March 27, 2017

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by Gwee Li Sui

Writing about “siol” is teruk because it’s sibei misunderstood. Of hampalang end-particles, it’s easily the most controversial one. Some Singlish speakers just won’t use it while others are blur like sotong about how to use it. First off, “siol” isn’t from “siol bak chang” or hot dumpling ha – because that’s “sio”, you kutu. I mean the “siol” in lines like “Hey, long time no see siol!” or “Your England cannot make it siol!” or “Someone kena buak gooyoo siol!”

In all these examples, more people prefer “sia” – and that one also can. “Siol” and “sia” seem to do the same thing even though sometimes act-big goondus anyhowly bedek that there are im-por-tant differences. But then they cannot say what or their explanations are so koyak until kena sai! Just take it from me: “siol” and “sia” are interchangeable, OK. You not happy, form an interest group, write a petition, and send to your MP please. The difference is more in hearing sensation than in meaning lah. You can say “Someone lawa-lawa, got iPhone 7 siol!” or “Someone lawa-lawa, got iPhone 7 sia!” – both pass. No fat!

“Siol” and “sia” are used sama-sama to express being taken aback by disbelief or by envy. So you may be impressed to say “The new kid super-hardworking siol!” or jealous to remark “That MP got two cars sia!” – either way is steady. Now, theory has it that “siol” came from the Malay word “siul”, meaning poon pee pee or whistle. But you’ll catch no ball with this notion of whistling should you hear an exclaimed “siol”. Yes, “What talking you siol?” may mean “What the whistle do you mean?” – but what the fiak can that mean? So “siol” looks like a euphemism, something said in place of what cannot be said… like how “your brother” in Singlish refers to… err… some guy’s brother.

No wonder another theory pops up to claim that “siol” came from trying not to say “sial” and be piaked by one’s lao peh or mama or makcik. In Malay, “sial” means damn or damn suay and is a hum-tumable bad word. Interestingly, it’s sibei likely that “sia” also came from “sial” – since, given how identical they are, it’s logical what! If all this is true, then we have a shiok case where, in order to siam saying something vulgar, Singaporeans have created not one but two substitute words! Kawan-kawan, that’s how polite and cultured and respectful (some say anal) we are! Boomz!

That “siol”, “sia”, and “sial” are so similar hasn’t stopped half-past-six experts from trying to set them apart, often in siow ting tong ways. For example, some argue that you can note positive versus negative uses… but, alamak, where got? I can say for positive effect “She stylo-milo siol!” or “sia!” or “sial!” – meaning “She’s unbelievably stylish!” – but also for negative effect “He pumchek siol!” or “sia!” or “sial!” – meaning “He’s utterly crushed!” Hampalang can lah, people! Even if granted there could have been differences once, it’s no longer the case today, thanks to how we all anyhow-anyhow.

“Siol” is nonetheless kindest on the ear of these three end-particles. It’s soothing, makes you relak most, and sounds least harsh and even cute! In fact, you may get sibei different responses depending on which you use, like, let’s say, you remark to your kid when picking him or her up in school, “Your teacher quite chio siol!” Exclaim “Your teacher quite chio sia!”, and your geena may feel that you’re somewhat low-crass and gleefully ti ko. But never, in front of chiwren, say “Your teacher quite chio sial!” – because that’s… cannot lah! Wait sekali a parent or teacher or, worse, the principal hears you, then uh oh siol.

 

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by Felix Cheong

GENERAL Lee’s men see his three stars

But can’t make out his battle scars.

“Sir, on what petrol, in what car

Did you take to travel this far?

 

Did you force Syria out of Qatar?

Did your bare hands kill a jaguar?

Did you fly our flag up on Mars?

Did you and great Godzilla spar?”

 

General Lee pauses to speak

As colour drains out from his cheeks.

He had earned his stars being a geek,

Tested at exam halls each week.

 

How to show his men he is more

Than paper strategist at his core?

Nations at peace don’t spring for war

Unless war dogs run to their door.

 

He must sing loud the song of zeal,

He must bring his men to their heels.

He must look like the real big deal,

He must talk of war in his spiel.

 

“War is coming, beyond those hills.

Prepare yourselves for the big kill!

This is no game, this is no drill.

Let your blood for your country spill!”

 

Every father, son and nephew

Turn up for battle as their due.

They clean their old boots of mildew,

They gear up to meet their old crew.

 

“Sir, who’s this enemy we seek?

We will not rest till their defeat.

We will send them home in white sheets,

We will lay our lives for this feat.”

 

General Lee’s heart leaps six feet

To see such numbers in the street,

To see them turn fearless from meek,

To see them trust his stars complete.

 

“This is no war fought with torpedoes,”

General Lee says on his toes.

“We are at war with mosquitoes,

These Ninja Zika-carrying foes!”

 

To a man, they all shout, “Aiyah!

This is not a war at all lah!

I could’ve spent more time with Ma,

Needed and kneaded at the spa.”

 

After they leave, General Lee

Feels the great weight of the Empty.

His years of university

Add up to naught in the army.

 

“War is nigh!” again he cries,

“We are now outflanked from all sides.

Prepare yourselves for the bomb dives.

Rise, for your country you must die!”

 

Every nephew, father and son

Turn up in sweat under the sun.

They have barely had a stiff one,

They have barely kept their big guns.

 

“Sir, who’s this enemy we fight?

We will not let them see the night.

We will scare them into such fright

They can’t tell their left from their right.”

 

“This war can’t be settled by treaties,”

General Lee says with eyes misty.

“We are at war with diabetes,

With sugar, white rice and sweeties!”

 

To a man, they all scream, “Aiyoh!

You can’t call this a war, bodoh!

I could’ve practised my yo-yo

Swinging between wife and Miho!”

 

After they depart, the general,

Like attending his own funeral,

Readies his career for burial,

His stars reduced to mineral.

 

“No, I’ll not go without a howl!”

Again he cries: “War is here now!

We are being run down by its plough.

Rise up to this enemy foul!”

 

Every son, nephew and father

Has lost ears to the hereafter.

A country at peace has no matter

More urgent than cafe chatter.

 

In the horizon, tanks roll in,

Flags of the enemy flying.

Soldiers in battle gear sweeping

Lands cheap and easy for their taking.

 

“War is here! War is here! It’s true!”

General Lee cries till he’s blue.

“I lied before but now I’m through!

Take up arms now or we’ll be screwed!”

 

No one hears his third alarm raised,

No one sees the need to be fazed.

Not when “war” is bandied like a craze

To call any kind of malaise.

 

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by Gwee Li Sui

BOLEH is the Singaporean who knows when to say “hampalang” and when to say “chapalang”. He or she intuitively knows the difference even when he or she may not be as steady telling them apart. If you think you very can, then you please try lor. It’s not easy hor! How to explain why “Hampalang drop twenty!” is corright but “Chapalang drop twenty!” isn’t? Or why “Singlish is a chapalang language” works but not “Singlish is a hampalang language”?

You mull over this a bit while uncle slowly describes something lagi shiok. Fun fact: nobody actually knows how these two saat-saat words came to relate to each other! Some bedek kings may kay-kay, yaya-papaya say that they took from Hokkien – but cannot be lah. They say at least “chapalang” in Hokkien means eat-full-people and so suggests being whole in satisfaction. Hello, kong simi? Eat-full-people your head lah! Can dun be a bodoh and everything with “lang” say is Hokkien? “Lalang” is Hokkien? “Tulang” is Hokkien?

In fact, “hampalang” and “chapalang” may involve almost every other cheena dialect except Hokkien. “Hampalang” is in Cantonese, and so, if you go Hong Kong, can hear “hampalang hampalang” a lot one. Some Hakkas got use too! “Chapalang” is trickier since it doesn’t exist liddat anywhere else. But “chap” means mixture in Cantonese and Hakka while the Teochews say “zap luang”. “Chap chai png” at your hawker centre is thus mixed veggie rice – also known in cheemer vocab as economic rice (huh?). “Chapalang” probably emerged as our chut-pattern variation on “hampalang” – with “palang” maybe from “barang”, meaning stuff in Malay.

Uncle will now go on to differentiate “hampalang” and “chapalang” – you think can be done? We know that “hampalang” refers to everyone, everything, or everywhere, and so you say “I hampalang buy from Daiso one” or “When in Geylang, hampalang the lao ti ko visits”. It can also be a predeterminer that means “all of”, as in “Hampalang Singapore is tulan with the frequent MRT breakdowns”. When a whole extent is noted already, “hampalang” isn’t a repetition but means “altogether”. So: “All the tourists hampalang go queue for Michelin-starred Hong Kong chicken noodles.”

As for “chapalang”, it isn’t so much about extent as about things mixing lah. It’s macam about varieties rather than about totality. “Chapalang” refers to anyone, anything, or anywhere – specifically how liddat also can. So, while “hampalang” suggests order and awe, “chapalang” conjures chaos and surprise. You differently say “I chapalang buy from Daiso one” or “When in Geylang, chapalang the lao ti ko visits”. See how they not sama-sama… or, err, maybe not? Nemmind.

“Hampalang” has a sibei epic sound, with just long vowels giving it a steady-poon-pee-pee panoramic sweep. Its masculine first syllable “ham” – pronounced “hum”, like in PM Lee’s famous “mee siam mai hum” – explodes into a tokong “pa” and tempts you to wave a grand drama-mama hand and say “lang”. Everything is included – left, right, centre! “Chapalang”, on the other hand, begins with a short vowel and instantly doesn’t feel the same although it uses the lively “palang” of “hampalang”. In sound, it’s mixed in the way its meaning is chum-chum too.

A choobi aspect of our two words is actually their rhetorical use. As they invite the dramatic, they’re often stressed in a sentence, and so, even as objects or adverbs, they appear early, impatiently. An Ah Pui therefore says either “I hampalang eat” or “Hampalang I eat” or either “I chapalang eat” or “Chapalang I eat” – but never “I eat hampalang” or “I eat chapalang”. “Hampalang” or “chapalang” gets us excited and prepares a sense of relation. We hear “chapalang-style cooking” and expect an any-o-how but creative dish. We hear “Hampalang fail exam!” and expect loud gasps, then a lot of cow pei cow bu.

 

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by Joshua Ip

THE rubberstamp cannot anyhow anyhow stamp.
The rubberstamp cannot ownself ownself stamp.
Even if rubberstamp suddenly dowan to rubberstamp
Got people tell him stamp then he must stamp. 

Just in case he stamp wrongly better mark a cross
point finger put the Post-Its so he can double
confirm chop stamp rubberstamp. Of course
The best rubberstamp stamps without causing any trouble.

The life of a rubberstamp is very very siong.
So every now and then must take out the list
Of things he must rubberstamp and tolong tolong
unstamp some stamps so he don’t sprain his wrist.

The rubberstamp must look like a rubberstamp.
The rubberstamp must have the proper brand.
The rubberstamp must appear as rubberstampy
And friendly as the nice KFC man.

The rubberstamp is part of the stationery.
You put him in the filing cabinet he must blend in.
The stationery comes in a set and is not solitary
ownself anyhow ask for homework then ownself hand in.

But everybody must say this is my rubberstamp.
It must be a good rubberstamp world best rubberstamp.
Got stamp many things before that kind of rubberstamp.
Not just watch other people stamp but must ownself stamp rubberstamp.

Not just stamp small one but must stamp bloody big rubberstamp.
How big is big every few years must compare than restamp the rubberstamp.
Until last time all the rubberstamp also not as big as next time rubberstamp.
If rubberstamp wrong colour every now and then also must change rubberstamp.

Wah.

The life of a rubberstamp maker is very siong.
Anyhow make people also anyhow say wrong.
Actually rubberstamp so retro, so has-been.
Maybe we should just buy a brand new photocopy machine.

 

Joshua Ip is a cheem poetry writer. His girlfriend says he should try to be less cheem, so liedat lor.

 

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by Gwee Li Sui

LET’S talk about abbreviations in Singlish can? Singaporeans sibei love to abbreviate one. We would tell foreigners about MRT and COE and PSLE and NDP and MC (yea, MC also!) like they knew what we were saying or cared. Our NS boys would impress chabors with talk of IPPT, 5BX, Pes A, Attend B, PC, OC, OO, MO, NCO, SBO, OCS, POP, ORD or last time ROD, etc. – like they knew what they were saying or cared.

The most obvious reason to abbreviate is to shorten a phrase. It’s why one of Singlish’s oldest forms involves complex ethnic categories that sabo our Gahmen’s CMIO model. Peranakans were last time called OCBC, which doesn’t stand for Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation hor – although its first chairman was indeed Baba. It’s for “orang cina bukan cina”, or “Chinese but not Chinese” in Malay. Needless to add, “cheena”, which we hear a lot these days, isn’t a made-up pronunciation to mock Chinese people; it comes from “cina” in Malay.

From the late 1980s, “ABC” started to pop up because we were encountering several on our island – to our excitement. ABCs, which refer to American-born Chinese, are also OCBC in a way, but, in view of Hollywood and global Yankee power, many wanted to speak and act like swaggy ABCs. The pretenders who then despised Singaporeanness are called kay angmos, clustered with an older generation of kay angmos who mimicked the British. From the 2000s, we have… “PRC”! “PRC” stands for “People’s Republic of China” and is used on the new mainland Chinese who have come to live among us too, like the ABCs before.

Now, kawan-kawan, “ABC” shouldn’t be confused with “ACBC”, which just means “act cute, buay cute”. More than in the previous set of abbreviations, the set to which “ACBC” belongs is used in a personal, and often bitchy, context. It’s kinda a code shared between persons A and B to mock person C – which, even if C hears and understands, is recognised as a means to exclude C. So, say, when some student manjas a teacher in hope of a good grade, another student can blurt out loudly: “ACBC!”

“NFFFFN” is also a Singlish code and tends to be used by NS boys when they’re let out to lepak in their civvies. They may go squat along Orchard Road to ogle, and when someone seemingly hot appears on their radars, they get happy like bird. (Poor things!) On occasions when the happiness fizzles out up-close, they remark “NFFFFN” – that is to say, “nice from far, far from nice”. Then there’s “O$P$”, which I think every Singaporean knows since it’s a highly influential HDB installation artwork. Scrawled often in blood red on doors or walls by Ah Beng loan sharks – our very own Banksy – and sometimes presented with a pig’s head, it means “owe money, pay money”.

At long last we come to “KNN” – one of today’s popular abbreviations – which belongs to a third category: Singlish profanities. “KNN” stands for “k*n n* n*” in Hokkien and refers to doing something unprintable to someone’s lao bu. It’s itself a shortened form of “KNNBCCB”, or “k*n n* n* b** ch*w ch** by*”, which carries a particular olfactory description of where the adult act happens. Hokkien, by the way, is a great reservoir for bad words, and Singlish speakers and SAF personnel know this well. But, becoming more and more cultured, we make sure that most of its expletives once used freely on the streets and in kopitiams by our PG generation are encrypted.

Such abbreviations add a uniquely Singaporean texture of self-censorship, where – as in so many other ways – we say something without having said it. So there’s “SMLJ”, standing for “simi l*n j***”, roughly “what the p****”. “LPPL”, or “l** p* p* l*n” is a circular expression that describes a situation where you allow yourself to be played out or screwed. For example, when Ah Hui returns to her abusive boyfriend, her best friend Nisha may ask, “Oi, why you LPPL?” And there’s “LL”, or “l*n l*n”, which also uses wordplay – two same-sounding words with different intonations – on a fate you cannot but be resigned to. So Ah Hui may reply to Nisha: “What to do? He hansum, got money, and I sibei shallow one. So LL lor.”

 

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Goondu, SinGweesh, Singlish

by Gwee Li Sui

HOW to call someone a fool in Singlish? Let me count the ways. From England, we last time used to say a lot how someone had a screw loose, like a robot liddat. The phrase appears in Sinhalese too… so maybe got more than one source? We also have “duh”, which isn’t sama-sama with the way angmos say it. It’s not an exclamation, like “It’s so simple – duh!”, but an adjective, like “Ey, you very duh!” Then there’s “stupiak”, which we call someone so kuku that we wish to piak him or her.

From Melayu, there is “bodoh” – which is said by pointing a whole hand at an addressee or rapping his or her forehead. “Bodoh” is an adjective, but, in Singlish, it’s also a noun and a verb. So “That bodoh is our MP” or “Brudder, dun bodoh can?” is fine. “Gila” is another word, and it’s made famous by a classic Malaysian Mad Magazine-inspired humour magazine called Gila-Gila. That publication last time was sibei well-read in Singapore. Even Ah Bengs and Muthus who dunno Melayu read them – because full of cartoons. A gila person can further be called a gila monster, after a type of lizard that’s really not native here one.

From Cheena, I can think of “siow ting tong” – which is only part-Hokkien. “Siow” means mad, but “ting tong” is more the sound of a doorbell than an actual word lah. Dun ask me where the connection is hor. Maybe “ting tong” is to suggest that no one is home in the head or it refers to the Ting and Tong families? (The Tings and Tongs I know aren’t that siow… or maybe just a bit.) There’s also “kukujiao”, which means the cuckoo bird specifically in a cuckoo clock, and it’s a euphemism for a guy’s little brudder. When you’re called a kukujiao, it means you’re sibei cock, which means you’re sibei hopeless intellectually.

And, last but not least, we have from the Tamil the most Singlish of words that mean dumb, “goondu”. “Goondu” is popularised by that grandmother of Singlish,  Ms Sylvia Toh Paik Choo, through the titles of her bestsellers Eh, Goondu! and Lagi Goondu! from the 1980s. (By the way, it’s Paik Choo and not Piak Choo hor. You anyhowly piak-piak, wait later her fans come and piak choo!) But this word has an interesting problem anyone who knows Tamil can tell you: in Tamil, “goondu” means fatso, not dumb-dumb.

Somehow, in the history of our multiculturalism, the use of “goondu” changed radically. It’s probably because “goon” kena understood in the England sense, and so “goondu” became linked to a kukujiao. No wonder foreign Tamils are so confused when they keep hearing Singaporeans call folks of all shapes and sizes goondus! On this note, “goondu” has the advantage of revealing whether a Tamil speaker is a Singaporean or has been here long or not. Say Mama A calls Mama B a goondu, but the latter feels offended for the wrong reason, looking lagi goondu…

At least Tamil words like “aiyoh”, “mama”, “vanakkam”, “thani”, and now “kolaveri” mean roughly the same in Singlish. “Goondu” is distinct from another class of words whose original meanings non-Tamil speakers dunno but frankly should know lah. Its words include “samudera”, which means sea; “thanggam”, which means gold; and “kovan”, which can refer to a herdsman, a king, or even the Hindu Lord Shiva. Ask any Tamil-tidak apa Singaporean what these mean, and you’ll hear LRT and MRT stations… and that’s not wrong. But alamak, sibei goondu leh!

 

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by Felix Cheong

HEADMASTER Lee looks at his school.

“Too many pupils who are fools!

Too many pupils who are stools!

I do not think this at all cool.”

 

My school is new but rich.

My school is small but pitched.

Pupils must reserve their niche.

Pupils must deserve their smitch.

 

My school is not for everyone

My school is not the sun.

It does not shine on every son.

It does not shine for underdone.

 

I will make entry hard and nigh.

I will make it whiter than sky.

I will make sure you fly so high.

I do not have to ask you why.

 

So Headmaster Lee makes a door.

On second thought, he makes four.

Each is part of a greater more,

Each smaller than the one before.

 

To the pupils still in line,

He says in a voice refined:

“To enter, you dress to the nines

And open these doors of mine.”

 

The pupils do not like what they see.

They think this game rather silly.

“Since we pay and pay school fees,

Why can I not enter freely?”

 

Headmaster Lee shakes his head

Till it turns remarkably red.

“I will not repeat what I have said.

Follow or get out instead.”

 

So half the pupils leave the queue,

Knowing they do not meet the due.

Half of half take this as a cue.

To cheer the remaining few.

 

Six pupils make it past Door One,

Laughing like they had already won.

But Door Two puts one on the run.

People say he is the son of a gun.

 

Five pupils try for Door Three,

Holding their breath and some pee.

One leaks shamefully and flees:

“I cannot take this, no siree!”

 

Everyone waits for the last round,

The smallest door to be found.

Only four are left on the ground.

Only four are right and sound.

 

After too much push and cleave,

One squeezes through with a great heave.

The rest pack up their pet peeves

Reluctantly as they leave.

 

Before The Pupil gets the “Aye”,

A few people in the crowd cry:

“But he is not whiter than sky!

He is of the wrong colour dye!”

 

He does wear a tan to some degree,

Headmaster Lee has to agree.

The rules must not be bent to a tee

Just because he is Headmaster Lee.

 

So Headmaster Lee adds another door,

To those already done before.

He keeps adding doors galore

Till no pupil comes to the fore.

 

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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.

 

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Zika zombie apocalypse, Ipster

by Joshua Ip

BLOCK 102 Aljunied Crescent – where it all began
Where patient zero hit the ground, and shuddering, rose again
The woman moaned an undead groan that echoed through her flat
A female mozzie bit her, and moved on – and that was that.

The lone mosquito buzzed her way down storey after storey
Zoomed in on a construction worker housing dormitory
And made her bloody evening meal without wiping her mouth
On forty resting workers – that’s where everything went south

It began with fever, spreading rashes, muscles and joint pain
All symptoms of the virus taking root inside the brain
The dormitory door swings forth, they spilled out like a flood
Inheriting the humble mozzie’s taste for human blood

They tackle blur pedestrians and sink teeth into their veins
Saliva enters bloodstream as their victims scream in pain
Then scream turns into moan as yet another anguished soul
Reanimates as one more hungry, shambling, mindless ghoul

Citizens flee as this slow-moving plague spreads into Geylang
Aided by zombie mosquitoes sucking fresh blood like tulang
Soon walkers of the night are wall to wall in every lorong
Shambling shoulder to shoulder in an undead gotong royong

The Singapore Police, although no longer wearing shorts
Are ill equipped to fight mosquitoes, let alone a walking corpse
Their short-sleeved shirts do not avert a single buzzing bite
So they call in the whole army, change to long four! Overnight!

Rumors spread faster than the zombie curse: “It’s pandemonium!
They’ve makaned all Old Airport Road! They’re swarming past the Stadium!”
The generals curse, they fear the worst, their orders are chapalang:
“Blow the Merdeka bridge, my boys! We’ll hold them at the Kallang!”

An overstretched defence line forms along the CTE
North to Seletar Reservoir, South to the PIE
Then southwards down the Kallang till it forms Marina Bay
For Serangoon is all walking, and Hougang not far away

And all the East is teeming with an undead zombie mass
Survivors flee to MRTs for evacuation west
The Changi Airport fences are a temporary haven
The government mounts a rescue effort by 747

Across the river, NSFs don their chemical defence gear
The bite of an undead mosquito is their greatest fear
The buzzing is now audible, their hearts are all a-flutter…
Till Bzzt! Steps forth an auntie armed with an electric swatter.

“Ah boy, mian kia! Auntie lai liao!” At every battle station
The line is reinforced by our pioneer generation
Dual-wielding Baygon tubes, swinging swatters about
Uncles and aunties doing the 5-step mozzie wipe out

The NSFs advance, the human army of the west
Headshotting zombies with their skills drilled in an FPS
They pause to put down a brigade of infected zombie otters
While all the aunties empty out the pools of stagnant water

Our scientists send sterile mozzie males on the attack
Because poor Singaporeans are not known for having sex
They will cockblock the zombie stock, their numbers will not grow –
Reduce the mozzie TFR to under 2.0

Between the science and NS boys and aunties on patrols
The living push the dead back into Pasir Ris-Punggol
We’re winning, cry the analysts, observing their diagnostics
As an active-aging grandma crushes mozzies with her chopsticks

And as the armies finally establish their position
Some minister thinks: “Ah, Aljunied. Can blame the opposition.”
But in his ear, the buzzing whisper of a helpful aide:
“Sir, cannot lah, Aljunied Crescent’s in Marine Parade”

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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OUR columnist Felix Cheong, the wisecracking mouth behind And on Saturday and Cheongster Café, will launch his 11th book today (Aug 26), titled Singapore Siu Dai 3: The SG Conversation Dabao. The first two volumes of the series were published in 2014 and have already sold in excess of 3,000 copies, receiving praise from well-known humorists like Neil Humphreys, Colin Goh, Benjamin “Mr Miyagi” Lee and Moe Alkaff.

The third book ($13.91 with GST – you can’t deny the taxman his dues) will be available at bookstores like Kinokuniya and MPH. You can also support this starving writer by buying the box set of all three volumes ($42.80 with GST).

Here, Felix talks about the trigger behind the Singapore Siu Dai series:

Why the title Singapore Siu Dai?

Any kopi addict worth his weight in sugar knows siu dai means “less sugar” in coffeeshop lingo. The stories thus portray a Singapore that is not dripping with the “Look, honey!” sweetness put up by the Singapore Tourism Board. The subtitle, SG Conversation, is also a send-up of the talkfest from a couple of years ago (to which I was curiously not invited!). It’s my 50-cent contribution, as a writer, to nation-building.

Why are all the stories so short?

Because they’re meant for people with a short-attention span! The stories are written in a genre called flash fiction, sometimes called postcard fiction. Short, short stories that can run from just a few paragraphs to a couple of pages. It’s good enough a read on the train between stops.

You had previously published poetry and fiction. So how did you get into writing humour?

You have to blame Facebook and the haze. It was June 2014 and, thanks to friendly fire from an unfriendly neighbour, Singapore was shrouded in its worst haze. Everyone and his dog could see the disparity between the official PSI reading and what we experienced with our own nose.

Instead of posting a rant on Facebook, I made fun of the situation in a short, short story posted as my status update. Something clicked into place and before long, I was polluting Facebook with these story posts, day after day, often written on the bus ride to work and taking on themes as varied as Singaporeans’ obsession with Hello Kitty and our genetically-codified kiasu-ism.

Writing humour was also a new toy for me as a writer. It helped me exercise (exorcise?) parts of my brain I don’t often use. It’s an art in itself.

You joke about some pretty serious things, from population policies to defamation suits. Is there a “serious” message behind the Siu Dai series?

Any satirist worth his salt knows laughter is the best way to lessen the pain of having salt rubbed into your wounds. After the laughter dies, you suddenly realise just how much the sting hurts.

That’s what I wanted to achieve with the Siu Dai series. To get readers to wake up to who we are – really – as a people, why are we the way we are and who do we want to become.

What are some new areas that you touch in Siu Dai 3?

Some of the stories poke fun at the GE2015. (I’m an equal-opportunity satirist and I spoofed both the ruling and opposition parties.) Others took a long, hard look at our national hang-ups with elitism and exams (you can’t dissociate one from the other).

What was your favourite part about creating this book?

The strangest (and by extension, my favourite) part was how these characters assume a life of their own. For instance, the three bumbling wannabe terrorists in a sequence called “Three Terrorists in a Tub”. They were inside my head for a good week, squabbling!

What were some difficulties faced?

The main difficulty was two-fold. Because the stories were often inspired by topical issues, I had to fully realise the stories as stories in their own right, without hoping that readers could recall the issues.

The other difficulty was being able to suggest political follies without landing myself at the wrong end of a defamation suit. The jabs had to be clear and the sucker punch landing just hard enough not to bruise anyone.

Is there a personal favourite of yours in Siu Dai 3?

That’s my favourite most hated question. It’s like asking me, which of my children I’d rather shoot first? All the stories are my favourites. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have let them out into the world in the first place!

 

felix

Felix Cheong, 51, the recepient of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award (Literature) in 2000, has written 11 books, including four volumes of poetry and two young adult novels. Currently an adjunct lecturer with Murdoch University and University of Newcastle, he holds a masters in creative writing.

Featured image by Felix Cheong. 

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