School of Public Policy

singapore: lectures at ISEAS, dolphin lagoon at underwater world & bicultural (mis)communication

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.

Attending lectures at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies

Attending lectures at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies

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.

Luz and Johanna at ISEAS

Luz and Johanna at ISEAS

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.

Luz, me and Johanna at ISEAS

Luz, me and Johanna at ISEAS

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 Mt. Faber Park, before getting on the Singapore Cable Car

At Mt. Faber Park, before getting on the Singapore Cable Car

Me at Mt. Faber Park

Me at Mt. Faber Park

Singapore Cable Car to Sentosa Island

Singapore Cable Car to Sentosa Island

On the Singapore Cable Car

On the Singapore Cable Car

View of Sentosa from the Singapore Cable Car

View of Sentosa from the Singapore Cable Car

Ryan in the Cable Car

Ryan in the Cable Car

At Siloso Point, we visit Underwater World and its Dolphin Lagoon.  We watch a dolphin show at the Dolphin Lagoon.

the Dolphin Show

the Dolphin Show

Spectators at Dolphin Lagoon

Spectators at Dolphin Lagoon

Dolphin Lagoon

Dolphin Lagoon

Dolphins at Dolphin Lagoon

Dolphins at 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.

Fish at Underwater World

Fish at Underwater World

Crab at Underwater World

Crab at Underwater World

Me & a friend at Underwater World

Me & a friend at Underwater World

Luz, ??, and Johanna at Underwater World

Luz, ??, and Johanna at Underwater World

Sharks swim around us at Underwater World

Sharks swim around us at Underwater World

In the evening, we have a dinner meeting with the group.

Tendai and Professor Rajan

Tendai and Professor Rajan

Ryan, Johanna, ??, ?? and me at our last night's dinner

Ryan, Johanna, ??, ?? and me at our last night’s dinner

??, me, Joe, Johanna, and Tendai at our final dinner in Singapore

??, me, Joe, Johanna, and Tendai at our final dinner in Singapore

Bicultural (Mis)communication

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.

 
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Categories: Angkor Wat, Arlington, Asia, Dolphin Lagoon, George Mason University, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, International Commerce & Policy, ISEAS, School of Public Policy, Sentosa Island, Siloso Point, Singapore, Singapore Cable Car, Underwater World, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

a day of lectures at Singapore Management University & the IMF-Singapore Regional Training Institute

Tuesday, January 8:  Today we attend lectures with a Director and Senior Lecturer of Finance at Singapore Management University and three speakers at the IMF-Singapore Regional Training Institute Office.

According to the university’s website, Singapore Management University (SMU) is internationally recognized for its world-class research and distinguished teaching. Established in 2000, SMU’s mission is to generate leading edge research with global impact and produce broad-based, creative and entrepreneurial leaders for the knowledge-based economy.  Home to about 8,000 students, the school is known to be a pioneer in Singapore for its interactive and technologically-enabled seminar-style teaching in small class sizes.

where we have our lecture today... what it is I no longer remember

The Lee Kong Chian School of Business at Singapore Management University

The lecture takes place in the Lee Kong Chian School of Business.  According to Wikipedia, this is a research-driven school, with a blend of education that focuses on academic research and industrial relevance. The program is modeled after the Wharton School’s curriculum to provide a broad-based approach to university education.  The Wharton School is the business school of the University of Pennsylvania.
Ryan and me

Ryan and me

Johanna, Luz and Juliana

Johanna, Luz and Juliana

At the undergraduate level, the school offers the Bachelor of Business Management (B.B.M.), a 4-year program with academic majors in the areas of Finance, Law, Management, Marketing, Quantitative Finance, and Operations Management.  The school also offers 3 Master’s programs which are targeted towards executives. These programs are the Master’s of Science in Applied Finance, the Master’s in Business Administration, and  the Master’s of Science in Wealth Management.

colorful art

colorful art

view of gardens

view of gardens

Later in the afternoon, we listen to three speakers from the IMF-Singapore Regional Training Institute office, which serves as the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) regional training center for the Asia-Pacific region. It provides training on macroeconomic and financial management, and related legal and statistical issues, to government officials from 37 countries.

The STI is a joint venture of the IMF and the Government of Singapore, who together guide the training program. The STI helps further the work of the Singapore Cooperation Program, which coordinates the resources available in Singapore for technical assistance to other countries. The IMF receives substantial funding from the Government of Japan toward its share of the STI’s costs, with important additional support from the Government of Australia.

Each year more than 700 officials participate in STI events, and another 100 attend national or regional courses held elsewhere in the region. Since 1998, the STI has provided training to more than 10,000 officials (Welcome to the IMF – Singapore Regional Training Institute).

Johanna, Luz and Ryan in front

Johanna, Luz and Ryan in front

In the evening a group of us go out and have our first experience of an Asian nightclub: the Ministry of Sound at Clarke Quay.  It has a rotating dance floor and smoke rising from floor vents.  The waiter keeps intruding by sticking coasters under our drinks, on a glass table!

Ryan

Ryan at the Ministry of Sound

Categories: Asia, George Mason University, IMF-Singapore Regional Training Institute, International Commerce & Policy, Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Ministry of Sound, School of Public Policy, Singapore, Singapore Management University | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

singapore: the study abroad program, singapore press holdings, mt. faber park, masjid sultan mosque, chinatown, marina bay, & merlions

Monday, January 7:  Today our study abroad program begins in earnest under the tutelage of  Associate Professor Ramkishen S. Rajan of George Mason University’s School of Public Policy in Arlington, Virginia.

The overview of our program is thus:

Asia houses the world’s largest population and some of the fastest growing economies in the world. While much has been said and  written on China and India, one cannot ignore the dynamic Southeast Asian sub-region. This region consists of eleven countries that are geographically south of China and east of India — Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The School of Public Policy (SPP) Southeast Asia Study Abroad program focuses on two of the more developed Southeast Asian countries: Singapore and Thailand. Both are highly open economies which have been very successful in developing and growing rapidly by attracting large-scale foreign direct inflows and becoming significant global exporters in electronics and other areas. Both countries are also major tourist destinations. Both countries also experienced sharp slowdown following the regional financial crisis of 1997-98 but have recovered since then and regained their economic vibrancy.

SINGAPORE: View from Mt. Faber Park

SINGAPORE: View from Mt. Faber Park

The focus of this program will be to understand the trade and development experiences, paying attention to the key economic and political economy policy challenges facing these two countries and the larger Southeast Asian region in the 21st century.

Unlike a conventional course taken in the classroom, this course will expose students to the sights, smells, and sounds of the countries themselves. Students will hear presentations by leading regional academics and experts, and visit universities, think tanks, enterprises, and cultural landmarks. The course will be an intense learning experience, with constant interaction among the students, GMU course director, and course lecturers and other participants.

Key Topics include: Politics and governance: Military and politics; Terrorism; System of government; Role of entrepreneurship; Tackling corruption; Religion and society; The role of the state in economic development; The role of values in economic development; The impact of globalization; Foreign direct investment and trade; The tourism sector; Impact of rise of China and India; Growth strategies for small and open economies; Environmental issues; International relations; Openness, media and the Internet; Operating in a multicultural environment, Local and Trans-boundary environmental issues; Issues relating to education; Demographic transition.

—————————-

Today our first stop is at Singapore Press Holdings, incorporated in 1984.  This is Southeast Asia’s leading media organization.

Singapore Press Holdings

Singapore Press Holdings

Singapore Press Holdings, or SPH, publishes 18 newspaper titles in four languages. On an average day, 3.06 million individuals or 76 per cent of people above 15 years old, read one of SPH’s news publications.  SPH also publishes and produces more than 100 magazine titles in Singapore and the region, covering a broad range of interests from lifestyle to information technology.  The internet editions of SPH newspapers enjoy over 270 million page views with 18 million unique visitors every month.  SPH also has stakes in the radio business and television, and owns and manages Paragon, the prime retail and office complex in the heart of Orchard Road, Singapore’s main shopping belt.

We get a tour of the newsroom

We get a tour of the newsroom

We get a tour of the newsroom and then listen to a lecture by the Deputy Editor and Foreign Editor of The Straits Times.  Part of their talk is about freedom of the press in Singapore.  The lecturer discusses the issue of self-censorship among journalists. According to Freedom House: Singapore’s media market remains tightly constrained. All newspapers, radio stations, and television channels are owned by government-linked companies. Although editorials and news coverage generally support state policies, newspapers occasionally publish critical pieces. Self-censorship is common among journalists as a result of PAP pressure. The Sedition Act, in effect since British colonial rule, outlaws seditious speech, the distribution of seditious materials, and acts with “seditious tendency.” Media including videos, music, and books are sometimes censored, typically for sex, violence, or drug references. In April 2007, the government banned Martyn See’s documentary film about a political activist’s 17-year detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA). (Freedom House: 2008 Singapore)

Office of the Strait Times

Office of the Straits Times

After our lecture, we go for views of Singapore from 116m-high Mount Faber Park, one of the oldest parks in Singapore.  From this park you can take a cable car to Sentosa Island or enjoy the panoramic view of the southern part of Singapore and the southern islands, according to Lonely Planet: Things to do in Singapore.

Mount Faber is covered by a secondary rain forest. The vegetation on the slope helps to stabilise the terrain besides beautifying the park. Planted in the park are arenga palms, rhododendrons, Bougainvilleas and Red Flame, Cassia fistula and Alstonia trees.

At and around the summit are a number of red-brick paths through manicured gardens, pavilions, look-out points and a cafeteria with fantastic views over the Singapore Strait and onward to the Indonesian Riau Islands.

A mural wall depicting scenes of local history can be seen at Upper Faber Point, the highest point in the park where a tree was planted during the first Tree Planting Day.

Mural at Mount Faber Park

Mural at Mount Faber Park

Singapore was known as Temasek (which means ‘sea town’ in Javanese) in ancient times. Temasek was destroyed by either Javanese or Siamese in the end of 4th century AD, according to historians. As recorded in the legend in the Malay Annals, a Srivijayan prince Sang Nila Utama rediscovered the island later in the 11th century AD. Here the prince saw a strange looking beast which he concluded was a lion (Hub Pages: Merlion Statue: Singapore’s National Animal and Symbol).

However, recent studies of Singapore indicate that lions (even Asiatic lions) have never lived there and the animal seen by Sang Nila Utama was either a white fox or a tiger, most likely the Malayan tiger. The prince was happy as he believed it to be a good omen and decided to stay on the island.  He built a new city with his men and renamed the city “Singapura” (from which the name Singapore was derived). Singa means lion in Malay and pura means city in Sanskrit (Hub Pages: Merlion Statue: Singapore’s National Animal and Symbol).

View from Mt. Faber Park

View from Mt. Faber Park

The Merlion is a half-lion half-mermaid figure that is a well-known symbol of Singapore.  If China has a dragon as one of its national symbols and Scotland has a unicorn as its national animal, then Singapore has its own mythical beast as its national symbol – The Merlion.  The Merlion is a male. The name comes from the merging of the words “lion” and “mermaid”, hence Merlion. The mermaid refers to the fact that Singapore (or Singapura in Malay) was once a fishing village (Hub Pages: Merlion Statue: Singapore’s National Animal and Symbol).

According to Wikipeadia, there are five Merlion statues in Singapore that are recognized by the Singapore Tourism Board.   This three-metre-tall polymarble Merlion statue is on Mount Faber’s Faber Point.

Merlion at Mt. Faber Park

Merlion at Mt. Faber Park

Our study-abroad group at Mt. Faber Park

Our study-abroad group at Mt. Faber Park: Left to right: ??, Juliana, me, Johanna & Luz

Me at Mt. Faber Park

Me at Mt. Faber Park

We then get on the bus to head to the Masjid Sultan Mosque, considered one of the most important mosques in Singapore. On the way we see some interesting buildings and parks outside the window.

in passing ~ out the bus window

in passing ~ out the bus window

another building and park outside the bus window

another building and park outside the bus window

The Masjid Sultan is the oldest mosque in Singapore, and is located in the Malay-Muslim Quarter of town. The sheen of the two distinguished golden domes that top it, as well as its colorful yet tasteful façade, has made it one of the premiere destinations for visitors of any faith.

Masjid Sultan

Masjid Sultan

Masjid Sultan

Masjid Sultan

the streets outside the Masjid Sultan

the streets of the Malay-Muslim quarter outside the Masjid Sultan

Masjid Sultan

Masjid Sultan

Standing on a site totaling 44,228 square feet (4,109 square meters), the massive interior two-stories high can hold about 5,000 faithful Muslims, with separate conference rooms and auditoriums to seat many more. It is also decorated with handcrafted motifs, golden floral patterns and calligraphy to top it all with intricate design.  The prayer hall and domes highlight the mosque’s star features.

Inside the prayer hall of the Masjid Sultan

Inside the prayer hall of the Masjid Sultan

Having long been a hub for local commerce and art, the mosque is also known to have been the place of several historic events, including where several racial riots took place in the 1950s.(Viator: Masjid Sultan Mosque)

We then venture to Chinatown to see the Thian Hock Keng Temple.

The Thian Hock Keng Temple was erected in 1821 by seamen grateful for safe passage, and stands where Singapore’s waterfront used to be, before the land was reclaimed.

entrance to Thian Hock Keng Temple

entrance to Thian Hock Keng Temple

When the first Chinese immigrants arrived at Singapore after a turbulent voyage through the infamous South China Sea, the grateful new settlers erected the Thian Hock Keng Temple along the shore in gratitude to the Goddess of the Sea, Mazu. Over the years, the temple has been one of the most important temples for the Hokkien community. What’s fascinating about this architectural work is that it consists of meticulously designed motifs and columns which were all assembled without the use of nails. The restoration project won four architectural awards and during the 1998 restoration works, the builders stumbled across a carefully stowed away scroll on one of the high beams. The scroll was allegedly written by the Qing emperor Guang Xu himself who pronounced his blessings on the Chinese community (ComeSingapore.com: Thian Hock Keng Temple).

inside Thian Hock Keng Temple

inside Thian Hock Keng Temple

inside Thian Hock Keng Temple

inside Thian Hock Keng Temple

Thian Hock Keng Temple

Thian Hock Keng Temple

Chinatown is Singapore’s cultural heart, providing glimpses of the old ways with its numerous temples, decorated terraces and frantic conglomeration of merchants, shops and activity. Unfortunately much of Chinatown has been torn down and redeveloped over the past 30 years, but it’s still a fascinating place to explore.

Although faithful restoration has saved some parts of Chinatown, it has also posed a new threat, as the restored buildings are now desirable properties commanding high rents. Traditional businesses – such as shops selling incense to temple worshippers, letter writers and chop (stamp) makers – are moving out, and a new gentrified Chinatown of fashionable restaurants and expensive shops is taking its place (Lonely Planet: Singapore City: Chinatown)

Singapore's Chinatown

Singapore’s Chinatown

me and Johanna with a statue in Singapore

me and Johanna with a statue in Singapore

Our group then heads to Merlion Park at Marina Bay, where we take a boat ride.  Merlion Park is a basin surrounded by iconic Singaporean buildings, restaurants, discos and other businesses.

Marina Bay

Marina Bay

Johanna on the boatride

Johanna on the boatride

businesses surrounding Marina Bay

businesses surrounding Marina Bay

a floating restaurant

a floating restaurant

restaurants along the bay

restaurants along the bay

views from our boat

views from our boat

Marina Bay

Marina Bay

on the edges of Marina Bay

on the edges of Marina Bay

The original Merlion was first built in 1972 as an 8 meter tall sculpture and was located at the mouth of Singapore river. The statue was built by Lim Nan Seng, a local craftman who won several prizes in the Singapore Handicraftt and Design competition organized by the Singapore Tourism Board in 1970. The body of Merlion is made up of cement, eyes from small red teacups and skin from porcelain plates. The fish-body of Merlion is said to symbolize Singapore’s origin as a prosperous seaport. The beautiful tall sculpture was commissioned for $165,000 in 1971 and installed formally on 15 September 1972 by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

When the Esplanade Bridge was completed in 1997, it blocked the views of the Merlion from the Marina Bay waterfront.   In 2002, the statue was relocated 120 meters to the current Merlion Park that fronts Marina Bay, where it stands on a pomontory in front of the luxurious Fullerton Hotel (Hub Pages: Merlion Statue: Singapore’s National Animal and Symbol).

THE original Merlion at Merlion Park, Marina Bay, Singapore

THE original Merlion at Merlion Park, Marina Bay, Singapore

After our tour of Singapore, we have a group dinner in the hotel where Professor Rajan lectures about economics in the country.

Tendai, me and Luz at dinner

Tendai, me and Luz at dinner

Categories: Asia, Chinatown, George Mason University, International Commerce & Policy, Malay-Muslim Quarter, Marina Bay, Masjid Sultan Mosque, Merlion, Merlion, Merlion Park, Mount Faber Park, School of Public Policy, Singapore, Singapore Press Holdings, Thian Hock Keng Temple | Tags: , | Leave a comment

a southeast asia study abroad trip: arrival in singapore

Saturday, January 5:  In January of 2008, I went on a study-abroad trip to Southeast Asia.  It was part of my Master’s degree program in International Commerce & Policy at George Mason UniversitySingapore was our first stop.  After about 5 days in Singapore, we went to Phuket, Thailand for a weekend and then on to Bangkok.

When I returned from our trip, we had to write a paper about our impressions of Singapore and another on impressions of Thailand.  It’s a good thing I was assigned to write this paper, otherwise I wouldn’t remember anything as I didn’t keep a journal.

Arrival at Singapore Changi Airport

Arrival at Singapore Changi Airport

I arrived safely in Singapore and got to the Orchard Parade Hotel at 2 a.m. Saturday.  I waited in the airport for one of my classmates,  Juliana, for a long time, but I wasn’t sure if she had already arrived and taxied to the hotel alone.  Finally, I just caught a taxi myself.  She arrived there around 3 a.m.!

On Saturday morning, Juliana and I got up and had breakfast at a coffee shop then took the open air Hippo bus tour.  We saw Little India, Little China, Arab St. and various other things.  After we finished, we said, well, I guess we’ve seen all of Singapore.  Now what?
It’s pristine, well-developed, and quite characterless.  This is what I imagine Hong Kong must be like.  I didn’t think I would be impressed, and I wasn’t.  It’s like the high-class shopping district of any American city.  A melting pot of different nationalities, yet everyone speaks English.  There are way too many American businesses to suit me.  I frankly don’t see the appeal.
Juliana at an outdoor cafe

Juliana at an outdoor cafe

Orchard Hotel

Orchard Parade Hotel

In the evening, Juliana and I walked down Orchard Road to find an indoor, air-conditioned, restaurant.  We walked for blocks and only saw a few outdoor cafes, steamy and uninviting in the soggy heat.  There appeared to be no relief from the damp warmth!  We finally found a Meze bar, described on the window-front as “Asian tapas.”  My experience of meze is usually Lebanese tapas.  At this ultra-modern lounge, we paid 15 Singapore dollars ($12.13) for a Tiger beer.  We shared a plate of delicious Dim Sum dumplings.

Juliana at the Meze bar

Juliana at the Meze bar

Juliana and me with frizzy, soggy hair

Juliana and me with frizzy, soggy hair

We were sorely disappointed in the shortage of places to stop in for a drink or food.  We saw hordes of young people walking the streets, but what were they doing?  There seemed absolutely nothing to do but shop!  And at this hour of the night, 10 p.m., the stores were closed.  Juliana got some relief from the heat by ordering a square slice of ice cream slapped between two wafers, made directly from a vendor’s cart.

a square of ice cream to cool us off

a square of ice cream to cool us off

Categories: Arlington, Asia, George Mason University, International Commerce & Policy, Orchard Parade Hotel, Orchard Road, School of Public Policy, Singapore | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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