Sunday, 7 January 2007

REVIEW: Me, a tai tai? by Agnes Sng

The subtitle "Expatriate Wives Don't Always Have It Good" and the 50% off discount sticker on this book caught my eye at the Popular bookstore. Of course, the hot pink cover and the cute caricature of a modern day queen sitting on the throne created a lot of visual interest too!

Having worked with expatriates for a number of years, I'm as guilty as anyone who thinks that being an expat (or an expat wife) means that one has finally arrived. However, Singaporean lawyer turned writer Agnes Ng dispels all the myths related to the expat wife (which she uses as chapter titles).

Covering aspects of daily life, living arrangements, social activities, exotic cultures, shopping, travel and returning to the home country, she relates her own experiences as the "trailing spouse" of her German husband across Bulgaria, Egypt, Germany and Romania.

I really appreciate Agnes's frank, brusque and "tell-it-as-it-is" style of acknowledging some of the pleasures she enjoyed e.g. visiting some of the cities she'd NEVER thought she would, meeting some truly colourful characters and appreciating the basic things in life after seeing how little the poorer parts of the world had. The unburdening of all the pains and sufferings she endured (yes, that's right, not enjoyed) as an expat wife is so "in-your-face" that I suspect readers who believed in those myths may be cynical (or even disbelieving) about what she shares...

Thus, I can understand the author's unrecognizable photo on the inner bookflap. With such a "no holds barred" approach, I think Agnes is prepared for a barrage of brickbats against her - even though she's telling the truth. For one who's been there, I could relate to Agnes's
- dislike for packing and unpacking,
- bewilderment at struggling to perform the most mundane of activities e.g. shopping for groceries in a completely different environment using a completely foreign language;
- isolation and loss of identity when she gave up her professional status as a lawyer to become a housewife (or stay-at-home Mother);
- experiences of racial discrimination being an Asian / Chinese and being treated as a minority of the lesser kind at home or on foreign land (as opposed to the preferential treatment her German husband enjoyed all the time)
- difficulty in explaining to the international community that Singapore is a developed country with Asians who CAN speak and understand English!

I truly admire Agnes for her strength of character and sense of humour despite everything. Ultimately, I salute her determination to be accepted and treated in her own right as a Singaporean Chinese woman, not as the Asian wife of a German man.

If I had a chance to meet Agnes, I'd certainly enjoy trading war stories and other experiences with this logical and level-headed lady. Get a copy and read about her adventures yourself :D

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