I remember as a child, my first memory of the white man is really that burly guy with the dark suit sweating profusely at the back of my dad’s Nissan U13 Bluebird back in the late 80s whilst laughing at my dad’s Singaporean jokes. Then occasionally my dad would bring home goodies from the “Mat Salleh”…. like key rings from the US, or if I’m lucky, a REAL dollar bill. I was that Singaporean child, with the bangs just grinning and nodding at towering white men in business suits asking me in their accents, “How do you do?” extending their huge sweaty palm out to shake my tiny Asian hand.
Then there were those occasions where I would show up prepared with my drawing pad and crayons in my Cookie Monster backpack. Sprawled on the carpet lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel, or the Marina Mandarin, I would be busy drawing and colouring away, whilst my dad waits for his guest, talking to the fellow Singaporean doorman. A curious head with a huge straw hat on it leers close to my artwork telling me ‘how lovely’ my drawing was. I look up to a warm, freckled European face with a coffee stained grin who wanted to take a picture of it using her Konika camera. Her husband, another burly guy with the same printed shirt – in fact everyone lounging at the hotel lobby had those same type of “touristy” printed shirt with the shades and the straw hats. I had a good bargain with the white lobby tourists whom were chatting away whilst smoking their cigarettes and waiting for their tour coach to pick them up. I’d exchange one of my “nice drawings” for a piece of foreign chocolate candy. When bored, I’d fascinate myself by running my fingers thru those white marble grains atop the dustbins meant for extinguishing cigarettes. The idea of unhygienic absolutely didn’t occur to me.
And then a couple of years went by, and it was finally time for me to go to school. Done were those days of lounging with white tourists and exchanging sweets for crayon Merlions over the weekends. Weekends were then spent learning spelling and going to art classes. Weekends were spent with mum buying new pairs of shoes and socks – yes we were growing up. Weekends were spent making sure the homework was finished. And occasionally dad would bring us out for a drive to the outskirts of forested Singapore. And I never saw those straw hat wearing ‘ang mohs’ again.