A Thin Veneer of English

From the cool, dark tranquility of his moderately over-air-conditioned cocoon, E@L ventures through the security door and turns his face into the Singapore morning. A sledgehammer of light nearly knocks him backward - wham - and the air thickens into a warm, clear, porridge of humidity. He has to squint into the East walking past the pool. He'd like to shut his eyes and pretend to be asleep as he walks but he might fall into the pool's unfenced, chlorine-white-blue depths.

The light is so incredibly bright that everything appears bleached, not just the pool's germs. He can't properly open his eyes for 5 minutes, not until his $400 prescription lenses take in enough ultra-violet to transform into something with close to the functionality of $5 gas-station sunnies. (Friends of E@L's make good money importing these crap sunglasses into Australia. They do a China buying-run each year, round about HK Rugby 7's time. Their eyes glaze over when they speak of the "LeSpecs" phenomenon back in the 80's.)

Fiddling with his mp3 player, he locks it onto the radio - 99.5Hz - for some local jazz. This at least is better than the canto-crap-music that permeates the ether in Hong Kong. Tall trees dapple their shadows on his path to Dunearn Rd. Four empty taxis pass him by. Finally, a taxi, amazingly, right here on this busy road at this busy time of the morning, stops for him.

"Good morning!" Pulling the plugs from his ears, a grateful E@L climbs on board.


"Mount Elizabeth Hospital," E@L informs the driver.

"Wah?" is the reply.

"Mount Elizabeth Hospital," he repeats.


"Mount. Elizabeth. Hospital." Enunciated clearly.

The driver shrugs and takes off, negotiating the Parisian horrors of Newton Circus, turns right into Scotts Rd and procedes.

"You wan go Far East Square?" asks the driver, hoping to confirm something that he must have channelled out of some other wavelength in some other ether that only Singaporean taxi-drivers receive.

"No no no no no. Mount Fucking Elizabeth HOSPITAL!"

"Oh!" says the driver, blithely cutting across three lanes of furious traffic to turn into Cairnhill Rd at the last minute. "Mone Izaber Hobbit-all! Why you no one say so, eh? No probam."

"Fucking bullshit that Singapore's taxi-drivers speak English," moans E@L ...


"You should have said "Mount E," one of the workers told E@L in the office later on.


In Hong Kong you are under no misapprehension that the taxi-drivers can speak anything like rudimentary English - half don't even speak Cantonese these days. You always keep your speed-dial "1" on "Regina" (you THINK she's saying "Regina"), the office's only Cantonese/Mandarin/Hokkien/Fuchowien/English(barely) speaking secretary, plus you have a printed list of the names of all the hospitals and clinics to show to the driver. Hopefully they can read Pinyin.

However, much as they "chee-sin gwailo-aaaah" under their breath at your pathetic attempts to direct them home at 5am from Wanchai, apathetic lady-friend(s) in tow, with "June yeow lido, check oy! lido lido, stop here, righto-lah, keep the fucking change-aah... mm-goy sigh," -- if they are free they WILL (usually) stop. They cannot flip down their red-light without starting a fare, so if they are on a break they'll quickly put up a cardboard sign to cover it, indicating they are on a call. Hey, they might even genuinely be on a call!

In Singapore, green lighted taxis speed past you time and again. They just ignore you for no reason whatsoever. Oh, there is one reason: they are fucking bastards, with Tourette's just like in HK, one and all.


There is another way to get HK taxi drivers to understand your instructions that E@L discovered a few years ago. We were trying to get to the RSPCA building for a staff party. Not that any of us worked at the RSPCA, or that we knew anybody who worked at the RSPCA, but there was a party and so we were going. It was Honk Kong, we were expats, we ruled. Not *technically* ruled, as this was 1999, but we certainly thought we ruled the party scene.

This RSPCA place is in a difficult to get to area on the north (harbour) side of the causeway. We didn't know the name of the street. The driver didn't seem to understand "RSPCA" or "Causeway Bay" or anything at all.

B****a, one of the old-China hands leaned forward and said rapidly in slurry, German/Cantonese- accented English:

"Go-go-lah, past the Giant Cockroach, take the first turn before the exit to the Marina, lah." (Or some instructions like that - E@L can't remember where it is even now!)

"Hai!" he replied and we sped off to the RSPCA with nary a hitch.

So E@L was educated that putting 'go-go-lah' at the beginning, and 'lah' at the end automatically babel-fishes those taxi-driver instructions in the middle into perfect Taxi-Chinese.



Shit, look at the time. E@L better go-go-la, back to fucking work, la.



Posted by: expat@large on Oct 11, 05 | 12:24 pm | Profile


oh accents!!!!!! wahaha~

Posted by: candyfeehily on Oct 12, 05 | 12:28 am

*I* don't have an accent!

It's The Rest Of The World(TM)!

Posted by: expat@large on Oct 12, 05 | 11:24 am


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