Thursday, November 30, 2006


My little brother Yi-Xian is studying at the University of Virginia (that's him after skydiving below). He recently went to his roommate's house for Thanksgiving. His blog is password-protected, so I had to re-post his latest entry (with permission of course). It says a lot about the way we were brought up, as well as our strange sense of meconnaissance towards American suburbia.

"Prosperity. Abundance. Affluence. Thats what strikes me about Fairfax, which is in itself representative of America itself. Upper middle class America.

I am under no illusions of my own upbringing in Singapore. King Albert Park is not the long kaw street which i pretend it to be. But the life that I've lived, as compared to the life that my room mate is used to has discrepancies which strike me. Dad is new money, mom is old money who struggled through the trails of new money with dad. I've grown up to look at price first before looking at quality when making purchases. I buy what i figure i need.

When i was in Singapore, i did splurge at times, but certainly not often. Necessity and cost benefit analysis have always been factors in making material decisions.

Its not like that in America. In a nation with abundant prosperity, and where even the poor and homeless receive benefits, the kids here grow up with things around them they don't really need, yet they don't realize it themselves.

Clothing. Fridges. The multiple TV's, the multiple game consoles they have, the den's they have, the indoor gym they forgot they had downstairs in the basement. They leave lights on, and waste and waste. Its part of their culture I guess. Part of the American dream is to have the ability to do so.

Casestudy: Bottled water. In Singapore we live on a stable supply of clean potable water from the taps at a reasonable price. Here in America that isn't always the case. Hell in the Bahamas when we were staying in the cheapo Towne Hotel, we had salt water streaming down from the taps. (which in itself wasn't all that bad given the cheap cheap cost) But the Harris family here drinks bottled water only. And their water supply is fine, just as good as Singapore water. Why waste money.

This just came back to me. In Tekong we had to drink crap water, not that that's anything in itself. But I guess the Singaporean male population learns to drink water from the tap there. But a vast majority of Singapore girls (generalisations, I concede) find that repulsive. But at least they don't drive down to NTUC and purchase 10 gallons worth of water!

America amazes me. The houses. The lifestyle. I understand why people immigrate here now, after seeing it for myself. And why people queue up in the embassies all over the world for the Visa's. For the green cards. I think I do. But I don't identify though. I liked my upbringing, and i'll be damn sure my kids grow up with one similar to that. With cram education, KAP Macdonalds, rice rice and more rice, tap water, heavy schoolbags, report cards, a cane (still debating about that one), a moody gloomy father, and a healthy sense of parental respect plus the army. I know i'm half spoilt. But i don't want them spoilt. And if they're ¾ spoilt, thats good enough for me."


Barbarossa said...

Good observations. There is certainly a tremendous amount of waste in America, yet as an American I guess I don't quite see it in the same light of infinity. In many ways it is a recent development. Americans who grew up in the 30s and 40s (e.g. the great depression) are very different. They do not leave lights on and they will not fully heat their homes even if they have the money because of the cost. At least my grand parents on both sides of the family were always that way.
My parents generation grew up in opposition to the strict financial limitations of the 30s and 40s. Though for my family now it is fine to not have meat for a meal, it was important for my grandparents to have meat on the table for every meal, not because they even necessarily wanted it, but because there was the idea that a good provider could put meat on the table for every meal and would do so. The generation that followed in many ways lived out the excess driven fantasies of their parents.
It does make me think though. When I was in Russian I was struck too by the excesses of the super rich elite. Yet what is so odd about America is that it is the excesses of the middle class.

Ng Yi-Sheng said...

I guess so. I think similar phenomena's occurring in China with the explosion of an entrepreneurial class and the new rich.

To tell the truth though, I never quite experienced US middle-class expenditure the same way as my little brother does - partly because the homes I got invited into tended to be New York apartments, where there's less space for crap to build up.

Mezzo said...

I've had the same experience as your brother, though it was mainly through my American sister's comments on her classmates - does a 17 year old really need a third car, having crashed the first two?

Your brother's purple jumpsuit is very spiffy.