Ed's with the expats on not 'Integrating' with locals as ed's Pro-Integration

“Embracing the local food, language and entertainment was not an issue for expats here, but low on their priority was befriending locals or joining a local community group - a finding that lends weight to policy-makers' concerns over integration issues.”

I read the above account of foreigners’ not ‘integrating’ with ‘singaporeans’ with some amusement. I suppose I could possibly understand their view and empathise with them – perhaps with regards to the thoughts of say, the Brits, Indians, amongst others – but excluding the Chinese(whom are used to a singular way). I personally felt ‘Singaporean’ up to the mid-90s, and thereafter, I felt like an ‘expat’ myself. Whilst I integrated with great ease and had close friendships with people of many ethnicities (Filipino, Pakistani, Indian, Eurasian, Burmese, Chinese, Sinhalese, Malay) back in the 70s and 80s, I found myself distancing from ‘singaporeans’ in the late 90s onwards. Why? In a nutshell, as singapore took the monocultural route in support and glorification of Chinese culture over all difference, I found that ‘integration’ became synonymous with ‘assimilation’. I had two choices then. One, I interested myself in that which interested the new ‘Chinese’ so that a ‘harmony’ could ensue whilst keeping my Indian/British traits under wraps, or preserve the intellectual and perspectival legacy of these people by keeping away. I chose the latter. In fact, I found my own company far more interesting as I had various cultural personas interacting and making more of anything I encountered than a horde of ‘new singaporean’ friends. Initially, I had kept company with my multicultural clique, but as some began to migrate to more egalitarian climes and others got worn down by an ever-monocultural ‘singaporean’ milieu to the point that they became increasingly self-absorbed and perspectivally docile, my social circle contracted. I realised that to continue associating with the new and relatively mono-perspectival breed of ‘singaporeans’, I would be provided with a space for the expression of a small and superficial part of my persona which I found to be the entirety of theirs. They would either speak about the trivial, simply trivialise everything, whilst ignoring anything they weren’t accustomed to.

Prior to my growing aversion to the ‘new singaporeans’, I had spent 5 years in the UK where my persona was able to express itself completely in interaction with my British, Indian and African friends. I was well aware that I didn’t suffer any ‘cultural shock’ whatsoever and actually felt ‘at home’ for the first time in my life. My individuality was appreciated as nobody seemed to think that a new style of fashion or thought was good simply because it was started by the ‘whites’ – in singapore, I’ve been ridiculed, laughed at, or ignored for being ‘Indian’, ‘British’, etc whilst being ‘Indian’ whilst in the UK, I was appreciated, respected, and even admired for being these. Additionally, my mates in the halls of residence could talk about anything, were willing to engage with any new topic I might bring up, and actually seemed to become more animated whenever I did. I found myself being invited for one-on-one all-night conversations and discussions. They were very witty, argued on the basis of logic and reason, and made as much statements as they asked questions. I realised overtime that we were integrating with each other. I was learning their ways, and they were learning mine. We were accommodating each other, and facilitating each other’s growth through fusion. A few. After 5 years, even came to me and thanked me stating that they had learnt much from me and that I had had a significant impact on their lives – and this is saying much given that British men can be quite egoistic as well;)

The inverse of all of the above was true in the singapore post-90s. In singapore, it was ‘the ‘chinese’ way or the highway’. Their brand of ‘integration’ meant gross assimilation. This was especially the case if one wasn’t ‘white’. So being ‘Indian’ and ‘non-white’ but having the persona of say the ‘Brits’ was not acceptable. You’re local, and a member of the less preferred race – as evidenced by governmental policies, media representation, cultural celebrations, the way the nation was represented, etc, etc, etc, - therefore, I had to keep in my place and play follow the leader. If I attempted to be myself, as I was in the UK, I was always met with blanks stares, or silence. I had to dwell only on the mundane, and do so trivially. Hence, I found myself both a local and a ‘white expat’ with none of the benefits that come with the latter given my being the former. Basically, if I wanted to be treated as ‘white’ might be in singapore, I had to go to the UK for that, or at least, to the singapore of the 70s and 80s where my largely monolingual (English) friends of all races were highly multicultural and open to anything new.

You see, just as the Chinese were socialised to ‘assimilate’ all difference in the country via the government’s monocultural and pro-China’s culture stance, they are highly unpracticed in the art of ‘integration’. They didn’t, post-80s, have to integrate with anyone. A new, and not necessarily, ‘Chinese way’ descended on the nation from on high and they couched themselves in whatever securities, superiorities, and self-efficacy enhancing advantages it brought them. To be ‘singaporean’ then, was to be ‘Chinese’ (the Qin version as opposed to the multi-perspectival Chou version). So the English-speaking Indian, Malays, Chinese, or non-English speaking multicultural Indians who did not see eating, shopping, gambling and reproduction as the be-all and end-all of life gradually became extinct. Singapore’s national pastime became shopping and eating – which is, by the way, not a national pastime of India or Malay states. So my choice to remain an ‘expat’ was a choice that illustrated my appreciation of the value of integration and its being distinctive from ‘assimilation’. I have never had any Chinese from the post-80s ‘integrate’ with me. They have always served as a pressure to conform and assimilate. So I’m not surprised now that most people who speak about ‘integrating’ foreigners are not speaking about how they can integrate with foreigners but assimilate them. Well, the fact that they can actually view the ‘singaporean’ national pastime of today as ‘singaporean’ itself, as opposed to Qin-ese, is itself clear evidence of their confusing assimilation with integration.




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