Day 1 – May 20- Singapore
When first arriving in Singapore I did not know what to expect about the culture or laws. I had heard various rumors that there were tons of strict laws and a stratified demographic which made up this unique country. Many of which are much different than back home in Fort Worth, Texas. But I didn’t care about any of that I was just so excited to arrive in another country for the first time. As soon as we got on the bus our tour guide, Linda, made it clear that there was to be no eating or drinking on the bus at all. If caught doing so one would be fined 1,000 Singapore dollars. I thought to myself wow they really do have some strict rules, I wonder why they made something so silly and pre-k a law. Later I then realized the importance of this law and the significance of their many other peculiar laws governing their city/country. I had no idea I would come to appreciate the freedom I take for granted back home in just a few short days or how much I would come to understand some of these laws and see the silver lining in their ways.
I came to realize that there are many social priorities that seem to define the local culture and many laws set in place to make this diverse country one. I learned that there are four main demographics that make up Singapore. Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, and Eurasian. However Even though there are many differences socially, religiously, and culturally among these groups of people they all define themselves as the same thing- Singaporean. Being one and working together and living together in harmony is of top importance in Singapore. I love this about that country. It reminds me of back home. In other countries these people would potentially be at war with each other but here they make it work. And even though the government enforces laws to help enforce this unity I believe the people truly want this. However I found it kind of sad that they were not allowed to speak about their religion or government publically. Something we take for granted every day. However a silver lining in that can be found and that is unity. Another social priority I loved was the importance of taking care of the elderly. There is no social security in Singapore. Children are expected and enforced to take care of their parents in old age. Linda, the tour guide, said that’s why she had five children, to ensure one of them would take care of her. As for the law about the bus I found that was enforced due to their heavy reliance on public transportation. With so many people in such a small area the government wants to ensure a cleaner and more efficient way of commuting in daily life.
Day 2- May 21- Singapore
We visited several temples in Singapore as a group. I got to visit a Taoist temple in China town, a Mosque in Little India, a Hindu temple on Arab Street, and a few others. All of which, we were required to cover up our legs and shoulders. All temples were extremely touristy with ropes and rules guiding viewers where to stand and what not to do. But I loved experiencing all the religious rituals and seeing the different cultures come to life. But I will never forget the religious site my friend and I visited independently one morning.
The first night in Singapore I walked past a monk in an orange robe on my way back to the hotel. I was so excited to see a monk walking down the street so I quickly stopped and asked to take a picture with him. Unsure of how he would react I stood there nervously. To my surprise he smiled and took a picture with me. The next morning before our daily tour started we decided to do some exploring without the group. We walked about a block behind our hotel and came across a Buddhist temple. I wanted to go in but was not sure if we was dressed properly. My friend unsure of what to do started to turn around but I decided I would give it a shot and ask. To my surprise they welcomed us in. There was no strict dress codes in this temple nor were there ropes and tons of people taking picture, like we had seen in the other touristy temples. As soon as we walked in we were greeted by the monk I had took a picture with the night before. He greeted us with a smile and warm welcome. I was shocked to see him again. Without even asking he offered to show us around. He even remembered me, which made my day. He explained picture on the wall and even blessed us. Throughout the tour he noticed we had our phones out to take pictures. So he grabbed them from us and took our pictures and even gestured to us to pose in funny ways. Towards the end of the tour he grabbed his IPhone 6 out and wanted to take pictures with us for him to have. Which was something I would have never expected not to mention I had this weird perception that monks didn’t use cell phones, let alone the newest smart phone. This experience seemed so personal and unique compared to all my others. I will never forget that monk or that temple. I made it a priority to say farewell to him my last night in Singapore.
Day 4 -May 23- Bangkok
Visiting the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand today was such an overwhelming and amazing experience all in one. I never imagined in my life I would get to see something so beautiful and so ancient. Despite the billions of people crammed into one space trying to take pictures and knocking people over with their selfie sticks, in what felt like 120 degree weather, I was mesmerized. The architecture was magnificent, the use of gold everywhere was inspiring, and the paintings were so vivid and detailed. Just imaging people living here and waking up to such beauty everyday was unreal to me. There was a strict dress code enforced, for which this was once the grounds of daily political, religious and social life in Thailand. These temples and palaces are held so dearly to the people of Thailand because they represent their culture. Religion is such an important part of daily life in Thailand and the King and Queen are highly respected by the people.
85% of people in Thailand are Buddhist and there are over 35,000 temples to worship at. But the temples in the grand palace are the foundation of their culture, religion, and government. The political life of the community in Thailand revolves around religion thus making this culture of people so unique. Millions come just to worship and make offerings to Buddha in these temples. The paintings on the wall depict religious stories, the statues represent their Deity, and the amazing building were literally built for kings and queens. The role of these temples is to remind the people of their culture and who they are, and what they stand for. And as for the tourist, like me, the temples allow us to get a glimpse of their culture, past, and religion.
Day 5 – May 24 – Floating Market
The floating market was by far one the funniest experiences in my life. I was so excited to be there and so amazed with this one-of-a-kind shopping experience. I loved floating on the river in a boat as I was taking in a new culture in Thailand. One of which was very different than the metropolitan area. After visiting many temples and religious sanctuaries in Thailand it was nice to get away from the busy city life, in which the temples are located, and into a more rural area. Unpredictably I came to realize that religion looms everywhere in Thailand. As I floated through the market I came to see that even in place of shopping and business there was still religious expression displayed by the people. There was a place to worship with Buddha statues, just as there is everywhere in Thailand. Which really opened my eyes to just how much religion is a part of their community. I noticed pictures of the King and queen proudly displayed by the people. I felt a since of community among the people and felt like I really got to experience there way of living. Religious practice seemed to differ in this area than in the city.
Day 7 – May 26- Angkor Wat located in Siem Reap, Cambodia
I love that I can now say I visited one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Angkor Wat took my breath away and opened my eyes to the history of Cambodia. The ancient compound represents the times of past struggle and oppression the people in Cambodia experienced during their time of defeat. Everything in the temples and ruins represents the culture, religion and history that define Cambodia and its people. Themes displayed throughout the temple were a mix of Hinduism and Buddhism in my opinion. And man did those people like to walk and climb a lot. I cannot believe they climbed so high everyday just to pray. I even walked down the stairs from the third compound as they did. And oh man walking down the stairs backwards was a little scary but I did it because that’s what they did. I found it interesting that I was told to take my Vietnamese hat off in Angkor Wat. Which I had no idea it was a Vietnamese hat before that moment. I felt a little disrespectful after I was told the stories of their war. Exploring Angkor Wat was so much fun and insightful. I learned about a country and culture I had never even heard of.
Day 8- May 28- Bangkok
After visiting Bangkok I know see why it is known as the “City of Temples” as I mentioned before there are over 35,000 temples in Bangkok and 85% of the population practice Buddhism. I love that on almost every corner there is a religious sanctuary with a Buddha statue so that people can pray or make offerings. When driving through the city you can spot monks out and about living daily life either shopping, riding on a mini bike or just walking around. Temples and Buddha statues can be seen literally be seen everywhere you go. In the Taxis, the TUK TUK’s and even on the sky train you can find some sort of Buddhist themed object, sign, or marking. I learned that you cannot step on doorways for it is bad luck, it is custom to take your shoes off when entering temples, and a strict dress code is enforced to portray respect in temples and even in daily life. This was such a new and unfamiliar culture for me. Something in which I am definitely not accustomed too. There is no option to pray anywhere and everywhere openly on the streets in Fort Worth, Texas. This encounter has shaped my perception on religion in many ways.
My Last day – June 2, 2015
This trip has changed my life and has opened my eyes to the world. I thought traveling the world was something only people with money could do. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine leaving the country at 22 years old, let alone visiting four countries within two weeks. I feel so blessed that I was able to experience all the wonderful things that unveiled upon us throughout the trip. I met so many wonderful and friendly people throughout this journey that has forever changed my outlook on humanity.
It was amazing to see how hard people worked for so little in places like Siem Reap and Singapore. And even though they were tired and hot they managed to stay friendly and keep a smile on their face if I approached them. I remember the trash guy was just so friendly and happy when I started talking to him even though he was digging in the garbage to collect recyclable goods he smiled. The tour guides were all so amazing in their own ways. They opened up and shared personal stories as well as facts to help us understand their culture. Linda was by far the best tour guide and I will never forget her. Her personality, humor, and knowledge left a big impression upon me. She just made me laugh and feel happy, she kept me interested in what she was saying, and I felt true hospitality from her. She is definitely “HOT STUFF “as she says. The Monk in Singapore, who made me feel so welcome inside the temple is another person I will never forget.
I will always remember the images and impressions I experienced while being in Cambodia. Seeing the meat market for the first time, the kids begging for money, the kids working hard and trying to sell stuff for a dollar, and driving the rural country side where people lived in houses I could never imagine living in.
Bangkok traffic was definitely something to experience. The roads were so crazy and chaotic I felt scared just to cross the street and seeing entire families on scooters was crazy to me. I loved that everything seemed to be done outside and anywhere. Sleeping, shopping, eating, cooking, worshiping, and washing dishes was just done on the side of the street like no big deal. I will never forget the friend I made who offered to show us around. She was so sweet and so generous and showed us the best time my last night in Bangkok.
Despite the seven excruciating plane rides I would not trade this experience for anything. I learned so much more about culture, government, and religion than any book could ever teach me. I loved experiencing the culture, food, and the religious rituals surrounding me as I explored “new worlds”. I cannot wait to leave my little corner of the world again and experience a new country. I would go through a million plane rides to experience it all again.