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