC Fight, or simply chill out with friends. On Sundays, I am usually at The Crossing, the biggest church in Columbia.
The toast of the roast
Do not leave the place without trying...
IMO's Pizza (124 East Nifong Boulevard) is a local pizza chain that serves delicious thin-crust pizza made with only the freshest ingredients. A family-size pepperoni sausage pizza costs about US$21 plus tax.
Located about two hours' drive from Columbia is Kansas City, which is known as the 'barbecue capital of the world'.
When we have barbecue in Singapore, one immediately thinks of seasoned chicken wings, otah and the like. In the US, you will often find pork ribs seasoned with a thick paste and smoked to succulent perfection.
An essential component of barbecue there is the type of wood used. Different woods produce different flavours - hard woods such as oak and pecan impart a strong smoky aroma, while fruit woods such as apple and cherry produce a milder, sweeter taste.
The coolest place to chill out in is...
Addison's (79 Cherry Street). The friendly staff and nice ambience make it the perfect place to relax. They offer a good spread of American favourites. A meal costs about US$20.
What do you think Singaporeans will like most about your city?
Columbians enjoy a vast variety of nature trails, with the occasional glimpse of wild deer, squirrels and rabbits.
The vast open space that Columbians enjoy will also be appreciated by Singaporeans who are used to skyscrapers. The city of Columbia is clean, safe and there is definitely something for everyone.
What is the biggest difference between Singapore and this city?
The weather is definitely the biggest difference. The cycle of the four seasons breaks the monotony of our summer-whole-year-round weather in Singapore.
What is one place you always take your friends to when they visit you?
The famed St Louis Gateway Arch, which is also affectionately known as the Gateway To The West. It is a part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and one of the most recognised images of St Louis, Missouri. Visitors can take a ride up the arch and enjoy a magnificent view of the city and the Mississippi River. It is definitely a landmark to visit when in the mid-West. These rides cost US$10 for an adult and US$5 for children aged three to 15.
What is the one thing you must do in your city?
Visit the Magic Tree, located in southern Columbia off Old Plank Road. It is an attraction that has enthralled visitors, even from farther out of state. The crabapple tree is lit every holiday season in the winter with approximately 30,000 lights. With the ground blanketed in a thick layer of snow, this tree is aglow with hundreds of coloured lights.
Where is the best place to go on a shopping spree?
Along Broadway in the downtown area there are lots of boutiques and quaint shops selling anything from clothing to homemade ice cream. The area is just a 10-minute walk from the University of Missouri. Columbia Mall (2300 Bernadette Drive) boasts brand names such as American Eagle and Abercrombie & Fitch. Surrounding Columbia Mall are big department stores such as Macy's, Dillard and Dick's Sporting Goods.
Are there any festivals that travellers should look out for?
The True/False Film Festival, which takes place in late February, packs in three days of thrilling non-fiction movies that blur the line between fact and fantasy, documentary and narrative, propaganda and journalism. In late September and early October, Roots 'N Blues 'N BBQ Festival features food, a barbecue contest and famous musicians performing bluegrass, blues, Appalachian folk, gospel and other genres of American-based music. It usually takes place over the weekend. A pass bought in advance costs US$15 and US$25 on the day of the event.
Are there things to see or do outside of the city?
In 1946, Winston Churchill delivered his famous Iron Curtain Speech on the Westminster College Campus, located about 34km away in the city of Fulton. Today, the campus features Breakthrough, a sculpture that was a part of the Berlin Wall which was designed by Winston Churchill's granddaughter, Edwina Sandys.
There is also the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library, which is housed in a centuries-old church designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Antique and speciality stores also line the brick streets of historic downtown Fulton.
The state capital, Jefferson City, is just one hour's drive south of Columbia. The Missouri State Capitol, Missouri Governor's Mansion and Jefferson Landing State Historic Site offer free tours. There are also many other attractions such as the Runge Nature Center, Missouri State Highway Patrol Museum and Missouri Military History Museum.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.
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