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In the ongoing series, Conversations with Singaporeans, I relay some of my more entertaining exchanges with the locals.  For some more useful Singlish phrases, please visit:

Sunny afternoon, in a taxi, passing beneath colorful street decorations in Little India:

Uncle Cab Driver: Oh you see these decorations?  For Indian holiday Diwali.

Me: Are you sure?  I think Diwali was in October.  Maybe they’re for Chinese New Year?

Uncle:  Ohhh nooooo lah.  This where India live.  No Chinese!  Chinese live back there. Gestures wildly to the west. Pauses. You say Diwali October? Maybe not taking decorations down.

Me: No, I don’t think these were here last week.

Uncle: Ohhh really? Pause. Ohhh you right.  This is actually, new Indian holiday!

Me: Becoming skeptical. Oh yeah?  Which one?

Uncle: Cannot remember name.  Is the holiday where you walk on the hot fire charcoal.

Me: Getting excited. Ooh walking on hot coals!  That sounds really neat!

Uncle: Ohhh nooo lah!  Cannot!  You burn feet cannot walk for months!  You cannot pay me one THOUSAND dollars to do this.  Ohhh nooo tsk tsk tsk…

Me: I don’t know Uncle, one thousand dollars is a lot of money.  I think I might do it for one thousand dollars.  What about two thousand?  Would you do it for two thousand dollars?

Uncle: Aiyah! CanNOT! get one thousand dollar then pay one million dollar in hospital.  In bed five months!  CanNOT lah!

Me: Well, if all the Indians do it, it can’t be so bad.

Uncle: Oh this because I forget – you have to be vegetarian one month before you walk on charcoal.

MeSkepticism resurfacing. You have to do what?

Uncle:  Cannot eat meat one whole month.  Otherwise your sistahs and children not get blessings.

Me: Clearly disappointed. What? Wait, if you eat meat your sister won’t get a blessing when you walk on burning coals a month later?

Uncle: Proudly. Correct!

Further investigation reveals that the decorations were for Pongal, the South Indian harvest festival that includes such customs as: setting yellow pumpkin flowers in cow-dung balls, chasing running cattle, and covering your bulls with shining metal caps.  No burning coals.

Foiled again.  Kiersten 0, Taxi Drivers 2.

January 2010
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