Janus in Singapore: Which God?

March 20, 2017

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd – Singapore’s oldest church, right across from the SMU Library

Something struck me when I was going through the various photos I’ve collected from my time here in Singapore – there are quite a number of religious buildings in the city. I’ve never thought of Singapore as a particularly holy place, unlike certain parts of China or the Philippines that I’ve been to with comparable numbers of religious buildings, nor did I think that an extremely industrialized and advanced city would have such a strong presence.
There are five religions that have a significant presence in Singapore. According to the 2015 census, 33% of Singaporeans practice Buddhism, 18.8% practice Christianity, 14% practice Islam, 11% practice Taoism, and 5% practice Hinduism. These numbers make sense to me; a majority of Singaporeans are Han Chinese, with Malay and Indian groups representing about 10% of the population, each. It makes sense that Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Hinduism play such a big role in the lives of Singaporeans – these religions are the religions in the various ancestral homes of the people living in this city.

The Masjid Sultan

I didn’t expect such a large Christian presence, though. While I was in China, I didn’t encounter many Chinese Christians, nor do I know of a large enough presence of Christianity in Malay and Indian countries that could explain the 18.8% figure, a percentage that has apparently increased in recent years. According to census figures, 12.7% of the population was Christian in 1990 and 146% in 2000. While one I can understand that there should be a a small presence – Singapore, after all, was a British colony – I’m not quite sure why Christianity has a growing presence. You would expect that the Singaporeans’ ties to religions more closely related to their ancestral homes would increase in popularity, rather than a religion that was introduced by foreigners that no longer have a strong hold on the country.

One of the larger Buddhist temples/museums in Chinatown

Another interesting aspect of religion in Singapore is that the number of highly educated Singaporeans practicing a religion, particularly for Taoism, Hindiusm, and Islam, is increasingly noticeably. This goes counter against a fairly commonly observed phenomenon where religion becomes less and less important the higher the level of education. I’ve seen this myself at SMU – the various religious clubs are very active in the community, and it isn’t uncommon for me to run into classmates at Sunday masses during the weekends, or even the odd weekday mass that I attend. Practicing my Catholic faith has definitely been much more easy to do in Singapore, simply due to the number of parishes that make it almost impossible to not attend Sunday mass. There’s a church a 10-minute walk away from my flat, and on weekdays or Sundays spent at the library, Singapore’s oldest cathedral is simply across the street.
There’s much more to learn about religious life in Singapore, particularly for the non-Christian religions. While I feel like I’ve touched the surface of what can be learned – living in Little India lets me experience many of the Hindu religious holidays, my many visits to Chinatown have allowed me to enjoy the various Buddhist temples, and the largest mosque happens to be on my favorite food street in Singapore – I do plan to eventually attend a service for each of the major religions in Singapore. It’s an opportunity that I wouldn’t necessarily have elsewhere, and my fellow exchange students who have done the same say that it’s a truly interesting experience to have.

Decorations outside a Hindu building in Little India, a minute or two’s walk from home.

St. Joseph’s Church – another relatively large Church in Singapore. Unfortunately, the building isn’t very well kept, and almost seems like a relic of a past decade.


Lindsay in Thailand: Way La Kong Bangkok

September 10, 2015

Sawadika! Chan chob jang wat Khon Kaen ka!

 

As you can probably tell, I have arrived safely in Thailand and am now acquainting myself with the language! What a trip it has been so far. I arrived on the 16th after 33 hours of travel that included two flight delays.   I do not think I have ever been so exhausted in my life. My sightseeing that first day totaled the 15 minutes viewed from my cab window and the walk to my third story hotel room. I barely showered and unpacked before I fell asleep for a short ‘nap’ at three in the afternoon that ended up lasting 16 hours. Luckily, sleeping through my seven alarms actually put me right on track for the 11 hour jet lag I would have experienced.

 

Growing up, I have always heard the phrase “what a small world.” I never considered the world a ‘small’ place until arriving in Bangkok. After I posted a photo online about my travels, a boy from my hometown commented that he was also in Bangkok. Even though it was the last day of his six week stay, Derek invited me to join him and his Thai friend on their final adventure. We made our way through the horrendous traffic, after stopping for my first Thai iced tea, and ended up riding elephants. Being surrounded by animals so ginormous and normally seen at a distance behind bars was so surreal. I have to say I love bear hugs, but I now like elephant hugs more.

 

The very popular Thai Iced Tea in a bag

The very popular Thai Iced Tea in a bag

 

If you ever see a picture of a relaxed individual riding an elephant, just know that it is actually harder than it looks. Here, for example, I am struggling to keep balanced!

If you ever see a picture of a relaxed individual riding an elephant, just know that it is actually harder than it looks. Here, for example, I am struggling to keep balanced!

After my ride, I visited my first temple that hosts the second largest Buddha in Bangkok. I learned proper temple etiquette, including fully covering one’s ankles and elbows, stepping over door entrances, and ensuring all toes are pointed away from Buddha while bowing three times to him. The temple was unlike any architectural structure I had ever seen before and I look forward to admiring many more throughout this semester!

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Outside the Temple

 

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Old temple ruins

 

Inside the temple

Old temple ruins

 

Derek raved about an amazing celebrity bakery and downtown Bangkok Blue Sky rooftop bar and restaurant all day. After a long day of long walking and sitting in heavy traffic, I could not wait to delve into a traditional Thai delight. On our drive there, Derek decided to stop at home to change clothes. When we were ten minutes outside of the city, we received notice that two bombs went off in the downtown area. Both attacks were directly below the places we were headed.

 

I guess I should provide you with some context of the bad luck spells I have had while traveling in the past before I continue. The day of my first ever plane ride, the Malaysia plane went missing. While in London, the Charlie Hebdo attack occurred. During my time on Crete, the Greek financial crisis further erupted. Derek and his friends were aware of this misfortune and, when we received the news, they turned to me in the back seat of the car with disbelief. Was I the bad luck charm?

 

Looking back on that day one short week ago, I remain shocked. That was such an unfortunate event that this city has not seen in years, yet how was I so fortunate?

 

Although I cannot be certain where I would have been exactly during that time, it is very likely that I could have been on the street or watching the following events unfold from the rooftop.

 

In the downtown area for some time afterwards, you would not have expected that an attack occurred moments ago. It was not until hours later that a city lockdown went into place. During that time, I felt a whirlwind of emotions as I sat frigid in the standstill traffic. As I contacted family concerned about my safety, Thai people continued to shop, eat, and walk about the surrounding streets.

 

After what seemed like hours, I arrived at my hotel. I was highly concerned when I found out that two girls from my program I met for the first time earlier that day were missing. The girls’ families and hotel staff had not heard from or seen them all night and both of their phones were turned off. After over an hour, I was beyond relieved when both girls pulled into the hotel parking lot. I was also amazed to hear that they were ten minutes from the attacks but were unaware of the situation for over four hours.

 

I cannot express how grateful I am for the support I received from my family, friends, and school that day. After posting a general message online for concerned family and friends, I received notice from both people close to me and others I have not spoken to in years who were sending love and prayers my way.   My email inbox was filled with messages from UR and CIEE staff concerned about my well-being and providing me with updates and information. Even though I was alone, I felt so connected to everything I know and all those I love who were a ‘small’ world away. Someone was watching over me that night, and they taught me what it really is to know there is no place like home, and no one like those people that make it home for me.


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