This morning a friend shared this facebook post by Zhang Jingna (@zemotion), which I found to be eloquent and heartfelt. Zhang Jingna is an amazingly talented Singaporean-Chinese photographer with global recognition for her beautiful works. She came to Singapore from China when she was a young child and used to study at Raffles Girls’ School, the top elite school in Singapore.
And she said this–QUOTE:
“I thought the xenophobia I experienced as a child was just a number out of a pool of random experiences. Surely, I would grow up to be in better company than the strangers who told me I was about the same as shit, or that I would always be of the lowest classes of citizens compared to local-born Singaporeans. I was wrong.
The hating on foreign nationals on my feed has reached a point where I am beginning to feel sick. To realize that some of these people are ones that I had once worked with makes it all the more painful.”
So today I want to write a quick post on the ONE reason why some foreigners or foreign-born Singaporean might find sunny Singapore to be a cold, cold place.
It is this:
Whenever a foreigner or foreign-born Singaporean says something he/she personally does not like about Singapore, some Singaporeans will respond by calling him/her “ungrateful”.
This is regardless of the foreigners’ argumentation or explanation of context/ situation. Because,
“Dare say anything bad about Singapore? You’re ungrateful!!! “
A Fictional Scenerio
Let’s say you have lunch with your foreigner colleagues, or some foreign-born Singaporeans. Then this guy with foreign nationality says the following in his foreign accented English–
“Oh do pardon me for saying this, but have you read the news today? I’m shocked that 16-year-old Amos Yee was persecuted for making provocative videos! The Singaporean government should be more humane and I do pity Singaporeans for lacking in freedom of expression and thought.”
Possible reactions by some Singaporeans
(A) [If the foreigner is angmoh] “Wha lao! Not happy go back to your own country lah. Complain and whine so much for what! Our Singaporean government spent so much money on you and your pay is probably much higher than mine leh! Angmoh just know how to talk cock! YOU ARE AN UNGRATEFUL FOREIGNER. PUI.”
(B) [If the foreigner is not angmoh] “Wha lao! Not happy go back to your own country lah. Complain and whine so much for what! Your own country pay is probably nowhere near Singapore’s level! You foreigners just know how to talk cock! YOU ARE AN UNGRATEFUL FOREIGNER. PUI.”
(C) “So? Your country is in recession. Singapore will not go down that path. Can you stop being so ungrateful?”
Actually I think the guy who says this should be angmoh lah. HAHAHA /stereotypes. Personally, my foreign Asian friends seldom preach freedom of expression, probably due to “Asian values “, political ideologies championed by PM Lee Kuan Yew and Dr. Mahathir.
Interpretation: So you see, if some Singaporeans start to call foreigners “ungrateful” whenever foreigners sincerely express something about Singapore they personally don’t like, it comes to a point where OBVIOUSLY, the foreigner/ foreign-born Singaporean will feel ostracised, won’t he?
Because every single simple thing he personally does not like about Singapore is marked as “ungrateful” and he gets chided with phrases like “aiyah not happy, go back to your own country lah”.
Actually, most vocal foreigners/ foreign-born Singaporeans are NOT ungrateful. This is because they usually don’t gain any benefit from speaking out. On the contrary, the fact that they are speaking out shows their hearts– that they are actually very grateful people who want to make a possible positive change to Singapore, to make Singapore a more inclusive country.
This is consistent, because if any Member of the Parliament were to invite these “ungrateful” foreigners to drink coffee, I personally think these foreigners or foreign-born Singaporeans will be happy to head initiatives to make Singapore a more inclusive place.
Because their hearts are in and with Singapore!
Perhaps, it is not some foreigners who are ungrateful. Rather, it is some Singaporeans–including myself from time to time– who can be rather bad listeners.
So instead of thanking people for sharing their views which empowers you to broaden your own worldview, there is a tendency to call label speakers of differing opinions as “ungrateful”.
What is this ah?
The real trouble-makers are people like foreign-born Singaporean Han Hui Hui, because it seems like she is being anti-government for the sake of being anti-government. So to her, the SG government is ALWAYS bad and evil, because that IS her career~
But I think most vocal foreigners are actually just sincerely stating what they think and sharing their opinions. So dear folks, let’s stop calling foreigners/ foreign-born “ungrateful” before really taking the time to listen to them, yes? I do see the accusation of ingratitude as the weakest argumentative defence to any form of discourse on national identity. It’s low, very low.
What to do instead
Possible reaction #1: Acknowledge their opinion and seek further clarification.
A possible script to use would be “Wow, that is an interesting perspective, so in your opinion a 16-year-old can say whatever he wants without any consequences, even at the risk of offending the public at large? Can you tell me more?”
Then PINCH and humble yourself to listen and learn.
Possible reaction #2: Change your mindset.
A discourse or friendly discussion is not about “winning” or “losing”. It is about agreeing to disagree in a polite, gracious manner, and even about changing positions to reach a middle ground somewhere.
I don’t know where most Singaporeans get the idea that discourse is all about winning the argument. Even I used to be like that in the past.
But no, a discussion is about acknowledging the diverse perspectives and reactions. It is having the maturity to say “ah, so this is how you would feel–and possibly even I would feel–if I were placed in your context”.
For, feelings are real, and perceptions/ perspectives can never be “wrong”. We can all have different interpretations to events, you know, and all these experiences can be equally valid.
SO yes! If you want foreigners/ foreign-born Singaporeans to feel more at home at Singapore, please stop this “ungrateful foreigner” nonsense ok? Instead, learn to listen, humble yourself and acknowledge their perspectives.
A discussion is not about winning lah haiyo. It is about understanding experiences.
Okay bye I got to go work.
P/S. I got to end with a fangirl rave. I like Zhang Jingna a lot leh! Her works are so so so so so so so beautiful. For instance, look at this:
Wha lao, with a Singaporean like that, how can anyone not be proud to be a Singaporean?
I personally know of two National University of Singapore juniors who adored her, her works and regarded her as a role model. She inspired them so much that they decided to take the road less taken to pursue their own “non-conventional” artistic dreams in Japan today. =)