SinGweesh on Wednesday: Last time is last time, now is now

Aug 31, 2016 11.00AM |

by Gwee Li Sui

LIFE in Singapore is sibei siow on. Everything changes so fast. You blink your eyes once, and a building disappears. You blink another time, and a whole street disappears. Then taller buildings and malls shoot up, and suddenly a McSpicy meal costs $7. (Remember last time was below $5?) Very scary one – but it’s liddat lor! It’s how we went from Third-World to First-World in satu generation. If this Red Dot is full of anything, it’s change.

So, sadly, some people last time didn’t think far and save up money – because live for the day mah! Now, with inflation and all thrown in, they pokkai liao and need to work into their old age. Such is the susa context in which Singaporeans have come to repeat the wise words: “Last time is last time, now is now”. It’s a Singlish warning, and it warns against anyhowly confusing the conditions of the past with the conditions of the present.

“Last time is last time, now is now” translates from cheena Mandarin – and, if you stop to think about it, actually not a lot of such phrases are so cheena one. Surplise! Singlish kapos more from cheena dialects, which aren’t quite the same thing. Anyway, this saying is used firstly to highlight the speed of change in life in general. If last time your sng bao (those flavoured ice sticks) cost ten cents and now Haagen-Dazs costs 10 dollars, there’s nothing you can do about it. Just LL accept it lor.

This leads to my second point, which is that the speed of change precisely makes it impossible to reverse the trend. Cannot terbalik, U-turn, gostan one! You cannot say I dun like today’s education system and want my chiwren to attend last-time kind of school where they could fly kite (literally) or catch guppies in the longkang. No such thing lah, OK! The only way forward is forward – what does our National Anthem say? Majulah Singapura! The past is the past.

From here, we reach my third point, which is that it’s very unreasona-ra-ble to compare last time and now hor. Even Gahmen always says already: dun go and compare! (But then they ownself always go and compare: neh mind.) If you order teh-peng in the kopitiam and it costs $1.20, dun kuai lan and go cry father cry mother, say so expensive, last time only eighty cents. Oi, brudder: last time and now not the same one hor! In fact, these days, $1.20 is sibei cheap liao. You want $5 teh-peng also got – you want? So diam-diam and just lim!

Interestingly, from the Hokkien comes a variant of “Last time is last time, now is now”, which is “Last time policemen wore shorts”. Maybe you got hear this saying before? It’s a bit different and uses the dress code of colonial-era law enforcers – who, so cute, wore the kind of long grandfather shorts – to make the obvious point: the times have changed liao. Old fashion is old fashion, not stylo-milo liao. But the meaning is still sama-sama: we cannot suka-suka invoke old conditions to make sense today.

Personally, I prefer the first saying because it feels more shiok lah. It repeats in a way that creates similarity and difference, continuity and rupture… eerr, what cock am I talking, sounds so cheem! Basically, it got the shape of A=A and B=B but A≠B – and so there’s a nice logical and mathematical beauty. But the important thing is, both sayings share the same cue: they follow any argument using the term “last time”, like “Last time you were so romantic”. Or “Last time all the Minas loved me”. Or “Last time bus drivers let me stand on the steps.” Hello, when you hear these, you know how to respond.


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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