By Chandroo D.
I distinctly remember the first time I landed in Singapore. While waiting for my passport to be stamped by the immigration officer, I asked if I could have a mint from the jar on his desk. “Ya lah!” he answered as he handed one to me. These words, part of the Singlish vocabulary commonly used by Singaporeans, have been stuck in my mind since then and now automatically flows out from me whenever I am in Singapore. “Want to party?” “Ya lah”. “Want to eat?” “Ya lah”.
As much as the Government discourages Singlish through various campaigns, it cannot be denied that Singlish is the first, if not the only, language of Singaporeans. Even the Tourism Board’s website has a rudimentary list of Singlish words for visitors. Besides that, Singaporeans love abbreviations. When I asked for the direction to the NUS (National University of Singapore), I was stunned with this reply, “Take a taxi via PIE or ECP, then CTE and then AYE but since you have to pay ERP now, so maybe you take the MRT or SBS better lah and don’t get confused with NUH (National University Hospital). PIE sign on the highway can easily be mistaken, by a newcomer, as an indication sign for an outlet selling pies. Using abbreviations has made communication easier for the locals, but on the other hand this has baffled me and obviously the tourists! TIE (Take it easy lah!)
Singaporeans seem to love French words too. French terms on signs billboards and shop hoardings have become a common sight here, a cultural oddity in the heart of Asia. You can leave your condo, Cote D’Azur, pop into a Délifrance for a coffee, and then head to a mall to shop at Brise de Joie and get your hair done at Beautlex de Beauty salon. Finally, in the evening you can dine with your date at Les Amis.
The city is obsessed with food where everyone from ten years olds to ninety year olds can talk knowledgeably about what they like to eat and where it is the best. One friend says that the Singapore Chilli Crab is best at Red House Seafood in East Coast, where as I like the one in Ah Hoi’s Kitchen at Traders Hotel…we debate this same subject everytime we meet for Chilli Crabs – so even we get into this favourite local pastime of debating food! One should try Singapore’s free flowing champagne/wine brunch buffets. Where else can you sample Sashimi, Freshly shucked oysters, Laksa, Char Kway Teow, Chicken Curry, Peking Duck, Roti Prata, Pasta, Steaks, Steamed Fish, Crème Brulée and Jackfruit all in one meal? The hustle and bustle of hawker stands with their various finger licking goodies at reasonable prices can also be found in many areas. Looking to shop after midnight? Pay a visit to the famous super market cum departmental store, Mustafa which is open 24 hours of the day and packed with a variety of groceries, clothing, electronics, gold, ornaments, etc.
Where the food is concerned, even the doctors are on it! A recent heavy haze unfortunately triggered up my sinus and it acted up causing me discomfort - so off I went to see a recommended ENT (this abbreviation is ok lah!) doctor. With a shot of medicine into my nose, he cleared it up immediately. Later he presented me a 'food restriction' list consisting of dairy products, chocolates, peanuts etc. The best 'low risk food' list consists of Chwee Kueh, Chee Cheong Fun, Kway Teow, Bee Hon etc. Local dishes! I wondered if he was also on the committee of the Tourism Board promoting local fare on the side!
Singapore is truly a shopper’s paradise with the main Orchard road, lined up with extravagant shopping malls in most of its towering buildings, competing with each other. On the weekends this particular road pavement is packed with open air vendors and also singers with their Karaoke boom boxes at most of the pedestrian light crossing. A perfect place so pedestrian have to listen to them while waiting for the lights to change. Try imagining them singing an oldie sentimental love song with a Singlish accent? “I love you ya, ya lah!”
One thing I noticed was that the citizens are very patriotic. On 9th August this year, Singapore turned 44 and I happened to be there that day. I was amazed to see the National Day parade the country arranged. Fully charged – that was the atmosphere of the parade. The show was spectacular, enthusiastic and full of life! The comedians, colourful dancers, students, the police, armed, air, and marine force all participated. The sight of the elite paratrooping team (The Red Lions) sky diving from above and landing spot on target was the highlight of the day. An exciting and amazing feat! The crowd whooped and cheered the fireworks finale, which lit up the sky at the end of the National Anthem. At precisely 8.22pm, hand on hearts, Singaporeans citizens young and old, Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians recommitted themselves to the nation by reciting the pledge together as one. It was truly a day of pride.
Singapore has come a long way from an island of swamps and marshes to a vibrant society. The country is clean and green with clear water flowing their rivers and canals. It has an educated workforce and an efficient transport network. Housing needs are met and the health system is well in place. The poor and needy are given a helping hand. There is also a job assistance scheme to help the jobless. Thanks to the Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew whose vision and foresight has brought Singaporeans to where they are today.
Ya lah! I too, have found a comfort zone for myself here in Singapore and spend some quality time here whenever possible.