Many of us started this week with a leftover feeling of exhaustion from the week before. The weekend, which had previously been a brief period of recovery from the weekdays’ packed schedule, was occupied by our homestays. For this reason, many of us looked especially sleepy-eyed in class Monday morning. Whether it was from a late night out on the town or a somewhat unusual sleeping arrangement, we all looked invariably haggard.
In any case, after copious amounts of canned coffee, we headed to the zoo Monday afternoon. Our bedraggled assembly perked up pretty quickly upon encountering a couple of free-roaming monkeys upon entering. A scene reminiscent of Paris Hilton on the red carpet then commenced: picture after picture was snapped by the primate-preoccupied paparazzi. After the initial flurry of photographs, the group fanned out to find more photo-ops. The general consensus of the group was that the Singapore Zoo is far superior to most other zoos we have encountered in our young lives.
This week we also started classes with Dr. Emmanuel, our Malaysian history professor. We sat in admiration of his quick wit and frequent references to chick flicks which few men have been brave enough to see (and we also managed to learn a little about Malaysian history, too). Dr. Emmanuel was also kind enough to lead a trek out to Fort Canning Hill and Kampong Galam with the assistance of a couple of colleagues.
On Friday we also went to see a theatre production at the Esplanade entitled “3 Years, 8 Months, 20 Days.” It covered the stories of the three actresses as little girls under the Khmer Rouge regime. It was well-done and touching without being in-your-face. The play was performed in Khmer, but English subtitles were projected over the stage.
In our free time this week, several smaller groups made expeditions to various places around Singapore. I went with a few other girls to the Singapore Botanical Garden. We spent Friday afternoon in awe of the plethora of flowers around us, taking ridiculous numbers of pictures and generally being stereotypical girls confronted by something pretty.
A few of us also headed to Haw Par Villa Sunday afternoon to check it out. Haw Par Villa was created by the businessmen responsible for Tiger Balm in an attempt to motivate people to be upstanding, moral citizens. The park consists of many painted concrete statues depicting stories from Chinese folklore, world landmarks, many incarnations of the Buddha, and wildlife, among other things. However, the focal point of the park is the extremely graphic depiction of the ten courts of hell according to Taoist tradition. Here one can learn about what exactly the punishment will be for every sin—everything from drowning in a filthy blood pool for prostitutes in the first court of hell, to having organs pulled out for misusing books in the eighth court of hell. I personally think this could be an effective deterrent to book theft if used in the UNC Library system.
Singapore becomes more and more confusing with every passing day. I feel extremely conflicted on my views about this place. I have always been a strict believer in a non-interventionist approach by government, but yet in Singapore it works so well. Everything here is so efficient. While we have a tendency to want to jump to conclusions and say that the United States is better, having been told this every day of our waking lives, we are quickly realizing that we have much to learn from other countries, and there are plenty of things which other nations do well which we do not.