In Singapore I am constantly being reminded about my race. It’s there in every official document and form I fill up – my passport, identity card, school report cards and job interview applications. I could go on. It’s just my two cents but don’t you think it’s a bit counterproductive to keep calling attention to our differences. I am talking about Racial Harmony Day – another campaign for our campaign fatigued nation. I think we’re the only country in the world to have this. I don’t know much about it as it was only introduced to schools in the last few years. I heard about it from relatives who teach. Instinctively I just feel that we don’t need it. Even though I knock the concept, I searched WordPress to find out more and came across blogger Nicholas. If kids in school enjoy it as another day of bonding with friends than that aspect of it is brilliant.
Most travel guides will state that the main ethnic groups in Singapore are the Chinese, Malay, Indians and Eurasians. Officially at least. We are becoming even more cosmopolitan these days. There are so many beautiful children who are a mix of two or more ethnicities and I think in about 500 years there will so much more cross ethnic marriages that one day there will be a uniquely Singaporean race that’s a mix of everyone.
Even before that day comes I can tell you that I am more Singaporean than what my passport will tell you, which is Indian. It’s just organic due to going to school, working and having friends from different ethnic groups. We don’t think about it much, but when I meet relatives from overseas it dawns on me just how Singaporean I am. I have a million things more in common with my fellow Singaporeans than my relatives from another country. It’s like chalk and cheese. If I spoke Singlish, my relatives from abroad would not understand me. When I hear a group of teenagers, they all sound the same with their annoying lazy drawls. There is no distinguishing them. And just like Singlish is a mix of English with a dash of Hokkien and a sprinkling of Malay and Tamil, so are Singaporeans, culturally. It’s a natural thing that just happened. We each took different aspects that we liked and adopted them.
My family is a case in point. My grandmother was very much Indian in her ways and pretty much ethnocentric, but her children became more Singaporean and my generation and the next even more so. My aunt swears by Feng Shui in her home. She even brought a compass in her handbag to check out the Feng Shui when she was buying an apartment. My ‘if it can’t be explained by science, then there is no explanation yet’ cousin who doesn’t like superstition was complaining during his Hindu wedding that his mum said that she needed to place stuff, like coins or pebbles, into the vessels in the house. It was because empty vessels are bad luck or chi. This is not even an Indian custom he wailed. His mum said that once you know something it’s good to do it. That’s a mum’s explanation for you and there’s no arguing with that sort of rock solid case.
My mum would rather eat fish ball noodles or popiah than curry which she says can be too heavy. My sister only drinks room temperature water these days because her Chinese colleagues taught her that ice water is not good for your system. She can’t take spicy Indian curry. Just the other day, in contrast to this, my Chinese friend was frustrated that he couldn’t get the tea auntie in his office to serve ice water instead of warm water. In contrast, he loves Indian curry. And this actually, is Singapore for you. In my generation, cultural habits are no longer linked to race.
I think Chinese medicine works better than western medicine at times. I can’t be without my axe oil for headaches and stomach pains. It’s my miracle cure. I never take Panadol for headaches. On the other hand, I have Chinese friends who can’t bear the scent of axe oil or think Chinese medicine is hocus pocus. It’s pretty funny actually.
My cousin is addicted to the Chinese and Korean serials on TV, while my Malay colleague was a sworn Bollywood fanatic. I once even tried on my Malay friend’s tudong, just to see how hot it was to wear. In fact it was very cool inside it which surprised me. The only thing was everything around me was muffled as my ears were a bit covered. She even explained to me that wearing the tudong (pronounced thu-dong) was a choice she made and that she has got all the partying out of her system when she was younger and is happy to do it. She shared with me old havoc (Singlish to describe someone who is in their rebellious, wild, partying phase) photos of herself in roller skates. I think the more friends we have of different backgrounds the more we communicate and the less ignorant we are. With social media, our world and ignorance is shrinking.
Our uniquely Singaporean food is something that brings us really close together which is why our hawker stalls should never die out. If you’re in India you can’t get roti prata with mushrooms, cheese and egg because there is no such thing. It’s a uniquely Singaporean fusion food. If you’re in China, there is no such thing as curry rice. I had to explain to the server from China at Food Republic that they has add the curry sauce over the rice at the Curry Rice stall. It was weird that I knew more about this dish invented by ancestors from Hainan, China who migrated to Singapore. But then again, it’s not weird because I am Singaporean.
One thing I’m sad that the new generation doesn’t have in common that my parent’s generation did, was the ability to speak Malay. The cross cultural TV drama Vyjayanthi reminded me of it. It depicts Singapore during the war and then Malay was spoken by everyone. We are afterall in Malaya. The Malay people were the natives on this land and which is why Malay is our national language and the language our national anthem is in.
We don’t need racial harmony days which is basically just a counter-productive cultural show that draws attention to our differences that most of us have forgotten as we have loads more in common. We should focus instead on ensuring that no one feels excluded or discriminated against. If you ask me I think we can start with doing away with forms that ask us about race. Starting with job application forms.