#125 a chinese by descent

Interesting that BBC’s James Reynolds sought readers to name 10 top-list about China or people of China.

He prefaced that he wrote for his own people…I wonder about the average English interests in the things of the East or China if not for those negatives that happened in UK and Europe like the recent Olympic Torch protests.

Many young Britishers like their forefathers travelled to Asia to find ‘gold’ as there are greater opportunities today.

Understanding China is still a huge and challenging puzzle…even for a Chinese in the diaspora — our views are so diverse.

I belong to the migrant class of Chinese parents living in Southeast Asia. My father wanted a better life, away from the corrupt and politically unstable nation he was born during the 2nd World War.

I was brought up at a time when Singapore was the new nation. Our focus was on nation-building and a people belonging to Singapore.

My immigrant parents always considered themselves Chinese and hoped to return to China one day until the Cultural Revolution in the mid-sixties…it was then they made Singapore their adopted home. Resulting, they never talked about China or educating us on the things of Chinese.

Naturally I grew up knowing only Singapore and always regard self as Singaporean rather than Chinese. It was when I worked and lived in Hongkong in early 80s that I experienced identity crisis. The HKs saw me a Chinese as yellow-skinned but when I claimed I’m a Singaporean, they could not understand — in fact I experienced some form of hostility and frown upon. However one interesting phenomenon was at official counters, when I started to speak English, I was served hand-and-foot, otherwise these HK officers would bully or deride one who cannot speak Cantonese! You see HK was a colonial island, like Singapore before Singapore became a nation.

Then, I realise I’m a Singaporean of Chinese descent. But this does not make me Chinese as I didn’t know the culture or able to identify with things of Chinese, coming from the diverse cultures in Southeast Asia, though culturally rootless I am. 

Strangely when studying in Sydney (Australia), I was not aware of my difference as I spoke and think English and my caucasian Aussie friends never made me feel different either. During the school breaks I was invited to join life in Aussie families.

You see I’m one of the new Singaporeans where our national leaders’ vision was to unite the different races to become one — one for all and all for one. I grew up not aware of the color differences during my primary school days in an English-stream school.

In those days, there were the Chinese-stream schools. If one studied in such schools, there was only one race, Chinese. The minorities like Malays and Indians do have their schools but there were few.

Parents proudly put their children in the English-stream schools. Some time in the 70s, Chinese schools entered the mainstream as those educated in Chinese-stream found difficulty in getting satisfactory jobs. So the policy changed accordingly.

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