Story by Caroline Barrett
A tradition at my school dating back before anyone in my grade could remember is spending senior spring break in Bali. A rite of passage of sorts, the trip was notorious for crazy clubs, beautiful beaches, and most enticing, no parents. It sounded enticing for me, a teenager now thousands of miles from where I was born. However, that all changed when my grade of overachieving, over-protected, classmates decided to go. Out of the 30 or so kids that left from my Singapore American School, about ten of our parents came to chaperone, which quickly dashed all our hopes of being free from their grasp while on break. Thankfully my parents as well as my little sister stayed in the next town over so the chances of running into them were slim to none. I can’t say other kids were as lucky. The eight of us that remained free from parents split up into two larger rooms at the Hard Rock in Kuta for four nights with 20 of our other friends.
The hotel was filled with Rock ‘n’ Roll memorabilia, and our room featured all things Jimi Hendrix. Each day was busy with lying by a people packed pool packed and swimming at pristine beaches, while the nights were as insane as the stories claimed. A club named Bounty was where we ventured each night and met up with students from other international schools. There were four floors, starting with a karaoke bar that lasted until about 10 p.m. Then the crowds moved up rickety flights of stairs through dark corridors to a huge dance floor with rotating cages and platforms. One of the nights it rained and water dripped down through the club’s unfinished metal roof. Overpriced, water downed drinks came in plastic water jugs. When the night finally ended around 3 a.m., all of us walked back through the still busy streets to our hotels. After we had our free reign in Bali, it was back to school.
I graduated in 2011 from the Singapore American School. It was one of the highest ranked international schools with over 50 nationalities and approximately 3,800 students from grades K-12. We had fun sometimes, but academic classes were extremely competitive, as well as extracurricular sports and service clubs. Many of my classmate’s mothers were “tiger moms,” a common term I heard to describe relentlessly strict mothers with standards so rigid most “overachievers” would find it difficult to handle. Grades less than an A in any class were generally not acceptable at my high school and often times a punishable offense, as it is legal in Singapore to cane your child in the privacy of home.
Once the stressful school week was over, my weekend usually included hanging out with friends and doing anything that does not require being outside. Year-round, Singapore’s weather is 90-degrees or more with 80 percent humidity. By day that meant shopping, movies, and dining out. Often, we’d go window-shopping on Singapore’s famous Orchard Road (similar to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills minus the celebrities). But usually every mall was filled with high end luxury brands like Prada or Chanel that I couldn’t afford.
The best times happened after the sun went down. When it came to going out at night, Singapore had dozens of options, whether that meant drinking around the hawker center or sometimes going to the nightclubs. Newton Circus was Singapore’s most popular hawker center, an open-air food court full of stalls each about the size of a parking space. I remember the odor of hot cooking oil, pungent fish and stale beer wafting through the food court. Singapore was a melting pot of different cultures and nationalities like Malay, Chinese and Indian, and hawkers showcased dishes from every ethnicity. Chili crab was Singapore’s best known dish, often paired with Tiger Beer, the local lager. The chili was made from fresh crab, dried chili peppers, garlic, and tomato paste, soaked together for days. It was way too spicy for me. A cold beer might sound refreshing, but I found the carbonation added to the intense chili burn as everything washed down into my stomach. The meals were cheap at the hawkers and we would stay all night, talking and drinking beer after beer. While this was our usual hangout with my close friends, at least once a week we would venture to one of Singapore’s many clubs.
In Singapore, fake IDs were a must, starting as young as freshman year of high school. The drinking age was 18, making it easy for people who look young to get in, even at 15. I got my first fake ID the summer going into sophomore year: a lopsided, off-color California driver’s license that lacked the protective plastic wrap found on legitimate IDs. I still don’t know how I would get in with that thing, but it worked almost every time. Clubs with names like the Butter Factory, Zirca and my personal favorite, Zouk, featured world famous DJs at least once a month, making the nightlife exciting even if I was oblivious to who they were.
By the end of my senior year, I had danced to Kaskade, Swedish House Mafia, met Diplo and Steve Aoki, and countless others. Drugs are frequently associated with these types of DJs and shows, but I didn’t know anyone using drugs. My high school had a strict no drugs policy and would test students frequently and “at random”, although I was the only one in my class who had been drug tested four times in four years. I suspect it had something to do with coming from a liberal town in California. If caught with drugs or tested positive for taking them, my school would give a student 24 hours to leave Singapore for good. Every year students were deported many only a few months from graduation.
While the club scene was exciting, listening to the same remixes from club to club with the same people each weekend eventually became monotonous. By the end of my senior year I yearned for the intimacy of house parties and couldn’t wait for a different experience in college.
Living for four years in Singapore, I experienced things that I would never have imagined while living in the US. Being immersed in a completely different society, I learned so much about different people, cultures, and ways of life. Although the 18-hour plane ride I take across the Pacific to get “home” is a long one, I couldn’t imagine my life any other way.