Racist and Friendly Perth Aussies

I want to confess.

In 2 months time I would have live in Perth for 5 years. I haven't made a single Aussie friend. By definition, someone born in Australia whom I will invite over for dinner.

However, it's probably not what you think if the first thing that pops up in your mind is racism or discrimination. I am a sociopath and henceforth the crux of the issue. I can't remember when was the last time I invited anyone over for dinner, Aussie, Singaporean or whatever. Since we are at this, let's make this clear - everyone is a bloody racist. I'll be more specific and not point fingers at the others and look at ourselves first. Base on the loose definition of a racist being a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another and/or have the tendencies to stereotype another person's traits and habits by his or her skin colour, every Singaporean is a racist.

One interesting thing I observed by there was how Singaporeans tend to change the way we talk when an "Ang mo" talk to us. Awkward slang and what not. Look no further than the SPGs. Well, they sound less awkward due to practice but wait till you hear her speak with her Ah Lian cohorts. Or watch how the Singaporean engineer talks to the "Ang Mo" in the consultant team and later in the day, the way he barks at his Bangladeshi workers during his site walk. Racism is in our DNA. Most of us are not even aware of it. What do we do during Racial Harmony Day? Wear fancy clothes and eat one another's food? Are these really doing what it is meant to achieve? Do the folks being these initiatives understand what is meant to be achieved in the first place?

The best part is, many Singaporeans back there would like to believe Aussies are more racist than us. 5 years is not a very long time, but I believe it is adequate to observe how it is and tell as it is. If Aussies are as racists as we think, they must have hidden it very well from me. That doesn't sound quite right because the everyday Aussie as I know it, are much more straight talking and expressive compared to the everyday Singaporean. I am not implying Aussies that I've met are not racist. Like I said earlier, everyone is a racist - but to what extent? Like us, the Aussies are worried about their futures. They wonder if foreigners are going to take all their jobs eventually. Many cannot tell the differences between a Vietnamese and Thai or a Singaporean and a PRC. The less you know about people, the more uncomfortable you are with their presence.

The swing set was given to us for free by a family from the Philippines. As the set was rather big, I had to dismantle the parts. The couple invited us to the backyard and got Jen and the our kids to sit in the patio. The lady chatted with them as I worked on breaking down the swing set.

When we left, Jen made a casual remark, "Actually Filipinos are quite nice what." Of course they are. Like any other nationalities or races, they are nice people and shitty ones. The climate back in Singapore has changed quite a bit. From cheering Abbas Saad or Jung Jong as if they were our brothers, to jeering the PRCs who won a medals for us in ping pong. Just look at Singapore today. The disdain we have for foreigners, deeply entrenched into our subconsciousness. Yet, we love the Japanese and Koreans. We aspire to look, speak and even eat like them. Men would like a Taiwanese wife, women would take a French husband any day. I wonder if we will think and act the same way if the Singapore labour is flooded with Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese and French in place of PRCs, Filipinos, Indians and Bangladeshis. We'll start hating kimchi and no one will be offering me some. What a lovely change.

It is no secret that Perth Aussies are friendly. (I can't speak for Aussies elsewhere because I haven't been to other parts of Australia) Many Singaporeans who came here for holiday noticed that immediately. Some Singaporeans who live here for decades told me that they have become less friendly over the years but it is still not unusual to have a chat with a stranger at the bus stop or shopping mall these days.

One recent incident over the weekend is a good example. An Aussie in his early 50s knocked on my door with a wide grin (my door has see-through glass panels) on Sunday afternoon. Jen was out then but Judy and I opened the door and had a chat with him on the verandah. He introduced himself and told me he was the owner of the 2 houses beside me, which made him my neighbour. He intended to rent both houses out but assured me he would only pick "the nice ones." Then we started exchanging information about our backgrounds. Throughout the conversations, the stranger constantly addressed us by our names (both Judy and I). Then he stated his business, "I want to clean the pile of sand on the parking lots adjoining us, so I thought of saying hi and ask you if you would like me to clean those on your side as well?"

I gave him a "say no more" gesture, ran to the back and returned with my wheelbarrow and shovel. Though I was not feeling too well, I couldn't let Mark and his teenager son Nicholas do the work themselves, especially if they wanted to do my share as well. In the slight drizzle, the three of us completed the job in no time. When I returned to the house, I told Judy I was glad that she was around to see what I meant when I claim that many Aussies are friendly.

Before Mark left, he asked me, "Are you from Singapore?" I asked him why didn't he guess Malaysia or even China. "There are differences but I could tell," he said. I was impressed.

The mechanic that I send my company vehicle for servicing came over personally with an invoice the previous afternoon. When he walked past Wee Tuck and I, he called out, "Hey Nix!" (which I responded) and walked on towards the office. Wee Tuck looked at me and asked, "Who is he ah? Looks very familiar."

"Mechanic lah!" I said, though it took me a few seconds to register too. John the mechanic saw me no more than 5 times over the years. Yet he remembered my name. And I almost couldn't recognise him, let alone recall his name.

The DHL delivery man who come by occasionally would write my name in his PDA without asking for it. I could go on, but I have made my point with some recent examples.

I have to say if racism in Australia is as bad as what I was taught to believe back in Singapore, I have been very, very lucky these 5 years. I haven't met anyone who did anything to me and my family of a racist nature. Perhaps I was lucky but it is the way it is. I have received more kindness from random strangers (regardless of races) here in a few years than more than 3 decades in Singapore. Stranger offering to point directions to me when I looked lost. Another picked me up and sent me home when my car broke down on the highway. Countless of them giving me free stuff, teaching me something I didn't know, stopping to chat for 5 minutes in the middle of their work.

How does that work out, being friendly and racist at the same time? Chatterboxes? Hypocrites? Schizophreniacs? Let's just say they are better human beings in areas we are weak at, and should be learning from. I told myself I will remember the names of strangers as well as the children of my friends for a start.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I've read your blog with much enthusiasm. I can empathise with most of what you've said, and I've even learnt a thing or two. Having lived in Perth since 1988, I can tell you that it was blatantly racist back then. In high school, a few would call me this and that to my face. But let me temper it by saying that there were also many kind people that displayed the type of warmth that I rarely saw in Singaporeans. I will say that it's heaps better now for the likes of my children. Keep on posting.