It’s amazing to think that the trip is half over. We’ll have been in Singapore three weeks tomorrow, and it’s as if we just got here. There’s so much more to do! I can’t speak for the rest of the group, but the longer I’m here, the more comfortable I feel getting around in the collection of cultures that make up Singapore. It no longer seems odd for me to walk across the street to a hawker stand, get a prata (flat Indian pancake) and some mee goreng (Indian noodle dish), and sit with the natives and watch a Chinese soap opera (as little as I may understand).
On Thursday, we took a trip to the U.S. embassy and talked with one of their leading experts on maritime security issues in the Malacca straits, after which we went to the botanical gardens and explored the rows upon rows of orchids, specially bred for visiting dignitaries. Friday afternoon, we watched the Singaporean film “I not stupid” with Dr. Quek, and discussed what it’s like to go through the Singaporean educational system. The weekend was mostly consumed by the arts, with one group venturing into the percussion scene for a free concert by the arts council, while others went to the grand national theatre, the Esplanade, to see traditional Chinese music and theatre. To top it off, the weekend included an excursion to one of the last undeveloped parts of this tiny city-state, the outlying island Pulau Ubin, where we went one a tour of the island with demonstrations of the various herbs and spices grown locally, and their uses. For me, Pulau Ubin displays the duality of Singapore society better than any other aspect of life here as an American student; in Singapore it’s possible to have both one of the most modernized, cosmopolitan cities in the world right alongside [practically] unspoiled, potentially useable territory. In Singapore, it’s possible to be one of the most dynamic, modernized societies in the world while retaining a rich blend of and languages and cultures. This is the most interesting part of Singapore to me, and characterizes the balancing act that so many others in our newly globalized world are struggling to establish.
Tuesday is our last day with Doctor Quek, after which we’ll start our course on Thai history with Professor Lockhart. Thursday we’ll head off to Malaysia for a whirlwind 4-day tour, and then it’s only one and a half more weeks in Singapore. The time really has gone by.