Professor Barnard’s class was focused on Malaysia. The best part of the class was that it was not just a lecture class. It included trips outside of the classroom and Malay films. Professor Barnard was humorous and not only taught us about Malay history but also much about Singapore as well. Being as we were new to Singapore, we had many questions for him. We learned some about breaking the laws in Singapore, but perhaps what was most interesting was his presentation of male-female relationships in Singapore. According to him, we learned that Singapore is a “conservative society.” A typical date would be more of a study date where a boy and girl will go to McDonalds to study for a few hours. Sometimes, if a boy and girl liked each other, they would not go on a solo date. Rather, they would go with other friends who in turn would try to get them together. All of this seemed quite elementary to us, but there is some truth to it. Talking to Singaporeans, this does fit some situations, but they say that their relationships are quite similar to those in the US. Certainly, they are more conservative, but not that conservative.
Although Professor Barnard did answer many of our questions, he told us to save more later because Professor Quek’s specialty was Singapore. Covering Malaysia was interesting as many of us did not know much about Malaysia. We learned about patron-client relationships between a raja (ruler) and his people or people traveling to his kingdom. We also learned about Malyasia through folktales. One of the most famous is the tale about Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat which teaches about the loyalty of a client to his patron. Hang Tuah is so loyal to the raja that he gives the love of his life to the raja and also kills his “brother” at the request of the raja. On the last day, we watched clips from a movie of Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat.
On that same day, we also watched Bujang Lapok which is a Malay comedy about three bachelors. Although the general plot line is about their relationships, we all got insights into some social aspects of Malay life. The powerful position of women is obvious in the film as some of the women are independent and influential. The women conduct the wedding negotiations and control much of what the men do. The men on the other hand, are portrayed as quite useless and poor.
Overall, I enjoyed his class tremendously. I thought that being in Singapore where we could integrate the resources here such as the Malay Heritage Centre and Malay films into the course was great. The teacher was not only tremendously knowledgeable, but also fun and enjoyable.