Cultural Explosion

My schedule is so jam packed so the blogs are coming quite slowly!

Wednesday was the first day of proper lectures, and although I have very little knowledge of anthropology and cultural studies, at least of that of Southeast Asia, I found the lectures to be very interesting and incredibly stimulating. There were topics on Culture, Heritage, Architecture, Religion, Archaeology, Modernity vs. Tradition, Ethnicity, Identity and Race (perhaps the last one lesser so). An interesting element was a case study of the Paranakan  people of Singapore.


On the evening I met up with a Singaporean student at NUS called Eileen, as well as some of the people from Copenhagen. Eileen took us all to a restaurant where I had some Nonya food, which is food cooked by the females of the Paranakan, and so far it’s the best thing I have tried in Singapore. I also had a Thai Milk Tea that was bloody lovely. Ngiam, Maggie and Kareem then joined us for dinner!

 Thursday there was the highest Haze PSI since 1997; it hit a new high of 371! So we had to stay primarily indoors in air-conditioned rooms! On the government health website in Singapore anything about 300 is considered ‘Hazardous’ – frightening! I went with one of the Danish people on the course, Victoria, to find Central Library, as I wanted to start the Film Review assignment, but that was a huge palaver.  We returned to UTown and then parted. After doing some reading I went out for some lunch with my suite-mates. We then came back and played cards! Woooo!

On Friday I had two lectures; the first look at Southeast Asia as a region, in particular its contextual and historical development, whilst the second looked at the importance of Rice in Southeast Asian cultures. Both of these lectures had interesting elements, especially the former. After a long day in lectures (a day that, may I add, hit 401 on the PSI reading of Singapore) I met with Trent, David, Rahavie, Charlie, Victor and Carl for dinner; we decided to go to Clementi Mall and we found a Japanese restaurant there, and it was divine!

The day that has exhausted me the most, so far, has been Saturday, where we went out to various places in Singapore. We started the tour at 8:45 by visiting the organization that the Hokkien Huay Kuan belongs to, and that consisted of a rather unexpected and dreary lecture.


I did, however, learn a considerable amount about the way Singapore allows things such as Clans to run, how important Clans are to Singaporean society, and, more importantly, some temple etiquette. We then explored the Chinese Temple of Hokkien Huay Kuan for about 10 minutes before departing to our next destination that was one of the most quaint yet marvelous buildings of a Baba House.

‘Baba’ is a Paranakan term to mean ‘Man’, and Paranakan’s, like many other cultures, differentiate their items by gender, so a house is Masculine therefore it is ‘Baba’, whereas a window pane is feminine, and therefore is ‘Nonya’. Paranakan culture is perhaps one of the things that has fascinated me since learning about it. House etiquette, for example, is particularly interesting: when entering a Baba House one cannot go beyond the first room unless a member of the family or a close friend. The architectural design of the house is sort of a synthesis between traditional Chinese architecture with that of Western architecture. Traditionally the women were to be cooks and were educated in how to sew; the merit found in their cooking and sewing were the factors which determined who would take them for their wives; once married the woman would leave the Baba House (where traditionally all of the family would stay) and live with her husband, whether she liked it or not.  After the Baba House we went to a Hawker Centre where I tried the ‘renowned’ Hokkien Chicken Rice, and, wow, was it good! 


After coming back to the room I watched ‘Rice People’, as we have to do a film review on a Southeast Asian film, set in a Southeast Asian language: Rice People is one based in Cambodia, therefore it’s a film in Khmer.

I then went to a concert that the Danish people suggested: it was that bad I walked out at the interval. As I was returning to the residence I saw my suite-mates at an Italian restaurant, so joined them. Some then went on to go out, whilst the rest of us went back to the suite where I then played more card games with people!

I started Sunday with writing my Film Review assignment and then went out with Trent, Charlie and Victor to Labrador Park, a lovely picturesque place. David, Trent and I then went back to the Italian restaurant from the day before, this time for food. We then returned to the suite for card games!


Yesterday was a day of exploration! I started the morning off with a lecture about religion (I should also note that I have been buying coffee from Starbucks – I used to have morals…). The first part of this lecture was based on Islam in Southeast Asia, in particular Indonesia, and this part was fairly dull. The next part, however, blew my mind. It has been the most traumatic lecture I have ever had: the lecturer’s research topic is Pain, in particular the self-mortified pain of the Filipino’s in Pampanga; during Holy Week people self-mortify themselves through flagellation and crucifixion (they are actually nailed to the cross…). It was absolutely sickening seeing all of the pictures and images that depict the horrors of, what is in the Philippines, a very normal thing.

I have been questioning my purpose on this Summer School; the Indonesia trip was cancelled so, musically, I had very little to gain. Not being an anthropologist, or an archaeologist, or any ‘ologist’ that has precedence on this course, I turned my interest to the religious part of the course (religion is after all one of the few things I am able to talk about). The next part, however, hit me like a rocket – four months ago I decided I would write an opera, but my question was “What on?” Being in Southeast Asia I have just found the answer to that.

After the lecture I met up with Rie and Michelle to go to Chinatown and Little India for some research. Chinatown is one of the most brilliant places I have visited in Singapore so far. It is so alive with so many interesting people who bring their own identity to Chinatown. The ‘research’ element turned into more of a photo taking expedition! We visited the large Buddhist temple there, and I have never felt like I did in that temple. During our time there they were in a service of sorts – whether it was just ‘prayer’ or a ritual of some sorts I do not know, but it was mesmerizing watching ordinary people sitting behind Monks, singing lines non-stop from a huge book in Chinese; it was an incredible yet mystical experience. We then went to a restaurant in Chinatown, which was a bit expensive but it was good food.

Our next excursion was to Little India. After getting off the MRT we went backwards and forwards trying to find the certain part that Michelle knew, and we eventually found it. I don’t think we spent longer than 30 minutes in Little India. It wasn’t a particularly nice place and I have no intention of returning there. 

We then went forward to Harbour Front where we went to a huge shopping mall! Like when I say huge, I mean huge. Singaporean shopping malls are just insanely big. We got some ice cream, and then looked for book and stationary shops but they didn’t seem to exist. We returned back to UTown, and then I played piano to Rie, Michelle and Lina, which they seemed to enjoy! I then came back to the suite and played Uno with Trent and David until … very late … 

2 thoughts on “Cultural Explosion”

  1. You have been busy. Interesting china town and the temple. Amazing. Like to see the shopping mall! Keep playing the piano!

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