The West And Asia – Racism And Sauerkraut

One week ago I posted a guest blog about the impression Singaporeans get of Westerners in their country. Without exaggeration the picture painted was not the best. Short summary, the “Ang Mohs” are an “impatient lot” and feel superior in Asia. Well. Let’s see what my opinion about that is.

Two Worlds Apart

The auntie who shares the small elevator with me turns around and starts to stare at me. She’s not glimpsing, not “simply” taking a look, no she’s staring at me. All the way until we reach the ground floor. Just before the doors open I look her deep in the eyes, ask her “If I had a Hamster dancing on my forehead or why she looked at me as if I was an Alien” and then I leave without waiting for an answer. Now that was a great start into my day.

I remember being taught “Not to stare at people” when I was 3 years old. And it’s considered one of the most rude things to do to strangers … in “the West”.

Very obvious there are differences in both cultures that seem to be, and in fact are sometimes, irreconcilable. If two so unique cultures like the Western and the Asian collide with each other, and if as another factor more then one generation is involved, then I would not speak of a culture shock (for both sides) anymore, the result is more of a cultural trauma.

In this case the Auntie who saw the Hamsters dancing on my forehead was probably more shocked about my outburst then I was about her starring. Well auntie, don’t mess with the AngryAngMo.

Asia’s Most European City? Makes No Sense To Me

Singapore claims the “title” for being the most European country of Asia. Why would you do that? Besides giving up your origins every European visiting Singapore would probably testify right on the spot that the two countries are as similar as Durian fruit and Strawberry.(Is Singapore Dangerous?)

They are both places filled with people, you can buy things there and sometimes someone burps out loud in the office.

In one case that person would get asked for a private meeting with his manager in the other case he would get congratulated and 5 seconds later you hear the next one. Louder.

Yes, having visited Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, Singapore is in fact the closest you can get to Europe, but still far from it. And so are the cultures, the habits and the people.

Why comparing at all is my question?

We Tend To Stereotype Each Other

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‘)); ?> Like I just did in the paragraph above. The general problem that occurs in the “clash of cultures” lies in (wrong) pictures build up through years of stereotyping and the general laws of mass psychology. While we always see that the queue other then ours moves faster, we do not realize and remember all the other cases in which it didn’t. Same goes for the people we see around us.(The Singapore Subway – A Jungle In The City)

While I get annoyed about the three Asian guys standing on the right side of the escalator, blocking everyones way, I wont suddenly feel joy about the 10 that don’t.

Now, before I want to get into detail of how far Westerners actually face racism in Singapore and if the behavior described in earlier blog post might simply be the according reaction, I would like to bring this “Asia vs West” topic to an end. We Westerners have the privilege to experience and live in Asia. We should treasure it and try to scope with what ever cultural difference we might get faced as good as possible.

Both sides need to get rid of the stereotype thinking and the impressions build up by bad examples like drunken “Westerners” or so called “ugly Singaporeans”.(Singapore Is Really Strange, Can You Explain Please?)

These exceptions exist on both sides and after 5 whiskey coke there is not much difference between the English hooligan or the Malay “gangster” anymore. Single examples are not enough to justify a over all generalization of the groups. Be they Asian or Western.

Clearly, there will still be issues that remain and that we Westerners will complain about. But dear Singaporean, it’s in the human beings nature to criticize, compare and suggest. And sometimes its even more productive to do so then being reserved and just saying nothing.

The Racism We Face

I was literally shocked about the open and widely existing racism in Singapore. I’m not only talking about racism towards Westerners. But I could start with it. All the starring, the question if we all wear “Lederhosen” and “Dirndl” at home and if we eat anything besides sausages and Sauerkraut, the starring again, the “go Home if you don’t like it” and many many other things.

Singapore EscalatorPhoto by aaayyymmm

Having grown up in the probably most sensitive country towards racism at all, Germany, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I had to tick of if I was “Caucasian” or “Asian” or whatever in my travel documents, when I saw room offers clearly stating they don’t want people of certain nationalities, and so on.

It seems to me that Singapore is stuck in the first half the century in regards to these topics, and the most European city? Far from it, you could get fined and jailed there for any of the above mentioned things.

The Wrong Impression Singaporeans Get .. And Why

So, when Singaporeans experience seemingly “superior feeling Ang Mohs” it is not necessarily that they actually do feel superior (which would be stupid), but the impression given is probably build up through more or less “protective” behavior and a certain amount of skepticism against the local customs and doings, originated in the typical Singaporean behavior they face everyday and much more.. mankind’s general fear of “unknown things” itself.

Best example, myself.

Every morning and evening on my way to work, I really try to stay calm when a wave of (kiasu) people wont let me out of the MRT first. And yes, every now and then I have enough and the first person that plainly shoves me back inside, I shout at “If he is blind or why he ignores the lines on the ground”…Now, if that random person sees me, the Ang Moh, frustrated shouting at him to let him out first, yes, I can imagine that very quickly a (wrong) image of “superior feeling Ang Mohs” gets created.

Let’s Have A Beer Together

In the end it’s taking and giving, learning and also sometimes ignoring. There are certain things I will not stop getting annoyed about, but given the fact that I am guest in another country, makes it at least easier to silently ignore .. and blog about them instead :)

Singaporeans shouldn’t judge so quickly based on the few encounters with “rude Ang Mohs” which I believe are most probably tourists or short term visitors anyway, who, well, behave like tourists behave.

Westerners do in fact think the same about Asian people and their behavior in “their” country as well. Because It’s normal to compare and inspect foreigners behavior much more detailed then our owns, and as long as it doesn’t end in racism, so what.

To end this topic I decided to wear Lederhosen to the office tomorrow and give out free Sauerkraut to my burping colleagues, then we have a beer together and everything is “wunderbar” :)

What Is Your Impression?

How Do you feel about the two posts, first from a Singaporean Point Of View, and now here from the Westerners point of view?

What are your experiences with racism in Singapore and how do you feel, being able to integrate in the local culture, and important, being accepted as well?

Please write down your thoughts in the comments below!

comments

23 Comments

Sherry Ott

I live in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. When they stare, I just blatantly stare back…might as well take a good look when it’s socially acceptable I figure!
Nice article!

gwen

I’m just the opposite of you..a Singaporean living in an ang moh country. And it’s interesting to note that I share many of the same grouses as you do, only it’s the other way round. I live in a city of maybe 100,000, and while it’s big for me having come from Singapore, apparently here, it’s still considered a small city. As such, I get stared at pretty often. Doesn’t help that the other Asians around here are from hard labour workers from China and the Philippines. I just get more looks because I’m not the usual Asian they know. I used to feel like the new animal in the zoo. The situation doesn’t change but how I react to it did.

Having lived in Australia before too, I used to think as well, that no one gets more kiasu than Singaporeans. Here however, the kiasu-ness I try not to condone seems like kid’s play. People mill around postal counters even though there is a number system. Everything is relative..I have felt singled out many times but I don’t think it’s always racism. People from different cultures just have different ways of reacting to strange new things.

AngrySingaporeanChick

I’m 28 years old, Singaporean Chinese. Lived in Singapore all my life. I’ve been a flight stewardess, & stayed in Hong Kong for a year. I am also curious about human behaviors.

I’ve noticed a particular habit with Chinese people in Singapore & Hong Kong. They stare. And they have no qualms about continuing to stare blankly at you even when you make eye-contact with them. It is annoying & rude – and that’s why sometimes there are reports about people getting beaten up for staring. I say go for it. If your parents didn’t teach you any manners, you got to learn it somewhere, somehow.

Sure, the ang moh does his fair share of staring but at least they have the courtesy to smile or look away when you catch them at it.

I think that Singaporeans have rude habits for a country that claims to be cosmopolitan. Our citizens are no where close to comprehending the concept of ‘personal space’ familiar to developed Western cultures (I would not be hasty to include Australians), and neither have they got the open, neighbourly attitudes of the amiable, helpful Filipinos & India’s Indians.

Yes, I have met a good lot of ang mohs who have the more-superior-than-thou-Asian attitude, I also blame the Asian for perpetuating this. If one doesn’t act all servile and intimidated by a Westerner, he would be less likely to assume that you are at his mercy.

I don’t aspire to be a Westerner, but I certainly feel less and less inclined to identify myself as a Singaporean.

I’d really like to know what positive traits identify Singaporeans to the rest of the world? Not the country, Singapore, which is known for it’s apparently clean streets, first-class airport, shopping belt, low-crime rates.

What good traits does the international community associate with the Singaporean citizen? I can’t think of any at this point.

Dinu

Looking for housing recently, I came across a lot of landlords specifically stating that they would not allow tenants of certain races.

Racism/stereotyping/segragation is still a very accepted part of Asian society. When it’s not race it’s caste, and when it’s not that it’s your education, income level, etc.

I’ve never lived in the west, but I’m thinking it’s probably correct to assume that these mindsets would still exist, albiet hidden behind a veil of good manners and political correctness.

Mark

I don’t understand the staring. Never have done. It is not like Singapore is a place that doesn’t have any ang mohs.

For example: I can understand staring if I’m in the middle of a farm in some rural part of China where they’ve never seen white people before, but Singapore? The country is full of ang mohs and it is not like they are anything novel.

guojun

I study in Germany, and one of the most often questions from children: “esst ihr auch Schlangen?”

But oh well. kids.

la nausée

The racism and xenophobia is also in part the government’s fault, whether it’s the official ‘CMIO’ classification, the trumping up of ‘Asian values’ (and the putting down of Western ‘decadence’), the refusal to condone any ‘foreign interference’ in ‘domestic politics’, and so on. And neither is the alleged racism targeted only at ‘ang mohs’, it’s also directed at other minority groups as well. The problem is that the government doesn’t recognize it as bigotry per se, but deals with it as a public order problem (as if the default position here is ‘racial harmony’); thus, prejudice and discrimination are allowed to fester unchecked.

Daniel

I’ve wondered if the word “ang moh” itself has a more negative connotation associated with it than “Caucasian”or “white person” in Singapore. When being treated professionally or respectfully, no one calls me “ang moh”. There are a number of blog entries by Singaporeans who have negative things to say about Caucasians, but I have yet to see a single negative blog entry where we are called Caucasians. “Ang moh” is always exclusively used in negative blogs, but both “Caucasian” and “ang moh” are both used in positive/neutral blogs. Why is that? Anyway, having a slightly pejorative word targeted at only a single race in common usage is a bit unusual in the world.

Red11

To Daniel:

“Ang Moh” is derived from two Chinese words, which translates literally into “Red Hair” in English. It’s been in use since a couple of hundred years ago when the first Europeans were spotted in China, and I guess indicates the visual impression that the Chinese have of the typical Caucasian.

In the past, there is usually also a sense of associated barbarism when the words are used…

Daniel

To red11, I know. I can speak Chinese (Mandarin only though). Sometimes I have heard extremely nasty things uttered in Mandarin about “ang mohs” when I was nearby. It made me feel really awful but I just said nothing. They didn’t think an “ang moh” might actually be able to understand them. Things like:

“That ang moh probably got a SPG as his wife, even though he’s not very good looking.”

That said with my little girl sitting next to me.

YJ

Interesting article but I hate to point it out that while westerners in Asian countries get stereotyped as dickwads, or merely get stared at, Asians in western countries get things thrown at them, beaten up, or lynched. Oh ok, maybe not the lynching but you know what I mean. Sure, we’re offensive but outright racism, you know the kind where they throw Molotov cocktails at you or burn your shop down for fun? That doesn’t happen here.

Nino

So what if people stare?? OMG, you are so sensitive! That’s racism for you? Bring some of your Singaporean friends to East Germany and they will have some not so pleasant encounters with staring, but with fists of angry skinheads. How can Singapore be racist, if their country is so diverse, Chinese, Malays, Indians and Westerners live together without conflicts. Well, in a city of nearly 5 million ppl, you’ll always find few racists or ignorant people, but don’t generalize things and don’t be such a sissy. So what if people think you eat sausages and sauerkraut and wear lederhosen? I mean, so many Germans do that, don’t they? Will a Chinese person be offended if you ask him if he eats rice? And yea, I’m from the West, too, I’ve been in Singapore as well. And if you complain so much, leave. I’d say the same to a Singaporean who lived in Germany and would write a whiny little blog full of complaints. I wonder why so many expats are such grumblers and write so many blogs complaining about the country they chose to live in. Maybe some of you now see how Asians or Black people feel in Europe, when they face way harsher racism and ignorance.

Brad F.

First of all, it’s really not that off for a person of Chinese descent to stare at someone. In Chinese culture it’s quite alright to stare at a person, to lean over their shoulder and read their paper or book, to examine what’s on their table for lunch, or to ask personal questions of a stranger. She was just curious. It has nothing to do with her mother teaching her good manners or bad manners. It’s just a point of culture. Don’t be a jerk. Be more accepting of foreign culture when you’re in a foreign country. You can’t bring your home culture with you. You have to adapt and blend into your new environment, or as much as possible anyways. Then again, maybe she just thought you were cute and wanted you to ask her out?

“Well auntie, don’t mess with the AngryAngMo.” All I can say is… Wow. Or what? You’ll beat her up?

Your generalization that Singaporeans categorize all Westerners as drunks and hooligans is a bit childish. That’s like an insult to their intelligence. Personally, I think Singaporeans get a good enough education to at the least recognize a stereotype.

Why does it shock or offend you if people ask you regularly if you eat certain foods in Germany? Singapore is open to foreigners but there aren’t that many here yet that every Singaporean has had a chance to talk to one. I’m sure they’re just as curious about your home country as you were about theirs before moving to Singapore. It’s only natural that they would be interested in German customs, cuisine, and habits.

Why would travel documents asking what race you are shock you? “Race” is a standard question on government forms in most countries, though in some answering is optional. As for general racism in Singapore, there’s no more than there is anywhere else in the world that I’ve lived, and I’ve been around. I’ve lived in 6 countries and more than a dozen US cities.

I don’t think you shouting about being let out of the train first is going to give someone an impression that you think you’re superior. Everyone complains about that in Singapore. At most, that might let other people on the train know that you’ve lived in Singapore for a while and are used to the daily hardships.

I think you were really stretching here to find something to write about. If you wanted to write about real racism you could have written about the tensions between Singapore and foreign workers from 3rd world countries. Racism is more a word used to describe when someone belittles you for who you are. What you’re talking about seems more like innocent ignorance or people expecting you to live up to common stereotypes until you prove otherwise.

I personally have none of these problems. I’m polite to people, strike up conversations, smile when someone looks at me, answer questions about the US with an open mind because the asker probably really doesn’t know or wants an “insider” opinion.

I think you need to loosen up a bit. Nothing you’ve mentioned is serious, and if you walk around all day worrying over such small things, you’re going to turn into a nervous wreck.

Dennis

I am a Chinese Singaporean who have lived in Europe before. Racism exist everywhere in varying degrees. I have experienced many acts of racism when I was in Europe. I have great expat friends in Singapore but I also know many expats who are parochial, racist, think highly of themselves and keep to themselves. It does not help to put other people down in blogs or on the street. Each of us should just try our best to love our neighbour wherever we are and avoid prejudices as far as we can.

Brad F.

You ever planning on posting my comment or do you only post the ones that you agree with?

Bicky

Liebe Herr Angry Angmo

I’m Singaporean and live in Germany – the direct opposite of you.

While I fully agree it is extremely annoying that you get stared at, it is even more insulting to be snubbed at.

Among my experiences are :

1.Being totally ignored by Germans at service-counters
2.Being stared at and then obviously commented upon by disapproving Germans
3. Being pulled out by German airport police and questioned right at the arrival gate of the airport just because I flew in from Cuba and was the only yellow face among all whites
4. Being betted upon by the RMV officers if I had possibly underpaid for my train ticket
5. By being treated as if I was a “catalogue woman” from Thailand
6. By being bullied by the Station Manager at the airport while waiting for my flight to Singapore
7. Being tossed like a piece of lettuce in a salad bowl just trying to get an insurance card
8. Being pushed aside at queues by Germans without any “enschuldigung”

These are a few of my experiences among many others.

Of course there are nice Germans as well. That makes up for the misgivings.

This whole world is one big pot of hypocriscy. No one is spared from prejudice. We just live in denial of our own guilty contributions, that’s all.

Grusse….

Christie

I am a Eurasian young adult, meaning I’m Mixed. (German, Nonya, and a tad bit Thai) I totally agree with the fact that they treat us like outsiders, and the thing is because they are totally arrogant to the things that are happening today. My mother has been trying to explain to me for nearly 3 years (that’s how long I’ve been stuck in this hell hole) that it’s ok, but she to has given up. She actually realized she’s not affected by it because she is totally asian looking. I’m totally european looking! So basically I get nasty comments everywhere I go. Just because I can speak proper English, I get attacked. Just because I feel people should respect rules and hygiene (ppl should not pick their noses and smear!! OR BURP OUT LOUD IN PUBLIC) I get attacked.

It’s really sad to say that I’m a Singaporean. I want to give up my passport. Really, Singapore has turned into a ugly nation in general. (I’m always cheated, or pushed into the center of hdb talk “omg, no she’s a hooker…and that man is not her dad, it’s her husband and that girl is not her sister but her daughter”) I’m going to use a phrase that may insult a few people but what the heck. Let’s be open about this. It’s actually a chinese thing AhBings+ Ahlians use: “KKNSB”

A.I

I used to live in Holland for more than three years. I still remember coming home from school one day crying after a bunch of kids on bikes spat on me . A few adults saw it happened. But, they just shrugged their shoulders and went about their business. It was sad…I never really understood why I was spat at and why no one came to my defence until one day I learned a new word: RACISM

admin

thanks for all your great comments, I’m glad we came to a point of reasonable discussion about this serious issue..

between2worlds

i see that i’m late for this discussion, but i chanced upon this blog, while googling for racism in singapore, being a singaporean but haven’t lived there for almost ten years. i just have to add my 2-cents’ worth.

guess what, i get stared at too when i lived in singapore and when i visit! and i’m a singaporean chinese! and i get stared here in nyc too.. BY CHINESE people!

it’s a phenomenon i’ve experienced my whole life. no explanation for it, maybe it’s cultural, i don’t know. i do know that asians, including myself, stare a lot. sometimes, my non-asian husband would tell me he caught me staring too. i can’t speak for all asians, i can only speak for myself. i’m curious. not mean, just curious. i am curious about what race a person is, since i live in nyc, it’s a great melting pot, and i play a game in my head about how many races live here in a somewhat civilised manner. i am not being racist when i stare, i’m curious. maybe it’s rude, but i definitely have no racist intentions.

i was in italy and i was STARED TO DEATH on a 2 or 3 hour train ride from Firenze to Roma, by an elderly italian (i think) lady sitting across from me. i smiled at her to no avail.. she continued her stare. she would break it once in a while to speak to, i assume, her husband, and then go back to staring at me.

my very limited life experience seem to tell me that we humans are definitely very curious creatures. there are definitely some people who are obvious racists, but then there are those of us who are just quintessentially curious about life around us, amazed at how this world can contain so many types of us.

the only place i NEVER received any stares is when i lived in hawaii, except that i was mistaken for a korean by a korean lady who tried to talk to me in korean. i didn’t think she was racist, i think she was trying to engage, trying to relate.

just my 2-cents’ worth of thought.

Oswald Chong

I live in the US now and traveled to Europe as a tourist (backpacker). These are my 2 cents. Once a person leaves his/her comfort zone, everything else will seem foreign. Singapore has a form of “open racism”, which is normally harmless, even though most people feel that it’s very touchy and uncomfortable. Labeling a race is a very common practice in Singapore. We all know what Chinese, Malay and Indian call the other races… Ang Moh is just another one. Yes, it is racist, but it is not harmful. The stare is cultural. You cannot take away that stare, it’s part of the culture. I have a friend who visited me here in the US, and he never said thanks to the waitress who served him, and never let others through the door first, and while we were eating at the restaurant, he bluntly said “caucasians are very different”… in short, he’s blunt. I used to be like that, but become more sensitive after staying in the US for many years. I’m still the same person, but my behavior changes to fit into local cultures. As a professor, I’m still being thought of as a student. Many staffs still thought that I’m a student at the university, and refuse to provide services for me. I felt hurt at first, but got used to it. I wrote research papers and everytime when it’s not double blind (names and title blanked), I was always asked to correct my English. I was often told by my colleagues that English is not my native language (imagine my own colleagues). Of course, they don’t dare to call me any racist names… thanks to their history. Singapore and most part of Asian don’t have a history of slavery, and extreme racism (like barring other races from entering a facility). Thus, it’s not that it’s backward on racism, but there isn’t a need to implement those harsh measures to eliminate racist attitudes. People just won’t understand the need for it. Just like most Americans do not feel the need to capture Osama Bin Laden before two planes flew into WTC. Europe and America feel the need to eliminate harsh racism that were quite shameful, so most part of Asia doesn’t feel the need.

I got paid less than Caucasians (even from Europe) by my department…. well, they know they can hire an Asian for less.

Did I ever complain? Nope. I really hope that the high paying Caucasians in Singapore know that once you leave your comfort zone, things are always different. Just enjoy the days when you’re there. It’s not racism. It’s just culture. Every country is different. I left Singapore because I felt that Singaporeans are complaining too much, but my absence made me change my thoughts… most foreigners also complain a lot. Cheers.

wu

about the staring, it really depends on where you are. if you are somewhere ulu, people will be more surprised to see angmoh and stare at you! similarly, in europe i get stared at all the time unless i’m in a major city – london being the least stared at place because it is just such a huge melting pot of races.

i think singaporean’s racism is very harmless. as the song in the musical “avenue Q” goes: everyone is a little bit racist. my take has always been, we’re different. yes we’re all human, but at the end of the day, we’re different. i know stereotyping and generalisation is politically incorrect – but there is a reason how these generalisations came about! generalisations also help us be more efficient. for example when i lived in the uk and was renting flats, i looked out for german and japanese flatmates because i wanted a clean and tidy flat. yes, not all germans and japanese are clean and tidy, but the probability is in my favour.

in singapore, we are very aware of our different races, but i think this makes us more aware of caring about each other’s different beliefs etc. which leaves us to leave more harmoniously. having grown up among different races has already trained us to be fundamentally tolerant towards our differences, and so i truly believe that the fact that we are comfortable making racist jokes about one another, means we are so above racism that we know our friends won’t feel offended. i think this is so much truer than in some places where we appear so tolerant to one another (eg UK and US firms constantly stress that their companies support ethnic diversity, there are loads of programmes to provide additional support of the ethnic minorities..), but when push comes to shove, i don’t expect them to treat everyone the same.

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