Sunday, September 6, 2009


Thai food, traditional Thai dance, Thai goods, and some Chinese lion dancing composed Stephanie’s and my night on Thursday. And we didn’t even have to make the trip north.

The Thai embassy is hosting a festival this week including vendors selling homemade goods. Among the array: face whitening all natural face masks, anchovy chips, Thai massage, brown rice for weight loss, and fried chicken. No, I didn’t buy a whitening face mask or a massage, nor did I fall for the brown rice for weight loss gimmick, I wasn’t even tempted by the fried chicken. Unfortunately, though, I did accidentally sample the anchovy chips…and unfortunately it took about five samples of dried mango, guava and strawberries to get rid of the taste.

There were, however, some really great items for sale including handmade jewelry, silk scarves, and organic fruit. Stephanie and I also enjoyed the papaya salad (which is not at all sweet like you’d expect, but rather incredibly spicy…like “Uncle Ed might have trouble with this” spicy…but delicious in a “my mouth is on fire but I can’t stop eating this” kind of way). We also shared some sweet rice and yam that is cooked in banana leaves for dessert.

And, as if the Thai festival wasn’t enough culture for one night, Stephanie and I then headed down the street to watch the Chinese lion dance semi-finals. Talk about incredible athleticism. Two guys wearing heavy, intricate lion costumes jump around, lifting one another, twisting, turning, flipping all on top of these stilt-like structures that sit 3-5 meters off the ground, and they stay in time with the live musicians! It was powerful yet beautifully graceful all at the same time. I’ve seen lion dancing in the streets of London on Chinese New Year before, but that was entertainment, nothing like the incredibly artistry of these dancers. I was absolutely holding my breath.

While I have been greatly enjoying my adventures in and exploration of the city so far, I am truly looking forward to starting my teaching job as well. On Friday morning, I was able to visit my school, Commonwealth Secondary. It is in a neighborhood fairly near to mine, just two MRT stops west and a short bus ride up the road. In this beautiful, blindingly white building overlooking a reservoir of the Singapore River, the students’ colorful art work hangs on every wall and students, in pressed light blue uniforms, chat noisily in the canteen, in open air classrooms, and near the outdoor pond and seating areas not at all oblivious to the new stranger in their midst. I have to say, I don’t remember ever being so blatantly and curiously stared at and whispered about than I was that day. But, I was not at all uncomfortable. These were stares of innocent curiosity and whispers of genuine interest.

I am really thrilled to have the opportunity to interact and exchange knowledge with these students. I feel the words “interact” and “exchange knowledge” are better terms than “teach” for my upcoming 16-month experience, as I honestly believe my 13 and 14-year-old students will teach me just as much, if not more, than I will them.

I will be working in open air classrooms but have an air-conditioned staff room (as in Asia the teachers, not the students, change classrooms). I can also use the staff gym, which overlooks the reservoir and includes, among the typical equipment, a Wi Fit.

For the first semester I will be co-teaching and observing three Language Arts classes (basically a combination of grammar and literature), and participating in one dance class (sort of a stew-like combo of Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian dance forms). I will start teaching my own classes in January when the new term begins. My students will be fresh out of primary school, awkward, and scared to death of secondary school, changing physically and emotionally, and fitting-in and everything else 13-year-olds worry about…should be an adventure! I also have several projects to complete within the next year. Before the end of this term, I am going to choreograph a dance with the three student dance leaders (a specialist in each Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian dance) that we will then teach to the entire student body (one thousand 13 to 17-year-olds!) beginning in January. The project will culminate with a performance that the students will put on in a neighborhood park in March.

My other projects include helping my mentor, Yui Yun, to plan the Language Arts recruitment project for next year and planning and organizing a trip abroad for the New Media Club. I will be assisting the New Media Club in publishing a monthly newspaper and in creating a monthly broadcast. We will also travel to China, Korea, Vietnam, or Cambodia or somewhere else nearby in June for a service learning project and will create a media presentation about our trip and experiences! I am really excited to have such great learning opportunities ahead of me.

After I visited my school on Friday, I decided to make a trip to the “Wal-Mart” of Asia, as my future co-workers at school in a teasing-sort-of-way referred to it. Apparently it is huge and hard to miss. Also, apparently, I missed it. But, as with my past experiences, sometimes you find the best things when you are lost. I was lost in an outdoor market complete with fresh fruit stalls, discount clothing, and sweet, little, ancient, Asian women trying to barter the shampoo down from $3 to $2.75. I eventually did also find IMM (the Wal-Mart of Asia) which IS rather huge and hard to miss, but is also on the other side of the street from the direction I walked. I enjoyed a dragon fruit juice, while browsing the aisles of stores in IMM for necessities like brooms, mops, paper towels, can openers, glass cleaner, and cheese. Yes cheese…it is hard to find here in Asian markets, but much easier to spot in Western-like stores.

Stephanie and I met for dinner in a Hawker center near our place where she enjoyed the chicken rice and I had some Thai tofu…I really am developing a taste for Thai spice. We then went to the staff apartments where some of the other teachers live for a “house-warming” party…we’ll use any excuse to get together I suppose.

Saturday arrived as a beautiful and sunny day, so we decided to spend the afternoon at Sentosa, an island just off the coast of Singapore. Stephanie and I grabbed some sushi before meeting Jacob at the monorail. Lisa, Neil, Will, Jeremy and Dylan would meet us later.

Sentosa is a very interesting island. It is man-made, and maybe it was because I knew this fact, but it seemed almost eerily perfect and strategic. There was a palm tree right where there should have been a palm tree, the beach sloped at just the right angle to the water, and statues appeared in the jungle just were the ancient inhabitants of the isle would have put them, had there been ancient inhabitants of the island. Don’t get me wrong, we are seriously lucky to have such a tropical paradise so near and to be able to go to the beach for $3 and in 15 minutes whenever we want. But, it did seem kind of odd to look in direction and see a tropical jungle (complete with real monkeys!) and then the other and see the ships of the Singapore Harbour.

The islands attractions include, among other touristy draws, a sky tower, a luge, a zip line and a club boasting Saturday night foam parties, and coming soon…Universal Studios and a Vegas-style casino! It will definitely be a good escape from the city, but it is also, I believe, a classic example of Singaporean society. In her book and true life story “Eat, Pray, Love” (which I am reading right now for the second time because it is a great travel and beach read) Elizabeth Gilbert is speaking with a friend about the fact that every city has a word. Gilbert’s friend explains “…every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there. If you could read people’s thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought. Whatever that majority thought might be—that is the word of the city.” Gilbert is living in Rome at the time this conversation occurs and she goes on to ask her friend what the word of Rome is…it is SEX they decide. They then also decide that, among others, the word of New York is ACHIEVE, the word of Los Angeles is SUCCEED, and the word of Naples is FIGHT. I think the word of Singapore would be STRATIGIC, or possibly PLAN, or maybe ORDER. It is like everything is so planned and strategic and orderly here, it is almost inefficient (i.e. I got my plane ticket seven hours before I left for Singapore because of the bureaucratic levels through which my paper had to pass), but definitely strategic. My friend Neil describes Singaporean society this way: “It is like someone who had never been to America just thought about what Americans would want their malls, beaches, restaurants etc. to look like, and then they designed Singapore from his plans.” Another similar phenomenon is the way in which Singaporeans are so ordered that they actually police themselves…police are almost not needed in this place! Yes, the words of Singapore are STRATEGIC, PLAN and ORDER.

I don’t mean to be critical of Singapore, however, because, as I’ve said before, I do love this city. Despite (or maybe because of) the strategy, plan, and order, Singapore is very cosmopolitan, and it is easy to make your own word fit into the city’s word. I think this year my words are LEARN, EXPLORE and TRAVEL. They are good words to have in Singapore.

And so with this thought fresh in my mind, on Sunday I spent the afternoon wandering through various neighborhoods (usually lost as is typical now for me), stopping occasionally for a coffee or an ice cream sundae on a sidewalk patio, and people watching or writing post cards to family and friends at home.

Tomorrow the Ministry of Education has PLANNED a day to tour the city...more LEARNING, EXPLORING, and TRAVELING to come.

Goodnight, Cheers, and TIA,

P.S.- Just because it didn’t fit in the logical order of things above, I saved this story for the P.S.-section: On Sunday morning Stephanie and I both awoke around 6 a.m. to the sounds of crashing thunder accompanied by flashes of blindingly bright lightening…it was a thunder storm in the beautiful, horrifying way that only the tropics can host a thunder storm. We watched from our balcony in breathless silence as the sun turned the sky soft pink and then blood orange, and as the rain came down in sheets the thunder continued to come in ear splitting rolls and the lightening in flashes close and hot white. It was such a perfect and awing storm…the power of nature in its purest form…terrifying and lovely.

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