Race matters, Singapore-style

1) A Chinese calligraphy competition shall entail the participation of non-Chinese staff (I assume the rationale was to give non-Chinese staff the opportunity to get down and dirty in the celebration of a festival that's ostensibly not theirs).

2) I receive a phone call inviting me to take part in the competition, on account of my double-barrelled, maybe-she's-non-Chinese last name.

3) I point out that I studied Chinese in school for twelve years --- though if you've seen me write Chinese characters, you'd realise I wouldn't necessarily possess any competitive advantage in this exercise. Well, it seems my education background is moot in this case, so I shrug and allow myself to be dragooned into Chinese calligraphy for the first time since those messy school art classes when I was nine or ten.

4) About a half hour before the competition --- and remember that this is a tiny little thing to celebrate the New Year at work, it's not like I was representing my organisation or country on an international stage or anything --- I'm asked if I'm in fact non-Chinese or if I just married one. Okay, so my double-barrelled last name is admittedly ambiguous, but does it at all matter? I already 'fessed up that I studied the language for twelve years. For better or for worse, my answer of, "I'm non-Chinese on paper" seems to satisfy them, so a short while later ...

5) I'm on stage for the competition, with four colleagues who fit to a T the dictionary definition (at least in Singapore) of non-Chinese. Given how Chinese I look, I bet all the kids are wondering what I'm doing up here --- well, all except the class that's already heard my rant about how the government insists on pigeonholing citizens into the Chinese/Malay/Indian/Others categories with all the subtlety of a five-hundred-pound mallet.

Y'know, in other countries, deciding whether a person can participate in a competition based on their race would likely constitute a case of ethnic discrimination. In Singapore, it's par for the course.


At 2/14/2005 5:19 am , Blogger Agagooga said...

The perils of social engineering...

At 2/15/2005 7:41 am , Blogger Benjamin Kong said...

Or you can call it affirmative action. :P

At 7/17/2006 10:31 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only just read this but I understand what you mean. :)


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