I have been away from home for a while now but this week, home feels a little further away.
For those who have managed to miss it or who aren’t from Singapore, here’s the gist of it. Local actor Shrey Bhargava wrote in a Facebook post how he was asked to exaggerate an Indian accent when auditioning for a role in Jack Neo’s Ah Boys To Men 4, which is a local film about army life for male Singaporeans. He was offended, but he did it, and felt disgusted after.
Side note: I’ve been asked to ‘perform’ a Singlish accent among foreign friends before. I did it once, everyone laughed in delight, and I felt that same disgust immediately after. My ethnicity, my nationality, the way I speak in the company of friends and family, is not a party trick. An exaggeration of your identity is not for anyone else’s amusement. Even among foreign friends I sometimes spontaneously break out the Singlish but here’s the difference: doing it because you want to and doing it on request are worlds apart.
Shrey subsequently wrote this post. Many fellow minorities have come out to share similar experiences. Many Chinese Singaporeans have expressed regret, shame, anger. But so many people. SO many people. Have now come out of the woodwork waving a “LOL guess what everyone I’m kinda racist” flag, previously hidden under their beds, previously only taken out in the company of like-minded friends.
I write this as a minority. I write this as someone who has only ever known what it is to be a minority. I have written about racism in Singapore before, and like any minority, I have a lifetime of experiences and examples I could share.
But this week, my heart hangs heavier than it ever has before. For the first time, people I’ve known for years have come out to rant about the validity of Shrey’s experience. “It’s just comedy,” they say.
And you know what? It’s fine if you, as someone who has enjoyed the privilege of being the majority, don’t know what it’s like, or if you can’t imagine why it hurts. But no one who has decided to join the angry mob dedicated to the very public lowering of our flag has stopped to first ask – “Is that how it feels? I had no idea.” And I really wish they had asked; I still hope some will.
You don’t get to decide that just because you don’t know how it feels, the rejection, shame, fear and occasional self-loathing that often comes with being a minority is invalid or should be invisible. Make an effort to understand instead of denying the deep-rooted racism our allegedly racially harmonious country has.
Today, I am especially grateful for my Chinese friends who have stood up tall against other members of the majority race who demean and invalidate the experiences they will never have the misfortune of knowing. In the same way I believe men are a key part of feminism and equality, the ethnic majority has a voice they can use for good. Not like xiaxue. Please don’t be like xiaxue.
But we need to look at the fact that it took one Facebook post to tear a nation in two. It took one man saying, “This is what happened. This is how I feel and it sucks,” before thousands jumped on his words to loudly invalidate them. I get it. It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge the discomfort of others. But if for the sake of our continued comfort we disallow room for honesty, for discussion, for understanding, then our racial harmony is a sham, and a shallow one too.
It feels like this week we, as a country, have failed to live by what we recite in our pledge, what we claim to celebrate as a multi-ethnic nation.
Think of it this way: If it’s uncomfortable for someone in the majority to acknowledge that our country
is racist AF has a long way to go, imagine how it feels for the those who have lived it their whole lives. It isn’t just national pride or illusions of harmony at stake. It’s the dull thud that comes with realisation that in your home country, your identity has been deemed worth less than the entertainment of others, that your real experiences have been voted unfavourable, unworthy of further discussion and understanding. We’ll be ok just don’t talk about it shhhhhh.
I don’t write this in anger, or in hatred. I write this as a member of the minority whose heart hurts this week because the spotlight has at last been shone on the deep-rooted racism many of us tried to pretend wasn’t there, and now there’ s no denying it.
The part that hurts the most is this: Even after all this time and all my own experiences, part of me still desperately wanted to believe in Singapore’s racial harmony, too.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. The excitement of being in a big new city eventually wears off, and real life kicks in; sometimes it kicks you right in the head.
The bigger the city is, the lonelier it gets. Friendships made are often fleeting or intermittent, and you don’t really want to pour your heart out to people you haven’t known for very long. You want to be the fun party girl who people want around, not the girl who’s doing her best to keep it together. And what do you do when you can’t be that girl?
[Edited to remove whiney paragraph about breakup blahblah sadness blahblah no friends in China yet and so on]
The city gets lonelier the bigger it gets.
I want to stay in Beijing because we could be best friends if we gave each other a chance, and I haven’t given up on her bright lights yet. I want my job to work because I’m really only just getting started and I had/have such great plans for this. I want to be able to trust new friends enough to let them in. And I desperately want to be happy again.
For now I’m keeping my chin up.
Because somewhere in there, there’s still sunshine in her eyes.
What you don’t have now will come back again
You’ve got heart and you go in your own way
It’s been a week in China and it feels like something I’ve known for a lot longer than this. There’s a certain freedom and pleasure that comes with knowing your way around, whether it’s giving taxi drivers directions or walking to the subway station. And I walk to the subway station a lot.
It’s almost expected of you to speak Mandarin though, and if I’d only listened to the Singapore government when they declared, Hua Yu COOL! (Speaking Mandarin, Cool!) things would be much easier. But, we learn. No Hokkien here either, so the little I know isn’t of any use. #BoPian
The stark differences between this city and everything I know are everywhere. I didn’t think I’d ever be this excited about grocery shopping, but there I was, in a very expaty and overpriced supermarket,
internally shrieking in the pasta aisle. It gets better: olive oil. And next thing you know, you’re that expat shopping at April’s Gourmet, the Beijing equivalent of Singapore’s Marketplace, instead of Giant or Sheng Siong.
Sometimes when you go to a public toilet, there are no doors. Sometimes when you think something is 20 minutes away, it’s really an hour. And sometimes when you order vegetarian, it comes with pork.
As much as these things can be frustrating and upsetting and just really annoying, there’s something to be said for a city that doesn’t bend itself backwards for foreigners. Beijing constantly reminds you, you’re welcome to stay, but this is how we do it here. I think that’s what I both love and hate about China so far, infantile as my experience thus far might be.
Something that feels familiar is the very cool punk scene here. It’s as exclusive as it is inclusive, which is perhaps the way it is everywhere else. This documentary talks about how youth in Beijing quite suddenly had access to all sorts of music at once, which has created its familiar but original mess of sound that I’m starting to love.
What’s also pretty punk is Beijing’s roller derby team, who I skated and brunched with over the weekend. Derby is the best thing because you immediately have friends, a sport, and a support network in any city that has a league. There isn’t a league in Xi’an (where I’m soon moving to) yet, but there’s a possibility of starting one up, which is also very exciting.
The pollution isn’t the worst, but it gets to you. I notice it most when the sun sets, and it’s just a blurry glow in the sky instead of the fiery ball that I’m used to. When you stand on bridges, the distance shows how murky the air is.
In any case, all one really needs in life is to keep calm and cook pasta.
I don’t write love poems.
I’ve spent so many years reading
these poems of passion
and tales of truth.
And I’ve spent just as long
feeling like a girl
For whom this love had no time for.
So I don’t write love poems.
But I do write poems about you.
I write about falling headfirst into an abyss of adventure
And I write about my burning eyes
Fixed on the bright lights of tomorrow.
A tomorrow that is ours, but does not belong to us.
I write about the wind in my hair on the trains of Bombay
that I’ve fallen in love with
And I write about the same scenes that mean a thousand different things
Every time we race past.
I wonder if you ever see your city through my eyes
The way I sometimes see mine through yours.
I write about how you fill my mind
with a new world of wonder.
Architecture and Indian Gothic,
History and Music,
Planets and Stars
that seem to shine especially bright
When both our eyes scan the sky,
For the constellations that we know,
And those who know us.
I write about the dull ache that has started to spread,
keeping time with the impending distance.
A symphony of sadness and suspense.
Our ongoing anthem of what’s next, and where to.
This romantic tragedy I make no attempt to escape from.
Though Mars is always too far away
She burns just as bright and bold
Even when you can’t see her.
Her presence a greater pleasure
When you can.
In this chaos I find simplicity and I find peace.
In pixelated Skype calls I find closeness.
In the pictures you draw I find the stories we continue to write.
In our stories I find adventure.
And in adventure I find love.
I don’t write love poems.
But I do write poems about you.
It’s the best concept – a cafe where you can chill and have a drink, surrounded by cats. Obviously it all started in Japan, the land of crazy ideas that actually work.
$12 an hour and $5 for a subsequent half hour and you’re in Kitty Heaven. Except for a few frisky ones, the cats are largely unimpressed by us groveling humans fawning over them. This takes the concept of Spoilt Rotten Cats to a whole new level – they have people giving them head scratches, belly rubs, grooming and cuddles ALL. DAY. LONG.
These kitties don’t run to the door to greet you. They luxuriously lie there and magnanimously allow your grubby hands to worship their soft and silky selves.
What’s good is that it’s extremely therapeutic to be in the presence of that many cats. It’s also the perfect place to sit and get some work done, which I fully intend to do since the cafe is a short walk away from the office.
If you want to write a novel/poem/whatever and don’t have a cat, here’s your spot. As Barbara Holland said, “it would be easier to write with a herd of buffalo in the room than even one cat”. An entire room of cats, therefore, is a writerly must.
As anyone who has/has had/has met/has encountered any cat whatsoever in the briefest of moments will know, they take their time to do as they please. Neko No Niwa is a very catly reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around you, you can’t always have it your way, and sometimes you need to just slow down and smell the kitties (they do smell really nice there).
If you play gently, you can even sort of style the cats, like hipster cat over here, also known as Little Miss Muffet. This style was inspired by Hamilton the Hipster Cat.
If you have your own cats, you might feel like you’ve been frolicking about town with a whole clowder of cats while your own beloved/s wait patiently at home. This will happen, and no one can help you there. Feel the guilt. You deserve it, as your cats will sniffingly and suspiciously tell you.
I’ve been meaning to check out Pulau Ubin for a while (about 10 years would be a fair estimate) and like many things in my life, it’s gotten pushed outta the way in favour of other distractions. Work, travel, pubs, cats, the usual.
So since le bf is in town (check out his food journey through Singapore here) and adventure is our thing, we took the $2.50 ferry from Changi Point Ferry Terminal to Ubin on Friday morning. Don’t be alarmed if the boat suddenly stops moving; it’s just the captain making his rounds, collecting his cash. Ubin is all about the DIY.
You can read all about stuff to do in Ubin here, but some definite highlights worth mentioning.
This might be just me, but wild boars casually strolling about #likeaboss was
just a bit massively exciting for me #boargasm. There were 2 bigger ones and a few little ones, just roaming about. The biggest boar seemed to be in charge of the monkeys as well, so obviously he’s the Big WigPig of the jungle.
On a not altogether separate note, pick up yo trash, kids.
Now, camping. Camping is cool. You feel a bit special when everyone starts to leave for le mainland and you’re comfortably keeping to the island, waiting to see what secrets Ubin will reveal once all these day-tripping visitors are gone. A gorgeous sunset, for one, and hanging out at the coconut/snack store with the island locals.
I’ve heard good things about Mamam Camp but I personally felt like it was too close to man-made buildings to feel camp-y enough. Noordin Camp is closed, so we settled at Jelutong Camp, which is where the awesome sunset photo was taken. The nearest toilets are a 5 minute walk away – bring your torch if it’s already dark. And there weren’t any ghosts – I checked.
One of my favourite parts was the
Che Guevara Chek Jawa wetlands, which is quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. When it’s low tide, the shiny surfaces seem to go on for miles and miles.
Also a great chance to show off my HTC One sweet panorama feature and no they’re not paying me to say this.
Both walking and cycling are a great way to explore the island (anything except hiring a van, our path was once so traffic- and exhaust-free and now you’re all up in our way and everyone hates you) so we hired bicycled on Day 1 and set off on foot Day 2.
Bike prices range from $6 (don’t believe the “from $2” signs on the rental shops – the only thing we found for $2 was a bicycle wash) and cost aside, you’ll want to go for something better. You’ll thank yourself for a pricier but better bike with better gears when
attempting to cycling uphill. The no-pedal freefall on the decline makes it so, so worth it though. Our bikes were $8 a day.
The best view of the quarries has to be up the path beside Merbah Hut, which is towards the Eastern part of the island, overlooking Ubin Quarry. It’s a bit of a climb, but won’t take very long. I’d say the view is worth it. #justkeepclimbing
Nearer to the central bit of Ubin is Pekan Quarry, which is much easier to get to and just as pretty, but not as high up (don’t be lazy go to Ubin Quarry you’re on Pulau Ubin not Pulau Malas).
Besides the quarries #ilovequarries #teamquarries and the obvious adventure of camping, it’s the little random and often WTF things that I love most about Ubin. This sign, for example.
And this sign of a shrine.
For reasons as mysterious as the story behind this shrine, we missed the actual shrine. Apparently the World’s Most Haunted Doll in the universe lives there. It’s like a weird ghost story where we walked past like 6 times looking for it (okay, twice) but for some reason managed to miss it. *twilight zone music*
But I took another picture of another yellow shrine (note, not German Girl shrine) here.
And here is another old, wooden, abandoned house. Even if you hate history, nature, camping and mysterious stories, this place is Instagram heaven. Yes I’m looking at you hipster
she said to the mirror.
My battery had died into the 2nd day, so I sadly missed a couple of great shots of cool naturey things. My favourite bit was the mangrove trees. Seriously, I was all about the mangroves in school.
The best thing about Ubin to me is that everything slows down a bit, as demonstrated by these charming gentlemen – the island’s taxi drivers.
The people are friendly, time takes its time, the sights are gorgeous and the air is fresher – oh so much fresher. I think a weekend in Ubin every now and then would be an excellent reminder (and one needed by most of us
neurotic workaholic Singaporeans) that the brighter pastures we so eagerly seek are perhaps on our own shores.
Well, sort of.
[This is the 4th post in a series of blog posts about my adventures in the DPRK from 11 August – 17 August 2013. You can find previous posts here.]
Rolling green hills and peaceful lakes aren’t quite what comes to mind for most people when you think of the DPRK. With all that’s in the news, we often forget about what else the country has to offer. Much of my time in the DPRK was spent travelling between cities and towns, and we saw plenty of beautiful scenes and nature’s touch everywhere.
Getting in quite late, our first clear view of the city was from our hotel. Our hotel, the Yanggakdo Hotel, is on an island and is an impressive 47 floors high. Here’s the foggy view from the top floor. It only got better from here.
If you prefer moving pictures:
This was a stopping point on our way from Pyongyang to Wonsan. Gorgeous mountains and lakes!
If you prefer moving pictures:
One of my favourite parts of the trip: A walk along this long pier which proved to be a spectacular view in itself. Locals come here to set up DIY barbecue sets and chill out with their friends. #nofilter
I sat by the beach and wrote instead, but the water must’ve been a good escape for my friends who were unused to the weather. Singapore had me well-trained for the North Korean sun.
Ulim waterfalls. Also a good spot for a swim and a picnic lunch.
Again, really nice view from up here. I attempted to get up to the lighthouse but was spotted by guards.
The road on the way to the DMZ.
Way up high in the middle of Pyongyang city:
A look at the streets on the way out of Pyongyang:
And a reminder: 1 Korea. Reunification1
Previous: The People of Pyongyang
For your own DPRK adventure, get in touch with Young Pioneer Tours and check out their schedule for next year.