Monday, June 11, 2007

Dou Xia

As if I hadn’t had enough difficulty keeping up with the Malay, Bahasa, Mandarin, Cantonese, and various English pronunciations, recently I found myself face-to-face with someone who was speaking Hokkien to me.

It happened on my way out of a car park. The attendant leaned out of the kiosk window and mumbled something. Whuh? It took me awhile to realize he was asking for the car’s plate number. I don’t speak Hokkien. My parents speak Taiwanese, which is a similar dialect, but I’ve never been taught - I had enough trouble with Mandarin.

So reaching really deep into what little brain I have left, I uttered a garbled “Ji’ bwe xi’ zhap” - more from instinct than anything else. I half expected him to hand me paper to write it out, but he understood enough to type the number in and reply, “Gao koh.” So I handed him a ten and got one back as he lifted the barrier and said, “Dou xia” - many thanks.

The experience highlighted yet again the delightful mystery of language in Singapore. Sometimes when I step up to an unfamiliar hawker stall or hop into a taxi, I find myself playing a game of “old maid” with language. Let’s you speak Mandarin? No? Hmm...Let’s try the old standby: English? Not that either...Pity, I’m running out of options here. No, sorry, I still can’t understand you (is that Bahasa?). Why don’t we try charades? And so it goes.

1 comment:

JoLynn said... definitely know more taiwanese than i do, even if my mandarin pronunciation is better (haha!) i can only remember "kong-kong"---stupid, right? and "chia" --- car. oh and all the titles of all our gazillion relatives. but i doubt any of those words would be useful in every day speech: "stupid car aunt who is the wife of my dad's older brother." i don't know any verbs.