On Sept. 20, 1999, Michael Fay and 12 Bambendjelle Pygmy porters departed from Bomassa,Congo, and headed west toward the Atlantic Ocean. Fifteen months later, they arrived. Ecologist Fay, who had lived and worked in the Congo for more than 10 years, simply wanted to raise awareness of the region's vulnerability and it's inevitable loss to human encroachment.

Funded by the National Geographic Society, Fay and his crew walked 2000 miles, from northern Congo through Gabon to the Atlantic. Besides the elements themselves, Fay's most diligent opponents consisted of ants, flies, mosquitos, parasites, leeches, ticks, and chiggers. In the evenings, Fay used tweezers to pick fly larvae from the burrows they made into the skin of his feet. He faced trails with defensive, territorial gorillas. Fay appears to be a mild-mannered biologist, but early on, he raided a camp of armed poachers and bluffed them into handing over their guns. He then proceeded to burn their camp.

His self proclaimed mission was to observe and record everything he saw, including the presence or absence of animals and the evidence left behind by poachers. When data compilation is complete, it will be published on an as yet unnamed web site. If successful, portions of the rain forest that he has penetrated will be designated as national parks or preserves. Three months after returning to society, Fay remains "shell-shocked" and longs for the "damp wild womb" of nature. Fay optimistically predicts another african expedition that would last four or five years.

There is another Michael Fay, who is a convicted vandal who lived in Singapore.

He was an American student living here in Singapore and apparently he caused an uproar when he vandalised government property and stole road signs... The uproar wasn't so much the fact he actually did those things or that he was caught, it was over the caning he was to get as his punishment, that pushed him into a media frenzy.

His sentence was lowered due to the intervention of the American president, but the caning carried on...

"Responding to reporters' questions, U.S. chargé d'affaires Ralph Boyce said: "We see a large discrepancy between the offense and the punishment. The cars were not permanently damaged; the paint was removed with thinner. Caning leaves permanent scars. In addition, the accused is a teenager and this is his first offense."
"From an article by Alejandro Reyes, printed in Asiaweek, 25 May 1994"

"The Singapore government had its reply: "Unlike some other societies which may tolerate acts of vandalism, Singapore has its own standards of social order as reflected in our laws. It is because of our tough laws against anti-social crimes that we are able to keep Singapore orderly and relatively crime-free." The statement noted that in the past five years, fourteen young men aged 18 to 21, twelve of whom were Singaporean, had been sentenced to caning for vandalism.
"From an article by Alejandro Reyes, printed in Asiaweek, 25 May 1994"

"Fay's arrest and sentencing shook the American community in Singapore. Schools advised parents to warn their children not to get into trouble. The American Chamber of Commerce said "We simply do not understand how the government can condone the permanent scarring of any 18-year-old boy -- American or Singaporean -- by caning for such an offense." Two dozen American senators signed a letter to then-Singaporean president, the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong on Fay's behalf.
"From an article by Alejandro Reyes, printed in Asiaweek, 25 May 1994"

Read 2 conflicting views on the incident; in the 1st link, the article was written by a Singaporean-based writer and in the 2nd it was written by an American.



Most Singaporeans believe in the righteousness and fairness of the Singaporean legal system. Criminals who are caught and tried in a court of law and are found guilty are given their just deserts, while the public remains blissfully tucked away in their safe and sanitary lives. Singaporeans aren't too concerned with the ethics of caning prisoners, when they enjoy relatively low crime rates compared to other nations in the region and even in the world.(Singapore has a lower crime rate than Japan.)The prison system seems to be quite effective too, lots of prisoners give up their old ways to repent and turn over a new leaf. But underneath the sheen, there probably lies a darker reality, as evidenced by the photographs and educational videos of people being caned; that are sometimes shown to youths in school; meant as a deterrent, it could induce nightmares in some kids. It shows a huge, masked man; looking like a medieval executioner; drawing back quite a distance away and then running up to the bare, vulnerable and exposed buttocks of the hapless criminal, a tremendously large and intimidating stick held tightly in one hand. The caner then proceeds to do an almost ballet-like twirl, 360 degrees; before finally planting the great, big stick firmly onto the apprehensive flesh of the waiting perpetrator.This whole sequence leaves a teenager with a feeling of dread in the pit of his/her stomach and an unnameable fear in his/her heart. He/she will vow to never commit a crime, or at least to never get caught.

But I digress; Michael Fay has been gone from Singapore for a long time; and his name has probably been forgotten by many people, Singaporeans and Americans alike. The clash in cultures and social norms that was the most likely cause of the uproar has been smoothed over. Singaporeans, who are a conservative, predominantly-Chinese lot, would especially like things to quieten down and kept in a chest under the bed. America has gotten over it, I guess. And here in Singapore, corporal punishment is still practiced.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.