Friday, November 23, 2007

Foreigners in the midst

Lately, there has been some discussion about foreigners in our midsts. Some of these foreigners have expressed the need for the 'locals' to show them consideration and kindness. Apparently, some locals are treating the foreigners in our midst as the plague incarnate, especially people who are of a different colour, or a different social status (read: construction labourers and the kind).

I have noticed over the last year or so that more Indians, most likely foreign born, are sharing the subway train space with me to and from work. There are also many who, on first appearance, look Chinese, like me, but they give away their true identity when they speak - some tongue that sounded Korean or Japanese, or a tongue-twisting Mandarin that suggests that they are China immigrants. And then there are some darker skinned people (brownish-tanned) who would have looked like my father, who worked under the hot sun most of his life, but who, again, on speaking, revealed that they are probably Indo-Chinese. And then there are those foreigners who have been with us for ages - the Philippinos and the Hong Kongers, the Malaysians (especially Malaysian Chinese) and the AngMos (Caucasians). Each of these speak a distinct language or have distinct tones in their speech that sets them apart.

Truly, Singapore is now a metropolis, and some would say, a melting-pot of diverse races and dialects. It is not hard to wonder why there is increasing friction among the locals and the foreigners. Perhaps this is something new to most people, but for me, this is old hat, for I grew up in the Naval Base which had races and nationals of all types. There were those Indian bachelors who lived in one room hostels with a common bath and toilet, there were Malays and Indians with families living in our midst (I had an Indian family for a neighbour). There were Chinese from Shanghai, speaking the Shanghainese dialect, Babas (a mix of Chinese and Malays), the Sikhs and so on. We all lived quite peaceably. In fact, whenever a race celebrated its special day (Deepavali, Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, etc.), our parents would send some of their delicacies to each other for the occasion. This is just one of those bonuses that children, like myself, benefited immensely from, not to mention that we children often formed teams to play 'rounders' the whole day. And because most of us children went to neighbourhood schools, we'd meet up there again as a community, sitting beside each other in class, learning from the same teachers, playing together again in the fields during recess time. So 'foreigners in the midst' is quite common for me.

However, this level of communal living has become rare as Singaporeans took to high-rise apartment living, which picked up pace in the 1970s. There is probably no two generations of Singaporeans who are not used to living among people of a different race. This is a great pity, though this is mitigated by the fact that they continue to see each other in schools.

I was sad when a bunch of Singapore Chinese students told me that they are averse to going to India, compared to, say China or Korea. When probed, the 'black' word came out. Colour is a fact, and nobody needs to be ashamed of or be self-conscious about it. Many hold prejudices precisely because they haven't been living around other peoples as a community. One may live next door but never know what the neighbour's surname is after 10 years! Foreigners need to understand this about Singaporeans. It isn't that they are hostile or rude, its just the way they grew up, in insular pigeon-hole-like apartments.

As for me, I welcome foreigners in our midst, if only because it lends vibrancy to the community, and hearing the different tongues brings back a lot of childhood memories.

1 comment :

onlooker said...

And some are very Environmentally Friendly too. They ride Bike to work and didn't take public transport. Getting Fit and saving money at the same time. We must learn from them.