Aboard the Singapore MRT, sleek pulse of the city transporting everyone to everywhere they need to be. I was on my way from Eunos station to Tanjong Pagar station to meet a new friend for lunch. As I stood in the midst of that crowded car, I caught sight of my reflection in the immaculate windows.
There I was, full-figured by Asian standards, complete with cleavage. In my native America, I go unnoticed among waves of voluptuous Caucasian and African-American women. In Singapore, I stuck out like a sore thumb, plump girl with a full buxom who was conveniently wearing a strapless top. Boy, did I get stares. Even in 97 degree weather, I pulled my jacket over my shoulders and zipped it all the way up.
I began contemplating the varieties of Asian beauty. Singaporeans are typically Asian in origin, mostly ethnic Chinese. Women here are attractive, well-manicured, and highly maintained in expensive cosmetics and strappy designer sandals with rhinestones. Yet their exterior seems to be a production, a process of overlaying the material enhancements until perfection is reached. Their skirts are hiked high at mid-thigh; think lingerie length. In my part of the world, they'd be asking for trouble.
Korean women are willowy, leggy creatures, with the natural advantage of height and stature. Not partial to make-up; their features are soft and simple. However, their plastic surgery industry is renowned within the Pacific. Most female Korean celebrities tend to look alike because their double-lidded eyes and luscious full lips were borne of the same masterful surgical technique. Margaret Cho was not kidding. There were recent controversies because few babies resembled their mothers.
Japanese women have the loveliest complexions. Their features are delicately etched onto ivory skin, smooth as porcelain. Based on the history of geisha, who are living works of art, Japanese women have inherited that grace throughout the years. Even abroad, you can always tell a Japanese tourist by her elegance. But they do tend to be a bit short and stocky compared to their Korean neighbors.
Vietnamese women, too, are rather short; I grudgingly admit this. We are known for our extraordinarily long hair, waterfall of black silk. Despite being petite, we are very proportional. A Vietnamese girl might weigh only 99 lbs and stand 4'9" tall; still she can flaunt her curves in the alluring, fitted "ao dai." And we look deceptively taller (unlike our men). Of course, high heels help.
Chinese women? Even I will not attempt to generalize women from a nation of 1.2 billion in population. There are too many regions and ethnicities within that diverse melting pot of beauty. Same goes for Indian women. I will note, though, that Indian women are by far the most dazzling when it comes to attire. Regardless of economic or social class, Indian women are consistently garbed in wonders of jewel-toned fabrics, even if they are walking around cow dung.
So I stereotype, but quite honestly, we all do. The human brain is wired to make judgements. All political correctness has done was stop us from saying what we really think, not changing the way we think.
Of course, my Singaporean friend Helen broke the stereotype that I have so diligently crafted. We met flying back from Kuala Lumpur and she was a tall, bronze-skinned young woman without a hint of pretension. Between bites of sushi, we discussed career, travel, and of course boyfriend troubles. After sipping sake, I found myself confiding more details about my recently ended relationship than I cared to remember.
I realized that no matter where I went, I took my baggage with me and it weighed more than any physical suitcase. That's the thing about finding yourself. Unless you make peace with your past, it is bound to creep up on you in unexpected ways, in some strange land, sometimes in a bout of intoxication.