This week has already slowed down greatly from the action packed events lined up last week, but that does not mean we have been completely unoccupied. On Monday many of us tried this amazing food that everyone keeps telling us about called Prata. And indeed, it was incredible. It’s very similar to crepe, only Singaporean style. I for one loved the sauce that came with it, maybe because it reminded me a lot of Indian food. The beginning of this week was spent mostly on going to class, doing readings for class, and watching movies for class. Also, we had time to take care of some much needed errands such as doing laundry and buying cleaning supplies. It seems a bit odd to write about such mundane things but even though we are on the other side of the world, we still have day to day activities that are similar no matter where one winds up. Last week we spent a lot of time doing many tourist activities, mostly to stay awake and fight the jet lag. We did some tourist activities this week as well, but we also spent quite some time trying to delve deeper into Singapore’s lifestyle.
We initially did this by watching a movie and documentaries. The movie focused on a typical Singaporean family while the documentaries showed the process of moving people out of the houses they lived in to government issued housing as well as converting graveyards into more public housing. People’s lives were greatly affected by this move. However, this happened over thirty years ago. When we asked people of our generation how they felt about this, they told us that they grew up in public housing and so they didn’t know anything aside from that. We even got to learn more about public housing by going directly to the source.
We visited the Housing Development Board to get a better idea of how Singapore has 84% of its population in public housing. There are many options as to where and how many rooms one can get for one’s housing with the price varying accordingly. There are many subsidies put in place to help people who may not initially be able to afford housing. Additionally, we learned that the government strives to keep Singapore an integrated society by placing quotas on the different ethnic groups in each housing development. To insure a community feel to each housing complex, there are usually community centers close by. The ground floor level of each flat are called the void deck. The void deck is a general free space for anyone. It has a lounge and generally, there are many shops located at the void deck. Another interesting thing about the void deck is that it is where people hold funeral services for loved ones. One Singaporean told me that one time, one of her friend’s went to a void deck where two funerals were being held, and she accidentally attended the wrong one. This goes to show that although Singapore is doing very well with space conservation, it can still be difficult at times.
This week we also got to go to Little India, which personally, made me really excited. We went to three Hindu temples filled with numerous avatars (reincarnation of God). One major misconception of Hinduism is that it’s a polytheistic religion, when, in actuality, Hinduism is a monotheistic religion. There are just many representations for the One Supreme Being. The names and the symbolism behind each of the avatars were given and explained in the context of Hindu texts, but the explanation can be confusing for anyone that is not familiar with the religion given its complexity. After the tour of the temples we had delicious (and spicy) Indian food. For the first time that I was in Singapore, I actually knew what a lot of the food was by name instead of having to guess by the pictures. I know for sure I’m making a return trip there.
My favorite part of this week was the home stay. I got to stay with someone that I had hung out with earlier during my time in Singapore. She attended UNC Fall 2006 (basically everyone’s host had studied at UNC or is going to go there next year). I really enjoyed the home stay because we got to see what a normal day is like for people our age (granted that our hosts were trying especially hard to entertain us since we were from another country). When we got to her place, the first thing we did was eat the lunch her mom had cooked for us, which of course was scrumptious. Then we went to the park and went cycling and then Jessica, my host, and I went to an Art Festival. Afterwards, we went to a Barbeque/birthday party and returned to her flat. In all, we spent the day doing the same things anyone would do in the States. This goes to show that people half way around the world share many things in common. The only difference I can note (besides the food) is that my host’s flat had an Asian style bathroom, which was not unexpected. As far as everything else, it was completely similar. I could even watch American TV shows (which I didn’t, because what would be the point of that?). My host and I got along very well. Carrie (my host) and I talked about everything from interracial dating to what anime we watched. She told me a little bit about the local bands and I learned about where I can go to do waterskiing, kayaking, and even paint balling. I really hope that I get to hang out with my host again.