Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cultural Melting Pot

Singapore is the most culturally and ethnically diverse place I've ever been to (besides Yale, maybe!).

Signs are written in multiple languages, usually including at least English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil, the four official languages of the country. On the streets, I hear people chattering in a mixture of Singlish and Chinese, and once I even caught a snippet of Spanish! Residents here are from various ethnic backgrounds - there are Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Europeans, Africans.

It's so rare to find myself in a place where no one will stare at anyone else because they are "different." At the same time, the strange thing is mostly everyone understands English! It's such a surreal experience for me. In China last year, I was used to navigating conversations with people on the street with my less than perfect Chinese. Here, it is a fact that most individuals understand basic English, and no one seems to find that unusual at all. Because of this, Singapore is a great "starter" country for foreigners looking to live in or travel to Asia.

I've found that people will either speak to me in Chinese (because they assume I'm a Chinese Singaporean) or English (if they can tell I'm not from around here). When a person starts speaking Chinese with me, I will automatically respond in Chinese without realizing the change at all. Maybe I'm getting use to the fluent changes of language and dialects from being around lots of people on the subways and buses.

Of course, this cultural diversity translates into food as well. Even in the small section of the city I live in, one can find authentic Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Middle-Eastern, various regional cuisines of China, Korean, as well as many McDonald's and Starbucks. Many of these ethnic restaurants have some sort of Singaporean slant that makes them special.

The other day, we ventured out into the Geyland District to try a specialty - frog! The neighborhood was a little sketchy and is known as Singapore's red light district, but we had to come for the unpretentious yet delicious food.

We got a big pot of stewed frog to share, which was actually quite good. It tasted like a cross between chicken and fish.

Then we headed to a roadside fruit stand to try some exotic tropical fruits, such as the infamous durian. It did taste just as bad as it smelled, and had to gooey, weird texture. For those of you who aren't familiar with this stinky fruit, it is banned on buses and the subway in Singapore because of the distinct pungent smell.

I forgot what this fruit is called, but it looked and tasted like a giant lychee!

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