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The Durham Hotel Rooftop bar is 6-storeys high. If you dine al fresco, you can enjoy an unobstructed view of downtown Durham – one of the more iconic tall structures would be the Duke Chapel. Every other architecture seems Lilliputian in comparison to the towering properties sprawled across Zhuhai’s cityscape. The Chinese do their laundry on the balcony – even after having used the dryer, my host mother always dries our apparels by hanging them on the clothing lines in the late evening. Their balcony rests on the 20th floor. She claims that they’ll dry faster with the night’s zephyr and the sun’s vitamins.


My host father and host grandfather only return to this apartment on the weekends. The former works full-time in the neighbour city of Dongguan and the latter spends his post-retirement days with his son and grandchildren on Qiao dao, an island north of Zhuhai. I watch my host father’s adroit performance while preparing tea. There are numerous steps involved – washing the cups, brewing the tea, rinsing the cups again with the diluted first brew, an elaborate fashion of pouring and serving etc. The scent of burnt tea leaves lingers on the tip of my tongue; Green tea in Singapore tastes sweeter. My host grandfather begins to talk. He enquires about property prices in Singapore, about the Merlion, about bilingualism. My appetite seems to have piqued his interest. He asks, “Do Singaporeans not eat Chicken feet, pork knuckles, beef tribe, duck blood and animals’ intestines?” I take another sip of the lukewarm green tea, and try to think of a polite response that would not offend his gastronomical sensibilities. “We are more inclined towards the familiar – food like Chicken wings, Chicken breast meat and the likes.”


I’ve lost count of the number of times the locals (both young and old) have brushed me off because I’m both a Singaporean and an ethnic Chinese. They insist that we share a common denominator that is heritage and then look towards my American peers, eyes green with envy. There’s a Sam’s Club (?), a Walmart, and Pizza hut. A seven-year old girl at a Migrant Children’s School informed me, “姐姐,我觉得外国人都长得很好看!” I am reminded of Edward Said’s discourse on ‘Orientalism’, and I recall one of my Duke Professors saying that such consciousness is sometimes perpetuated by the east yearning to emulate the west, or by subscribing to the notion that the west is superior. (This is probably not the best place for an intellectual discussion, but it is cathartic to let it all out.)


I am still unaccustomed to leading hip-hop dance classes. Brainstorming for original choreography proves to be a fatiguing and impenetrable task for someone who is considerably self-conscious. How can I make a dance move look fluid, strong or sleek with thunder thighs and uncoordinated limbs? Who am I to command the attention of these doe-eyed children, all zealous to learn new moves? The blistering heat of a sweltering Wednesday afternoon indubitably dampened my spirits. In retrospect, I could have been a lot more diplomatic – many students had asked to learn new moves, but I hadn’t been satisfied with their performance. No one had the right facial expression, some people had forgotten the steps, others danced in the most emotionless manner possible; the entire sight was an underwhelming and discouraging hot mess. In the here and now, I think of the moments when we were unceremoniously ranked by the middle-schoolers – Caucasians were their number ones and the girl who speaks and looks Chinese placed last (probably because she is least exotic etc.). Some had even hopped over from the other dance classes because there weren’t any spaces left. I abhorred being an afterthought; I cannot, and should not be a compromise. So I started to rank them. Only the better dancers deserved to be in the spotlight for a longer duration. Some students were ostensibly displeased, and they sought second chances – but I, too, was disappointed when I became their last pick. Perhaps, the only difference is: I’m uncertain if they ‘d ever grace me with a second chance.