Following my previous blog post, I invited the other UVA exchange students over for a “popiah party”. It was great to be able to show them a little bit about the Nyonya culture in Singapore, which is often overlooked by the main Chinese, Malay and Indian races.
In terms of adapting to my new classroom culture, I have started to admire how hard the Singaporeans work for their grades; everyone prints out the slides beforehand, and comes to class ready with different colored pens and highlighters to take notes. It’s a culture that I grew used to in primary school, but soon grew out of it. I found that it was difficult to catch up trying to copy and listen at the same time, especially when dealing with difficult formulas and wordy slides. Thankfully, my professors decided to upload the annotated slides during the weekend, so that I may review any topics that I’ve missed.
In terms of life outside the classroom, I’ve been enjoying living in Singapore. Because the country is so small, traveling between locations is very convenient, and I can easily make my way around, for example, from NUS to a shopping mall, then to the park to exercise. It’s quite amazing to see how many parents exercise with their children; it’s common to see families cycling together along the beach. I’ve spent a few evenings here at the park cycling, feeling the cool sea breeze. The proximity to the beach does make me forget I’m merely 15 minutes away from the Central Business District, but I do love the flexibility to go from one place to another.
Back in the States, one of the most common casual conversation topics is what one is doing that coming weekend. I found it interesting to hear, on a wide spectrum, how some hit the trails in the morning, or head to parties at night. Turns out, many Singaporeans stay in on weekends to spend time with family or to catch up on schoolwork. Many of the locals here live close to home, and thus, take the opportunity to have family dinners on the weekends. I was quite surprised to hear that they study on the weekends as well; I even had a group meeting once that lasted from Saturday 8pm to 11pm to do the weekly assignment together.
On a separate note, it will be Chinese New Year soon. Having been abroad for a few years, I’ve come to miss the festive season of the new year, which is probably one of my favorite holidays. It’s a time where families come together to bring in the new year with traditional customs such as cleaning the house and buying new clothes. Last week, I visited a Chinese New Year carnival, which had a “pasar malam” or night market, along with a game area. It was incredibly fun to walk around amidst bright red decorations, and of course, plenty of food.
I recently had to face a big cultural difference in class recently regarding this. Chinese New Year is a very important festival to my family, and it was important that I celebrate it with my family, not only on the first day (of the full 15 days), but the eve as well. The eve of Chinese New Year is a time where families get together for a big reunion dinner (团年饭), but unfortunately this day is not declared a public holiday. My Chinese professors are very understanding of this matter, and thus typically do not take attendance for that day to allow students to be able to travel back home to be with their families, and to prepare for the dinner. However, my foreign lecturer was less understanding and insisted that we would receive scores of “0” should we not attend this coming Thursday. After weighing my options, I finally decided that grades may come and go, but my relationship with my family weighs far higher than the grades I will ever receive for my tutorial attendance. I’m very excited to see my family again, and I look forward to the time we will be spending together.
As for practicing the local language, I’ve been reading up on Singlish phrases to get accustomed to the local dialect (see table below), and my attempt at Singlish have been quite successful; many of my team members did not know that I was an exchange student until I told them so. Outside of the classroom, I’ve been learning how to order my food using Hokkien (many of the older Chinese hawker stalls use this dialect) or Mandarin (more commonly used everywhere). Apart from that, everyone else speaks English, so there isn’t really much chance to speak Chinese or Malay.