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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why you so dark??

When I was a little girl in Malaysia, no one had ever asked me that question. In fact, I don't remember anyone asking me that question when I was living in Malaysia.

But in Singapore, I get questions and statements like; "Are you Chinese or Malay?", "Why you so dark?", "Oh, I thought you are Malay.", "Eh? You can speak Chinese ah..?". Those were heard very often when I was a little girl till adulthood. My parents have tan skin so I am borned with tan skin and gets darker very quickly in the sun. I'm lucky in a sense that I don't get sunburn even without sunscreen. When I was in primary school, I joined the school brass band. We had to march after school every afternoon in the field because of a national school competition. Some of my friends got heat stroke and fainted while marching. I also took part in the track and field races, so had to practice in the sun too. And I love running around in the sun with my neighbours in the kampong too :) In the end I had really dark, shining skin!

                                                        My brother and I on my 11th birthday.

I had to explain that I am actually a Chinese girl to almost everybody I meet. Students in school, taxi drivers, hawkers....etc. I guess, I needn't have to explain if I am more fluent in my Malay language. People I meet usually speak Malay to me, but once I started to converse in Malay, they would begin to ask me those questions. I don't mind explaining, but it became annoying when no one believes I am Chinese after I reveal my true identity! So I learn to go with the flow....

During my preU days, I'll just say I have a Hawaiian mum and everyone believed me! When I was a flight attendant with SIA, I remember speaking Mandarin to a group of Taiwanese elderly passengers during meal time, they were so surprised and asked me where did I learn to speak Mandarin so well!! I told them I learn it from friends :) No one had even noticed my name tag that says, 'Eileen Wong'. One of them was so impressed that she wanted to introduce her son in Taipei to me! LOL....

And then, when I started taking Russell out to the playground, people thought, I was an Indonesian or Philipino maid, LOL! No, I wasn't offended because most kids in Singapore are taken care of by their Indonesian or Philipino maids, so it's easy to make that mistake. But I was a little mad once when I went to pick up Jonah from his preschool. Usually, his class teacher sees them off at the gate but that day she had to attend to something and left the role to her assistant. When Jonah said he didnt get the files that some of his classmates received, I approached the teacher assistant to find out why. She looked fiercely at Jonah and scorned at me saying the children has been informed that the files will be given out on teacher-parent meet day. I was shocked at her reaction but decided against creating a scene in front of all the other children. I spoke to the teacher the next day about the incident. She apologised and admitted that her assistance had also told her about it and had thought I was Jonah's maid! I met the assistance after that in Jonah's classroom. I was there to look at all the children's displayed artworks. She was especially nice to me and greeted me with all smiles but I've already seen her truth self and had no respect for someone like her anymore. I don't understand......can't maids be respected too?

Jonah and me when he was 4 and half years old.

Another incident was when my Uncle passed away a few years ago. I was at the funeral wake talking to some of the guests and one of them asked my niece whose maid was I! She was so embarrassed when she heard the answer and quickly said "oh, no wonder she so pretty...". I don't understand....can't maids be pretty too?

Another time, my husband took me and the kids shopping and movie. That was when Russell was just a toddler and Jonah was just a baby in a sarong sling I was carrying. We bumped into one of his friend. After a short conversation with him, he admitted to my husband that he had been wondering why my husband was taking the maid to the movie before knowing I was actually the wife!
Once, an Ah Pek (Chinese old man) pump attendant at the gas station blowing me kisses when my husband left the car to pay for the petrol. You see, when my kids were still very young, I would sit behind with them in our car just in case they need assistance. Many maids in Singapore usually sit behind their pay master with the kids so I guessed they thought I was one too. Cheeky old man!

These days, many Philipinos are joining our professional work force in Sinapore. I have met many of these engineers, nurses, singers, hairdressers and health workers. And these days, I get a lot of, "Are you from Philipines?" from them :) Maybe it's time to learn some tagalog....

Good thing about not looking like a Chinese is that I don't get harrassed by touters when I was in Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila :) I can walk around freely looking at things I like. It's also a conversation starter whenever I meet new people :) Most people apologised for mistaking me as maids or not Chinese but it doesn't really bother me as long as they treat me with respect. Anyway, nothing's wrong being other races. The truth is, which I learned from my mom only in recent years was that her father was from Chinese and Thai mixed descendants. No it's clearer now, and it's easier to explain why I look like the way I look :)

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