Tuesday, July 20, 2010

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish

I really did love that book as a kid. It is all the more reason for me to refer to this childhood classic when talking about entering a country that is a "melting pot," full of people belonging to different religious, ethnic, cultural groups.

To give you an idea of what Singapore is like, let me break it down for you since I have been researching the subject for a few months now.

For starters, I have previously talked about how far Singapore is from the United States. But at the time of this post, the longest direct flight in the world comes out of Newark and goes into Changi Airport in Singapore, direct. That's eighteen and a half hours in the air, non-stop.

Once you do reach Singapore, there are many different cultures that can be seen throughout the country. These diverse groups of people, while mostly coming from other parts of southeast Asia, each have their own distinct customs that they abide by.

For example, for the Chinese, men and women may shake hands, although the woman must extend her hand first. Regarding Indians, when being introduced to someone of the opposite sex, nodding the head and smiling is usually sufficient. For the Malays, never present alcohol to one as a gift. Why? I really couldn't tell you that. That's unfortunate since as a college student giving alcohol as a gift has been a go-to move because of its convenience and the enjoyment by people who have received said gift. Let me just quickly note here that the drinking age in Singapore is 18. Expect some good stories in the future with regards to that.

Great Britain, also, has had an influence on this country from when it was colonial ruler of Singapore during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They speak in English as their primary language! Oh sweet glory, hallelujah. My American ignorance can be retained for not having to learn another language. Look I tried Spanish, but the world language department from 5th to 12th grade just had me watching "Destinos" all the time and making stupid projects about "El Dia de Los Muertos" that taught me nothing. Not my fault. Although, I do feel guilty when I do run into an old Spanish teacher and they start talking to me in the language and I usually reply with a "No, I have no clue what you're saying." It's pretty sad.

The interesting thing is that while everyone speaks English there, the names of the country's citizens are anything but. The Chinese traditionally have three names. The surname or family name is first and is followed by two personal names. Take for the example the e-mail I just received ten minutes ago from someone in Singapore. Her name is Lim Mei Mei. Or maybe you fancy something more like an Ong See Min, who initially sent the acceptance letter to me for NUS. I won't even get started with the Malays and Indians. I have no clue how I am going to remember anyone's name! I should be honest with my readers by saying that I am not even sure if I am writing the order of those names correctly (i.e. it could be Mei Lim Mei or See Ong Min). I can't be sure regarding this issue considering I only have these individuals e-mail addresses to go off of.

The Singaporean style of English or "Singlish" as it is called is somewhat unique as well. An American can understand it, but its similar to when you hear an Englishman talk and you're just thinking "Wow, I guess that's another way of saying that." A quick example being that everyone likes to end an e-mail with "Cheers" rather than "Sincerely" or "Warmest Regards." I will update you in future posts about my experience trying to get through this tiny language barrier.

Talking about government regulations in this country that are taboo to most Americans, let me mention a few things that can lead to punishment in Singapore. You cannot chew gum unless it is for medical purposes and prescribed by a doctor. Oral and anal sex used to be against Singaporean law but were legalized three years ago, just an FYI. Although, homosexual activity is, in fact, illegal and could lead to a life sentence in prison. The list, just mentioned, of things not to do in Singapore can all lead to prison time or caning, which I hear is quite painful and leaves a scar for life :/

I will spare you with the details about food, urban life, beaches, housing etc. until I actually see them. For now, chew on this since I won't be able to in little time.

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