Monday, June 07, 2004

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abc appeal

by Mak Mum San of The Straits Times

FORGET about Caucasian men and Sarong Party Girls (SPG).
The latest breed of men that Singapore women are apparently hankering after are American-born Chinese (ABC) working here.
Think actress Wong Li-Lin's husband Allan Wu and reality TV show Eye For A Guy's Mark Zee.
Wong, who has a reputation for not suffering fools gladly, melted under the charms of the ABC hunk and became Mrs Wu in a hush-hush wedding in Los Angeles last December. The couple are expecting a baby in October.
Meanwhile, Zee, 23, an ABC teaching finance at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, has become a mini-celebrity of sorts after taking part in Channel 5's version of The Bachelorette.
Although curvaceous Singapore model Rachel Lee, 23, chose Singaporean hair salon manager Sivert Ong as her man on the show, she is now dating Zee, the runner-up.
On why she finds the ABC attractive, she says: 'I'm not with him because he's an ABC but more because of the chemistry we have. I'm English educated and I guess that's why it's easier to relate to him.'
While most Singaporeans see ABCs as non-white expatriates, some are known to view them as fake ang mohs. Or, simply, white men with Asian packaging.
In other words, are Singapore girls indulging their SPG sentiments without guilt because ABCs are 'Asians'?

For when it comes to attracting local babes, it seems that it's as easy as ABC for the ABCs.
Some say it's simply a case of Ready, Accent, Go!
Or is it?
To find out, LifeStyle spoke to about 20 Singapore women aged between 18 and 40 for their views on ABC men.
Their verdict? The imported guys win hands down in the personality department.
Accounts executive Sim Wai Hoon, 26, says: 'I think they're fun to be with because they dare to be different. They are just more eloquent, dynamic and worldly.'
The gentlemanly side of ABC men also scored big with local women.
'Basically, they know how to treat a lady well,' says marketing executive Sharon Lim, 25.
But if you're a Singapore man, don't despair. And if you're an ABC guy, don't gloat yet. Read on.

While most of the women agreed that ABCs would make great friends, boyfriends and lovers, the general consensus is that they are not necessarily great 'husband material'.
'The difference in culture and mindset sometimes makes it hard to click with them. I prefer local men for the sense of familiarity they give me,' says student Serene Ho, 19.
Human resource manager Tay Siok Ching, 32, sums it up: 'They are good to be with but not good to marry because you never know how long they plan to stay. Local men can offer a better sense of security.'

Nice women a big draw
There are no official statistics on the number of ABCs in Singapore, but they are estimated to number about 500 out of the 12,000 to 15,000 Americans living here.
Most are working in the media and banking industries, with an increasing number teaching in local universities.
The ABCs that LifeStyle managed to uncover average 1.8m in height (perchance due to a growing-up diet heavy on milk and meat?) and, as a result, many are also part-time models.

But what is it about Singapore that draws them here?
Jackson Pek, a 33-year-old lawyer from San Francisco, echoes a common sentiment: 'As ABCs, we don't really fit in anywhere perfectly. When I'm in the US, I can speak like everybody else but I don't look like everybody else. That's why I came here. This is the closest that I belong.'

Besides job opportunities and cultural ties, one important pull factor for ABC men is the local women.
'Women here are more demure as compared to American women. In the US, gender lines are so blurred, it's nice to meet girls who are feminine,' says Zee.
Holman Chin, a 34-year-old screenwriter from San Francisco, adds: 'Singapore women are multi-cultural, multi-lingual, athletic and sophisticated. They are very, very attractive.'
It remains to be seen if more practical-minded Singapore women return that compliment.

What are your views on ABCs? Send your comments to

S'pore men say... BRING it on.
That's the consensus of 15 Singaporean men LifeStyle spoke to when asked how they felt about competition from ABCs for local women. There's nothing to be afraid of, they say.
'When an ABC comes along, they are attracted by the fact that they are different,' says Sebastian Shen, 28, a presenter with radio station Power 98. 'But after the initial phase, they will realise that there's nothing special about ABCs.'
The main attraction, they feel, centres on the cosmopolitan ways of ABCs who still maintain their Asian roots but have a Western outlook.
Thus, snagging an ABC is like getting the best of both worlds, with a 'get out of Singapore' green card thrown in if the relationship works out, says financial analyst Mike Chan, 33.
'They're the next best thing after ang mohs for Singaporean girls. They've got the American accent, are bigger built and they've got fairer complexions than most of us, if you're into that kind of thing,' he adds.
Local men might possess some Western traits, but it's just not the same.
Postgraduate student Lim Wah Long, 27, says: 'While younger Singaporean guys are generally more Westernised than the older generation, it's a pseudo-Western thing. Singaporeans are neither here nor there.'

While the Singaporean men say they do not feel inferior to ABCs in terms of abilities and achievements, five admit that most local guys simply lack the finesse that men from other cultures have when it comes to dating.
Engineer Shon Ong, 30, adds: 'We are what we think, and if one feels small compared to an ABC, then he will lose the attractiveness that the woman should be seeing.'
Public relations executive Gary Gan, 28, says: 'I don't know whether it's a case of our local women being snapped up by ABCs, or whether local Chinese men are not doing enough to prove themselves.'
Some Singapore women might also think that being with an ABC will bring them a better lifestyle.
'When we go to Thailand or China, some local girls throw themselves at us for the chance to live a better life away from their countries. So, local girls here also want a better life,' says Herman Loo, 28, who runs an investment company.
Ardi S. Hardjoe, 31, who works with a welfare organisation and spent about seven years studying in Britain, offers this perspective.
'For all we know, they might be the guys who can't make it back home and treat their stint here as a stepping stone. They stay for a while and then fly off, leaving the girl behind.' -- SHERWIN LOH

Hoo is he?
IF GARRETT HOO were Singaporean, he would probably be chastised for the career choice he made a few years ago.
The ABC from San Francisco quit his well-paying job as an aeronautical engineer to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles. He decided to seek his fortune in Singapore in 2001.
Garett Hoo, 32, California. -- ALAN LIM
'I don't live as materialistically as I did, but I'm much happier here,' says the affable 32-year-old who studied at San Francisco State University.
'Where else can I do what I enjoy doing in a place where I'm the majority in an English-speaking country? In the US, acting jobs for Asian-American men are so few and far between. But here, the possibilities are almost endless.'
To learn more about his roots and open more doors, the 1.8m-tall Fly Entertainment artist is taking an intensive Mandarin course at the National University of Singapore.
'I'm still very self-conscious about ordering food in Mandarin,' he says with a laugh. He can currently be seen in the Channel 8 serial Man At Forty playing an ABC playboy, Thomas.
He has also been cast in gay roles, like the lead protagonist Ben in The Necessary Stage's Mardi Gras.
'I feel it actually has made me more popular among both men and women. The women see a guy who is not afraid of himself and the men see a guy they can relate to.'
He says he has had six relationships in the past but is not seeing anyone at the moment.
Not one afraid to speak his mind, he gives an unequivocal 'yes' when asked if he feels ABC men are more attractive than local men.
'Singapore men lack something. I know a lot of guys who are very, very nice. But that's what they are, they're nice. The edginess is missing.'
Most ABCs here are more adventurous and outgoing because they are 'here for a purpose', says Hoo.
'When you compare us to local guys who are content with the status quo, they will pale somewhat in comparison.'
But he points out that the reverse is also true. 'The Singaporeans I've met in the US also have a sense of adventure. I guess getting them out of the norm is when they come alive.'

The facts, from A to Zee
Mark Zee, 23, Minnesota. -- ALBERT SIM
WHEN LifeStyle arranged to meet Mark Zee at a McDonald's restaurant, it was easy to spot him.
No, not because he had appeared on Channel 5's reality TV show Eye For A Guy.
Neither was it because of his boyishly cute looks, which apparently is the reason his students at Ngee Ann Polytechnic do not skip his 'laid-back' classes.
The 23-year-old lecturer in finance was easy to spot because he had just finished eating a burger and was about to bite into another.
Looking slightly embarrassed, he confesses: 'Yeah, I eat a lot. For lunch, I usually have to eat two or three char siew bao on top of rice, meat and vegetables.'
The 1.84m-tall imported hunk is, technically, not an ABC. He was actually born in Brazil. His parents, originally from China, had lived there since they were young. Zee moved to Minneapolis with his family when he was six.
'There's very little about me that is Chinese other than my blood. I feel like there's a part of me that's been neglected for quite a while,' says the easy-going man who also speaks Spanish and Portuguese.
'To me, it's an important time to define my sense of self better and I want to do that while I'm young. Part of that is coming to Asia and learning more about Asian culture.'
He shakes his head apologetically when asked if he knows what his surname is in Chinese.
'Oh, I have no idea, sorry. But I hope to learn some conversational Mandarin before I leave Singapore.'
After graduating from Princeton University, he came to Singapore last June on a fellowship programme to teach finance at Ngee Ann. Under the programme, fresh graduates from top foreign universities are offered one-year teaching contracts.
Asked if he is hit on by his female students, he says, chuckling: 'They see me every day, so I'm nothing special.'
He has extended his contract for another six months and admits shyly that it was done partly because of Rachel Lee, whom he met on Eye For A Guy.
'I didn't come here to meet a girl, but now the best thing about Singapore is Rachel. She's the first girl I've met here that I can really relate to on a level where we can take it to a relationship.'
As all three of his former girlfriends were Caucasian, his parents were actually 'resigned' to not having Chinese grandchildren.
Describing Lee as 'intelligent, sporty and cosmopolitan', the state swimming champion stresses that contrary to his playboy image, he does not like girls 'with just looks'.
'I think my accent has a lot to do with that image - that I'm just looking for a good time. There are definitely a lot of negative stereotypes out there, but I'm not one of them.'
As for his long-term plans, he says: 'I want to stay in Singapore until I stop learning. I know that eventually I do want to go back to the US. That's where my family and friends are.
'As for Rachel and me, we try not to look so far ahead. That sort of thing kind of scares me actually. I just know I'll be here for another year at least.'

Don't marry an ABC
Jackson Pek, 33, California. -- ENRIQUE SORIANO
BORN in New York, raised in Dallas and a former resident of San Francisco, Jackson Pek appears to be another regular ABC - except that he can order food using Bahasa Indonesia.
He learnt the language from his Indonesian Chinese father, who lived in Singapore for some years before moving to the United States where he met his Singaporean wife, who was then a nursing student in New York.
'I'm a Singaporean American,' the 33-year-old declares proudly in his American twang.
'That's the difference between me and all the other ABCs. I've ties here.'
Based in Singapore since 1997, the lawyer at an American multinational company also teaches law at the National University of Singapore.
Despite having travelled '51 times in the last 52 weeks', the 1.8m-tall New York University graduate managed to find time to appear in commercials for Caltex and SingTel.
Armed with such an impressive resume, one would expect him to have a superiority complex. But when asked to compare himself with local men, he replies: 'I'm fatter than they are.'
For the record, the self-confessed health nut weighs a lean 74kg.
'ABCs are gentlemanly, yes, but a lot of things we do are superficial, like opening doors. Local men have a long-term intention to build a family and take care of their in-laws.
'That doesn't happen in the US. If I married a woman there, I would have zero financial ties with her family. But I hope I'll take care of my in-laws if I do marry a local girl.'
Pek, who dated a Singaporean woman for several years, proceeds to sabotage his chances of finding a local wife by offering this piece of advice to Singapore women: 'Marry a local man. We may be fun to go out with, but you may have some nasty surprises down the road. We're very non-committal. It's an American thing.'

Give me women with ideas
SCREENWRITER Holman Chin, 34, is not a man who minces his words.
On why he packed his bags and left his hometown San Francisco in early 2001, he says: 'Because George Bush became president.'
The explanation, delivered softly in a sad voice, comes so quickly it takes a moment to realise he is not joking.
For two months after he left, he lived in Hong Kong ('too expensive'), Shanghai and Beijing ('I don't like China') and Tokyo ('I don't speak Japanese') before deciding on Singapore.
'It's English-speaking, inexpensive and I love the weather.'
A graduate from the University of California at Berkeley, he has a degree in marketing and finance and calls himself a 'headhunter's nightmare'.
Property appraiser, casting agent, stockbroker, bartender and antique dealer are among the long list of jobs he has taken on in the US.
After arriving here three years ago, he became an advertising sales director, then an art gallery manager. Standing tall at 1.84m, he also found himself being cast in commercials for Brand's Essence of Chicken and Tiger beer.
'In the US, they never use Asian American men. But here, I guess I'm a bit taller than local guys.'
Now, he runs production house Crimson Forest Films, and will star in the soon-to-be released independent movie Tequila, a dark tale about four long-time friends.
'I'm a hybrid, I have the best of both worlds. But culturally, I identify more with Asia than with America,' says the unassuming man who speaks Cantonese, Shanghainese and French, which he learnt in school.

Holman Chin, 34, California. -- DESMOND WEE
His doctor father died about 12 years ago and his mother is a real estate broker.
A good friend of ABC actor Robin Leong, Chin is currently dating a 'well-read, funky' Singapore woman - his second Singaporean girlfriend.
'She's opinionated. That's why I love her. I can't go out with anyone complacent. But she says she has intimidated a lot of local guys.'
Asked point-blank if he thinks ABC men are stealing Singapore girls, he smiles and says: 'No more than white expat men.
'If local guys want to see it as a competition, that's fine. But it's a healthy competition.'


Know your ABCs How old are they? 20s to 30s. Where are they from? All over the United States, but primarily from San Francisco and New York. What do they do? They work in a wide range of sectors, but mostly in the media and banking industries, with an increasing number teaching in local universities. Where do they stay? River Valley, Orchard Road and Bukit Timah areas. Where do they eat? Restaurants which offer large and/or unlimited servings of meat, places which serve dumplings and hawker centres. Where do they buy their groceries? Cold Storage. Where do they shop? In the US, as there is a variety of styles and sizes not available here.What do they wear? What most Americans wear - T-shirts and jeans. Brands like Hugo Boss, Richard Tyler, Zara and Levis are popular. Where do they hang out? The American Club, gyms, cafes in River Valley and Holland Village and Borders. What sports do they like? Basketball, tennis and running. What do they drive? BMWs. What kind of girls do they like? Girls who like them despite their accents. What kind of girls do they dislike? Girls who like them because of their accents. What else do they like? Black T-shirts and the words 'definitely' and 'absolutely'.

Disclaimer: Am only placing this article up because the link disappears after 3 days. And I really think this article is a good read... =D


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