Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Last week, I got to to spend a day in Chicago visiting with my brother and some of his colleagues and students. A group of students in the school where he teaches in Singapore, SOTA, came to visit and collaborate with students at The Chicago Academy for the Arts.

Thursday night, some teachers at CAA and my brother and I enjoyed dinner together, then went to the top of the Hancock building so we could get a glimpse of the layout of downtown and see shadows of all the amazing arhitecture in that city. It did not even matter that it was raining with harsh, abusive winds. It was still amazing.
Here are our silhouettes:

We spent the next morning going through the Buckminster Fuller exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art, oogling over Alexander Calder's mobiles and sculptures, then turning circles through the Fuller exhibit. I thought I was going to explode with inspiration.
That man was not only a genius in his integration of arts, science, technology, engineering, design, etc., he remembered to take his ideas a step further and require an investment in community by his community. He made his purpose about helping others, empowering humanity while honoring the environment.
The final paragraph on the wall of the exhibit was a reminder that Fuller brought us the vision, and now it was up to us to carry out his plan. What a calling.

And it was only 11:00 am.

We had lunch back at CAA and then I went to observe a ballet class while my brother help the Visual Arts students complete and hang their final exhibition.

I need to explain the next few hours very delicately...
Basically, American student etiquette is very different from Singapore student etiquette.
The differences between the two student styles was so apparent that there was no way teachers and staff and students couldn't talk about it. It was a great place for dialogue to begin.

Before the ballet class, I sat and watched the uniformed Singapore girls cackle, tease and gossip in the mirror as they applied fistfuls of hair gel to their hair and did then re-did their buns to be tighter, smoother. At the same time, the Americans were dressed in layers with holes and tears, ipod earphones in, doing sit ups next to each other, not speaking.

The teacher came in and shuffled the students so Sing and Americans were dispersed around the room. It was an Advanced Barre class which not only shows physical skill and mental agility, but exposes the various levels of respect students display. Not once was a Sing student disrespectful...

I left that class, sweaty from watching and went to check on the Visual Arts Department.
They had broken up in to 5 groups, mixed half Sing and half Americans, and they were hanging their projects from the previous 4 days. All of the images had to do with the similarities between Singapore and Chicago, between CAA and SOTA, between the two cultures. They wrote, drew, shaded and painted the tension between forced respect and freedom of expression, between various outlets of creativity and knowledge. There was a good bit of teasing about gum-chewing rules in Singapore and the general filth in the city of Chicago.
They were drawing and joking about all of the obvious differences and similarities that in general, no one knows how to bring up. It was beautiful to watch.

I was teary and inspired by the presentation the theater students did, by the Visual Arts exhibition, by the Chinese Dance the Sing dancers performed, etc. I was exhausted from the dynamics in every department. I can't imagine how tired my brother was after a week of creative diplomacy with teenagers.

While we were eating dinner that night, my brother and I watched his students dare each other to each a whole bowl of chili salsa. Then we watched one boy try on all his new purchases from Michigan Avenue, watched the girls shy away from eating too much in front of everyone - I was about to turn to my brother and comment on how teenagers are so similar no matter where you are in the world when one girl slumped down and exclaimed, "I miss Facebook!"


We just looked at each other and nodded. As it usually goes with my brother, words seemed superfluous.


Mer said...

I love your synopsis so much - hope to hear more details soon. didnt know you got to see the student's work! how fun. thanks for representing - so wish i could have been there. feel like i was...especially after reading your last sentence. man.

Babs said...

had no idea your visit would be so action packed and jam-packed full. now I feel caught up...sort of. it must have been great. bj

Beth said...

Brad and I saw a Calder exhibit at the Whitney when he visited back in Feb. Pretty amazing stuff. Your trip to Chicago sounds wonderful! We'll miss you this weekend

ella ellis said...


Anonymous said...

I'm a father of one of the SOTA dance students.

Exposed to a diet of American tv & films, she is quite aware of how American students would leave the classrooms once the end of lesson bell sounded. Nevertheless, they were quite shock to see it in their own eyes.

leta joy said...