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Sunday, 17 July 2016

Foreignness in an Other City

Self-portrait in Singapore, City Hall, July 2016
Passing through Singapore, and passing through Jakarta, I consider matters of race in a new light. Locals approach me in their own language, immediately phrasing questions in Mandarin or Indonesian, respectively. My mixed-racial facial features do not form a barrier to acceptance in South-East Asia. It's quite unlike how I'm viewed in Europe, when the European parts of my heritage are ignored or overlooked in favour of the seemingly-exotic hints of Otherness. Here, I'm filed away neatly and immediately as 'Chinese' (or probably 'mixed'), with no need to interrogate my right to be here, or question my circumstance of passing through this space.

Portrait of a crowd as depicted in Singapore. City Hall, July 2016
Note the many spectacle-wearers!

Both Singapore and Indonesia are intensely multi-cultural; Singapore, for instance, writes signs in four languages as a standard: English, Chinese, Malay and Hindi. Despite this, these countries certainly are not without their own problems of racism and extremist nationalism. Nonetheless, it becomes clear that the vision of a nation's face need not be narrow, and that it is indeed possible to imagine nationhood as encompassing people from multiple, and mixed, ethnic backgrounds. Northern Europe definitely needs to learn from this progressive stance on race in these ex-colonial countries.

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