Adventures of a Wocket

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Us and Them

One Singapore:

You’re more likely to receive a funny look on the train than you are a smile. In honesty I don’t think I ever expected a friendly face on public transport while in the UK either. I preferred it when nobody sat next to me on the bus. Whereas here I’ll move to the window seat so people can sit only for it to remain empty when the bus is crammed full. Maybe I just have a need for acceptance because I know I’m not wholly accepted here.

My friend said to me that I didn’t really understand what it was like to be racially isloated. I said to her, how could I not understand? There are places in the world I simply cannot go for fear of my safety simply because I’m a white woman. I know that other racial minorities experience this, of course they do. It’s human nature to judge and hate that which appears different or cultures, lifestyles we don’t understand. We’re all guilty of it. Even me. Now I’ve been on both sides of the fence, how could I not understand?

I never considered myself racist before. I grew up with and around those who judged people as a whole. They judged a race, a colour, they made/make assumptions, they still do, we all do. I used to think myself above it, never looking at someone differently because they were a different skin colour to me. I have and still have Asian, Indian, South African friends. I have friends literally all over the world and difference were something to learn about, understand, educate myself on. They weren’t ever an issue. Here though, here things are different.

Yes, Singapore is safe and progressive, their security and police are top notch, respected. Many racial communities live together in supposed harmony. For the most part that’s true. You can’t judge the system here. It works. This government has a handle on things. What you do experience here is the subvertive racism. The snide comments made in Chinese about us ‘Ang mo kows’ (red-haired monkeys). The comments made about anyone who wasn’t born Singaporean. One I have come across is, ‘White Monkey’ or ‘White Devil’ for us westerners and ‘black devil’ for referring to Indians.

Now I’m not just writing this from a viewpoint of ‘oh poor white girl finally realising what it’s like to be judged and be a victim of prejudice,’ I’m a people watchet. I’ve seen this between Singaporean and Chinese (essentially indistinguishable from one another mostly), Indian and Philapeno, white and everyone. Racism, for all Singapore’s claims of harmony, exists, is proliferate in here, from everyone.

Every racial group segregates from the other. They only mingle when they have to. The working westerners even look down upon and judge the rich expat westerners who come over here and throw their money around like its going out of fashion. Some really do walk around like they own the place, some of them could probably afford to. They make it difficult for the rest of the westerners who want to work who do live on a budget here. As far the the majority of Singapore are concerned though, we’re all the same.

It’s the same argument you’ll find in the UK. ‘Oh they’re stealing our jobs’, ‘send them home, they don’t belong here.’ Well like it or not, those jobs were available folks if you really wanted them. Here in some cases the choosing of foreign talent over local is true so I can understand the negativity to an extent but ‘send them home, they don’t belong here?’ Well actually this Ang mo kow pays bloody taxes and rent and bills and I only get a local wage. My new job is only slightly above average but because I don’t pay into the CPF it works out about the same as a local package and I got a job very very few Singaporeans wanted due to the stigma against mental health issues here, (a whole other story). 

I digress. 

Mostly this has been a spilling out of thoughts from my own observations and from talking to people local and foreign. 

Here have some propaganda:

When you have to make a video and a song telling everyone you’re a happy, welcoming place, the truth is that you’re very likely the opposite.

Singapore is not a cheerful place. Yes it’s clean and safe and you do honestly meet some lovely people and sometimes folk will surprise you by saying please and thankyou but on the whole. Singapore is unfriendly and not welcoming, unless you’re a tourist and have money, lots of it! With money you don’t have to care about acceptance. The UK is very similar in that respect the only difference being; I could drive and did drive everywhere in the UK so I separated myself from the public, here it’s in my face every single day.

I’d go so far to say that it’s harder for white women here than it is for white men. A lot of Asian girls want to bag themselves a nice rich white husband. I want to shake some of them honestly but that’s not as bad here as it is in places like Indonesia where they can pretty much be sold into marriage by their own families before they’re out of their school uniforms.

I grew up craving acceptance even among my peers, here it’s nice when somebody just says ‘excuse me’ rather than knocking into you because how dare you walk on the same path as them? That need for acceptance is fading along with my respect for people as a whole. Being here could very easily turn you into a rude, MRT barging, cold, disinterested individual with your headphones firmly in your ears, scowl on your face and sunglasses on so you don’t have to make eye contact with people lest they look down on you.

I consider myself fortunate to have met a few nice friendly individuals, locals. They keep me from completely discarding my manners and British polite sensibilities and keep me hoping that if I continue to try and be nice and pleasant with people I meet, they won’t hate me simply because I’m paler than them. It’s one reason why I want to get better at speaking Chinese so I can show that acceptance and understanding go both ways. I’m just one person but I want to keep hold of that utopian, naive, childish dream that we really can, one day, live together peacefully. Maybe its something that does need to be enforced?

Maybe Singapore has the right idea by limiting some freedoms and securing this as a home for millions of multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-religious people. 

If that’s the case I think in time I can learn to live with it and not let it turn me into a bitter, resentful, racist person.

Meanwhile, it’s difficult and isolating and so I will seek out places that have become pockets of acceptance, for everyone, no matter who you are. Mine is in Starbucks. In the seven months I’ve been here, I’ve not once met a rude Starbucks’ employee. It’s the one place I can come and find a smiling face, where I feel like I’m accepted for who I am, safe in my little bubble. If it weren’t for pockets of places like this, I think I’d be coming home for good in December.

I am giving it a chance as much as my limited patience will allow. I only hope Singapore gives me a chance to prove I can fit in too. After all it’s supposedly the country of ‘many races, one nation, one Singapore.’

The children celebrate ‘Interracial harmony day’ here in school. They dress up in traditional dress of their culture and celebrate all the different cultures in their country. One of my primary one students asked me what the traditional dress was for my culture. (I honestly have no clue if there is one), I said I didn’t know. She wanted to know what we wore when we celebrated inter-racial harmony day. I told her, much to her surprise that we didn’t celebrate it in my country. She being 7 of course wanted to know why, so I explained the truth. We don’t have inter-racial harmony in my country. She didn’t really understand why not but she understood enough to agree with me when I said she’s lucky to have been born and to live in Singapore.

Few countries can profess to have so little obvious reported unrest as Singapore. I’m not entirely sure how much goes unreported…

She also asked me if all Singaporeans were Chinese, to which I obviously said no and she has formed her opinions enough to declare that she hated Malays, even after telling me her father was Malaysian. I suppose this is like an English person saying they hate the French or the ‘yanks’ (no offence to my American friends).

I wanted to know why she hated them and she simply told me that they talk too much. She’s 7! Nothing about race or culture just ‘they talk too much’. I envy the bubble in which Singaporean children are raised. 

Britain with regards to racism isn’t much better, we just don’t have enforced tolerance. Crimes involving racial prejudice are broadcast widely, here they’re very much brushed under the rug.

In the UK the racial tensions go both ways. You have catholics being unable to wear crosses in school, other cultures getting preferential treatment as opposed to the common working white British person. Poppy burners. White British people are looked down upon in our own country by growing minorities and here we’re looked down upon for being the unwanted minority. An Irish teacher was found dead in her bed here very recently and the comments online consist of anti-foreigner sentiment and being glad that it’s one less foreigner coming to steal local jobs and she shouldn’t have been here in the first place. A woman is dead and all that matters to some of these people is that she was a white foreigner and the rest of us ‘better watch out’. Tell me again how I don’t understand racial isolation.

I know they don’t speak for the majority of Singapore but if you ask a Singaporean why are Singaporeans so racist and negative about foreigners in their country who live and work and pay taxes here, they will shake their head at you and blame the mainland Chinese people. They’re the ones who are racist, they make Singaporeans so mad, it’s all their fault. The majority of racism I’ve experienced here though has been from Singaporeans.


Denial is strong with these people.

I keep telling my friend not to read the racial, anti-foreigner comments on news posts, you get them in the UK too. I’ve seen anti-foreign sentiment on my facebook feed, from people I know so we’re all guilty of it. It isn’t really about race at all, it’s a few people, angry people, hateful people wanting to incite more hate because they don’t want to live with and tolerate difference. 

Reading that stuff will only make you angrier. It will make you paint everyone with the same brush even though a lot of the people we probably meet consider themselves about as racist as we do ourselves.

How we wish it could be:

How the average Singaporean feels:


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