Thou Shalt Not Say Anything About Anything

The following unspoken rules characterise most of the conversations I have had with the law students who have surrounded me since my return to Singapore. (Though obviously there are exceptions, who should know who they are.)

  • If asked what you did over the weekend (which is rare) it is acceptable to state the title of the movie you watched, or the club you went to. But be so bold as to actually venture an opinion of the activity you participated that goes beyond “Yah, not bad lah, quite fun” and all of a sudden you’re the weird one, because no one actually gives a shit what you think, especially when you do weird things that they’ve never heard of or considered doing.
  • Personal information beyond the most mundane facts eg. “I have a cat” or the most trite statements “It’s important to try and still have a life even though we’re working” is unnecessarily revelatory and must be kept top secret. If someone is asking you about yourself, answer in monosyllables. Perhaps they have an ulterior motive. If they continue to try to draw you out (the flaming cheek!) answer in banalities to bore them into submission.
  • Never give in. These upstarts must learn.

I am getting more socially awkward among these people by the day, because I don’t know how to behave. In England I behaved as confidently and talkatively as I felt like being on a given day. I met my best friend within freshers’ week, and within a month he told me things about himself he had never dared to confide in any other friend. In my public debating debut at the UCL Debating Society, I argued for the legalization of hardcore pornography, accused the other side of wanking under the table instead of listening to my team’s case, and rejected one guy’s incessant points of information by telling him he’d ejaculated quite enough. The club embraced me. In the pub, I let on that I was a practising Catholic. The club still embraced me. Throughout my time there I was an oddity, Chinese and female and Catholic in a club that was predominantly white and male and degenerate, but I never felt it.

But what worked so well for me in England seems to be anathema here, in my “homeland” where I should feel anything but an oddity. Confidence is overconfidence. Chattiness is met by reticence and suspicion. Before I went to England, I knew all this. I dealt with it by acting shyer than I really was, which seemed to make other people more comfortable with me. Since returning to Singapore, I’ve reverted to that old strategy, and I try to follow the rules when I actually know what they are, but it terrifies me. I don’t want to wake up one day and realize that I have become my disguise.

I really want to believe that all these people have great personalities which they just choose to keep hidden. Perhaps they have Personality Parties on the weekend, where they let it all hang out, and then button their stuffed shirts up for the week ahead, and I just haven’t been invited to these parties. Perhaps every dull statement made is actually code for “On the weekend I had a threesome and one of us was a goat.” But if so, why stay locked in this vicious cycle of conversational nothingness, where I say nothing because I think they’re boring and they say nothing because they think I’m boring?

Some days I wish I just had Tourette’s syndrome. That’d be a great excuse to break the fucking ice.

14 comments

  1. You’ve given me renewed inspiration to work on an abandoned song called “Interpersonal Emptiness”. I started writing it on a day that I felt just as you do now. It has lyrics like

    “Sing me a song you only sing when you’re low;

    Tell me something you don’t want me to know,

    Open your mind and let go”

    “Bring me somewhere no-one else has been,

    Tell me something that you really mean,

    Open your heart and let me in”

    And the refrain is just a trippy

    “Come on (come on) let’s get over this

    Interpersonal Emptiness”.

    It’ll be laid-back, a little groovy and generally Observatory-ish, or at least I hope it can be.

  2. Don’t let it beat you! just remember, the silly people who try to be non-descript have to

    “learn” personality traits overnight, thus impeding their progress in life and in their careers for at least 5 years, while these fledging traits develop into something tangible and interesting [with any luck] enough to expose at various dinners, work lunches and social clubs.

  3. Well yes, there are a significant number of people in the class who I am sure love their friends and family very much and are essentially not bad people. Unfortunately, in my experience people who are essentially nice are not necessarily interesting or in possession of social graces. Also, many nice people still prefer to remain in their comfort zones and not talk to new faces in a group.

    As I said at the start of the post, there have been exceptions, but even those exceptions have their established cliques of friends, who are not all as nice and interesting as them.

  4. But if so, why stay locked in this vicious cycle of conversational nothingness, where I say nothing because I think they’re boring and they say nothing because they think I’m boring?

    Because if you answer with more than the merest minimum then you’re obviously full of yourself because you’re putting yourself out when there’s “no need”; and if you think anything that isn’t the same tired pap down to the dot on the ‘i’ and the cross on the ‘t’ then you’re “just being different for the sake of being different”; “everyone is entitled to their own opinions” so exchanging them is fruitless; and aiyah not everybody is as intellectual as you, okay? Just because they do it like that in the West doesn’t mean we also have to follow what. Any you think in England they really accept you ah? You will always be second-class citizen.

  5. Yeah, Singapore sucks! Singapore sucks! West is best! West is best! Can’t stand those stupid Singaporeans, they’re all boring losers while I am Western educated so I am so great and therefore better than them! England is paradise, it’s a land overflowing with milk and honey, where everyone has money, respect and dignity (even the poor immigrants from Eastern Europe or Africa). People give me respect there, I’m sure it’s not because they want my Asian pussy! Quick, if I marry an ang moh then I can become ang moh also! Then I will never have to see Singapore again! Quick, quick, no time to waste, must find ang moh boyfriend! You got any can recommend or not, ah?

  6. It’s people who say stupid banal statements that go nowhere who have made me ironic and deprecating half the time. That way I can entertain myself, at the very least.

    So not only am I boring to other people, I might seem a bit loony smiling wryly to myself.

  7. Some days I wish I just had Tourette’s syndrome. That’d be a great excuse to break the fucking ice.

    You’d think, but no, it just tends to make people feel awkward and subtley ignore you.

  8. “Since returning to Singapore, I’ve reverted to that old strategy, and I try to follow the rules when I actually know what they are, but it terrifies me. I don’t want to wake up one day and realize that I have become my disguise.”

    Funny how I can relate to that whenever I’m back in Singapore – it’s a scary thought!

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