Sunday, December 11, 2011

You must try to stop the cycle of hurt, but give yourself time in doing so.   Take as much time as you need to gather the strength and knowledge necessary to fix yourself, but never forget that you're working towards a specific goal.

Monday, December 05, 2011

I was born in Canada to Chinese-Singaporean parents and when I was 5, we returned to Singapore and lived as a normal Singaporean family.  I kept my Canadian passport and at the age of 19, returned to Canada for university and law school.  At 21, I was asked by the Singapore government to relinquish Canadian citizenship to take on full Singapore citizenship but failed to do so.  At 22, I gave up Singapore citizenship.  At 26, I found myself no longer wanting to live in Canada (what would I do there, really?) and returned to Singapore to work in a law firm and to live with my family.  I am here in Singapore, my home, on an employment pass with little to no connection with the country of my passport: Canada.  Except, for my French-Canadian boyfriend whom I met in Singapore.  And since he's Quebecois, he's not anything like the Canada that I know. 

So here's the deal: I feel like I don't belong anywhere.  I'm Singaporean at heart and will probably never identify with Canada.  I can't say that I left with a particularly good impression of Canada (oh I had wonderful friends, but they were a handful) and as a Chinese-Canadian, I never felt equal.  It's probably too much to demand complete equality in a country where a particular racial/cultural group dominates (i.e. the anglo-saxons), but having left at the age of 5, I didn't develop the necessary coping mechanisms to survive the experience of being a member of a visible minority group.  I'm used to being the social majority as I was in Singapore ,where I never had to deal with the stereotypes or felt like I needed to behave in a certain way in order to avoid disrupting social norms and to be understood.  In Singapore, I am rich in social currency. 

But this is besides the point.  At some point today, I worried about my future children.  I would have wanted them to have the stable identity that I gave up at 22 -  an unequivocal sense of belonging in an environment where they are empowered, and seen as equal.  Perhaps I should have chosen a Singaporean boy and have Singaporean babies so that, at the very least, I can raise them in a single coherent, un-hyphenated culture.  And since it is the Chinese in Singapore who have the solid grip on being the social majority, I should choose a good Chinese Singaporean Christian boy. I would have enrolled them in local schools, taught them the values that I was raised with and given them a solid core for their identity: That no matter what, THIS is their home. Not some far flung country that they don't understand, or that doesn't recognize them beyond the minority group from which they came from. 

And then I realized that this is all crap.  In this day and age, there is no certainty of identity, there is no permanent sense of home, there is no single, coherent, un-hyphenated culture.  Look at the girls I was raised with in our little local schools with our little local circles: One's married to an Austrian in Germany and speaks fluent German.  One's engaged to a Norwegian in Norway and learning to speak Norwegian.  Another has followed an Australian to England and yet another has left for Canada and returned with her Canadian boyfriend after failing to find a job there.  The only one in our team with a Chinese-Singaporean has a Chinese-Singaporean who spent most of his life in Australia.  Come to think of it, he may not even be Singaporean.

No matter how I try with my children, they will be mixed: Shaken, if not stirred, in this global cultural cocktail of connecting flights and economies.  To attempt to force upon them a dream of something that I thought I lost, which would never have existed anyway, would be to fail them.  Miserably.  I should teach them to survive, to understand their worth in environments that will not spell it out for them on an identity card.  I should remind them that being the social majority (if they ever get the opportunity) is not to be confused for a free ticket to bigotry, and to learn to fight the instinct to categorize people according to our prejudices because, let's face it, they're only going to be human.  I need to teach them to fight the prejudice that they find in others with grace and to forgive the prejudice-holders who cannot be blamed for ignorance and small-mindedness. 

So here I am, wrapped in the same identity crisis that I've had since I discovered that I was Asian, 4 months into university.  I was given an opportunity to learn all this and to exercise this and I feel like I failed.  Not that I should've stuck it out in Vancouver and forced myself into a miserable existence by staying there.  It is true that there's no point expending energy resisting the bamboo ceiling and racial stereotypes for a small time job in a small town (Vancouver is a small town, and I would die if I were forced to go to Chilliwack for articles).  Not when I have bigger better options here in Singapore.  But the fact is, I could've been so much bigger than I am now but instead I left with resentment, insecurity and anger.  The only credit I would give myself is having recognized the issues that were at play, naming them, and somewhat avoiding the social traps that were so easy to fall prey to.  

But I need to do more.  I need to grow out of myself, and learn grace, fortitude, strength and the ability to rise above the social politics of place, race and culture, while understanding that we are all subject to the same.  And I need to be ready to pass this on to my children. 

I don't know when and I don't know how (and on most days I don't even know why), but at some point, I'm going to have to dip my toe into going global again, while maintaining the strength of being completely at home.  But in all this, I feel like I'm attending the funeral of a good old friend: the days of my parents are over, where you know where you belong.  Singapore is too small and too open to maintain a fixed culture in the circles in which I stand and as much as I hate it, if I don't do this for myself, at least for the children. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I recognize this feeling. It's called losing control.

Friday, November 11, 2011

How typical of me to be demoralized at the thought of trying. I'm afraid of failing because I've never failed. And I've never failed because I've coasted to talent and when offered an opportunity to take that a little bit further, I freak. Cool.

Friday, November 04, 2011

When the night tremors come, it's time to sleep.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lucky girl, you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

All I really want to do is sing.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

We search for knowledge with the hope of being able to change the present, of being able to fix things.  But when all that you've found irresistibly lends itself to the conclusion that there is nothing to be done, what then?  Do you press on relentlessly, in defiance of science? Or do you stop and let yourself be carried along by the helplessness, like the dead at a water burial? 

Friday, September 02, 2011

Get a grip, don't slip!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Almost out of control.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sitting today, there was a part of me that believed that as long as I kept absolutely still, I would not be seen, or caught.

Monday, August 08, 2011


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thankfully, me over-reacting is usually a good sign.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Space and time away brings new perspectives. I realise now that victories are never quite final and are maintained with the seasons. So be careful.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

No looking back. But I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with these shards.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I'm about to head off to New York for 2.5 months. I'm terrified and tired and I don't want to go. I just want to curl up in bed and sleep.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Racism and Cultural Insecurity

JP and I had a conversation today, again, on multiculturalism and it's discontents. I've come to the conclusion that there is a difference between "racism" and what I loosely term "cultural insecurity". I note that the true definition of racism relates to the belief that a particular race is inherently genetically inferior from another, but I'm using it in the context of, say, an Anglo-Canadian telling an immigrant to "speak english" or to "go home" while flinging pop cans at him; or the unreasonable assumption that "so-and-so is a PRC female and is therefore out to get your money".

While driven generally by the same source (discomfort with the "other"/"unknown") racism is a more of a personalized, emotional response while cultural insecurity is more of a condition of the social fabric that a community is constructed from. For the most part, racism is a resulting response of cultural insecurity and as such, the two concepts are closely linked. But, of course, racism can exist independently from cultural insecurity (where there is no perception of a threat - but if you broaden the definition of cultural insecurity enough, it would capture most situations); and cultural insecurity does not, under any circumstances, have to give rise to the response of racism.

From the onset, it's important to recognize that racism is, universally, a negative and should not be endorsed at all. It is also very important to recognize that cultural insecurity is very real and in some cases, inevitable. Particularly so with the extensive cross-boarder movement that is seen today. Hence, while racism must be stopped, cultural insecurity cannot be ignored and must be engaged to ensure discontent is properly contained (and hence, preventing it from leading to racism).

So what is the difference between the two? Well, as set out in the first two paragraphs, racism is an emotional response that comes from a seat of insecurity and anger and is personal. It is a personal attack on its victim and deems his race to be a problem, above all else. It is an expression of disrespect for the fundamental aspects of his person and identity. On the other hand, recognizing cultural insecurity shifts the focus from the person to the dynamic between two different groups that co-exist within the same community space: the "local" and the "foreigner". It the recognition of the difficulties of difference and deems certain developments in the community (as a whole) to be the problem.

The exact nature of these "developments" are will differ, depending on the local group and the foreign group. Hence, the cultural insecurity that is experienced in Anglo-Canada with large Chinese/Indian immigrant populations will be different from the cultural insecurity that is experience in European states with Islamic immigrants and from French-Quebec with its pockets of Anglo-Canadians. But there are similarities:
  1. The economic: The fear that they will take our jobs
  2. The social: We do not trust them
  3. The cultural: They have strange/barbaric practices
(1) isn't really a problem for the purposes of this discussion and is artificial. It is basically an extension of (2) and (3) which are interrelated (the social and the cultural). After all, it is the social and cultural differences that create the division between "us" and "them". A better example would be in Singapore, with its influx of PRC and Malaysian workers. Everyone is Chinese but the PRCs get picked on because they do not speak English, Singlish or Dialect; while the Malaysians blend in like Skrulls [quote courtesy of Alex Yap]. No one complains about Malaysians taking our jobs, but everyone yips about the PRCs and the other immigrants from SEA.

The problematic social and cultural developments that happen within a community in a state of cultural insecurity are as follows: Point (2) above relates to a decrease of social capital: i.e. the amount of trust you have in the next person in your community. Not to say that all immigrants are untrustworthy scum, but there are two things worth noting: First, new migrants and temporary workers do not yet have a sense of belonging to the community that they have entered. They did not have a stake in building the local society to what it is today and as such, have little vested in it. This effect is particularly multiplied if the local community receives them with hostility, or if the new migrants have an established a foreigner community that is segregated from the local communities (i.e. cultural ghettos - think Richmond in Vancouver). As such, the new migrant would have little to no sense of accountability to the local community and vice versa. Second, point (3) of being uncomfortable with certain cultural behaviour feeds into the sense of mistrust, as it is unclear to the local if the foreigner will necessary interact with him in the way that the local is comfortable with. Simple things like different concepts of personal space, expectations of gender roles, hospitality and manners can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings which fuel the reduction of social capital.

So what is to be done in with all this? Well, firstly, the understanding that racism is not cultural insecuirty can assist with the elimination of the former. Remove the inappropriate personalized attacks and recognize that the underlying cause is cultural insecurity, which, as an institutional problem can be dealt with using appropriate policy measures. Such measures would, again, differ from context to context but in general, would encompass some measures taken towards the integration of the foreinger. If it can be determined what the threshold of tolerence for cultural insecuirty that the local community has, and the areas which are deemed important, policy makers can work towards immigration policies that are effective.

JP asked me if I thought that integration was a two way process, whereby both the foreigner and the local should change to integrate together. I think the answer is: it depends on what you want. Generally, local populations do not want to change and they do not see the need to. "This is our home and we were here first. So please learn to be like us, as we should not have to learn to be like you". If this is the case then the burden of the integration process will be more heavily slanted toward the foreigner: learn the langauge, adopt the cultural practices and norms, our way of dress, our festivals, our religion, earn our trust and be accountable. The process, I think, will inevitably still be a two-way process. But to maintain stability and to keep discontentment at bay, the evolution of the local community would have to be slow, almost imperceptable. Multiculturalism, then, cannot be a blanket "come-one-come-all" approach - but must be carefully adopted to ensure that the threads in your social fabric don't start to run.
An evening at a PAP rally, and a discussion over the foreigner situation in Singapore over durians has reminded me of how much I love this country.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Here we go again. Except this time, I'm not ready.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Having a great life. Nuff said.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


There are good friends and there are good people. They don't always overlap, but you should try your utmost to ensure they do.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

After deliberately removing some people from my life, I'm still as full as ever. Cheers to good decisions!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Don't leave me.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"I believe you hold the key to your success. It us up to you to put it into the keyhole and turn."

New York as a stepping stone it is.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Really now, what is it with this need to feel vindicated?

Be ashamed.

Now go and be happy.