Socioeconomic status (SES) is the social standing or class of an individual or group. It is often measured as a combination of education, income, family background, upbringing and occupation.
Commonly used in online forums in Singapore, the term ‘low SES’ is used to diss netizens on their lifestyle choices ranging from their meals, the car they drive, the work they do, even their place of residence.
In modern Singapore, it’s the invisible caste system that seeks to divide the country.
James has a sister in law that thinks she is a class above everyone else. Everything she does is upper class and she thinks James don’t deserve to be part of the family.
However, James soon realised that even her high and mighty sister in law is willing to go low, down and dirty in order to get what she needs.
The first time I met Catherine, I immediately could see that look of disdain on her face. I was still dating my wife Christine then and that was the first time I was introduced to her family.
Catherine, or Cath for short, immediately gave me the once over from head to toe. The clothes I was wearing had no brands, just the usual t-shirts and berms from fast fashion boutiques while she is decked out in classy names from head to toe.
I know my girlfriend’s family is quite well to do but they are pretty low profile. All except Cath that is. She thinks she is a level above the rest, or in that instance, several classes above me.
Cath : Your parents are hawkers ?
Cath said with a sneer, as if the words alone would stain her clothes and the son of a hawker within close proximity will taint her aura.
James : ermm. Yes. They sell fishball noodles.
She sniggered and rolled her eyes much to the disapproval of her father while I saw my girlfriend gave her a nudge on her arm. She may be two years older than Christine, but her mental age might as well be stuck at sixteen.
That was the first brush with my high SES sister in law who thinks low class people like me should stay within my caste level.
‘oh you speak dialects and mandarin growing up?’
‘oh, you went to a neighbourhood primary school?’
‘oh dear, you only fly budget airlines? What is it like ? I mean, do you stand throughout the flight? Hurhurhur’
‘It’s been years since I last took a bus. I just grab a ride everywhere, it’s so convenient now.’
Throughout my dating days, Cath always made it a point to remind me of my family’s low standing through snide remarks and casual comments slipped into everyday conversations.
Cath : Have you taken a private lift before? It goes up to the living room directly. We only share it with two other families. Don’t worry about pee smell or litter. It’s nonexistent.
Cath : Oh, I see that my sister has given you a card access to the estate, please don’t bring your friends over for a party ok ? I can’t stand it when a rowdy group comes and party in our pool and BBQ pit. It’s like they haven seen a BBQ pit beside a swimming pool before.
And for remarks like this, Cath will already say it with a shudder, stroking her own arms like she experienced a chill.
I’ll always just smile and keep quiet. The last thing I want to do is to engage her in a conversation of such nature.
Why for? She’s being a bitch.
Cath : You know which utensils to use for your mains? Why are you using the desert fork for your fries ?
Christine : James can use his hands for all I care Sis, stop it.
Cath : Oh… I can see who is wearing the pants in this relationship. You need chop sticks James ? I can ask if the restaurant has some.
Cath said with a roll of her eyes.
Remarks like these, I take it in stride. It’s ok if she looks down on me. I’m thankful I’m marrying Christine, not Cath.
This kind of verbal abuse continued throughout my dating days all the way until our wedding. Even on the actual day where our vows were exchange, Cath still could slip in some sarcastic remarks.
Cath : Congratulations James on marrying into a good family. Usually I would think it’s the other way around, but good for you though, as the saying goes, you get to retire 20 years earlier.
The way she put it, it’s as if I was marrying my wife for money.
I know my wife’s family is rich but when I knew my wife, we are just regular students in school. She doesn’t splash her money around and she keeps a low profile.
My in laws run their own business and their place of residence is a large 5 bedroom condo in District 9. It’s actually a combination of a 3 bedroom and a 2 bedroom. The girls themselves grew up privilege. Perhaps Cath being the older child, she appears to have been spoilt rotten.
Common sense dictates that I should not stay in that place if I want to avoid the hell my sister in law will rain down on me but I do not have any choice.
The flat my wife and I applied for will not be ready until 3 years later.
The 3 room flat I currently stay in is shared with my parents and a younger brother. Unless we are to spend money to rent our own place while waiting for the new flat, the only option was for me to temporarily move in with my in laws.
I know my move over irks my sister in law. In fact, it’s like I’m a stain on her perfect white dress. Every chance she gets, she will make fun of me. She will remined me I’m the son of a hawker staying in Pasir Ris, never will she acknowledge me as the husband of her sister staying in Newton.
She will comment on my cheap clothes making their laundry area an eyesore. She will comment on my work tops, my off the rack shoes and suit. My android phone right down to the Tv channels I watch.
Cath : Who the hell watches mainstream TV these days ? Don’t you know there are something call steaming apps?
When I come home from the wet market or supermarket, Cath will walk over with folded arms. Looking at the myriad of plastic bags in different colours and the stuff it contains, she will smirk at the things I buy.
Leafy greens, fish and meat not shrink wrapped and presented on Styrofoam trays are considered low SES to Cath. It doesn’t matter if the meat comes from the same animal, if it’s not wrapped and presented properly with a barcode, it’s low class to Cath.
I know what all of you must be thinking right now.
‘James, you sure you can stand staying with someone like that?’
‘James, you sure you can tahan(endure) such a ridiculous sister in law?’
Here’s the thing.
Cath may behave like a bitch, but she has a nice body and is fucking hot.
I know my chance will come. Maybe not now, not tomorrow, but one day, my chance to get back at her will come. The day will come when i get to bend her to my will.
And I’m usually right.