Singapore Perspectives

14 Things Experienced By A Chindian In Singapore

As told by a Singaporean Chindian

Chinese + Indian = Chindian. If you grew up in Singapore, you probably know at least one person of this racial makeup, with interracial marriages becoming increasingly common over the years. As a Chindian myself, I often get asked what it’s like being one – so here’s the lowdown right from the horse’s mouth. 

Of course, I can’t speak for all Chindian folk out there, so here’s a disclaimer that all the experiences mentioned here are based off my own personal encounters, as well as that of my siblings and other Chindian friends.

1. Getting asked where you’re from even in your own country

“This is my country, this is my flag…” Yes, it really is.

I’m so used to everyone from new acquaintances to random kopitiam stall aunties asking me this, that I’m almost surprised when they don’t. It’s quite funny what people come up with – some of the more “exotic” guesses I’ve received include Mexico, Hawaii, and Mauritius.

A born and bred Singaporean kid – standard 90s PAP kindergarten uniform included

Even after telling them I’m Singaporean, some are compelled to further investigate with a, “But where were you originally from?” Sigh.

2. Being stuck choosing between Chinese-Indian and Indian-Chinese as your “legal” race

Chindians of Singapore rejoiced when legally changing their race to a double-barrelled one became possible – three cheers for societal development. Previously, everyone’s race had to match their dad’s. That’s akin to disregarding my mom, along with half my heritage.

Currently my race is still stated as “Indian” on my IC 

But this new flexibility still has loopholes – for one, am I supposed to be “Indian-Chinese”, or “Chinese-Indian”? It’d be strange if a sibling picked the former and I, the latter. Aside from that, my choice will affect my HDB race quota limit with regard to the Ethnic Integration Policy – where only the first component of a hyphenated race will be considered in the process.

Which brings us to the next point…

3. You wish the government could recognise “Chindian” as a legit race option

By now, every Singaporean knows what a Chindian is. And just like the Eurasians (European + Asian), there are now so many of us that we might as well be a race of our own. I’m still awaiting the day “Chindian” becomes accepted as an official race in Singapore.

Till then, answering the ethnicity question in surveys and official forms will always make me feel a bit like a phoney. Sometimes I just wish I could draw my own box – or that we humans would stop being so bent on categorising ourselves into neat little boxes altogether.

4. Being mistaken for your mom’s maid while shopping at the wet market

Because obviously, a makeup-free, brown-skinned girl carrying bags of groceries while following a Chinese woman around has to be a domestic helper. #logic 

Some wet market vendors find it appropriate to ask my Chinese momma, “This one your maid ah?” when I’m out with her. Which always baffles me, because whatever the answer is, why is the question even warranted – and what do they get out of knowing the answer? Mai kaypoh, leh.

5. Having the best of both worlds when it comes to homecooked food, yet feeling like you’ve no roots

Yay for both my grandmothers’ wicked culinary skills – my paternal grandma makes delicious sambar and appam, while I get to enjoy Peranakan fare like buah keluak and itek tim whipped up by my Nyonya maternal grandma. As Miley Cyrus pre-Wrecking Ball era would say, I get the best of both worlds. But that’s more or less where I feel my cultural duality ends.

Image credit: Yummy Tummy Aarthi

Back in the day, interracial marriages were uncommon, so the fact that my parents married each other means they’re not the super traditional sort. We don’t follow Chinese superstitions, and unlike some of my Indian gal pals, I’ve never had a first period celebration (phew)

Essentially, I feel neither strongly Indian nor Chinese. In fact, I’d consider myself quite the ang moh pai, having grown up with a huge amount of books and TV shows produced in Western countries. The Berenstain Bears, Dr. Seuss, and Enid Blyton were some of my favourites.

Does it really matter, though? My race isn’t what I see when I look into the mirror. Most of the time, I’m just checking that my eyeliner is on point.

6. Speaking of food, the older generation likes referring to you as “kopi susu”

Image credit: Kopi Susu 2

Kopi susu = brown coffee + yellow condensed milk. ‘Nuff said.

Generally this is used as a term of endearment by older folks. And who doesn’t love a comforting cuppa milky coffee?

7. When people say mixed babies look better and you just smile awkwardly

My brother and I when we were young kiddos

Somehow when people talk about babies, the conversation always steers towards mixed-race children and how they’re supposedly “the cutest”. When that happens, I just smile awkwardly in silence and wait for the topic to shift. Because saying “thanks” might come across as egoistic…but denying it would be lying 😉

Okay, just kidding (not really). You be the judge; To each their own. A majority of babies just look like potatoes anyway.

8. Getting asked whether you prefer Chinese or Indian guys

Me with my Singaporean Chinese boyfriend
Image credit: @caramellechaos

It’s the 21st century, people. Your dating pool doesn’t have to be restricted to your own race. I’ve been dating a Singaporean Chinese for the past few years, but my choice had nothing to do with the fact that he’s Chinese – neither do I prefer Chinese dudes over Indian ones or vice versa. Like my parents before me, I don’t see race or colour when picking a partner.

Image credit: @caramellechaos

What’s more important is our chemistry, his sense of humour, and how well he treats me.

9. Receiving only half the ang bao during Chinese New Year

Image credit: @thesmartlocalsg/@thaddy.l

Having only one side of the family to visit during Chinese New Year sadly means collecting half the ang bao too. On the bright side, while others are still out and about on chu er and even chu san (2nd and 3rd days of CNY), I get to catch up on sleep at home – all without having invasive questions like “so when are you getting married?” thrown at me.

My family is Catholic so I don’t get the Deepavali cash either. But we do exchange presents during Christmas, and that’s fun too. At the end of the day, such festivities are not about material gains, but rather the time we spend together as a family.

10. Being asked whether you can eat pork/beef even though you’re already ordering it

True story:
My brother: *walking past a bak kwa store*
Bro: *reaches out for samples*
Store staff:Eh, this one pork, you can eat anot?”
Bro: “Cannot”
Bro: *proceeds to pop bak kwa in mouth*
Store staff: *shooketh*

Because of my racial ambiguity, ordering my favourite dishes often raises doubts in hawkers and wait staff, bringing the question, “Got pork, got beef, can arh?”

Thanks for the concern, but logically speaking, we wouldn’t order something clearly labelled “pork ribs” or “beef noodles” if we couldn’t eat either type of meat to begin with.

Here’s a little crash course for those still unenlightened: Muslims don’t eat pork, and some Indians, if Hindu, choose not to eat beef.

11. When people know your surname, yet still ask which parent is Chinese or Indian

Back in school when we had mandatory tags proclaiming our full names to everyone, I still had tons of peers asking me which parent was of which race. Which I found rather strange and silly, because there’s nothing about my surname that sounds remotely Chinese.

12. Racism in the form of backhanded compliments = still not okay

“Oh, you’re mixed, no wonder so pretty. Wah, luckily you didn’t get so much of your dad’s genes so you’re not so chao tah…Ahem, ’scuse you?

A backhanded “compliment” like that is almost as good as an insult. It’s disheartening that even here in a society that claims to be united in racial harmony, I still experience casual racism – ironically more so than abroad. Yes, admit it or not – racism in Singapore, amongst Singaporeans, does still exist.

Spilling the tea: I may be relatively fair-skinned for a Chindian, but that doesn’t mean you can make discriminatory remarks about my dark-complexioned family members.
Image credit: @caramellechaos

Beauty comes in all hues, my friends. Let’s not base someone’s level of attractiveness on the colour of their skin.

13. People think you’re clever just ‘cause you’re brown and can speak Mandarin

Basically me when I attempt to write in Mandarin. Disclaimer: not my compo.
Image adapted from: Singapore Laughs 2

In school, I studied Mandarin as a second language, just like the rest of the majority. And I’m not even that good at it – couldn’t negotiate my way out of a kidnapping if my life depended on it. But just because I’m brown, others shower praises on me when they hear me speak my mother tongue, with the false impression that I’m super smart.

In reality, I’m just a royal disgrace to my ancestors. I should be able to speak Malayalam, Baba Malay, and Cantonese as well. But my knowledge of all 3 languages is sadly limited to a smattering of unsavoury phrases.

Pro tip: I use my mediocre Mandarin skills to my advantage when buying food – cai fan aunties tend to heap more ingredients onto my plate when I surprise and impress them by ordering in Mandarin.

14. When you meet another of your kind and immediately feel the Chindian Connection :’)

With my friend Alison, a fellow Chindian who often gets mistaken for my sister or cousin

It takes one to know one; I can spot a fellow Chindian from a mile away. It also gets me all warm and fuzzy inside whenever I come across an interracial couple with Chindian offspring in tow.

While there are a growing number of us these days, we’re still a rarity, and I can’t help but feel a sense of kinship when meeting a someone of the same “species” as I.

Proud to be Chindian

Admittedly, there were times as a young child where I had a couple of identity crises because I felt “neither here nor there”, but as I got older, I eventually grew to appreciate my unique dual heritage.

Being Chindian undeniably makes up part of my identity as a person. But at the end of the day, who I am isn’t defined by my race, or that of my parents and grandparents. Even when it comes to my cultural identity, I think of myself as Singaporean first, Chindian second – and I hope others would do the same too.

Know a Chindian? Tag them in the comments section below!

Rachel Yohannan

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