Authors: Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
for my father,
TAN SOO LIAP
This book is written in Singlish, which is the patois that most Singaporeans speak to one another. It's a tossed salad of the different languages and Chinese dialects that the country's multiethnic population speaksâÂEnglish, Malay, Mandarin, Hokkien, Teochew and more. It's packed with attitude and humor and often is deliciously vulgar. Despite its allure, it has been the target of the Singapore government's “Speak Good English” campaigns in the past. Fortunately, Singlish has turned out to be like a weedâÂit lives on.
Aiyoh, I tell you. If we do nothing, we are confirm getting into bang balls territory. We have to figure out how to make this happenâÂand we have to do it now.
After all, we've wasted enough time already. And we don't have any more time to waste! We are not young anymore, you knowâÂFann just turned twenty-Âseven, my twenty-Âseventh birthday is two months away and Imo's is not far behind. If we don't get married, engaged or even nail down a boyfriend soonâÂmy god, we might as well go ahead and book a room at Singapore Casket because our lives would already be over. In many ways, in Singapore, our kind of age is already considered a bit left on the shelf. Ordinarily, I don't heck care about such things. HalloâÂJazzy here knows she's quite power. Usually, unless the guy is blind or stupid or some shit, whatever guy I have my eye on I also can get, even at my age. You ask any bookie out thereâÂmy odds are damn good.
But it's true that Singaporean men are a bit fussyâÂespecially when it comes to older girls. But luckily for us, we still have one big hope: ang moh guys. That's what we need to be thinking about. These white guysâÂthey really catch no ball about Asian ages. Us twenty-Âsomething-Âyear-Âold Asian girls, if you wear a tight tight dress or short short skirt, these ang mohs will still steam over you. (Some of them even go for the really old onesâÂthirty-Âyear-Âold women also have chance!)
Even so, we cannot waste time. And we must be serious, because once you manage to marry a white guy, then you are only one step away from the number one champion status symbol in ÂSingaporeâÂa half ang moh kid. The Chanel of babies! But, how to get an ang moh husband?
I used to think getting an ang moh husband was quite easy to do. I meanâÂhello, we girls are always out there, meeting ang mohs, letting them buy drinks for us, dance dance rubba rubba a bit, so surely one day we'll just naturally end up with an ang moh husband, right? At least that was the thinking lah. Recently though, I realized something that started making me nervous about achieving our goal. And it only hit me on that super cock nightâÂthe one where we lost Sher.
I tell you, I cannot even talk about that night right now without vomiting blood. Sher is so pretty, so sweet, so thin, has such fair skin. She could have had any guy she wanted!
After that night, I realized that yes, we've been quite focused over the years. If you count up all the guys our group has dated since secondary school, most of them are ang mohs. Not always good quality onesâÂsome of them, I have to admit, are the don't-Âwear-Âsuits-Âto-Âwork typeâÂbut still, in this small country, to be able to say that most of our boyfriends and flings have come from England or some shit is quite good lah. Most girls here end up with local boyfriends the whole time. What nonsense. I tell you, if an SBS bus runs me over on the street tomorrow, Jazzy here will go up there with no regrets.
Once we lost Sher though, I realized that our ang moh husband strategy was not so good because .Â .Â . we had no strategy! You ask Sun Tzu or Lee Kuan Yew, they confirm will say that every imporÂtant thing also must have strategy. I tell youâÂif only we had paid closer attention to all that shit during Chinese proverb classes. If we had, maybe Sher would still be with us today.
So, first things firstâÂmust call a meeting. After work: Wala Wala bar at Holland Village. Of the four of us, there were only three leftâÂme, Fann and Imo. Time to get serious.
Long time ago when we were in secondary school, the four of us used to be quite shy about coming to Holland Village. This neighborhood is not say super atasâÂalthough the hawker center there is damn bloody expensive. One stupid plate of wanton mee can cost you four dollars and fifty cents! If your family is printing money and you have all the cash in the world to pay American prices for Singaporean food then OK lah, pleaseâÂyou just go ahead. Also, you know how things are around here sometimes. If you are not ang moh and don't speak good English or wear a school uniform from one of the expat schools or at least one of the right kinds of schools, Âpeople will sometimes look at you a bit funny. Like, why are you hanging out here? Don't you have your own kampong to squat in? That kind of cock attitude.
But once we got a bit older and started going on dates with ang mohs who sometimes brought us to Holland Village, we started to see the bar scene, get to know some of the waiters and bartenders, then OK lah, we started to fit in. Now, at all the tapas bars and happening Irish pubs along there, even if we're not on dates and it's just us girls hanging out, we feel more OK about showing our faces in Holland Village.
Since I was the first to arrive after work, judging from all the texts from Fann and Imo about being late, I decided to slowly slowly walk to Wala Wala. Never fun sitting there for too long before your girls show up, after all. If you sit there for too long with your one drink, just waiting and looking, waiting and lookingâÂaiyoh, even if the bartenders don't think you are pros, I tell you, someone confirm will come and sit down with you and ask “How much?”
Holland V was happening as usual for a Thursday night. Of course it was still a bit earlyâÂsince our work shift is more normal we can knock off at five o'clock, so we can come out earlier and start our night. I know sometimes if you work for ang moh companies or those British law or banking firms, even if you are a receptionist or assistant, then still must work late. Sometimes my job at the
is also like that lah, since I'm assistant to the editor in chief and all. But luckily Albert didn't keep me too long today, because even that early on a Thursday, the narrow street that most of Holland V was on was already quite packed. The tables outside the bars and restaurants jammed on the pavement were already filled with Âpeople drinking and smoking. And I could almost taste the smell of grilled meats coming from some of the fashion-Âfashion yakitori places on the street.
Because it's so crowdedâÂand sometimes filled with families and kids, that kind of crapâÂHolland V is not usually my favorite place to go. But it's good to check out the scene and be a part of it at least once in a while, show face and all.
When I got to Wala, I ordered their super shiok chicken wings. If the girls are late, it's their problem. More wings for me. But bang balls, manâÂFann and Imo showed up just when Ahmad brought the wings to our table. Fann didn't even wait to sit down before grabbing one and stuffing it into her mouth. This one, I tell you, if I didn't know her better I would have said she confirm would end up marrying some lousy Ah Beng squatting by a longkang.
“OK, you all know there was a reason that I called this meeting,” I said, making sure when I paused to stare hard at Imo. This one as usual was not paying attention, searching through her bloody handbag for god knows what.
“This is a meeting? I thought we were just drinking tonight,” Imo said, finally taking out a gold Chanel compact to powder her nose. Fann signaled to Ahmad to bring a round of our usual drinks over. After coming here for so long, Ahmad knows lahâÂcheap white wine first, good stuff later, especially if by then we have met ang mohs who want to buy us rounds.
“Yes, yesâÂbut there's something we need to talk about .Â .Â .” I started to explain. “This is serious. ListenâÂI think we need a plan.”
Fann and Imo looked worried. I cannot blame them lah. We whole life never talk about serious things at all. Yes, when Fann's dad died and ImoâÂaiyoh, ImoâÂwhen all that drama happened after junior college with her father and his second family, then, yes, we were serious. So they must have thought something really bad happened.
“Eh, you OK or not?” Fann said.
“OK, OK .Â .Â . but listen, I've been thinking, we don't have much time. Look at us threeâÂthis is a happening Thursday night and the best plans we have are going out with each other. No husband, no two-Âcarat diamond ring, not even a boyfriend. What kind of cock life is this? If we want to marry ang moh guys, we cannot go to SPG bars and just anyhow shoot arrow. No wonder we haven't win yet. We must have a method!”
Imo looked skeptical. “If we just go to Chaplin's or Hard Rock, meet Âpeople, dance dance dance, sing sing, hiau hiau a bit,” she said, “aren't we just doing it because it's fun?” Fann shrugged and nodded.
“FunâÂyour head lah!” I said. “Like that maybe for one night or a few nights, of course it will work. But if we want to get married, then we must be more strategy! So, listenâÂI came up with this idea. Got four parts.”
Imo leaned forwardâÂI could tell she was a little curious. Of all of us, she's the one who's most focused on getting married. Her fatherâÂaiyoh, my god.
When we were in secondary school, we didn't see Imo's dad much. Uncle was always traveling for workâÂeach week he would disappear for a few nights, often over the weekend. So every time we were at her house, it was mostly just us hanging out with Auntie. Auntie never seemed to mind thoughâÂwhenever Uncle came back from his travels, he always brought something nice. Sometimes got duty-Âfree perfume lah; other times if he disappeared for longer trips, he would actually come back with a Prada handbag, that kind of thing. But of course Imo always liked it best when he showed up with those big TobleronesâÂso big that each piece alone was the size of a McDonald's hamburger! The few times we met him, he seemed nice, not anything specialâÂÂpeople's father is just Âpeople's father after all. Unless you bump into them in a club or somethingâÂmy god, later on, after our school years, that actually happened with some of our friends' dadsâÂyou don't really think about them that much.
And Uncle was so boring we definitely didn't think about him at all. He was like my dad lah. Or Fann's dad, who we didn't really care about until he suddenly had a heart attack. But then right after we graduated from JC, like just the day after our final exam and we hadn't even had time to go chionging to celebrate and all, Uncle and Auntie sat Imo down after dinner and said, “We have something to tell you.”
Imo said everything happened very quicklyâÂonce Uncle started talking, everything also just anyhow come out. Apparently, his job was actually not a traveling type of job. He works in a local insurance office! First, he said, Imogen, you know your Mummy and I love you very much, right? Everything you want, we also give you. (When Imo first heard this, at first she thought he was dyingâÂat that time Fann's dad had recently passed away, so we were all quite scared, wondering which Uncle is the next to go.) So Imo just nodded and kept quietâÂwhen she told us about it, she said she was almost crying.
But then Uncle said, “Now that you're old enough, almost a woman already, your mummy and I thought you should know something: You have two brothers.”
At first, Imo was quite confused. She didn't know what he meant. “But how could my mum have two other kids that I don't know about? Cannot be! She had me when she was so young and then I don't remember her being pregnant anymore. Where got two sons?” She was still thinking hard about all this when Uncle continued talking.
“I have another family,” he said.
Imo looked across the dinner table at her mum, who was looking a bit blank-Âfaced, except that her eyes were staring down. She said Auntie was blinking and looking hard at her fingers, which were pulling apart at one corner of the carefully ironed white tablecloth that she spent four months last year crocheting. This was the tablecloth that Auntie cared about so much that she even bought a special clear plastic cover for it for Chinese New Year so when Âpeople brought curry or whatever over, her tablecloth will still be Number One OK. So Imo knew that if her mum was actually cho cho-Âing with this tableclothâÂthen, confirm: this conversation is really serious.
Uncle continued: “When I met your mum, I already had one son. And then just around the time you were born, I had my second son. They look a bit like you actually .Â .Â .”
Imo is usually quite toot lah. So at this point, when she told all of us about it, we thought the situation was pretty clear. But Imo was actually still confused! So she asked her dad, “But .Â .Â . you had your mistress before mum?” She still wasn't getting anything or understanding what was going on. When she told me, Sher and Fann all thisâÂmy godâÂwe all just wanted to reach over and slap her one time. Where got Âpeople so stupid?
That was when Uncle looked a little bit embarrassed. And she said her mum by this time couldn't even look up from the tablecloth.
“Imo, I care about your mum very much. And I care about you very much. The two sons I have are with my wife. They live hereâÂin .Â .Â . well, a town center quite far from here so you were definitely never in the same schools of course. But now that you are all grown up, have wings, can fly already, we wanted you to know you have brothers out there. Just keep that in mind whenever you meet new Âpeople. You just .Â .Â . aiyah, you just never know. And we were thinking now that you are getting older, going out and dating dating all, sekali something weird happens. Better be safe. So we might as well sit you down and tell you everythingâÂjust in case. So, um, if you ever have any news about new guys you are meeting, might be getting serious with, you just be sure to keep us informed ah? OK, come, come, let's eat some oranges.”
And then after that Imo's mum just got up, peeled two oranges for them, went to her room and turned on the TV to watch her Cantonese serial and they didn't talk about it anymore.
Walao eh! Crazy lah!
When Imo told us, at first we weren't quite sure what to say or think. We all hugged her of course. And then we just looked at each other. Finally, Sher smiled, reached over to squeeze Imo's hand and said: “Eh, ImoâÂyou are lucky you're a sarong party girl. Like that, you confirm won't end up snogging your brother by mistake. Even if your dad's wife is white, her sons will only be half ang moh. As if you'll even think of going home with a loser like that!” Even Imo had to laugh over that one. Sher always knew just the right thing to say.