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Chapter 01 The Hawker Centre

posted Apr 26, 2017, 8:51 AM by Ratinan Lee   [ updated Dec 12, 2017, 7:11 AM ]


The Hawker Centre

—Kevin Chen—

Singapore, present time

It was a lunch time and I was waiting for my lunch. The hawker centre[1] here was not as crowded as many other places. We were so lucky to work near this one. Singapore was a very small island. With so many Chinese, most people would like to have their own start-up companies. Consequently, these companies were very small, many with less than fifty employees, and hence the structures were not really organized in a very effective way. Some employees needed to be responsible for multiple positions. And I was very lucky to get a job at a relatively well-organized, big Taiwanese company.

"Egg, you want?"

"Yes, please"

Most people in Singapore could not speak proper English. They used their own version of the language: Singlish.

It was not that difficult, but mostly bad enough for foreigners to understand lah. Anyway, younger generations were forced to use English at schools.

"You're not local ma?" The auntie who prepared roasted duck rice for me was asking.

"對了,我是台灣人。(Yes, I'm Taiwanese.)"

"噢。你會說國語。(Oh. You can speak Mandarin.)"


She then turned to the roasted duck rice of mine which was handed over from the other guy. Then she added my half-egg, which was an add-on. I needed to pay 50 cents more.

"好了。三塊半。(Done. $3.50)" She told me the price when she put my lunch on the counter.

I paid the money and get my roasted duck rice. My colleagues were still waiting for Thai food from the stall nearby. The queue was so long. I estimated that they have to wait for about fifteen minutes, at least. The stall runners were all Thai, so they could not communicate with customers very well. Consequently, people here could not call to order lunch in advance the way that many Bangkok salarymen did.

"Kev, this one is fully occupied. I choped[2] another table over there," George told me from the Thai food queue.

"噢。謝謝。(Oh! Thank you.)"

Well, everyone here used languages this way. English, then Chinese, then add some Singlish words in it, then use Singlish grammar in English sentences.

"Mary,你說你下月去泰國對嗎?(Mary, you said that next month, you will go to Thailand, right?)," James started the lunch-time conversation after everyone got their food.

"Yeah, but when I asked Kev for any suggestions, 他說沒有啊. (He said he had no idea.)" Mary replied.

"別寄希望於他的幫助! (Don't hope for his help!) Haha! You must have made him upset by now. He hates 泰國 (Thailand)." As James talked, few other people laughed. "He always complains... Thailand this, Thailand that..."

"Local people here, ah, this complain, that also complain. I believe I also can ma?!" I said in Singlish.

"You also can lah! 但是 (but)... bro, just relax. This is 新加坡 (Singapore) ma? You don't need to be angry about anything in your so-called Hell," said George, another engineer.

"Ok... 好!我告訴你,如果你說你愛泰國我叫醫生把你給閹了。(Ok... Good! I tell you. If you say that you love Thailand, I'll call doctor to chop your dick out!)"

"What the Bangkok 😱!!!" James yelled, replacing the word "hell" by "Bangkok" as Bangkok was as bad as hell in my definition.

"Well, well, well, take it easy, boss!" George also yelled at the same time.

Well. There are so many reasons to hate Thailand. The country was destroyed by its own politics, and also by its own people. The culture itself required the people to do anything bad, especially the promotion of inequality in the society which caused social gaps and the collapse of trusts between people. Those poorer people loved the government if and only if they get a lot of benefits but did not have to pay taxes. The middle-class people who paid a lot of taxes loved the government who ignored the poor, hence most benefits were sent to the capital city, Bangkok, for these middle-class men. They asked the poor to pay taxes if they wanted anything from the government.

Having someone above the government does not actually help improving people's live.

The stories went on and on... but it was not totally the ones that contributed to my feeling toward Thailand, the country where I grew up in. It was also about my love and trusts that drove me away from the country more than eight years ago. I was in Taiwan. Then, I moved to Singapore to help my mom's new husband's work at this airline company. I already got my Masters' in Singapore. Everything has been much better off. Imagine if I were still in Thailand, what would happen?


[1] A hawker centre is used to call a low-cost food court in Singapore. Originally, the port city was full of hawkers. The Singapore Government introduces this hawker centre to unite these vendors together to promote order and peaceful streets.

[2] Chope is Singlish for reservation of a table in public food court. When one finds a vacant table in a food court, a package of tissue papers (napkins, in American English) is quickly placed on the table to reserve it.

A/N I first yelled What the Bangkok! in August 2016 for real. The chapter is full of Singlish words which are still easy to understand by guessing the surrounding text. Anyway, you can see that some known words like auntie or corrupted sentences like "I also can" are used in incorrect place or situation, but it is considered correct in Singapore.

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