Months, MONTHS late with these photos, but I thought I’d share what little photos I managed to take and borrow (thank you Andrea and Famiza!) that were taken during our trip to Singapore in late January.
Lately, I’ve come across a few rants about “children of colour”.
There was that article on Scary Mommy about how teaching colorblindness is racism’s friend, not its opposite. There was the Mamamia one on how a Chocolate-Olive mother – panicked after losing her young son in Target – was denied access by a well-meaning staff member to see her son because she couldn’t possibly be his mother, as “he looks totally different to you”. Cue Chocolate-Olive mother’s post-find shop-stopping war cry, “JUST BECAUSE WE AREN’T THE SAME COLOUR DOESN’T MEAN HE’S NOT MY SON!”
I have to admit that got my blood pumping somewhat. I had lost Arddun in BigW once. Found her eventually, wandering around the cushions – far, faaaaar away from the stationery section. It had only taken two seconds for me to lose sight of her. She was only two-and-a-bit years old, and even though she knew well enough to come when called, if a big bad person decided that she was good enough to steal, I would not have stood a chance. The BigW staff reacted far too nonchalantly, and every moment felt like I was walking through thick jelly. My heart was pounding in my ears. I had already started not forgiving myself. And when I finally found her, I had never wanted to hug her so fiercely or shake her so hard in my life. I also shot the offending lackadaisical staff the filthiest look I could muster before stomping off.
If any of them had told me I couldn’t check to see if that lost little girl was indeed mine because we weren’t coloured the same, you bet I would have taken on ALL the overweight staffers in that store, bar none. It’d be like River Tam in that last scene from Serenity. Yeah.
Panicked mothers have super powers. You have been warned.
As my due date draws near and the prospect of meeting Boy Blob in the flesh looms closer, I wonder whether he will turn out with that 50-50 blend that Arddun has. Arddun really does look like a mix of both of us. Even with her more-Caucasian skin and hair colouring, there is no doubting I am her mother… just like there is no question about Tony being her father with that mouth and face shape. If Tony and I looked nothing alike before, Arddun definitely bridged that gap.
It will only get more interesting because as both Arddun and Boy Blob get older, they are going to realise that their father and their mother look like different sorts. It will probably not matter to them, but I’m sure it’ll eventually raise questions about race and colouring — especially when the majority of their friends will have parents who look like the same sort. And here’s where I’m slightly stuck on what is safe and acceptable here in Australia.
Because Singapore and Australia talk about race very differently.
This has been my personal experience – and perhaps other Singaporeans may feel differently. I don’t purport to speak for everyone, of course. But growing up in Singapore, we were always aware that we were BOTH Singaporean and [insert race here]. I am Chinese by race, if not by language. (Chinese really isn’t my Mother Tongue. Hasn’t been for generations.) My nationality is Singaporean. I am a Singapore Citizen. You learn these things very early in life, in Singapore. The three are held in equal esteem. We learn that there are Indians. There are Malays. There are Eurasians. And then everyone else falls into the checkbox labelled “Others”. They’re usually Caucasian. You learn there are many religions, and some seem tied to race more closely than others. A vast majority of Malays are Muslim. Indians are more varied, and Eurasians tend to be Christian/Catholic.
Every officious government form you fill out will question these things. Your race. Your nationality. Sometimes, your religion.
Our national holidays are structured around festivals and religious occasions from the three main races and the four main religious groups, with the exception of National Day. Because that’s when we come together and celebrate our pluralism. Singapore is a plural country.
Australia believes in One People. One Nation. One identity.
And Australians are very uncomfortable referring to anyone by race.
It has taken me a while to get used to this. I remember asking to see someone at a counter once, and the easiest, most obviously definitive thing about the person I was looking for was that he’s Indian. Otherwise, he was wearing the same uniform, was of average height, and didn’t have any other outward detail that jumped out like a beard or a tattoo. And yet the person giving me directions absolutely refused to use that man’s race as a marker. In Singapore, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you were given directions to “go to the counter towards the back — the Indian man will help you.” But in Australia, it is hugely a taboo thing. It is politically incorrect. It is crass.
It has made me think a lot about racism.
Have I been racist all this time in Singapore? Noticing, among other things about a person, the differences in skin tone? Except it’s not just skin tone that makes a person Chinese or Indian or Malay. It’s the food, it’s the language, it’s the religion, it’s the way of life.
Should the no-go zone start from referring to anyone by their ethnicity? Or is the line somewhere further in, where stereotypes start to seep in and honest, fair judgement leaks out the other end.
Or is Scary Mommy right – is colour blindness actually racism’s friend?
When I read Scary Mommy’s post on colour blindness, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Yes, I found myself saying, yes. This is what I’ve been feeling like in Australia. Colourless. The nation’s call for all immigrants to Integrate and put behind UnAustralian behaviour is loud and constant… but vaguely, heavily Anglo-Saxon too. And very ambiguous. I have more ideas about what being UnAustralian is about, than what being Australian is. Except that I have the sense (self-preservation?) that my race should never figure highly in that equation. Because that would be UnAustralian.
It’s bad enough that I have a such lousy command of the Chinese language and can’t speak any dialects… but I find myself the lone wolf in needing to pass my own heritage to my children. My educated guess is that my children will grow up largely White, my heritage swallowed up by the life around them. It is only natural. I have adapted very well to Australian life. Tony’s people are indeed my people now. His ways are my ways, much more than mine are his.
But I also want more. I want my children to celebrate my differences. Because I want them to be proud of theirs. I want them to understand that they are blessed with TWO cultures, not one. And that their lives are richer for it.
I am a woman of colour. I am Chinese. You will not insult me by saying so, because I have nothing to be ashamed of. And neither will my children.
I had Singapore’s National Day on my mind yesterday, truly I did. I missed watching the parade on TV with family, missed the family steamboat dinner, missed the celebration of a crazy-tiny nation that went from Third World to First World in less than a quarter century. We are an efficient and determined lot.
So today, I’m making Bak Kut Teh and took a swag of photos of Arddun in Singapore garb. And also, I’m wearing red and white. Not that you can tell.
Liz and I touched down in Changi Airport at 7:20pm local time (10:20pm OZ) last night and have spent 28 hours in the country eating and sleeping, mainly.
So far, Liz has been introduced to chee cheong fan, cha siew bao, sashimi and unagi, and usual dinner fare one finds at catered events (some sort of fried noodles, some sort of fried rice, some kind of fish and soy sauce, some kind of prawn…)
The timing of our arrival coincided with the church’s annual Missions drive, and a very special evening event where we officially recognised and appointed/reinstated 4 deacons. And then celebrated by eating more food. And then went out after that and had coffee.
I’m gonna try and be a good girl and document this trip for a variety of reasons, the chief of which is how this feels a lot like the ending of my girlhood. But the very close second reason is how this is Liz’s First Trip Overseas (not including NZ and Tasmania), and her First Time in Asia, and her First Time in the Northern Hemisphere. And it’ll be a trip of a lot of her Firsts – which is such a weird and wonderful way for me to pay homage to my heritage as I play tour guide. I feel like I’ve been given a small chance to immortalise my memories, because now someone else from my present and future world knows, understands and cares about who I am and where I came from. And I’m so thankful to Liz and her generous family for giving me the opportunity to draw this beloved picture of my Country of Origin on such a fresh canvas.
So I just wrote this hugely ranty post about hoax emails, and how passing on advice about alternative cancer treatment can sometimes hurt and offend more than help and empower.
And then I decided it was a little too angry, so thankfully there was a WordPress glitch and it didn’t post on Facebook.
Sometimes, glitches are good.
I’ll be in Singapore from late 28 February to 9 March, for those on the island who might have time for a nightcap. I am there primarily to spend some quality time with my mother, though. I anticipate quite a few, “You’re BACK!” followed closely by, “Where’s Arddun?’ and then an afterthought of, “And is Tony here, too?” I don’t blame you. The munchkin is way more entertaining than the adults who spawned her.
So I’ll state up front that I’ll be flying back solo, and it’ll be my maiden flight on Scoot. And yes, I know it’s going to be cramp and uncomfortable, and I know that they had that PR disaster when they cancelled the flight etc. But they were the only ones who could offer a dirt-cheap ticket at the last minute. And besides – I get complimentary travel insurance with my bank. Sweet.
This will also be the second time that I’ll be travelling overseas without checking in luggage. Others might scoff at the big deal I’m making out of this, but you have to understand that Singapore has trees, food, weird architecture, too many people, and shops. Even their hospitals have shopping arcades and kick-butt food courts. You go to Singapore to stuff your face, and then try and fit into a size 6 dress. That is the Singaporean way.
My MIL — bless her — will be arriving from Brisbane on Wednesday to feed ducks with Arddun and watch her dance to The Wiggles. I’m so glad she’s able and willing to do this for our family at a moment’s notice, because the peace of mind is astounding.
So for those of you who have my email address and number, do ping me between now and Wednesday before I fly over.
Ah yes. It’s hard enough travelling with baby, let alone blogging about it. Particularly when we are constantly on the go and Wireless@SG doesn’t always give us internet love. Also, blogging from an iPhone gets old very quick. My main problem is that I sorely lack access to a keyboard and a decent block of time to use it.
But I get ahead of myself.
Why are we in Singapore – that’s the question to answer first. And oh, why weren’t you told about it beforehand? That’s the other question. We had initially planned a week-long stay in Brisbane, a week-long return to Canberra so Tony could do some work in the office and so we could attend our Best Man’s Wedding, and then a fortnight’s Hello Singapore tour for Arddun in my motherland from late March to mid April.
But then we found out that my mother’s pretty sick, and she was going to undergo a major operation that freaked most of us out. And so we abandoned all afore-mentioned plans, hightailed outta Brisbane after we just got there, and now we’re here with our relatively tiny suitcases and just enough clothes to fool most people most of the time about our wardrobe situation.
There is so, so much to get off the chest… but it’s been a bit of a whirlwind thus far and we are only starting to get over Arddun’s jetlag. (More on that to come. Oh yes.) Anyhoo – thought I’d explain what the silence has been all about.
A bit of housekeeping:
- If you’re in Singapore and want to catch up, our available hours are all over the place. We’re mostly free on Saturday and in the weekday evenings for dinner – the proviso being takeaway to have at my mum’s place, owing to Baby Not Adjusting to Foreign Land for Overnight Zzzz syndrome. Ping me on FB or email if you want to catch up soon.
- If you’ve been thinking of and praying for me and my own – thank you. It has been a very confronting 3 weeks, to say the least. But I suspect that we’re all rallying remarkably well because we’ve been propped up by so much love and care. The amount of practical and gushy love my mother has received thus far is extremely touching because it shows me all the more how awesome she is.
Avec gros bisous xx