Image via Toko
“It is possible to fall in love with someone of a different race, different culture and different faith. The reality is we do not choose who we’re attracted to or fall in love with. That’s why it’s called “falling”, no rational human being with common sense “falls” knowing he or she might be hurt by the fall.” – Dr. Yangki Christine Akiteng
New York City.
It wasn’t too far from where I lived. And it was only $900 for a round trip without stopping. If I left on Thursday evening, I could reach JFK International Airport slightly after midnight.
So why not?
Up till this day, I am quite amazed that I actually asked myself that question. It didn’t seem like a bad idea then, but thinking back, it was probably not the wisest choice.
I mean…which 16 year old kid would sneak out for a weekend vacation on a six hour long flight, to a city she had never been to…all on the chance that some guy she met on MSN might like her back?
And that was how Josh and I first met. In person.
The first time we really talked to each other was through the worst quality video call in history. You see, i’m a photographer and I enjoy spending hours surfing the net for new portfolios to follow. And whilst browsing through a reference page, I stumbled onto Josh’s blog.
He was an 18 year old graphic designer and artist, enrolled at the New York Academy of Arts (NYAA).
I didn’t think much about it. But I never expected a reply on the comment I made, for an artwork I fell completely in love with:
And shortly after, that was when the video calls started. It took us more than three months to prepare for the trip due to our dysfunctional schedule; Josh lived at the other end of New York City and was in the midst of finishing an internship. I, on the other hand, had to save up for the plane tickets.
But on the 18th of July 2010, with some well wishes from my best friend Kayzhae, I headed towards the Brooklyn Bridge to meet Josh. He stood at the entrance of the trail and was wearing a soft leather jacket.
“Cheng?” He smiled. “How are you? How was the flight?”
Josh looked a lot different from the pixelated image I got from our video calls. He was tall, lean and had broad shoulders. His hair was dark brown and gelled into a short quiff. God, he was a breath taking work of human art. But what struck me most was his face; his eyes were deep blue, and they seemed almost transparent against his strong olive complexion.
We headed over to the River Cafe that was located just down the street. And under good lighting, he looked even better.
And then…the impending guilt started to settle. Josh was easy to talk to, and when he said he liked ‘girls like me’, I felt even more nervous and smitten. But apart from telling myself this was just some guy I met whilst randomly hunting for fine art online, I knew for one, that our skin colour did not match.
Josh was a blue-eyed German, with American-Latino descent. I was a fair-skinned American Asian, who took on more of my Father’s Singaporean features.
And I know what you’re thinking: if you’re part American, why would ethnicity be such a huge deal?
Well, because there were hardly any interracial marriages within my immediate family. My Mother is American by heritage, but she was the only one out of my relatives, who had married outside her ethnicity. On the other hand, my Grandfather from my Dad’s side, was a very traditional Singaporean. He did not approve of my parent’s marriage to start. And as his grandchildren grew up, he didn’t want my brother and I to make the same ‘mistake’ my parents did. My Grandfather would often advice us to marry inside our own race.
Half of my family was white. Yet, I had never dated an American, much less a German-American Latino.
“Don’t date or marry a Gweilo,” my Grandfather would tell me. It was a Cantonese slang for foreigners, or more specifically, white people. The literal translation of the word means ‘ghost man‘, and it is an insult due towards white people for their general pale skin.
“You are still Asian. And people outside our family are going to look at you. Would you like to be known as a Sarong Party Girl (SPG)? People are going to assume!”
I hate it when he uses that phrase. It’s a derogatory term used on Singaporean and other Asian girls. A ‘SPG’ doesn’t always mean that she’s a prostitute, but it does carry that social stigma. In Singapore, SPGs are known for dating white guys solely for money and pleasure.
And that was the problem with Josh. He was white. Sure, he was also Latino, but apart from his tanned skin, he was still very much white.
On the last day of my New York City trip, Josh looked sadly at me.
“This weekend was pretty amazing. I wish we had more time to hang out. I like someone like you, y’know?”
No. I didn’t know the slightest bit what he meant. I had spent three days in New York and all I got from him were mixed signals.
“As in…you like my personality?” I asked him.
He stood in front of me, silent for a moment.
“I kinda like you.” He said.
“Josh,” I almost laughed. “We’re two very different people, inside and out!”
“Yea, but that’s exactly why! We’re different people from different places and despite that…I like you.” Then, he frowned. “But what do you mean about being different outside? We’re both humans, aren’t we?”
“We’re different kind of humans…” I mumbled. I knew I sounded stupid. But he had to realize that we were both different races.
“You mean just because you’re asian and i’m white?” Josh had an incredulous look on his face. “Cheng, you just came from L.A! Did you not know that your city has the highest rate of interracial dating? And hey…New York City…we rank third!”
I gave him a puzzled look. Why was he throwing facts at me? Didn’t he care about this?
Josh stepped closer to me and place his hands on my shoulders. I could feel a squeal in me as I looked around to see faces staring at us.
“Josh, people are staring. See? We just don’t mesh.”
“They’re staring because they’re ignorant. They’re staring because I’ve gotten to know the coolest girl in such a short period of time, and they would only see you from your skin colour. Why do you care what they think?”
“Don’t you…?” I asked him. “…care that we’re different?”
Josh lowered his eyes for a moment. A gust of wind blew across river and I bit my lip in the cold.
“What colour is love?” He suddenly asked, his voice growing tender. “What did you parents see when they married each other? Did they see black? Or white? Or yellow? Or did they see a future together?”
That was my last night in NYC and I never gave Josh a reply. Shortly after I returned to L.A, I moved back to Singapore to complete my GCE ‘O’ Levels.
Josh, on the other hand, returned to Germany after graduating from NYAA. He told me he planned to stay there for a bit since his Dad had passed away. Josh and I kept in touch until early 2012. But we never saw each other again.
And so, “What colour is love?”
There are many versions to the answer of Josh’s question. And none of them would be wrong.
A few months before I left to Canada, I rediscovered a crumpled paper with a polaroid image of the both of us, smiling in front of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was the very last letter Josh had written to me. And inside, he gave me his answer:
I fell in love with you like I fell in love with Art and New York City; There are a million colours in one picture—and I love them all.