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My Story: Diversity

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“What?! They did that to you? You are just too young for that! All of you should play happily together and not judge each other based on the skin or the flags that you bear!” exclaimed the taxi driver. I could not say anything about that. I always thought that racism only happened between ‘black’ and ‘white’ people. I heard a lot of it, how awful it was, but it never came across my mind that one day I would be the victim of that horrendous thing.

I was one among the small percentage of children who were fortunate enough to study overseas, be accepted into a government school, but unfortunate enough that we had to leave our parents at such a young age, when majority of our friends were still depending greatly on their parents. I was a 14-year-old girl when I first encountered the cruelty of the world. I still remembered vividly how painful it was to be valued by our skin colour. I had learned in a harsh way, that we should not judge people solely based on their backgrounds. This is my tragic, contradictory story in a country that made their citizens pledged to uphold the cultural diversity—“We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people; regardless of race, language or religion…”

It was the first day of school. I had no idea what the school would be like as the government schools in my home country were dreadful, unlike my new overseas government school which was hailed as ‘superior’. I was overwhelmed with anticipation and excitement to meet new friend, just as naïve as girls about my age. From the corridor, the classes looked promising, thus I paced myself enthusiastically to the front of a classroom which had a signboard written ‘3E4’on it. As soon as I got into the class, the reality struck me. The sight before my eyes had dismayed me. My fantasy of having a class full of ‘nice’ and ‘obedient’ classmates was shattered when my eyes scanned the whole classroom.

There were about twenty students in the class. They were slackly seated on frail-looking blue plastic chairs that looked as dreary as their expressions. For me, they did not look like students at all with their smoke smell, dyed hair, too short skirts, and all other attributes that made them look like they were some kind of rock band members or maybe gangsters, or what they usually called ‘ahbeng’— which meant teenager whose demeanor and behavior resembled a criminal, such as pierced ears, smoking in restricted public areas, fighting among gangs, etc. The only thing that indicated that they were students was their sloppy uniforms. They were too engulfed with themselves. They did not even care to see who was coming to the class.

“Hi! Good morning!” I said, while trying to be as cheerful as possible.

Their attentions focused on me instantly. “Huh! Chinese student! What are you doing here?! Go away! This is not your place! Go to 3E1! They are all smart! Not like us!” said one of the rangy Malay boys coldly–who later I knew as Baz–followed by the murmur of the others. His eyes were so cold that I could feel his chilling hatred towards me.

I was stunned, dumbfounded. His words sent a chill down my spine. My thought consumed me. I could not fathom why he held grudge against me. Right after he said that, I realized that there were only two Chinese boys who were estranged in the back side of the class. The class was composed with mainly Malay kids, with only three pupils from different races–two Malay students, and one Tamil student.

“I’m not Chinese! I’m Indonesian,” I replied boldly. I despised his judgment.

“Foreigner! Get out! We don’t need you here!” exclaimed Baz in Malay language. The colour drained from my face when he uttered his words that were as sharp as a blade that stabbed and tore my heart apart. The rest of the class just watched, spellbound. I learned later that there was no other foreigners in the class, except for me—they were all native Singaporean. Also, I had discovered that the classes were ranked as 3E1 being the best class, while 3E4 as the worst class.

I calmed myself down and browsed for empty seats. Ignoring him, I sat on one of the empty chair. I could feel his gaze following me when I took my seat, just like a hawk eyeing its prey.

“You stupid Indonesian! You don’t understand what I was saying is it? Or you just deaf?’ he yelled wrathfully. His yelling was as piercing as needle points that I dared not look at him, nor wanted to hear more of what he was going to say. I was aware of what he was saying, but I just decided to turn a blind eye to him. None of my classmates stood up against Baz. My heart sank. It was really disheartening for me to be the only ‘alien’ in the class.

The conditions continued for months. No one in my class dared to protect me against Baz’s insult. It was such a burden for me to go to school. I suffered at school with almost no one to talk to. I could achieve the ‘top student’ label but nevertheless, I still did not get any friend in my class. I just wanted a friend in my class! Was it that absurd? I had tried a million times to talk and made friends with my classmates, but none of them seemed to really care about me. They seemed to hate me, just because I was a foreigner and I looked like Chinese, which was like my Achilles’ heel.

One day, I just broke down and told my parents about the ugly truth. “Why don’t you tell us earlier? They were just so crude! You should come back and finish your school here!” said my mom angrily that day. The idea seemed convincing to me, but on the other hand, I would have wasted half year of my life for nothing. After many tears, I decided to bite the bullet. I promised myself that I would survive the torment. I believed that everything is possible if you just strive and endure.

Being the top student, many of my teachers depended on my help to teach my classmates about the subjects that they did not understand. Most of my classmates were among the lowest ranked of the whole cohort, so it was quite a chore to make sure that they understand the lessons. I readily helped them by answering every questions that I could. Day by day, I started to get a place among my classmates, although Baz and his friends still kept their hostile manners towards me.

That day, when I was helping Ami—one of my new friend—solving her mathematic problems, Baz stamped towards me in rage. “Shut up! You are just disturbing us with your big mouth! Do you think you are that smart, foreigner?! You—,”

“What? I asked her to teach me! It’s none of your business! Get your nose out of our things!” cut Ami sharply. Baz was petrified. I could see the horror in his eyes as Ami stood up against him. He slowly turned away and walked back shamefully to his own seat, defeated. I could feel his eyes blazed with fury towards me, but I decided to steer my attention towards Ami instead—avoiding him.

“I’m sorry about what Baz did to you. He just envied you. Do not take it personally,” comforted Ami. “I apologize that I had not done this since the first day of school. I think this is the right thing to do. He should realize his fault. Do you want to be my friend and forgive me? I hope you do!” said her again. I was flabbergasted. I nodded fervently, and hugged her. Since then, I started to get more friends and more of my classmates backed me up against Baz. My wish came true. I had a friend! Well, I had more friends now! My sweat paid off.

I was successful in proving that everything is possible. Now I realized that actually my suffering was a blessing in disguise. My experience had taught me to be mindful with my actions and more importantly, to treat everyone equally. Without those encounters, I might not be able to truly decipher the importance of equality and diversity. In my opinion, we should embrace our differences instead, rather than alienated the people who were differ from us. What so fun about having a world full of the ‘same’ kind of people? The diversity is the one that brightens up and colour the world!




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