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Travelogue: at ICASSP 2022 – Part 1: My Time in Singapore

At the end of last May, the team participated in ICASSP 2022—or the International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing—in Singapore. It was a blast, equally because it was my first time in Singapore and because it was the first in-person conference we’d been to since COVID-19 changed the world. Since it’s been so long since any of us have had the opportunity travel for an in-person event like this, I’d like to treat you, our faithful reader, to some highlights about what I loved about Singapore, my impressions of the event, and my top three picks of the articles presented there.

Singapore, The Cultural Crossroads of SE Asia

Singapore is a place that does not disappoint! What surprised me is how well the mix of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures just seemed to mix in a perfect jazz-like ensemble, retaining a great deal of authenticity from each culture while also creating an amazing shared Singaporean identity. There was also a strong Arab presence, and Singapore’s colonial past evokes a genuine feeling of being at the halfway point between Asia and the West. 

I particularly enjoyed the Asian Civilizations Museum because it felt so comprehensive and authentic to Singapore. The museum has three floors that are packed with multiple exhibits that I spent almost a full day exploring , and yet it still left me curious for more!

One of the parts I found most interesting was the remains of a shipwrecked Chinese ship circa 850 CE, which contained hundreds of well-preserved articles. It was amazing to see the quality of the goods that were traded then, as well as the diversity throughout all of Asia and the Middle East found just on one ship. The objects’ various owners also hailed from a wide range of places which changed my view on just how global the economies already were at that time. It was evidence that Singapore was already an important cultural and economic crossroads, even so long ago. 

The ship was just one of many amazing exhibits that perfectly encapsulated how Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Arabic cultures (among others), and their distinct cultural roots, influenced this Asian city state over the course of history, making Singapore the vibrant place it is today. 

In this way, I can see why Singapore is often described as a good “first stop” in Asia for Westerners. English is a native language, and most signage is in English, while an eclectic blend of Asian cultures and food are all around.

As you can see above, food is a highlight in Singapore, too. The dish pictured is a spicy chicken curry, as served by the famous Banana Leaf Apolo, which I personally enjoyed because it was exceptionally spicy. The restaurant itself is famous for hosting big celebrities like Sylvester Stallone, but they also have the Guinness world record for serving the largest fish head dishes. Be that as it may, I personally think Banana Leaf Apolo’s fame is more so thanks to its amazingly delicious food than anything else. I can highly recommend it for anyone stopping by Singapore! 

Historic architecture and amazing food aside though, the one thing that I—and likely other first-time visitors—should be forewarned about is its weather. In truth, I should have been better prepared for Singapore’s famously extreme humidity. On the days I was there, it was 33-plus degrees Celsius (or 90-plus Fahrenheit) both day and night, which takes some getting used to! At times, it even seemed warmer at night than during the day, which seemed an inexplicable concept. That said however, it’s also advisable to bring a light jacket along everywhere, counterintuitive as it may seem, given the cold-as-Siberia air-conditioning systems found literally everywhere in the city. Still, it admittedly does give one nice wardrobe options when in the city!

The Event Itself

Firstly, I want to thank our gracious hosts at ICASSP! Haizhou Li and his team did an incredible job pulling off not just one but three ICASSPs this year: 

  1. a remote conference; 
  2. a hybrid conference; and 
  3. the first on-site edition in over two years.

I was relieved to finally get back to an in-person event, chatting with people at our booth and over dinner, and most of all, getting to ask people questions that kicked off stimulating conversations after hours.

As for my general impressions of the conference compared to similar and past events: it was much lighter than ICASSP 2019, Interspeech 2019, and earlier. If I had to make a rough estimate, I’d say that about one-fourth of the papers were presented on-site compared to previous events. While ICASSP was better attended compared to the last Interspeech, we were nonetheless still clearly in the middle of a pandemic. 

This made for another noticeable difference in that many of the “who’s who” of the speech processing world were missing. Instead, there was a strong student presence, most of which I would wager were first time ICASSP attendees. Rather than fielding questions from the occasional business-oriented folks at our booth, we were answering inquiries about technical topics (and employment opportunities!) instead, making for an interesting and unique comparison with prior speech and signal processing conferences. 

Thanks for checking out the first part of our ICASSP travelogue! In part II, we’ll get into nitty-gritty technical details, reviewing the top 3 papers we read and discussed at in Singapore. Spoiler alert: the future of speech processing and acoustics is bright, and we can’t wait to share these fascinating highlights and insights with you. Stay tuned, friends!


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