“I grew up as a minority in Singapore”


By Baldev Bhinder | Singapore | Spotted Online |

Race: I grew up as a minority in Singapore. Not just a minority but a super minority. Singapore of the 1980s wasn’t the cosmopolitan city of today. It was predominantly Chinese, some Malays and a few Tamils. Sikhs were so few and far between that we didn’t even make up 0.1% of the population. Our language wasn’t one of the 4 national languages; our caricatures were not acknowledged in the national textbooks that always featured a “Su Lin”, a “Muthu” or “Ahmad” with the token “John” representing the eurasians. I didn’t look like those around me and I didn’t fit anywhere.

But from hindsight, not fitting in anywhere was instrumental to developing my personality and outlook to life. I grew up in a Singapore where my mother would order groceries in the wet market in Hokkien, my grandfather would speak to me in Malay, for most of my formative years, I interacted with people different to me – most of my friends were Chinese and every day for an hour I was thrown into Malay class with people of every shade of brown. Not fitting in meant I learnt the ability to fit anywhere, I developed a curiosity to other people, a willingness to adopt other cultures. As a minority, I learnt malleability, openness and the attributes of being personable. In many ways I know more about the cultures around me then I know my own.

I contrast this with two very real examples. On my first day at work as a legal trainee, I met a few people in my cohort that never had a meaningful conversation with someone outside their race. I pause here and stress my disbelief – someone went through 20 years of life in “multiracial” Singapore without a real conversation with another race. You could only imagine her discomfort as an adult and ironically in a profession dominated by Indians. The second example is of the Singaporean who zealously goes to study overseas to expand their horizons, only to then spend all their time overseas with fellow Singaporeans because they are unwilling to step outside their racial comfort zone.

I have never fit in but the paradox with that is that I’ve always felt at home where I was. There are 2 takeaways to this:

  1. Growing up as a minority wasn’t the easiest (the most racist things I have heard have not come from the chavs or the bogans of the world but from Singaporeans). But on other hand, it has been a strange blessing and given me an ability to fluidly interact across different races and classes of people – a trait that is instrumental for the modern global citizen.
  2. Whatever the criticisms of the scale and speed of Singapore’s recent migration changes, I think cosmopolitan Singapore is one of the best things to happen to this country. Diversity is the best gift of human existence – imagine how lucky we are to have commonalities (rather than our differences) reinforced everyday.

Baldev Bhinder is the Managing Director of Backstone & Gold which badges itself as Singapore’s first energy and commodities law firm. He had shared the article at his LinkedIn page.


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