Monthly Archives: July 2011

#28 Chinese dinners

If you’re a true-blue Singaporean, you should already know by now that the names Hua Ting, Mong Hing and Majestic are not the names of reputed fortune tellers or underground street gangs, but instead refer to the Chinese restaurants that your Singaporean parents often frequent.

Chinese dinners pretty much encompass everything Singaporean parents love to do – force feeding, fighting over the bill, sharing embarrassing childhood stories, ninja boasting…the list goes on.

The first rule of Chinese dinners is to always finish the food on your plate (which, for some funny reason, is that same white plate that you get at Chinese restaurants all over the world).

The second rule is to avoid eating the last piece of siew yoke/salted egg prawn/suckling pig, unless someone (usually your affable auntie who always has something nice to say like, “Aiyoooooh! Eat the last piece lah. Eat! Eat! So skinny.”) explicitly tells you to take it, or plops it onto your plate.

The last (and perhaps most important) rule is to eat fast, because if you don’t, you’re going to lose out on all the good stuff. Trust me – if you’re the slowpoke of the family, it is likely that you will be left with the yucky, unappealing bits of roasted chicken/steamed garoupa.

Chinese dinners are not a time to have a leisurely chat over a relaxed meal. Chinese dinners are all about being chop chop fast (as my Singaporean Dad would say). In other words, you snooze you lose.

If you’re celebrating your birthday at an old school Chinese restaurant, you can count on having a birthday song straight out of the 80’s played on your behalf (and probably on a cassette too). Holla if you’ve ever had to sit through two minutes of “祝你生日快乐… Happy biiirthday to yoooooou!” sung by a chorus of children over the restaurant’s PA system.

One time, we were at my aunt’s birthday dinner at this ancient Teochew restaurant, and they played the classic Chinese Restaurant birthday song but after the third chorus, it totally picked up a techno beat. It was really catchy, until the song started to trip and one of the waitresses shouted at someone at the back to cut the music. Who needs singing waiters from Olive Garden when you can get your birthday song played over the freaking PA system?

You haven’t lived until you’ve sat through at least one of these birthday songs. My Singaporean Mom loves to sing and clap along, while my Singaporean Dad prefers to look disapprovingly at the festivities and mutter something about “singing nonsense” and “just cut the cake chop chop let’s go”.


#27 Being Kancheong

If you don’t already know, the term kancheong refers to the act of always being  in a rush or in a nervous/uptight state. Whether it is studying for an exam one year in advance (O Levels *cough*) or booking Chinese New Year travel plans months in advance, Singaporeans are not unfamiliar with being kancheong.


The term kancheong spider (KCS) can also be used to refer to  a person who is always in a state of kancheong-ness. Case in point: My Singaporean Mom and Dad. My parents are excellent examples of kancheong spiders. In fact, if the term kancheong spider were in the Oxford dictionary, it would probably be right next to a photo of my Singaporean Mom and Dad leaving for the airport five hours before the scheduled departure time (“Don’t blame me if you miss the flight ok!”). One time while we were in San Francisco waiting for our ride to the airport, my Singaporean Dad took it upon himself to shut off the electricity and Internet at 6pm….when our ride was only scheduled to come pick us up at 9pm. Did we sit in the dark for three hours while twiddling our thumbs? Or did we idle our time away and feel sorry for ourselves? No! We took action! Made a difference! Were the change that we wanted to see!

Or in other words, we just plugged the TV back in and continued watching Glee…until my Singaporean Dad found out and made us move all the luggages out onto the porch.

A word of advice to those who have kancheong spider parents? Never look like you’re relaxing. (Also, never tell them to relax. One time I told my Singaporean Dad to take a chill pill and he was all like, “Chill pill? CHILL PILL? If you miss your flight, DO YOU STILL WANT TO TAKE A CHILL PILL HAR????”).

If your KCS parents spot you loafing around while they’re running around with ants in their pants, you can be sure that they’ll force you to get off your butt to do something productive. Like carry all 12 luggages up two flights of stairs.

How exactly do you avoid this unwanted attention, you may ask. It’s simple, really –  all you have to do is act busy (but you didn’t hear it from me). A fail-proof tactic is the ol’ “I’m looking through the tax statements!” act because all you need to do is have some important-looking papers on hand, and pretend to read through them whenever your KCS parents are hovering around. For an added bonus, whip out a highlighter or a ring file so you can pretend to do some filing.

Another clever tactic is the one where you hide in the bathroom with your laptop. Plus, I don’t know if it’s just a Tan family thing, but nobody ever disturbs you when you’re In The Toilet, because around here, it’s almost like a sacred ritual. Can you move this table to the next room? What? Oh you’re pooping? Ok nevermind, I’ll ask your sister who isn’t doing something important.

Anyway, the key is to remain low on the radar by staying out of sight until your KCS parents have maxed out their kancheongness for the day. Trust me, if your KCS parents spot you lying on the couch watching Youtube while they’re in one of their kancheong moods, you can be sure that they’ll be all, “Enough TV lah! Cut off the Internet then you know. Go and move all the luggages into car! And cover all the beds with a sheet so they won’t get dusty when we’re away. And bring me my Milo. With some chocolate-covered biscotti.”

If you get trapped into doing some physically exerting task, your best bet is to plan an escape route and then nonchalantly back out of the danger zone while your KCS parents are distracted. If you’re a ninja like me, you could probably make your escape unnoticed and unscathed. The secret is to keep saying “Mmhmm” and nodding your head while aforementioned KCS parents are talking to each other, then wait for them to get distracted before slipping out quickly and quietly. Be warned that this is a highly risky task though – the time frame is tight and the consequences are high (if you get caught, your KCS parents will probably make you do twice as much work). Only attempt this is you’re a true professional.