Wednesday, May 12, 2010

First Day Singapore

It is interesting coming back to a place you've been several times. Despite more than a couple of visits I still like Singapore. There's nothing particularly historical or particularly significant but there's a vibrancy here that I appreciate. From a communication perspective, which is how I think about everything, there are so many inter-cultural issues that are interesting.

Today in the Straights Times is an article about the mother tongue issue (MTL). Singapore has a history of providing bi-lingual language instruction in their very strong school system. Peoples of Chinese descent are now pushing to retain/expand language instruction in Mandarin. People from other cultural groups are now agitating for instruction in languages like Hindi. This reflects a cultural awareness despite the government's best efforts to create a melting pot identity for Singaporeans.

There are real tensions here although the government has done much to provide a strong foundation for inter-cultural relations. I look forward to chatting with former graduate student Nippy who has lived here with her husband for several years. She is of Indian heritage or which about 17% of the Singaporean population reflects that culture.

If you don't think these issues matter remember that there we riots here in the 70s and in Malaysia 1969 produced disturbing outbreaks of violence between Bumiputra (native Malays) and Chinese people. So, the divide is real and language is a part of that divide. Language is an important way of maintaining a cultural identity in a multicultural society. Having studied Mandarin now for two years I'm beginning to understand how the culture thinks based on how words, sentences, and sounds work to produce very culturally based meanings.

In other news, the sodomy trial of Anwar Ibrahim continues in Malaysia with Ibrahim claiming a conspiracy and the 24 year old government worker claiming he was sodomized. This also reflects deep cultural divisions. Remember, Chinese people spread through Southeast Asia through trade and invasion. Many many remained and they retain their cultural identity. Because Chinese peoples tend to be hard working they often old economic power which creates tensions with people of other cultures. Malay peoples, the majority in Malaysia, have sought to remain vital through religion (Islam), politics, and education. Despite a rather significant public relations campaign (One Malaysia) the divisions remain and one gets a glimpse of them when certain stories become important in the news.

Learning about these tensions and issues here helps American students, I think, to better conceptualize the cultural conflicts at home. It's not just Americans who struggle with these issues. This is an international problem and speaks to the most basic parts of being human and group oriented.

Students on there way. Looking for them tonight. All is prepared for them.

By the way, for those concerned about safety in Thailand. I ran into a woman from Springfield, Mo in Tokyo (small world, I'm from Fayetteville, Arkansas about 90 miles away) who was returning from there and said that if you stayed away from protest areas you couldn't tell there were protests. We'll forge on.

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