Ang Mo is a racial epithet describing white people, mainly in Singapore, and sometimes in Malaysia and Thailand. It literally means “red-haired”, and although the term has derogatory connotations, it has entered common usage in Singapore. The term “ang mo” is usually viewed as racist, though others maintain it is acceptable. Increasingly, the term is used disparagingly, particularly in Singapore and neighbouring countries such as Malaysia. Its usage has become a common ethnic slur directed at expats, tourists, and white people in general.
I travel to Singapore a lot (in fact, it is usually my base for exploring much of south east Asia) and I like to mix with as many local people as possible. Of course, this doesn’t mean I actually CHAT to them, but just being around them and sharing in the same kind of culture (and food) is a large part of why I like to travel. I have had many great experiences in Singapore over the past few years, but I can recall a few times where it hasn’t been the case. Usually, this happens at hawker centres in urban areas (recently in Balestier) or in built up areas in the north west of the island like Jurong. Racial segregation is still seemingly a big thing in Singapore, with Indians and Chinese preferring to mingle in their own little ethnic groups rather than mix with each other (think Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam, Holland Village et al), so it should come as no surprise that expats and tourists get a hard time too from some Singaporeans.
I can remember one rainy day when I took shelter at Balestier Food Court. I hadn’t eaten all day (I think I had been at USS that day and food costs too much there, so I waited until I was back near to the hotel) and my tummy was rumbling. However, near to where the table I sat, there were some rowdy Singaporeans (ethnic Chinese) who took a bit of a disliking to the fact an “ang mo” was sitting there all alone nearby to them. As I tucked into my pisang goreng, bak kut teh, and Tiger Beer bucket (yep, BUCKET) I could hear these locals mention the word ang mo, although as they were speaking partially in Mandarin I didn’t catch the gist of what they meant – but put it this way, it wasn’t complimentary.
How and why do Singaporeans get so upset when Ang Mos show their precious little white faces? There is a YouTube video that went viral of a spiteful ang mo who was bullying a Singaporean on the MRT and this certainly does not help build the image of the rest of us expats and tourists. For a country that prides itself on having 10 official religions and 4 official languages, it is disconcerting to discover that such discriminatory feelings still exist in the Lion City.