Thursday, January 10: This morning we have lectures with officials at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS). According to the ISEAS website: The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies is dedicated to the study of social, political and economic trends in the region.
The aim of the Institute is to nurture a scholarly community interested in the region and to engage in research within the fields of sociology, anthropology, political science, history and economics.
The intention is not only to stimulate research and debate within scholarly circles, but also to enhance public awareness and facilitate the search for viable solutions to the varied challenges confronting the region. ISEAS seeks to offer reflective analysis and critical investigations in the best traditions of scholarship.
After our lectures, we take the Singapore Cable Car from Mount Faber to Sentosa Island, which calls itself “Asia’s Favorite Playground.” It has such attractions as Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom, beaches, nature walks, spas and resorts, and Siloso Point.
At Siloso Point, we visit Underwater World and its Dolphin Lagoon. We watch a dolphin show at the Dolphin Lagoon.
After the show we explore the rest of Underwater World, walking among leafy sea dragons and Medusa jellyfish. Stingrays and 10 foot-long sharks swim around us as the travellator takes us through the Ocean Colony’s submerged glass tubes.
In the evening, we have a dinner meeting with the group.
After our group meeting, and following a day of text-messaging back and forth with Madan, I meet him for a “date.” He meets me at the Great World Market Shopping Center. We get in his royal blue Toyota van/car. Royal blue seems to be quite the color for vehicles, especially taxis, in the city. He drives me up to Mt. Faber to see the view, but I say, “We were just here today!” So he drives me to the waterfront, where we take a walk.
We have a long conversation. He is Tamil. His father owns a spice factory and helped him open two restaurants. He is working on a business degree online through a London school. He’s not married and doesn’t have a girlfriend. I tell him about my life (two marriages, three kids, why I left). He says his older brother got married in an arranged marriage. His older sister did too, to her mother’s brother (her uncle)! Madan is emphatic that he does not want an arranged marriage. He doesn’t want to be married at all because he doesn’t want someone to control him. At that moment, he says, a wife would be calling him and asking him where he is.
We talk about how you can’t help who you like, how you can like someone without even knowing them. He says sometimes he goes to church and sees a girl he’s attracted to. It adds excitement to his life because he looks forward to seeing her in church every Sunday.
He keeps referring to American movies. He asks me if I fear for my life because Americans carry guns and in the news, Americans are always killing each other. He talks about Columbine and how students in American schools bring guns to school and shoot each other. He thinks it odd Americans should be allowed to have guns. I explain to him that we are a country of immigrants who came to America to escape oppressive governments and persecution. Americans distrust government by nature and want to limit the power it has. We believe in the right to bear arms – it’s a right conferred to us in our Constitution – in case we need to defend ourselves against a government gone awry.
Madan loves American movies, especially violent ones like The Terminator. He loves Arnold Schwarzenegger. He asks how Arnold is doing. I say I think he’s doing fine, but that I don’t keep up much with California politics. He discusses other American movies he loves. Most are adventure/thriller/action movies.
He says that this is the first time he has ever interacted with an American. Sometimes when he watches American movies, he has trouble understanding the actors, so he is happy that we are able to converse easily and he has no trouble understanding me.
He discusses the Asians in Singapore and says they are always seeking to marry a lighter skinned Asian than they are themselves. It’s considered a move up the social ladder. I ask him if he feels that way. He says he thinks he will want to marry someone lighter skinned than he is, so his children will be lighter skinned.
I’m curious about why he had focused on me rather than Juliana in the restaurant the first day we met, since she is close to him in age and I am so much older. I ask him if that was why he hardly spoke to Juliana, because she is dark-skinned. He says, no, he has plenty of black and dark-skinned friends; this desire to be with a light-skinned person would only apply to marriage because of the children.
I continue to press him regarding his apparent interest in me. He says that I sat directly across from him and I was talking and engaged with him. Juliana had been largely silent. I ask him why he had given us his card and taken our emails. He says because someday he wants to come to America and have someone to visit! It suddenly hits me, in an awkward moment of realization, that all he really wanted was to interact with an American. And I, with my white/blonde hair, represent the quintessential American! I tell him that he’d be surprised to know that Juliana is the truest of true Americans as she is Native American. He thought she was East Indian!
It turns out he thought it quite odd that I had called him the evening after we met to apologize for not coming back to eat lunch at his restaurant. I tell him Juliana was convinced that he was interested in me and persuaded me to call. I admit I apologized because I couldn’t think of anything else to say! He is very sweet; the realization hits us both at the same time that there has been a huge misunderstanding! A quite funny cultural (mis)communication.