DISCLAIMER: SUPER LONG POST. JUST SCROLL, I MADE IT EASY WITH HEADLINES.
DISCLAIMER II: I WILL delete and ban any comments if they are personal attacks, mentions of identity, not to me, but to any individual I have mentioned in this writing. I will delete this post if people start bashing other people yada yada yada.
Like almost every Singaporean, I caught Crazy Rich Asians over the weekends. The super cars, the mansions, the hot girls and not forgetting, the elites. As I watched Rachel Chu, I can’t help but to relate to her. I am no professor, not even 10% as smart as the character in the show – I am just a low SES girl-next-door. I can’t help but to relate to her and actually feel the pain she felt when she was humiliated by Nick Young’s mom – saying that she will never be good enough.
I had been thinking for awhile if I should have written this article, and then I had a really insightful conversation with a friend at lunch today. I was convinced. And then I had a meal with my dad at dinner, and I felt that I had to write this because I felt unjustified. Not to any particular individual, but to elitism as a whole.
So here’s the super summarised version of my Crazy Rich Asians story (also truly made in Singapore).
I dated this man, let’s call him Michael, for awhile. I will not identify how long ago this happened and friends, please do not ask as I will not reveal. We were seeing each other for some time and we got along really well. We hung out with each other’s friends and he was like the Prince Charming for most girls – he’s tall, a scholar from this extremely prestigious university (shan’t name which), a commando, came back to Singapore and has been working for awhile. He’s from a good background, high SES by definition, plays golf, and also very disciplined as a person (which was what I really liked about him). In comparison, I am just a small fry in this (I-didn’t-know-was-so-judgmental) society and I think at this point I was supposed to ask myself “why did he choose me?” but I still don’t cuz I’m a confident bitch.
His fancy ex girlfriends vs Plain ol’ Coco Ong
He recognised me, from some ads I used to be featured on, on a dating app, and somehow over a few months, we kinda coincidentally met somewhere and we started dating for quite awhile. In the beginning, he mentioned that he never dated “any girl like me“. He used to date fancy girls who carried branded bags, drove super cars, stayed in landed houses etc. I carry canvas tote bags, don’t even own a fuckin license cuz I have student loan to pay off (SHAKE DAT MONEY MAKER fcking arts degree). I still carry a 5-year-old long champ cuz it’s damn functional (can freaking tank my laptop and makeup pouch’s weight). I stay in a small but cosy 3-room HDB flat. I also don’t have a habit to shop. So initially when he told me I was kinda different, I did propose to him that then maybe he’s only seeing me for the novelty and eventually he’s gonna go back to seeing those kinda girls. He didn’t deny, he just said we’d see how things go. Things went well, and not so well as with most relationships.
Shit happened here:
One day, I felt something was off and decided to ask what he felt about us; if we were going anywhere. In the back of my mind, my status did come up sometimes, but I never knew if it even meant anything since he got into this knowing where I came from. However, his response was “I think we’re going somewhere, but I have my doubts sometimes.” Curious, I requested for him to clarify what he meant by doubts. He then said it was my family/financial background – BUT, he thought that maybe time would help with this and I may eventually be different (basically he just meant that if I were to be earning like 15k per month and get my shit together la). At this point I wasn’t offended – I was hurt. I was hurt because my family didn’t deserve this. I chose this man, but they didn’t.
We still continued seeing each other for awhile until one day, he started going on dates (I didn’t have an issue with it), and he met with a doctor. I could tell from his face that he was happy to announce that she’s a doctor. In the same conversation, he also expressed that coming from a good background helps. At this point, I wasn’t sure if it was a message for me to gtfo, but I took it as it was and so I did.
Was I upset? Yes. Was I hurt? Very. Was I offended? No.
I was hurt because it was unjustified. I paid my own shit. When he paid for a meal, I usually offer to pay for the next. I made sure to be independent so any issues would never come in the way. I never told him about any problems I was going through. I made sure to always take care of my own shit. So what was this about? Did I deserve this? I was frustrated and also, felt pretty helpless.
I felt helpless because all my life, I thought like Jack Ma said, you can’t choose where you’re from, but you can start making your own choices. In my point of view, I thought I was good, making better decisions, having priorities and being focused about my future. All the faith I had in my actions came crashing down because suddenly, it felt like all my efforts and years of working hard have been dismissed just like that.
But I was never once offended because it IS a personal preference.
And then I realised – elitism.
It’s scary how elitism is so real, and I had never once come across such a situation in my 25 years of life. I didn’t really know how to react, or even think. But can I blame him? The answer is no. Michael has been brought up in such an environment surrounded by nothing but the best. The best facilities, the best amenities, the best teachers, the best influence. I can understand where he’s coming from – that if he worked so hard in his life, why should he be with someone who could potentially pull him down or make him feel less?
My humble family.
I don’t usually talk about my family as I really value my privacy (and theirs), but I thought it’s about time I embrace where I come from. I’m from a humble Chinese family, parents were both Chinese educated, and also school drop-outs. They’ve been teenage sweethearts, got married and had three daughters with me being the youngest.
Although my parents weren’t very educated, my dad always made sure to give us every cent and every single thing we want – from toys to stupid things like our very own karaoke set at home. He worked very hard and paid for everything we wanted. My mom is a stay-home house-wife, she cooks really well and she is extremely patient with all of us. She really really loves kids, which is why she also babysits as additional income.
My dad is very self-aware, he knew exactly the kind of environment he grew up in and he constantly reminded us not to follow his footsteps, and punished us when we misbehaved. He often reminded us how important studies and having a good character are. He may not be one of these Crazy Rich Asian fathers who is able to spoil their daughters like princesses with ferraris, but he did in his very own way. Ever since I was schooling, he always sat me down and shared what he felt about life. He was an objective man, which makes me a really rationalised person.
We’ve talked about politics, government, opportunities. He has never ever blamed anyone for the situation he’s in. He admits that it’s all because of each individual’s own doing and choices, which is why he never wanted us to follow his footsteps. I remember him saying, “Have I not been given good opportunities? I have. I just did not take them seriously, and there’s nobody but myself to be blamed. And now I just have to work harder than everyone else.” I have learnt a lot from this old man of mine. I don’t write because I was born like that. I didn’t get to where I am today with a degree and a good job because I did it all alone. I did it because he worked hard despite his background. He worked so hard that he managed to get us into uni. He was so strict and concerned about how our characters would turn out to be that he often kept us in check. He made me ponder a lot about life and I guess this is also one of the reasons why I began writing.
Elitism is inferiority.
Michael told me that I communicate well, and that we managed to “last this long” (well, at that point) because of my mindset and awareness about relationships. Funny how it never occured to him that I am what I am, and I think the way I do only because of how I was brought up.
The thing about people who perform well academically (that I’ve realised) is that they often point back to their academic achievements even if they’ve left school for years. This builds up some kind of frustration from within if they compare it to their current professional achievements. They probably feel that they aren’t where they’re yet, and hence, would struggle to accept and find a way to make themselves feel better about themselves having done better in school. And I guess it would help if they had someone of a better status to pull them up.
I discussed this with a friend and he did point out that it also points back to the lack of confidence Michael has in himself. He doesn’t want questions from relatives about where his partner could be from, because him alone was not enough to hold the status he wants. This was also referenced from Pierre Png’s character in the show – which Gemma Chan (as Astrid) said,”It’s not my job to make you feel like a man. I can’t make you something you‘re not.”
Why the need to discriminate?
At the end of the day, it happens both ways. People who don’t have much school qualifications may turn around and say scholars are nerds/geeks/don’t know how to work, only know how to study. And at the same time, elites then rebut saying they’re a bunch of low SES idiots who don’t have their priorities set straight, and make poor decisions. Please watch this video if you think low SES people are poor only because they make poor decisions – TED Talk: Poverty isn’t a lack of character, it’s a lack of cash.
Singapore is awesome, the diversity, having education provided to Singaporeans.. etc. The truth is both low and high SES people will exist no matter where you go. These are types of people, with different characteristics and personalities who will come into your life. You can’t control who you meet and interact with. You can’t control what someone else is going to say to you. But you can control how you respond.
If given a choice, I’d still choose to be this low SES girl-next-door over and over again. Because I am proud of what and who I am today. I worked extremely hard to get to where I am right now, without having to put anyone down, and have no time to sweat over how elitism will come into play.
Hmmm, so here’s a question to people like Michael:
If you were brought up in my environment, lived in my position, would you have done better than I did today?
To make it clear, I am not angry, I am not offended, and I am not writing this to shame anyone besides MASELF. At the end of it, Michael and I shared good memories and got along well despite it all, and I’d still like to see him move on with life happily. He was still nice to me when we were together; he was just a straightforward and an objective person. Any mentions of his identity will be banned, deleted or blocked.
I am writing this, as after watching Crazy Rich Asians, I felt that this was an important topic to be discussed, and I do welcome an open debate. Let’s all agree to disagree.
I would also like to thank Elias for encouraging me to write this article, as I initially didn’t want to. I’m sorry it got way more lengthier than it was supposed to be! Cheers buddy. There may also be some typos and mistakes, which I will correct in the next few days lol bye GONNA GO BACK TO DOING WORK.