True Story: Being Labelled “Foreigner” In Singapore – Will We Always Be Outsiders?

17 August 2016

Joseph’s Schooling gold medal at the Rio Olympics this year – which also happens to be Singapore’s first – elicited unadulterated pride from many a Singaporean.


Here, a mother comments how her daughter, without any prompt, picked up a Singapore flag and started waving it at the TV while watching Schooling’s glorious win; elsewhere, people are congratulating Schooling for his win on social media, with hashtags like #SingaporePride.

But at the same time, it’s also slightly heartbreaking that there’s still baffling talk of Schooling, son of a British father who was born in Singapore and a Chinese Malaysian mother, being “foreign talent”.

Tell this to Schooling’s father, Colin Schooling, and he will half-cheekily rebut in fluent Malay, “Nama saya Colin Schooling. Anak berna Singapura.” (“My name is Colin Schooling, a true son of Singapore.”)

As is his son, who was born in Singapore as well.

In a touching Facebook post made by a Singaporean user, he eloquently questions why Singaporeans are so overly critical of the ethnic or cultural background of these elite athletes – a sentiment that extends to other foreign talent and expats in Singapore:

The post reads:

“Us being gifted a gold medalist in Joseph Schooling is like having a child born to parents who never thought to be able to conceive. What then the adopted children? We love and support them the same. It’s only right.

Did watching Li Jiawei, Feng Tianwei battle their way to a Silver medal in Beijing 2008 not bring you even an ounce of pride and joy?

Did Tao Li’s fourth and fifth placings in the same games just on the cusp of Singapore’s first swim medal not make you proud? Tao’s role model and Olympic champion Libby Trickett took notice of her younger Asian rival and said then: “It is an amazing achievement for her to qualify for the final, considering this is her first Olympics. Sometimes, people underestimate how hard it is to get into the top eight at the Olympics. Obviously, she knows how to handle the pressure and she’s got a bright future ahead of her.”

Does that not remind you of a certain champion-mentee relationship we are seeing in Rio 2016? Who is to say Tao being the first Singaporean to make a swim final and set a new Asian record in 100m Butterfly did not inspire Schooling in the least?

Zhou Yihan’s David vs Goliath moment last night as she – ranked world no. 32 – fought valiantly against China’s top seed Ding Ning was a certainly pleasure to watch and a source of inspiration.

Sports fans cheer when star players and MVPs are brought into their favourite clubs – because they hold the potential to lift the team’s game, improve its standing, attract better recruits and inspire fans and the masses. So check your criticism of our Foreign Sports Talent Scheme – which only seeks to do the same really – is it rooted in doubt of its effectiveness, or xenophobia?

If we are to lure talented kids away from their homes with the promise of a new life and opportunities they may otherwise be deprived of, only to kick them to the curb now that we have a golden child of our own, who are we calling mercenary?

Yes cultural assimilation is important and we all have a part to play in helping them feel welcome. Some like Tao Li may have assimilated faster, and it is heartening to see badminton’s Liang Xiaoyu give interviews in English struggle as she might. Others perhaps need more time, and more importantly, your love and support – it is a two-way street really.

If they live as we do, call Singapore their home, compete for us and do their utmost to inspire fellow Singaporeans, then they are every bit as Singaporean as you and I.

And lest Schooling’s victory be used as a reason to close our doors to immigrants and foreign talent and to trust only the ‘born and bred’; while he is a third-generation Singaporean, his great-grandfather was British and his mother is Chinese Malaysian and a Singapore permanent resident. Close our doors and oppose population growth for the sake of it will only decrease, not increase our chances of a second Schooling. It is only simple math and probability.”

Having just celebrated Singapore’s birthday last week – a country of “one united people, regardless of race, language, or religion”, we ought to embrace Singapore’s multiculturalism as something that defines the beauty of our nation.

The multitude of influences from all over the world don’t erode Singapore’s culture, rather, they are the very essence of our culture, adding flavour and vigor to our life in Singapore.


By Pinky Chng, August 2016

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