Sunday, 24 June 2012

Yoo Won Hah Oh Coh?

It has been a long while since I wrote about my life here in Singapore. The reason: TIME! I thought I was living in the fast lane before, but only now do I understand the true meaning of fast lane. Plans change always last minute, last second. Sometimes I do not know in which country I will be 2 days later. Change of plans! The customer changed his mind! This customer wants to see you on Saturday! Welcome to Asia, is what people usually tell you in such situations, in a slightly apologizing, but accepting way.

So now that I am done excusing for the long lag between my previous blog and this one, I would like to share with you a very interesting topic: Singlish! Yes, this is Singaporean-English. English is the first language at Singaporean schools, and therefore, Singaporeans have in general a very good level of English. So they speak it much better then most Europeans. Please bear in mind for this statement, that the British do not tend to refer to themselves as Europeans, especially under current crisis circumstances, but let's not go there.
The only challenge for a foreigner is to understand the accent! I still remember my first visit to Singapore, when I ordered some tea. The waitress then asked something that sounded like :"Yoo won hah oh coh?" I was genuinely surprised she started talking Chinese to me, despite my non-Asian looks. It turned out that she was saying: You want hot or cold?

Another interesting experience I had: I was staying at the Far East Plaza Apartments, and was picked up by an agent to help me with my working permit. He asked me: "You stay in Fized apartment?" I answered, surprised because he knew where he just picked my up: "No I am staying at the Far East apartment, where you just picked me up". He replied: "Yes, what I mean, Fized apartment"

Singlish is short, to the point, and any consonant that can be avoided pronouncing, will be avoided. Also, any article, noun or pronoun that is not utterly essential to bring out the meaning of a sentence, will be left out.  A sentence like:   "This week I cannot possibly fulfill your request, but next week I can make time available", translates into Singlish as " This week cannot, next week can". Or a question like "Would you happen to have any non-prescription anti-diarrhea medicine?" can be answered with "Yes, have" (provided it is asked at the right store)
Then there is the legendary 'lah'. This can be used freely,  anytime, at the end of sentences. For maximum effect this needs to be drawn out in relaxed attitude kind of way, as in: "Ok, laaaaah". But also its split second variants can be heard continuously. The point here is to make the 'lah" almost subliminal..... Was it there? Did I hear it?
One last, very common example: To switch on or off is, translated in to Singlish: 'to on' or 'to off', respectively. "Please on the aircon", "Please off the light"

Two evil colleagues gave me a little book that gives a sneak peek into everyday Singlish. Very helpful! I started practicing.

I believe I do a pretty decent 'OK, lah' already, but it is still a long way to bring it to perfection.

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