Monday, October 27, 2008

The 'China Bride' Chronicles: The Ballad of Alvin Tan and Sherry Aw

Razor-sharp feline claws shredding into the remnants of one Singaporean man's dignity. It is becoming so fashionable to bash the (once) dominant male, that I feel the once dominant is now the underdog; it is probably something new again if we bashed the female. I guess the growingly "wimpy" Singaporean man can never find a lover in the growingly "tigerish" Singaporean woman.

I believe there is definitely a few ideal types of men that Singaporean women desire. Let me explore one of them: Tall, decently built, handsome, takes the initiative, financially independent, has a car, occasionally pays for meals, you get the picture... oh yes, and heterosexual ("abuden", says Phua Chu Kang).

Is it social mobility some women crave, rather than romance? Or is the desire of social mobility (upwards, of course) part of the construct of "romance" for some Singaporean women?

Socio-economic status seems a factor to some Singaporean women, according to some Singaporean men. Is that an accurate assessment at all? In that case, are some Singaporean women materialistic? Or do some Singaporean men just think some Singaporean women are materialistic?

Why are people bothered with materialism and allegations of materialism? Are they being distracted with these, so they will not be able to find the time and energy to mobilise a socialist uprising against the oppressive capitalist state? (ok, just kidding)

I think Singaporean men and women should just get on with their own romantic lives, whether with one another or with a foreign other. If one side feels the other side isn't very desirable, the former should just ignore the latter and move on. The latter will get the hint.

Some men like type-A tiger alpha-women (I'm terrified of them actually), while some women like domesticated men.

And it doesn't help that the media facilitates the generalisations of gender, see Channel 8 and you will understand. "All men should ...", "all women are ..." are quite common in these Chinese shows.

Then you have the Straits Times that demean Chinese women as "China brides". China is a noun, bride is a noun - doesn't sound quite right. "Chinese bride" would be more respectful, but we'll probably take for granted they are Singaporean (Chinese = Singaporean; China = China, abuden?).

I think men have a right to express themselves if they feel oppressed. No shame in that. Women have long done that.

Have a fun read.

Oct 19 - Why I chose a China bride

Many people seem to believe that Singapore men who opt for foreign brides tend to pick younger, less educated women from less developed countries. I'm a Singapore male and I just married a foreigner this year. She's from China, two years older than I am and a university graduate with a top-notch academic record. We met in Kunming, where I work, after mutual friends introduced us.

On one of our dates, we did discuss why I did not have a Singapore girlfriend. I admitted that I don't understand what Singapore women want. They have their own careers and are as skilled and capable as their male colleagues. Yet, they demand that their dates behave like 'gentlemen' and treat them as the weaker sex. This hardly seems like equality or equitable.

In February, when The Straits Times reported the results of a survey on singles, this 'contradiction' was raised. Many women still expect their dates to carry their handbags and pick up the tab. Asking to split the bill is still widely unacceptable on the local dating scene.

From my own experience and what I've heard, it seems many Singapore women tend to interpret feminism in their own way. A woman who shells prawns for her man is deemed archaic, but a man who carries a woman's handbag for her is being gentlemanly, even though it might make him look silly.

If Singapore women want to be on an equal footing with their men, then they should expect to be treated equally - the way men treat other men. Among other things, there would be no need for the man to escort the woman home.

However, if women want men to shelter, love and care for them in the gentlemanly fashion they seem to demand, then they should let their men take charge.

I would have been happy to date and marry a Singapore woman who knew which she wanted. I would have accepted whichever path she chose.

As things turned out, I found a woman who knew exactly what she wanted - in Kunming.

Alvin Tan

Oct 23 - It's an insult to S'pore women

I refer to Mr Alvin Tan's letter last Sunday, 'Why I chose a China bride'. I am astonished that a single passage could make me feel insulted, tickled and disbelieving all at once. Mr Tan is either seriously misinformed of the needs and wants of the modern Singapore woman, or is still steeped in the traditional notion of how men and women should behave.

First, I am unclear of his intention. I believe his marriage to his Chinese bride was between two people truly in love. Why then the need to defend his choice? Why the need to accuse thousands of Singapore women of being clueless of what they want, or even imply indirectly we all want to be treated as the weaker sex?

What also puzzles me is how Mr Tan manages to equate wanting a date to be gentlemanly with wanting to be the weaker sex. If wanting a man to hold the door open for a woman, an act of 'gentlemanliness', can be construed as weakness, does my ability to open my own door signify how strong and masculine I am? I pray not, or I would face a serious identity crisis.

And really, does having our own career or equal abilities to men mean we have become men ourselves? The 'equal footing' treatment we demand is recognition of our abilities to carry out our jobs. Not to be treated like men, but acknowledgement that we are as capable as men. If we 'should expect to be treated equally - the way men treat other men', then perhaps from the perspective of a woman, the equal treatment Mr Tan is looking for is to be treated like a best buddy-cum-girlfriend and not boyfriend material.

Mr Tan also insinuates that, if women want equality, they should see themselves home after a date, as 'there is no need for the man to escort' her. Men with such a mentality make bad dates, or do not have sufficient affection for the woman they are dating. Not wanting to escort your girlfriend home means you don't care about her.

Mr Tan, I am happy you found someone to love and care for. But there was no need to collectively insult the entire female population in Singapore, simply because you were unable to find someone to suit your needs here. I am certain we know what we want in a man - someone who respects us, treats us equally (not like other men) and has no reservations about being a gentleman.

Sherry Aw (Ms)

Oct 25 - 'Why I chose a China bride': It's a problem of changing gender roles and expectation

I REFER to the letters by Mr Alvin Tan last Sunday ('Why I chose a China Bride') and Ms Sherry Aw on Thursday ('It's an insult to Singapore women').

What we need to appreciate is that times are changing, socially and economically.

This results in men and women reprioritising their needs, which affects their idea of romance and the ideal partner.

Gender is always a thorny issue, but that does not mean we should ignore opinions from both sides.

The fact that there are Singapore men who have a certain opinion of Singapore women in general, and vice versa, is indicative of social reality.

Being empowered with the resources and opportunities for financial independence, among other factors, the Singapore woman has more choices and obviously has a shift in expectations.

While this may not apply to all women in Singapore, there has already been an impression, tending towards the mixed or the negative, among some Singapore men.

I do not disagree with Mr Tan on some observations as I have met and seen for myself women who are financially independent, yet still materialistic and demanding to be treated like princesses. This type of mixed signal is probably what confounds Mr Tan and some men.

I have also observed a common stereotype of Singapore men held by Singapore women, in which Singapore men are seen as timid mummy's boys who are incapable of being independent or having any initiative, something deemed to be an inferior and undesirable aspect of masculinity.

What is curious is that, in thinking this way, it shows that both men and women still hold on to traditional gender roles and expectations, and their discomfort with one another presents an inertia towards adjustment.

Media portrayals of the ideal man also exert pressure on how Singapore men 'perform' their masculinity. The route to financial independence of Singapore men is hampered by, among other things, the lengthy education system, changes in parenting, national service, servicing of study loans after graduation, the housing scheme and so on. Given these factors, it is difficult for the Singapore man to be the typical 'ideal'.

I believe the problem in our gendered conflict and differences is that both sides are a little misadjusted for the times, and at the same time, are so distracted by the opposite sex, we forget to discuss the larger political and social issues that may have caused the problem.

Ho Chi Sam

Oct 26 - What the modern S'pore woman wants

I refer to last Sunday's letter by Mr Alvin Tan, 'Why I chose a China bride', which I felt gave an inaccurate portrayal of the modern Singaporean woman.

Speaking from the perspective of a young Singapore woman, I do not see why it is so difficult for men to behave in a gracious or gentlemanly way, especially on a date.

Though some women here may appear intimidating, this is only to enable them to compete better in the workplace.

Women have to strive harder to prove their worth in the mostly male-dominated workplace. So they can't afford to appear soft, delicate or helpless at a professional level.

As for the 'contradiction' issue mentioned by Mr Tan, I believe many women, capable as they are, still regard gestures such as picking up the tab or carrying their handbags as indications of the men's devotion to them.

Singaporean women may expect the men to treat them as equals in the workplace, but if the men want their affections, the guys must show some sincerity. Carrying their dates' handbags and offering to pay the bill are just some ways of doing so.

Most women will remember and appreciate such gestures.

I would also like to remind Mr Tan that many Singapore women take on the roles of wife and mother, and yet continue to remain active in the workforce. And many women here contribute equally, or even more, to the household.

Thus, Singaporean men should let go of the old stereotype that women should be submissive to them.

If men here continue to harbour such outdated expectations, then it would indeed be difficult for them to find local partners.

Tan Wei (Ms)

Oct 27 - 'Why I chose a China bride': Women should seek to understand men better

I REFER to Ms Sherry Aw's letter last Thursday, 'It's an insult to Singapore women', in reaction to my letter, 'Why I chose a China bride' (Oct 19).

First of all, I strongly suggest Ms Aw to read the article 'Love me, spoil Me' (Feb 24). It provides a view into Singapore women's psyche.

I would also like to reproduce a remark in the same article by Ms Iben Wan, a Danish woman married to a Singaporean:

'If you expect the man to accept you as his equal, you can't also expect him to run around treating you like a porcelain doll on a pedestal. It just does not make sense in our modern world.'

Second, Ms Aw's statement, 'what also puzzles me is how Mr Tan manages to equate wanting a date to be gentlemanly with wanting to be the weaker sex', inadvertently proves my observation that Singapore women interpret feminism in their own way. Yes, it is precisely because it is a puzzling matter that women like Ms Aw should seek to understand what and how men think, preferably from men instead of relying on one-sided women's magazines. My view is that true equality means women do not need men to take care of their every need, emphasis is on 'every'.

Third, her comment that 'not wanting to escort your girlfriend home means you don't care about her' is again one sided. If the man has done 80 out of 100 things a woman expects her date to do, yet does not escort her home, does this one act invalidate his 80 others? Men generally tend to be practical. With rising car ownership and usage costs, heavy reliance on public transport is prevalent. On the other hand, salaries do not increase in tandem with costs. In such a Singapore context, I am not surprised that Singapore men may find their dating plans limited by bus and MRT schedule (regular taxi usage is excluded because it is costly). However, sadly, such a practical and real concern will likely be seen as cheapskate by Singapore women.

Ms Aw is free to keep her definition of 'boyfriend material'. However, any relationship is a two-way street: You have to give as well as take.

To dispel the notion that I am an 'old-fashioned' man from the 1950s and ignoring any cynicism on my 'honeymoon period' of marriage, I go grocery shopping with my wife and I offer to carry, without my wife asking, the groceries home because I am physically stronger than her. My wife and I have a common understanding that whoever cooks is exempted from washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. Yes, I do cook and reasonably well at that. Notwithstanding this, there are times when I both cook and wash up, especially if my wife has guests over as this will free her to spend time with them. Yes, I also cut and serve fruit, with or without guests, and with no one 'keeping score' on kitchen duties.

When it comes time to clean the apartment, my wife and I clean together, with me usually mopping a bigger area as it is physically more taxing. There are many more examples but these few are enough to prove I am not old fashioned. I intend to do all this, and more, as long as my marriage lasts and I am physically able.

Alvin Tan

Oct 27 - 'Why I chose a China bride': Points in letter to undermine Singapore women not justified

I refer to the letter by Mr Alvin Tan, 'Why I chose a China bride' (Oct 19). Essentially, it has has stirred up a beehive. If Mr Tan has had unhappy encounters with Singapore women, there is no need to glamorise China brides to justify his choice.

When a couple unite in marriage, it must be based on trust and love. What has it to do with nationality? How is marrying a China bride better than a Singapore bride? But one thing I can list are the many good points about Singapore women.

It is undeniable that Singapore women are more educated than they were a decade ago. They are now more financially independent and more informed of world events and can definitely fight for their rights. But have they not done their part?

Just look around. HDB flats are usually co-paid for by husband and wife. While the typical Singapore wife has to take care of the children, she is still expected to bring home a salary. By today's standard, a single-income family is under financial strain. To be financially secure, a dual income is ideal and it cannot be achieved without the Singapore woman.

If Mr Tan still hopes for such traditional wives who are submissive, then yes, he will have to look beyond Singapore. There is no best of two worlds, asking an educated woman to submit to the whims and fancies of men, yet be financially independent. This is probably achievable in Virtual World.

To enlighten further, are household chores and taking care of children, which includes nurturing and building their capabilities to enter the working world, not managed mainly by Singapore women? I do not deny that men put in more effort than a decade ago. What about Singapore women who gladly take a break from work to spend time with their children? They sacrificed the golden years of their lives for their children when they could have used the time to soar up the career ladder. The points by Mr Tan undermining Singapore women are not justified. Is a Singapore bride a bad choice?

I would not restrict the choice of husband for my daughters, but if the men are the self-contained, self-centred type, I would encourage my daughters to look further, Singapore or not. One thing I can enlighten Mr Tan on is my husband, a Malaysian, has been happily married to me, a Singaporean, for close to 10 years and we have two happy and beautiful daughters, both Singaporean. I have never lamented about Singapore men not meeting my expectations. Love is blind to nationality, race and age. I just need someone who loves and respects me, Singaporean or not.

Cheng Wan Ying (Ms)


Glass Castle said...


What bothers me, personally, about the original letter is its claim that gender equality is something women must 'earn' or 'deserve'. I find it a disturbing suggestion that women as a class being on an 'equal footing' with men as a class is somehow a conditional matter, dependent on each of us choosing one of two paths pre-approved by Alvin Tan, as if women can be treated as inferior or lesser beings can ever be justified. Why do we have to justify our worth in order to be treated as people with valid needs and opinions, while men are simply assumed to be people?

I disagree with his implication that men are the default person, and the relations that prevail between men are the default relations between equal persons - "accept being treated the way a man treats other men, OR ELSE let the man be in charge". Where is the scope for women, as full human beings equal to but not identical to men, articulating what we think mutually respectful relations look like?

Personally, my fiance and I have reasoned and reciprocal discussions on any issues we face, while also spoiling the hell out of each other. We both love giving gifts to each other, we both love going the extra mile to make the other happy. Which is a bit nicer, I think, than either having a relationship where you are treated no differently from everyone else in the other person's life, or having any one person be 'in charge'!

- Jolene

Sam Ho said...

hi jolene,

there's a history behind it. that's why men become the default, e.g. women are measured according to the man.

historically, there are domains that are exclusive to men. so one has to be a man, or have the traditional responsibilities of a man, to have access to these domains.

that is probably what it's all about in that reading of alvin tan, although i didn't quite realise that until you mention it.

the same goes for the concept of "children". "adult" responsibilities and privileges are taken away from them.

that's probably why some men, who are frustrated with some women, will reason that "if they want to have equality, serve NS la!"

i personally don't believe in gender equality, because there is no ideal and i've no ideal. gender, at the same time, is a cultural (and political) trap, because there's a lot of cultural and historical baggage to deal with when we talk about gender.

you make me feel bad about myself. i'm not a gift-giving lover/husband!

gabriel tan said...

Very interesting post and observations. I've been following your blog for a while now, and I really like your writing and view on things in general. :)

Agagooga said...

I find it very amusing that Sherry Aw's letter basically proves Alvin Tan's points about Singaporean (arguably all) women's warped version of feminism.

Everyone wants rights, but they don't always accept the responsibilities that come with them. This isn't surprising, but the way they defend this inconsistency might be.

Since you archived the followups I'll link to this post :)

Agagooga said...

Btw I assume if you publish a ST forum letter here it means it got published?

Ever got rejected?

I did. Thrice.

They need to make space for George Lim Heng Chye.

Agagooga said...

"Singaporean men marry foreign women because they are losers.

Singaporean women marry foreign men because Singaporean men are losers."

Weiye said...

I believe strongly in gender equality because gender/sex (in sociology) has become a problematic gauge as to what we expect of the person. When I say that it has become so, I don't mean that it wasn't so in the past. It's just more obvious now.

Why should I expect a man to pay the bills just because he's a man? Just as why should I expect a woman to be submissive just because she's a woman? Why should I pay a man higher than I pay a woman with the same qualifications for the same job? In that sense, sex/gender becomes a false criterion to expect anything of a person.

We should therefore then use other more significant criteria to judge a person. That to me is the ideal of gender equality.

Agagooga said...

Why should I pay a man higher than I pay a woman with the same qualifications for the same job?

You should if they work fewer hours, have flex-hours, need time off for pregnancy etc

"Men may earn more but women spend more. Which would you rather?"

Weiye said...

Working fewer hours, having flex-hours, and pregnancy has nothing to do with being man or woman.

A man can work fewer hours and have flex-hours too.

As for pregnancy, not every woman get pregnant even though pregnancy is kind of restricted to women. But if you think further, does that mean that a barren woman should get equal pay as men?

Sex/gender is therefore, as I've said, an insignificant variance for making any policy.

Agagooga said...

Both men and women can work fewer hours and on flex-time, but the fact is that women do that more often.

Similarly, men and women both can go to prison, but prisons are overwhelmingly filled with men. To ignore gender (or indeed any variable) where it is relevant is sheer folly.

Pregnancy is a bit hard to judge and there're all sorts of ethical issues here. I don't have a ready answer, but I propose that women who get pregnant be paid less and if a government wishes to encourage childbirth it credit the employer with tax relief.

Weiye said...

Is it really a fact that women do work fewer hours and are on flex-time? Even if it is a fact, is it appropriate to conclude that it's simply because they are women? There are many underlying social factors, especially in this patriarchal society that results in women being forced to work shorter flexible hours in order to cope with their double shifts. Indeed, to ignore any variable e.g. the underlying social structure is sheer folly.

The surface value may show you that more men are in prisons than women. But you should always look deeper to sieve out the crucial factors that cause such social phenomenons. If not, your evaluations of them will simply be redundant.

And why should we penalize the women only for their pregnancy? Are you telling me that your wife's (if you're married) pregnancy has nothing to do with you?

Agagooga said...

Yes, it's a fact that they work less and on flex-time.

I don't know what you mean by it being "appropriate to conclude that it's simply because they are women". I'm just explaining the gender wage gap, since you made the sweeping claim it had nothing to do with gender, and made the even more sweeping claim that "Sex/gender is... an insignificant variance for making any policy".

If you believe in equal pay for equal work, pregnancy should result in less pay. As I've already said, if you want to promote pregnancy you can subsidise it either for the woman, employer or both. And to think that men pay no price for their partners' pregnancies is naive.

Weiye said...

What I meant is that it's inappropriate to conclude that women work shorter flexible hours simply because they are women. That is just a superficial reasoning. It's because women are often tasked to take care of the family, cook and clean, etc. that they have no choice but to take flexible hours. And oftentimes, this is due to the patriarchal social structures that absolve these duties off the men. In that sense, it's unfair to say that it's simply because they are women that they work shorter flexible hours. They didn't have a choice unless the men are willing to shoulder equal household responsibility no?

Their work at home i.e. the double shift would have earn them considerable income if not because it's seen as their natural obligation. So if you argue that we should cut their pay for working less in the corporate sector (which I agree to because you earn what you work for), then shouldn't you pay them back the equals for working more in the household (because you earn what you work for as well)?

And as for the argument regarding pregnancy, it goes both way. If both husbands and wives do get 'penalized' for having children, then both should be accorded equal benefits as well to me in terms of paternity/ maternity leaves, etc.

I apologize in advance if I've misread your points because it seems to me that you're discriminating towards the women.

Agagooga said...

Your original question was: "Why should I pay a man higher than I pay a woman with the same qualifications for the same job", and it was that that I was explaining.

If you want to look at factors behind why women work shorter and/or flexible hours, that is a different issue. But in any case, it is simplistic to keep blaming it on 'patriarchy'. There are many other possibities (men being workaholics, men being more risk loving, division of labour etc)

If you want to talk about unfairness, lots of things are unfair. I may be born less intelligent than someone else, or born into a poorer family and thus not have had the chance to go to an expensive university, but most people would not say that my being paid less due to being less intelligent/not having as prestigious a degree is 'unfair' (and certainly not deserving of remedial action)

As for paying women for housework, this is very problematic to put into practice, but as I pointed out, "men may earn more but women spend more". They do not need to be directly paid.

And I'm sure you'd agree that women being more personally involved in the process of childbirth, they should get more maternity leave than men get paternity leave. Arguing otherwise is just bizarre.

I believe that identical entities should be treated identically. Unfortunately entities are not identical in the real world, and thus there is often an appearance of discrimination, which is often eagerly latched on to.

Glass Castle said...

Sam, Weiye,

Some facts:

- Jolene

Weiye said...


So will you agree that if the women work the same hours, has the same qualification for the job, then they deserve equal pay as the men?

And why do you keep dividing labor simply between the sexes? Why can't women be workaholics, risk-taking? Are you more risk-tolerant than say Ho Ching? Are you more workaholic than say Hillary Clinton? Similarly, why can men be domesticated? If I enjoy being a househusband is that not alright?

And how do you know that women spend more than men? Even if it's true, which I totally doubt, is it really across the board that women spend more than men? And articles I found on the net seem to suggest that men spend more than women even though women spend more time shopping ( Substantiate your 'facts' please.

What's so bizarre about arguing for paternity leave since you said that men are just as implicated in childbirth, even if not directly pregnant and delivering.

Your birth into a "poorer" family is indeed unfair (to you) in this 'meritocratic' society since it limits your access to resources. I do believe that equal access to education is a fundamental human right. I didn't disagree to it did I?

Going by your logic that only identical entities should be treated equally, since you claim to be less intelligent, then you should be treated as less equal to those who are more intelligent no? Why are you then bringing up the point that few people are arguing for your pay? Also going by your logic, even though you're not paid as highly because you're less intelligent, you are 'paid' indirectly by being given less intellectual jobs no? Isn't it still alright (by your arguments) then?

I think I understand where you're coming from now. And shall cease to reply from now on. =)

Weiye said...

Hi Jolene,

Thanks for the article. I feel that it only goes to reflect the lack of equality between the sexes. And both sexes need to work on it to eliminate these gender-motivated willingness/ expectations.=)

Sam Ho said...

damn, i missed all the posts here.

apparently my email account shifts updates to the "thrash" section!!!

"If you want to talk about unfairness, lots of things are unfair. I may be born less intelligent than someone else, or born into a poorer family and thus not have had the chance to go to an expensive university, but most people would not say that my being paid less due to being less intelligent/not having as prestigious a degree is 'unfair' (and certainly not deserving of remedial action)"

the above statement makes me feel so depressed...

i think domesticated men (perhaps like myself in the future) don't get represented in the discussion. there is unequal incentives for such people.

Agagooga said...

I'll buy you a hen

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