SinGweesh on Wednesday: Sibei Sian!
by Gwee Li Sui
Feeling sian is a very real part of Singaporean life. In fact, you can tell a native Singaporean from a New Citizen just by how much sianness he or she exhibits on a daily basis. “Sian” isn’t easy to translate: it doesn’t only mean “bored” as when there’s nothing on TV but MediaCorp dramas and you go “Damn sian”. When your internet connection kena sai or when McDonald’s jacks up the price of McSpicy (again), you can feel sian too.
You can further feel sian from doing too much Zumba as well as from not doing Zumba. You can feel sian about the PM’s National Day Rally speech even though his whole audience is smiling and clapping – why ha? Aisay, how many angmoh words do you know that can be used in so many ways? “Sian” seems to have found an emotional constant across feeling bored, tired or pumchek, uninterested, frus, buay tahan, like ikan bilis, resigned, disillusioned, and cynical. In all of these is an element of sianness.
The word “sian” must be pronounced correctly or you’ll sound cuckoo. You shouldn’t say it like the “sian” in “Dun sian char bor!”, which means “Don’t dupe women!” That “sian” is a verb that ends with a sharp, hovering tone. “Sian” shouldn’t also be said like the noun “sian”, which is something like a Chinese fairy. So, when someone keeps missing his or her meals because of work, you say that he or she wants to “zho sian”, that is, become a celestial being. But our “sian” is different; it has a kilat, sian pronunciation. It pulls downwards to a low note like an echo in a dark well.
How many ways are there to say that you’re sian? Firstly, there are gradations of sianness, so you dun play-play! When it’s mild, you just remark “Sian” or “Sian man”, as in “Man, I feel sian”. Then you go on to “So sian”, “Damn sian”, and, in the most tok kong case, “Sibei sian!”, which agak-agak as “I’m freaking sian!” An older generation is prone to also exclaim “Sian jit puah” – which literally means “Too sian by half”. “Sian leh” is said when you’re reacting or rebelling against a task or something you have yet to experience. “Sian sial” is “I can’t freaking believe that this is so sian”.
At some stage, we must see that, in sianness, Singaporeans are at their most philosophical. A sian person isn’t just feeling listless; this listlessness is also, curiously, restless. This person knows that things shouldn’t be a certain way, and yet here we are. He or she knows that one cannot fight the world and get one’s way – because life itself is deeply meaningless. To be sure, not everybody who uses “sian” recognises its philosophical potential although the option to lepak and feel is double-confirm always available.
This is why NS remains the greatest gift we can give a Singaporean since every guy who has to book in by 2359 or draw arms at 5am or kena guard duty on a weekend becomes a philosopher. NS is a gift we should aim to bestow on our women and New Citizens too not for equality’s sake – no, no! – but for the quality of life they can have. How much more soulful everyone can be! But, until that happens, there’s at least a faster and more senang way of sharing sianness with all of Singapore. And that’s by voting PAP back into power decisively at the General Elections.
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