Yellow Fever
April 01, 2006 0 moohyun

Yellow Fever

"Check out that bird!" I was out with my girlfriend and our common guy friend had yet to take his eyes off the Chinese girl with long jet black hair walking by our table. She was wearing skinny jeans and a revealing yet flattering top. "I totally have a crush on her," he said.
For me, it's all aesthetics... I love how Asian girls look - ” the silky black hair, the Oriental features, the petite frame and the twinkly brown eyes.
Ken

"You have a crush on every Asian girl on earth," my girlfriend retorted.

He wagged his fingers. "Nope, not EVERY Asian girl," he said. "Just Chinese ones."

"Can you even tell the difference?" I asked him. All I got was a shrug and a smile.

Aaah, the infamous yellow fever...

A few of years ago, when I was still living in Boston, I had a simplified idea of what yellow fever is. It was when my friends and I would go clubbing and all these white guys would come flocking around us. We'd get silly lines like "You know, I go to Chinatown a lot" or "I think the Scorpion Bowl is awesome! It's the best drink ever!" or "I love eating Shanghai fried rice and crab rangoon!" Once, I went out with my Greek roommate to Greek night at Caprice. I approached the bar and as I asked for my usual martini, the guy nearby peered at me and said "My friends and I were wondering, what's a Chinese girl doing here at Greek night?" It took me about twenty minutes to explain to them that I'm not Chinese and that yes, I spoke English. I didn't have to buy another drink after that but the night ended with me a) very very very drunk b) turning down three - ” I kid you not - ” marriage proposals c) declining a job offer to work at this guy's pizza place for $15 an hour and d) having about ten table napkins with phone numbers scribbled on them.

Fast forward to about a year and a half ago, when I first moved to Singapore; that was when I saw yellow fever taken to a whole different level. Sure, the basics are still there but instead of it being a mere fetish, I realized that over here, it was more of a subculture. It possesses a seemingly negative connotation even though it is widely accepted as a way of life.

"For me, it's all aesthetics," says Ken, a Canadian who has spent a decade living in Asia. "I love how Asian girls look - ” the silky black hair, the Oriental features, the petite frame and the twinkly brown eyes." Asian women have earned certain stereotypes such as being deferential, conservative and filial to their family.

In more traditional Asian cultures, a woman's role is more or less set in stone and there is a particular routine to be followed through the course of her life - ” go to school, help out at home, find a good husband and until wedding bells ring, she is to live at home with her parents while working and contributing to the family income. And in a cultural hub like Singapore, where the East meets the West (rather, where the Western lads meet their Eastern lasses), this kind of Asian culture can be incredibly fascinating to the neophyte Westerner whose first time it is to cross the borders of Europe or North America.

Walking down Boat Quay on a typical Wednesday night, I would spot Caucasian men (locally referred to as "Ang Moh") sporting their power suits, their Blackberries and mobile phones in tow, wining and dining their lovely Asian ladies. It always intrigues me what transpires in their conversations. Sometimes, I hear about situations from friends and acquaintances wherein the language barrier remains to be the ignored elephant in the living room. "It's not that [the Asian women] can't speak English but some of them, their listening English was better than their spoken English thus making it hard to express themselves properly," Ken disclosed to me. "And there are also instances where our senses of humor just don't connect." And other times, there just weren't enough things to talk about. Either they have difficulty in getting to know each other in a language that they both understand or they simply have nothing in common. And I'm not just talking about hobbies, but also beliefs, philosophies and values in life.
Lia Santos
Lia Santos was born and raised in the Philippines and was sent to Boston for 6 to 7 years for college

I've noticed, however, the presence of a new breed of Asian women in... well, Asia. With Singapore being in the same league as Hong Kong and Japan when it comes to international business and career opportunities, it is only natural that people in Europe, Australia and North America be lured to come over. And this group does not only consist of the proverbial Westerners, but also the overseas Asians. There are two kinds of overseas Asians: those that have been born and raised overseas, and those that have been born and raised in Asia, spent a good amount of time overseas (may it be for university or work), then come back to Asia. And both groups carry with them elements from both the East and the West. This allows them to be slightly more culturally adept and to possess a greater worldly dimension.

"I reckon that Asian women are becoming more and more empowered," shares Dean, a British broker who has lived and worked all over Asia for more than 20 years now. "I think Asian women tend to be more educated and to have better book and theoretical values. There's a lot of pressure to excel and succeed here compared to, let's say, Europe." There has been a growing trend going abroad to attend university or to gain some work experience. Ultimately, though, it is those who have Western experiences that bring a different light into Asian women.

"That gives [the Caucasians and Asians] more common ground," proclaims Dean. Similarly, Ken admits, "The best dates I've gone on are with [Asian] girls who have had some sort of Western influence or exposure. Like someone who has spent a good amount of time in the States or who has been with a foreign boyfriend before." They both claim that although they accept that Asian culture can be worlds apart from the Western culture, there should still be some middle ground that they can work on. The fascination of learning about a different culture is present as well as a certain sense of familiarity.

On a more personal note, I find that it is those pioneer expatriates here in Singapore who find succor in Asian women enriched with Western exposure. Of course, there are still those who prefer Asian women in their truest and purest form. They concede to the attraction and initial impacts of exotic and mysterious beauty. And a few of them noticeably have the white-knight complex where they feel that need to save their damsels from the hardships of the life in Asia. Regardless of their partialities, they all still share the same penchant for Orientals.

Yellow fever is truly more than an idée fixe. It's a key factor in the convergence of cultures consequently contributing to global shrinkage. It's also a sociological matter where people's curiosities are piqued and acted on. After all, isn't it just human nature to want to explore what's outside the norm?


Lia Santos is based in Singapore. She was born and raised in the Philippines and was sent to Boston for 6 to 7 years for college (and ended up working there for a couple of years). Lia eventually ended up going back to Singapore (last year) to work in a financial research house doing research on the economic markets with no plans of leaving, YET.

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