GEM Trailblazer Summer in Singapore’s NTU: Part 4. Dialogue in the Dark, Course Assessment, Chinese Heritage and Peranakan Tour

Welcome to the fourth part of my blog series “GEM Trailblazer Summer in Singapore’s NTU”! In this post I will talk about CQ activities, course assessment, Chinese heritage in Singapore and my participation in the “Peranakan tour” cultural activity. This post will be a mixture of educational, touristic and cultural occurrences. Hope you enjoy it!

Third week of lessons: Dialogue in the Dark

On Monday the 18th, my classmates and I had to wake up early to participate in an activity outside campus for our cultural intelligence module: Dialogue in the Dark. Dialogue in the Dark is an indoors exercise in which groups of eight people experience moving around in total darkness. I carried out the activity with seven other classmates and it was an interesting experience. The exercise lasted an hour, and it showed us a small portion of how blind people experience the world. In fact, a blind guide helped us to move around while in the dark and each of us received a white cane as a walking aid. During the activity, we followed a set route, hearing and touching a variety of things, from wind and water to plants and fruits. We also carried out challenges such as boarding a boat, ordering food and drinks in a café, and crossing a road. It was a very intensive and interesting exercise.

The purpose of participating in Dialogue in the Dark was practicing a component of CQ Strategy: awareness. We had to focus on the moment, being aware of the present and what we heard, touched and tasted. While in the dark, I realised how all my senses (except sight) were briefly enhanced. At times I tried to practice mindfulness, and it felt weird being so conscious of the sounds near me (birds, water, wind…). I’m not good with awareness, my mind is rarely on the present and always focused on millions of things at the same time. I think I mindfulness is something I need to develop, not only to improve my CQ, but to be more open-minded and to avoid rumination (which can improve my mental health).

Course assessment: Reflections, Videos, Quizzes and Group Project

The assessment for the cultural intelligence (CQ) module is divided in three main parts: cultural curiosity (40%), group project (40%), and tests (20%). The first part, cultural curiosity, is about our curiosity conversations, the main way of enhancing our CQ. 10% of the mark for this part relies on us sharing our curiosity conversations on a Facebook group created by our tutor and engaging on the posts of other classmates. The other 30% is putting together our curiosity conversations and doing a short reflection on them. The deadline for the reflection was Wednesday the 20th. At the first, I did individual reflections for each conversation, till I realised it had to be one for all (fortunately, my roommate, who does the same module, told me!). It was not a hard essay although keeping it short (400-500 words) was a challenge. Here are some screenshots of what I shared in our Facebook group, so you know what curiosity conversations are:

The second part of the assessment was a group project. We had to produce a film in which a cultural value caused conflict between people from different cultures, show two possible solutions, and present our work in front of the class. I don’t like working in groups, I actually hate it because I’m very individualistic, I can be very controlling and I don’t like being responsible for others. However, I had a good time carrying out the project with my group, which included two boys from Korea and one from Uzbekistan. Fortunately, the three of them were nice, and we didn’t struggle to choose an idea and divide tasks between each other. We wrote the script and filmed our short video on the same day, it wasn’t hard. Two days after, we presented, and it went well! Working in a multi-cultural team wasn’t as difficult as expected and the teacher seemed pleased with our work. 30% of the mark for this part was for the film (all members of the team got the same grade), and the other 10% was for our individual contribution to the team (each member of the team gave marks to each other).

Lastly, the third part of the assessment included three tests: two short quizzes with five questions each about CQ theory (worth 5% each quiz) and a test about a video showing a cultural conflict (worth 10%). Four out of five questions for the short quizzes were multiple choice although the questions were tricky, and I only scored 3/5 for each quiz. When comes to the test about the video, this was about identifying the cultural value causing conflict, explaining how it was causing conflict, looking for the position of the two parties (what they wanted) and for the interest (why they wanted what they wanted), and creating our own resolutions for the conflict, striving always for one that fulfilled the interests of both parties (which sometimes are the same). I enjoyed doing this part of the assessment: I believe it is the most useful way to put CQ into practice because it reflects conflicts and misunderstandings that can easily happen when being part of multi-cultural environments.

Discovering Singapore: Chinese Heritage

On my third week in Singapore, I explored the Chinese heritage and culture in the country.

On Tuesday the 19th I went to the Chinese Heritage Centre, which is based on NTU. I visited two exhibitions: the ‘Nantah Pictorial Exhibition’ and the ‘Chinese More or Less’ Exhibition. The Nantah Pictorial Exhibition showed the history of NTU: it was established as a Chinese language university to serve the needs of the Chinese population in Singapore. The creation of the university involved a lot of community work to promote the idea and fundraise money for it: Chinese communities across Singapore and Malaysia worked hard to raise money to build NTU. This impressed me a lot: I’m very fond of grassroots movements and I liked how a community came together to create something for themselves. In fact, the community work didn’t stop after NTU was founded: student activities and services served the wider community in Singapore, from cleaning up lakes to improving amenities in villages. Learning about the story of NTU was quite fascinating and it made me realise I know little about the history of my university, Sussex.

While I enjoyed the ‘Nantah Pictorial Exhibition’, the ‘Chinese More or Less’ exhibition was my favourite one: its purpose was to explore Chinese identity overseas (outside China). My favourite display was one that showed the difference between how the Chinese view themselves and how Westerns view the Chinese, raising awareness of Orientalism (how Eastern societies are depicted, often wrongly, by the West). This display reminded me of the post-colonial theories I learnt about during my first term in university. As a black person, I’m aware of the stereotypes and caricatures that my race suffers from, and while I try to be aware about the discrimination that other groups are victims of, I have never walked on their shoes, hence it is hard. Nevertheless, I think the exhibition was a brilliant way of making a point and dissipate any stereotypes of the Chinese I may have had. It tackled things such as the oversexualisation of Chinese women by white men & Western cinema, the demonization of Chinese men as abusers of white women, and the view of the Chinese as monopolisers of all goods and services.

On Thursday the 21st I visited Chinatown and Haw Par Villa. Chinatown is a historic area of Singapore with a high concentration of traditional Chinese shops and food outlets. There wasn’t much to see or do in terms of exploring Chinese heritage, other than shopping and exploring the Chinatown Heritage Centre, which I didn’t visit because I wasn’t feeling well. It was also hard to walk around because every two minutes a vendor tried to get my attention to enter their shop and buy something. The area was somehow expensive compared to others in Singapore. It also had the highest concentration of tourists I have seen in the country: Chinatown seems a commercial area oriented towards foreigners.

I bought a few things, but sadly, I couldn’t spend a lot of money and I ended up leaving shortly after arriving, heading to Haw Par Villa. Haw Par Villa is a free theme park that depicts Chinese folklore and mythology. While walking in it, I explored the different sculptures and scenes narrating Chinese legends. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling well, and I had to head back to campus early. Here are some pictures:

Another way in which I explored Chinese culture whilst in Singapore was by learning to eat with chopsticks! My roommate from Hong Kong taught me and I learnt quickly. Here is a video of me eating Prata with chopsticks: https://www.instagram.com/p/BIH2R-fgk7d/?taken-by=bitxibitxina

Cultural activity: Peranakan Tour

On Saturday the 23rd I had my last cultural activity organised by NTU: Peranakan Tour. I woke early to get to the NTU administration building, where a bus and other summer students awaited, including some of my pals. On the way to our first stop, our guide, called Gene, talked to us about what is a Peranakan and their story in Singapore.

Peranakan is a term applied in Singapore to a minority of mixed-ethnicity descendants of Chinese immigrants, such as Chinese-Malaysian, Chinese-Indian, and Indonesian-Chinese. Their existence dates back to when the Chinese were exploring South East Asia. When they discovered Singapore, they were in awe with the country’s rich culture. Due to bad weather, they had to overstay in the country, and later decided to settle and marry local Malay women. Their descendants were Peranakans who mixed Malay and Chinese customs, creating their own culture and identity, from food to traditions. Gene himself was a Peranakan and seemed very proud of its diverse roots and the diversity of Singapore. He even asked us about our origins and encouraged us to come back one day and settle here to make the country even more multicultural (this was odd to hear when coming from a country in which immigration, diversity and multi-culturalism are under fire!)

The first stop during the tour was the Peranakan museum. The building of the museum was an old school set up by Chinese Peranakans. During our time inside, we learnt about things such as ancient Peranakan wedding celebrations (they lasted 12 days, were quite opulent and were full of symbolism), Perankan women’s roles at home (by the age of 12, Perankan girls knew to cook and sew, they were trained to take care of the house) and religions followed by Peranakans (Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity…).

Afterwards, we got on the bus again and went to Geylang Serai market, a local Malay shopping complex. Gene showed us food used by Peranakans to cook, from ginger to turmeric, and we then had a few minutes to explore on our own. Following the visit, we headed for lunch to a Peranakan restaurant, Chilli Padi ‘the Nonya Family Restaurant’. The food there was excellent: I enjoyed it a lot. And to finish the tour, we visited traditional Peranakan houses. Their architecture style had a mixture of Malay, European and Chinese designs. Overall, the tour was very educational and fascinating. I discovered a new community I had no idea about and learnt about their culture. It made me fall in love with Singapore even more.

(For more pictures of my time in Singapore, click here)

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