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Michael Singer '09 Adventures in East Asia

By Lisbeth Redfield
Posted July 31, 2007
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Michael Singer '09 was half way around the world when most of his classmates were still recovering from spring semester. In late May Singer, who has an Emerson grant to study globalization, headed to Singapore, Bangkok, and Eastern Malaysia with his advisor, Associate Professor of Theatre Craig Latrell. Singer was featured earlier this summer on this Web site in a short article which dealt with his project. Now, seven weeks later, we catch up with him again as he puts together his final product and reflects on his experiences in Asia.

"I was trying to determine how globalization affects a region," Singer explained, emphasizing the importance of globalization as a modern concept. "It's a term that can define this generation." When designing the project, Singer wanted to determine whether the effects of globalization were more positive or negative for a region such as Eastern Malaysia, but he admitted that even after the trip he is having trouble making the call. "I went into it biased towards the negative," he said. "It still feels that way."

On the other hand, Singer added, there are examples of both good and bad effects. He shared stories of the medical workers who can now reach the remote villages in the Malaysian rain forest, the booming oil town of Miri, and the strange half-and-half appearance of busily modernizing Bangkok. For Singer, these sit almost equal with the deforestation and the appalling poverty of much of the area.

Singer was last interviewed just after his return. More than a month later, he still speaks of the culture shock of both going and coming. "You come back here and you just have such a different take on the world."

He is enjoying his first summer of research as he pulls his notes together into an outline of his final product – a research paper and a presentation. He added that making the outline was difficult because of the active nature of his subject-matter. For example, one forest tribe Singer and Latrell visited, the Penan, are in long-standing conflict with the government and have been active this summer lobbying and working to alert naturalists to the crippling deforestation of the region.

"The hardest thing is seeing people without a voice," Singer reflected. In the U.S., we take our ability to influence the government as something which is automatic, and Singer explained how difficult it was to remember that some people did not have that advantage.

Although what brought Singer to Borneo was his enthusiastic advisor Latrell (a southeast Asian specialist) and the opportunity for Singer to combine his two majors of government and economics, he has had an unforgettable experience. Will he go back? "I don't know," he admitted. "I'd love to go back there with my friends to show them."

Travel is always broadening, but Singer found it especially so. "It's tough to shake something that has touched you," he said of his adventures this summer. He is not done yet, though; for a taste of Western travel, Singer will be heading to London for his fall semester.

Singer's research this summer is funded by the Emerson Foundation Grant Program, which provides students with significant opportunities to work collaboratively with faculty mentors, researching an area of mutual interest. Recipients typically undertake some combination of fieldwork, laboratory investigation, library research and the development of teaching materials. A public presentation of their findings is required of all Emerson Scholars during the academic year.

-- by Lisbeth Redfield

Below are a few links which deal with the struggles of the Penan tribe.

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