On a par with learning the local language (ie. here in Sing, saying “lah” as often as poss), it is equally important for the expat specimen to engage deeply with the host country’s culture and daily life. When people accuse you of living in a bubble – and sooner, babeses, or later, babeses, they will – you must have ample evidence readily available to the tip of your tongue, establishing categorifically that the accuser is both utterly incorrect and a mahusiv loser. Photographic evidence is highly desirable (see pics below).
In furtherance of this, I have always made it my business to experience everyday Singaporean life, such as quarterly trips to Tekka Market, hanging out at hawker centres in Joo Chiat, and once I did a food shop at a vendor other than Paragon Market Place. I even take the MRT sometimes, in order to stay abreast of what regular folk are watching on their phones. This is how I discovered two hilario Singian YouTube sensations, Dee Kosh and Mr Brown. The latter seems to have gone quiet of late, quel dommage hashtag sadface.
So as part of my ongoing process of saying goodbye to this lovely country, I decided to take the MRT today to my appointment at Expat Dental (to commune with Lady B, of course; think I’ve mentioned they do Botox now – so discrete and handy). There I was on the platform at Somerset, totes minding my own thang – other than checking out other people’s phone screens – when my least favourite member of the Expaterati tapped me on the shoulder, saying, “Hi Emma-Jane, God can you believe this stuff??”
I turned around elegantly to see Mrs Doom & Gloom Expat Wifey gesturing heatedly towards a row of billboards. Said “stuff” was a series of ads for a moisturiser:
“Oh hiyee, how lovely to see you!”, I replied, polite to a fault at all times, as per my modus operandi.
“Um, no babes, cannot believe it, lah! As a Photoshop aficionado, that font is just ridic!! So dull! And that shading has been brightened at least seven times, I reckon”, says moi, taking a wild guess at what might be unbelievable about the ads.
“No, no, it’s not that! It’s the product, and how they’re choosing to sell it! Look! Look at that!!,” D & G rabbitted on, as if she was talking about something that actually mattered, “It’s a huge Western brand selling a product to Asians on the premise that white skin is more desirable than dark. Look at the bottle!!.. It says ‘healthy white’!”
Then the train appeared, and I realised with horror that D & G was going in the same direction as me.
Getting onto the train, I said, “Oh gosh, yes crikey, how funny is thaaaat?? Healthy white is so not how I’d describe the pasty peeps back in Blighty lol!! Did you know we’re probably going back? Well we probly are, and one of the biggies I am totes not looking forward to is losing my perma-tan. Argh, huh?? It’s a major problem because we’ll only go to hot places a few times a year, and the nightmare is, what happens in between?! I’ll be a pasty pasty too!! Hell, shear hell, the very worst kind of hell that anyone can endure and …” –
I had hoped that if I just kept on talking all the way to Novena I could circumnavigate the intrusion of her appallingly whiny voice, but then the inevitable occurred: I had to pause for breathe. Damn you, cruel respiration!
“What’s at least a little reassuring”, said D & G, pouncing hungrily on the silence, “is that a local charity has picked up on it – AWARE, do you know them? They do great work. But they really only mentioned it, so I don’t think they’ve taken it on as an initiative. It’s such a shame because I dread to think what the impact is on children and young people, when the message is that you’re not ok if your skin isn’t white, and” –
Now fully ventilated, I managed to interrupt her, in an effort to resume plan A of preventating her vocal interventions: “Oh I know, babes! I’m all over the body image issue. You’re probably familiar with my amazebobs campaign to have fakeness ratings put on media images. It is so worrying what that industry does to people’s self esteem, telling us that how we are isn’t good enough, but using totes faked up photos to prove it. Soooooo bad! Hashtag hate hate hate it!!! Oops well it’s almost my stop. It’s been awesome having this little chat-ski, but gotta go!!”
I swiftly stood up, hoping D & G wouldn’t do the assaultative kiss-kiss thing. Her cheekbones are like boulders! She should def go to Korea and get something done about that. No wonder her long-suffering hus took his attentions elsewhere, to a less violent visage. She stood up too though, and even now, hours later, my face feels like I‘ve been to Korea for a Gangnam Special. Ouchey.
As I dashed up the escalator, I worked hard to cleanse myself of the difficult journey, visualising that with every step I took I was putting the conversation behind me. That woman! The audacity of trying to lecture me, of all people, on self image. At least she didn’t make me late for my appointment with Lady B.
Me at a hawker centre:
And me at a supermarket that isn’t in a mall on Orchard Road: