I must be growing up because I went on my first ever business trip. Through my years in education, I have been out many times with my students on Experiential Education trips, but I never really considered them business trips. Those kinds of trips require me to get all dressed up to meet colleagues so we discuss the matters important to our profession. I didn’t have to put on a tie and present myself in a professional manner on the EE trips, nor did I have to network with people and do the all important dinners afterwards. My most recent trip was my first time to have this kind of experience and I was lucky enough to have Singapore be my first stop in the land of adults.
I attended the reThinking Literacy conference held on the UCW Southeast Asia campus. It was a refreshing look at the way people view different forms of media and how it is being used to influence the masses. During this day and age, it was a particularly relevant topic especially when the keynote speakers discussed the ways producers of media have gotten selective with their audiences in order to deliver the messages they know their consumers want to hear. Of course, we have heard this message before and we believe that we are not a person that can be so easily influenced by this type of propaganda. We are more intelligent than that. And if that is true, then let me ask when the last time you spent some time watching or reading the media that you disagree with? If you can’t think of a time when you did, then the information you consume might be influencing your thinking and you might not even know that it is doing this.
Don’t worry you are not alone. I used to believe that I was above the influence of the news I watched and read. I believed that I could make up my own mind, and I was not being told what to think all the time. I believed that I could watch it with a critical eye. It was my choice to believe the same kind of things that they were telling me to believe. That was until I learned a little from the cabbies in Singapore.
Yes, there is a certain kind of wisdom that can be found from a conversation from the people that drive other people around town. They really know the place where they live better than anybody else. They are in touch with the pulse of what makes the place tick, and they are not afraid to tell you what they think. I got into a conversation about various world leaders with a cabbie on my third day in town. We started off by discussing one of the most recently elected to office presidents, Moon Jae-In, and how he impressed the cabbie by the way he was willing to come to the table to talk with Kim Jong-un.
The driver also told me about his opinion of other presidents, and prime ministers. This list of the ones he admired included Lee Hsien Loong and Donald Trump. This surprised me a little bit because I have not run into many people on my extensive travels through southeast Asia that admire the current president of the United States. In fact, most jokes I hear from people from various nations include the punch of Donald Trump. In the past, I would have made an instant judgment because this person did not agree with my way of looking at the world, but this time I held my tongue and listened to what he had to say.
I learned a lot by just listening.
The cabbie liked both of these men because of their abilities to grow the economy. They were also able to keep the people of their nations safe from the terrorists coming from the Muslim communities. It was really hard for me to not correct this individual that terrorism do not only come from Muslims, and not all Muslims are terrorists, but I was getting an education at this time, and it was important that I listened. The language barrier between us caused poor communication, and he was never going to listen to the opinion of a foreigner; whereas, by listening to his beliefs, I was able to see what issues were important to him.
I might not have agreed with his perspective and the handling of these issues has been done well by the current President of the United States, but I couldn’t deny that this was an issue that kept this cabbie up at night. Maybe if other politicians listened to this base instead of ignoring it, then maybe they could come up with a solution that would be something I would be more comfortable with and would avoid the racist, single-minded attitude spreading all over the world.
It was really interesting to hear that these same concerns were also taking place in this small city/state. It is one of the economic powerhouses in the world, and because of the British colonialism this community is a collection of a variety of people from all over the world. Where were these ideas coming from? It probably had something to do with the media being pushed out to the community, and if I spent some more time watching it I might have gained a new perspective on their thinking. But I only had cabbies to talk to instead.
The next cabbie took the crew I was with down to Arab Street. This is one of the bigger tourist spots in Singapore. It has a lot of great shops and a variety of restaurants that reminded me of a cleaner version of the Sojo district in Hong Kong. The journey to get there was just as eye opening as the one I had taken earlier in the evening. This time the revelation came from a conversation I was having that excluded the cabbie.
I was talking about past relationships with a colleague of mine, and he had mentioned something about his ex-husband. The cabbie had picked up on this. As I sat in the front seat, I had the prefect view to watch his eyes grow really big.
“Ex-Husband?” he questioned.
Once again this reaffirmation that Singapore was not the most progressive thinking country presented itself. The difference between this type of discrimination and the other was we couldn’t ignore it this time around. At first, my friend tried to correct himself by stating that he meant to say ex-wife, but this line correction was not really working. He finally just admitted who he was and answered any questions that the cabbie had about him and his life. On the other hand, we asked about the laws in Singapore and the attitude of people towards gay rights. It was an educational experience for all involved, and I do think that a new respect for both sides was reached during that cab ride, but the only way for that to happen was by first engaging in conversation.
I don’t know if it was the type of education that the reThinking Literacy conference was speaking about, but an important nugget was still there. My education on this trip was about digging through the onslaught of what we receive daily to digest and how we discover the truth of the matter through all of that noise. It really begs the question if we should be consuming all of that media in the first place. Instead, should we take the time every once and awhile to sit down with that stranger who sit across from us at the bar and have a conversation with them? What will we learn from those conversations? What will they learn? How will the world grow from having a healthy discussion? Is this what we are missing in our societies today?
Honestly, I don’t know.
Maybe, you could tell me.
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