Adrianna Tan 陈丽珍 Profile picture
Apr 25, 2018 29 tweets 7 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
Asian-Americans and Asians based in Asia are going to see #crazyrichasians differently. Some AA are happy to see representation in Hollywood; others, more versed in social justice see colonialism of East Asians in East Asia.

Asians (in SEAsia think: I don't recognize myself).
As someone who straddles all of these words (being Asian when sometimes in America, interested in social justice, but also fundamentally Asian based in Asia, in country where my ethnic group is dominant). Who grew up among real #CrazyRichAsians in Singapore, my take:
The world that #CrazyRichAsians portrays is real in Singapore. @kevinkwanbooks & myself probably ran in similar circles.

My friends at school ate $30 lunches daily at nice restaurants, age 13; vacationed in private islands with royalty, age 15. I was an outsider in this world.
Elite Asians in the former British colonies, like Singapore, have been Anglophiles for centuries. It's not a new thing, not a mimicry of power. Elite Asians were those allowed to go to the right schools and enter the right circles.
In Singapore, like in other colonies, divide and rule extended also to various ethnic groups. These precede current understanding of ethno/national borders. It came down to what type of Chinese, Indian, you were.
e.g. Straits Chinese (also known as Peranakan) found favour with the British. They straddled both worlds: emphasizing Chinese custom, speaking a creole of Malay & Chinese dialects at home. They tended to speak English better than new immigrants from China, etc.
Working class Chinese from southern China tended to follow set paths for them. They came to 'Nanyang' (south of the ocean, the new world), took on roles set out for them by their compatriots before.

Early social networks were granular. Not just Hokkiens did X, Cantonese did Y.
Your identity was Hokkien generally, but more tied to the small village and to an extent its neighboring area, for example.

Some early Chinese found opportunities in rubber, trade, etc & became merchants. Their impact is felt globally today.
Unlike in many other places, wealth among southern Chinese has networked effects. Descendent of rich merchant family from Java last century may well occupy same social class as a Singapore citizen today. Ditto for HK, Philippines, Thailand.
Until the 1950s/1960s, most immigrants to Nanyang had no citizenship in SE Asian countries, and saw themselves as citizens of their ancestral homes, even if they'd never been. Colonial powers encouraged this. You were Chinese, but not to the idea of today's PRC.
There are loads of academic papers about how 'Chinese wealth' in SE Asia is held together by intermarriage.

When I dated hyper rich Indonesian boy as a teenager, his family wanted my family tree. We could not date coz, obviously I was not an heiress.
Chinese identity in the Nanyang is complex, unique, very distinct from Asian-American identity.

There is both privilege, concentrated in hands of the few who wield extreme power; and oppression, in that anti-Chinese pogroms have occurred as recently as 1998 (Indonesia).
It bears remembering that 'Jews of the East' has been used to clobber Chinese communities and foster anti-Chinese sentiments; first by European colonial powers, which carries on today sometimes encouraged by existing powers.
Even in Singapore, where Chinese form majority and hold outsized power in government, economy, and social spheres (and Chinese privilege exists), regular Chinese folks (non-rich, even Singaporeans) could never enter that world. That's birthright, or marriage.
The well-educated middle class or professional class, largely Chinese, has the trappings of folks from #crazyrichasians class, but they are not a part of that world, even if they imagine.
Obviously, the real world of #crazyrichasians is overwhelmingly Chinese. That's accurate. This world sometimes intersects with the world of Singaporean / Malaysian Indian merchant families, which is usually Sindhi.
Not enough Asian-American criticism of #CrazyRichAsians is aware of the realities in this part of the world.
Sure, Henry Golding is half white; but even that doesn't mean white privilege in the same sense you'd say that in the US. His other half is Iban, a tribe from Borneo.

There are all kinds of oppression towards Ibans, other tribals & Borneo generally.
Half British, half Iban / Kadazan / other tribal group / even half Borneo Chinese is probably its own ethnic identity at this point. Traditional white privilege concepts are transferable to an extent, but not really.
People talking like they're from the US or UK, i.e. not like Singaporeans? Real life #crazyrichasians talk like that! It's authentic.

They have very little to do with the lived experiences of most Singaporeans you and I know, but that's why they're the top 0.05%
This is not the world of the Chinese Singaporean friend you think is rich, who drives a car and has a condo and goes to Iceland on vacation. This is 'live in the Waldorf-Astoria for 1 year while attending an exchange program from other ivy league college' rich (true story I know)
This is not your Asian-American 'be a doctor / lawyer!' world, this is a world where if you brought home a lawyer or doctor your family would probably think you were marrying down - rich
I have little interest in real #CrazyRichAsians. I will not be watching it, because I could just open the Facebook pages of 20 friends from this world.

As an outsider, I think they all worry about the same things: love, family, and yes, even money.
It's a different level of money worry, of course. It's not 'i have no more money for lunch' worry, not even 'not enough money for a Birkin' (they have 50, already). It's about debts or complex financial instruments their parents might have put them in;
It's about the fear of 'coming down in the world', like we saw during the late 90s financial crisis (and my classmates grumbled about having to downgrade to a bungalow in the bad side of Bukit Timah - lol)
I used to be envious of the kind of wealth I saw. Growing up in public housing, it was unfathomable. Not about material things. It was about $4000 school trips (poetry classes in the UK)

My parents: write at home. In your underwear. More inspiring
Even then I got the sense that the things they had which were intangible, unique, were not items, but access.

Today, I see many of those folks in marriages they hate running businesses they hate. I don't envy their lack of 'choice'.
Not being from that world, not really, I don't have to give up my dreams to run my family business; marry someone I dislike; or for women, give up my passion to run my FIL'S family office's philanthropy arm.
When you have everything, something's gotta give.

Mental health, happiness, personal ambition. Then you get the worst of the Asian expectation: do only what your family wants, what will people think?

I'm sure the movie is fun. But for me, too close to home. /End

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More from @skinnylatte

Sep 19, 2018
When it comes down to it, queer equality is about basic things. Ong Ye Kung says LGBTQI+ folks in Singapore are not discriminated against. Says who? If you are a Chinese man in Singapore, you’re unlikely to see discrimination even if it hits you in the face.
It’s true, I’ve never been beaten up for being a queer woman in Singapore. But how low of a bar is that? Even if I have been beaten up for being queer, as so many Singaporean queers of colour, so many trans folks have, what are the laws that will be used to prosecute hate crimes?
Singapore is an international city, a vast proportion of our hetero marriages are between a Singaporean and a foreigner. The same is true for queer folks. Our husbands, wives, partners, have no immigration rights. No letters of consent, no path to living here except on EPs etc.
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