What transnational couples really need

They say that marriage is a major milestone in one’s life. A marker of true adulthood.

Whoever ‘they’ are, they’re right. As Facebook puts it, marriage is a “life event”. It’s a big deal. It’s also one of the hardest things that two people can do with their lives.

Our wedding in Scotland this July.

Our wedding in Scotland this July.

As if that’s not enough, there are things that can add another layer of difficulty. Being a transnational couple is one of those things. You would imagine that, with globalisation and international movement being a fact of life in today’s world, it would be easy for two people with different nationalities to marry and make their home anywhere. That assumption is wrong.

Contrary to popular belief, one does not get permanent residency just on the basis of being married to a citizen of that country – at least, not in the UK (where my husband’s from) or Singapore (where I’m from).

Continue reading

Unpacking the “one” Singapore

Throughout the month of August the children beamed down on us from their perch on lamp-posts. “Happy 49th Birthday, Singapore!” the banner said against a backdrop of red and white. A sweet message from the children. The happy, friendly, politically-correct-and-racially-representative children. 

Hey, this is Singapore, and we all live in racial harmony, right?

If only it were that simple. Racial harmony – a true harmony that goes deeper than just the lack of fights and riots – is more than billboards and posters of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) children. It is more than swapping national costumes one day of every year. It is more than a Chinese Singaporean eating roti prata and knowing how to sing Chan Mali Chan. And it is way, way beyond holding the same red passport.

Yet we���re taught that it is that simple. “Singapore is a multi-racial, multi-religious country,” I remember reading in my primary school Social Studies textbooks. “We live in racial harmony.” Cue photos of a Christian church (Eurasian), Buddhist temple (Chinese), Hindu temple (Indian) and mosque (Malay).

Through such a simplistic narrative we have spent years weaving a lie for ourselves. A lie that fills us with a mixed sense of relief, pride and accomplishment every time we see a news story about sectarian violence or racial riots happening somewhere in the world. “Thank goodness Singapore doesn’t have that problem!” we say. 

We may not have that problem – the problem that keeps parents awake at night worrying about the safety of their children simply because of the colour of their skin – but we’ve definitely got problems. Problems that desperately need to be discussed, if only we’d stop and open our eyes to them.

Continue reading

Of internal conflict on National Day

The flags have been meticulously hung out by the town council; there are no faded, upside-down or mirror-image flags in sight. People have flags on the side mirrors of their cars, and everyone’s sending out “Happy Birthday, Singapore!” tweets. Even the sushi store by my local Cold Storage is having a National Day sushi set.

Some years I’ll participate, letting myself get swept up in the festive feeling. Or I might complain about the quality of the song (okay, I have done this fairly often). Sometimes I find myself getting teary during the fireworks, while other times I feel little more than a vague discomfort. My feelings about National Day have not remained constant. As I get older I find myself feeling more and more conflicted, unsure how to feel, how to react, what to say.

Continue reading