A question of race in Singapore 2

Some of my close friends know this true story, but sharing for all because it is very relevant in the current Singapore atmosphere of 2013.


During my first month in Singapore, I randomly met this Malaysian-Chinese girl (Lets call her X) while smoking outside my office one day. Her English was not fluent, and I obviously knew nothing in Chinese, but we still had a good conversation over a cigarette, and then continued to meet again on a few dates. I was not interested in seeing the Indian side of Singapore (because I grew up in India, duh!), so X happily showed me around everything Chinese. Chinatown and Chinese temples in Paya Lebar. Wanton soups and how to have them with chopsticks. And even a club called Shanghai dolly where they played Chinese pop songs and I was the only non-Chinese person dancing that night!. She pretty much drove me around in her car to various interesting spots in Singapore which I would have never seen, if it wasn’t for her.


In one of our first meetings, she had a friend along with her (Lets call her Y), who was very cordial, but rather silent throughout the night. After our first meeting at Shanghai Dolly, where we had a few cocktails and danced a bit, Y never showed up at any of the future catch-ups that we had. So, after a couple of weeks, I asked my friend X, what happened to Y.

“Your running. She not like.”


I was lost. What on earth did that mean?? X couldn’t explain anymore clearly, so instead just showed me a message from Y on her phone. And the message was very clear:

Hey X, sorry I wont be joining you for future meetings with your friend, because I am not comfortable with his race. But you can continue meeting him


I have not laughed harder in my life, because of the way my friend, in her poor understanding of English, had understood the word ‘race’ to be something related to running! I explained to her what it meant, we laughed about it, and life moved on. But, I never tried to confront Y about her message, and I still have no animosity towards her because she was only stating her preference and comfort-levels, and not publicly.


Why am I blogging about this now? Because there is some heady dose of vitriol on the Singapore social media scene for the last few days, ironically at the same time as others mourn the death of a man who fought apartheid and discrimination all his life. For certain people, it may be impossible to completely erase all racial bias from their thought process, but I am more than happy if they were like Y, who prefer to keep their bias to themselves and not spread it cancerously to others, or try to impose their bias on others.


The other thing that this experience has taught me, is that nobody is born with the inclination for racial profiling. It’s something that get passed on through parental upbringing, peer coercion and lopsided exposures. So, if you ignore the phrase ‘hate begets hate’, and ignore a hateful, racist remark from some bigot on social media, there is no loss of pride there. I think that is the more brave thing to do, because you are stopping the spread of racial vitriol. And you can help to eventually build a generation where the word ‘race’ will actually be something to do with running!

On a personal note, the only ‘race’ that I am concerned about, is the ‘race to the weekend’!! 1 more day to go, all you lovely people! And yes, that even includes you, Y !!! 🙂


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About Abhi Surendran

Abhi quit his corporate job, and decided to immerse himself in travels, photography, occasional periods of bankruptcy, and copious amounts of insanity. He is currently working on a book of his experiences, and a dream road trip through South Asia. Both in a haphazard fashion. He blogs at Iamnothome and you can also catch him at times on Facebook and twitter.

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2 thoughts on “A question of race in Singapore

  • shubasini Sivapregasam


    About X, no comments at all.

    As for Y’s stupid shallow minded behavior, its not parents, its just the racial based politics and education policy! To sustain, they have created policies and rules (official or not official) that just simply create people that get so obsessed with 1. race and 2. Religion! Its complicating, but you have been in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, you would roughly know what I am saying. And we are all not like that, I have many Chinese friends who are very nice, but they are just older then you, :p


    PS : Happy Deepavali . And please post pictures of desert, dunes!