Creativity in Singapore

Last week during my Current Issues in Business, Culture, and Society class, a very interesting speaker came in to give a talk.  Randolf Arriola, a Singaporean musician spoke to our class about the importance of creativity.Randolf is known for his experimentation with loops music. He plays with a guitar and attached is a machine that can record the music the guitar plays and then play it back through the sound system. Randolf layers sounds on top of each other so that it comes together to create the illusion of a one-man band. It was an extraordinary thing to see him play. You can watch one of his recordings here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJvTT-x8ZAI

After his performance of a few songs, he explained why he thought creativity is lacking in Singapore. Randolf argued that creativity is lacking in Singapore’s society and economy because the culture was first built on effectiveness. Singapore is still a young country (only 50 years old!) and for it to become of the best cities in the world to live in (in terms of safety, health insurance, economy), the culture was geared towards effectiveness rather than creativity. Singapore is a city of rules. Or should I say, a city of fines. People like to stick to the familiar instead of risk-taking (Singaporeans are pretty high on the risk-aversion scale). The arts are considered inferior compared to science and math and people are encouraged to stick to a structure in the workplace (things that a local student told me about). Randolf also argued that in order for Singapore to compete in the 21st century, it would have to become a more creative and innovative society.

This is a big difference compared to the US, as Americans are supposed to be embedded with the spirit of entrepreneurship. Creativity and innovation is the backbone of American businesses and this talk made me more aware of it. To me, this always just seemed …obvious. As if creativity and innovation were fundamental parts of any country’s culture and society (which I now realize is not true).

It made me realize that working abroad could have a lot more implications than I originally thought, (I’m relating this to working abroad because it’s something I’ve thought about and is one of the reasons I wanted to go on exchange). Not only would you have to get used to the culture, you would also have to learn to adapt to a completely new work culture. My friend told me that Singaporean businesses like things to be done in a certain way and there’s very little freedom in how you complete your work because they are so focused on doing it the most efficient way possible. Compared to the US, I think people in the workplace are usually given more freedom, given that they get the results their boss wants.

This doesn’t discourage me from wanting to work abroad however, in fact it makes me even more curious.

 

School Starts! New life in Japan.

Rikkyo’s fall semester starts relatively late, and it was September 23rd. Thanks to that, I was given enough time to get myself used to the new life in Japan and also explored interesting things around here. Actually, I am not unfamiliar with what Tokyo is like and how life in Japan would be, because I have been watching Japanese dramas and animations for several years.

When I finally got here, I just found out that my life will be more exiting that I thought before. The first “challenge” that I met in Tokyo was that I have to take Densya (It is a public transportation similar to subway) to get to Rikkyo University everyday. My dormitory is actually in Shiki, which is about 25 minutes Densyaride away from Ikebukuro where the university is located. And I had firstly to figure out which line to take and remember the pronunciation of the names of the station where I need to got off. This was a big task for me because even though I could recognise the Kanji’s (similar to Chinese characters), they have really different pronunciations between Chinese and Japanese. And since Ikebukuro Station is a big and crowded station, every time I wanted to take Densya, it was really hard for me to find out which platform I should go to.

This challenge is tightly related the cultural shock that Japan gives me. I am Chinese, so I can read nearly all the Kanji’s shown outside. But the meanings of Kanji’s are also different from Chinese. Now, when I read Kanji’s in Japan, especially the name of stations and Densya lines, I automatically arrange myself in to three steps: read the Kanji’s, memorize the characters in Chinese, and then memorize the pronunciation in Japanese.

People in Japan are really really polite. When I go to convenience stores or other places, the sales person there are talking to me in KeiGo, which is a highly formal way of speaking. I was not very accustomed to it, so I just kept saying “Thank you very much” to them. As for the business part, I think the courses here can serve as a great example. I registered for two Research Seminars and a course named Bilingual Business Project. The reason why I mention these three courses is that we will be working on real business projects in these courses. For instance, in the Bilingual Business Project course, we need to finish a Marketing Project for Wendy’s retargeting Japanese Market, and the client, representative of Wendy’s will also come and evaluate our projects. I think I had a really good start for my new term and new life in Japan, and I hope that I could learn a lot not only in the business field but also in cultural field.

Weekend in Cambodia

This past weekend I traveled to Cambodia and I had an amazing time. I traveled with a group of three other SMU students. We flew in Phnom Penh (capital of Cambodia) on Friday and we left Monday afternoon (taking advantage of my 3-day school schedule!).

On the first day we arrived in Phnom Penh, our flight was delayed so we didn’t arrive in the city until 6pm. As soon as we got there we took a private taxi to go up north to Siem Reap where the great temples of Angkor Wat are. The trip took about 6 hours including a stop for dinner. It was a long ride so by the time we go to Siem Reap, we checked into our guesthouse and just went to sleep.

Riding the tuk-tuk from the airport to the center of the city

The next morning we woke up and set out to explore Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a magnificent Hindu/Buddhist temple complex. It’s dedicated as a UNESCCO World Heritage Site to further protect and conserve the ruins. Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century under the Khmer Kingdom. There are many different temples but Angkor Wat is the entrance to the entire park. It was the biggest and grandest temple.

The magnificent Angkor Wat!

We spent two days exploring the temples and there was still more to see! I could of easily spent another day exploring as the temples were so peaceful. Also, since it’s currently low season (rainy season) for traveling in Southeast Asia, there were fewer tourists around which made it even better. Luckily for us, the weather was in our favor; the most it rained was an hour during one day.

A part of Tomb Raiders (featuring Angelina Jolie) was filmed in this temple!

The best part about Angkor Wat was that nothing felt contrived. Although some parts of the temples were obviously restored, nothing about the temples felt perfect which made it even more beautiful. For example, there many statues that had their heads cut off because there was a period when riots happened and people stole Buddha heads to sell off to foreign countries. This didn’t make the temples any less beautiful, it fact it made it even more authentic.

If you look carefully, you’ll noticed that one of the statues in this picture is missing a head…

Although the temples were beautiful, I was more surprised by the poverty I saw in the surrounding area of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, and villages not too far away from the city. Outside the temples, there were many food and souvenir vendors and every time we got off our tuk-tuk (motorcycle bike with rickshaw attached) to visit a temple, hordes of children would surround us and ask us to buy bracelets and postcards for a 1$. These children were very young too. All of them were barefoot and their clothes looked like they haven’t been washed in months. They were extremely clever as they tried to persuade you to buy their items by saying things like “Buy 1 post card get 9 free!”. Another young girl asked my friend to buy some bracelets for his girlfriend and when he responded that he didn’t have a girlfriend, she said, “You know why? Because you no buy these bracelets!”.

It was sad seeing this because it makes you wonder whether these kids go to school or if they don’t have time because they have to help support their families by selling souvenirs to tourists. After coming back from Cambodia, I researched more about it and found out that despite the tourism that Angkor Wat brings in, 36.6% of the population lives below the poverty line (less than 45 cents per day). Many Cambodian children go to primary school (80%) but less go to lower secondary school (25%) and even less go to upper secondary school (9%).

I witnessed even more poverty when I traveled back to Phnom Penh on Sunday afternoon. We drove pass beautiful green rice paddies and along these rice paddies were houses where the farmers and their families lived. The houses are better described as simple shacks as the whole thing consisted of only one room. Even though we were only driving by, I could tell that there was no kitchen or electricity in the shacks. Bedding was just a blanket on the ground or a hammock outside. Kids ran around barefoot and naked but they all appeared to be very happy and carefree.

I didn’t realize that Cambodia is still so underdeveloped (which sounds very ignorant of me), but I’m glad at least now I’m aware. I wish I could of done more to help but we had such a short amount of time there.

I’ve realized that the most important part about traveling is not seeing new things or famous sights, it’s about learning and letting these experiences shape you.

Academic Life at SMU

Since it’s week 5 already, I feel pretty settled in. The adjustment to SMU was interesting at first but now I think I’ve gotten used to it. There are a lot of small differences between SMU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business and OSU’s Fisher College of Business.

Overall it’s similar but there are small differences. For one thing, group work is a big deal here. I’m glad that business classes at Fisher required a lot of group work as well because I definitely feel more prepared than my some of my European exchange students (most them were rarely required to do group work for their universities). The group work here is pretty different though, since classes meet for 3 hours at a time instead of breaking it down to smaller chunks of time like 55 minutes, three times a week. Therefore, there is a lot of time for student presentations. Usually the structure will go something like this: the professor lectures the first half of class and then a student group will present the second half of class with material that adds on to the lecture. The students here are very good with PowerPoint and presentation skills as a result.

Another difference between SMU and OSU is the amount of participation that is encouraged here. All of my classes have mandatory participation while I can only think of a handful of classes I’ve taken at OSU that have required that. Every student also has an extravagant name card that they use so that professors will note down their participation. The exchange students really stand out in this case because we all have handwritten name cards on loose-leaf paper. I really do like this part about SMU and I’m hoping some of my classes I take in the future at OSU will be similar.

Classrooms are pretty similar to Fisher’s classrooms!

Since my classes are all 3 hours, I actually only have class from Tuesdays until Thursdays, giving me a weekend of Friday to Monday. This is especially nice for traveling which most exchange students take advantage of. The local students take advantage of this time by having more time to do extra curricular activities (meetings aren’t limited to the week, some are during the weekend) and/or work on group presentations and projects. I’ll post about some of the traveling I will do in a future blog post!

The Idea of “Kaisu”

Officially, it’s Week 4 of my semester here at Singapore Management University. Only 9 more weeks to go before it finals time! Not that I want the semester to come to end, it’s been amazing living and studying out here.

My new campus!

I’ve been experiencing so many new things here and adjusting to everything at the same time. I find that Singapore is not much of a culture shock for me as I’ve been to Asia before. What I find interesting is however is the myriad of cultures here. Singapore has four national languages- English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. Every day I find myself hearing all four languages. Singapore is still a mystery to me because it’s hard to pinpoint what precisely the Singaporean culture is. It’s a wonderful mix of the West and the East.

Before I got here, I didn’t realize that I would be adjusting to SMU (Singapore Management University) culture in additional the local culture. The culture at my university is a whole new ballpark. I’ve noticed that the academic competition is fiercer here. In fact, it’s straight up cutthroat. There’s a Singlish word here (Singlish is a unique blend of English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, and local dialects that is spoken in casual conversation) called Kiasu that means, “fear of losing”. Kiasu is a part of Singaporean culture as people grow up ingrained with the notion that hard work will get you ahead. It also means that Singaporeans are generally very competitive by nature in all aspects of their lives.

The idea of Kiasu became even clearer after my class discussion today. I’m taking a class called “Current Issues in Business, Society, and Government” and today we talked about Singapore’s education system. We watched a movie called, “I Not Stupid” by Jack Neo which is about three boys who are at a disadvantage because they’ve been streamlined into EM3. In the past, Singapore used to streamline students into three academic streams (EM1, EM2, EM3), the best students were placed in EM1 and the students who learned at a lower pace were placed into EM3. Although EM3 was supposed to create a learning environment suitable for students who needed a slower pace, it actually had negative effects for the students because it created a stigma that these students were “stupid”. There was also no possibility that EM3 students would move up the ranks. All of this relied on an examination that students took around age 10. As you can imagine, growing up here is very different than growing up in the US.

One of the best things about studying abroad is the exposure to different societies, cultures, and ideas that I would have not realized if I wasn’t here such as the idea of Kaisu. I’m constantly learning something new each day and I look forward to sharing all of these experiences through this blog!