Post by James Wilford, 3rd year BA Geography Student
It is a surreal experience when you’re standing in a lift and overhear an apparently English conversation that suddenly morphs into a mixture of Chinese and Malay, becoming impossible to follow and throwing you into a sense of uncertainty and confusion. Culture shocks such as this appeal to me. Resultantly, I was unable to resist a subsidised trip, with friends, to a country that is perhaps one of the most culturally diverse – and different to the UK – in the world, especially considering its small population and geographical size. Singapore was the destination of our third year geography field trip.
People arrived in the Lion City up to three days before the start of the field trip, seeking to maximise their time acclimatising to the heat, humidity and time difference. Having recovered from obscure routes across the world by taking leisurely tours around Singapore and relaxing by the roof-top pool, we were ready to start work. In groups of 5 or 6, we were tasked to plan and implement a piece of research. Prior to the trip, each group produced a research proposal, detailing our intentions and methods, enabling feedback to be given, which would then be used whilst researching. The remainder of the two weeks was split between a continuation of this research and further exploration of the city.
The group that I was working with investigated the perceptions and views of the Singaporean public towards tourism in their city, examining how they felt about its future and government tourism policies. We scheduled interviews with members of the tourism industry and stopped locals on the street to gain their insight and views. Once we had overcome the awkwardness of bothering people for their views, the latter of these become easy. Amazingly, there were few hiccups!
We had 9.30 meetings every morning and organised trips to meet local stakeholders including an NGO working with transient workers, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and group work with fellow University of Liverpool students based in Singapore. The great thing about the trip was that students were in (almost) full control of their schedules – we were able to plan our time, meaning that we could occasionally take a break from being researchers and be tourists. The city is fascinating: we spent time on the country’s islands, such as Sentosa and Ubin and visited skyscraper roof-top bars with spectacular views of the city and its architectural audacity. When group work was finished, the nights were spent chatting, swimming and drinking beer by the hotel pool.
My favourite aspect of Singapore was the food (probably unsurprising to those who know me). As a hub for expats from the four corners of the globe, the city has a unique cuisine: it combines its own dishes with those from the rest of Asia and the world. Focusing on the Asian food, there are huge food courts, called Hawker Centres (The Maxwell Food Centre and those located at the top of shopping malls are highly recommended), that serve large portions at insanely cheap prices. Add friendly and masterful chefs to the mix, it’s as close to rice and noodle heaven as you can get. If that wasn’t enough, small, independent restaurants line the streets of Chinatown and Little India, offering a truly authentic taste of their cultures. Home comforts are important too: we were never far from a McDonalds, Burger King or KFC, allowing us to get our fixes of fast food, only more cheaply than in the UK.
For many, the opportunity to visit other countries in South East Asia after the trip was a major attraction. Extensive travel plans were initially drawn up, with students attempting as many sojourns on remote, unpopulated tropical islands and stopovers in chaotic Asian cities as humanly-possible in a week-long period. However, feasibility and financial cost meant that these fell through shortly after being anything more than an idea, leaving students with the more realistic options of the more mainstream tourist destinations. These turned out to be equally-incredible experiences. Two friends and I visited Thailand, splitting our time between the beaches of Ko Phi Phi and the nightlife and temples of Bangkok, before travelling back to the UK via Beijing. Others rewarded their work in Singapore with trips to Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Singapore field trip was a great way to end a geography degree and a perfect send-off to an interesting three years. The chance to travel with friends in such a large group to the other side of the world will provide unforgettable memories.