Singapore Adventure

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Lucky Bastard
by venitha

As we slid out of the booth at my favorite sushi bar, Yoong Han said, "Wow! They're not like this when I'm here without you."

"Like what?" I asked, and I honestly hadn't noticed that the waiter was more courteous to me than he is to everyone.

I'm frequently afforded these small attentions, placated with special treatment, and forgiven for my general cluelessness: all advantages of looking like a Western expat in Singapore.

Of course, pale skin has its drawbacks, and I don't just mean the constant threat of sunburn. I'm never fully accepted, and I miss the warmth of belonging. I'm constantly overcharged, apparently indistinguishable to many from a walking talking dollar bill. I pound frustrated fists against the confines of the expectation that I placidly overpay with one hand but that I feel guilty for being overpaid in the other.

I know that the positives, however, outweigh the negatives, and I look with sympathy at those Western expats whose ancestry robs them of both.

"You don't know what he goes through, Jim." I sprinkle drops of water onto the glowing coals of my husband's frustration with the behavior of a fellow expat, one who, like him, is from the spoiled and pampered US, but who, unlike him, is ethnically unmistakably Asian. "He doesn't look like you."

"Lucky bastard."

Jim's the lucky one, though, with his white skin, and I count myself even luckier for mine, daily sunscreen application notwithstanding. The hardest expat situation of all has got to be that of the Western couple of mixed ethnic heritage: he Caucasian, and she Asian. Singapore overflows with Western male expats only too interested in Sarong Party Girls and Asian women only too willing to accommodate them. Everyone else, myself included, is only too ready to judge them, and our bigotry sloshes heedlessly out of the stereotype's bucket, drenching anyone who looks like them.

What a relief that doesn't include me. Is it racist to be thankful that I'm white?