Ci Yuan CC not easy to pronounce

From ‘New CC’s name not easy to pronounce’, 29 Oct 2013, ST Forum

(Edwin Feng): I READ with interest that the new Ci Yuan Community Club used to be called Kebun Ubi Community Centre in the 1970s (“New CC in Hougang first to have a hawker centre”; Oct 20). Ci Yuan is not an easy name for Singaporeans who are unfamiliar with hanyu pinyin to pronounce.

It is ironic that a community centre meant for bonding Singaporeans of different races would change its original Malay name to a “pinyinised” one that even some Chinese Singaporeans have difficulty pronouncing. Besides, why is it named Ci Yuan when it does not seem to have any link to either its old name (Kebun Ubi) or its present location?

Unlike Kebun Ubi (Malay for tapioca garden or farm), the new name does not seem to reflect the rich history of the place, where tapioca and other staple crops were once cultivated by our forefathers, who lived in the villages there.

The opening of the new community club in a few years’ time will be a good opportunity for the centre’s old name to be reinstated. Perhaps a gallery could be set up to educate younger constituents on the history of the place.

Romanised Mandarin, or ‘pinyinisation’, was once the scourge of language and history lovers everywhere. In 1987, there were calls to abolish Hanyu Pinyin names of places like Simei and Guifei.  Thankfully, Simei remains in use today, but isn’t pronounced the way it’s intended to be. Most of us, including the Chinese-speaking, pronounce Simei as ‘xi (ee-sound) mei’, rather than the correct, sharper ‘si (as in ‘4’) mei’, an example of a HYPY name that has evolved into something all Singaporeans can agree upon even though technically it’s wrong. ‘Hougang’ is a mixed bag, some say ‘Ow-Gang’ with the silent ‘h’, while others pronounce it as (correctly), ‘Hoe’-Gang. Till this day we remain wishy-washy over Yishun (the town) and Nee Soon (the army camp).

HYPY, the devil spawn of the Speak Mandarin Campaign, threatened to screw with our food culture in the early eighties. Imagine if chye tau kuey was renamed ‘Luo bo Gao’, or ‘Char Quay Teow’ as ‘Chao Guo Tiao’. Doesn’t sound as appetising in HYPY does it. In school, compulsory HYPY names wrecked havoc on our kids’ sense of identity, some confused over the two versions, while those without dialect names, like Eurasian kids, were ‘pinyinised’ with silly soundalike translations. If I were to introduce my full name to a Westerner I’d prefer my dialect name than my HYPY one, which comes with a troublesome ‘Qu’ couplet. Not everyone has an effortless HYPY name like Lee Wei Ming. Some of us have HYPY names that look and sound as complicated as a blockbuster drug with an X, Z and Y in it. Take Zhuo Xue Yan, for example. Anyone unfamilar with HYPY would be wondering if you’re an actual person or some ancient Mexican pyramid.

I doubt non-Chinese have any problems pronouncing Fengshan, Bishan, Yishun or Yuhua though, just like non-Malays can easily enunciate Geylang, Eunos of Pasir Panjang. An example of a HYPY experiment gone wrong was the renaming of Tekka Centre to ZHUJIAO Centre in the eighties, which was then reverted back to Tekka in 2000 as it better reflected the history of the place, and a better tourist draw. Other town-naming fails include the suggestion to change Tiong Bahru to ‘Hong Shan‘ and ‘Bukit Panjang’ to ‘Zhenghua’. Like Zhujiao, ‘Ci Yuan’ is tricky to pronounce considering that in standard English the C takes on an ‘S’ sound in words like ‘cider’ or ‘cistern’, even though it makes references to tapioca and sweet potato planting, according to the CC chairman Koh Hock Seng (Residents to be consulted on new CC’s name, 2 Nov 2013, ST Forum). Hopefully we’ll all get used to the tongue-twisting confusion of HYPY, and before you know it saying ‘Ci Yuan’ will be as easy as ‘Gong Xi Gong Xi’.

 

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NHB using Google Translator for Bras Basah

From article in omy.sg, 15 Sept 2013 and Singapore heritage Society Facebook post

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The direct translation of ‘Bras Basah’ (as in the road) into the Chinese ‘bras’ 胸罩 (as in the undergarment) has made international headlines, no thanks to the gaffe by the folks responsible for the Chinese version of  the NHB website (I have no idea how to access the Chinese version to see if it has been amended). Wrong translation with unintended comical and embarrassing results has happened before, on the STB website and even when applied to the names of prominent ministers.

So I decided to give Google Translate a shot at ‘Bras Basah’, and found that someone must have corrected the algorithm because the end result turned out to be accurate, though the official name in Chinese (pronounced ‘Wulashibasha’) makes absolutely no sense at all.

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But isn’t Bras Basah a MALAY word, you say? So I tried converting it to Chinese from Malay instead. The result I got was 湿黄铜, which means WET BRASS. It should be, literally, 湿米 (shi mi, or wet rice, as I’ll explain later), but that sounds too close to SIMEI. The name warrants further research because it seems ‘bras’ isn’t a Malay word either.

According to Infopedia, the road was listed as ‘Brass Bassa’ in 1835, and hypothesised to be an anglicised form of the Malay ‘Beras Basah’, or ‘wet rice’. Our British rulers probably didn’t like naming roads after soggy food, so decided to ‘jazz’ it up to sound more like a trumpet festival. There were also speculations that ‘basah’ is a bastardisation of ‘bazaar’ and that Bras Basah meant ‘rice market’ (‘Basah’ also sounds like the local Chinese term for ‘wet market’ 巴剎, which itself is derived from the Malay ‘Pasar’). Then there are jokes that the underwear reference came from it being used as an area to hang wet bras to dry. Some visitors, like blogger ‘Jacqkie’ from Malaysia, thinks Bras Basar ‘sounds funny’. Singaporeans, too, found the pun ROTFL-worthy, and came up with lame classics like ‘Where does Dolly Parton buy her bra in Singapore?’ (Answer: Bras Basah)

In fact, it was historically a site of rice trading, where cargo-loads were dried at the banks of Stamford Canal, occasionally made wet by the north-east monsoon, as related by an unknown writer in 1948. In the same article, ‘Tampenis Road’ was cited. I wonder how this would have turned out on Google Translate (it doesn’t translate. Unfortunately). Couldn’t stop sniggering at the puns (not sure if intended or not) in this 1939 piece on how ‘Tampines’ came about. But I digress.

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Our reluctance to restore Bras Basah to its original Malay is partly the reason for the website cock-up, though most of us have refrained from mocking its name by now because that’s just childish. Bras Basah remains generally accepted for historical and sentimental reasons, just like the distorted ‘Tampines’, though the latter is a change that residents of the town are most grateful for.

WHY someone in history decided to drop the last ‘S’ of ‘brass’ and restore the Malay ‘basah’ to its current incarnation remains a juicy mystery. As for WHEN, it could have happened sometime just before 1900, when someone commented on revised spelling on the ‘newly enamelled’ street signs, and that Bras Basah ‘sends the thoughts back to the padi fields in the valley of Fort Canning’. It could have been a lexical compromise of ‘brass’ and the colloquial ‘beras’ (Bras Basah is catchier than Beras Basah), or a colonial prankster working in road administration who wanted to leave a lasting legacy for all the wrong reasons, who had the foresight to recognise that one day mankind will be lazy enough to use technology instead of humans to translate ‘Bras Basah’ into other languages, with hilarious, and tragic, results.

Bidadari new town should be renamed ‘Sunshine estate’

From ‘S’poreans unfazed by Bidadari’s past’, 1 Sept 2013, article by Rachel Tan, Sunday Times

…Once the largest grave site in Singapore, the 18ha Bidadari Cemetery is making way for a new Housing Board town and private estates. However, many young Singaporeans are not aware of its history. From a group of around 20 people in their 20s and 30s that The Sunday Times spoke to, only half knew it was a burial ground.

…Mr Gan Ying Kiat, 30, was looking to move to the Bidadari area with his wife. “I’m not bothered by its cemetery history,” he said. “I’m aware that other housing areas like Bishan were also cemeteries.

…Bidadari – meaning “angel” or “fairy” in Malay – had sections for Muslims, Hindus, Singhalese and Christians but burials ended there in 1972. Towns such as Bishan, Toa Payoh and parts of Bukit Timah were also cemeteries.

…Businesswoman Eunice Tan believes it will take a lot of incentives to entice people to live on a former graveyard. The 60-year-old said: “Frankly, I wouldn’t like to live on such burial grounds unless the prices and amenities are extremely attractive, especially for first-time buyers.”

She even proposed alternative names for the new development – including “Happy Estate” and “Sunshine Estate”.

Ms Sitifazilah Perey had similar sentiments. She wrote on Facebook: “Since there are a significant number of superstitious Singaporeans, it is better to change the name.”

Bishan today is more renown for an elite institution, a congested MRT interchange and an iconic park than a place where dead bodies were left to rot. It’s also known for maisonettes with sky-high prices more terrifying than the ghost stories we used to tell about the last train on the MRT line, or creepy tales about the said prestigious school itself. Not that supernatural urban legends or dug up skeletons will stop people from sending their children to RI, or making Bishan their home (because of wanting to send their children to RI).

Formerly the graveyard known as ‘Pek San Teng’, Bishan was renamed to its Hanyu Pinyin version as part of a $700 million facelift with the original intention of housing ‘LOWER and MIDDLE income groups’. Haunted or not, that didn’t stop ‘superstitious Singaporeans’ from flocking to what was touted as a ‘spanking new’, ‘state of the art HDB‘. Nobody cared if Kampung San Teng used to be a gangster hideout; Bishan was the future then and remains popular now, even if property prices continue to feel like bloody extortion.

Bidadari, a bird naturalist and cyclist haven, looks set to follow in Bishan’s footsteps, yet another relentless drive to turn our hallowed grounds into trendy estates, unabashed urban sacrilege for the sake of progress. History tells us that the government may tweak its name to help people forget about wandering spirits, but one shouldn’t patronise its morbid past by calling it the schmaltzy ‘Sunshine estate’, which sounds more like a retirement hub than an up-and-coming model for sustainable living.

I doubt they would turn a Malay word into Hanyu Pinyin either, because there’s no difference between ‘Bi Da Da Li’ and ‘Bidadari’. My only reservation with the sing-song ‘Bidadari’ is its inconvenient phonetics which encourages tongue-twisters, like ‘Hey Dar, I bid for Bidadari BTO already!’, and that it sounds like a lyric in a 90’s techno song . I have to admit I also typo-ed ‘Bididari’ and ‘Bidadiri’ while writing this post.  Who knows, there may be a competition for such things. How about ‘Vernon’ after the nearby columbarium? ‘Woodley’ as a hybrid of Bartley and Woodleigh (both neighbouring MRT stations)? Or Angelville?

Whatever it’s called, there will be urban legends, legends that our kids will remember more than what Bidadari actually once was.  But it’s not just the ghost of long-haired women in white that we should be worried about, but the ghost of ecological damage coming back to haunt us. Nobody cared about exotic birds or variable squirrels when Bishan was developed, and if voices against environmental holocaust go ignored this time, Bidadari, like Bishan, will within 30 years turn from promising ‘urban oasis’ to a cookie-cutter HDB town with smatterings of sterile, forced greenery where the only link it has with its cemetery past would be how devoid of a soul it is.

Charity for disabled children removing ‘spastic’ from its name

From ‘Charity drops ‘spastic’ in new name’, 16 June 2013, article by Theresa Tan, Sunday Times

The Spastic Children’s Association of Singapore has changed its name to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore. It is the latest charity serving the disabled to re-brand itself with a more politically correct name….Corporate communications manager Melissa Shepherdson told The Sunday Times the change came about after parents’ feedback that the word “spastic” was derogatory. “We want to protect our clients’ dignity,” she said.

It has also applied to the Ministry of Education (MOE) to change the name of its Spastic Children’s Association School to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School.

…The word spastic, used to refer to a person with cerebral palsy, was not laden with negative connotations in the 1950s, when the charity was founded, going by various reports on the word’s definition. But it has since degenerated into an insult used to describe someone as stupid and clumsy.

…As today’s parents are more mindful of politically correct language, many special education schools catering to disabled children have in the past decade coined new names that make no reference to disability, or dropped the word “special”.

Ms June Tham, executive director of Rainbow Centre, said: “Some parents feel that the word ‘special’ is a stigma and gives the impression that the child is abnormal. We know that some parents reject their children or are ashamed of them, and using negative words reinforces their negative feelings.”

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The old logo of the Spastic Children’s Association above features a half naked boy in a heartwrenching pose. Today it looks like a corporate logo for a government agency with what appears to be raised arms of joy. Incidentally, there is another ‘CPAS’ in Singapore which has nothing to do whatsoever with spasticity (or so it seems): The Certified Public Accountant Singapore‘.

‘Spastic’ used to be a derogatory taunt that I encountered only during my secondary school days, and meant general idiotic behaviour. In the US, however, ‘spastic’ refers to clumsiness or ‘over-excitedness’. They even named a Transformer ‘Spastic’, which was pulled from the UK. Somehow ‘blind’ as an insult has gotten away with it. If your boss scolds ‘You must be BLIND’ when you miss out glaring info in a report, you’re not going to sue him for verbal abuse. When he says ‘Your report is bloody SPASTIC’, on the other hand, you might have a case against him. Even the word ‘special’ is no longer as ‘feel-good’ as it once was, as the phrase ‘special treatment’ would tell you.

UK ad circa 1977

UK spastic association ad circa 1977

Other name changes for the sake of political correctness mentioned in the article include the dropping of ‘Autism’ from Singapore Autism School to ‘EDEN school’ and ‘Singapore School for the Visually Handicapped’ into ‘Lighthouse School’ (which to me sounds vaguely ironic, even patronising). ‘Visually Handicapped’ itself is a euphemism for ‘BLIND’, and the SAVH’s timeline of name-changing to appease the public is a classic example of how PC has evolved. In 1951, it started off as the ‘Singapore Association for the Blind’, and morphed into SAVH in 1987. A ‘sub-committee of the Blind (1964)’ turned into the ‘White Cane club (1972)’, which retains its name till this day as a recreational branch of the association. That’s like calling a social group for amputees the ‘Wheelchair Club’. Today’s MINDS (Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore) was once called the Singapore Assocation for RETARDED children (1962).

So it seems that some neurological handicaps are more offensive than others. Cerebral Palsy is fine for now, but it appears that the word ‘Autism’ is still being shunned by some parents. Hence the biblical trope ‘Eden’, which according to the Autism Resource Centre, is inspired by the proverbial Garden where its ‘fruits gave life’.  I’m not sure if naming a special school after a mythic paradise is overdoing it though. The logo of Eden school is a tree with round hanging fruits, one of which I could assume is the forbidden one that tempted and corrupted Adam and Eve into an eternity of sin, which is, one could argue, the ‘life’ given to us today anyway, handicapped or not.

In 2003, PATHLIGHT school (for autistic kids) was launched with assistance from MOE, complete with ‘smiley face logo’ that tells you how ‘joyous’ the place is.  Not to be confused with ‘NORTHLIGHT’ school, which caters to kids who are not mentally disabled, but are poor academic performers (or ‘slow learners’ in the past) There’s still room in this age of uppity PC for the likes of Autism Children’s Centre in Clementi and St Andrew’s Autism School which refrain from flowery names that stray from its cause, but it’s only a matter of time before these get rebranded into shining beacons of hope and aspiration, such that eventually the only way to tell if a school is for ‘special’ kids or not is that its name reads like a gospel and says NOTHING about the illness that its students suffer from.

‘Cerebral Palsy’ doesn’t sound like a term one would abuse in the same way as ‘spastic’, but we once thought the same about ‘autism’, or God forbid, ‘educationally subnormal’. Describing your kid as ‘different’ or ‘special-needs’  may not be socially acceptable to some these days, but apparently changing the name of his school into an extra-special one is. I believe it would be simpler to say that your child has autism or cerebral palsy rather than run rings around euphemisms like ‘special’, ‘different’ and ‘differently abled’, or pray that people know what Pathlight school does without you having to explain that it’s not exactly a school for Christian children or angels from heaven.

Or we could follow Derek Zoolander’s example, naming his dyslexia school as the ‘Derek Zoolander’s Center for Kids who Can’t Read Good’. The Spastic Children’s equivalent could be ‘Center for Kids who Can’t Move Good’.

Silat World champion not winning Sportsman of the Year

From ‘Silat world champ Shakir among those snubbed for sportsman title’, 31 May 2013, article by Goh Jun Yong, St and ‘Puzzling snub to world champ’, 1 June 2013, ST Forum

A world champion, an Olympian, a doubles winner in his sport’s top professional competition and a man who is third in Asia. Yet silat’s Muhammad Shakir Juanda (world champion), sailor Colin Cheng (15th in the men’s Laser class at the London Olympics), table tennis player Gao Ning (ITTF Pro Tour Grand Finals doubles winner), and wushu’s Seet Wee Key (Asian Championships bronze medallist) have been snubbed for the country’s top male athlete award.

It is just the third time since its inception in 1967 that the Singapore Sports Awards (SSA) will not have a Sportsman of the Year. The other two times were in 2009 and 2010. Said Singapore Bowling chief Jessie Phua, who also chairs this year’s SSA: “We acknowledge the athletes for their achievements. However, the bar has been raised and, this year, there just wasn’t a milestone that was significant enough for us to give this award out.

“There are definitions of World Championships that the selection committee does not agree with. You must take a look at how many people and countries are actually participating in the event. We can’t begrudge the athlete for conditions that he or she can’t control but, at the same time, we will not compromise on the standards of the award.”

(Yeo Yujin):…If being a world champion, like silat exponent Muhammad Shakir Juanda, is not significant enough, then what is? Can the selection committee be more transparent about its decision-making process? I agree with assistant sports editor Chia Han Keong’s view that an athlete should not be discriminated against just because his chosen sport is not mainstream or popular enough (“Let’s celebrate, not discriminate”; Wednesday).

At a time when we are trying to encourage our young to take up competitive sports, such an attitude from the committee is disappointing. How can we nurture the young if we don’t give them our support? What is there to strive for if your countrymen don’t think your achievements are worth celebrating?

There was a time when silat could have been the next Muay Thai, but martial arts star Iko Uwais didn’t get as much exposure in mainstream cinema as was hoped. Both Sportman and Sportswoman awards have been handed out generously to athletes in swimming, table tennis, badminton and even ten-pin bowling. Another form of non-Olympic martial arts, wushu, was recognised just ONCE in the Sportsman category courtesy of Goh Qiu Bin in 2006, and he wasn’t even a WORLD champion despite doing well in SEA and Asian competitions. Shakir Juanda beat contestants from UK, Netherlands, what he described as a 89kg RUSSIAN TANK and a 1.9m Vietnamese giant to bring glory to the state. The contest script reads like a Bloodsport movie, yet he was snubbed because according to the SSA judges, it just wasn’t a milestone that was ‘significant’ enough. Have these folks even watched the Karate Kid?

A missed opportunity to celebrate an underrated sport, but this isn’t the first time that Shakir’s achievements were glossed over as a nominee. In 2009, the reason given for the lack of any deserving winner then was that ‘the standard of Singapore sports has GONE UP‘. I wonder if that claim was based on the Beijing Olympic medal success of our table tennis foreign talents the year before. If our standard is so high today that we can’t afford to trivialise it by awarding a world champion, why aren’t there more Olympic medals?

It’s not that silat isn’t recognised by the SSA because Sportsboy and Sportsgirls have been crowned for excelling in it the past. Still, Shakir isn’t the only silat sportsMAN who has been deprived of the coveted title. Sheik Alau’ddin, triple Gold medal winner at the SEA games, did not win this as well. Yet, someone like Li Jiawei was given the female equivalent of the award FIVE YEARS in a row (2002-2006), and last reported to be going back to China, probably bringing all 5 trophies with her.

This isn’t the first time that winner selection, or the lack of, has stirred controversy. In 1970, a sports fan complained to Timesport about Henry Tan, second best bowler in the WORLD, losing out to C Kunalan (who won in 1969 and 1970), whom he called a ‘has-been’. Henry later went on to win the same title the very next year (1971) and again in 1976. So if Shakir keeps up the good work and we complain enough, next year may JUST be his year, provided we wake up from this pipe dream of table tennis being the eternal poster-child of Singapore sports.

There’s also a glaring omission from the Sportsman list of winners. You have the legendary likes of Ang Peng Siong, Benedict Tan and C Kunalan, but not the one legend who put Singapore on the world sporting map. Although the SSA formalised the award only in 1967, the title existed since 1961, which nominated individuals from CRICKET and even MOTOR RACING. This ignored individual has been ranked the No 2 GREATEST Singaporean athlete of all time (1999), and the only individual to ever win a silver Olympic medal, yet was NEVER officially awarded a ‘Sportsman of the Year’ (despite being namechecked by a journalist as the Sportsman of 1958)

His name? Tan Howe Liang.

Singapore Shiok ad makes Caucasian look like a schmuck

From ‘Singapore Shiok, or just silly?’, 28 April 2013, article by Nicholas Yong, Sunday Times

First, Singapore was marketed as uniquely itself as a tourist destination. Then, it became yours. Now, it is “shiok” too. The Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) latest marketing video on YouTube revolves around the Singlish expression – derived from the Malay word “syok”, which means nice – for extreme pleasure. Cold ice kacang on a hot day? Shiok. The adrenaline rush of sky-diving? Shiok! Being massaged at a posh spa? Shhh…iok.

…In the Singapore video, a Caucasian man struggling to pronounce “shiok” – defined helpfully on screen as “a Singaporean expression denoting extreme pleasure or the highest quality” – opens the clip. When he finally succeeds, his Singaporean friends applaud him…Branding expert Tim Clark, a Briton in his 60s, thinks “using the local language to help visitors to connect with a country is a good thing”.

…Professor Gemma Calvert, a British professor at NTU’s Institute for Asian Consumer Studies, agrees with Mr Clark that the video makes the featured foreigner struggling to pronounce “shiok” look “a bit of a shmuck“. She says: “The phrase isn’t particularly difficult to pronounce and therefore may come across as slightly patronising to outsiders. As a Caucasian myself, I admit I cringed to some extent at the representation portrayed by this particular individual.”

…Creative director Hanson Ho, in his 30s, of H55 studio also notes: “‘Shiok’ is sometimes expressed somewhat artificially in certain scenes, making it seem quite unnatural.” For instance, having a little boy whisper “shiok” at the sight of zoo animals at the Night Safari seemed to be stretching it a little.

…Lawyer Samantha Ong, 31, wonders if the video could have varied its local vocabulary a little. “There’s a serious overuse of the word ‘shiok’ that’s kind of cheesy and annoying,” she says of the yelled, purred and breathed incarnations in the video.

“Aren’t there other ‘uniquely Singapore’ words or ways to express pleasure, such as ‘sedap’ or ‘ho chiak’ (delicious in Malay and Hokkien)?”

Shiok

By attempting to globalise the word and sell it to visitors, ‘Shiok’ has become as problematic as ‘Lah': Both also ‘ANYHOW use one’. If a kid exclaimed to me that watching animals in a zoo is ‘shiok!’ I would instantly correct him that he should have used the more generic ‘Wahh’ instead. I may even tolerate the Americanised ‘Awesome’ or ‘Whoa!’. Other scenes where the use of shiok is exaggerated and unnatural include Singaporeans showing off their shopping haul, ‘shioking’ at a club, or marvelling at the LV island in MBS. A simple ‘Wow’ or ‘Niiice’ wouldn’t stick as well, but these poor examples of shiok are as misplaced as getting locals to yell ‘Yahoo’ or ‘Yippee’ while exhibiting ‘extreme pleasure’, though ‘yahoo’ is something I often say in my head with an imaginary fist-pump whenever I manage to board an MRT train during peak hour.

Singaporeans also tend to be bad teachers of their own beloved lingo. When UK boyband The Wanted popped by to perform, fans cheered when they said ‘Singaporean girls are SHIOK’. Totally wrong and even demeaning in today’s context, but the fans don’t care, and this mistake will be perpetuated to every celebrity the world over, who’ll pepper their concerts with forced Singlish like ‘You’re such a SHIOK audience, LAH’. Ugh.

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When singer Demi Lovato was in town, DJ Divian Nair decided to teach her how to use shiok (like ‘awesome’) as a warm-up during an interview, with the superstar obliging with ‘I’m feeling shiok right now’. Lucky Divian. Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine says Singapore is ‘like, TOTALLY SHIOK’. Neither of these Caucasians has difficulty pronouncing the word, which is like replacing the C in Coke with Sh- (unless you want to be picky and insist that there should be a ‘-yee-ok’ sound). We seem to have an obsession with trying to get foreigners to speak Singlish with the same sadistic enthusiasm as teasing a kitten with a laser pointer. It may well be pride on our part to promote Singlish, but it does make a sporting goon out of non-Singaporeans when they mutilate it, be it shiok, lah or ‘Ho-Say’.

The worst abuse of shiok, however, comes from our Board of Censors. In 1999, when they found the use of ‘Shagged’ in the movie title Austin Powers:The Spy who Shagged Me objectionable, they proposed to replace the offensive word to the verb-form ‘SHIOKED’, as in The Spy who SHIOKED me, which would suggest to those unfamiliar with Singlish that shiok is a euphemism for the F-word. Thanks to our authorities, IMDB now thinks that shioked means ‘to be treated nicely’. If they had really pulled the title edit off, this ad, with the zoo kid whispering a potentially foul word into Daddy’s ear, wouldn’t exist. Max George from the Wanted would have said: ‘I’m here to Shiok some Singapore Girls’. To some cheers still.

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Yet, it’s not so simple defining when exactly shiok should be used. It’s like trying to teach someone when to use ‘lah’, ‘leh’ and ‘lor’. We have been known to use it in various contexts outside of food from which I believe it originally evolved (Humorist Paik Choo described ‘shiok’ mee rebus in a 1979 ST article). Enjoying rainy weather, lying on a hard cold floor on a blistering hot day or even sprawling out on a king-size bed in a hotel room may qualify as ‘shiok’ activities today. It’s often an interjection ejaculated reflexively, like the opposite of ‘Ouch’, and preceded by a period of anticipation or suffering, specific to a relatively quick, pleasurable stimulus. Nobody goes to a club and yells ‘SHIOK’ while dancing, nor experiences shiok-ness after staring at a fancy floating building for minutes. A massage after a long day? Shiok. A hot bath after a marathon? Lagi shiok! But saying ‘Singapore is SHIOK’? GET LOST LAH.

My First Skool’s spelling is cruel and nonsensical

From ‘Teach kids proper spelling from young’, 11 March 2013, ST Forum

(Estella Young):…A renewed interest in proper English might push pre-schools and childcare centres with misspelled names to reconsider their policy. Names like “Twinkle Kidz Kindergarten”, “Kidz Playhouz”, “Jenius Kindergarten” and NTUC’s “My First Skool” are not modern or cute. They are an eyesore.

Reifying common spelling errors only imposes an adult’s definition of creativity upon a young child already struggling to learn the basic rules of his world – ranging from social behaviour to grammar to mathematics.

Teaching him that his school’s name must be spelled “skool” is as cruel and nonsensical as telling him that red is blue, or that one plus one is four. Such a child would have a nasty shock when he enters primary school and discovers quickly that correct spelling does matter.

In 2009, NTUC childcare rebranded itself as ‘My First Skool’, explaining the deliberate typo as reflective of its philosophy of ‘encouraging children to be creative’ and ‘not penalising them when they make spelling mistakes’. That’s over-explaining it. I think it’s just simple marketing in an attempt to make pre-school sound, well, ‘kewl’. Critics bash the Skool for confusing small children and setting a bad example, but this ‘skool’ trend was started way back in 1994, by another brand known as ‘The Little Skool-house’. Well that explains our generation’s horrible shorthand spelling on Whatsapp and Facebook then; It’s because our educators told us it’s OK to spell something the way it sounds, u know, like dis. Wadever.

Purists argue that distinguishing variations in spelling to deliver tone or ‘style’ wouldn’t work for kids, who need to develop the fundamentals in the language before they start listening to rap music and get traumatised when they find out that ‘dog’ can be spelt ‘dawg’. Some work, while others, like the writer complained, are indeed an eyesore. ‘Kidz’, for example, has a zany exuberance to it, and is the ‘fun’ plural you’ll find on children’s TV, camps or breakfast cereal. ‘Playhouz’, on the other hand, sounds like Nazi kindergarten where they serve booze instead of milk and cookies, while ‘Jenius’ is the kind of slangy abomination that bimbos type on their status updates, as in: ‘Einstine is such a Jenius!’ I guess the people at Jenius have good reason could deny that they mis-spelled ‘Genius’ on purpose. I mean, who would have the ballz to give themselves that sort of pressure? J is also not a ‘hipper’ G. Joat, Jorilla, Jirlz all look jod-awful.

People who frown on ‘skool’ are also likely to take offence at neologisms like ‘skratch’, ‘rox’, ‘luv/lurve’, ‘teenie-weenie’, ‘midnite’ and argue over ‘hurray’ and ‘hooray’, yet are unable to account for the numerous ‘errors’ that abound in the same literature text that they hug to sleep with. Even if one did drill into kids that Skool should be ‘sCHool’, they will have to find out the hard way that the ‘CH’ sound is different in ‘chair’ vs ‘choir’ vs ‘chaise lounge longue’. English itself is exasperating in its usage, as explained in a 2009 piece by ST’s Janadas Devan, who revealed that the old ‘school’ used to be spelt as ‘scole, skule, skoole, skoll, scolle, scoile, scwle, schoule and scool’. Skoole, in particular, sounds like a nursery for pirates. If there’s anything that’s ‘cruel and nonsensical’, it’s not just the people at First Skool screwing up the language and hence the way we spell for the rest of our lives, but the creators and contributors to a confusing universal language themselves. Blast you, ye ole swill-sippin’ dandy scallywags!

Besides, which kid would want to go to the grave sounding ‘My First SCHOOL’ anyway. It’s like celebrating puberty with ‘My First Period’.

Nursing a low skilled job hard to offshore

From ‘ DPM Teo issues correction to Footnote in Population White Paper’, 8 Feb 2013, article in Today online

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean today issued a corrigendum to the Population White Paper in Parliament to delete a segment of a footnote that classified nursing as a low-skilled job. Mr Teo said, in the Notice of Corrigendum, that he intends to delete the part of Footnote 12 on Page 40 of the White Paper, which said: “Certain low-skilled jobs like personal services, retail, and nursing are hard to offshore. They will still be needed even as the economy upgrades.”

“This classification of low-skilled jobs is not correct. I would like to apologise to those whose professions have been unintentionally misrepresented,” said Mr Teo. He said he was alerted to the matter by “our friends in the nursing profession and unions”.

Adding that he has the “greatest respect” for the nursing profession, the DPM said it is a “noble and caring profession, which all of us and our loved ones depend on and appreciate”.

A ‘corrigendum’ is a fancy term for a ‘correction’, as in ‘Notice of Correction’ according to the White Paper website. It’s the kind of word you use to lessen the impact of a terrible mistake in Scripture, like saying that God made the world in 5 days instead of 6, although it sounds like an unused part of the large intestine. Having a longer word to substitute ‘error’ doesn’t make it any less heinous. It’s like the Emeritus of ‘sorry’.

The footnote now reads: ‘….slower growth in low skilled (e.g caring and cleaning) jobs’. I’m not sure if that was adequately ‘corrigendummed’. Anyone in the business of ‘caring and cleaning’, like a social worker in a hospice for example, would resent being labelled as ‘low skilled’. ‘Skill’ traditionally refers to how one performs a task with his hands. If we still lived in villages, the resident blacksmith would have been among the most ‘skilled’ of the lot. Today, a manager could be described as ‘highly skilled’ without having the slightest clue of how to forward or bcc emails. The difference is that one bangs a hammer to create fine artisan craft. The other bangs tables and chairs to frighten people into doing his bidding.

Changing diapers as social workers/babysitters/caregivers do for a living seems like an example of a proper skill to me, but perhaps all this boils down to a fundamental problem of semantics. We have low-skilled, unskilled and semi-skilled workers, a form of categorisation which replaced the blue-white collar distinction. How have the various scales of skill been defined, if at all? Am I unskilled if my ONLY task is to load and unload wheelbarrows with bricks and move them from one place to another? What if I’m a doorman at a really posh hotel whose only job is to open and close doors for guests? And why protest over nursing only, what about ‘retail’ and this ambiguous ‘PERSONAL SERVICES’? Is this a euphemism for PROSTITUTION? Patrons of sex workers would argue that some of their ‘service providers’ are more ‘skilled’ than their own wives.

And since when did OFFSHORE become a verb? Is this appropriate language for a Population policy paper, or was it edited by a business guru? Are we sending our low skilled workers to the Maldives? As expected, there were no names listed as to who authored or edited the White Paper, just a list of anonymous scribes from various ministries and government bodies who contributed to its publication under the ‘Acknowledgements’ page (like the Bible, perhaps). Among them was the Ministry of Manpower, who could be behind the footnote fiasco being the authority on labour. I wonder what level of skilled workers they got to write this rubbish.

But I don’t want to speculate. Corrigendums seem like hard work. I may have to OFFSHORE my corrective actions to another party.

Kallang literally means ‘colder’ in Chinese

From ‘Keep it in English or all four languages’, 7 Dec 2012, ST Forum, and ‘Chinese tourists need Mandarin station names’, 3 Dec 2012, Voices, Today.

(Kimberly Lim): I BECAME aware of the Mandarin in-train MRT service announcements on Monday. I have reservations against this for two reasons. First, it gives the impression that Mandarin takes precedent over the other official languages.

Second, the translation appears to have been a hasty job. For example, “Kallang” is translated literally to mean “colder”. Translating the name to one that sounds similar to a station’s English name would make it easier for commuters to identify the stations, but it would risk ridicule among Mandarin-speaking foreigners.

SMRT should make such announcements in English only or use all four official languages.

(Elaine Luo): …Recently, two Chinese tourists asked me for directions to “Duo mei ge” station, referring to Dhoby Ghaut MRT station. When I said that they must take a train to City Hall MRT station and transfer to the North-South line, they gave me a blank look.

I did not know at the time how to translate “City Hall” into Mandarin. Granted, they could have used the brochures and asked for directions using the station numbers instead, but they were tourists trying to navigate their way around a new place. They probably thought that Chinese-Singaporeans would be able to assist them with the translation. However, we in Singapore are so accustomed to using English that many of us do not see the need to know the station names in another language.

I believe that most Indonesian tourists here, even if they have difficulty understanding English, are probably better able to read and pronounce the station names, as Bahasa and English use the same alphabet. This is not the case for the Chinese language. English and Mandarin words are dissimilar and translating the words may be more of a necessity.

Chinese station names have been confusing and tickling Chinese-speaking Singaporeans for years, although they were intended to aid the elderly according to a recent SMRT explanation. Commuters in the past have complained that the translations never made sense, whether it’s Somerset’s ‘Rope Beauty Stuffing’, Buona Vista’s meaningless and hyper-syllabic phonetic translation, or the confusion between Woodlands and Woodleigh. But even without additional languages, the selection of English names alone can be bewildering to many.

Take Farrer Road and Farrer Park. I was once asked by a stranger if the Circle Line went to Farrer Road, and had to double-check because at the back of my mind I knew there was a Farrer PARK served by NEL. So even if I had bothered to memorise every station name in Chinese, chances are I could have still sent a tourist on a wild goose chase. Imagine if I had to recall what Farrer Park was in Chinese, differentiate it from the other Farrer station, before giving the right answer. If a Chinese tourist asked me if I knew how to get to ‘Hai Jun Bu’ (Admiralty), I’d give a blank stare too, and wonder what someone from China would want with our Navy headquarters.

Thank God I’d only need to describe the Circle Line as ‘Orange Line’, rather than ‘Yuan Quan (圆圈) Line’ (some would argue it’s not even in a loop). Then again, even SMRT can mess up the colour coding sometimes. First conceived in the eighties, colour coding was meant for the ‘less-educated’. Today, if SMRT went ahead to approve the use of all 4 official languages, they may apply to EVERYONE. Also, you’d have people complaining about announcements being too noisy, or zealous Good Samaritans accusing SMRT of not doing enough for the deaf, blind, colour-blind, dyslexics or people inflicted with a neurological disease where they can only read words backwards and not forwards.

It took SMRT more than 20 years to decide on Mandarin station announcements. In 1985, the MRT Corporation was blasted by the public for using only English station signs. Four years later, there were calls to include Mandarin announcements to ‘familiarise commuters with station names in Mandarin’, as well as cater to China and Taiwan tourists. 20 years would have been more than enough time to figure out if Mandarin announcements were really necessary, whether the elderly prefer to say ‘Buona Vista’ instead of the mouthful ‘Bo Na Wei Si Da’. And yet, critics today continue to hound SMRT despite them responding to customer feedback from the eighties, some arguing that it’s unfair to single out Chinese among the other languages, others ranting about the pandering to PRCs, or those suddenly realising that some of the Chinese translations are nonsensical when they have been there all along.

Sure you can’t please everyone, but at least attempt to convince us that spending money on voiceovers actually  makes a difference rather than tarring the elderly and uneducated with the same brush. Just don’t let this be another excuse for ‘fare adjustments’.  Wait, they have the China worker strikes for that already.

‘Pledge’ documentary dubbing lost in translation

From ‘Channel 8 documentary on Singapore’s history to be redubbed’, 3 Aug 2012, article by Walter Sim, ST

An hour-long documentary on the history of Singapore containing at least 10 translation gaffes will be re-edited and retelevised on Monday, Aug 6, Mediacorp has said….The Day I Said The Pledge, which aired in Mandarin on Channel 8 last Sunday, July 29, contained errors in the names of Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and the late Mr S. Rajaratnam, who was deputy prime minister from 1980 to 1985.

…Mr Paul Chan, the vice-president of channel branding and promotions for Mediacorp Channel 8 and Channel U, said the translation was outsourced to an external company which has done dubbing and subtitling for regional and international channels. He said: “It is unfortunate that the delivery of the Mandarin dubbing was not up to standard, and we regret that certain inaccuracies were overlooked.”

In the original broadcast, since removed from video site Catch-Up TV by xinmsn, Singapore Mandarin turns of phrase for “public housing” (zheng fu zu wu) and “secondary school” (zhong xue) were replaced by terms used in Taiwan or mainland China, namely guo zhai and guo zhong respectively.

Didn’t anyone in Mediacorp check before releasing the programme to the masses, especially one as austere as the history of the Pledge, and during the National Day festivities too? Comic relief aside, inaccurate translation can also be an embarrassment when it confers a completely different meaning to the subject matter, sometimes with painfully ironic, even tragic, consequences. But any attempt to dub one language with another will always face resistance from purists. Fans of Hong Kong classic serials like Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre objected to the dubbing over of Cantonese with Mandarin in the late seventies. Now a thing of interest only to media historians, the Dubbing Unit was first formed in 1978, when Mediacorp was then known as RTS. We had local professionals then performing what always has been an unenviable task of taking the ‘flavour’ out of dialects. Today if you tell anyone that you work as a ‘dubber’, you would get no less than a blank, awkward stare and the general impression that you are in the business of rubbing lubricants.

But it’s not just the television industry that gets ‘lost in translation’. In 2002, the Singapore Tourism Board, in promoting Chinese versions of tourist guidebooks, turned the Hungry Ghost Festival into HUNGARY Ghost festival, and London ‘cabs’ were ‘horse-drawn carriages’. In fact, Hungary Ghost is a double mistake, the first is the genuine human error of misreading ‘hungry’ for the country, and second is not realising that there’s no such thing as a Hungary Ghost Festival (well at least not in Singapore). The Chinese Garden became the ‘Garden of China’, and River Hong Bao became ‘red packet’ of the Singapore river.Things were taken a bit too literally and churned out hastily without any use of common sense syntax at all. A free online ‘Sino-centric’ translator would do no worse than a hired goof.

Earlier this year, STB succumbed to lazy translation yet again, referring to the Chinese New Year as ‘CHINA New Year’ and Chinatown as ‘Tang Ren Jie’, or ‘Chinese street’, in their website.  Therein lies the problem of outsourcing translation services to people who don’t bother to do their local research, or are sneakily dependent on Google Translate, passing it off as the work of a thinking human professional when they’re really cheating. But it’s not just statutory boards who rely on translation software without proofreading. The Malaysian Mindef blamed Google Translate for publishing blooper text such as ‘clothes that poke eye’ on its staff dress code webpage, which in Malay means ‘revealing clothes’. If no one had tweeted about the cock-up the site would have continued to read like the crazy English bits on a restaurant menu in Guangzhou. It even included the bizarre phrase ‘collared shirts and TIGHT MALAY CIVET BERBUTANG THREE‘, and this is the ARMY you’re talking about here, not bushmen. Husband and wife’s lung slice, anyone?

So just how well does Google Translate fare in converting English to Chinese then? I ran a test and this is what I got:

Teo Chee Hean – 张志贤 (sounds right)

Rajaratnam – 拉贾拉特南 (sounds right)

Chinatown – 唐人街 (wrong)

Secondary School – 中学 (correct)

Hungry Ghost Festival – 中元节 (correct). Shame on you, human!

Conclusion: Save the money. Might as well Google translate.

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