With roughly 27 1/2 hours of sitting on planes and chatting in airports, the Southeast Asian Summer Immersion group of 2006 arrived in Singapore at around 10 pm. We arrived in the sparkly clean Changi airport, and were welcomed by Dan Gold and Shu (our NUS student coordinator). After being in the circulated germ-infested plane air, the group was shocked and appeased to step outside into the humid night air and manicured palm trees in SINGAPORE!!! We then proceeded to take a bus to what will be our living quaters for the next five weeks in Singapore, a student dormitory located on the NUS (National University of Singapore) campus known as Prince George’s Park.
Our first day consisted of an introduction to the NUS campus, and the organizing and completing of forms in order to become a registered student. We were also given a guided tour of the campus, and an in depth tour of the Central Library on campus. The extensive library tour helped us to better understand the various search engines within the library website, navigating through the physical library, and also a clear explanation of late fees. One interesting invention originating from NUS itself was the book return drop, which helped protecting the binding of the book and reduced the need for more librarians.
The second day was a fascinating four hour bus tour of Singapore. We learned the country’s ancient legends and stories, as well as the fact that the name “Singapore” means “Lion City.” The bus tour also stopped at a mosque, a 200 year old Chinese buddhist temple, and ended at a bird park. The bird park provided a period for the group to disperse and venture at our own leisure. I myself had a lovely lunch in the Flamingo cafe, which looked out on a pond filled with pink flamingos. That night, we all enjoyed a welcome dinner at a Peranakan restaurant located in Turf city shopping mall. The Peranakan cuisine is a mixture of Chinese and Malay , and originated from a personal flavoring and spicing up of the traditional Chinese dishes.
The third day was the start of our classes at NUS, which began with Dr. Quek Ser Hwee. I personally was delighted and excited to see a professor who was going to provide an honest and blunt opinion on Singapore’s government and society as a whole. It might be easier to teach a list of facts and pro-government opinions, but she has provided otherwise thus far. I feel it is extremely important, especially as a foreign citizen, to be exposed to both-sides of the people’s opinions. I think the class as a whole was impressed by Dr. Quek, and felt similarly.
On the fourth day, we had an elaborate and exquisite Vietnamese lunch near the Asian Civilizations Museum. I have been extremely impressed by the mixture of cultures, along with an endless choice of each culture’s ethnic cuisine. In one day, you can go from Chinese to Peranakan, Vietnamese, Indian, or “Western” (which usually consists of burgers, fries, baked beans, and cole slaw)! After our Vietnamese lunch, Mrs. Ledbetter, a 1978 undergraduate of UNC, guided the group to the Asian Civilization Museum where we split into two groups for a tour of the museum. The museum was a state-of-the-art facility with images projected on the floor and door flaps before even entering the exhibits. It also housed ancient artifacts from Sir Raffle’s founding and exploration of Singapore.
After the tour of the museum, the group embarked on a boat tour of Singapore. We viewed the infamous Merlion statue, as well as the skyscrappers of Singapore. It also allowed a river view of Singapore’s Clarke Quay, which lines part of the river with outdoor restaurants and a few shops. The outdoor restaurants have tents and lanterns that light up the river view at night, and are a popular eating area for many tourists. In the 19th century, the area was the center of Singapore’s commerce due its location near the mouth of the Singapore River where goods would enter to then be brought upriver to warehouses. We also enjoyed taking action shots (or pictures) of us at the front of the boat with our hair waving in the misty breeze with the Merlion in the background. The group was allowed to adventure in the local area after the boat tour, and many of us chose to walk down the Clarke Quay and have dinner there too.
On day 5, we enjoyed a Dim Sum-style lunch with NUS students who had studied at UNC or were deciding if they wanted to study abroad at UNC in the future. Many were excited to taste the almost North Carolina/ southern-style chicken biscuits at the start of the meal, but the meal provided a variation of tofu, dumplings, duck, mango soup, and many other dishes. My table enjoyed talking with Jackie, a current NUS student, who had spent a semester at UNC last year. We compared cultures, asked what she thought of UNC, Franklin Street, and many other topics. I always find it fascinating to see the transitions other abroad students encounter or experience studying in another country, and was very happy to find such a positive reflection from the Singapore students who have traveled to UNC.
At the conclusion of lunch, the group was able to choose how to spend the rest of their afternoon, and many chose to split off into smaller groups and tour different areas. I chose to explore Orchard Street with a large portion of the group, which seems to be a popular tourist attraction and shopping area.
The exciting and fulfilling first week in Singapore was amazing and an easy transition for all of the group members. Having English as one of the primary languages spoken, it makes it easier to adjust to many of the other impacts, such as the environment and cultures. Even though the climate might have been our first breath taking introduction to Singapore (literally–as well as the reason for us sweating/glistening all the time), most have found that not having air conditioning in our rooms or in general can be something anyone can live without. It is any adjustment, whether it be no air conditioning or hearing Malay, Mandarin, Indian, or Singlish everyday, that I have been most impressed with how the group has catered to. The ajustments we are making everyday and the observations we are making have promoted us to discuss racial issues, question the conglomorate of cultures, explore independently what may be unknown or uncomfortable territory, and to question our own culture and country. I look forward to what lies ahead, and know that the adventure has only just begun……