My Class Trip to Singapore and Malaysia 

In the fall of 2008, I had the opportunity of traveling to both Singapore and Malaysia on a school trip with my Japanese classmates. I was excited at the prospect of seeing more of Asia, and having spent more than six months learning how to be adaptable to Japanese life, I was eager to see which aspects of Singaporean and Malay culture that I could identify.

Upon arrival to the Changi International Airport, I was surprised how much I could understand. I was aware that English was one of the four official languages of Singapore (the others being Tamil, Malay, and Mandarin), but I had not even considered that this would allow me to freely communicate again. I was ecstatic that I could read road signs and advertisements, something that I could not do in Japan due to the thousands of Chinese characters that must be learned to be literate. Communicating became much easier very quickly.

We did a lot of touristy-type things while we were in Singapore. We visited the Raffles Hotel and had a marvelous dinner that had to have cost upwards of $150 per person (my host-school, Baika, covered this cost). We visited the famous Singapore Zoo and attended a Birds of Prey show. We went to the Singapore Night Safari, a nocturnal zoo. We explored Little India and Chinatown and had the opportunity to try some different kinds of foods, as well as hear a mesh of languages on every street. And of course, we visited the Merlion statue, the symbol of Singapore.

Every day was fun because I learned more about the diverse culture of Singapore. I knew everything that I was learning was only the tip of the iceberg, as living in Japan had showed me that you can’t learn a culture overnight.

On our second-to-last day, our class traveled to Malaysia. To me, this was the most important part of the trip, even though we only had a day to spend there. It was quite a shock the moment we passed through Immigration at the border. Singapore is a highly industrialized nation. Sky-scrapers were everywhere you looked, the streets were clean, and it was a popular tourist location. I learned very quickly that Malaysia was in very stark contrast to what I knew about Singapore.

As soon as we got through Immigration, the streets were dirty. The buildings looked run-down, some even looking on the brink of collapse. Dense jungle was everywhere. Farmers were scattered through fields (of what, I don’t know) and were wearing large hats and scarves over their faces. School children were walking to their schools in groups and would wave as our bussed passed by.

We arrived in a town two hours into Malaysia called Sementu and were greeted by the town’s Mayor and a bunch of the townspeople. We were split into groups and spent the rest of the day with host-families who showed us some of their customs.

The host-family I was with lived in a bright green house that was surrounded by the jungle. Their windows consisted basically of large glass blinds without any screens, so there were plenty of bugs throughout their house, but it didn’t feel dirty in any way. The sixteen year old son, named Muhamad, spoke a little English, and since none of us knew Malay, and none of them knew Japanese, everything that we were able to communicate was through me and Muhamad. He would translate from Malay into English, we would communicate, and then I would translate from English into Japanese. It was very difficult and most of our questions and answers had to be forgotten, but the whole process was still very fun.

Our host-mother prepared a meal of curry for us, of which we had to eat with our hands (as they didn’t use forks or knives). After the meal, the whole family insisted that we eat some of their snacks. Because I had been told that it is rude to decline such an offer in Malaysia, I ate everything they put in front of me and ended up feeling pretty sick. Our host-mother showed us how to make these boxes made out of thick leaves and drew some designs in henna on our hands. We were also able to try on some traditional Malaysian clothing.

It was a fantastic day and a very eye-opening experience. This was the first time that I had experienced any level of poverty and made me grateful for how fortunate I am.

Both of these places, though they were fun, showed me how much I had adapted to Japanese life. I became homesick—of Japan, not America—during my stay here. I felt accomplished that I had adjusted well enough to my life in Japan to be able to experience missing it when I left. This experience also showed me how different life can be for others. Though Japanese culture differs tremendously from my own, it is still an industrialized nation. Traveling to Malaysia was a whole different experience and I wish that I could have spent more time there.
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