The last thing I wanted to do on a beautiful summer day was attend a 7 hour culture class. Nope, not interested. But, knowing that I set the example for the kids, and their day of learning is next week, I figured out a way to make this day-long class a happy occasion: by inviting the instructor to my home, where we sat on the porch sipping ice-teas and ordered take-out while she taught me all about Singapore! And, it turns out, I really enjoyed Culture Class!!
Here are some interesting tidbits about Singapore:
Singapore land area is 263 square miles (the main island-city/state with 63 offshore islands) with nearly 5.5 million people.
Singapore was originally covered with tropical rain forest & mangrove swampland, however in the last 2 centuries human development has altered most of the original landscape in line with the ever-expanding housing and industrial needs. Only 2% of the island is forest, 2% agricultural, more than 50% is housing & office space, and the remaining 46% is marshland or undeveloped land or protected parks. However, in an effort to increase the inhabitable land area of the islands, hills are being leveled, swamps drained & filled, and many of the small inlets and reefs have been enlarged or joined to form larger islands.
Singapore is hot and humid all year, with a low of 65 and highs in the 80’s. It rains every day in short heavy showers!
76% are Chinese, 14% Malay, 8% Indian and 2% other
Two official language: Mandarin & English but other common languages are Malay, Hokkein, Cantonese, Teochew, Tamil, and mother-tongue dialects.
Religions: 42% are Buddhist, 15% Muslim, 9% Taoist, 4% Hindu, 5% Catholic and 10% other Christian.
Unemployment rate = 1.5%
The kids school is in the northern part, in the Woodlands. This is also where most of the Americans live, however, we have chosen to live in Holland Village, which is more central, near Bukit Timah. This is also where the kids swim team practices. Trents office is in Yishun, and the airport is in Changi. The island is so small that it only takes 30 minutes to get from the Woodlands to Sentosa Island.
I was told that there are no poisonous snakes or spiders in Singapore, however there are snakes and big-as-your-hand spiders. Yikes. Flying squirrels and monkeys (but no flying monkeys), and peacocks! We did see a pair of peacocks on our visit, but the Chinese consider them to be good luck, and so the children chase them in attempt to pull out their long tail feathers. It’s really a sight to see, and I found it nearly irresistible to not join in the fun… I mean, isn’t that on your bucket list? To chase a peacock and pull out a long tail-feather? It’s on mine, that’s for sure!!
I learned all kinds of great information about Singapore history, the people of Singapore, their government, Chinese, Malay, and Indian family & women, education, how to meet and greet, gift giving, expectations when invited into their homes, weddings & funeral customs, holidays & festivals, leisure activities, foods & eating etiquette, health risks, laws & safety, and many many other topics! ( look for future posts about these topics!!)
One of the items that I find to be most interesting is how the people of this country have been taught by their government to live harmoniously with each other. In 1979 the Prime Minister launched the “Courtesy Campaign” which was designed to bring people together with harmony among multi-ethnic groups and to improve everyday courtesy. Then in 1996 the Prime Minister launched the “Kindness Movement” after a speech directing Singaporeans to be a gracious society by the 21st century.
The children are taught about all the religions of the world at a young age, and taught to be accepting and supportive, so when they are in public and they see someone practicing their religion, say kneeling at prayer-time at an open temple, it doesn’t faze them. They accept it, respect it, and don’t think twice about their differences. If they do mock someone, any adult has the right to publicly chastise and punish that child!
Trent returns home finally on July 20th! He didn’t have the chance to take a culture class because he was sent off so quickly, and he thought that he didn’t need to spend time with a teacher. After all, he has traveled to Asia frequently, and now he has been living there (albeit in a Sheraton) since April. When when I quizzed him last night during our Skype conversation, it became very evident that he should make time for this.
Questions I asked him? Why do the Asians have what we Americans considered a “limp” or “weak” handshake? Why do they not make eye contact? Why should you never use your left hand? Why is it that you should never let them see they soles of your feet? Why is it that he should expect months and month of unproductive meetings? Why is it when Asians say “yes” it doesn’t necessarily mean “yes”?
Stay tuned for the answers to these questions & more information about my host-country as I continue to learn! The kids have their culture class next week, and I cannot wait to see what they are taught, what they find exciting, and not so exciting! Our departure date is quickly nearing, and the pace of our lives has quickened as we rush to see everyone, do fun things and make memories, and get packed up!!!