Honors Benefits: Seth Reine Honors Travel Award

This post was shared by Seth Reine ’20, a biomedical engineering major from Arlington, TX.

A student gives a thumbs-up sign in front of a crowd of people admiring a waterfall
Seth Reine ’20 at Cloud Forest, Gardens by the Bay

Prata, or more formally, roti prata, is an Indian style flatbread dish in Southeast Asia traditionally served with a side of curry. (Now you are probably wondering why you have stumbled across a misplaced culinary blog!) Prata is such a simple meal, but I had never tried it before traveling to Singapore for my internship this past summer. However, if one really bites into prata they will find that it is both delicious and far more complex than its superficial impression suggests. Much like the complexities of prata, my time in Singapore and Southeast Asia created a new depth of perspectives within myself.

Prata can come in many flavors depending on the ingredients mixed into the dough while cooking. Some of these flavors were sweet while others were spicy or more… exotic. One of the newer and more innovative pratas I tried was prata benedict which as the title suggests was eggs benedict with prata instead of an english muffin. This variety was popular among the youth in Singapore, myself included, and has obvious ties to Western influences at play in this nation. The popular culture of Singapore is heavily influenced by Western and Korean sources, and this influence can be seen in Singapore’s tenacity to compete on the world stage. Just walking downtown, which is really half of the island, was enough for me to observe this development firsthand. Massive attractions such as the Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands hotel would draw my gaze as I walked past neverending shopping malls near Raffles Place. In fact, there are so many shopping complexes that one could describe their address by saying the mall they live near since there was one every kilometer along the road. Much like the Western influences of prata benedict, the consumerism of Singapore has grown exponentially and has expanded into family life as well. Singaporeans rarely cook and eat at home due to the vast amount of mall food courts available to them which was unsettling for me because I grew up sharing meals at home with my family where the true value of the meals was not the food but
the time spent together. The fast-paced life of Singapore is slowly changing society from communal to individualistic, especially within my generation. Fortunately for those who venture off of the beaten trails, bastions of a more traditional Singapore can still be found.

The classic prata flavor is the onion prata which has its own unique appeal despite lacking a lavish hollandaise sauce. The Singapore of old produces a similar appeal through its nostalgic aura. Hawker centers are open-air food courts scattered throughout the island where generations of Singaporeans have dined with their families. Hawker centers are at the core of the culture and are accessible to every class on the island. Construction crews to white-collar
workers from the financial district and everyone in between line up at their favorite stalls that they have been going to since they were children get staples such as chicken rice, rendang, nasi lemak, and laksa. After a meal, one might even go out of their way to visit secluded stalls in Chinatown to have chendol for dessert. One of the best ways to spend an afternoon, especially after eating all this delicious food, is taking a bumboat to the smaller islands around Singapore where the development has not yet reached. I enjoyed visiting Lazarus Island to experience unmarred beaches and Pulau Ubin to experience one of the last kampongs in Singapore. Singapore has seen rapid development in the past five decades as it tries to align itself with the world’s larger geopolitical forces; however, Singaporeans also acknowledge the past that
brought them to this moment. Life in Singapore revolves around finding balance not only between old and new but also other sources of tension.

My personal favorite prata flavor was unequivocally the banana prata. My first
impression was that it was too sweet until the messy eater within me accidentally spilt curry on the prata. To my amazement, the heat and salt of the curry balanced the sweetness of the bananas. I know this sounds weird, but I love complex flavors that are unexpected! This banana prata with curry was almost a paradox: sweet and spicy coexisting in perfect harmony. In the
same manner, Singapore is a land of paradoxes as well. Besides balancing modern advancements and traditional culture, the country has found ways to counteract its concrete jungle. Singapore’s limited space causes most land to be developed into massive office buildings and housing blocks; however, these buildings have natural features integrated into them. Many buildings have gardens and atriums every few floors and some even have trees growing hundreds of feet in the air. Hidden jewels like Mount Faber and MacRitchie Reservoir are nestled into the cityscape and break up the urban expanse. By meshing nature and structures, Singapore defends its title as the Garden City. The demeanor of Singaporeans themselves is also a paradox. Singapore has one of the fastest paced societies that I have experienced, yet the national pastime seems to be waiting in lines or more colloquially: queueing. Everyone also seems to be moving onto the next event before the prior finishes up in a race to complete all of the day’s tasks. However, much of a Singaporean’s day consists of waiting at a bus station, MRT terminals, and the transit time itself. Spending three to four hours commuting throughout the day is not viewed as extreme but rather normal. I was often frustrated by this system because the hour commute to reach Telok Ayer would take 10 minutes to cover the same distance with my own vehicle in Texas. Living in Singapore is stop and go at its own unique rhythm that grew on me this summer.

Living in Singapore comes with its own mix of unique flavors like the prata that I
consumed far too often. With a topical glance, Singapore appears to be a modern city-state pursuing a position on the world stage but under this visage lies a unique culture evolving from intersectionality, colonialism, and trade. Some aspects of Singapore were very enjoyable while others I will never adapt to; however, every aspect contributed a new piece to my young perspective.

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