“Please don’t accelerate too fast into that turn,” I thought, as I held the vomit in.
Maybe if I close my eyes that’ll help.
Almost there … “Right here is good, thank you.”
Yes! … there’s a trash can.
I stumble out of the cab and almost immediately eject a mixture of pad thai, peach vodka, stomach acid, and shame.
God, I feel like I’m back in high school.
And in a certain way, I was.
“Ahh! You look just like any of the other white boys in there—you’ll fit in perfectly!”
It’s 9:30 when I meet my host, a bubbly brunette in a Def Leppard t-shirt knotted above the navel, at the bottom floor of Golden Mile Complex. She’s never been to the iconic Thai enclave, and is thoroughly impressed my pad thai tastes this good while only costing S$6.
The fact that she’s never been to Golden Mile before surprises me, but then again, she does come from a demographic known for its isolation from the world of Singapore’s working class.
She’s an international school student, and the only reason she’s at Golden Mile is because upstairs, close to a hundred 12 to 18-year-olds from various international schools are partying in a rented out venue.
For most Singaporeans, international school students are a mystery. Perhaps you played football with them in some private league during secondary school, or you know the phone numbers of a few. If you happen to be having a drunken 4 AM supper at the Clarke Quay Mcdonald’s, you might have exchanged inexplicable bro hugs and/or Instagram handles with some. Otherwise, they are nothing more than human peacocks—eye catching yet unapproachable.
They also seem to live in an alternate Singapore, and one that is extremely privileged at that.
Instead of eating chicken rice at hawker centres they eat acai bowls at Holland Village. Instead of living in HDB flats in Ang Mo Kio, they live in houses on Bukit Timah Road. Instead of anxiously studying day and night for the O-Levels, followed by the A-Levels, they throw lavish parties while their handsomely-paid MNC-employed parents are away on business trips.
I myself had heard a few rumours from my Singaporean classmates at university about what international school parties are supposedly like: lavish and unhinged. Typically, they start in a house with at least 4 bedrooms full of kids of various colours and creeds, united by privilege, drinking heavily and doing illicit substances beyond the point of self control. They often ended with trespassing, urinating off of rooftops, and/or other acts of public indecency.
But these rumours sounded too wild to be true. I wanted to get to know firsthand what an international school party is like, and that’s why I’m here tonight.
My host shares that more than ten of her acquaintances have had run-ins with the police in the last month, mainly because of drugs, under-age drinking, and so on. Some of them might even be present tonight.
“We need to come up with a backstory for you. Either you can be my friend from back when I lived in [a certain major European city], or a family friend from [a notoriously bourgeoisie Connecticut suburb],” she ponders aloud.
I don’t know much about either place, but at least the latter is in my home country. We go with that.
I head upstairs unsure what to expect. Could this be some semi-sophisticated speakeasy where the island’s underaged, international elite go to schmooze? Or will it be a contemporary, clandestine opium den where the problem children of Singapore’s high skilled imported labour go to self-medicate?
In reality, it’s something between the two.
Around a corner and through a small wooden door, we end up in a secluded corridor with a single unlabelled storefront with blacked-out windows. Three dudes, looking to be about 2 metres tall and weighing in at 150 kg stand outside the entrance all dressed in black. Gaggles of scantily clad girls accompanied by boys in distressed skinny jeans and pristine white sneakers stream in and out mid-gossip.
Apparently, the party is “retro themed”, but neither I nor most of the guests seemed to have gotten the memo.
A ball of nervousness begins to grow in my chest as we slowly make our way towards the entrance. The vibe reminds of a stereotypical American high school movie, where I’m the new kid trying to fit in despite a strict popularity hierarchy that does not take kindly to new kids. It’s Mean Girls Southeast Asia edition, and I would have to be Lindsey Lohan, despite being nowhere near as socially gifted as her.
Fuck. What did I get myself into.
“Do you like the bouncers, haha?” asks my host.
I realise I’ve been staring in awe for a little too long, but when I get closer, I’m less intimidated once I make out the three behemoths’ baby faces. None of them can be older than 16.
“Don’t fuck any twelvies,” says one to me as I exchange my $30 entrance fee for a cheap waxpaper festival wristband (I hope he means 12th grader, but he probably means 12 year olds).
“I’ll do my very best,” I reply.
Walking into the room, my shoes stick to the floor, gummy from the half-drying spilled drinks. I do a quick shimmy to avoid a splatter of liquidy vomit 5 metres from the entrance.
Essentially, the venue is one large room full of odd clusters of couches, bean bag chairs, and pool tables covered by intoxicated children glued to their cellphones; puffs of smuggled vape fumes explode intermittently across the room. Occasionally, I hear random shouts over the all too forgettable party music (despite the retro theme, no retro bangers were played).
“You didn’t like my pictureeee!”, “I’m sooo drunk, bro!”—juvenile pleas for attention that seem oddly familiar.
At the back of the room: a ping pong table covered with an assortment of Absolut Vodka (bought in bulk off of carousell, apparently), coca-cola, and obscure F&N flavours including raspberry-cherry and mango-strawberry. I mix myself some coke with peach flavoured vodka. It tastes even grosser than it sounds, but sober me needs it, being way too anxious to approach anyone for a conversation. I mix myself another, hoping liquid courage will defeat my awkward inhibitions.
I look around the room trying to locate my host so I can force her to introduce me to people, but I don’t see her; I’m lost and alone in this 1200m2 hotbox of intoxication and teenage angst.
I introduce myself to a tall, well built dude with frosted tips and his posse of 3 guys still waiting for puberty to kick in.
“Sup guys, I’m here on a layover visiting from Connecticut, so what do you think of this party?”
“It’s okay, not great …”
I try to make small talk with at least 5 different groups of people, but after exchanging “sups” and making vague comments about how I’m too old and everyone here is so young, the conversation inevitably peters off into them whipping out their phones or talking amongst themselves as if I’m not even there.
… “Well, nice meeting you.”
“Yeah.” *doesn’t even look up from their phones*
Only introverts will understand the fatigue that comes with forcing ourselves to socialise with people duller than dried whiteboard markers. I collapse into a beanbag chair in the emptiest corner of the room, so tired that within minutes I literally fall asleep.
“I got word from someone downstairs that there are police here! Everyone who isn’t 18 get the fuck out! I repeat, everyone who isn’t 18 get the fuck out!” someone screams into a microphone.
Almost immediately, a writhing mass of drunk children rush out the door fuelled by their party preservation instincts.
My host had told me that it’s not too uncommon for international school parties like this to get shut down by the police and even for kids to get arrested. Needless to say, none of the younger party goers seemed eager to stick around and find out if the police were truly there to bust some underaged drinkers.
After the exodus, there can’t be more than 15 people left in the room, including myself. Near the pool table on the other side of the room, I notice a chubby guy in unfashionable dad jeans and a leather jacket that makes him look like an extra out of Grease. Despite actually dressing up in the prescribed retro attire, he doesn’t seem into the party. He’s just sitting there as if he were at a funeral–motionless, with a stare pointed at the floor but focused on nothing.
“Hey man, wanna play a game of pool?” I ask.
“Sure,” he replies, in a posh British accent.
After about 20 minutes of playing without exchanging more than 7 words, “good games” are traded, and I just sort of blurt: “You don’t look like you’re having a good time.”
Instant regret for my drunken statement, but after a few seconds, he launches into an unexpected soliloquy: “No, not really. At most, people here are my acquaintances. And it’s not like I really want them to be my friends, anyways. I just look at what people post on Instagram and I assume that it’s fun. I mean, this is supposed to be fun, right? But am I having fun? No. Everyone here has their own group of friends that they stick with and talk about nothing with. I’ve tried to talk to people, but all they seem to talk about is their clothes or gossip or what they posted on Instagram. It’s so worthless. Even if I muster the courage to actually open my mouth and talk to someone the conversation goes nowhere and I end up just listening to them go on about nothing. Right now I wish I were at home reading a book, but I know that if I stay home I’ll feel like I’ve missed out on something. It’s not like I hear about parties very often. I shouldn’t waste the opportunity, right? … Uh, I’m sorry … I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
“Hey man, don’t worry, it’s …”
“I really need to use the toilet, excuse me.”
No police had arrived, and by now all the underaged party goers had made it back into the room. I quickly lose sight of my English associate in the crowd.
Such a strange interaction. Such a strange kid.
For much of my own high school career back in the United States, I was fat and awkward, and though I wanted to hang out with the “cool” kids, whenever I went out to parties where they were present I always regretted it.
I remember sitting on couches drinking cheap alcohol mixed with flat soda, watching as people got excessively drunk, discussed vapid topics, and took pictures of themselves in suggestive poses.
Generally, people simply found various means to “flex” their party lifestyle.
It dawns on me that there really isn’t anything special about international school parties. From the feeling of being out of place and not wanting to engage in stale conversation with drunk kids stuck in their superficial cliques, to what that young Englishman experienced, all of it was nothing new. It was the exact same feeling I got from parties in high school.
The difference is that here, the stakes of getting caught are higher, and the drugs are more dangerous. Back home, it’s often expected for high school kids to go out and party (not until they’re closer 16, unlike here). Most kids drank, some smoked weed, some did a bit of both. Even if the police did come and shut it down, no one ever got arrested.
Here, on the other hand, people seem rightfully worried about being hauled to jail.
While I didn’t witness it personally, I was told by my host that many of the older kids in the international school community mix highly addictive black market perscription drugs like Valium, Xanax, or Codeine with alchohol at parties, which can be very dangerous (mixing Valium and alchohol can kill you).
But having just completed their IB exams, final year students were celebrating on “grad trips” abroad. If they were here tonight, the party might have been rowdier, and the methods of intoxication riskier. But I doubt that the pill popping of older international school students is any less of a manifestation of insecurity than binge drinking is of the young ones that I see here tonight. They all just want to fit in, and at this point in their lives, the easiest way to do so is through punishing thier bodies with booze and prescription drugs in displays of communal masochism.
Having grasped this great realisation, I search for the mysterious Englishman to tell him that what he feels is totally reasonable, and that he shouldn’t feel like he has to go to these parties; that he will make real friends when he goes off to college.
But he’s disappeared.
After 10 minutes of searching, I give up. He must have left when he said he was going to the bathroom.
Without anyone to confide my own discomfort in, I revert to my old ways and do what I often did at parties in high school: get way too drunk, dance like an idiot, and go home regretting that I’d even gone.
At least this time, I’m writing about it.
Tell us about your international school party experience at firstname.lastname@example.org.