23 June 2011


Living day to day, I do not really see myself in a completely new environment, but I do face some challenges, mainly in a world where I once felt the most comfortable: communication. Since most of the locals speak English, most would not label me as someone who is immersed in a new country with a new language to learn. However, most of the locals are not raised in homes where English is the first or most frequently spoken language. I feel completely dismayed when I find myself in situations where I cannot understand what a cab driver, a worker or a friend is asking or telling me.

After three months, I think I am beginning to understand Singlish, the unofficial language of Singapore, but I still have a bit to learn. To understand Singlish, one must understand that there are three main influences among the population: Chinese, Indian and English. There are, of course, other ethnicities represented in the masses such as Filipino, Malay and Indonesian; however, the aforementioned three are, in my opinion, the biggest influences on the Singlish language. Singapore was first a part of Britain and then was briefly part of Malaysia before becoming its own republic in the 1960s. Some of the terminology we hear daily comes from Singapore’s British roots.

We are learning to call grocery carts and flatbed carts “trolleys,” elevators “lifts” and French fries “chips.” I utterly missed a friend’s craving for “chips” one afternoon, suggesting a Subway restaurant where I had eaten earlier. She dismissed my idea twice and corrected me by saying “hot chips,” which I interpreted as thin, fried potato slices that are sometimes found in bars. When she requested Burger King, I was confused and then, after a few minutes, realized that she was referring to fries. So I headed over to the BK to stand in line and order some fries. Here in Singapore, people do not stand in lines, they stand in “queues.” The word “queue” is also used as a verb by indicating people are “queuing,” meaning standing in line. Thank God “grande mocha frappuccino” and “iced skinny vanilla late” mean the same thing in Singapore as they do in the U.S. I don’t know what I would do if I had to learn a new Starbucks language!

Singapore’s more familiar Asian languages like Chinese affect the pronunciation of words, which can make it difficult for someone like me to understand. One of the most common mispronounced sounds (in the opinion of an American) is the sound of the “th.” When “th” appears at the beginning of a word, it is pronounced as a “t” sound. The word “three” becomes “tree” and the word “through” sounds like “true.” When “th” ends a word, one uses the sound of an “f” or “ft.” For instance, “death” is pronounced either “def” or “deft.” “Earth” is pronounced either “earf” or “earft” (I have not yet learned how to distinguish the use of the extra “t” sound). And, just like the common Spanglish, Singlish often has a mix of English and Chinese phrases within the same sentence, causing more confusion to people like Paul and me. At least we are learning, right?

Along with learning the local terms like “lift” and “trolley,” we are learning the transportation terminology. The MRT, Mass Rapid Transit, is the train; two companies, SBS and SMRT, run the bus services. Instead of numbering highways like 71, 75 and 270, there are expressway acronyms. Paul’s commute to the airport on the north side of the island involves a drive from the ECP to the PIE and then the TPE before entering the part of the island where even the locals never go. For anyone not familiar with these letters, Paul requests that taxi drivers take him along the East Coast Parkway, which connects to the Pan Island Expressway and then meets up with the Tampines Expressway. Tampines, by the way, does not sound like a feminine hygiene product. It is pronounced “tam-pin-eez” and sounds more like another local language. There are 10 expressways, so it is imperative that one knows the direction in which one is going – especially since the cab drivers ask you which way to proceed.

And, since today/yesterday marked the first day of summer for our friends back in the States, I should mention how we are adapting to the single season. Paul and I are getting used to seeing the hot and mostly humid, some gloom, some sun and a chance of rain on a daily basis. There have been a few mild days the last week, which has made the heat way more bearable. Lower humidity makes even 88 feel like low 70s. Today was a pretty low-humidity day so I took advantage of the endurable weather. After finishing an appointment downtown, I decided to take a walk and wound up stopping for a coffee at a sidewalk café. I sat outside for nearly an hour as I slowly sipped my coffee, studied my surroundings and thought of close friends. That café was exactly the place where I would meet a girlfriend for coffee, talk while slowly enjoying our drinks, order some lunch and then spend the afternoon drinking a bottle of wine and continuing to talk while observing the world around us. I could have easily spent three or four hours in that chair.

To those at home, wherever in the States home may be, know that we think of you often and that we miss you a lot. We have a room available, and we are taking reservations (early September is booked, so pick another time). For those of you who are my teammates at work, Happy Cake Day!

No comments: