An Auntie’s warning
to the Singaporean Chinese girl who can’t speak her mother tongue:
你吃马铃薯长大的啊? ／you jiak kantang growing up ah?
You don’t know this saying? You jialat la.
Because only Angmohs eat potatoes, Asians eat rice.
ஐயோ/ 哎哟/ aiyo, cannot tahan you leh, you always ponteng class isit?
Or you think English more atas? Next time go work, you confirm kena.
I think you better just popi to God that you marry a sibei rich guy and be a taitai.
Glossary and Notes
‘你吃马铃薯长大的啊? ／you jiak kantang growing up ah?:
Did you grow up eating potatoes?
(Some people say this phrase in Chinese, some mix other language as in the second variation.
Jiak is Hokkien for eat
Kantang is both a Hokkien and Malay word for potatoes.)
You jialat la: You’re going to be in for it.
(Jialat is both a Hokkien and Teochew word for ‘draining strength’, which translates to ‘you’re going to be in trouble or you’re in a terrible situation.’
La is a Singlish word that’s used a lot at the end of sentences.)
Angmohs: a Hokkien word for Caucasians
ஐயோ/ 哎哟/ aiyo, cannot tahan you leh, you always ponteng class isit?: Aiyo, I can’t stand you, did you skip class all the time?
(Aiyo is a Tamil word which has been absorbed into the Singlish vernacular, where it is used interchangeably with the Chinese aiya, both of which translate to ‘Oh no’ or ‘Oh dear.’
Tahan is a Malay word that means you can’t stand or bear something/someone.
Ponteng is a Malay word used for skipping (class or work).)
Atas: A Malay word that literally means ‘above’. It’s commonly used for describing sophisticated or upper-class people.
Kena: a Malay word that means ‘suffer’.
Popi: a Hokkien word for ‘pray’.
Sibei: a Teochew word for ‘very’.
Taitai: a Chinese colloquial term for a wealthy married woman who does not work.
Rachel Toh is a Creative Writing and English Literature undergraduate from the University of Melbourne who has learned to revel in her identity as female and Singaporean-Chinese since moving to Melbourne.