anotherlongshot (anotherlongshot) wrote,

Regardless of Race, Language or Religion?

It's my last night in Singapore for quite a while. I have to get up at 5am for my 9am flight, and what am I doing right now instead of sleeping? Backing up my iPhone 6 to iCloud for the first time in 2 or 3 years so that I can download everything to my new iPhone 7. I thought I could do it with iTunes but it keeps asking me for a password that I never set, or don't remember ever setting, and I do not want to go through the pain of downloading all my apps to my new phone because I don't remember any of my passwords, so I'd rather spend the next half an hour trying to set up this new phone than to reset all my passwords to get things to work on the new phone.

Bloody hell, I really hate Apple. The only reason I bought a new Apple phone - and I bought a new one because my iPhone 6's screen was cracked, which I've just fixed today at an ah beng shop in Bedok for $90, so there was actually no need for me to buy a new pne - was because I know nothing about phones and I was too lazy to research alternative phones. This is what I get for being a lazy ass, right? I know.

Anyway. Like I have been telling everyone who's asked, I am not looking forward to going back to Cambridge at all. I cannot emphasise enough the last two words - at all. I think I'm really completely over the place, living there, everything about it that has nothing to do with its intellectual history. How could I have thought that this was the answer? How could I have traded bright city lights for its glimmering street lamps, a sprawling metropolis for an enclosed, insular little town? I really think that, if nothing changes, I'm going to move to London in my fourth year. I simply can't endure another year of living in a small place, going to the same places, doing the same things, where there is unreliable public transport...ugh.

I will try my best to maintain some positivity - or rather, to try to drum up just the slightest smidgen of positivity. But since I've never been a positive person, I'm not holding my breath on that front.


On another note: I met an Other Singaporean and it yanked off the veil that I had, unknowingly, over my eyes, shattered my rose-tinted glasses, about race relations in Singapore. A fundamental argument of my thesis is that Singapore's multiracialism qua racial equality is really about equality, and that this equality, this blindness to our surface differences, should be extended beyond racial differences. Implicit in this claim is that the Singaporean identity is truly colour blind; that we see each other as Singaporeans over and above the colours of our skin.

But meeting C again on Monday evening, and having a long, deep conversation about his experiences growing up as an Other Singaporean, has weakened my naive faith in the strength of this national identity - this being Singaporean first and Chinese/Malay/Indian/Other later, if at all. Before I met C, I read a chapter in a book about Singapore's nationalism and nation-building, which basically argues that Singapore's nationalism moved from a civic one to an ethnic one - a Chinese-centric one, to be precise. The authors claimed that this was evident in, among others, remarks made by Lee Kuan Yew, about how a minority - especially a Malay - is 'acting like a Chinese' when he/she is successful. I told C this, and he asked me what I thought, and I said, 'I think perhaps it was true that Lee Kuan Yew promoted a Chinese identity, according to his version of Chineseness anyway; but I don't think it's really trickled down to the population.'

C said, 'I actually totally agree with that argument.'

All the things that I've been immunised against, completely blind to, things that I've never experienced as a member of the majority race, were laid bare before me that evening. How he was told to 'go back to his country' whenever he got into a fight growing up; how he had to justify his nationality to fellow Singaporeans over and over again, simply because he did not look like most of us; how so many people didn't understand the concept of him, that one could look white and be 100% Singaporean; how assumptions, usually unfounded, were made about him based on the colour of his skin; how he got into a scuffle with a taxi driver who assumed he was a tourist and took him on a longer route home, and when confronted, the taxi driver called the police, who, upon arrival, was aggressive towards him until he showed them his Singaporean passport; how he was told by some random Singaporean that the Singaporean look was 'Chinese lah'; how his friends told him not to think too much, or that he was being sensitive, when he tried to talk to them about these things; how he was often greeted with patronising surprise when he opened his mouth and fluent Mandarin came out, which shouldn't be surprising given that his mother is Chinese Singaporean.

The most I've been made to feel unSingaporean was when I was asked, on a few occasions, if I was Singaporean because 'you look mixed'. But nobody has ever questioned my ethnicity the way C was questioned, over and over, by an immigration officer when he applied to have his race changed on his identity card. In fact, nobody has ever questioned, not seriously anyway, that I am Singaporean; I am the only person who has ever seriously questioned it.

While we were walking back to mine, I confessed that, after I'd gone home on Friday, I'd felt really bad about my reaction to his Singaporeanness when we'd first met. I'd made assumptions about him based on his appearance, I said; and I didn't want to be that person.

C is a really nice guy. He said that he wasn't offended, and that what he's learned from being who he is is that everyone makes assumptions based on appearances. People in Australia (where he's studying) don't know what to make of him; many think that he's German. But he wasn't put off by my being like everyone else, my predictable expression of surprise when he spoke and sounded perfectly Singaporean.

Of course, I'd known that my being a member of the majority race means that I am incapable of living like a minority Singaporean, and so I knew that my argument was idealistic (though it's a normative argument so nothing that C told me changes it). But hearing first-hand the non-reality of 'regardless of race, language or religion', of '[pledging] ourselves as one united people', was a very humbling and thought-provoking experience. So for this reason, I'm really glad to have met C.

But I'm glad to have met him for other reasons, too. He is, in a way, part of the underbelly of Singapore that I've ever only heard about, but even then, only barely. We met tonight for a short while after I had my Singapore SIM card cut from the iPhone 4s one to the iPhone 6 one (can't even remember their ridiculous names) and he told me these super interesting stories about the shady people that he knew. Ah, what a guy. Talking to him makes me feel so sheltered - which I am.


I ought to sleep. My phone is set up now, so I will go to bed.
Tags: guys, phd, rant, singapore

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