Singapore Adventure

Part Two

by Dale Fisher

A wise man will hear and increase learning,     
And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel
(Proverbs 1:5)

One of many cross-cultural adaptation tools taught in Singapore is something called the Field Observation Cycle, or FOC for short. The stages of FOC are: "observation," "assumption," "validation," and "application." All four stages are important but the observation or first stage is most important because all of the following stages hinge on the quality of the observations — they're the foundation of the FOC process.

Observe  To begin this FOC process, one must make excellent observations. Often, we find that we need to be coached on how to observe things in order to achieve excellence in our observations.
Assume  After observing, we make assumptions as to what a behavior or an action might be or mean, based on our observations.
Validate  Next, we check out or validate our assumptions by making further observations or asking a person in a host culture what the behaviors or actions might mean and what significance they might have.
Apply  Finally, we apply this new learning as we choose how to live in a new culture in a way that better fits into that society.

The colorful, ornate exteriors of the Leng Hup San Chee Chea Taoist TempleThis is the Leng Hup San Chee Chea Taoist Temple, as one approaches it from the street. Every day, as we walked to the training center from the bus stop, we passed two Taoist temples. As you'll see in my first photo (that enlarges and reveals a caption when clicked), I observed their colorful, ornate, tiled exteriors. I wanted to see what was inside each. I'd never seen a Taoist temple before and was curious for both personal as well as cultural reasons. Nine percent of the people in Singapore practice Taoism, so it's an important facet of that country's culture, worth of my attention.

One day, I paused while passing by one temple. I observed its ornate foyer, having hundreds of yellow lanterns hanging beneath an overhanging roof, as shown in my second photo (click to enlarge). This aroused my curiosity even more.

Several hundred yellow lanterns hanging above the courtyard of this ornately decorated templeSeveral hundred yellow lanterns hang above the courtyard
of this ornately decorated temple.

So, on another day, I deliberately left the training center early so that I could purposefully visit both temples. As I entered the first of two temples, closest to the training center, I smelled and saw the incense being burned on the altar in front of numerous idols, as well as at the temple entrance. I observed two to four incense sticks burning. Having visited all of the temple's seven idols (in its basement and on the first and second floors), I noticed the same number of incense sticks burning.

This room shows where the bees and incense were fanned vigorouslyAlthough it wasn't possible for Dale to photograph the fanning of the bees, when he observed that activity, many more sticks of incense were burning than what's shown in the center of this photo.

I then went next door to the second temple and began observing its rooms, each with its different idols. My observations regarding incense burning on the altar in front of the idols were the same as before. Next I reached another altar where I observed a man vigorously fanning five or six incense sticks at a time. I made the assumption that (a) he must be a very devout worshipper and/or (b) this was a special ceremony that I hadn't previously observed. I was both curious and puzzled to see so much smoke rising due to that man's extraordinary fanning efforts.

After visiting all the idols in this temple, I sat in its foyer under its yellow lanterns. A temple keeper offered me a cup of tea that I gladly accepted. As we drank and talked, I wanted to validate my assumption. I intentionally told him that I was impressed by the zealousness of the worshipper whom I observed vivaciously fanning the incense. He explained that the man was fanning vigorously because on the previous day a swarm of bees had lodged in that room and the man was simply attempting to drive out the bees!

My personal application would be that in the future, I'd continue to use the FOC and, as often as possible, ask people why a certain action was taking place. That way, any false assumptions can be corrected and any correct assumptions validated.