© 2007 Catherine. All rights reserved.

Singapore: Hindu temples, sexual appeal in Taiwan, and photo etiquette

I’ve been in love with Hindu art for a long time. There is something so vivid and realistic about the paintings and carvings. They are so much more dimensional and tell a stronger story than the carvings or statues in Buddhist, taoist temples… but I’m sure that’s a matter of opinion.

Little India itself wasn’t visually that impressive, especially compared to Chinatown, but there definitely was some great shopping and absolutely terrific food. Of course, like I said before, I ate nothing but Indian the whole time I was in Singapore so I can’t really be a critic of the rest of Singaporean cuisine.

The vibe in Little India was cool. There were a lot less white faces and tourists bumming around. I haven’t really known enough Indian men to know how they interact with the opposite sex but in Little India I felt like Angelina Jolie. I haven’t had so much attention since I was in South America. Men stared at me so intensely it was like they were trying to devour me with their eyes. I think I made at least one man walk into the back of a truck accidentally.

Definitely a big switch from Taiwan where I feel asexual. I feel like I could walk around topless and still have the same reactions. Everyone would still just look at me like a monkey in a cage. “Oh cute, look at the foreigner. How strange.” I actually remember when I was back home in Canada, after living in Taiwan for awhile, I had a guy checking me out and instead of thinking “ha! he’s checking me out” my first reaction was “What’s his problem??? What’s he staring at?”… then I remembered…. oh right… I’m in Canada…. people find me attractive here. Not that I truly feel I’m unattractive to Taiwanese men, obviously not or I’d be single, but it’s a different world here and men just do not give obvious visual or verbal indications to express attraction. One of many reasons I believe there are so few western female/taiwanese male couplings.

Ok back to Little India, so the attention was amusing but at the same time there is such an intensity to the stare that it was a bit intimidating but nearly every waiter I had made sure to tell me I was cute at the end of my meal. Ha. I also had some of the most fantastic conversations I’ve had in a long time with shopkeepers. It was so great to speak English at a normal level. Teaching kindergarten all day really depletes your vocabulary.

After some roaming I started to find the Hindu temples. I was really excited. I’ve seen so many churches in my life, and more recently Taoist and Buddhist temples but Hindu temples have been an unexplored realm. I wanted to see the paintings and statues I’d seen in the San Francisco Asian Art museum in their natural realm.

There was definitely a peace and tranquility about the temples and they seemed much more communal than the Taoist or Buddhist temples. Hindus sat together and laughed, and watched the odd tourists floating around with their cameras, snapping pictures and staring at the ceilings.

This is one of those confessions that’s going to make a lot of people who don’t already know me intimately enough to already know this think I’m a weirdo but I love rats. I had three of them in Canada and after having nearly every pet there is to have I’m convinced that they are the best. I remember years and years ago on one of the very first Amazing Race series they went to India and went to a temple for rats (wikipedia / official temple site) . Zillions of them running around drinking milk laid out by worshipers. I’m dying to get to India to see this place. I have to admit even with my love of rats it’d probably freak me out a little bit but I’d still have a crazy amount of fun watching them scamper around and seeing how the local people move about and worship in a place filled with rats.

In one of the temples in Singapore there were some Chinese tourists harassing one of the religious men making a drum. Their kid was knocking over things and running about wildly and they just looked at her like they thought it was cute, although she was way too old for it to be cute. I felt embarrassed but the religious man seemed very patient and kind. He endured their endless posing near him for pictures and never lost his essence of peace. I really wanted to ask to take his picture, especially one of him by himself working, but it is almost become a phobia for me. I love to take photos of people but I’m so paranoid of invading or violating them in some way. I don’t want to leave them with a bad taste in their mouth… towards Canadians, towards photographers, etc. I really felt moved by the environment. It was beautiful to watch everyone, like the religious men who wear their hair in buns on top of their heads and walk around bare chested. They moved with such a quiet grace.

I was worried about feeling cheap by taking their photographs. How do they feel being photographed by people who know so little about their culture, religion or status? To be treated like a novelty. I guess I’m not cut out for National Geographic. My moral conscience, founded or unfounded, would get in the way. Maybe I’m ignorant and I’m being oversensitive but respect means a lot to me, gaining and distributing it.

I’d like to find a balance. I guess if I had the time to spend in a place like that and could feel acceptance or gain some respect then I’d feel less guilty about getting portraits. In the same breath I wish I could have the mindset that I’ll never see these people again, so what do I care? But that feels destructive. Any other traveler/photo nuts struggle with this? I’d really like to hear. Maybe it is all a learning process.

I have the photos in my head, the old man making the drum, the young bare chested religious men, the bald man in the long red collared shirt with a long red “skirt” laid down flat on the ground on his stomach with his head on the ground, arms stretched above, and legs straight out in prayer. Hopefully my memory can be as strong as a photo.

It was great to feel moved again. I still adore Taiwan and find so much excitement here but without new adventures to put Taiwan into perspective it can get a bit stale. Day to day routine and all that.

Singapore was good to me, good for me.

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