Singapore continues to be amazing. This weekend was the homestay weekend, which for some of us were the two most meaningful days of our Program so far. Roy and I were hosted by a Singaporean student named Joel Zheng who had attended UNC during the last semester. His family welcomed us into their home and provided us with a rare opportunity to truly immerse our selves in the local culture. We had delicious Chinese food prepared by his parents, and Joel showed us all around Singapore, including taking us on a couple of nature trails that we would not have known about otherwise. It was also a very great opportunity to witness family life in a foreign country, and I learned a lot just talking to my hosts over meals. Our homestay lasted from Saturday morning to Sunday evening, which was comparatively longer than the average for our group. Not all of the Singaporeans were able to host UNC students overnight.
On Monday, we began taking classes with Dr. Quek, a native Singaporean who is very knowledgeable and not afraid to speak her mind about the government here. She is teaching us the section of the class about Singapore (we finished Malaysia on Friday), and provoking us to think critically.After class, some of us chose to visit a few different Hindu and Buddhist temples. The activity wasn’t on our schedule this year, but it was definitely worth seeing the beautiful architecture and observing local culture. Unplanned excursions around the island usually prove to be just as educational and as meaningful as the planned ones.
Tuesday we went to a football (soccer) game between two Singaporean teams. It was a decent trip, but I personally didn’t get quite as much out of it as I got out of our visit earlier today to the Ministry of Information Communication and the Arts. Much like our visit to the Housing Development Board, a government official gave us a presentation and allowed us to ask questions. Singapore is still a young nation, and the government here is hoping to appeal to the global community by boosting the arts (performing, visual, etc) in Singapore. In order to emulate cities like New York and London that are home to considerable arts movements, the government is sponsoring artists and groups and trying to promote the importance of creativity in education. Members of our group asked hard questions about censorship, bias and government regulation, which the spokeswoman tried to answer to the best of her ability. There are of course obvious contradictions in policies that promote creativity on one hand but suppress freedom of speech and assembly on the other. Even so, I left with a generally favorable impression and I look forward to enjoying more artistic/cultural events while in Singapore.