A while back I asked my very good friend See Min to show me the real Singapore. The old Singapore. The place where Kampongs still prevailed. I wanted to see it. I wanted to experience it. Before it was lost.
I yearned for discovery.
See Min is a great and wise man. He is a legend. He is humble. Gentle. He is very kind. See Min was born on Versak day. He shares his birthday with Buddha. See Min is proudly Singaporean. I have learnt much from him.
I like him a lot.
In order to show me the Singapore of old we went west. We dove deep into the underbelly of Singapore. Where few Ang mo are seen. It's a concrete jungle out there. But a jungle nevertheless. As is the Singaporean way - we went for dinner. I sat with my friend amongst the locals. There were no other white faces to be seen. See Min ordered us local foods. There was nothing on the menu that I had ever seen or tasted before in any restaurant or hawker stand. The food was fantastic.
It was sensational.
All around me were generations of Singaporeans of mixed heritage. There were Malays. Indians. Chinese. They were celebrating food. Paying homage to their relatives. They were enjoying each others company. I love the family culture that is in Singapore. They respect their elders. They love their children.
It impresses me.
It delights me.
It's a wonderful thing.
Amongst this buzz and throng I could make out words that sounded like English mixed in with what seemed to be other languages. See Min explained that this was true Singlish. It was a combination of the Chinese Hokkien and Cantonese dialects, some Malay - and some just made up words. I tried to concentrate and see if I could understand some of the conversations going on around me. But I could not. See Min helped me interpret some of these.
He was helpful.
He was patient.
I heard the term 'swah-ku' used a bit. This is a term used to describe someone who is not very knowledgeable. Not exactly stupid. But close. It is derived from the Hokkien language and literally means a 'mountain tortoise'.
"Tok Gong' was used a lot too. See Min explained that this meant 'pretty good'. It could be used like "you see her legs ..... Tok Gong man". "See Pai Ho" means very good.
Amongst my favorites was the term 'Tum-Sim'. See Min explained that this literally meant 'greedy'. In a boastful way. He explained that you could be seen to be Tum-Sim if you:
- Rented out your 2 bedroom apartment to 6 people
- Bought 12 cups of milo just to get one free
- Ignore sales unless they offer at least 50% off
- Bargained for a shirt at Little India for $5 - and then demanded a written warranty
See Min said that some local people would think that I am a 'Kim Gui". He laughed when he said that. When I asked him what that meant he told me that it literally meant a 'golden turtle'.
A desirable rich man.
I laughed back at him.
We both know that I am neither desirable nor rich.