Settling the bill, 'gaai sui' and 12 other ‘China Rich Girlfriend’ lines Chinoys can definitely relate to

By Stanley Ong See 24 July, 2017

Four years ago, I picked up a gold-covered book not knowing that Kevin Kwan’s ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ would be world-wide hit, let along spawn two sequels and a Hollywood film of the same name. The sequels: China Rich Girlfriend (2015) and Crazy People Problems (2017) continue to follow the events happening around the lead characters, Nicholas Young and his significant other Rachel Chu as well as other well-to-do families in Singapore, Hong Kong, Mainland China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and even the Philippines.

Kwan, who grew up in Singapore but is now based in New York City, recently announced that he is coming back to Manila on August 18-22, 2017 to do public (and possibly “ninja”) signings of his books at Fully Book branches. 

This is not a review, summary, or deep realization of sorts and don’t worry as this list doesn’t contain any spoilers, just some references in the book that Filipino-Chinese can definitely relate to. I chose the second installment because it highlighted the numerous holidays, occasions, and scenarios that generations of Chinoys either grew up loving, hating, or both throughout their lifetime.


By six thirty, twenty-two of the extended Chu clan had arrived at the house. Most of the older uncles and aunties sat around the big rosewood dining table that was covered in thick protective plastic sheeting, while the younger adults sat with the children at three folding mahjong tables that spilled out in the living room.

Even up to now, whenever there are family gatherings like Christmas or New Year’s, my parents usually sit together with my uncles, aunties, and a few special guests on the “adult” table, while I join my siblings and cousins, all of whom are of legal age, in the “children/kids” table.

Colette (Bing) pursed her lips awkwardly. ‘Um, I think I better follow him. But first, allow me to treat tonight.’

‘That’s a very nice gesture, Colette, but we’ll take care of dinner,’ (Bao) Gaoliang responded.

‘I did all the ordering – I really should pay,’ Colette said matter-of-factly, gesturing to Roxanne, who ceremoniously handed the waiter a credit card.

‘No, no, we insist,’ (Bao) Shaoyen said, getting up from her chair and attempting to thrust her credit card in the waiter’s hand.

‘Absolutely not, Mrs. Bao!’ Colette shrieked, leaping up and snatching Shaoyen’s card away from the hapless waiter.

‘Aiyah, it’s no use fighting you,’ Gaoliang said.

‘You’re right, it’s no use,’ Colette said with a triumphant smile.

Expect a duel when settling the bill, especially if there’s a visiting relative or special guest in town.

Growing up Chinoy-style

Just then the doorbell rang, and Ray and Belinda Chu swept into the house with their four teenage sons, all sporting Ralph Lauren polo shirts in different hues.

Same-gender siblings wearing matching outfits. Raise your hand if you have photo albums full of this fashion faux pas.

’Hnnh!’ Michael snorted. ‘If I had acted the way he does, I would have been whipped by my pa. Ten strokes on my ass with his rotan.*

*A rattan cane popularly used by generations of Singaporean fathers, school principals, and after-school Chinese tutors for corporal punishment. (Mrs. Chan, I still hate you.)

Rotan or rattan, or in my case, a wooden ruler, a leather belt, or just a plain open palm. Even we eventually outgrew whipping, punishment for wrong deeds was usually kneeling with arms raised sidewards.

Economic advises

'You (Kitty Pong/Tai) need not actually buy all your new products at Arden – they are far too overpriced. We can pick up new cosmetics at Mannings Pharmacy, but you will buy one or two lipsticks at Arden in order to qualify for the free consultation and makeover. I may also have an additional coupon for the free gift with purchase – please remind me.'

You can’t get a discount if you didn’t ask, while buying anything with a additional (free) gift is always, always a good deal. And of course, why rent when you can buy. ⬇️

'Wicked! We tried to get the penthouse here but it was already taken,' Carlton bragged.

'This is big enough, don’t you think? Don’t you have the whole floor?'

'Yes. It’s three thousand five hundred square feet, with four bedrooms.'

'My goodness, you must be paying an arm and a leg in rental fees.'

'Well, we decided to buy the place rather than pay the rent on it,' Carlton said with a satisfied grin.

China Rich Girlfriend is the second book in Singaporean Kevin Kwan's trilogy.

Weddings, birthdays, and New Years celebrations

Beginning on the first day of the Chinese New Year, Singaporeans participate in a most unique ritual. All over the island, people frantically dash around to the homes of friends and family to offer New Year greetings, exchange angpaos*, and gobble down food.

'You know I’ve always hated those traditional Chinese weddings where everyone and their cat is invited. We’re going to have an intimate ceremony surrounded by your family and our closest friends. Just you, me, and our chosen family. No one else matters.'

The best reason not to get married, or at least wait until you reach your late 20's or early 30's is those red-hued envelopes, or angpaos during one's birthday, Christmas, and Chinese New Year. I personally wanted my wedding last January to be intimate, around 150, but was ultimately vetoed by my parents.

Things that just make you SMH 

Geraldine glanced around quickly before continuing, ‘Aiyah, you don’t’ even know the latest! Monica Lee told me that her niece Parker Yeo heard the most sensational tidbit from Teddy Lim: Apparently, Nicky’s all set to marry that girl next month. Instead of a grand wedding here they are getting married in California on a beach! Can you imagine?’

Nicky, I told you never to call me ‘Auntie.’ You make me feel like I’m past my sell date! Jacqueline said in mock horror as she flicked as lustrous lock of black hair behind her shoulders.

Aiyah, Carlton is so handsome and so smart, of course he would have a friend! Too bad so many eligible pretty girls lined up to gaaisui,* Eleanor said mischievously.

Some things never really change: gossip flying like the wind, older people refusing to be called uncle/auntie, and of course, "gaaisui" or "kai siaw".

Meeting someone new or being introduced to another person

'’What does your father do?'

And there it is. Nick had me innumerable Jack Bings over the years. Successful, ambitious men who were always looking to make connections with people they deemed worthy. Nick knew that by simple dropping a few of the right names, he could easily impress someone like Jack Bing. Since he had no interest in doing that, he answered politely, ‘My father was an engineer, but he’s retired now.’'

 You'll mostly hear this when meeting a new person. 'Father' and 'family' can interchangeable.

Preservation of fortune

'But look at me, I’m a girl. My grandfather was an old-fashioned man from Amoy, and for people like him, girls weren’t supposed to inherit – they were just married off. Before he died, he put all his holding in a labyrinthine family trust, stipulating that only males born with the Ling surname could benefit.'

'Like so many of her (Eleanor) generation, her entire existence revolved around the acquisition and preservation of fortune. It seemed like all her friends were in the same contest to see who could leave the most houses, the biggest conglomerates, and the fattest stock portfolios to their children after they died.'

Estate planning, Chinoy-style. Old-fashioned families still hold to the belief that only male offsprings can be rightful heirs.

What were your favorite scenes in Kevin Kwan's trilogy? What pages made you laugh out loud or made you snort because they hit right at home? Share and comment your favorite Crazy Rich Asians (CRA), China Rich Girlfriend (CRG), or Crazy People Problems (CPP) lines below! ⬇️

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Last modified on Wednesday, 26 July 2017 17:54

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  • Crazy Rich Asians and the Importance of Representation


    Representations and "Bigger Issues"

    I used to think very little of representation. So you don’t see yourself in the TV shows you watch. Big deal. Shouldn’t you be worrying about bigger issues?

    And then I became a media student. I became more aware of how the media texts we consume and produce directly affect the so-called "bigger issues." They help shape how we perceive ourselves and others. They shape public opinion. They dictate how to think about things and what to think about in the first place. They affect issues of nationalism, racism, policies--the so-called "bigger issues."

    Prosthetics and Dolls

    I saw a moving video that best sums up why representation is important. 10-year-old Emma lives with a prosthetic leg. Her family surprised her with a doll which has a prosthetic leg, too!

    The doll came from A Step Ahead. In an interview with Buzzfeed, Daniel Klepner, the spokesperson for A Step Ahead, wrote, “We fabricate each doll prosthetics here in our shop alongside the ‘real’ prosthetics that we make for our patients, and we paint each one by hand." He said the company’s philosophy is that the customized dolls “can have a profound effect on the self-esteem and sense of inclusion” of kids with limb loss." (Source)

    Emma was so happy with the doll. She screamed, cried, and hugged the doll throughout the video.

    Emma’s mom wrote about how she knew Emma would love the doll, but she didn’t know how much Emma really needed it.

    I saw this story on my Facebook timeline, and the most liked comment on the story surprised me. Kristen Kris Rodgers wrote,

    “And people wonder why we say representation is important. ALL representation. Remember this the next time someone questions why we need to see more of anything that isn't just the everyday majority able bodied white people.

    Many comments were about how touching it was to see Emma shouting, “It’s got a leg like mine!” and “Thank you for making a doll just like me!”

    Out of all the academics readings I've had to study about on representation, this brief homemade video was the simplest way to explain the importance of representation. Seeing the impact it made on such a micro level, on the eyes of a little girl, was so touching to witness.

    My Thesis: Chinese in the Philippines

    Ironically, despite how I first viewed representation, my undergraduate thesis became all about representation.

    I studied the representation of Chinese-Filipinos in the media. As I became more immersed with the media texts, I also became more aware of the tangible effects these representations had in my life. There were funny misconceptions like my non-existent abilities in Math, or ala-Mano Po questions on my non-existent love life.

    But there were more serious encounters like boing told to "go back to China." (I've never been to China.) Or hearing people say that Chinoys are underserving to receive a UP education. That we are not "true Filipinos."

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    Crazy Rich Asians The Passion Project Book Review

    I guess this is why Crazy Rich Asians instantly became one of my favorite books.

    I love how this book positions itself as a powerful movement against whitewashing. I appreciate the emphasis on just representation of Asians in the media without ever sounding preachy or whiney.

    I used one credit on Audible to listen to the Crazy Rich Asians audiobook. It was confusing in the beginning to identify how all these character were related. (But that's how it often is with big Asian families!) I appreciate how the characters were written. This book reminds me of a quote I saw before, "There are no shallow characters. Just shallowly written ones."

    While this book has its fair share of antagonists, I think these antagonists were still likable at best and entertaining at worst. The whole narrative poked fun at their idiosyncrasies and the collective myopia that plagued most of those who had expansive, unimaginable wealth. But being with these characters wasn't alienating, because the narration felt like being with a witty and down to earth tour guide. (Even some of the footnotes were funny!)

    One important thing I realized as I refined my arguments for this thesis is the issue on identity. In some ways, we unintentionally see the world through binary oppositions. I declare I am a Filipino, because I am not Chinese. I have never been to China. I do not identify at all with the people in China.

    However, there is a need to clarify what “Chinese means.” I may not identify with the Mainland Chinese, but I do identify with the Overseas Chinese.

    This was a huge realization from me, thanks to reading Crazy Rich Asians. In one of the early chapters, the characters had a conversation about the two kinds of Chinese:

    “How is it possible that these Chinese have been rich for generations? I thought they were all penniless Communists in drab little Mao uniforms not too long ago."

    “Well, first of all, you must understand that there are two kinds of Chinese. There are the Chinese from Mainland China, who made their fortunes in the past decade like all the Russians, but then there are the Overseas Chinese. These are the ones who left China long before the Communists came in, in many cases hundreds of years ago, and spread throughout the rest of Asia, quietly amassing great fortunes over time. If you look at all the countries in Southeast Asia—especially Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia—you’ll see that virtually all the commerce is controlled by the Overseas Chinese. Like the Liems in Indonesia, the Tans in the Philippines..."

    The characters of those books are mostly overseas Chinese families who are based in Singapore, and they jetset across America, London, and Australia. There were no Chinese-Filipino main characters, yet I was struck with how there were so similarities between their culture and the Chinese-Filipino culture: the curse words, expressions, food, idiosyncrasies, erratic and judgmental aunts, traditions, gender roles, and complex politics behind weddings.

    This led me to analyze that while I, as a Chinese-Filipino, may not identify with the Mainland Chinese culture, I still identify with the Overseas Chinese culture. Therefore, when I say I am a Filipino, it is not enough to justify that claim by saying “because I am not Chinese.” My Chinese-ness is not limited to my ethnicity only, because my culture is highly influenced by that of the Overseas Chinese and many other cultures.

    However, that should not make me any less of a Filipino.

    This book has all the elements of an irresistible chick lit. For some, this might be a relaxing read by the beach over the break. But for me, it's the kind of book that changes how you position yourself in the world around you.

    This was originally published in my personal blog, The Passion Project.

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    Photos by Zeus Martinez Photography

    HMU by Gela Martinez


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