Southeast Asia studies: a C+ but I finally understand

Southeast Asia consists of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India and north of Australia[1]. And with reference to our reading in our course book[2],[3] these Southeast Asia countries are perceived to be dangerous, exotic, sexual and hot. I have lived in Singapore for the past 26 years but I personally do not feel that Singapore is dangerous and exotic but it is definitely hot due to the tropical climate. However, while visiting other Southeast Asia countries, I do have association that Southeast Asia countries are exotic and dangerous. The readings we read were written before the 1980s, and I have to agree that maybe it is true that during that period of time Southeast Asia are really what they have written and in turn creating the self-fulfilling bias.
In this paper, I will discuss about my trip to a “Southeast Asian” place in Singapore and what makes the place Southeast Asian. I feel that what makes a place Southeast Asian is that it must give me the feel of exoticness, sexual and dangerous. The Golden Mile Complex (GMC) was built in 1970s and I see an idea location for my paper discussion. The 16-storey Golden Mile Complex is one of the early pioneers of integrating multiple operations into a single mixed-use development in Singapore[4]. According to Tay (2007), “Today the complex is a hot spot for Thai clubs and eateries, as well as travelers going to Malaysia by bus.” And according to my local knowledge it is also known as the little Thailand in Singapore.
My experience
My journey down to Golden Mile complex was pretty interesting[5]. Along the way from Lavender MRT to Golden Mile complex you could easily see foreign workers sitting in groups under the HDB flats chatting and drinking.  The foreign workers are generally male, short and dark skin, just like what the reading perceived of Asian men sitting around for cockfight in Bali. For me, it’s more of the kampong culture that could be found in the Southeast Asia culture.
Southeast Asia countries are usually associated with major religions such as Islam, Buddhism and Christianity. Crossing over the bridge towards Golden Mile Complex, The first image that resembles Southeast Asian is a four-faced Buddha statue outside the main entrance. And there was a devotee paying respect to the statue[6], which further triggers my thoughts of countries like Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. The next thing I noticed the stretch of travel agencies that are providing bus services to Malaysia and money-changers providing foreign exchange services. Walking into the building, I also noticed a smell, a smell of tropical fruits, vegetables and spices. In additional I also observed that the interior infrastructures are old and failing. These old and failing infrastructures initiate my thoughts on Southeast Asia countries, because I have just walked over from Lavender MRT that has a very clean and modern look, while Golden Mile complex gives me an old and rural look. This is what I usually associated with Southeast Asia countries, there are rural and urban divided.
Next the environment, I observed there are bars and pubs within the shopping complex. The entrances of the bars are covered with posters that emphasized with sex appeals. Outside the bars laid tables where groups of men were drinking and chatting happily with some ladies. A typically sight that reminds me of Southeast Asia because I linked sexual to exotic and exotic is what typically men associate Southeast Asia to be.
Golden Mile complex also give me a feeling that “ I can do anything I want as long as I do not get caught” it like being in a place out from the “strict” Singapore. It feels like even if I caught, I could easily buy my way out of it. Corruption is a serious problem in certain Southeast Asia countries. This was further strengthened with an unusual sight as I saw a group of people was smoking in pubs located in Golden Mile Complex. It was also a bit dangerous as there were men who were drunk too outside the pubs and they were speaking in different languages that make you wonder.
I walked a few more round on level two and observed the retail shops having kids running in and out, families having their meals in the shop. These are the usual sights that I observed while traveling in the Southeast Asia region especially the sub-urban areas. For example, small town like kuching in Malaysia.
Another typical Southeast Asia association would be tropical fruits and our staple food rice. When I walked up level 2, there was quite a number of shops selling tropical fruits, vegetables and spices, this could explained why the whole complex is filled with the fruits, vegetables and spices smell. It smells like begin in the farm and this could probably set you thinking about farming and rural area in Southeast Asia. There are also many food stores and eateries available. However most of them are selling Thai dishes[7], and this prompt me take note of the spicy food available. Moreover, this significantly shows how Golden Mile Complex represents as Southeast Asia because spices are one of the key ingredients for Southeast Asia food. And as with all Asians the main food that are served at both food stores and eateries are rice. Moreover, with reference to our studies, rice played an important role in Southeast Asia. Besides giving us energy, it was used for significant rituals such as wedding and as a form of paying respect to Gods.
Finally I took my leave from Golden Mile Complex. I walked out of the building feeling different; stepping out of Golden Mile complex seems like leaving a place different from Singapore. So in conclusion, when I stepped into Golden Mile Complex, it’s like into a Southeast Asia region, there is a feel of nostalgia. The old infrastructure of the building, the smell of tropical fruits, food and spices in the shopping complex, the bar scenes that are exotic and sexual, the sights of children running around and families having meal in the shops and with many people sitting around, eating chatting and drinking presenting a kampong image, for me it symbolized a true Southeast Asia.

[2] Wavell, Stewart, 1958, “In Search of Ape-Men,” in The Lost World of the East, London: Souvenir Press, pp. 51-67.
[3] Wallace, Alfred Russel (1869 [1989]), The Malay Archipelago. Graham Brash: Singapore, Read pp. 16-19 (on Singapore) and pp. 57-58 (on the durian)
[5] See Appendix A for route traveled to Golden Mile complex
[6] See Appendix B for photos
[7] See Appendix B for photos


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