The 17-year-old TikToker shamed for her “luxury bag” wasn’t an anomalous incident.
In judgmental Singapore, many love to compare. As much as it might be fun and harmless for some, it’s definitely not for the receiving end.
Here is the story of Christina Wong, the daughter of a taxi driver.
In The Beginning
Since young, Christina has been bullied for her family’s background. More specifically, for the boxy yellow vehicle her father drove.
As the young Christina enrolled in primary school in 2000, her father began his job as a driver.
Working the night shift, he would pick her up from school daily. While having a personal ride home is a privilege to many, it was a different case for Christina.
She hated the gaudy yellow paint that stuck like a sore thumb in the line of cars outside the school. She hated the “CityCab” logo that seemingly megaphoned her SES. She hated it all.
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“It was so yellow, it hurt.”
Eventually, she told her father to wait for her at the nearest HDB car park. Slowly, “nearest HDB carpark” turned into: “Stop picking me up.”
Her shame was unbearable.
In the beginning, it was just weird looks from her classmates. Then, things got understandably worse since they were all seven and weren’t the best at holding their salvo.
The questions and comments pricked the young girl then, leaving her speechless.
Amongst her family of three, the topic was always the elephant in the room. Her father knew why she didn’t want to be picked up. It hurt, but what could he do?
On the other hand, Christina’s mother addressed her directly.
“What are you acting up like this? Your dad didn’t commit a crime. What is there to be so ashamed about?”
Little did she know that her little girl was being picked on for being poor.
In a particular incident, she was invited to a friend’s house. Usually, people would introduce you by name, right?
In this upscaled estate, her friend referred to her as her “poor classmate,” adding that “her father (was) a taxi uncle.”
Imagine if your SES branded you. The embarrassment, anguish, and irritation you’d be brimming with.
As the rest of the world laughs at you and your family, all you can do is keep mum. Our nightmare was Christina’s reality. What could she do when her friend’s family was laughing at her? Nothing.
Throughout her schooling years, incidents like these weren’t uncommon; those on their high horse would pick on her in her yellow cab.
Notes would be passed in class when people spoke about Christina’s parents. They even called her “taxi” whenever they walked past her. It was as if her SES made her a pariah.
Each time the holidays ended, her teacher would ask the class where they went for their holidays.
Each time, she’d have the same answer: nowhere.
Each time, they’d have the same response: laughter.
Overseas travel and school trips were a luxury she couldn’t afford. She never got to go to Perth with her school at 11. She never got to go to Chongqing for a cultural exchange trip at 14. She never got to the Czech Republic for a choir competition at 17.
Like a puzzle in people’s eyes, Christina’s identity wasn’t complete without the words “poor” and “taxi.”
Every CNY, their family was never together. While many rushed for their reunion dinners, Christina’s father rushed to send people to their reunion dinners.
Often reaching home at dawn, reunion dinner on CNY eve was an elusive ideal for her. It wasn’t even about putting food on the table. It was about how others could eat together while they couldn’t.
As much as she hated that vehicle, she still loved the man in the driver’s seat. She still wanted to eat with him and celebrate with him.
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Fast forward many years, and the problem has died down significantly. People are more sensible and don’t outright mock her. Even if they did, she didn’t know about it.
Christina had managed to bury her problem to the bottom of her heart; it would be her shameful secret, and the trauma would be contained in her childhood days.
Or so she thought.
When she went overseas with a friend, the pain resurfaced.
“You never travelled before, ah?”
Those were the words her friend said when Christina wanted to buy something her mother would’ve liked.
“I feel like you’re just buying random things for no reason,” she added.
Maybe she was looking out for Christina’s wallet or luggage space, but those words dug up all that buried shame.
Change The Culture
Our words cross our minds only once: when we actually blurt them out loud. But for the receiving end, the comments stay with them forever.
In selfish Singapore, we seldom stop and consider other people’s stories.
The Charles & Keith incident wasn’t the first of that sort, and it’s definitely not the last. Christina’s journey is just one of many.
In the immortal words of George Elliot: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It is true, as it is wise.
Let’s ignore the fanciful appearances and appreciate people for their intrinsic value. Only when we genuinely ignore the cover and relish the content can we derive contentment.
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