No Chinese tea after midday
This is a lesson I really should have learnt by now but somehow, when Chinese tea is being served at a dim sum lunch, I cannot for the life of me use a gracious “no thank you (maybe turn my handle-less tea cup upside down for emphasis). No tea for me.” Despite knowing that I won’t sleep until the wee hours in the morning because of the caffeine (yes, my friends. Chinese tea has caffeine. This is the information one finds out when they Google random trivia due to an inability to drift into sleep mode. Other fun facts about Chinese tea: it is the second most consumed beverage in China (is the first water? The article didn’t say…it could also equally be bubble tea), and it is China’s most exported product (I would have thought this would be appliances or people)).
(You know you’re writing like an insomniac when you are overdoing your use of parentheses (just Googled “how to use parentheses”)).
But I might as well use this still time usefully and give a little update of life on a small island that is smaller or roughly the same size as Lake Taupo — depending on your sources — but has at least a million more people than the whole of New Zealand. Actually, come to think of it, this was the very first fact I knew about Singapore. When I was younger, I remember going on family road trips and one was a drive down near Lake Taupo. Dad went on about how Singapore could fit inside Lake Taupo. Taking this literally, I always thought what kind of silly country would want to move itself into a lake.
Fast forward many years, having moved to this country-that-fits-in-a-lake, I’m discovering that Singapore is far from a silly country. In fact, it really prides itself in being a “Smart Nation”; being digitally and technologically focused/connected. They even have a website which talks about a granny (“Ahma”) loving how apps let her lead a digitally enabled life! Good on ya granny.
But back to life in Singapore. To be honest, when I first moved here it was quite reluctantly. I had really had my heart set on finding an awesome job in Shanghai which let me be a lawyer/marketer/advisor to a cool global company that would pay me a decent wage and let me improve my Mandarin. This job proved elusive. The translation agency job was great but I hoped for something a bit more. I was a little arrogant in thinking my fluent English skills (note to self: being able to speak in your mother tongue is not really a skill to list in your CV) would be so valuable in China. In recent chats with expats here in Singapore, when sharing my struggles of finding a role in Shanghai, they commiserated with me. I was 20 years too late. China of the 80s or 90s might have needed my English abilities, but these days they have an educated and bilingual(ish) workforce; many educated Chinese who can conduct business in Mandarin and English. So that made me feel a little better. It wasn’t my ineptitude that left me searching without success. Well, not solely my ineptitude anyway.
But so the story goes, in August last year I was fortunate enough to get offered a job in Singapore. The Lion City. Where the three seasons are hot, hotter and hottest (one of my dad’s favourite jokes). Not Shanghai, but still in Asia. A little bit closer to home, and still somewhere which listed Mandarin as one of its official languages. The universe pointed towards this small but mighty nation-city-state.
What’s it like living in Singapore? It’s interesting hearing people’s ideas about Singapore who have passed through in transit (it really is the perfect transit spot. The airport has honed efficiency to perfection). People mention it being really clean, efficient, easy to get around; having friendly people (“they all speak English!”); safe, clean…oh, and really clean. This basically sums up what people I’ve asked usually think about Singapore.
Yes, it is really clean and safe. It is super efficient for visitors. Most people do speak English. In fact — it’s even better. It’s English with a Singaporean spin…Singlish! Ready for a quick lesson? Ok lah.
Top 3 Singlish sayings
1. “Can” or “Cannot”
Singaporeans are in a hurry. In everything. So, they are very economic with their words. Instead of “OK we can do this” as a possible reply, my workmates will simply say “can”. Example: “Shall we meet for lunch at 12:30?” Answer: “Can”. “Hey, can you help me with this spreadsheet?” Answer: “Cannot”. I love this efficiency. Why waste time with unnecessary syntax?
This is added to the end of anything and everything and can express anything and everything. All day I hear “OK lah”; “Can lah”; “Cannot lah”. It’s like a non-threatening full stop to what you’ve just said. It eases the social situation. Makes it light-hearted. I think the difference a “lah” makes cannot be underestimated. “Lah” makes everyone friends. I’m trying to think of a Kiwi equivalent 🤔 Drinking?
3. “Double confirm”
This is one of my favourites. I’ll have colleagues say they will relay or summarize what I’ve said to “double confirm” with me what I’ve said. I love the precision and dedication to accuracy. Example: “hey, let me double confirm — you want IT to do the integration tomorrow”. “Hey — let’s double confirm where to meet later tonight”. There’s confirming something, then there is double confirming something. You can’t top that.
While Singlish has been awesome to get accustomed to and also bring into my own day to day usage (yes lah, when in Rome. Can lah) there is a real familiarity I felt when moving here. Everyone around me sounded just like my parents and my aunties and uncles growing up! I always wondered why they spoke English differently to my teachers at school. Growing up, they were the only ones I knew that spoke this strange dialect of English. Now I see that there’s a whole country that is similar — mind you, my parents are from Malaysia — very different to Singapore (gosh, that is a whole other write up) but the spoken dialect is really similar. To my ears anyway. I might be wrong in labeling it a dialect of English but to me this makes the most sense.
Ok lah! Double confirm that I’ll try to write another update soon.✌️