Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ten Mix on the Wall

I was Ten Mix on the Wall recently. No, it’s not a scary new moonshine recently unleashed upon the market like the Axis of Evil (still wondering what videogame inspired that to this day). It’s the charming name the Chinese (or rather the Hokkiens) bestow on anyone not of “pure blood”.

I’ve not heard this label in a very long time. Nowadays, most people adopt a significantly civil tone or at least only call you that behind your back. An adorable term only endowed on those of mixed heritage, “Ten Mix’ itself is usually uttered with the same affectionate tones as “nigger” or “chink”.

At first I was rather reluctant to post this article in the light of all the hooha in Singapore about racist comments from bloggers. But then I realized I was not the one making the racist comment but the person to whom a racist comment had been directed. So please stop reading here if this offends you.

The first time I heard the Hokkien word “ten mix” was when I had the misfortune of being enrolled into a public school for about 6 months when I came to Singapore until I was mercifully able to go back to private school. I was very puzzled why one girl started saying that to me and suddenly everyone else was parroting her. I went home and asked my mother what it meant. I was surprised and alarmed when she looked fairly upset and questioned me as to who had called me that. I felt as if I had unknowingly done something bad to upset my mother.

In my innocence, I did not realize that “ten mix” referred to people of mixed heritage which loosely translated would be the same as calling someone a mongrel. You know I was not the brightest kid when I asked my mother why they would be calling me that when we were the same. That was the first time my mother explained how some “pure bloods” would not see the homogeneity of human existence.

It was an important lesson. I learnt to pick up Singlish very quickly in order to stop the other kids from making fun of my accent. I also picked up Chinese so I could understand when someone was insulting me.

When my housemate’s maid turned up recently while I was in the kitchen preparing dinner, I did not pay much attention at first. I say housemate’s maid instead of our maid because I politely declined her services after seeing her work. I was not comfortable entrusting my possessions and privacy to someone who spent more time talking than working, cleaned so superficially that I found myself cleaning up again after her and … the ultimate sin … going through your stuff when she thought you were not watching.

The expression in her eyes as she entered the kitchen gave her away. I could tell she was displeased that I was cooking in the kitchen – perhaps lamenting that she might actually have to clean it now. She muttered something to me but too fast for me to comprehend. I gave her an apologetically questioning look as I asked her to repeat her question. Instead of answering me, she went forth to the housemate to demand why I ignored her.

At this point I decided to really ignore her and continue cooking. But the exchange in the living room was clearly audible since she has not mastered the art of volume control yet. My diplomatic housemate told her in Mandarin that I was European-Asian (literal translation) and that I could not speak Chinese so she would have to speak to me in English. He’s wrong, of course, but I was not going to rudely interrupt their presumptions.

The reaction from the maid was classic. She utttered, “Oh, she’s a ten mix! That explains a lot. Because you can tell she is Chinese but not, you know. Because she has that dirty skin you know. And her nose is so big.”

It’s called a tan, you whitening cream abuser. I’ll have you know that sonnenstudios pay top money to achieve that effect, you flat nose platypus.

As I was silently simmering, she began a commentary on how “all these ten mix” are so snooty thinking we are above them (who is them??) and never speaking to them (again, who the hell is them???). And that it is a common fact that Europeans are very dirty unlike “us Chinese” which is probably why I am not utilising her services. She then lamented that she would have to wait for me to finish cooking before she could clean the kitchen which I was messing up.

Why don’t you try speaking to my face instead of behind my back for once? And I found you so lazy and untrustworthy that I hired another helper (who happens to be a very nice Filipina) instead, you Chinese bigot! And I am forever cleaning up since I use the kitchen so much and you clean like a blind man on weed! No offense to the blind here.

This beacon of grace and tolerance then gloated that it was a good thing that I did not speak Chinese so I could not eavesdrop on them and they could speak freely. At this point, I wondered if all Chinese people speak thus freely when they think people do no understand. If so, it is very telling. And the tale is not pretty. I’d like to believe that this is not so despite this self-appointed ambassador.

I was fairly ready to walk over to give her a piece of mind … in Mandarin … when my housemate finally spoke up. He said that I was actually very clean and if fact, I clean the kitchen better than her. I decided not to poison the portion of soup I was intending to give him.

He continued to say that I was actually a friend, which is untrue as I only got to know him when I moved in. But I knew why he said that and I really appreciated it. I decided to increase his portion size.

And he capped it all by telling her she would have to clean the kitchen no matter how long it took me to cook. He added that I was a very neat and clean cook anyway so she would not have much to do. I began to look for something else to cook for him to go with the soup.

This silenced her verbosity enough for me to swallow my anger like a bitter pill. I was tired of being a ten mix on the wall. I quickly finished cooking, cleaned up and retreated to my room, seeking a welcomed sanctuary from the thick cloud of superior lineage permeating the living room.

It is bad enough I get asked “What you ah?” by tactless taxi drivers and have colleagues speak to me about Chinese heritage slowly and patronizingly as if my lack of language skills was an indication of inferior intellect. But to have to feel the prick of such racial sanctimony in the supposed sanctum of my home was beyond the pale.

Yes, I am a Ten Mix on the wall. But it sure beats the hell out of being a bigot on the floor. Happy Chinese New Year to you too. Perhaps instead of an ang pao I can get her a nice white robe with a matching pointy hat.

Categories - Rambling Prose


Blogger Simone said...

Hello fellow "ten mix on a wall"! This is the first time I've heard the expression, to be honest... or maybe I've heard it before but never knew or understood what it meant.

I get the "you what ah?" line quite a bit and you know what my standard reply is (depending on how cheeky I feel): "Human. You?"

In the US and Europe I look sufficiently Asian enough for some people to speak English to me veeerrryyyy slowly :)

Oh well. We are what we are & I'm mighty proud of the ethnic stew which is a "ten mix on the wall." And like you said, better a ten mix on the wall than an ignorant, pathetic loser of a bigot on the floor such as your house-mate's maid.

7:50 pm  
Blogger MM said...

Yo babes! It sounds like chap zheng in Hokkien.

I always say homosapien when asked "What you ah?" but unfortunately, most of them would always go "Huh????" so it's kinda lost on them. One chap even got all excited once thinking I was saying I was gay. Sigh .. it can only happen to me.

In Europe and US everyone would say "konnichiwa" to me. Pisses me off. When I was flying I used to like saying back to those peeps who say "yoouuu speeeeak veeeeeery gooood Engerliiiiiish" to me - "soooooo doooooo yooooouuuu!"

And we should get together, eat feng and sew white robes and pointy hats for some of these peeps one day. LOL.

8:50 pm  
Blogger 3A Gurl said...

you poor darling. but i know how you feel cos i always get funny looks but not the question (unless the curious person is willing to brave death before his/her time) cos i am not eurasian but an asian mix, and some more (in some people's minds) not the right asian mix. so yeah, we should get together, have feng, chat and if we feel like it staple together some white robes and pointy hats for deserving people.

12:35 pm  
Blogger MM said...

Jaysus, who decides what is a right or wrong mix? I think the KKK is definitely a wrong mix but a person's colour, lineage or genetic are way less damning than his/her malicious actions.

Oh yeah, I forgot you can't sew. LOL, gluegun queen, you. Hope you are flying safely home now!

5:57 pm  
Anonymous paz said...

Wow! First time I'm hearing this term. What an experience but it sounds like you know how to handle yourself under these circumstances. I'm glad your housemate spoke up for you and put the woman in her place. You know it's just ignorance....

Homosapien=gay? LOL! Too funny!


3:41 pm  
Blogger Liz said...

Heh. I'm another one - Hokkien Dad, English Mum. And the last person who called me a ten mix was my Grandmother. Whom I ignored.

When I got married she comgratulated me on the pallor of my husband. I still don't quite get that.

Anyway. I'm firmly of the opinion that ladies like us are full of what geneticists call hybrid vigour, making us smarter, prettier and just all round BETTER. Nee ner.

8:51 am  
Blogger MM said...

Yes we are! LOL .. and modest too!

OMG, it's so funny you should mention the pallor thing. When I was dating an African American, I remember my mum asking me very hesitantly one day how African did I mean African American. It was hilarious.

And when one of my cousins was born (to her Indian father and my ten mix aunt), my grandfather who never even let on that he noticed his new son-in-law was Indian, asked, "So how dark is the baby?". It was the first time I realised that he might not have been as cool about the marriage as he seemed.

Thanks for commenting and visiting her. You know, we have very similar taste in food. And you are making me miss UK.

11:06 am  

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