You are probably living under a rock if you have not heard of Crazy Rich Asians by now. It is THE talk of the town and there is not a single day that goes by without the Singapore press writing something about movie. If you have not watched the Crazy Rich Asians yet, you should totally get the next available ticket at the nearest cinema! For the uninitiated, the movie is adapted from the book titled “Crazy Rich Asian”, an international bestseller. Heartland Boy watched the movie and like most others, found it greatly entertaining and satisfying. He felt that the movie resonated with him greatly. On a more pronounced level, he even experienced some form of nostalgia and catharsis when Rachel Chu (the lead actress) put up a fight to prove that she belonged. Heartland Boy had his first experience with Crazy Rich Asians, or at least the very rich, when he entered high school many years ago. Here is his side of the story.
Wearing a different uniform from the majority of his school mates, Heartland Boy stuck out like a sore thumb during the first 3 months of junior college. As if his uniform wasn’t a sufficient reminder in itself, it did not take long for some of his school mates to remind him in no uncertain terms that he came from a neighbourhood school (at least in their perspective). That was a very unwelcoming message that reeked of elitism. Yet it was also a very accurate reflection of the crude reality that existed in the upper echelons of our society.
The initial days were tough for him because every day was an uphill battle trying to fit in. There is a Chinese proverb “井底之蛙”, which is loosely translated to a frog in a well. During the initial period of settling in, Heartland Boy felt exactly just that on most occasions. Long story short, he somehow managed to survive eventually but not before experiencing some “mini” Crazy Rich Asians moments:
- A classmate once picked up an urgent call during class because he was asked to decide on the colour of the Hermes scarf that his dad was going to buy for him. No, he did not have the basic courtesy to walk out of the classroom to take the call. Heartland Boy did not eavesdrop either because he spoke so loudly (deliberately or otherwise) such that everyone including the teacher could hear him.
- One fine day, the same classmate brought along some fancy butter from some 6-star hotel during recess and gave a snobbish spiel about his weekend champagne brunches jaunts. Basically, he made his point that this was a high SES activity out of the reach of very mediocre people.
- A classmate did not know how to take an MRT because he had only been chauffeured around his entire life. To provide some contextual knowledge, the MRT network was not so complicated then and only had 2 lines.
Perhaps, the most alarming statistic was that 90% of Heartland Boy’s class stayed in private housing: either in a condominium or a landed house. Not hard to guess who stayed in HDB flat. Anyway, it was such a rude shock to his system because it contradicted what he had learnt about Singapore’s housing policy during Social Studies class.
On hindsight, going to that junior college did Heartland Boy a world of good because it opened up his eyes to a side of the world that he never knew existed. On the rare occasions that he was allowed a window into their lifestyles, he was like a sponge soaking up the out-of-world experiences. For instance, he would never be able to forget how his eyes feasted on the opulence of a good class bungalow when he first set foot on them. Similarly, those aforementioned unpleasant experiences left an indelible mark in his mind as well.
Even if he could turn back time, he would still choose the same route because such life experiences are undeniably valuable. It taught him the value of humility, hard work and self-esteem. If one has the determination to continue to plug away, the results will eventually speak for themselves. Having been on the receiving end of some unfair stereotypes, he is all too aware about the danger of them. Because for every douchebag Bernard Tai, there is a grounded Nicholas Young amongst them. Therefore, he is cognizant that he should not tar every Rich Crazy Asian with the same brush just because of a few unfortunate episodes.
On a serious note, the issue of elitism is very real and if the Singapore government doesn’t resolve this quickly, the chasm between the haves and have-nots will soon be too wide to bridge.