We finally went to watch Crazy Rich Asians a few weeks ago. We bundled our protesting son into the car and drove to a cinema a couple of suburbs away to watch it.
For those who have yet to see the hit movie, it is based on the book by Kevin Kwan. It’s a love story between New Yorker Rachel Chu and Singaporean Nick Young. But being an Asian love story, you cannot get past the importance of family approval.
Raised by a single mother to become an economics professor, Rachel is every inch the product of an immigrant success story. Unfortunately, Nick’s family comes from old money. “Crazy rich” old money that built Singapore from the ground up. And with it comes obligation, duty and sky-high family expectations.
I enjoyed it. It was fabulous to see a range of Asian characters. I loved the fact I could laugh at all the “in” jokes; to see Asian culture represented through Asian eyes. Singapore, where I lived for six years, also looked stunning.
But it hurt too. I didn’t expect that.
That distinction between Asians who have grown up in the west and Asians who have grown up in the east is real. There is a scene where Rachel’s mother looks at her daughter and states while she may look Chinese, speak Chinese, she is different. Rachel has been raised by the west. She thinks differently and feels differently.
I felt my heart twinge a little when I saw that small scene. She was describing me. An eastern child who has spent most of her life enjoying the freedoms of the west. Growing up with Anglo-Australian friends and forgetting my narrow eyes and the colour of my skin.
And beneath all the unbelievable wealth, the jewels, the clothes in the movie the relationships between the characters were truthfully told. Perhaps a little too realistically.
Here comes a spoiler!
There is one devastating line uttered by Nick’s mother to Rachel.
You will never be enough.
Those who have never lived with the expectation to work hard and to succeed academically, musically, materially; to master one’s mother tongue as well as speak perfect English; to be pushed to constantly strive to be better, do better won’t understand.
They won’t understand the weight of that expectation from people who love them. To bask in their love and pride when one succeeds, and to feel their bitter disappointment and desperate concern when one fails.
They don’t understand the love and obligation that binds one to them at the same time. Can’t know the deep-seated insecurity that stems from the fear they will disappoint people who love them and that sneaking suspicion that they will never be enough for the very people they love.
That’s why that one sentence uttered so gently by Eleanor cuts Rachel so deeply.
At the end of the movie, my husband turns to me.
“That was quite realistic,” he mutters.
I nod. I knew what he meant. The $40 million wedding, the fast cars and crazy parties were pure fantasy for most of us. But the characters represented, and the relationships between them were not.
I loved that he could see through it.
The day after our family outing to the movies, this comes up on my Facebook feed. It’s a story about an ice cream seller in Singapore. He’s not crazy rich. But his story is priceless.
According to the Straits Times, Mr Chua Kheng Lee was a successful renovation contractor until the economic downturn in 1996. He was then a taxi driver until the SARS scare in 2003.
For the past 16 years, Mr Chua has worked 13-hour days, travelling to up to 14 locations a day to sell his ice cream for 50 cents to kids and adults alike.
In the video, he explains he hasn’t raised his prices in 16 years for two reasons. One is the fact it may deter sales. The other is his concern for the kids who come running to buy his ice cream. He worries they may not be able to afford a treat if he raised his prices.
If you want to see a different version of Singapore, please take the time to watch the video. His story will make you smile.