Decolonial Aesthesis: From Singapore, to Cambridge, to Duke University

I thought that my fellow Singaporean readers might find this letter to herself by a Chinese Singaporean girl who went to Cambridge to study interesting.

To my eighteen-year-old self, on your departure for Cambridge September 21st, 2003

In three days, you will encounter a fish knife for the very first time. You will not know what it is, but everyone else will. You will watch, and imitate.


I have plenty of thoughts to expound on this but I have to go clean my bedroom soon. Just off the top of my head, I think she is rather easily impressed.

I have been fascinated by Japan since I was a child and I eventually went on to major in Japanese and study in Japan. … I didn’t think of it this way back then but reading this essay made me glad that I studied in a non-Western country because it taught me to see things from a decidedly non-Western viewpoint. Japan is very, very different culturally from Singapore or any Western country and it obviously has a long, rich civilization of its own. Singaporeans already grow up in a very Westernized Anglophone environment and going abroad to Western countries to study only exacerbates the problem.

Singapore is a very young nation, one younger than my parents. The older generations were not even born in Singapore. Of course it hasn’t had much time to develop a deep, rich culture of its own. Moreover, the population has been in a state of constant flux. When you add in the fact that it is a tiny country without significant military and economic clout (unlike the US, think about the fact that American English is now the prized standard the world over instead of British English now that the sun has set on the British Empire), it is hardly surprising that the ability to eat durian properly is not prized overseas.

As for the fish knives, I’m pretty sure our ancestors thought having knives at the table was barbaric. Civilized people eat with chopsticks *wink* The reason why modern Chinese no longer think in this self-confident way is due to historical events from late Qing onwards when China degenerated into a mess due to Western imperialism and other reasons.

For that, see this post which depicts modern Chinese history from a mainland point of view:

I really doubt that Chinese people had inferiority complexes at the peak of the Tang dynasty when China was the leading civilization in East Asia. Even if you go to ex-imperial capital Kyoto in Japan today as I did, you will find out that the city was laid out in imitation of Tang dynasty imperial capital Chang’an (modern Xi’an) when it was built.