An educational treat for Japanese students: Relishing the sights, sounds and tastes of vibrant Singapore
By Shaik Kadir
Eleven Singapore families spent their weekend recently engaging 23 tertiary students from Japan in providing them with an opportunity to learn about Singaporeans and experience home life.
My family is among those Singaporeans who volunteered to open their doors to the visitors for a 2-day, 1-night homestay stint. My wife, Khairon, and I hosted two students, Sakura Tsutsumi, 22, and Kaho Matsushita, 21.
The youths, whose ages range from 18-24, were in Singapore for a week on a student exchange programme, JENESYS, initiated by Japan last year (2015). Their tight programme included a stay with Singapore families from 16-17 January.
My family has been volunteering in hosting foreign youths for the homestay since 1989, beginning with SSEAYP – the Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Programme. The other programmes were the Iwate Global Seminar, Singapore-Vietnam Youth Exchange Programme and the Indonesian Icon Youth Visit, all usually for a 2-night stay.
These programmes were meant to give opportunities to expose the youths to the various Asian cultures, economic frontiers and local family life.
At the presentation and farewell day on 19 January, the JENESYS youths had lots of praises for Singapore and the families who hosted them.
Many of the presenters, using slides and sketch dramas, also said that they were surprised to see the unique architectural designs of Singapore buildings and the varieties of food to savour in a land referred to as the food paradise.
Sakura and Ms Kaho loved spicy food. They especially enjoyed the food cooked by my wife for them, such as sabsuka (Arabic dish), mee goreng (Indian style), nasi goreng (Malay style), chicken curry (Indian), beef rendang (Malay), black-pepper chicken (Chinese style) and prawn fried with broccoli (Chinese style).
My wife dared not allow them taste sambal belacan (a spicy prawn paste chili condiment), afraid that they might “explode”. It is super hot, but it whets the appetite, giving a “shiok” feeling, and is indispensable in Malay cuisine.
We also ate one breakfast in the neighbourhood restaurant – Sakura ate nasi lemak while Kaho ate lontong, both Malay food. But before that, at 7:00, we went for our Sunday morning briskwalk with the members of the Malay Activity Executive Committee of the Siglap Community Centre which is a short distance away from my home. I also arranged for a Japanese convert to Islam, Ms Keiko Soeda who works at the Japanese Embassy, to come so that the trio could talk in Japanese at ease.
On the way home from breakfast, we wanted to buy for them the king of all fruits – durian, which Singaporeans relish. But both girls said they would faint. “The smell is terrible, like the rotten smell of a dirty ditch,” said Sakura and her friend stuck out her tongue with a “yuck” sound.
Sakura was intrigued by the peace and harmony Singapore enjoy. “The community bonding in Singapore is admirable. People of various races and religious background live and mix together. Even the volunteers in this JENESYS homestay programme are multi-racial. There are Indians, Chinese and Malay Muslims and they all can talk in one common language – English,” said Sakura.
Kaho felt the homestay period is too short. “JENESYS should have given us the opportunity to be with the family longer, at least for two nights,” she opined. “This will allow us to learn more about home life.”
While the organisers took the students for official tours to places like Chinatown, Little India and the Sultan Mosque area, each of the family took their charges to various other places of interest.
In the evening of the first night, I took Sakura and Kaho to Marina Bay area by train and enjoyed the panoramic and stunning sights of the area and when night fell, we watched the fascinating laser display while sitting comfortably by the bay gallery.
Then, in the morning of the second day, the girls experienced wearing the hijab (Islamic dress code). My wife lent them her Malay dress to wear for a photo-shoot, helping them how to wear the blouse and the long skirt as well as the tudung (headscarf). The girls were fascinated. (A8) –(A9) –(10)
had the opportunity of sending the JENESYS team off at the airport in the evening of 19 January. Some families were there too, and we had a group photo taken before heading towards the departure gate.
What was really touching to me, as had happened before with the youths of the other programmes, was the emotion displayed. Sakura and Kaho cried. It was a sad farewell moment.
Whether we would be able to meet again or not does not matter but if they had the opportunity to visit us, we shall welcome them to our homes whole-heartedly. What is important is that we have made a contribution, small though it is, in making the visitors happy while in Singapore.