Over the last 3 weeks I’d been here, my favorite question to ask international students, mostly Chinese students, who’d been here for sometime now (at least a year) is: how did/do you adapt yourself to the American culture? The answer ranges from useful ones like “you’d have to join clubs, participate in activities with them and that is when you’ll find something mutually enjoyable for both parties. Then you’ll find it easier to talk to them.” to slightly less helpful (but might be true for them) advice like “you just do, after sometime”. One of them said something interesting about how we’d assumed that it is much easier to assimilate into the American community than other places in the world. American culture is so pervasive and we’d like to think that every immigrant/tourist knows something that defines American culture (and I tell you: America is just as you see it on TV…“) but it turns out, we come here and we figure out things on our own.
I have had many embarrassing moments. Not that all of them I don’t regret doing them – I did, such as deciding to talk to a girl who got unfortunately stuck at the back of the shuttle with me while her two other friends were seated in the front. During the boarding, there was one seat left and the three of them squeezed with me at the back because the bus comes every two hours. All of them got very chatty and excited about one of them not having a seat and sitting on top of another friend. I grimaced for alittle while and then started reading the magazine I took from the newsstand in school about “bike-packing”. Two of them pranced to the front when the seats were emptied at the first stop, leaving one of them at the back. I stopped after I got to her major because I could sense the “red lights” that she is not into talking to strangers. Then I immediately whipped out my earpiece and sat through Beatles during the ride until we got off at the same stop next.
I would have wished I could come up with more interesting things to strike up conversations with and that I’d find it breezy to talk to people, then take it lightly when they don’t reciprocate well. Since I am writing about this, this would mean that I didn’t take it as lightly as I think I would have been by now. Not all the strangers I’d talk to responded as they did in the aforementioned account. Like Uber and cabby drivers. They make up the group of strangers I’ve had the best conversations with over here so it means you pay for the ride and that 20-30 minutes’ lecture about life, their vote in the upcoming election and what they know about Singapore (so far: one of them had a brother who’d been in a boarding school in Singapore, another one had a relative whose business is in Singapore, and its reputation as a clean city).
I think it would be interesting to write alittle bit about my roommate… just her perception about Singapore. Having a Malaysian as a roommate makes you feel like home behind the doors of the room and then America again when I am out of the room so imagine how it’s like when our toilet is located outside at the other end of the hallway and the number of hi-s, how is it going?-s and have a good night!-s said when I go to the toilet… During the instances we’d talked about our home countries to Americans, what I’d learnt from her about Singapore is: kiasu-ism, authoritarian government and the dissenting opinion younger generations today have towards LKY, and Singapore Tourism Board’s good job in claiming food that were originally Malaysian delicacies as Singapore’s and then coining the term “Singlish” to declare ownership of an accent and a range of slangs that are spoken by people in the two countries.
I hope there is still this much to write about the next time, although they aren’t particularly reflecting or analytical bits but descriptive; and of course, time to write. The number of research paper submissions is I have is both a pain and a joy. A pain when writing becomes a task and you get real critics for the “out-of-point” bad writing you do… A joy when you get to write about issues happening at home by drawing references to things taught in a foreign classroom. Not necessarily the bad things, but real things that happen in every society that has a particular trait (e.g. multiracialism) or/and at some point in history.