I have this theory that everyone should be a minority once in his life. The rich one among the poor, the poor among the rich, the short among the tall and the tall among the short ones etc. Just to experience what being on the other side of the mirror feels like.
When I was in China in 99, I was a minority for the first time of my life. I grew up in Nantes, a city that is not exactly multicultural, and here I was, surrounded by Asians who weren’t shy about staring at me. I was the oddity, the white girl in the streets of Beijing.
In Singapore, we stayed in Geyland, a working-class neighbourhood which doubles as the red light district at night. Around Chinese New Year, migrant workers enjoyed a few days’ holidays and the streets were packed with hundreds of Chinese, Bangladeshi and Indian construction workers. Most Chinese were from the North, where Feng grew up, and spoke with a thick Northern accent. The Bangladeshi seemed to be the more recent newcomers, and they were still wearing the traditional “skirt”, the lungi. Every day, we would walk among a crowd of Bangladeshi guys holding hands, and we had to make our way through the Chinese squatting and smoking on the sidewalk.
In Geylang, I was one of the only female around, and probably the only Westerner as well. Oddly enough, people didn’t stare at me. They seemed to accept me for who I was. We ate in quite a few restaurants where there was no English menu but no one batted an eyebrow when Feng and I simply read it in Chinese. And no one offered me a fork instead of chopsticks. For that, I am grateful. It felt great being different yet accepted.
I felt quite comfortable walking around the neighbourhood. Yes, Geylang is messy and dirty, and it seems to be the only place in Singapore where the usual rules (no littering, no smoking etc.) don’t really apply. It is a bit sleezy at night when the girls line up on the sidewalk and you can hear the men bargaining (!) for an hour of sex. But as much as I dislike prostitution, the whole business didn’t seem too creepy—much less than in Thailand anyway.
We wandered into Little India, not far from Chinatown, and the district was fascinating for me. There isn’t any sizeable Indian population in France (most immigrants head to the U.K) and I don’t know much about that culture. In Little India, we walked among women wearing gorgeous saris and men eating prata and curry in the street. One of the temples welcomed us and I was grateful for the opportunity to take a peek inside at the colourful deities.
Singapore is truly a multicultural country, a place where Chinese, Malays and Indians blend their customs, languages and religion into one interesting place.
You can see the complete set of pictures taken in Singapore on Flickr.