We did a quick count last night and realised that since we moved into our new home on 25 November, we have had five groups of interstate and overseas visitors stay with us. That’s about one a month. It’s a nice average.
[I’ve been vaguely aware of the fact that I’ve grown out of the habit of taking photos. Part of the reason is my phone camera; I don’t enjoy using either of the geriatric cameras on my Sony Xperia or my iPad, and carrying Old Chunky everywhere isn’t practical. I’ve also grown out of the habit of blogging as a result. Uploading a bunch of happy shots used to be a quick and easy way of saying hello here while not having to squeeze out too much brain juice. But with even that option taken away, and now, a slew of favourite TV series now ending (Downton Abbey, The Good Wife…) and the aforementioned guests, I find myself estranged from my blog. But I miss writing to all of you.]
Not to pick a favourite among our visitors – every guest brought fun and busyness to our household – (but) we really enjoyed having Audrey and Deborah stay with us for ten days late last month. We didn’t do anything special, really. I think that was what made it so magic. Because for just those ten days, we could suspend reality for a little while and pretend we lived together for keeps. We were family again, and it was a sheer luxury keeping our children alive together (i.e. feeding them), going about our usual routine, and then talking the nights away when the children went to bed.
It’s Australia Day today. And although I’m not Australian, the day has gotten me thinking a lot about my own nationality.
My decade in Australia is a continuous education on what is considered Australian and — more importantly — what’s UnAustralian. It’s not a saying we use in Singapore – we don’t go around saying, “You have never queued over half an hour for a bowl of [insert favourite hawker fare] – you are UnSingaporean.” But I’m pretty sure that there is some similar Holy Writ engraved in the hearts and minds of its inhabitants.We might intrinsically agree on a few tenets and values that even the country’s pledge doesn’t quite cover in its depth and breadth. We embrace Western living conditions and white-picket-fence ideals, but cling to Eastern work ethics and traditions frozen in the time of our mass emigration. We champion meritocracy, can be rather suspicious of welfare, and believe that the fittest deserve to survive. But we also love Big Government, even though we push against the grain. We are easily bored, because we want constant stimulation and regard Variety as the natural and healthy by-product of industrious minds and hands. We are proud of what we have achieved in spite of our pint size, our short history, and our love-hate relationship with our neighbours.
We are a multicultural melting pot, but we certainly don’t seem to have the warm fuzzies when it comes to our colonised past.
I don’t know if I’m grasping at straws here, but there is just something about being slagged off by an ang-moh that really gets under a lot of Singaporeans’ skins.
This post, by the way, has been stewing for a week. I’ve glossed over the Anton Casey furor (primarily on Facebook), and the few finger scrolls I’ve had through the comments section of articles and posts have left me feeling decidedly sick.
To the rest of the world who might not know what I’m talking about, I’ll try to summarise. Anton Casey, a British National married to a Singaporean, had been living in Singapore for 12 years before some of his boofhead Facebook posts went viral. They are mostly outlined in this News.com.au article and he basically castigated everyone who took public transport on a regular basis as poor and smelly, but what the article doesn’t quite capture was the sheer furor and backlash on social media. And because there really are only 3 degrees of separation between any 2 Singaporeans (or it darn right feels like it), Anton’s personal details such as his residential address and employer (past and present) got circulated online. Despite an attempt to smooth things out with the help of a PR firm, it all culminated to an immediate termination of his work contract, and a hasty departure of his family (wife and 5yo son) to Perth.
And don’t get me wrong – the guy had been incredibly offensive and arrogant on Facebook. A complete douchebag, if you were to put it in ‘Straya terms. And I wondered how a man living in an adopted nation would have the gall, the cheek to rubbish away the “plebs” – the very backbone of the nation who made it possible for him to swan in and make a decent porsche-owning, air-conditioned living. All that is true.
But the harrassment and the death threats. The running of a man and his innocent family to the ground. The venom and the spite. Two wrongs have never made it a right.
I live in Australia now, but I still introduce myself as Singaporean. And if I ever get asked about our curtailed freedoms – our censored media, our paternalistic government – I’ve always blithely pointed out that as a woman, and as a Christian, I’ve felt infinitely more protected and safer in Singapore than I do in Australia.
The Australian media, for the large part, is antagonistic towards Christianity. Australian society, to a large extent, is dismissive of Christ. And because Facebook has come into our day-to-day in the decade I’ve lived here, I get confronted with deeply offensive and hurtful messages about my faith daily. These messages are often unfair and inaccurate, mostly delivered tongue-in-cheek, and might come from a place of experience and hurt as well.
I say this, because if you were to change the context of what Anton said… if you were to change it to a YouTube video of a panel of witty comedians in a popular quiz show… if you were to change the subjects from faceless commuters in a borrowed country to gormless Christians in a hired community hall, there would be no public vitriol. Because this already happens publicly, daily.
I’m not discounting the fact that there are lousy examples of Christianity to be found. Of course there are. And I understand that there are fundamental beliefs and values that different camps cling to and fight for. I know that groups of Christians can be militant about their own beliefs — even to the point of warring within the brotherhood. But my point is when anyone excoriates a group of people with such vehemence, they often become the very things they hate. Arrogant. Self-righteous. Narrow-minded. Hypocritical. Judgemental.
The reason I struggle for self-control NOT to yell back is the reminder that Christ told me to Let It Go. Turn the other cheek. Offer the tunic. Go the extra mile. It may sting, it may not be fair, our innocent loved ones may be affected, but the instruction is clear: we do not strut ever.
In the case of Anton Casey, we took a man with a loose mouth and lousy discretion, and delivered a crushing, disproportionate response. And he wasn’t even the first.
Is that what it really means to stand up for Singapore?
Yes! It is official. We’ve received the certificate and the passport, and so our daughter isn’t just OZ-OZ-OZ-oi-oi-oi anymore. She’s also a Singaporean and as such, should now be schooled in
singing the other national anthem in both soprano and alto
saying the pledge and all its 4-syllable words (“democratic”, “equality”, “prosperity”), with tiny fist across heart and with coordinated stamping of right foot during school morning assembly
shopping and eating like there’s no other pastime or way to live
squishing eleventeen languages and dialects into a single sentence while butchering the English language
outsourcing domestic chores and heavy lifting to foreign talent
demonstrating fanatic allegiance to branded school that will last through lifetime, which is related to
losing her childhood to extra tutoring, enrichment classes, after-school remedial classes, special papers classes, mock exams, preliminary exams, streaming exams, exams to qualify for after-school tuition classes, and countless “continual assessments”, which also leads to
complete smashing of self-esteem till age 19 when she realises that her future isn’t ruined just because she’s not academically inclined towards science or math.
Okay. That all just turned dark and twisty. And perhaps it’s too simplistic a summary of the life that is Singaporean. I love my childhood and my country of origin, its colour and variety and multiculturalism and ever-changing landscape. And don’t get me wrong – Australia can be just as materialistic, worldly and competitive in other ways. But we are determined to give her an environment that doesn’t kill the joy of learning from the moment she steps into her first school uniform. And Singapore, with its clinical worship of academia, ranking and statistics, just doesn’t know how to do that yet.
2) Walking in a winter wonderland
Arddun is officially walking more than she’s crawling, which I suppose means she’s now properly walking. She still staggers about like a drunk munchkin but, thanks to fantastic winter fashion, looks like a very cute drunk munchkin. And that makes all the difference.
3) Flying north for winter
As her first birthday looms, we find ourselves working out birthday bash plans and what better way to celebrate than with family? And so, because Brisbane is the nearer of the two and because Arddun didn’t get to meet a swag of people there from her last trip, we’re flying north for warmer climes in >2 weeks! CANNOT WAIT! And also a leetle nervous as I’ll be flying with Arddun sans her “daddoh” (that’s what she calls him) for the first leg of the trip. Am also secretly looking into those baby leashes that masquerade as cute animal knapsacks because I’d rather look like I’ve turned Arddun into my poodle than lose her in the airport. She be small, but she be wiry. And fast.
We had a lovely Australia Day, on balance. Had a few families over for BBQ and 25% round of Cranium, and Arddun was mostly cheerful until the end when it was a battle of wills regarding bedtime (she won today). Then the skies opened and cooled our part of the world, and the smell of freshly fallen rain is comfort and delight indeed.
About 15 minutes before our first guests arrived this morning, however, I was having a small meltdown.
It’s just this: I haven’t celebrated Chinese New Year. The sadder part is, I don’t know HOW to celebrate Chinese New Year. For the last 6 years since we bought our house, we’ve hosted Chinese New Year at our home. The program usually entailed silly dress ups, a token effort at decor, a potluck which consisted mostly of non-Chinese food anyway, some atrocious lion dance ching-chong music, and the requisite cheesy group photo.
Hard enough in a small house with no baby. But this year, I looked at Arddun’s meal times and nap times, thought about juggling that along with 40+ guests, and chickened out.
So the night before Chinese New Year, we did nothing special. And the first day of Chinese New Year, we did nothing special. Ditto the second. Ditto the third. And then today, I felt I was letting myself down, and I was dooming my girl to a white-only upbringing.
What is it about having a baby that throws your family values and traditions into the spotlight? Suddenly, I want to define everything and I’m starting to panic that I haven’t gotten good habits in order and that I lack enough Chinese customs and tradition. The laughable bit, of course, is that I’m not even ‘typical’ Chinese Singaporean. I barely manage conversational mandarin, and I slip into Singlish out of nostalgia, rather than necessity. My immediate family has never been superstitious, so we’ve never bothered with many customs and practices typical of Chinese New Year preparation, as so many of these traditions stem from the worship of fortune and luck.
I am, as they call me, a kantang. A potato. Brown on the outside, white on the inside. And yet, here I am. Feeling like I’ve completely sold out.
Because I think I have.
In leaving and cleaving, I wonder if I’ve wandered too far off track and embraced too much of my new home and culture. In dutifully integrating into Australian life, I wonder if I’ve been too willing to apologise for my individuality and where I’ve come from. I’ll be straight with you – Australia, for all her multiculturalism, believes in One Australia. One culture. One identity. She is not a plural society. Her people, on the whole, are not interested in where you’ve come from and the God you believe in. Race, for instance, doesn’t usually come up in polite conversation. She is a melting pot of cultures and countries, but believes ultimately that unity is best celebrated in embracing common habits, customs, and a common language.
And I’ll tell you, it works. I’m not knocking the country I’ve come to love and now call home. I love her vast land, her sometimes devastating beauty, her people and their zany sense of humour. If anyone were to put Australia down, I think I love her enough now to feel pretty insulted and rawr about it.
All I’m saying is that there is a part of me that feels largely unacknowledged and neglected. Always. Because I’ve learnt over the 9 years to play down my roots and my past and my experience, and to focus on what is common. What is shared. What is mainstream Australian.
And so here I am, on Australia Day, trying to celebrate my new country’s anniversary while trying not to forget my roots. So that I can continue to be a beacon of light for Arddun, shining on my past and my heritage. (Pretty daunting and lonely responsibility, by the way.)
Except what did I do? I made a cob loaf dip (without the cob loaf), served up two flavours of potato chips, and a platter of sweet chilli Philadelphia cream cheese together with a small block of Camembert. This was to complement the barbeque, which consisted of sausages and rissoles and grilled eggplant, onion, and mushrooms. The only thing remotely Chinese New Yeary were the 6 mandarin oranges that Sean brought. Even then, I didn’t get organised enough to give him an ang pao.
I didn’t even give Arddun an ang pao.
Tony says I’m being too hard on myself. That there’s still lots going on with a baby who needs attention constantly; that she’s not going to remember any of this anyway, and that we have time. But I still feel awful. What kind of Chinese mother am I, who doesn’t even get organised enough to cook a reunion dinner? And yet yesterday, I felt so knackered and unwell, I slept through dinner. All the while with a sick feeling in my stomach because I didn’t get organised enough to bake fortune cookies – my one lame token effort at a Western version of Chinese culture and tradition. (But mine were going to be dipped in dark chocolate and peanuts. DIFFERENT!)
And maybe the answer is hooking up with more chinese Chinese Singaporeans. I look at my friends in Melbourne and almost envy their enclave of Singapore/Malaysian friends because at least they have a home within a home. As much as I love Aussies, sometimes it’s comforting to be with “your own people”. To finally be in your comfort zone and not have to explain yourself, or put your Australia hat on. Because that hat… sometimes, it’s exhausting. Like wearing stilettos a half-size off the whole day, every day. It fits… but not quite. And my bunny slippers are a lot more forgiving, and roomy, and comfortable, and me.
And maybe the answer is forging new roads, and new traditions. Maybe it’s not trying to emulate some version in my head that I grew up with. I’m here now, and no we don’t get 2 public holidays for Chinese New Year, and no one here exchanges ang paos, or visits each other’s homes with 2 mandarin oranges, or gets excited about new clothes, spring cleaning, and cooking for 8 hours, then eating for 8 hours. And if we can’t find the ambiance here, maybe we need to take a trip – just us three – to Sydney or somewhere, and soak it all in.
Because I want Arddun to grow up understanding that she ISN’T all white. And I want her to be fiercely proud of her blended heritage. I want her to enjoy being a little bit different, and it would break my heart if she were to grow up wishing desperately that she looked more white because she didn’t feel even a little Chinese.
I just don’t quite know how to set things up here so that we can be both Australian and Singaporean.
But I pray I never stop trying.
I'm open to making contact, getting feedback, reviewing your product, and even writing for cash or stardom. Just so you know.
Interested? PM me at:
yummy.mummy.train [at] gmail [dot] com