"You look familiar... have we met before?" I believe is a well, familiar, overused, ineffective and yet evergreen pick up line and question regardless where we are on earth.
In the past (before the 1960s), matchmaking was a common practice in Singapore. My grandparents were match made and only met each other once before the wedding day. It then moved on till people finding their own soulmate from their social circle, or friends of friends. In the earlier 2000s, dating agencies started to sprout where you pay a sum for suitable dates to be arranged for you based on your profile and preferences. (On a side note, some guys preferred to find a bride from neighbouring countries, mostly from Vietnam or China, with the general reason or sentiment being that, local ladies were 'too materialistic'.) Speed dating came along as well, and fast forward to today's tech age, young people from generation Y are more open to finding a date from apps like Tinder and Coffee & Bagel. Well, there is somewhat a stigma among the community to use dating apps because of having to put oneself out in the market and possibly appearing 'desperate'.
Robert plays an "Ah beng", which is a colloquial phrase of referring to a gangster. The typical look would be someone in tight fitting clothes, heavily tattooed, dialect speaking, cigarette in hand. There was a season in the 90s in Singapore where it was common to hear kissing sounds made by guys to get attention when ladies walk by. Local guys are generally not very forward when it comes to approaching a girl of interest, perhaps because of the conservative culture which still exists somewhat.
The phrase, "to go steady", was also widely used to mean to be officially dating. A girl would then be known as the guy's "stead".
Congrats Robert for clinching a date!
@ Somewhere in the East of Singapore
1. Chum/Cham (Hokkien dialect): To be in a sorry state or bad situation.
- Cynthia comments that Robert was 'chum' because he had gone into the drain to retrieve her keys in the previous episode.
- Cynthia says 'chum' to herself as she was lost and didn't know what to do when she saw Robert approaching.
- Robert says 'chum' to himself as he was in a situation with Cynthia again.
2. Um chio (Hokkien dialect): To smile to oneself, or showing to be secretly happy.
- The food stall owner comments that the Robert was 'um chio' as he seemed very happy talking to Cynthia.
3. Gan cheong (Cantonese dialect): To be nervous or anxious.
- Robert suddenly feels his heart beating hard and fast wonders why he is feeling nervous.
4. Bee bop bee bop: To describe the sound of something beating, usually that of a heart.
Singlish: A Siao (Crazy) Blind Date (Episode 1)
Singlish: Suay (Unlucky) and Malu (Embarrass) (Episode 2)
@ random streets of Singapore
So, Robert and Cynthia meet by coincidence in while Cynthia was in dire straits - so much for being ridiculous and stomping off from their previous meeting at a blind date (click here to watch). Moral of the story - don't burn bridges.
Siao: Crazy (Hokkien dialect)
Aka: You got to be kidding me. / You must be crazy! / This is ridiculous.
On a side note on dating in Singapore:
A long time ago, matchmaking was very common (we're taking about 70 years back) and people married each other when they've only met once or twice! This is never case now. Other than the usual friend-introducing-their-single-buddies setup, there are a couple of dating agencies that arranged dates for singles compatible with each other who leave their profile with them. There are also speed dating sessions where a group of people meet and have a minute or two with everyone else individually to each other.
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Special thanks to Grasso for allowing us to hold Robert's and Cynthia's blind date there!
Although more Singlish words have made their way into the English dictionary (read BBC article here), there are still many that haven't. Here are more common words (or sounds) which you might overhear while out and about in Singapore.
1. Gai gai
This is used on kids tell them (or lure them) that you are taking them out - to a mall or playground or anywhere. This probably originated from the Cantonese dialect where “gai” means street.
2. Mam mam
This is used on kids too, when you are just asking them if they are hungry or if you are about to feed them.
3. Bing bing biang biang
Most people stay in high rise apartments in Singapore. Inevitably, neighbours living directly upstairs might drop some heavy items like a pot, be dragging a chair across the floor, or their kids might be playing ball or throwing stuff on the floor. It is common to hear some noises like “pom pom pom” and “piang piang piang”.
4. Henah henah
When someone keeps telling you something repeatedly to remind you, you get a little irritated and answer "henah henah" to tell them that you got the message.
“Dong” is used when coins are involved to be deposited somewhere which will give a “dong” sound when dropped. For example, you can “dong” a coin into a vending machine or a tin. You cannot however “dong” a coin into a wishing well or water fountain as it doesn’t produce the “dong” sound when dropped in. It is common to hear parents say "Go and dong," and giving their kids some coins whenever there are people from various charitable groups holding metal tins to raising funds.
“Piak” is the sound of a slap. In Singapore, sometimes you hear parents say to their kids, “I piak you then you know,” as a warning that they will get a beating if they continue to misbehave (I'll hit you and you will know I mean business). Here, Cynthia slaps Johnson hard in her excitement that there’s a “piak” sound.
7. Gleu gleu
“Gleu gleu” is the sound made when you are gulping down a drink really quickly.
More Singlish words and phrases to learn:
@ a random Macdonalds outlet in Taiwan.
We had awesome fun with the app Guess the Word SG! It brings together everything Singapore, from food to local brands, to highway road names, in a game. It was funny to see us trying to describe the singlish words, well, using Singlish. Lol! One thing we discovered about one of our Indian friends who played the game with us, was that her Hokkien was tok kong (powerful)!
Here's adding to your Singlish vocabulary:
1. Tok kong (Hokkien): to describe someone as very good/powerful.
- He's guitar playing is tok kong!
- You actually dared to rebut your boss? Tok kong.
2. Kayu (Malay): means 'wood' in Malay. To describe someone who is dull. This is especially used at soccer stadiums where you will hear fans yell "Referee kayu!" when think that the referee has made a bad call.
3. Neh neh pok (Hokkien): breasts, where 'neh' means breast in Hokkien
4. Mata (Malay): police, or eyes
5. Heng (Hokkien): luckily, fortunately
6. Kaki (Malay): friend
7. Pak tor (Hokkien): to go on a date
8. Gan cheong spider (Cantonese): To describe someone who is always anxious
As Chinese New Year approaches, some people feel like it is a the start of a repeated cycle - the food (the weight gain), the ang pows (red packets) the people, the conversations, the words. Amidst the festivity, here's unveiling the softer side of CNY visiting.
1. Standard questions
One thing that’s a turn off for some people– questions from concerned and well-meaning (or nosey) relatives. Not just any questions, but these questions come about every year in a particular order depending on which stage of life you are at.
The standard list of (dreaded) questions:
A. If you are single
Question: Why don’t you have a boyfriend/girlfriend? Still no boyfriend/girlfriend?
When your answer is ‘no’, relatives would act in disbelief seeing that you are very eligible. Most singles would think of an excuse, like ‘I’ve been busy.’ Relatives would then tell you how you need to set aside time to date, and how important it is etc. Oh well.
Suggested reply: Yes you would be the first person I would tell when I get a boyfriend/girlfriend.
B. If you are visiting with your boyfriend/girlfriend.
Question: You’re not married yet? When are you getting married?
Relatives would comment that they can’t wait to attend your wedding, and tell you that you should tie the knot because you are not getting any younger. Thanks for the pressure.
Suggested answer: Yes wait for our wedding invitation!
C. You are married and have no kids.
Question: When are you having children? Why no children?
Aunties and uncles would tell you that starting a family at a younger age is easier. They would point to their own lives and say how they are enjoying life now (in their 50s/60s) as their kids are all grown up.
Suggested reply: Yes we are planning.
D. You are married and have 1 or 2 kids
Question: Are you going to have more kids?
The reason to have more kids, as the older folks explain, is that it’s better to conceive at a younger age, and that kids need siblings to learn from and play with.
Suggested reply: Why not you give birth? Lol~
2. “Eat more, eat more.”
CNY visiting takes you from house to house. Everyone spends a good amount of time whipping up some dishes at home so you can be sure that you will be offered some food. It is very common to hear people telling you to ‘Eat more, eat more!’ everywhere you go. That’s great, except that you will feel stuffed most part of the day. Since it’s not too nice to turn people down, especially your elders, when they offer you something, it’s good to just have a little to accommodate them. Pace yourself with the eating throughout the day.
3. “Which auntie and which uncle?”
Especially for the younger generation, addressing relatives correctly is a challenge. Normally, people would just attach the word 'auntie' or 'uncle' in front of their relatives' first name, but rightfully in mandarin, there's a distinction. For instance, your dad’s sister and your mum’s sister are your aunties in general. However, for the Chinese, they are addressed differently. What makes it more confusing, is that the terms used to address your uncles’ spouses (generally categorised as your aunties as well) are different as well. Same goes for the uncles. For relatives that you meet only once or twice a year, this is tough.
4. “$ XX!” (Click here to watch how else “Har” is used.)
Singles gain the most monetarily since ang pows are given out to them by married couples. You might overhear the teenagers comparing, and complaining, about how much they've received over CNY.
5. “Wah, (you have grown) so big already!"
Because many extended families gather only once a year during CNY, it always seems to be a wonder how fast the kids grow over the year. To a kid or teen, the adults always comment on how surprised they are to see that they have grown so much, and without fail, ask how old they are.
Oh, and by the way, you might be hearing some people exclaim "ho seh" over CNY. This is because 2016 is the lunar new year of the monkey. In mandarin, the word monkey is pronounced as "ho". "Ho seh" is a Hokkien dialect term, which literally means, a good thing/occurrence.
Here's wishing everyone a healthy and successful year, full of ho seh! :)
Check out local festival markets:
The most used word in Singapore to describe food, weather, people, places and any thing else positively is…… drumroll, the word “nice”. Yup, we know how incredibly all-encompassing and versatile this word is.
Singaporeans use 'nice' in almost every context.
He’s a nice guy.
The movie was quite nice.
These people are really nice.
Q: How’s the drink?
A: Very nice!
Wow, your dress/house/bag/hair is very nice.
The beach was soooo nice.
So nice, the hotel.
The bed is so nice (comfortable).
After taking one bite into ice cream: Very nice!
You may say locals have limited vocabulary, but hey, we express the level of niceness in our tone and expression. Why use bombastic words when “nice” fits in for everything? :p We also attach singlish words to give 'nice' more meaning. For instance 'Nice meh?' would mean also mean 'Are you sure it's nice?', in doubt. 'Nice lah!', implies that something is definitely nice.
Second to “nice”, we venture to say the next most commonly used word to describe something, well, nice, is “good”. No prizes for guessing.
And thanks to mydressbox.sg for the NICE dresses!
Learn more Singlish:
Singlish word: Har
Usage #1: Har?
Used in a tone as in asking a question in response to someone when you did not catch what he/she said. Aka "What did you say?"
In the video, Elyn was focused on shopping and did not notice Jess (behind the camera) asking her a question. When she heard someone talking to her but did not catch what Jess said, she responded "Har?"
Usage #2: Har......
Used in a dreaded tone in response to something that is not favourable to you. Aka, "Do I have to do this?" or "Oh man..."
In the video, Elyn was offered a drink and she was told to finish it, which she didn't want to. Her response was a dragged "Har."
Usage #3: Har?!
Used in an exclamatory tone in disbelief. Aka "Are you sure?" or "That can't be true!"
In the video, Jess told Johnson that he had to wait 40 minutes for a turn at archery, to which he exclaimed "Har?!" aka "What?!"