The days leading up to Racial Harmony Day 2017 saw a flurry of activity amongst Victorians, who were excitedly discussing their plans regarding their traditional costumes and envisioning delicious ethnic food. Some even went to the extent of forking out money to get themselves costumes, the day before, to look their part on the 21st of July.
On the day itself, a myriad of traditional costumes was observed around the campus. VJC certainly looked more colourful and vibrant than usual. Girls mostly donned the Indian Saree, the Chinese Cheongsam and the Peranakan Nyonya Sarong Kebaya. The common costume for guys was the Malay Baju Melayu and others donned their ethnic shirts over loose-fitting pants. Occasional gasps of glee were also heard in the canteen as Victorians admired and complimented their friends’ traditional costumes. Divya Shridar from 17S46, shared that her highlight of the day was definitely seeing all her friends decked out in amazing costumes. The photos they took now serve as a fond memory. Of course, there were also Victorians who wore the school uniform and upon enquiry, mostly shared that they did not have traditional costumes. Author’s note: Being one of the few that arrived in the beige, stiff school uniform myself, I certainly felt like a fish out of water. My peers (who were in the same situation as me) also jokingly shared that they felt a little isolated from their friends who wore traditional costumes.
While it was certainly enjoyable for many to experiment with their friends’ costumes, perhaps we need to dig a little deeper to ensure that we are clear of the costumes’ significance and avoid cultural appropriation. Sensitivity is not a bad thing. Casual racism exists. And the only way we can combat it would be to educate ourselves. On a special occasion like Racial Harmony Day, we need to reflect on our actions. We can’t stay passive and just take photos on a superficial scale to post on our Instagram pages!Ethnic costumes are not just pretty garments, they have strong cultural value that needs to be respected at all times. Let’s all strive to change for the better in our attempt to understand other cultures and religions.
An assembly programme, introducing the three major ethnic groups, was also prepared respectively by the Chinese Cultural Society, Malay Cultural Society and Indian Cultural Society. It was evident that much effort was put into preparing the various entertaining skits, videos and dance performances, drawing frequent cheers from the crowd. The student councillors then announced the variety of scrumptious food that would be available later on, drawing another round of cheers from Victorians. Mr Seet took the stage and commented on the diversity of traditional costumes worn by Victorians, adding that Victorians have a peculiar way of determining what is considered a traditional costume, much to everyone’s knowing laughter. This was most likely due to the sightings of guys wearing a tank top and loose-fitting grey trousers, with the very necessary straw hat and the joker who wore a Mario costume.
During lesson breaks, the canteen was packed, crowded to an extent that was greater than Thursday common breaks. Everyone was queuing up to get their share of goodies immediately after stepping out from lecture theatres, since the food stalls were supposedly only open until 12.30 pm. Author’s note: Queues for the Ramly burger were so long that I even had a thought of going into my next lecture late just to eat the burger. Food available included the much raved about Malay Ramly burger, Indian Roti Prata, Traditional Muah Chee, Nonya Kueh Pie Tee, Eurasian Style Shepherd’s Pie and traditional ice cream. There was even sampling of Homemade Putu Pairing, traditional Candy and Coconut Wrap! Victorians who desired a hands-on experience in making these ethnic foods got exactly what they wished for at the Putu Pairing food stall.
Aside from the absolutely scrumptious food, there were also exciting traditional games in store for Victorians to try out too, though it did seem that the majority of Victorians were quite caught up in satisfying their hunger. Well, if you didn’t manage to check out the activities here they are: Five Stones, Pick up Sticks and Chapteh Competition. There were actually prizes awarded for every entry in each category too! Other than that, Victorians could have also gone to the Concourse to try out costumes and have their photos taken by VJ’s very own PhotoSoc!
With ethnic food and traditional games in tow, RHD 2017 was very enjoyable and saw a buzz of activity in VJ. It did serve as a much needed break from Victorians’ hectic school life and undeniably lightened up the increasingly tense atmosphere in school especially after exam month. What made the day better was that some stores continued their business after 12.30pm, allowing Victorians with packed timetables earlier in the day to also enjoy the ethnic food available.
At the end of the day, it was a buzz of activity again at the area beside the canteen near the treehouses as well as the graffiti wall. Classes and individual groups of friends were busy taking Instagram-worthy group shots at those areas. The photos captured an important moment in our JC years as we will now be continually reminded of the great friendships we have formed in VJC.
On a side note, it would be great if, while we savour these moments of racial harmony, we constantly remain on guard against threats to racial harmony. Racial harmony should never be taken for granted. This means we should be aware of our attitudes towards our peers of different ethnic groups, consciously reminding ourselves not to engage in casual racism.
This point was amplified by the talk held for the J1s in the lead-up to RHD, in the Performance Theater. Some sensitive topics were brought up, including how racism is still present in Singapore, despite there being a multicultural society. Prejudice is often innate. In many situations, casual racism surfaces even though the perpetrator might not believe that he/she is racist. As people shared their personal experiences of being discriminated against because of their race, many reflected on how they may, though unintentionally, make these kinds of racist comments. As a member of the majority race in Singapore, there are many racist influences that I encounter, even from those who I am close to. While personally I may wish to be an advocate for racial equality, these influences may have had subtle influences on me. I feel that RHD is a time for me, as well as all other Singaporeans, to reflect on not only how fortunate we are to live in our stable, multicultural society, but to also think about how we can play our part in making sure that this system continues to thrive, and perhaps even become more inclusive.
Rachel Lim Jia Sing, 17S31
Niyanta Chowdhury, 17S46
Lois Kok Yu Qin, 17S62
Caitlyn Ann Teo Yi Chen, 17S43