Cultural cognizance

I realise this is going to make some sound damn kentang (Westernised), but several times this week I've had to swot up on my Singlish/Asian street cred. To wit:

Leceh (troublesome)
I've been mispelling leceh (troublesome) as leh cheh (see for instance here and here). This has been going on for as long as --- well, ever since I started typing these words.

冬至 (dongzhi, winter solstice)
I did not know anything about the traditional Chinese celebration of 冬至 until I saw Adri's tweet yesterday:
Guy next door said to the only Chinese girl in the group, "don't you know it's a big Chinese holiday today?" (No.) "You from Singapore?"
Now I'm chagrined to find out I've been missing out on a lifetime's worth of annual tangyuan (glutinous rice ball) consumption. Gah!

Potong (cut) vs. curi (steal)
Yesterday I wanted to use the Malay word for 'steal' in an IM conversation. For some reason all my brain would spit out was potong and even with my miserable knowledge of that language, I knew that potong was not exactly the word I wanted. (For curious readers, a little Googling threw up this recent article from The Edge Malaysia, "What is life without 'potong'?")

Anyway I had to resort to Dicts.info's online Malay dictionary, which clued me in to curi --- and the moment I saw the word on my screen, I could hear my mother's voice saying "Sometimes people curi-curi the thing ..." I knew the word, it just wasn't there when I needed it.

All right, with all this talk of cross-cultural communication, it's fitting that I leave you with this rendition of Jingle Bell [sic], which I just received from an Indiaphile friend (not Adri, this time):

Merry Xmas, everyone!

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At 12/28/2009 4:54 am , Blogger YY said...

Hey, it's not surprising about Singaporeans' ignorance about 冬至。 We don't have winter here, mah!


At 12/28/2009 7:31 am , Blogger Tym said...

Singapore doesn't have spring either, or much of a mid-autumn (though I guess we can all see the moon). And Malaysian Chinese celebrate 冬至 even though there's no winter there either.

I guess the broader point is that there are always some traditions and festivals that fall by the wayside, and I'm not saying we have to preserve/salvage everything. But hey, some people might appreciate the opportunity to eat tangyuan :) and reflect on the passing of another year.


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