Two unrelated stories to share here. One from Cynthia. One from me.
What is seat chopping? For those who live in Singapore, we all know what this means. For my overseas readers, no, we don’t literally chop seats here. We simply don’t chop anything in Singapore. Not even the trees. We move or relocate the trees along the highway when we have the need to add an extra lane or two.
So what does “chop” mean in Singapore? To be honest, I am not born and bred here. The word’s origin to me is fuzzy. I interpret the word or verb quote-unquote chop as “occupy or obtain ahead of one’s need while denying others of the resource or opportunity”. A clumsy interpretation I admit. But by now you should how clumsy I can be with words.
Monday afternoon, Cynthia met with her Indonesian girl friend from Bali and they have not met each other for more than a decade. Under a hot sun, they walked from point A to point B. The sun was so hot that it gave Cynthia a headache till the evening, as she recounted her afternoon story to me inside our car. I do not know where point A was. But point B was a food court at Tanjong Pagar, a location Cynthia seldom roams. Lunch time near the city center, we know how crowded the eateries can be. So while Cynthia queued up for food, her friend carrying tons of shopping bags was tasked to look for a table.
Cynthia’s friend has found a table in a nice and quiet area. As Cynthia placed the food onto the table, she noticed a package of tissue paper as well as a fold up newspaper. Too late to do anything now. In Singapore, white collar workers often “chop” the seats with packets of tissue paper put onto the empty seats or tables. After a seat is confirmed or reserved, they head out to look for food, queue up for food. Personally, I do not do that, unless I am with a group of seat choppers. I do not do that because by the time I look for food, queue up for food, get my food, one or two persons could have benefited from the seat. Especially so for some of the more crowded eateries like Amoy Street Food Court. The flip side is, by the time I get my food, I would be faced with a sea of tissue paper and empty seats reserved by the seat choppers.
Not long after Cynthia and her friend started eating their meal, a Singaporean woman came by the table taking back the package of tissue paper and the newspaper. And she said, “Did you know that these seats are chop? Are you new here?” Cynthia was about to leave the table while her friend was reluctant to do likewise, imagine having to carry her shopping bags and her meal. Cynthia’s friend replied with her Indonesian accent …
“No, I do not know. I am from Indonesia.” And she signaled to Cynthia and continued, “And she is not from Tanjong Pagar.”
Cynthia is not from Tanjong Pagar?!
I was laughing in tears when I heard Cynthia’s friend’s reply. And so was she.
The Singaporean woman – friendly as it seemed – said, “It’s OK. We have found another table. Just to let you know, this is the culture here [in Singapore].”
Singapore culture? Really?
PS. I have nothing against seat choppers. Just so to let you know that I am still your friend.
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Monday morning, my sister dropped me a message in Facebook asking me to check out her comment on one of my blog entries. Lora had a phone conversation with our mom in Hong Kong. She ended the message with: It is quite funny and I hope you won’t faint.
Rewind to a week or so ago, my mom called me on my home phone. And she acted quite strange, repeatedly commenting on how expensive my lenses are. She even threw in some numbers and I was shocked that she knew the price of camera gears. The numbers did not seem right but I was not thinking much. In fact, I confess that I was not 100% with the phone call. I am a lousy person to have a meaningful phone conversation with. My attention simply drifts before the first minute is up.
So I replied, “Well, these are quality lenses and the photographs look great, no?” And my mother went on and on about how rich I have become.
Over the weekend, my mom called my sister and said, “You brother has bought a lens for S$20,000!” I can imagine my sister was as shocked as I would have been had I pay attention to what my mom had said over the phone. In my defence, my sister mentioned that it is not possible to spend that kind of money on camera gears. My mom insisted that she has read it in my website, together with dad as the witness.
Uh-oh. My parents are reading what I write here? How? They do not read English!
Apparently, technology is so advance these days that websites can be translated into another language on the fly. But not so advance to accurately translate the meaning of I wish I have that bazooka lens that costs S$20,000. This gives ‘lost in translation’ a whole new meaning. If I have that kind of money to blow, my photograph of the moon would certainly look better than this.