Super Rich in Korea’s David Yong is a Nepo Baby. But He’s Our Nepo Baby.
Top image: @dynimm / Instagram

You might have seen David Yong on Netflix’s Super Rich in Korea. Maybe you know of his many K-exploits, most notably bringing FIFTY FIFTY auditions and, recently, the Waterbomb Festival to Singapore. Or maybe you’ve seen him rolling around in one of his 11 nice cars. 

Super Rich in Korea, following the likes of Bling Empire, is a Korean take on indulgent reality TV: we follow five millionaires banded together by their love for Korea. Among them is the Singlish-spitting millionaire, David Yong. 

He is by far the most entertaining of the cast: hamming up his confidence in his looks and wealth, only to later lament his abject lack of charisma against his smooth-talking Italian counterpart. It’s hilarious, humanising, but horrifying

Who is this man, anyway? David Yong is a 37-year-old businessman who heads Evergreen Group Holdings, a timber company that has since evolved into an enterprise that deals with automobiles, real estate, and more. 

Yong is proud to be old money, proclaiming that his family has been doing business in Asia “for over three generations”.  His father, Yong Ing Fatt, built an empire on Burmese teak; but the younger Yong has set his eyes on the K-entertainment industry for their next big investment. It led him to Seoul. 

Yong’s appearance on the show has garnered mixed reactions from locals. Commenters switch between calling him “cringe” and “fake” to lauding his entertaining persona. There’s discomfort towards his egregious displays of wealth and (patriotic?) pride for a Singaporean repping us on a global stage. Clearly, we’re undecided on his character. 

We love to hate him, but how far do we claim him? Is he really the best representation of Singapore on the global stage? Does it even matter?

One of Us?

Even before his Netflix stardom, Yong has been fodder for Singaporean meme-makers.

Although relatively unknown, people bashed Yong for his ‘Nepo Baby’ ways in 2022; he’s accused of buying views and likes to support his foray into K-Pop. 

Reactions have only become more mixed after his Netflix stardom. There’s still the low-hanging fruit of his extreme displays of wealth, which have worsened the allegations of Ah Sia Kia (Hokkien for a wealthy man’s son). 

Another commenter calls him a “narcissistic prick”, watching on with horror as Yong shows off his money-counting machine in the middle of his living room because, as he explains it, counting money is “his hobby”. It’s his mix of loud luxury and ignorant privilege that deepens the cringe.

This isn’t the first time Singaporeans have lambasted local displays of wealth. Singapore Social was another Netflix docuseries uncovering the lives of Singapore’s upper class. From calling Singapore Social “pretentious”, “vapid”, and “an embarrassment”, David Yong honestly got off easy.

Comment about David Yong
Image: YouTube / Screengrab

Let’s look at it this way: we have a knee-jerk reaction to hating depictions of Singaporean wealth because we expect a relatable portrayal of Singapore. This is only worsened by limited representations of Singapore a la Crazy Rich Asians

Implicitly, we recognise but resent that the most entertaining parts of Singapore are the most inaccessible to the general populace, i.e. the lives of our upper class.  

To be fair to Yong, his cringe-worthiness has taken on a humanising slant. People like that he’s awkward because it makes him ‘realer’ and accessible. Some found solace in his abject lack of charisma. They identify with his unromantic nature, alleging it as part of a larger Singaporean male skill issue. As a Straits Times columnist puts it, “I am Yong, and Yong is me”. 

Our attempts to relate to him don’t stop at his rizzlessness. People also love his thick Singaporean accent: Yong can’t help but pronounce three as ‘tree’ when counting his cars in Korea. His accent isn’t atas, or fancy, at all. Yong’s Singlish is extremely befitting of someone who grew up here all his life. 

Reddit comment about David Yong
Image: Reddit / Screengrab

We nitpick his peacocking while concurrently finding reasons to feel proud of him. In short, the ways he’s different from us coexist in tension with the ways he’s the same. 

Not Like Us?

Our mixed feelings aren’t shared by other audiences. The main demographic for this show is, after all, Koreans. And they, surprisingly, have a good impression of Yong. 

One Korean commenter says, “Even though (David Yong is) a foreigner, he’s polite… and cool”.Another Korean user challenges whether David is narcissistic, saying, “It might seem like he’s bragging about his money, but he looks humble and kind. He’s honest…” He’s got fans among Korean viewers, who’ve even asked him to be aired more in future

Their reaction aligns with the overall project of Super Rich in Korea; the producers aimed to create a deeper appreciation for Korea amongst Korean viewers by showcasing millionaires like Yong who choose to settle in Seoul. Their support for Yong stems from their patriotism; I posit that our distaste might stem from Singaporean pride, too. 

We’re more critical of Yong because we know he speaks for Singapore. It’s our pride in our country’s image that informs our sensitivities to his cringe-worthiness and causes us to nitpick. We can’t deal with his braggadocious swagger precisely because we’re haolian (or prideful). Just like him.

Super Rich and Super Singaporean

But honestly, with a title like Super Rich in Korea, what kind of representation were we expecting? 

Yong is playing a character in a mindless reality TV show, not appearing before the US Congress. Our gripes with Yong might reveal our own insecurities about displays of wealth even at home, or our insecurity about how the world perceives us. David Yong is another Crispy Rendang problem, an analogy describing how an infamous mistake can end up as the symbol of a country’s cuisine and culture.

With the already scant attention on Singapore, we’re scared Yong will define us as a nation. A socially awkward, entitled, rich nation.

David Yong at a premiere
K-pop star, Sandara Park (Left) and David Yong (Right) at the Super Rich in Korea Premiere. (Image: @dynimm / Instagram)

Yong’s performance, embarrassing or otherwise, is why the show is interesting. Yong’s even flattering in contrast to his fellow castmates. Our eyes glaze over watching Aren Yoo and Noor Naim try on clothes and talk bags. The million-dollar apartments start to blend together after a while. 

Amidst the banality, Yong’s flamboyance, coupled with his insecurity, seems to be the only authentic part of the show. We’re meant to laugh at these out-of-touch millionaires to feel good about ourselves. Being cringe is the criterion for success—and unfortunately for us, Yong’s a typical Singaporean overachiever in that regard. 

More importantly, are we placing an unfair burden on Yong or any future Singaporean who makes it big abroad? 

We’re so reflexively concerned with how we look on the global stage that we end up roasting reality TV stars for being reality TV stars. Maybe we ought to take a page out of Yong’s book, and care a little less about appearing humble. Because for all his Nepo Baby ways, he’s still our Nepo Baby, whether we like it or not.

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