This week, I have been suffering from a recurring problem which is to be fully expected when living overseas – that of the ever-present language barrier.
True, English is spoken pretty much everywhere in Singapore. However, it may not come in a form you would recognise.
There is much made about the presence of ‘Singlish’ in Singapore; this colloquial version of English can actually be very difficult to understand if you are a foreigner here. According to Wikipedia, “The vocabulary of Singlish consists of words originating from English, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi and to a lesser extent various other European, Indic and Sinitic languages, while Singlish syntax resembles southern varieties of Chinese.”
As you can imagine, this paves the way for a lot of communication mishaps – and some of them can have truly dire consequences.
I will give you some examples.
The Dreadful Tale of the Epic Dress Fail begins thus:
One of my Thai colleagues was in Singapore for a few days with me this week as we had some meetings to attend together.
In an attempt to look like a proper, serious office person, I had gone out and bought a very smart suit-style dress from a local dress shop. This dress had a very small slit at the back to assist with movement, and as the morning wore on I was alarmed to feel the slit growing a little bigger each time I stood up or sat down (FYI: English bottoms are not made for Singaporean clothes, unless you are Kiera Knightly or similar, in which case, shop away).
Matters came to a head when we pulled up at the location of our next meeting (thankfully, a little early) and I jumped out of the taxi rather too enthusiastically. As I landed on the pavement, I heard a ripping sound, and felt a blast of fresh air where there certainly shouldn’t have been any. Uh-oh.
Terrified, I felt the back of my dress, and to my utter, unmitigated HORROR, I realised that the top of the slit now ended somewhere approximately around my lower back.
I wailed very loudly in mortification (unintentionally drawing additional attention to my exposed posterior) and immediately plonked myself down on a conveniently placed bench right in front of me.
My colleague, exiting the taxi, witnessed this and asked what was wrong.
I explained to her that my dress was ruined at the back, that I needed safety pins for an emergency repair job, and gestured pleadingly towards the 7-11 convenience store across the street.
Light dawned in her eyes as she registered the full impact of the situation, and she dropped her briefcase and ran over the road. I waited in hope.
Five minutes later she was back, clutching a 7-11 bag filled – not with safety pins, but with:
These were not safety pins.
I rapidly realised how the confusion had arisen, and – not for the first time – cursed my inability to say anything other than ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘coconut’ and ‘where is the food please’ in Thai.
I briefly considered trying to use them to stick my dress back together, but realised that this probably would not work.
After much gesticulating and dreadful attempts at miming, light dawned in my colleague’s eyes (yet again) and she dropped her briefcase once more and ran over the road. After a nervous five minutes spent trying to fend off old ladies and pregnant women who wanted the bench*, she thankfully returned with a mini sewing kit.
Emergency dress repair station :
We were, however, late for our meeting.
There have been numerous other occasions during which language has not been my friend. For example, when I first got here, I did not realise that if you merrily order a cup of tea ‘with lots of milk, please’ in many places, it will come with half a tin of sweetened condensed milk happily dumped into it. Mmmm, yummy.
Another time, in Thailand with Kat, I was thirsty and so asked for Fanta. Something got lost in translation, and what I got was not Fanta – it was a strange, luminous green brew of almost unspeakable foulness.
Just the other day, when I was ordering lunch, I asked for steamed rice, vegetables and ‘a bit of fish’.
My steamed rice and vegetables came, and I sat there waiting patiently for ten minutes for my fish. By this point I was hungry and my rice was cold, so I went to enquire as to the whereabouts of my fish. The restaurant owner proudly pointed at my vegetables and said ‘yeeees, bit of fresh! A bit of fresh!’
I smiled weakly and returned to my table and spent the rest of my meal imagining my fish, instead:
However, this is all simple stuff that can be easily rectified by taking the Russian Doll’s cinema advice: check, check, and check again. Also, it’s all part of the charm of living here.
In terms of other news, not so much to report –things have been ticking along nicely!
Banker’s Wife, TV Girl and I enjoyed a lovely, vaguely English-style afternoon tea at a sweet little place called Tea Cosy on the top floor of a shopping centre called Plaza Singapura, in an area of Singapore called Dhauby Ghaut.
Here it is:
Thisgorgeous little gem, which TV Girl introduced us to, sells a collection of angels (yep, angels!) of all kinds from around the world, from little hanging ones to big carved marble ones, and does a rather good afternoon tea.
Here is our tea – the scones were nice (if rather small, and we all agreed that they were a bit stingy with the jam) – and whilst the girls sensibly went for pots of tea, I got carried away and, in a fit of greed, ordered a huge hot chocolate with marshmallows on top.
I felt very sick afterwards, but it was totally worth it.
That’s about it, really – I shan’t clatter on any longer, as apart from anything else it is lunchtime in England and I expect you are all very hungry.
Finally – just a quick note to say thank you so much to everyone who has emailed me nice things about the blog – I am very pleased that you are finding it helpful, and hope you continue to read it!
Lots of love,
PS: My best friend, Kitty, is having a bad day.
One of the worst things about being away from home is not being there for your friends and family when they need you – so Kitty, I cannot reach you to give you a proper hug, as my arms are nowhere near long enough, but I offer you this appallingly drawn substitute instead:
* I would never have believe that I would have had to spell this out, but due to a certain number of sarcasm fails lately, I feel I must point out – I did not actually deny any old ladies or pregnant woman a bench.