Remember Michael Fay? Does caning sound familiar?

Justin’s post “Joey, have you ever been to a Turkish prison?” (one of the funniest lines from the movie, “Airplane,” by the way) got me thinking about Michael Fay. He’s the guy who, as a not-thinking-too-clearly-adolescent, pulled some pranks that earned him in a stint in a Singapore prison and 4 lashes with a cane.

Fay was a student at the Singapore American School when I taught there, although I was teaching in the elementary school at the time so I never met him. I was on the school crisis intervention team though. The only time we met that year was the day after he got arrested. When you’re in a high profile community overseas like the school was and still is, the antics of those who are associated with you can have repercussions. As beautiful as Singapore looks, and as pleasant as it can be to live there, this is a place you don’t want to mess around. If one in your community does break the rules, it’s a balancing act between helping to solve a problem and offer help while keeping some distance. Places of employment and your kids’ school will stick by you to a point, but when you live overseas and you mess up, you’re generally on your own with little intervention.

For weeks after his arrest, Michael Fay was discussed at lunch tables, during parties, on stair landings, anywhere people caught a minute to voice their opinion. Generally, the feeling was, “I feel sorry for him, but the law is the law.” When you move to a country, following the local laws is part of the deal. This was a case where rambunctious teenagers who do things like spray painting cars and stealing road signs shouldn’t be living in Singapore, perhaps. It’s a country that doesn’t tolerate much rule breaking. There are other countries I’d also think twice about before living there with an adolescent. The rub is that when a parent’s job pays well and happens to be overseas, it’s difficult to make a decision that home-sweet-home needs to be back home. Plus, often overseas schools are top rate schools with all the bells and whistles. It’s hard to give up the glory.

During this particular saga we read The Straits Times which published in depth articles with a Singaporean bias about what exactly happens when caning occurs and discussed why we found the idea so repulsive. Because the articles often appeared with detailed photographs, nothing was left to the imagination. It was like reading the National Enquirer day after day. Finally, Michael Fay was caned, landed back in the U.S. and on the talk show circuit. If you remember, his claim to fame was cut short when a white Bronco sped down an L.A. highway in a high profile police chase. O.J. Simpson stole Michael Fay’s thunder.

The following school year life returned back to normal at the school and one of the biggest rule breaking worries was how to keep the teenagers at the high school following the dress code. Tuck that shirt in.

For a detailed account of the Michael Fay incidence, here is an article that was published in Asia Week back then. I read it and it’s exactly what I remember. The cartoon is from a Web site that includes several articles from various sources. The caption bubble reads: “That’s the last time I go there on Spring Break.”