Wistful Wonderment

When I made the big decision to move countries in pursuit of a new job, a lot of my thoughts and worries were related to adjusting to living in India, as opposed to leaving Singapore. My feelings on the Singapore side of things were basically around the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to hang out with my brother, sis-in-law and niece on a regular basis anymore. I knew they were upset about this too, because the sis-in-law said, “Go, have fun. Just, you know, be back in a year.”

Subconsciously, that must have stuck in my head as I made final preparations to leave, because I did everything as though I was going away on extended vacation rather than moving away. I had to move out of my house, of course, but I left almost everything else in a suspended state, convinced that I would eventually be returning in a year. It’s been almost three months since I left (a quarter of a year! ūüėĪ) and now, actually living here and working here, it’s really hard for me to tell whether I’ll be able to stick to that¬†deadline of one year. I have no idea how things will shake out in the coming months.

I think in the hurry of packing up a life’s worth of things and leaving, I didn’t get a chance to fully say goodbye to Singapore. Rather, I did say goodbye, but it was quick and rushed, with no thought as to all the things I was going to be leaving. When people asked me during the last few weeks whether there was anything special I wanted to do or anywhere specific I wanted to go, I couldn’t think of anything because I hadn’t had a chance to miss anything yet. And then when I got here, there was so much to be done (from setting up bank accounts and getting government ID cards done to setting up a house and finding my feet at work) that I didn’t have the time or the mental headspace to think too much about anything else.

Now, though, I’m slowly starting to remember all the things I miss.¬†The people are a given, not just my family, but my small group of friends, who always made the time to meet up (despite most of them having much busier schedules) and do things together. Different friends satisfied different¬†needs (one to go cafe hopping with, one to do nail art with, one to exchange book recs with, one to watch movies with, one to drink wine with), and together, they made for a very holistic friendship experience.

This post is for the other stuff I miss, or as the sis-in-law puts it, “NON-LIVING THINGS.” I’ll leave out the obvious things like cleanliness, public transport, general orderliness, efficiency and safety, and focus on things that are more specific to me. In no specific order:

  • Food.¬†I¬†know, I know. For all intents and purposes, I get tons more options in India than I did in Singapore – practically everything here has a vegetarian option. I think what I miss is the variety, and the easy access to different kinds of cuisines. Yes, there are lots of places here that serve world cuisines, but it usually takes a bit of travelling to get to anywhere good, and there’s just not that many restaurants to choose from for any particular cuisine. Whereas in Singapore, to borrow from a Tamil saying, if you trip and fall, you’ll land on a restaurant. Food is everywhere. Also, in the last two or three years, vegetarian food has started getting really popular. I mean, McDonald’s put its first ever vegetarian burger on the menu after a full decade of me being there. When my mom visited me last year, we made a list of vegetarian-only places and couldn’t even tick all of them off the list by the time she left a few months later. All that just makes me sadder that I had to leave just when vegetarianism was¬†really catching on.
  • Groceries. Vegetable shopping is so much easier when things are¬†neatly packaged and weighed and not loose and caked in dirt. Also, even the basic supermarket would have gourmet ingredients for my more ambitious cooking adventures, whereas here, if I want herbs or a special type of cheese, I have to either order it online or travel to find a place selling it. (We’ve established how much I don’t like to travel here.)
  • The internet. I’ve elaborated on this already. ¬†Suffice to say, I miss not having to think about numbers so much.
  • Movies. I used to watch an average of two movies per month in the cinema back in Singapore. On Tuesdays, you could get cheap tickets for $6.5, and plenty of popcorn and drinks for $4. Also, getting to a screening would be easy, because there would be a cinema in almost every mall, and malls were scattered around the small city so plentifully that you’d land on one if you – repeat it with me – tripped and fell. I get to watch TV and movies as part of my job now, so this isn’t so much of an issue, but I miss making movie dates with friends, just as an excuse to meet them often.
  • The library. Good God, do I miss the library.¬†Singapore has about 30 public ones (another one of those “trip and fall” places), and all of them are large, air-conditioned, neatly maintained and well-stocked (and in some cases, damn stylish). For $10, I had a lifetime membership, which gave me access to more books than I could borrow at a time.¬†Many a day have I spent in the library, perfectly content to sit in a corner, reading or working, nipping out for a quick lunch or a coffee. Good times.
  • The beach. For me, the beach, especially when thought of in relation to Singapore, means a whole lot more than just sand and water. For me, it includes picnics with the family, long walks with the housemate and even longer bicycle rides to the airport or to the city. It is associated with sunrises and sunsets and ocean breezes, a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of normal life.
  • Sidewalks.¬†How sad is it that this can be something one can miss?! You can walk everywhere in Singapore. If not for the weather, I probably¬†would actually have walked everywhere. Here, the sidewalk is more like “the side of the road”, and I have to be constantly on the lookout for open ditches, garbage, mud, spit, poop, and of course, cows.

Singapore is essentially Western life in an Asian context, which, when you think about it, really is the best of both worlds. I miss you, home away from home!¬†(It’s too early for nostalgia, no? </3)

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S is for Singlish

Singapore is a fascinating country, home to a unique set of cultures, traditions and behaviours. You’ll find a great many things here that you won’t find elsewhere in the world, but nothing will come close to being as uniquely Singaporean as Singlish does. A beautiful, complex and heady mix of English and a few local languages that can completely befuddle an outsider, Singaporean English or Singlish is the perfect gauge of how long you’ve lived in Singapore and how successfully you’ve been integrated into the society.

I’ve lived¬†in Singapore for close to 10 years now. Of those 10 years, the first 4 were extremely sheltered, limited to the metaphorical walls of the university campus. I had very little interaction with the locals, so¬†I barely heard or spoke any Singlish. Most of my¬†friends were fellow Indians, and the few local friends I had spoke regular English, which is what you’d expect in a university setting.

For 4 years, I was just outside the reaches of the local culture, and so, when I stepped out into the working world and experienced the sudden influx, I was caught completely unawares. Suddenly, it was all up in my face, assaulting my senses. By the time I left teacher training (also a fairly university-like setting) and set foot inside a local school brimming with hormonal adolescents, Singaporean culture was practically smacking me in the face.

My first year teaching in a local secondary¬†school was pretty much an exercise in comprehension. I’d struggle to understand the kids, they’d struggle to understand me. The former is a perfectly acceptable situation, because I was only just getting exposed to Singlish, which despite the name, is more different from English than it is similar. The latter situation, however, felt outrageous. I was speaking in perfectly standard English, in full sentences, with as neutral an accent as possible, and I was still receiving¬†complaints about being too difficult to understand.¬†Somehow, my use of grammatical elements like conjunctions and prepositions were actually making it harder for the kids to follow what I was saying.

Through the course of the year, as I listened to them and they listened to me, and much misunderstanding occurred, we came to some sort of middle ground. I call it “middle” ground, but¬†when a couple of kids came up to me at the end of the school year to tell me how much easier they found it to understand me compared to the beginning of the year,¬†I knew it didn’t mean that I had been successful in teaching them English, but rather, that¬†I had well and truly started my journey towards becoming fluent in Singlish.

In educational circles, Singlish has long been considered a problem. If it¬†had been an altogether different language, there would have been no issue. But because it’s so closely associated with English, and because it so happily flouts so many of the prim and proper “rules” of English, it can very easily creep into areas where formal English is preferred.¬†Most adults can “code switch”, but for kids whose only exposure to English has been through Singlish,¬†it can be very difficult to differentiate the two.

In all other contexts, though, Singlish is a fascinating study in linguistics.¬†From what I’ve gathered from my exposure to it, I posit (in a very non-professional capacity) the following principles upon¬†which it is founded:

1) Pronunciation is overrated. In order to sound natural at Singlish, you must let go of all rigidity and embrace the slackness of your tongue. If you enunciate too clearly, or pronounce the end consonants in your words, you’re already doing it wrong. Imagine saying “lidat” instead of “like that”, “neh mine” instead of “never mind” and “oredi” instead of “already”, and you’re getting the idea.

2) There is no room for superfluousness. If a thought or an idea can be conveyed in 3 words, there’s no need for various grammatical elements to stretch it to 5. Each word in a sentence carries weight. As a general rule, articles serve almost no purpose and can be dropped entirely. Prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns – these are only used when absolutely necessary to facilitate meaning. The same goes for complicated concepts like tense, person, number and voice. If you can do without them, you’re on the right track.

To the ear accustomed to regular English, Singlish can seem disjointed, disorganised and completely random. What is actually happening, however, is that English words are being held together by a complex combination of the grammatical rules of other languages. This is what gives the language that uniquely solid feel – that there’s a way to speak it “properly”, which involves more than¬†just¬†stringing words together in any random order.

Once you get the hang of it (and you are no longer responsible for teaching kids regular English), Singlish is a treat. There are still aspects of it that are foreign to me because they involve words from other languages, but my favourite Singlish sentences and phrases involve only English words, and these are the ones where you can see how truly bizarre and random they might seem to a regular English speaker. Here are 10 of them:

1) Can/Cannot – Any response involving a “yes” or a “no”.

– Do you want to go for a movie?

– Caaaaan.

– You think we’ll be able to finish all this food?

РCaaaaan. 

2) So how? – “So, what’s our next move?” or “How do we proceed from here?”

– I messaged her about the movie, but she’s not replying.

– So how? Should I buy the tickets or not?

3) Cannot anyhow lidat! –¬†“You can’t just do things willy-nilly, in whatever way you want.”

Must join the dots according to number, lah! Cannot anyhow lidat!

4) Cannot make it/CMI – “not up to the task of doing something” or “impossible” or “unlikely to be successful”.

Eh, he never submit his homework last week. He confirm cannot make it in the test tomorrow.

5)¬†Never say!¬†– “You didn’t tell me earlier.” or “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

– Kids, you don’t need to write this down – it’s already in your textbook.

РWah, cher, never say! I oredi write leh!

6) How can? – “How can this be possible?” or “This is not possible.”

Five essays in two hours? How caaaaan?

7) Why you so lidat? – “It’s so difficult to understand your choices in life.” or “Why are you behaving this way?” or “Why are you the way you are?”

I asked you to get me noodles, not rice! Why you so lidat?!

8) See how – “Let’s wait and see how things turn out.”

– I’m not sure she’ll be able to get out of work in time for the movie.

– See how.

9) Where got? – “What?! Give me specifics.” or “That’s not possible.”

– Hey, did you take my wallet?

– Eh, where got?!

10) Die die – “die trying” or “no way to not do it”

I die die must finish this article by midnight!

Do you have any favourite Singlish words/phrases? Confirm got one, lah. Share share!