At the beginning of the year I spent in Singapore (2006-2007), I often heard Singaporeans remark on how “the damn foreigners are taking over our country, especially those from China.” I found that funny since a white person once muttered the same thing about me and my Singaporean friends (“damn Chinese taking over”) on our way to New York from Toronto. Don’t hate too much on foreigners, I thought every time I heard a Singaporean complain. After all, if you go overseas, you’ll be a damn foreigner too.
I loved Singapore because it was so diverse in its Chineseness. The Chinese Singaporeans, the Chinese Malaysians like myself, and ethnic Chinese born in nearby Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam; we were all there. There were also handfuls of ABCs and CBCs and BBCs and European Chinese and South American Chinese and my friend the Tahitian Chinese. Singapore was a unique place created by the Chinese diaspora, and continued to draw the Chinese diaspora to its shores — it was Chinese diaspora central! I also felt at home there because it was the one country in the world where I felt truly comfortable as an English and Manglish/Singlish-speaking overseas Chinese. Finally, I was in a place where the majority population looked like me and spoke like me too.
But as time passed, I started feeling a disparity — it certainly seemed like there were more mainland Chinese than other Chinese foreigners in Singapore. I also started consuming Singaporean media which was full of negative stories of “PRC Chinese” shenanigans. Although I was surrounded by many mainland Chinese friends — after all, four of my nine housemates were from China – I started getting irritated at this large group of faceless people in the news, the “other PRCs” who threatened to undermine my paradise, those who weren’t appreciating Singapore, those who were seemingly just up to no good. I would get irritated whenever someone who “sounded PRC” bumped into me on the subway, cut in front of me in a queue, trotted around with an old Singaporean uncle. Forget about being bound by our common ancestry – anyone too different from me, from us, from our values, was frowned upon. Today, I know full well that positive encounters I had with mainland Chinese greatly outnumbered any negative ones, but at the time, my prejudice grew.
And then my time in Singapore was up. Little did I know that two years later, I would be living in China.
I’ve been here two years, the typical overseas Chinese girl who has gone back to her ancestral land. I am in a place where the majority population look like me, but speak none of my tongues in a familiar way. The Christine in Singapore who frowned on the “PRCs” could never have imagined this experience. I am amongst people who at times live up to the worst mainland Chinese stereotypes out there, but then shatter those stereotypes with their kindness and humanity, their sense of humor and compassion. I am here now, and Singapore and those former prejudices feel very far away.
At least, until this afternoon, when I saw this:
Netizens are in an uproar after a netizen received a letter stating that there are now nearly 1 million Chinese nationals in Singapore.
This comes as a shock to many netizens, who until now, were not aware of the actual numbers of Chinese nationals in Singapore.
The netizen had received a letter for his application to UnionPay, a Nets Value-added service.
In the letter, UnionPay terms itself as “the preferred mode of payment for the nearly 1 million Chinese nationals living and working/studying in Singapore”.
Many believe the stated numbers are accurate as UnionPay is a reputable multi-national company.
According to a population census dated September 2010, Singapore’s population currently stands at about 5.07 million. That makes nearly one in five here a Chinese national.
Netizens largely react with shock and dismay to this news, calling it a “staggeringly huge number”, others worry that the number of Chinese national immigrants will continue to increase, leading to further overcrowding in public transport.
Many also remark that Chinese nationals may not be familiar with Singapore’s culture and could erode social graciousness.
If true, this news comes as a shock to me as well. Knowing that there are “many mainland Chinese” in Singapore is one thing; being given a figure like 1 million — when your country’s population is only 5 million — is something else. I can understand why Singaporeans are upset. Take away the mainland Chinese aspect and replace it with “nearly 1 million eskimos are living in Singapore” and you would still get an uproar. Tell any country a fifth of its people are all from one other place, and you’d get a strong reaction. It’s not so much hating on PRCs and more about uncertainty over your own identity, isn’t it?
The heated debate continues, much of it focused on relaxed immigration as a political move, and discussion of Singapore-China relations now that Singapore is “on its way” to becoming “Chinapore.” As an outsider who is neither Singaporean nor mainland Chinese despite the affinity I feel for both places, I only have a detached concern. My interest is primarily in how the average Singaporean’s hostility to “invaders” in large numbers is nothing new; the people in Diaspora @ chinaSMACK write about the hardships and hostilities involved in migration every day. And yet it’s fascinating how the “Other” in Singapore’s case is people from the same racial/ancestral roots as the country’s majority population. I’m trying to imagine Americans in an uproar over “too many whities” trying to come into the US. I really can’t.