September 01, 2008

Semester at Sea - Singapore

Earlier in our voyage we were supposed to go to Kenya and the violence and terrorism in Nairobi forced us to change our plans and instead go to Mauritius. Similar reasons forced us to change our intended stop of Malaysia to Singapore. When I found out we weren't going to Kenya I was upset because I REALLY wanted to go on safari and I knew nothing about Mauritius. I wasn't quite so upset about the itinerary change from Malaysia to Singapore.

I think a lot of people felt that because Singapore was considered such an advanced country and fairly "westernized" there wasn't as much wealth in visiting. I completely disagreed. I'm curious at what makes a country so successful. Singapore is tiny - technically it's only a city. It's a city and a country all in one. It is also the busiest port after Rotterdam (at least in 2002) and not only that - we had to travel through the Malacca Straits - the world's piracy hot spot. Passenger ships such as ours are rarely targets for pirates but there was an increase in lookouts on all decks during this time. That, to me, made it totally worthwhile.

Singapore is also known as a "Fine City". They have incredibly strict laws and aren't afraid to enforce them. Stiff fines are handed out to those who spit in public, smoke in undesignated areas, selling or chewing gum, peeing in elevators (seriously), litter, don't flush public toilets, the list goes on and on. But really, it's just common sense and courtesy. I enjoyed that. Selling or using drugs carry an especially hefty fine: death. And there have been many cases where foreign influence cannot save you from Singapore law. The main message was to follow the rules.

Singapore is also an interesting melting pot of languages and religions. In India, women were 'forbidden' to be drunk in public (this annoyed my roommate (not Lauren or Kaycee) during the trip to New Delhi as she celebrated her 21st birthday). Do they same rules apply in Singapore or only in certain areas? We never really figured that out.

What I did find interesting was that there was a big push for women's equality - I put up a great photo that illustrates their women's rights campaign. Also interesting is that prostitution is legal in Singapore. In general, I feel that if people are going to pay for sex, you might as well make it safe for everyone by regulating it. But what I didn't understand was that it was legal in a place where you can't even litter (not that I'm condoning littering) it just seemd strange. As part of a class I was taking in abnormal psychology (I think) we went on a tour of the Red Light District. The goal was to explore this area of Singapore a bit and divide into groups and try to interview a prostitute. I am not sure why this was ever considered appropriate for students but of course I loved every second of it. No one found a prostitute to interview - it's a little overwhelming to walk into a brothel demanding an interview so no one had the nerve to do it. We ended the night, as a class, in a gay karaoke bar. We wanted a bar and this is where we were sent. We had a great time.

Another highlight for me was the Night Safari. This is much like a zoo but it is at night, when many of the animals they have are most active. We rode a little train around the facility with a tour guide and then we were able to walk free. I'm not sure why things seem more exciting at night but this was a total hit. I loved every second.

I did a ton of things in Singapore, we saw the biggest Chinese Opera star there perform, just for us. We went to a tea shop and learned all about the art of making tea. I visited the Orchid Garden and a really fun place called Sentosa Island where we went to Underwater World and the national symbol the Merlion. The Merlion is half lion, half fish and reflects the legend of how the city got its name. Singapura means 'Lion City' as legend has it a Sumatran prince sighted a beast which looked like a lion when he first set foot on the island.

I loved Singapore. Loved it so much that it was where I initially wanted to move to teach English. Unfortunately, the SARS outbreak came at the time I needed to make my decision and it just didn't work out. However, while living in Japan, I saved up enough money to surprise Jed with a birthday tour of Asia - which included a stop in Singapore. I think it is absolutely a place we will visit again.

Posted by karen at September 1, 2008 03:50 PM
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