Coffee and Stuff You Never Wanted to Know

If we were having coffee … I’d share these questions from Debora of Blue Jeans and Black coffee. She has a Low Pro Blog which is meant for low profile “… simple, real people. Those of us who don’t spend more money on clothes than on rent. Those with regular day-jobs and responsibilities. Those who don’t give interviews all the time and find their pictures trending in Instagram.” I like that.

Debora nominated me for a Liebster award. Have you heard of it? It’s a fun award for bloggers to recognize and support new bloggers. There’s a bunch of rules associated with the nomination and I’ll talk about that in another post. But in the meantime, let’s top up our coffee and have a look at these questions.

What’s your name and how old are you ?

You can call me Sandy. How old am I? Well that depends. In my head I’m 35 years old. My mirror says differently. It all depends on who you want to believe.

Where you raised and what were was your home like?

I was born Jamaica but spent most of my adult life in Toronto, Canada. I was raised by indulgent Chinese parents and educated by highly principled Catholic nuns. When I was young, the island was a great place to be – fabulous beaches, idyllic tropical weather and wonderful food. Unfortunately, it was also a victim of the times – politically factious, third world poor & racially divisive. Leaving Jamaica to live in Canada was like going to another planet. Fortunately, I’m a cultural astronaut at heart.

Do you speak any foreign languages? Why did you start learning them?

I was taught Spanish, French and Mandarin but I never learnt any of them. Not well enough to speak anyways. Spanish because it’s a prevalent language in the Caribbean, Central & South America. French because I’m married to one. Mandarin because we lived in Beijing and we needed to order food.

What is your day job? Do you like it?

For thirty years I had an intense, all consuming career in software development. My career path was perfectly timed and purely accidental. I majored in Computer Science because I couldn’t stand the blood & gore of natural science and I wasn’t smart enough for pure mathematics. After graduating I stumbled into a high tech company (HAL’s older brother) and came of age when the internet took off and WWW was wild wild west. It was great … for the first twenty eight years. Nowadays, I take it easy and my day-job is figuring out what I’m going to do next. Be it writing, traveling, photography and cooking. Except for the photography (and even then) I do mostly low-tech stuff now. Yes, I like it.

Do you have children?

I have two adult size kids. One of each kind.

Do you play an instrument? Which one and why?

I am musically stunted. I can’t recognize a beat and cannot carry a tune. When my son was a baby I used to sing him lullabies. One day he covered my mouth with a chubby hand and said Ssshh with another.

Did blogging turn out to be the way you imagined it to be?

I actually have a couple blogs. The Sandy Chronicles which is a travel-culture blog and The Sandy Food Chronicles which is a food related but not-foodie blog. What’s a not-foodie blog? It’s a blog about food but with lousy pictures and imprecise recipes.

The Sandy Chronicles started as a way to keep in touch with family when I lived abroad. It’s evolved to include photos and stories behind the photos.

The Sandy Food Chronicles started as a way to publish recipes for my newly adult kids. There was a vain hope that they’d learn to cook and feed themselves. It hasn’t happened yet, but it could happen.

Blogging has been a learning experience. As prep for my blog posts, I do a lot more research into the history and culture of people, places & food around me. The discovery process has been an unexpected pleasure.

Are you outgoing or rather shy? (Are you a pub person or a disco person?)

It depends on how I feel, the time of day, when I ate last, the position of the moon, the sun and the stars …

In general though, I am an introvert. But I am not shy. I can do the public speaking, group work, people browsing, stranger schmoozing, yada-yada. Before marriage & kids, I even did the disco thing. I am not a pub’er but that’s mostly because I don’t like beer and don’t watch sports.

Is there a place that you definitely want to visit one day?

A place, like only ONE particular place? There are so many, it’s hard to choose.

An easier question would be “Is there a place that you definitely want to live?”

I’d like to live in Europe someday. I’d have a home base in France and then visit the countries around. I haven’t visited Spain, Italy or any of the Nordics yet. And I hear Istanbul is fascinating. And Rhodesia is spectacular. And my friend says Antarctica is fabulous. And and and …

Is there anything that you have never done but would like to try one day?

I would like to open a coffee shop on a beach. I would serve coffee made from fresh roasted coffee beans and home-style baked goods. Hubby would give didgeridoo lessons and we’d host music, photography and writers workshops during the day. At night we’d alternate jam sessions with open mic and poetry slams. Shop hours would be OPEN: When we feel like it and CLOSED: When the coffee runs out. The beach would be always open.

Is there anything you’d like to ask me in return?

Have you found a favorite song or band recently? Share a link and tell me why you like it.

Here’s a recent one of mine. Bishop Briggs is a British artist located in LA. She does ‘dark pop’ which is a new term for me. I like her music. Her videos, not so much.

Toronto, Canada. June 2016

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Improbable Claims

SFwalkers
Singaporeans are the fastest walkers on the planet

If we were having coffee ... I’d show you a snapshot I took in an airport gift shop. I apologize upfront.  It’s an imperfect shot with half the signage missing but I had to rush because the shop attendant had me in her sights and was hurrying over.

As an aside I’ll say it’s a unique Chinese-Asian retailing technique, to employ shop attendants to tout passersby. They hook you in with clever signage then reel you in with friendly calls to look-look and try.

crocodile oil
Crocodile Oil

In another store there was a display of the latest in restorative skin care – Crocodile Oil. Intrigued, I’d stopped to read the packaging.  The shop attendant rushed over to give me her spiel.  She said that the product was excellent for softer, smoother skin and promised to deliver wrinkle and scar free complexions.  Having never admired crocodile skin myself, I expressed doubt in the claim. She assured me “It is 100% ORGANIC. Pure and Natural! You Should TRY!”

But back to the picture that I snapped.  Posted above a shelf with over-priced cookies was a sign that said Singaporeans were the fastest walkers on the planet.  Surely not this planet, I thought.

The average Singaporean does not walk fast. This is not a denigration. When it’s 33 degrees and 100% humidity, it is foolhardy to walk fast.  However, Singaporeans have an additional inhibitor – their mobile phones. Cheap rates and unlimited data plans make mobiles perilous to foot commuters. With eyes firmly affixed to their screens, pedestrians decelerate traffic on walkways, escalators and travelators. Westerners from countries of overpriced wireless plans, milder temperatures and lower humidity are often frustrated by our slow moving crowds.

Westerners like Anthony Bourdain. There’s a TV episode where he’s shown trapped on a travelator, in one of Singapore’s busiest subway stations. In typical New York fashion he was itching to move but was hemmed in by people standing stationary on the moving walkway. Under his breath (and into his microphone) he muttered “This is to help you move faster, not move for you.”

I laughed out loud because he reminded me of my similarly impatient hubby.  Even after five years, Hubby has not adjusted to the local pace. Faced with a crowd he’ll bob and weave through people, seeking out gaps in foot traffic and swerving around suddenly stationary phone readers.  His frustrated mutter is “Move any slower and we’d be going backwards.”

So from where did this implausible claim originate?  My trusty Google search uncovered this CNN article outlining the results of a study by British psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman.  In it, researchers found a busy street with a wide pavement that was flat, free from obstacles and sufficiently uncrowded to allow people to walk at their maximum speed.  They then measured people’s walking rates and compared the results for thirty cities. Singaporeans were the fastest, clocking in at 3.9 miles per hour, which was 15 percent faster than New Yorkers.

But here’s the rub: Researchers monitored only adults who were on their own and ignored those on their mobile phones or struggling with shopping bags.

Allow me to point out that Singapore has a 150% penetration of the mobile market. For  every Singaporean who has a phone, the one beside him has two.  Additionally, Singapore’s #1 recreational sport is Shopping. When they are not eating, they are shopping.  Whether or not they are eating or shopping, they are always on their phone.

So exactly how many Singaporeans did these researchers monitor?

My guess is two. They clocked Anthony Bourdain and Hubby making a run for a gap in the crowd.

 

Singapore. June 2016 

 

 

Bak Chang

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Bak Chang rice dumplings

If we were having coffee … I’d invite you to have the last of my stash of bak chang. I have three types: Nonya, Hokkien and Kee.  My favorite is the Kee which is also called  crystal chang. It’s  delicious with gula melaka and heady with the scent of pandan and bamboo leaves.

What is bak chang?

Bak chang is the Hokkien word for sticky rice dumpling.   It is also called zongzi in Mandarin and joong in Cantonese.  In the US it’s sometimes called Chinese tamale but that’s just wrong – let’s not refer to it as that.  These pyramid shaped, leaf wrapped dumplings show up in Chinese shops and eating houses every year  around June.   It  is a celebration food for the Duanwu festival and Dragon Boat races.

Chinese legend goes that when the beloved scholar Qu Yuan committed suicide by throwing himself in the river, villagers tried to save him by rushing out with their (dragon) boats. When they failed to retrieve him, they threw rice dumplings (chang) into the water to dissuade fishes from eating his body.

Like all Chinese legends this is highly romanticized and thoroughly unbelievable.   You only have to make bak chang once to appreciate the time and effort it takes to make these delectable dumplings. No way is anyone going to throw them overboard for fishes to eat.

When I looked at the class schedule on Rosaline Soon’s Grandmothers Recipes website I didn’t know what bak chang was.  But Rosaline was offering a half day class  in Chang Making and since she is my favorite source for Peranakan dishes, I had to go.

Making chang is labor intensive.  It takes a minimum two days to prepare all the ingredients – from washing and soaking the leaf wrappers, preparing and cooking the rice and fillings, to the final arduous task of  wrapping the packages and cooking them for hours.  In the olden days, Rosaline said that people even had to sort through  the uncooked rice to separate the  non-glutinous grains from the desirable glutinous ones.  In our class we only had to worry about wrapping the dumplings.  Our teacher Julia, had prepared everything else ahead of time.

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How to wrap bak chang

When I say only the wrapping, this understates the complexity of the task. For the uninitiated, wrapping chang is like learning to tie shoelaces when you’re 3 years old without the bunny ears song.   You fold this and that, hold it so, fill it up, turn it around, twist and … if you’re Julia … you end up with a perfect pyramid.  If you’re me … you end up with a handful of rice.

Over the course of four hours, I tried to wrap six changs, all of which had to rescued and re-wrapped by Julia.  I think I may have mastered the art of tying the string. Although sometimes the chang did look a bit strangulated.   OK, maybe I only mastered the art of knotting the string.

What makes bak chang different from joong or zongzi?  That would be the flavor and the fillings.   Bak chang is heavily seasoned with garlic, shallots, ginger, spring onions, coriander, five spices, three types of soya sauce, dried shrimp, pork, mushrooms etc. Nonya chang goes one step further in localizing it. Characteristic of some Peranakan dishes, it is tinted blue with an extract of pea flowers – adding yet  another couple hours to the total preparation time.

My favorite is Kee chang.  It is made solely with sticky rice but soaked overnight with a mysterious yellow alkaline crystal. The alkaline changes the color to an amber yellow and the rice becomes more gummy and chewy.  Unlike the others, Kee chang is a sweet and it is served with gula melaka (palm sugar) syrup, honey or kaya (coconut jam).   It is also good with dollops of golden orange marmalade.  Nice with coffee but perfect with tea.

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Nonya and Kee chang

Singapore.  June 2016

 

Kopi, Coffee talk and Singlish

nytsinglish 2 If we were having coffee … we’d be talking about a recent New York Times article on Singlish.  It gives context to a website I stumbled on a while ago.  Sponsored by the Speak Good English movement, it is  a government initiative to  “… en­cour­age Sin­ga­pore­ans to speak gram­mat­i­cally cor­rect Eng­lish that is uni­ver­sally un­der­stood.”

On the site are dry and humorless pages that describe grammar rules and proper pronunciation. Reading it, my eyes glaze over at the ponderous distinction between countable and noncountable nouns.  I wonder who could learn from this.  It seems a pointless endeavor.

Besides for what reason should Singaporeans change the way they speak?

Mid-thought I realize the hypocrisy of my words. I grew up in another post-colonial society where status was tied to the way of speaking. On the highest rung were the modulated tones of upper crust British. At the lowest was the idiom rich language of the common man.

In primary school (then called Prep school)  we had weekly lessons in diction. Mrs. H was a battle-axe of a teacher who led us through pronunciation drills describing ‘Billy Button buying Buttered Biscuits’ and ‘She Sells Sea shells by the Sea Shore’.  Class drills were not so bad but once a month we had individual tests on elocution.

This was my introduction to the fear of public speaking. One by one we’d stand by our desk, nervously awaiting our turn.  Once, I’d worked myself into such a state, I fainted from anxiety (it happens). According to Mrs H, I collapsed in an apoplectic fit, twitching and foaming at the mouth. Mrs H was also the drama teacher, so maybe her description was a tad theatrical.

I’ve subsequently found that I have an ear for accents. It doesn’t translate into a talent for languages (I don’t have the memory for vocabulary) but I can mimic English in a range of  intonations. Maybe that’s why I don’t mind hearing the lyrical tones of  Singlish.

True, because the language is idiom rich it can be hard to understand. Funny thing though, with context and Singaporeans’ flare for dramatic expression, whatever they say it makes sense.

Consider this.

When  a person is overly conceited and tremendously arrogant, is there a better way to describe him than  yaya papaya? 

When a young man ‘talks cock’ with his buddies, can you not guess what it means?

… and could anything be more right and obviously correct than corright?

Hear these phrases once and you’ll remember them forever.

Singapore. June 2016

For the full New York Times article see Do You Speak Singlish? by Gwee Li Sui

 

There’s no Mango in Mangosteen

MangosteenIf we were having coffee we’d be looking at the gift of mangosteens from my hubby’s tennis friend. It’s an old, familiar Chinese tradition, to bring gifts of fruit when visiting. When I was young, my Aunties used to do it and depending on whether they were shop keepers or gardeners, I’d have little treats of imported grapes or homegrown mangoes.  It’s a cordiality of friendship that I’d almost forgotten while living in Canada.

Outside of birthdays and Christmas, Westerners do not typically exchange gifts.  In fact, a business colleague once told me how uncomfortable he was when his Chinese employee kept giving him little gifts or souvenirs from her vacations abroad.  I remember feeling similarly dismayed in Beijing,  when direct reports gave me elaborate gifts for Chinese New Year and Harvest Moon Festival. US corporate policy promptly stopped the business habit.  I hear that in newly reformed China,  it is now common business practise to refuse gifts lest they be interpreted as bribes.

Maybe though, it’s not gift giving that’s different in the west. Maybe it’s the habit of home visits.  I remember the front door of my childhood home always being open. A shut wrought-iron grill door might have secured passage from strangers, but the main door  was always open.  Family and friends would drop by unannounced, their arrival heralded only by the excited barking of the yard dog.

In Canada where temperatures fluctuate between plus and minus 30 degrees, the hermetically sealed doors are always shut, locked and barred against the weather.   I remember being surprised  in Singapore, when I climbed the stairs to my condo and saw the neighbor’s door flung wide open.   Their’s was a mirror image to my unit and for one brief moment I thought I had been robbed … except that the thieves had stolen my furniture and replaced it with different pieces.

It seems like it’s more of a Western tradition to socialize outside of the home.  We meet in coffee houses and  restaurants where food is paid for and bills are routinely split.  Dinner at home is reserved for close friends and family.  Invitation times are strictly prescribed and it’s bad form to arrive late. For these occasions, we bring house gifts – wine, flowers and if you’re so inclined, fresh baked goodies.

Once I was invited to a Singaporean friend’s home which she shared with her elderly parents.   I’d baked  a loaf of freshly made carrot cake.  Home baking is relatively rare in Singapore (many of the homes are not even equipped with ovens) and I thought an afternoon treat of coffee and cake would be nice. My friend’s mother had eagerly anticipated the carrot cake but was puzzled when she opened the package.  It was brown, had raisins and was sweet?  It turns out that Singaporean carrot cake is a savory, stir fried dish made with steamed white turnip cake. There is no carrot in carrot cake.

Which brings us back to the mangosteen.  This is an exotic looking fruit.  Deep purple with chartreuse colored sepals, it is rock hard when green, brittle brown when ripe.  It looks like a fruit from my childhood, a  Jamaican star apple but that fruit is found only the regions around Central and South America. The Jamaican star-apple is soft, fleshy and creamy with a mushy purple pulp surrounding a mild tasting core.

When I break the mangosteen apart, I see that the purple color deepens into a dark red flesh surrounding a white core.  The similarity to the Jamaican star apple ends here.  The reddish purple interior is dry and woody and the translucent fruit lifts out in to single five piece glob.  The fruit itself is sweet and mildly acidic.  It tastes like a large skinned grape.

And very much like carrot cake … there is not a hint of mango in mangosteen.

Singapore. May 2016

If we were having coffee … in Seoul

20160502_082543If we were having coffee in Seoul then it would be later in late morning … because the coffee shops don’t open any sooner.  Our hotel was in the Ewha University area, ensconced between two train stations, surrounded by neighborhood eateries but nary a one to open before 10 am.

Well there was one coffee shop, it opened at 8:30.  We found it soon enough and quickly became regulars.  Like clock work, every morning we squeezed through the door as soon as it cracked open.   One latte and one Americano please.

It opened everyday at 8:30am except for Sundays.  On that day we scoured the sidewalk until we found the lights on in a European style sweetery, which also sold coffee. We ordered our brew  and for good measure, ordered their specialty.  It was a hot sweet bread slathered with jam, chocolate or nut butter.  Making it involved winding fresh dough onto a thick wooden dowel and slowly baking it in a rotisserie type oven. It took a while. I got to talking with the young man behind the counter.

“Where are you from?” That’s a standard question for aliens in a foreign country.

“Slovenia,” he said. In my head I knew this was part of seceded Russia.  My geographical puzzlement may have shown.  “It’s in the same area as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.”

“Are there many ex-pats like you in Seoul?”  The day before I’d been surprised to see a grey eyed Caucasian girl working in an Azerbaijan (another cartographic mystery) restaurant.

“There are some.  Most Serbians go to America, only a few go east and fewer to Korea.  There’s maybe twenty five of us here.  It’s a great place to travel around.”

He removed the rotating dowel from the oven and shifted it up a slot closer to the top grill. On the counter he readied a steel dish fashioned with two support beams at either end. The device looked vaguely familiar.

“What’s this bread called?” I asked.

“It’s a bit hard. TrrhhdLoh,” he said.  “Like how it’s spelled. TRDLO”

I may be poorly versed in geography but I’m encyclopedic about food. I now recognized the bread as a traditional Czech pastry and became quite excited to taste it.

Later I carefully tore apart the warm trdlo.  It was  buttery sweet, chewy and gooey, messy with melted peanut butter and chocolate chips. An unexpected taste of Eastern Europe in South Korea.  Wonderful with coffee on a Seoul Sunday morning.

Seoul, South Korea.  May 2016

If We Were Having Coffee … with Music

Digital Camera
Freeimages.com/Michael R.

If we were having coffee it would be decaf because it’s late. We’d talk about everything and eventually get around to music. I’d tell you about my new favorite band, Kaleo. They are an indie alt-rock/pop/folk group that’s just hitting the air waves in the US and Canada. I like their bluesy “Way Down We Go” and have it on repeat on my player. Blues is not really my thing but as I’ve grown older and traveled wider, I’ve found that many of my favorite things change with time and place.

When I was growing up in Jamaica, reggae was the background sound track of daily living. It was the only music on local radio and Bob Marley was considered an upstart for bastardizing the sound of roots reggae. Little did we know that he would be the impetus of reggae going mainstream. I didn’t fully appreciate the range of his impact until last year when I was in Northern Thailand. While driving through the narrow, pot-hole riddled mountain roads, our driver turned up the volume on “Exodus”. We forgot about the nauseous highway and started jamming all the way to Chiang Mai.

During my first year in Beijing, I discovered a love for hard paced rock. Green Day’s “Holiday” was my favorite work-out song and I had sweat inducing playlists with The Killers, Nickelback and Lady Gaga. In 2009, the Great Firewall closed off the world-wide part of WWW and it was impossible to access popular western music legally. Illegal pirated copies? No problem.

The biggest selection of western music was in Sanlitun, a popular bar street district defined by the international embassies around it. The unnamed store had a huge selection of music and movies, shrink-wrapped with discs on the outside of glossy paper box packaging. Occasionally, during government invoked piracy raids, the storefront disappeared overnight. But if you looked around and hung around long enough, someone would beckon you over and lead you to the basement. There the goods would be temporarily housed in makeshift stalls. I am not a fan of buying pirated goods but there were no other listening options at the time. The unexpected outcome was that I bought many CDs blind and in the process, ‘discovered’ music I wouldn’t normally have heard.

In Singapore when I’m held captive in a taxi, I am forced to listen to 70’s crooners and ’80s style pop. Once after hearing one too many songs by the Carpenters, I asked the driver if this was the only radio station in Singapore. He said “I don’t listen to the music. They have good traffic reports.”

In my house I keep my internet radio tuned to my favorite Toronto station. I hear the winter weather reports (not missing it) and Spence diamond commercials (annoying but somebody has to pay for free radio.) I also hear the latest in the alternative rock scene.

Which brings me back to my favorite new band. Kaleo from Iceland. A group of young musicians who combine the chords of the ’60s with the rhythm of gospel tinted blues, to make a vibrant rich sound.

Perfect for late night coffee.

Singapore.  April 2016

If We Were Having Coffee … Ca phe

Viet Coffe
Ca phe da & Ca phe sua nong

If we were having coffee I’d be having iced ca phe da and you’d be having hot ca phe sua nong. We’d be sitting in a hip Vietnamese cafe waiting on our banh mi sandwiches. On the wall behind us a flickering screen would play a reel of old Saigon street scenes filled with people moving with jerky imprecision. All around us we’d hear music from the ’70s, old disco and throw back rock.

I’m nodding my head to the Bee Gee’s “Tragedy” and trying to remember what I was doing in 1977.   Studying for exams. Thinking about university. Watching Star Wars and Saturday Night Fever.

I stir my coffee with the bamboo straw and take a sip from the blue enamel tin cup. Vietnamese ca phe is strong and black, made with metal filter drips placed over a coffee cup pre-filled with a layer of sweet condensed milk.

Last year I went to Vietnam for a leisurely one week photo crawl through Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City.) On the pathways around Notre Dame Cathedral, students drank sidewalk ca phe and nearby alleyways hid coffee making cubby holes. Reggie, my Saigon guide, told me not to buy the sidewalk ca phe because vendors roast the beans with cheap corn and unknown fillers.

At 21 years old, Reggie was a good looking  hipster dude.  He wore long shorts, horn rimmed glasses and a newsie cap. He liked plaid shirts, risotto, film photography and Irish girls. He reminded me of my teenage son.

Which means his parents could have been my age.  Except that in 1977 Saigon they would’ve been  in a different world. Reggie said that after  the fall of Saigon, his father was in a  trại học tập cải tạo (re-education camp) for twelve years.  He said it quietly and didn’t elaborate.  He’s an only son whose lifestyle reflects indulgent parents. Parents like me, but with different memories when hearing “Tragedy.”

If We Were Having Coffee … Kopi

Kopi-CIf we were having coffee we’d be sitting in my favorite kopitiam where they serve local Singaporean coffee in tiny earthenware cups and saucers. Singaporean coffee is a dark brew made from coffee beans roasted in margarine and sugar. It is filter dripped through muslin socks which look like the wind socks flying in airport strips, except that these are suspended over long necked coffee drip cans.

There’s a whole ritual of making kopi (kow-pee), starting with pouring hot water over the cups to warm them up, adding milk and sugar and then streaming a long strand of brew from a coffee can held high above the cups. The coffee is thick, rich and surprisingly mellow.

There’s a code to ordering kopi: kopi-o (black), kopi-C (with Carnation evaporated milk and sugar), kopi kosong (with less sugar) and kopi peng (on ice). If you don’t say the words right the auntie behind the counter will look at you funny and stop mid stream to interpret your order. You feel guilty about interrupting her rhythm and holding up the line, so the next time you order in English and say “Kopi-C but not too sweet, lah.”

My favorite kopitiam is called Kaki Cafe. Hubby says “kaki” means buddy and is an army term from enlisted men wearing khaki uniforms. He knows this through his tennis buddies where he’s learned the lingo through the sometime indecipherable texts that come through his cell phone. Once after a long absence, we puzzled over this message from a tennis kaki “OK. This few days I not fever will Friday c u D.”

Singapore is a multi ethnic country with four official languages – English, Chinese, Tamil and Malay. The lingua franca is English and everyone learns the language in school. But mostly, they speak their family tongue at home. Spoken English is a lyrical, idiom rich patois of Chinese and Malay inspired English, affectionately called Singlish.

Hubby teaches at the Lycee Francais. It’s a high school for French speaking students taught by French speaking nationals. They have a French chef in charge of the cafeteria and they serve authentically prepared French food. The cafeteria staff are all Singaporean who are mostly Chinese with zero understanding of French and a rudimentary fluency in English. Misunderstandings are frequent. One day at lunch hubby asked for a tuna sandwich. The Chinese lady behind the counter looked at him strangely, reached back and handed him two sandwiches.

I have even more problems with communicating. The issue is that I look Singaporean. The illusion quickly disappears when I open my mouth and speak with my ‘American’ accent. Then I look like a Singaporean who’s studied abroad. To compensate I’ve taken to speaking slower, slightly louder and with longer vowels.

The other day I strolled into a bakery cafe anticipating a morning treat of pastry and hot coffee. Familiar now with the mode of ordering regular brewed coffee, I asked for “a long black with cold milk.”

The barista looked blankly at me.

I repeated my order, slower and slightly louder to make it clear.

“Looong black. Cooold milk,” I said.

She nodded brightly and said “OK!”

Shortly after I received my coffee – ice cold with warm foamed milk on the side.

 

Singapore. April 2016