Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places



Children of colour

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.


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 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?

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