Long-tailed, grey-haired monkeys. They hiss, jump and snatch personal belongings and can bite an innocent bystander at any given moment. They’re not as cute as what most people in the States may consider. Sophomore Hannah Deadwyler and her younger sister Rachel can attest to that.
At 9 years old, Hannah was visiting the ancient temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia when she and Rachel noticed two women feeding a long-tailed, grey monkey outside. One of the ladies offered Rachel a fresh corncob, and she used her wide-brimmed sunhat as a bowl.
With every kernel she’d break off the cob, the monkey would climb down a thick rope of ivy and snatch it from her tiny fingers before realizing that her hat contained the motherload. Feeling betrayed, the monkey leaped onto Rachel and clamped down on her arm, prompting a tuk-tuk, or auto rickshaw, ride to the nearest veterinary hospital for a series of rabies shots.
Though Deadwyler wouldn’t consider this incident a memory to look back on fondly, her time spent living in Singapore and touring most of Southeast Asia with her family and friends were childhood experiences that have left a significant impact on her.
At 7 years old, Deadwyler had to pack her American, suburban life into a small suitcase, ushering in the beginning of life in a foreign land half a world away. Her father, an employee of the St. Louis-based agrochemical company Monsanto, was assigned to work on a project in Singapore for three years before returning to the U.S.
Once there, Deadwyler and her siblings were enrolled in Singapore American School, an international day school offering American-based curriculum for students in preschool through high school. Although the students primarily spoke English and lesson plans aligned with those of a typical American elementary school, Deadwyler couldn’t help but notice slight differences.
The students were more disciplined, the dress code was stricter, the classes were tougher and the expectations were higher.
Deadwyler and her classmates were to take Mandarin classes, write notes only in cursive and be proficient in a musical instrument by the time they reached fifth grade. On top of that, the typical disdain of doing schoolwork that’s present in most American schools is looked down upon at Singapore American School.
But Deadwyler never found herself running into that issue. Aside from the rigor of her courses and the rigidness of the school’s behavioral protocol, Deadwyler was greeted with something that made donning a white polo and grey skirt worthwhile.
“I thought it was interesting that nobody really cared where everyone was from or what they looked like,” Deadwyler said. “[It] might have been because we were little kids but might have also been because nobody was actually from Singapore; everyone was from another country.”
She was a white girl. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed member of the majority back in America. With students hailing from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and the Indian subcontinent making up about 70 percent of the student body at SAS, Deadwyler had officially become part of the minority.
But with the mesh of different cultural backgrounds concentrated all in one place came the opportunity for embracing each and every one of them in celebration, complete with free food and entertainment.
Dressed in traditional red cheongsams, Deadwyler and her classmates would observe the Chinese New Year by attending dragon dance and lion performances on the field outside school. She would watch as the performers waved a large, colorful paper dragon through the air in a serpentine fashion.
Because classes were cancelled for the day, older students had ample space to run booths related to the holiday and other Chinese customs. They offered everything from sugary mooncakes and fortune telling to feng shui charms, which are meant to bring good fortune to the home.
It was new. It was something she most likely wouldn’t have had the chance to experience if she had lived in middle-America suburbia. Taking advantage of their location within Asia and the ease of traveling the continent, Deadwyler and her family began a journey around Southeast Asia, embarking on trips to Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Japan, India, Malaysia and Bangladesh.
During her trip to Thailand, Deadwyler and her family encountered more elephants than they expected to. From riding a mighty adult elephant around the base of an active volcano to stealing bread rolls from local breakfast shops to feed the gentle babies, Deadwyler had become accustomed to the conspicuous amount of elephants in the area.
While most 19-year-olds can recall sitting in front of the living room TV to watch Indiana Jones movies at some point in their childhoods, Deadwyler was instead starring in her own adventure thriller. Whenever they had downtime, her family would trek deep into lush, green jungles to explore ancient temples made of stone and emanating incense.
Deadwyler and her family also visited historical landmarks such as the ivory-white marble of the Taj Mahal, the Military History Museum in Vietnam, the neat rows of terracotta warrior statues in China and the flowering pink cherry blossoms surrounding the Great Wall of China.
But as it does in most vacations, there came a point when she was feeling a little homesick. Except the home she was longing to go back to wasn’t the one across the Pacific Ocean.
Home was her family’s temporary apartment nestled between two different worlds: a modern metropolitan hub of various Asian cultures and ancient temple ruins against a green jungle backdrop. Home was going to school with people of different faiths and climbing the thick ropes of ivy that those grey-haired monkeys would climb as well.
Edited by Victoria Cheyne | firstname.lastname@example.org