The Amazing Race

I recently met a family friend again after probably 4 years. She introduced me to her boyfriend of 3 years.  He lives in the US, and they see each other 5 weeks a year, 2 of them when he’s is Singapore for work and 3 of them when she visits on her vacation time.  Nobody who met him that day for the first time, really liked him. He’s loud, rude, aggressive, obnoxious, a know-it-all who doesn’t and as my sister’s American best friend said after he left, “That’s what people hate about Americans!”  My sister said she was sorry for our friend.  I am not, with all sincerity, and without being flip, he is everything she’s ever wanted in a man — He is white.

As I walked around Singapore in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, I was first stunned, then angered by the Chinese New Year imagery of Isetan Scotts, an outpost of the Japanese department store chain.  In a third floor, street facing window, was a billboard sized image of 3 white models with dark hair in updos reminiscent of top knots, and vaguely Chinesey printed dresses wishing me a Happy Lunar New Year.

I have noticed that when I am in a moment of conflict in Singapore and need to intimidate or in some other way gain control, my (mostly) Singaporean accent gets abandoned and I sound very American.  And it works.

When I was growing up, my mother would derisively refer to people more comfortable speaking in Mandarin as “Channel 8” after the TV channel that carried made-in-Singapore Mandarin soap operas, as opposed to Channel 5 which carried English language programming imported primarily from the US and England.  My mother now watches a lot of Korean soap operas dubbed in Mandarin on Channel 8.  We all generally view this as her regressing.

Style: is the first Singaporean fashion magazine that is entirely homegrown.  Its January 2011 issue featured white models throughout, including in a multi-page spread about what to do with long hair.  That Caucasian hair textures vary pretty wildly from Chinese, Malay and Indian hair textures, didn’t seem to matter.  In February 2011, the cover faces are a white model and blogger, Bryanboy, who is Fillipino and really would not stand a chance at being so photographed if he wasn’t the darling of the (white) international fashion press.

It is generally true that young white models from around the world flock to Singapore and other Asian countries because it is easier for them to get work here and to fill their books with tear sheets.  It is much harder for them to get booked in countries where white people are all you see on the street.  This only works if you’re a young model who has had the good fortune to be born white.  If you are some shade of brown, it better be a very light one, or you might hope for Italian Vogue to do another special issue..

I grew up worshipping Singaporean models of most colors: Hanis Hussey, Freda Amir, Jane Chong, Huda Ali, Lum May Yee, Saraswati, Bonnie Hicks (RIP), Fann Wong, Zoe Tay, Irin Gan, Ethel Fong, Christine Tiu, Susanna Abu, Ashley Aria, Celia The, Celeste Chong and so on.  I can now only name you one model who is Singaporean and working, her name is Sheila Sim.

Former Singaporean model, Chuan Do is now a photographer and he also owns a modeling agency, Avenue Models (or Ave Models).  A quick look around their website suggests that of the 46 models on their books, 41 are either white or a very pale shade of latino, 5 appear to be some kind of east Asian, I only know of 1 of them being Singaporean.

My sister said recently that she just does not find Asian men to be attractive.

While my standards for a sex partner are very low —  he should have a pulse and shooting a load on my face shouldn’t change that — I more frequently find white and latino men attractive than men of any other race.

There were more Asian models in the November issue of American Vogue than there were in any 3 Singaporean English language fashion or women’s magazines that month combined.

The magazine, Surface, just launched an Asian edition, headquartered in Singapore.  Their first cover model looks distinctly like there is plenty of Caucasian in her.

Xiaxue is a blogger in Singapore who is of Chinese descent, who is married to a white American man and who is extremely blonde. She claims that she isn’t “trying to be white”, rather, she is just trying a look and she likes how she looks with platinum blonde hair.  I believe her entirely. It has, however, apparently never occurred to her to ask why she feels that way.

I once worked at a public health agency focused on the sexual health of gay and bi Asian and Pacific Islander men in Boston. One day, a co-worker and I went and got dinner after work in Chinatown, which was close by. Two tables over were two men eating together, one East Asian and the other white.  They were middle aged and were not behaving in a particularly intimate way, their interactions looked a lot like that of my Asian co-worker and mine.  When they left, I said, “I know it’s totally wrong, but whenever I see a white guy and an Asian guy together in a restaurant, I always think they are a couple.” My co-worker said, “I was thinking the same thing.”

Whenever I see a gay couple with white and Asian halves, I assume the Asian bottoms and doesn’t really like it.

People like me are often described in Singapore as being a banana, white on the inside, yellow on the outside.  The term is derogatory. As a teenager, I identified with it because I took it to mean that I had a more modern outlook on the world.  Identifying with the term also appealed to my desire to feel slightly defiant.  I now embrace it because I’ve started to realize that it is just true on many levels.

In college I identified as a Chink. I chose the word because I felt that it accurately described my experience of Chineseness, one that is framed through an almost entirely Western/white context.

Whenever I see Asians I do not know dating white people I assume that the Asian halves see only whiteness and tolerate everything else and the White half has scored some hot, subservient ass.

I went to an independent boys school that was notorious for students who had a bad attitude towards the study of Chinese as a Second Language, which is mandatory if you are Chinese in Singapore (the studying, not the attitude).  Teachers at the school chose to go there unlike with non-independent schools where teachers are assigned by the Ministry of Education. I was convinced that Chinese teachers at my school were the scum of the Earth because they were not bright enough to teach anything but Chinese, they probably couldn’t speak good English comfortably, and they chose a life of being tortured by entitled boys who all felt superior.  I don’t entirely disagree with my 16 year-old self.

SPG stands for Sarong Party Girl, a slutty Asian woman in Singapore who only wants to date white men.  While I have always admired the forthright nature of their sexual desires, my judgment of the stereotype has always been negative because stereotypically, she doesn’t speak good English either, so to me, she was too Asian and not sufficiently white to deserve her white partners.

Part of my fascination with Susie Bubble is that white people think she’s cool and will never achieve her level of outré style.

I find my appreciation of Asian aesthetics is similar to that of an expat wife in Singapore, I like things because they look slightly exotic. I feel clever for incorporating Asianess into my otherwise not Asian aesthetic.

This is the year of the Rabbit in the Chinese calendar. When I see Chinese New Year decorations featuring bootleg Bugs Bunny, I think of it as Asians trying hard to seem more cosmopolitan but lacking a sophisticated subtlety, which I associate with real Westerness.

When I was in my early twenties, I thought of Ah Lians and Ah Bengs as the ultimate expression of  being low class and wanted to have nothing to do with their aesthetics. I did however flirt with the fashion and aesthetics of White  Trailer Park Trash.  This is despite the fact that Ah Lians and Ah Bengs are the Singaporean Chinese equivalent of White Trash.

I was born, raised and now live in a country that at various times has publicly stated a desire to be a city like New York and London.  The country has also stated desires to be the Zurich of the East, the Massachusetts of the East and so on.  It has, to my knowledge, never stated a desire to emulate a city that does not have a predominantly white population.

It used to be that ads for skin whitening products would feature a model of some lighter brown asian race.  And as the commercial progressed, she would get “fairer”. I just saw a commercial for Rexona whitening deodrant (yes, to lighten your armpits) that featured a Caucasian looking lead model, dancing with her arms in the air, surrounded by Asian dancers whose choreography included forming a circle around the lead, kneeling then kowtowing to her.

4 Responses to “The Amazing Race”
  1. Leyna says:

    This post is amazing. I miss you.

  2. kirsten says:

    Totally get what you mean. I often wonder about this as well – whether I am somehow nurtured/programmed/brainwashed to find white as more “attractive”.

    I’ve had 3 boyfriends and 2 of them were white and 1 Southeast-Asian. I don’t think this necessarily happened because I consciously go for white guys (I guess it’s pretty natural to have dated the 2 white guys seeing I was living in predominantly-white New Zealand at the time), but I have wondered from time to time if I am a bit of an SPG.

    Doesn’t bother me too much, though. I don’t see it as being racist – you are attracted to who you are attracted to – and either way I’ll have to just accept it as part of how things turn out.

    I used to identify with being a banana. But now I think of it slightly differently – I’m a product of my upbringing, and I simply straddle both cultures within this Asian shell. Doesn’t need a fruit label.

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