Tuesdays at Cheongster Cafe: Taking racial harmony for granted

Nov 01, 2016 11.00AM |

By Felix Cheong


“WE NEED more MRT station announcements in Chinese,” Jun Liang said loudly. His voice had never recovered its quietude after being the National Day Parade commander many years ago.

The Community Integration Committee, seated like empty coffee cups, were in various degrees of absorption in their smart phones. It had convened, at the behest of the Prime Minister, after several elderly Chinese people were reported missing inside MRT trains.

“My mother was lost, lost, lost for six hours last Tuesday until we made, made, made a police report,” Jiayi said. Her colleagues had noticed her speech pattern had not been the same since she took up Candy Crush. She had a habit now of repeating words in multiples of three’s. But they were, of course, too Singaporean to point out the obvious.

“Where did they find her?” Krishnan asked.

“In Johor. Shopping.”

“But what about the non-Chinese?” Aisah asked.

“They can take a taxi to Johor!” Ai Leng exclaimed helpfully, her eyes bright like K-pop stars. Her colleagues secretly believed that if the exclamation mark had never been invented, she would be rendered speechless.

“I mean, the non-Chinese will not understand the Chinese announcements,” Aisah said.

“Good point. We have to be fair to everyone,” Jun Liang said thoughtfully and paused dramatically.

“So we will run Chinese classes for non-Chinese,” he said finally.

“And why should they want to learn Chinese?” Krishnan said, annoyed.

“Because they could then communicate with the other 74 percent of the country.”


“We should invite non-Chinese performers for the countdown show,” Jun Liang wrote on the white board. Years of turning his voice to blast level had finally done him in. His vocal cords were permanently damaged.

At the behest of the national broadcaster, the Community Integration Committee had convened. After the last meeting, Aisah and Krishnan had resigned, citing irreconcilable differences, and were replaced by Aisha and Krishna.

“Why do we need, need, need non-Chinese performers?” Jiayi said, without looking up from her smart phone. Suddenly, she sensed Ai Leng’s exclamation marks sucking the air out of the awkward silence.


All eyes took turns digging into Jiayi to excavate some common sense out of her.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” she finally said, putting down her phone. “No more Candy Crush during meetings.”

Aisha and Krishna rolled their eyes.

Jun Liang quickly took charge, listing, in two columns on the white board, well-known Chinese and non-Chinese performers. After some mental sums, he managed to balance the CIMO quota, using the HDB racial quota as a guide.

Everyone nodded. It seemed equitable, considering the talent pool on a small island was small, even at high tide.

“We will end the show with the countdown in Chinese,” Jun Liang wrote.

“But this is the New Year countdown, not the Lunar New Year countdown, right?” Aisha said, annoyed.

Ai Leng shrugged. “Is there a difference!”


Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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