The Straits Times forum page is a treasure trove of the wackiest half-past-six writings that Singaporeans have ever formulated and decided to put down for posterity's sake and other people's consumption.
Humblebragging or clueless?
And if you thought you have scraped the bottom of the barrel having spent enough time on the Internet, you haven't seen the last of it yet.
This following Oct. 4, 2017 ST forum letter by a Chinese Singaporean woman earnestly asking when did race ever become an issue here, is everything:
For most of my life in Singapore, I had not thought of myself as a Chinese. I was simply a Singaporean.
When I am introduced to others, I do not immediately think of their skin colour, religion or ethnic origin, but whether the person gives me a nice smile and a firm handshake, and treats me with respect.
My "Chinese-ness" was never an issue until I went to work in Europe, where I was often accosted by strange men making unsavoury propositions.
However, it is in Singapore that I find sales associates ignoring me or following me with glum faces, and then rushing to greet my English husband effusively when he entered the store.
This bare-faced racism disturbs me.
It has been dished out by sales associates who are of diverse ethnic origins, both men and women, and usually much younger than me.
Singaporeans of my generation embraced the vision of our founding fathers: a united people regardless of race, language or religion. When did this ideal change? How did we let it happen?
Lee Siew Peng (Dr)
Humblebragging, for sure
Not only does she humblebrag about being married to an English husband, she let on that she was "accosted by strange men making unsavoury propositions" when she went to work in Europe.
That was when she was confronted by her Chinese-ness.
Mrs Hotstuff, who has a (Dr) beside her name, then ends her letter wondering: When did the ideal of a united people regardless of race, language or religion, embraced by Singaporeans of her generation, change?
Since forever, duh.
Articulate response to the letter
So, therefore, thank goodness for the free speech principle whereby everybody deserves a right to say anything they want, regardless how it sounds.
Because, in response to the ST forum letter, is an intelligent counter-response by Balli Kaur Jaswal, one of Singapore's most celebrated authors whose second published novel is Sugarbread, which talks about racism in Singapore through the wide-eyed but clear vision of a young narrator:
In essence, Jaswal's post is about how as a minority Singaporean, she has struggled to feel at home because of how she is treated here.
For a Chinese Singaporean to ever experience what it is like to be an outsider, like what Mrs Hotstuff who is married to an Englishmen experienced while in Europe, there is cold comfort in knowing she is at least not treated like a stranger in Singapore -- something not all minorities here can feel the same about.
As a side note, the ST forum letter writer Lee Siew Peng (Dr) is known to write highly incendiary elitist letters to the press.
In Sept. 2011, she wrote to the forum page about -- you guessed it -- her engagement to a Caucasian husband:
The announcement of my engagement to a Caucasian surprised many who had accepted my status of being "on the shelf".
To help you get over the ST forum letter and in case you cannot see Jaswal's Facebook post, here it is in full:
The short answer: Always
The long answer: see below
“For most of my life in Singapore, I had not thought of myself as a Chinese. I was simply a Singaporean.”
It must be nice not having your nationality doubted. Many minorities here are questioned (and always have been) when they say they are Singaporean. I was born here, as were my parents, yet I am constantly asked where I’m from, and asked for my FIN card rather than my I/C. I’d like to be considered “simply a Singaporean” as well, but I have to explain myself all the time. Sometimes I have to convince people that I belong here, and that’s pretty frustrating because I never had to do that in Australia and America, two countries where it seemed more likely that my identity would be questioned.
“My "Chinese-ness" was never an issue until I went to work in Europe, where I was often accosted by strange men making unsavoury propositions.”
I’m truly sorry that you were treated differently in Europe, and that you had to confront your “Chinese-ness” in such a hostile context. It sounds like this was your first experience of being a minority. See, in Singapore my “Indian-ness” has always been an issue! A taxi driver told me that I was lucky he picked me up because usually most drivers don’t like having Indian passengers. The bus uncle used a derogatory term for Indians on me every single day of primary school. A student that I taught in an elite Singapore institution commented that it’s a “known fact” that Indians are thieves. I’ve been restricted from applying for jobs writing for English publications that are bafflingly “Mandarin-speaking only” and I’ve seen apartment rental ads that exclude Indians. You got to return to Singapore where your “Chinese-ness” didn’t make you stand out because you’re part of the majority. It must be so comforting to be accepted without question in your home country.
“However, it is in Singapore that I find sales associates ignoring me or following me with glum faces, and then rushing to greet my English husband effusively when he entered the store.”
That really sucks. I hate it when sales associates ignore me in favor of people they prefer to serve. An Indian family friend who happens to understand Mandarin was in a make-up store recently when she overheard the salesgirls commenting that there was no point in serving her because Indians can’t afford high quality products. Again, this sounds like a relatively new experience for you since marrying an Englishman, but I can spend the whole day recounting such examples from my own experience – over three decades’ worth! Not to say that two wrongs make a right, but I do hope that you understand that this disturbing trend of racism is not new in Singapore just because you happened to be on the receiving end recently.
“Singaporeans of my generation embraced the vision of our founding fathers: a united people regardless of race, language or religion. When did this ideal change? How did we let it happen?”
Oh, Dr. Lee. I have no idea which generation you’re from but I can tell you that in my and my parents’ lifetimes, “regardless of race, language or religion” were words recited daily in a national pledge for 10 seconds during each morning school assembly and then conveniently ignored for the remainder of the day. You sound shocked and dismayed that race has become an issue in Singapore without realizing that it has always been an issue for minorities. If you’ve noticed more conversations about race lately, it’s because we have more platforms to talk about it now – social media has been very beneficial for the previously voiceless (You do know there are other outlets besides the Forum section? I remember when state-run media was the only space to air grievances in Singapore. Strangely, they never published any of my or my friends’ letters about issues like racial discrimination in the workplace or those TV screens on the public buses that only played Mandarin shows during peak hour). Unfortunately, it means that you and others who were accustomed to never having to think about race, have a lot of catching up to do.
Top photo via Sony