Friday, June 27, 2008

Rather Full

I had dinner with a group of Singaporeans today. A rather close-knit group that meets up every Thursday evening for dinner followed by dessert and coffee.

There are a lot of conveniences involved in mixing with people that come from the same country as you. The accent, the jargon, the language, and there's no need to provide background stories or explain cultural differences.

But the life I have here is so different from theirs. They cannot believe I travel around via public transport on my own. They still talk with the assumption that I live in a fully-furnished house - giving me tips on microwaving, what shows are on television tonight etc. I told them I expect to spend Friday doing a lot of laundry since I have little time during the week for the chore. But then one of them said it was easy - dump it into the washing machine and let it hang indoors. I had no choice but to reveal that I didn't have said machine, and that I have to hang my clothes on the roof. Which means I have to be home, waiting for it to dry - because no one's going to save them when the rain comes.

I lamented to my friend here, No matter how hard I try, even to the people that know me, I will always be bideshi - foreign. I didn't want to be treated like an alien, not by my friends. But I know there are just some differences that can never be bridged. I believe that my fellow Singaporeans are quite glad to be bideshi.

I got off the huge car (they insisted on sending me back because god forbid I get mugged) some distance away from my place, and walked back. And I felt so unsettled, because instead of the feeling happy to have been with 'my' people, I felt like a foreigner all over again.

An old man was squatting outside the grocery shop, and a young puppy was playing by itself behind him. I got my supplies (eggs, water, butter) and stood there for a minute just to look -- the old man was now laughing and playing with the puppy, trying to entice it closer with a box of matches (???). A young boy stood close by, giggling at the scene. I couldn't help but laugh out loud, thinking of how all my the photographic cliches were now brought together (old people, animals, kids). I stood there for a long time, really, because I generally don't leave scenes that make me smile.

And I know I've been griping about life here, but tonight made me realise that I don't want that kind of gripe-free life -- filled with facilities and golfing and chartered tours and trips to expensive restaurants and personal drivers. I much prefer my own imperfect, tedious and uncomfortable arrangement. I cannot imagine being shut out of this city that way, to not have seen the things I have seen, met the people I have met, felt the way this city makes you feel. They may have been based here for longer than I have, but they have never truly lived in this city.

Of course, I'm not delusional enough to think that I have had the hardcore local life - of course I haven't. I have lattes and pasta, I buy cheese and imported juices. But I like to think that I still walk the same street as they do, feeling the same stones beneath my feet, and getting as close as I could possibly get while still being myself.


Tym said...

Bideshi is a great word. That's how I felt about some of my friends' lifestyles in Shanghai too --- very expat, not exactly what I'd want if I were spending an extended amount of time overseas. Not that one needs to hardcore "go native" or whatever, but I guess it's a matter of finding a spot that is where you want to be.