Penang, Malaysia – Wall Art

February 16, 2015

Now, after experiencing whatever that was at Strait Quay….found a very interesting experience back in the organic areas.  Penang decided to take advantage of its organic character and invest in Wall Art.  All throughout the historic and peripheral areas, they have allowed artists to post their work on walls throughout.  Specifically, Georgetown and the areas around it.  So without many words here are some  of the pics.  This is something that could really merge local artistry and communities together and add to the eclectic and organic nature of a community…nice stuff…click on the pick if you want to see more details…some of them also tell the story of how specific cultural aspects developed in Penang:

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Found this to be of the utmost interest…see how they merge the painting with the still object in front of it…very very unique and interesting…had to wait in line to take a pic, as many people wanted to take a pic acting like they were the person in the painting riding the bike…

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There are well over 50 of these examples of artistry throughout this area.  So, I am not posting them all, just wanted to give you a sample of what organic means here! 🙂

On the Island of Penang, thought I would go check out the Ocean Front…Now it is rare in my travels that I will just straight blast a place.  And, in my travels I have been in some quite interesting places.  This place – Strait Quay:

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Don’t even Bother!!  Many of the hotels will offer you a free shuttle ride…keep in mind – you pay for what you get…if it’s free…then there is a reason!!  Putting on my City & Regional Planning Hat…this development completely ignored the concept of agglomeration economies…meaning if one group is in demand..then you build around it, put up something around it, hang out around it…and you will benefit from the demand they are experiencing…not in this place.  This is something I’ve seen in other places, where you go to an international location and they specifically minimize the indigenous or local influence…this is for the folks that need Australia or Europe or the locals who want that kind of treat.  Personally, I am not going to fly 32 hours to look in the mirror…I can do that at home…I want the local flavor!! Now, in the back of it you can get some nice shots of the harbor, but you don’t have to come here to get that you can get that down the street…and not run the risk of boring yourself to death…ugh…hope they figure that part out….moving on…

The Ocean View:

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With that said, the Ocean Front potential is through the roof.  You can see downtown, the mountains, ships in the harbor, but, you can also see the efforts they have taken to limit local interaction here…a lesson could be taken from places like Panama…where people, locals and tourists, flood the ocean front to get a taste of the local food, experience culture and just interact…lots of unfilled potential…the epitome of an inorganic experience…and so with that said…forced the shuttle driver to make an exception…”must leave NOW”…he wasn’t to happy, but he had to know…so back to where the organic is prolific 🙂

One of the things I absolutely love about Penang, and in general the small Asian Towns, is the organic aspect of it in terms of how it reflects the everyday lives of those who live there…thus, first stop – the neighborhood temple.  Now, I will be the first to say…I have done more than my share of studying various religions…after all, I am a preachers kid and the Grandson of Missionaries 🙂  What’s up Granddad, Nana and Pops!!!!  But, I won’t pretend to be an expert on all the Eastern Religions…what I do know is that most neighborhoods have a temple that is frequently visited by those in that area.

And so, the journey continues.  From the distance, you can see the haze of the smoke!  Seems like a good direction to walk in…and behold…there is a temple…crowded with people.  The haze/smoke came from the incense that were burning.  From what I’ve been told, the smoke from the incense carries the prayers to heaven…and the moving up and down of the incense is to get the attention of God!!  Okay…I can work with that!!  Always, paying respect to someone’s belief…I stood outside for a moment to gather whether it was respectful to walk in…I saw a tour bus pull up loaded with Japanese tourists, so I said…well, Malik…let’s give it a  shot 🙂

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Of course, I was paying myself way to much attention…once I walked in…not one soul even looked at me…they were doing there own thing…sounds good to me…so I ventured…walked and explored…

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They are focused on their Prayer Business – Nothing But Respect from Me….Love It!!

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Absolutely Beautiful…Love the Commitment….

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As I observed and studied what they were doing, I got a bit more comfortable and thought I would venture over to, what I would call the altar.  As I was standing there, an old man tapped me on my shoulder…I was like “what’s pops”…and he gave me the stare down…so I gave it to him back…In my mind, I saying “look pops,I was born in L.A. and now live in Georgia, I’m about 6’6″ and you are 5’5” at best, you don’t want none of me”…he was like “move”…and so we gave each other the stare down…then I looked over and saw the sign… “no shoes on the carpet”…silly me…so, I looked back at him…a bit more humble…as this is my blog…I didn’t want Ip Man – Bruce Lee’s Teacher – giving me a beat down in the temple so I could become a part of his blog!!! So I gave him a humble smile..and said “my fault sifu”… 🙂  In all seriousness though…he was a kind gentleman…it is up to me to learn their culture and what to do and what not to do….awesome cultural experience 🙂 My Man!! My Pops!!

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The smoke, hopefully it carried up some of my prayers as well…like everyone else, I could use a little help from whomever is going to give it to me 🙂

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And they say, the bigger the Incense…the more powerful the prayer…okay, give me the real big one…keep in mind, these Incense were almost as big as me

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And, who doesn’t love candle’s….it does wonders for the atmosphere…God must love candles as well…certainly the universe does…a must have…perpetual prayer….

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Walking down the street, came across another temple…love how spirituality is a main stay in the built environment…adding another piece to my City & Regional Planning Background:

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As I mentioned, many of us need to get over ourselves…there are exceptional places, people, and things all over the world…Okay, still need to rest the feet…walked away without getting a beat down from Ip Man…so I’ll count my blessings…time for some lunch and some sleep…back at it in a bit!! 🙂  Peace!!

Penang, Malaysia

February 16, 2015

Reflecting on the past few days in Singapore, that was certainly an amazing experience. Particularly from the concept of local government. I work in the field of City & Regional Planning….so to see a city functioning in such a manner, taking on the problems that cities have head on, and not forgetting the social value side of it…well, that was professional nirvana….particularly when you get a chance to see it not from afar as simply a tourist, but up close and personal…so that you can feel, smell and taste it. Landing in Penang, immediately there is a different sense. Chinga Airport in Singapore is obviously one of the top airports on the Planet. Other airports work, obviously, but Chinga is the type of Airport you go and visit…like a mall with a swimming pool, restaurants and a movie theater…you get my drift…Landing in Penang, the environment feels a bit more organic. Not that modernity is not organic, certainly, modernization can have its roots in that which is organic…but, let’s put it like this… We all have our favorite clothing items. It may be pants, a jacket or a hat. It may not be brand new, doesn’t have the new material or all the bells and whistles…in fact, it may be kind of worn, a little ragged even…I have a couple of leisure jackets that I wear. One is very nice, the kind you where when you have to look up-to-date and together…and I have another that is of similar style, worn, strings and the knitting hanging of off it, a couple of holes and tears…but, it feels so good and comfortable…I LOVE IT!!!! A different kind of organic…something that feels like you’ve grown together and you can just lay all the way back and relax…well, landing in Penang…that’s the feeling I got 🙂 Something about places such as this…you immediately see the historical over-tones….places such as Colon or Panama, Cuba even…where it seems as though all around the world in certain cities, development and modernization all stopped at the same time. Sort of has that old world look and feel to it. Obviously, there is a common core reason for this…maybe we can get into that at another time, but for now…it is Penang. Penang is an Island just off the coast of Malaysia. Although, this is an opportunity to get a glimpse of Malaysian culture, keep in mind that there is a very strong Chinese population/influence here. So, while we are talking Malaysia, everything that takes place here would not necessarily be directly reflective of, let’s say, Kuala Lumpur. Penang though is a welcome stop, for one…my feet still hurt and I am a bit cranky 🙂 so I am looking forward to the hotel. P1030710

Now, this isn’t just a blog on hotel rooms, but some things must be shown….I love the old school look and feel of the room…lots of stained wood, stain glass window, but with a modernized bath room…and you always have to be thankful for the Bedai 🙂 Having that much wood around you just adds a certain ambiance to the environment…nice…

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Well, tired from the road….need to get a bit or rest…we will get around Penang shortly!!!!

Singapore – The Marina

February 12, 2015

Last but not least!! There are many things to see in Singapore. In fact, like most eclectic cities, you could spend weeks and still have new experiences to acquire. In a few days, my experience was full and packed. Some of the items on the brochure’s you can probably ignore (just depends on what floats your boat), but one that you shouldn’t ignore is the Marina…right at the end of the Metro Line.

As mentioned, this Marina is the historical harbor for Singapore. But, when they needed to develop a fresh water source repository, they damned off the ocean inlet and turned the old harbor into a new fresh water basin. It is amazingly clean, fresh smelling, and indeed a compliment to the overall experience that Singapore provides.  Take the opportunity to take an evening ride on what they call the Bumboat boats:

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They take you through the harbor, the inner rivers lined with hotels, restaurants and shops, you can get on and off at your leisure. And, the lights make it a beautiful experience at night. This is where the world famous Ferris Wheel is located. I skipped the Wheel!! As was so accurately said on the hilarious Comedy Show: In Living Color….”Homey Don’t Play That…” meaning this fellow doesn’t do heights…. 🙂 Moving on expeditiously….around the Marina you will see:

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What you will get from the Harbor is an up close glimpse of the Symbol of Singapore – Half Lion Half Fish – which represents humility along with one of the original names – The Lion City:

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What you will also get is a up close look at one amazing piece of architecture. This three pronged building has a Boat Balanced on top of it…not sure why they wanted to do that…but, let’s just go with it 🙂

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Now this building is significant because of its architecture, and that it holds a world class shopping mall (Fifth Avenue in New York and the shopping strip in Seoul all placed inside one building), a Casino, Hotel, and Restaurants. However, it is also significant because at the top you get a view of all of what Singapore is….And, it holds the World Famous – Ku De Ta Restaurant!!

The view is amazing…you can see the ships waiting at one of the busiest ports in the world, as well as check out the city and the electric garden:

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See you next in Penang, Malaysia

As I mentioned, Singapore overall is completely up-to-date. But not only up-to-date, they take care of what they have. Some people call Singapore the big Nanny State, but there is a price to pay to take care of what you have. There are rules for everything. Here is just a sample:

  • Absolutely No Drugs – Death Penalty; and they don’t care who you are, how much money you have, gender, or what country you are from. As Anthony Bourdain says, “you would have to be dumbest person the world has ever seen to bring drugs into Singapore”. No exceptions!!
  • No Chewing Gum is allowed anywhere whatsoever, so don’t bring it;
  • On the list of limits for the Duty Free products allowed to be brought into the country, Singapore is the only one that does not allow cigarettes to be brought in. Again, no matter who you are, or how much your cigarettes cost, they will throw them away right at the gate; you can purchase them once in country, but make sure you don’t drop a butt on the ground;
  • $1,000 – $2,000 fine for littering, plus public service
  • $1,000 fine for smoking on the metro
  • $500 fine for eating or drinking on the metro
  • $500 fine for eating Durian fruit on the metro (it has one serious unique smell)

And, this is just a sample. Bottom line, if you go to Singapore, you best know the RULES; because they are not playing….and caning is for real as well!!

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As I mentioned, you don’t see a lot of police officers, but obviously something is working quite well:

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Interesting thing, is that you hardly see any Police around, anywhere. But, much of what they have accomplished here is the ability to take policy and merge it with the values of society so that they are not really in great competition. The Rule of Law is for real here….

Case in point, look at these pictures of the metro rail station…absolutely spotless…What is also interesting about the metro is that you see so many kids throughout the day riding the train. You don’t see school buses. For it seems that they have resolved the public transportation issue for kids to school by putting them on the metro. And, trust this, thousands upon thousands of kids ride these metro rails throughout the day and night, and it is completely safe. You may even end up in jail or getting a public caning from staring at one of them too long…they mind there business…and everyone else minds their business as well…and, I am for that…it is something to see. While you don’t see a lot of police, they do make sure they communicate what you need to do and don’t need to do while in Singapore:

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There were also a lot of interesting random things I saw around Singapore, too much to just post here, so I have just been showing a few items. This biker caught my eye…sometimes in the United States, we don’t conceive that people around the world like the same things we like, and do the same things we do…check out this Sikh Biker:

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Another interesting observation that really caught my eye was some of the public demonstrations of solidarity amongst groups. It is widely known that women from around different parts of Asia serve as maids for more affluent families. Often times this takes them away from their homeland – Indonesia, Malaysia, China, etc. They even have agencies that recruit and place maids from these countries with families in other parts of Asia. Obviously, this can lead to a major sense of displacement. Well, on the weekends, this group of maids gets together. This is a picture early on in the day, so there are only a few in place. But, by the end of the day, this place was packed. They are all maids from different countries coming together to provide an impromptu family for each other, to find joy, and to support each other.

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Reminds of the movie in the United States called “The Help”….maybe one day, one of them will write a book and we will see the South East Asian version of the “The Help” 🙂

With all that I’ve seen intensively in a short amount of time in Singapore, nothing stands out more than the availability of Food!! Food and Food and Food, and more Food!! Anthony Bourdain said that, “if New York is the City that never sleeps, Singapore is the City that never stops EATING”!!!!

From the earliest times, Singapore was known for its street food, from the earliest days when the harbor first became busy, and travelers and traders from other parts of the world converged, there was always a ready supply of street food vendors. Today, it has become a part of the accepted culture of Singapore. In fact, street food vending became so prolific, that the government got involved. To ensure safety, cleanliness, and top-notch service, the Government of Singapore instituted the Hawker Station Program. This program resulted in the building of centers where vendors could get access to a structured station, fresh water, areas to wash utensils and cutlery, as well as a place to sit and eat. They even provide guidance on how to provide good customer service. These areas are representative of Singapore overall….in one facility there will be a section for Muslim Food (halal), Indian Food, and Chinese Food and all the other varieties of the area including Malaysian and Indonesian.

Restaurants/Street Food

Singapore is replete with Restaurants of all kinds that, for the most part, stay up all night. At any given time of the night when you wake up, you can walk right down the street to get whatever is yummy for your tummy. This was one of my favorite places open practically all night:

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And this is a sample of the variety of food they offer…not just your usual buffet, it sits in the pot until you are ready to call it home 🙂 While I am usually very open to trying all types of new things based upon the culture at hand, one of their specialties is Frog Leg Porridge…usually I am very adventurous, but since no one I was with ordered it….think I’ll just pass 🙂 But, the other items were absolutely delicious:

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And, if you ever get a chance to try and authentic Clay Pot…you’ve got to go for it. They cook the food then put it on a hot plate that sits in the middle of the table to keep it smoking….RIDICULOUSLY GOOD!!

Of course, we can’t get away from food without talking about the fruit. Obviously, based upon the climate in South East Asia, you can spit on the ground and a tree will grow. So, you have access to practically every fruit that there is…most of which is difficult to pronounce and to be honest, some of them look kinda strange 🙂 more pictures of those later on…but, most are absolutely fresh and delicious. This is a stand I frequented. This is not one of your regular juicers…you pick the fruit you want as it sits in front of you and they turn it into juice on the spot…unlike some of the others, you do get some of the pulp with it…delicious and most refreshing during some of these hot Singapore days.

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I may add a section just on the Food as there is so much of it…but, right now I have been full for days…just can’t stop eating…which is very uncharacteristic of me…but, it is just that good and plentiful 🙂 and, my feet still hurt….

Little India and Arab Street

February 12, 2015

Little India and Arab Street

As I mentioned, Singapore is very culturally eclectic. They are not afraid of cultural diversity, and this is exemplified through the support for so many ethnically based neighborhoods. I’ve already shown you a few bits of Chinatown….now check out Little India and Arab Street.

The moment you cross into Little India, you know for a fact you have skipped into another culture 🙂

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More and More and More shops, temples and restaurants. Just as China Town was preparing for the Chinese New Year, they were also preparing for a celebration in Little India. Soooo, the streets were being decorated, shops were preparing and the streets were abuzz:

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In my travels or even being in the United States, it is always interesting to observe the stereotypes/cognitive shortcuts that people have with each other. Just walking through, it is easy to allow the unknown to place fear or discomfort in us. But, even if you don’t speak the language….we all know the universal language is a smile and a wave (hello), that does indeed go along way….as these wonderful people out enjoying their day can attest:

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Just a skip away, completely exemplifying Singapore’s cultural mix, is Arab Street. As the name attests, this is where you will find Arabs of course, but also those who identify with Islam…and because the area is so nice – great shops, great food, clean and safe environment – you also find people who have nothing to do with Islam but are just looking for a safe nice place to chill and have a cold drink:

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All over Asia, this is one of your common sites….girls and women walking tend to hold each others arms or hands…even with parents…mothers and daughters…the implications of such humanity on display speaks volumes:

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Admittedly, I have been to a lot of places. And, one of the things I love most is just to see kids being kids…running around, chasing each other, bumping around, oblivious to anything but fun…parents yelling at them…them yelling back fussing about what they want 🙂 KIDS!! Regardless to race, gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality….KIDS!! 🙂

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One thing is for sure, when you hit Singapore make sure you have some walking shoes that do your feet well…I bought some brand new ones – mistake – and my feet are killing me…and, suck it up, and on to the next stop 🙂

Asian Civilization Museum

February 12, 2015

Singapore at it stands today, is world class at nearly every level. But, of course some people prefer an urban setting and others suburban, others the mountains or the coast…so, it is all in the eye of the beholder. But, if you love a highly modernized urban setting with all the up-to-date features, then Singapore is your place.

One of the highlights of this trip was spending time at the Asian Civilization Museum. Based upon where you have grown up in the world, we tend to learn history in a vacuum that emphasizes some of the immediate roots but ignores highly significant aspects of the formation of civilization in other continental arenas. As we experience more interaction with other cultures and ethnicities, seems to be a good idea to get a base level understanding on what was taking place in other parts of the world while our own cultures were forming. Awareness of the simultaneous formations of civilization and societies can go a long way to developing a more global personality. So, when I saw the Asian Civilization Museum, I thought it highly pertinent to take a walk through.

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The exhibit on display is called the “Beginning of the Becoming”. I always find it interesting to compare the creation stories of the various civilizations. This one goes as:

“At the beginning of time nothing existed but the heavens above and the ocean below. The first god, Mula Jadi Na Bolon, whose name means “the beginning of the becoming”, lived in the highest reaches of heaven. Mula Jadi created three sons, and then three daughters to give to his sons as wives. He did not, however, create the earth. That was the work of his granddaughter, the goddess Si Boru Deak Parujar.

Si Boru descended from heaven on a thread she had spun in an effort to escape marrying the hideously ugly son of her uncle. Three times she tried to create the earth by flinging a handful of soil, given to her by Mula Jadi, upon the water below. Each time her creation was destroyed by the Naga padoha, the serpent who ruled the underworld. Finally, Si Boru succeeded in subduing the naga by pinning him between a sword and the land, which she piled upon his back. Till this day, the Naga Padoha’s struggle to free himself causes earthquakes.

The stubborn Si Boru eventually relented and married her suitor when he agreed to change his name and was transformed into a handsome young man. The couple settled at the base of a volcano to the west of Lake Toba, where they had many children. One of their grandsons was Si Raja Batak, and he became the father of all the Batak People.”

As you can see, women were the same in the beginning as they are now – stubborn and demanding!! Awwww…just teasing…interesting story of the beginning of the Batak People overall 🙂

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Walking through this museum, you immediately recognize the high quality of the presentations. It is replete with all the interactions with other civilizations that historically made Singapore what it is today. There are multiple exhibits that show the artifacts as well as historical interactions with the Chinese, Malays, Arabs, Portugese, Sultans, Dutch, Indians, Siths, and the British….not to mention all the religious interactions and how that embodies Singapore today. The presentations are not made simply in a matter that highlights cultural tension and wars, but show the contribution that each made to the ultimate development of an eclectic Singapore. Much of this, you can still see today. Very high quality displays, similar to what you would find at the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC. Tells a wonderful human story – a must see!!

China Town – Singapore

February 9, 2015

Now, I am what you call a China Town aficionado…if there is a China town in the United States, for the most part, you can bet I have been there and sampled – Most of them anyway 🙂 The most authentic China Town in the U.S. is by far located in San Francisco…the foods, the markets, the clothes, the smell and the feel…unparalleled! Definitely, not just a few Chinese food shops within a couple of blocks. Soooo…it is only proper to delve into China Town in Singapore. Particularly now, since one of the major celebrations of the year is about to take place – Chinese New Year!!

Walking into China Town, you can see the major preparations for the festival and you can feel the excitement from the people. It is absolutely PACKED!!

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And, this is just a sample of what it looked like for blocks and blocks and blocks…it got to a point where you could barely move around…

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So much Red, seemed as the entire area was completely infused with RED…obviously, somebody loves Red. Plenty of stores such as this so that everyone could get their favorite ornamentation to celebrate the New Year

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Of course, if you are going to hang in China Town then you will have to eat. Now please note this. When we are talking about eating in China Town, we are not talking about the typical buffett in the U.S. No Sweet and Sour Chicken, No General Zhao’s Chicken….in fact, most of these items you won’t even find in the United States. Once I went to a Chinese New Year Celebration in the U.S., there were only a few other people there that spoke English. They brought out a seven course meal…steamed fish, light flavorful sauces, the greenest fresh vegetables…nothing you would find on the typical menu in the U.S. When I asked what we were eating in terms of the vegetables…they talked amongst themselves for a few minutes, then came back to me and said, “sorry, there is no English word to describe it”. So when we carry stereotypes, or what we call acting on cognitive shortcuts, about other cultures…often times we are only aware of the small part that we have, and are quite unaware of the fullness of their culture. The fact of the matter is, many of the items on the Chinese food menu in the U.S., the Chinese don’t even eat. This should speak volumes of information for those of us attempting to be aware….

Sooooo….everywhere you look, there are either huge food centers or street hawkers/street food. Amazing to observe, at any given table there may be four generations within one family sitting at a table eating and enjoying themselves.

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Another interesting dynamic about Singapore overall, and this is in China Town, that you have so many different ethnicities, religions and nationalities living harmoniously next to each other. This doesn’t mean that there are not problems or tensions, but it means that tensions do not trump there overall community. As an excellent example, here are pics of a Hindu Temple, right down the block is a Mosque, and across the street a bit further down is a Christian Church…Who would of thought….

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I included this picture of the Mosque because they even had a very visible sign at the entrance explaining Islam to visitors.  It explained how they do not adhere to extremism and why they were able to co-exist with other religions in such close proximity.  A Hindu temple was down the street from them, and a Hindu Restaurant was right next door.  They went out of there way to show the beauty of how Islam fits into this community.

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On the way out of China Town, I ran across this fine gentleman…actually had a chat with him and in many ways he epitomizes the Culture in China Town…love his outfit and his strumming…funny, I think he was more focused on making his money than on the authenticity of the traditional music he was playing…but, what do I know…I enjoyed him and came back to look for him the next day….either way, he definitely drew a crowd 🙂

 

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And what would a trip to Asia be without at least a picture of the Monks 🙂

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Oddly enough, not just in China Town but throughout Singapore…you can hear not the noise, but the quiet. Even in China Town where there were tens of thousands of people…nothing sounded obnoxious.  Even so, throughout Singapore.  For, people talk to each other…not talking so loud that it is as if they are talking to the entire room. Immediately, you can tell that there is a tremendous amount of respect for the environment.  Very little to none – noise pollution. No cell phones ringing and everyone paying attention to each other. If someone speaks to you, typically you have to move towards them so that you can even hear what they are saying…

This China Town ranks at the top…but, I still do LOVE my San Francisco 🙂