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.

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Olivia in Sweden: Abroad at Last!

January 27, 2017

Hi! I’m Olivia and I am a junior at University of Richmond. I am majoring in Biology with a minor in Healthcare Studies.

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I’ve never been to Europe before and, as the baby of the family, never experienced much independence either. I set out to form new experiences by studying abroad in Uppsala, Sweden. Uppsala University is a leading international research university, and I was anxious to join its numbers.

Postponing the inevitable of being alone in Sweden, I was joined by my mom and aunt in Uppsala on January 11th. This was a sneak peak of my new home from the window of the airplane. Frozen ice and snow never looked so appealing!

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Before I could move in, I had to explore Stockholm with my family. On a train, Stockholm is only 40 minutes away.

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This is one of the many busy streets of Stockholm. We went on a Hop-On Hop Off, which is an all day bus service that provides tours of cities. My mom and aunt were too tired to explore the royal palace, libraries, and museums of Stockholm, but I imagine since the city is only 40 minutes away, I’ll be back soon to explore properly.

This is a peak into my room. At Uppsala University, the rooms for students are owned by different housing companies. You pay rent each month. It is typical to have a single room with each room having a private bathroom. Each hall shares a kitchen.

room

Classes started this week, and while many people feel comfortable biking (in icy cold weather!) I prefer the bus. The city buses in Uppsala are extremely punctual. They have an app that provides timetables, and if you enter your location and where you wish to go, there is always a bus ready. While it’s simple enough, I’m still getting used to it as I have fallen victim to being at the wrong bus stop many times!

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Alas, practice makes perfect, right?


Olivia in Scotland: Easy as 1, 2,3

October 28, 2016

Hello again!

So, it may not sound like it from my previous posts, but I’ve actually been going to classes while I’ve been here! Shocking, I know. It’s definitely a lot harder to focus on them here than it is when I’m at UR, but I’ve enjoyed them and learned some cool things about Scottish culture and how their universities work.

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Jumping into classes at Edinburgh! #badpun #notasmanycoolpicturesforliteraturecourses

Class #1: Early Modern Tragedy. This is a 3rd year English seminar with a very depressing title. Luckily, our tutor (they don’t call them “professors” here) has that wry, Scottish sense of humor that can find something to laugh about even in the darkest of texts. Like my English courses at home, this class is largely discussion-based, but it only meets once a week and each student has an assigned Autonomous Learning Group (ALG) that you have to meet with outside of class as well. It’s definitely a lot of independent learning, but thankfully you have a group of people to talk through the texts with when they get confusing. One cool thing: I went to see Macbeth at the Globe Theatre a few weeks ago, and while we didn’t actually read that play in this course, I felt like I had a much deeper understanding of the genre and themes because I’m taking this.

Class #2: Edinburgh in Fiction/Fiction in Edinburgh. In this English seminar, we read novels from various time periods that are set in (or partially set in) the city of Edinburgh. This course can be really cool because you can actually picture the places that they talk about in the books; in one novel we read, the characters actually lived in my neighborhood! I love getting to hear different authors describe the city in different contexts and learning more about its evolution over time to where we are today. There’s only one problem with this course: there’s more reading than just about anyone in the class can actually finish. One of the big things I prefer about UR is that the professors tend to split up texts between different class meetings whenever possible so you get a deeper understanding of fewer texts. Here, it feels like you tend to get a shallower understanding of more texts. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the essay will pan out because of this. And yes, as you may have heard, nearly all your grade is determined by an essay at the middle of the term and another one at the end of the term. (Keep your fingers crossed for me please.)

Class #3 (my last class because the courses are worth more credits here): Scotland and Orality. This is a course I’m taking just for fun because I can’t really take it anywhere else in the world. We look at Scotland’s oral tradition—that means ballads, fables, myths, legends, songs, children’s games, and lots more—past and present. One of the strangest things about this course for me is finding out that some of the things I think of as distinctly American are actually Scottish things. In our first course meeting, we listened to some fiddle music, and it sounded pretty much exactly like Appalachian fiddle music in the US. This made sense to me since I myself have Scottish ancestors who immigrated to those mountains, but I just hadn’t thought about it before. There have been lots of moments like that here—for instance, when I realize that Americans and Scots are both famous for frying food or that ceilidh dances here are a whole lot like square dances—but this course has given me a closer look at some of those things. Another cool moment in this course was when we talked about children’s games. A Scottish student and I tried to remember the words to the old game Miss Mary Mack together, and we knew all the same words except for one: I said “50 cents” and she said “50 pence!” Some things aren’t so different between the two sides of the Atlantic.

Those are my classes! Things are a lot more independent here and I definitely miss the more direct access to professors that you can get at UR, but it’s a good learning experience.

To close—living here longer makes me appreciate this city’s beauty even more. I can’t believe I’ve only got a little less than two months left!

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The view of Prince’s Street and Edinburgh Castle from Calton Hill. Gorgeous, right?

Till next time!


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