A School Visit

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I spent the day at a Junior College in the eastern part of Singapore. I had a wonderful day, having a lot of great conversations with both students and faculty.

JC is one of only 4 schools in Singapore that offer “A Level” exams in theatre studies, so the program there is rigorous and comprehensive. I sat in on two different theatre classes and learned a lot. I think you learn so much about teaching by watching other people teach. It was truly a pleasure to sit in on the drama teacherr’s classes today. And! I was inspired to do some great ideas for activities I can bring back to school.

One of the most fun things that happened today was during the time I was hanging out in the Staff Room. I have a cubicle assigned to me in the Staff Room, so I have somewhere to go in between classes. All of the 100+ teachers at the school have cubicles in a Staff Room that is HUGE. There’s also a pretty large couch area, a kitchen, and – I kid you not – a massage chair. It was in use when I was there or I would have tried it. Next time.

While I was hanging out in my cube, many different teachers stopped by to say hello. One teacher gave me copy of a chapbook she’d written (so kind) and another invited me to his classes. And! One! Came by to say hello who was a childhood friend of my Seattle based pal Ruth. She works at the school. That was so fun!

I also had a chance to meet with Jaclyn who coordinates the Community Involvement Program at the school. The students in their first year at junior college are required to do a CIP project. (The structure is similar to the NWS Grade 10 version, by the way). I had a great conversation with the CIP Coordinator about the Applied Theatre class I teach for 9 / 10 grade students in Seattle.

My Applied Theatre class at The Northwest School in Seattle is essentially a theatre as social engagement course which helps students develop leadership skills and explore how art (specifically theatre) can be used to give voice to underserved communities and help change society.

One of the projects I do with my Applied Theatre students is intergenerational in scope; the students spend several weeks designing and facilitating drama workshops with elders at a retirement community near the school. The CIP coordinator is interested in developing a community drama project at JC. The plan is unfolding, but if it all works, this may provide me with the “action” part of my action research project. I’m really excited about this possibility.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I am having a spectacular time and I love Singapore. I feel completely blessed to be here. What a gift.

Sing to the Dawn

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I am currently sitting at the National Library. It is packed with people, and is probably the quietest library I’ve ever visited. Like much of Singapore, the library is a new building, spacious and filled with light. The view from the upper floors is fantastic. From here you can see the Singapore Flyer and the Marina Bay Sands Casino. You can also see the water, and several “national birds of Singapore,” construction cranes. (Get it?!)

I’ve had several adventures today. The morning began with a massive, excuse me – MASSIVE, thunderstorm. I’ve never seen it rain that hard. It was amazing. Like a dope, I couldn’t get the window closed (will I ever master that?!) so the rain flooded part of my apartment.

After the rain stopped I headed to LaSalle. They took me to a rehearsal at the Drama Center in the Library where I watched a rehearsal of ITheatre’s upcoming production of Sing to the Dawn..

I was incredibly impressed. (And, if you know me, that’s saying a lot…)

The play is based in a novel written by Singaporean writer Ho Mingfo. It is a beautiful and powerful story about a girl who wins an academic scholarship over her brother, and how she navigates through the cultural traditions standing in the way in order for her to pursue her education. One by one the members of her family begin to support her, challenging tradition.

The production is powerful and beautiful, weaving together music, dance, puppets and movement in a way that sings itself. I was nearly moved to tears several times during the show.

I stayed after the rehearsal to listen to the director give notes to the cast. I was really curious to hear how he envisioned improving the production. He asked me to give some feedback to the cast (that was a little awkward, but I stammered out something that made several of the cast members nod sagely…) and then he started with notes.

The conversation suddenly turned to an acknowledgement of racial differences; one cast member joked how the theatrical parents of the lead character were of two different ethnicities, both of which were different than the ethnicity of the lead character and her theoretical brother. The cast laughed about it and moved on.

I rode down the elevator with one of the actors. During our elevator ride he told me about his graduate acting work. After he finished his undergraduate degree, he went to the UK to do his master’s degree in musical theatre. He stayed in the UK for a year afterwards, but got frustrated because the directors there “casted for race.” In Singapore, he said, as you could see from the cast, the directors don’t think about this.

Someone told me the other day that multiculturalism is ingrained in the people of Singapore; that Singaporeans are constantly around people who are different than they. In fact, the government even has a quota for the number of people from one ethnicity that can live in a particular HBD. If multiculturalism is “ingrained,” then what part does (or can) drama play in deepening the relationships, to help young people move beyond tolerance, or being “used” to each other, to being more open to each other.

When you talk about multiculturalism in Singapore, it is also necessary to talk about food. Food, as almost every person who I have talked to has said, is the thing that ties Singaporeans together. There are hawker centers (essentially what we might call food courts in the US) which cater to the many different cultural traditions in Singapore. In the Adams Road hawker center (where I ate the deeeelicious Malay nasi lebak yesterday), a Chinese stall sits next to an Indian stall, and next to a fruit juice stall, and next to a Malay food stall. And everyone sits at the tables and eats, together. It is really beautiful.

This evening I am going to have my first version of chicken rice, a local dish several people have said I should try. I am looking forward to it.

After rehearsal I visited a well known Hindu temple on Serangoon Road. I got lost, of course, and found myself wandering around the streets of Little India drunk in the perfume of jasmine flowers. So wonderful. I look forward to heading back to that area another time to have a good curry.

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Monkeys Monkeys Monkeys

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Ok, let me begin by saying – this really happened.

This morning my friend Rani and her husband took me to Macritchie Reservoir, in central Singapore. (I wish I could upload photos, but my wifi signal is really weak so all I can do is text…). It is a beautiful place, with lovely trails, flowers, old growth trees, and some amazing foliage.

We hiked on the boardwalk trail and then into the forest. I think I’m getting used to the heat and humidity because I hiked the whole way (about 3 miles) without dying or using up all of my water.

When we got out of the car Rani told me that we might see some monkeys on the trail. This, of course, was super exciting to me, and I hoped hoped hoped we’d see some. She and her husband gave me a monkey behavior primer – don’t make eye contact, keep walking, etc. I didn’t think much of it.

We started in the boardwalk trail and saw a lot of wildlife, schools of fish, tortoises, swarms of damselflies and red! dragonflies. As we turned the corner, we saw a group of monkeys both in the trees hanging over the boardwalk and on the boardwalk itself. I was reminded not to look them in the eye and keep walking…

There were about 6 of them, and a few people stopping to take photos.

I was a little freaked out.

Rani was carrying a plastic bag full of water. As we walked by (ducking under the tree as the monkeys were jumping around overhead) one of the monkeys lunged at Rani’s plastic bag. We were under attack! We kept moving best we could, but we were surrounded by monkeys, they were following us. They really wanted Rani’s plastic bag. Rani dropped the bag and moved away from it. Another woman appeared from nowhere, and told her not to do that, picked up the bag, shooed the monkeys away, and told us to move on.

We were totally freaked out!

After our hike, in the bathroom, there were signs all over the place warning people not to carry plastic bags.

And now we know.

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