Hello people, it’s been a while. I sit here now in my dorm room at CMU, typing my first post as a college student. Those who know me know that I usually only blog in moments of inspiration or sheer boredom, and I would like to clarify that the reason I am typing this entry now is purely due to a love for writing and nothing to do with my being locked out of my dorm room for the past 2 hours after leaving my wallet inside and closing the door.
It has been remarked to me by many people, many times that I do not update this blog often enough. Well here you go, and I hope all of you are happy now. I must admit that I feel somewhat pressured whenever I think about writing here, because for some obscure reason I feel like I’m obligated to keep the size of my post above a certain threshold. But I have now decided that size shouldn’t really matter (Royce: “That’s what she said!”) and with that decision comes a burst of freedom so liberating it feels like a healthy breeze around my-
I have been in the land of the free for what amounts to almost two whole semesters now, and I would say that I’ve gotten into the flow of things rather nicely, with new friends, new experiences, new knowledge and new pillow cases to boot. I’m in a rather listy mood today so I think I shall dedicate the remainder of this post to a list of an-arbitrary-number-that-will-probably-end-up-being-a-nice-round-number-like-10 things I learned in the US.
So here goes.
1) I will go to ridiculous lengths not to get an English name.
Oh I still remember that foolish boy wandering for the first time onto the CMU campus, imagining all the happy introductions he would soon begin as he embarked on his quest for Friendship.
“Hello! My name is Chin Yang,” he would say.
“Hi Chin Yang! My name is Happiness. Let’s be friends!” they would reply
And so with a smile on his face, a song in his heart and the stench of a 2-day unwashed t shirt wafting through the air (my flight got cancelled. Repeatedly.), that innocent young boy walked into his lounge and greeted everyone he saw with childish abandon.
“Hello! My name is Chin Yang!” he would say.
“Hi Cheeya!” they would reply.
This went on for a long, rather depressing while, but I’m happy to say that eventually Cheeya/Chiang/Shinyag decided that all this humiliation and embarrassment was plainly insufficient, and that he should subject himself to even more. Suffice to say that I have now become a master at telling people how to pronounce my name, a perfected and intricate ritual of interpretive dance and miming that has served me in good stead for the last few months. It goes somewhat like this:
“Hi I’m XXX, what’s your name?”
“Hi, I’m Chin.”
And then I point at my chin.
While you bask in the genius of my solution, I feel obligated to point out that as a result I now have several people delighting in calling me Chinny Chin Chin. It all drew to a close one day though, when I took a good long hard look at myself in the mirror and asked myself: “Are you really ok with the name your loving parents gave you being truncated into a single, anatomic syllable? Are you really that easily satisfied?”
2) It is impossible for me to codeswitch.
One thing about having an accent, is that until you start staying in a foreign country you’re never the one with the accent. That’s everybody else. And so I spent my misspent youth laughing along with everyone else at Leng’s and Hiok’s imitation of a US accent during our scout’s activities.
And then I went to the US, and suddenly I was the one speaking in the weird Singaporean accent with unintelligible bits of Singlish slipping into my vocabulary every now and then.The result of which is that unless you’ve known me for a while, my speech to “Huh?” ratio (what I’ve termed “The Huh Ratio”) remains at about 2 huhs for every 5-10 words.
Which is just not fair. I understand the US accent perfectly. Terms like “Legend-wait for it-dary!”, “Awesome!”, “Whatsup Homie” are all perfectly understandable to me due to the constant influx of American TV shows on Singapore cable TV. Just once, just for one single conversation in my 4 years here I would like to go up to an American and hear him say:
“Wah seh! Last night I kenna pangseh buy my khaki for makan. Lucky hor, I got jin dua workload to mug tonight plus got new Phua Chu Kang episode so not that lonely lar.”
But no, it never happens.
And so now that I’m in the US, and finding it impossible to get people to understand me on a regular basis, I’m starting to see the benefits of being able to codeswitch at will. For most people I understand that this is an instinctive thing. You talk to a foreigner, you codeswitch. It’s as simple as that. For some reason though, I do not instinctively codeswitch when faced with a foreign accent. For a while I was reasonably proud of this. “Mindless sheep!” I cackled, as I watched Singaporean friend after Singaporean friend adopt a fake American accent when talking to Americans. Until one day Chuan decided to challenge me to try codeswitching, and I found out to my horror that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to codeswitch, and therefore did not, but that I could not codeswitch at all.
According to Chuan, every single thing I tried saying in an American accent sounded nothing like it. “It sounds like a British accent”, she would say, giving me momentary hope that perhaps I could at least spend the next 4 years entertaining people with sexy British humor, before she cruelly informed me that it didn’t sound British either. A British accent was just the closest thing it sounded like. And after listening to a recording of myself, I have to agree that although that’s indeed the closest thing to a real world accent my mangled attempts at codeswitching still sound like, any hopes of becoming the next James Bond having a convincing British accent will have to be consigned to my ever-growing heap of failed ideas.
And so I have resigned myself to a life of vocal inferiority. It’s not enough that my vocal chords have the singing ability of two fingernails doing the horizontal dance on a rusty chalkboard, but now they have apparently denied me the ability to sound comprehensible to almost all my class mates. Sigh. Oh well, neimind lar. Quay sala sala.
3) If you accidentally leave egg white in your water boiler for a week, it will grow mould and stink to high heaven.
4) Never place a bottle of dishwashing liquid and a bottle of honey on the same shelf, especially if you’re color blind.
When I first came to the US, I swore to myself that I would make use of my new found freedom to cook. And so for the first few weeks I tried a few complicated recipes like Adding Le Boiled Egg to Le Instant Ramen and Throwing-Le-Copiouz-Amountz-Of-Zingapore-Chilli-at-Ze-Special-Chinese-Takeout-Cuizine. My usage of the first recipe came to an unsightly end after a rather sorry kitchen incident (see point number 3), and my usage of the second reciple too came to an end after my carefully hoarded supply of extra hot Chilli gave its last breath in combat with a particularly tasteless bowl of ramen.
And so my cooking adventures gradually whittled down in scale and complexity until finally I reached the peak of culinary college cooking that was Chucking-Every-Damn-Thing-In-The-Microwave-Oven. Eventually I got too lazy for that too, and therefore limited my cooking exploits to making myself a nice warm cup of milo or honey water every now and then.
Now I’m sure none of you elitist, perfectly color visioned (cough px cough queenie cough cough everybody in art class) people out there will understand this, but there are times in a man’s life when he’s so sleep-deprived, mentally exhausted, emotionally wrung out and just plain lacking in cones (but not rods) that dish-washing liquid looks more than a little like honey. And so it was one night that I bounded out of my chair to make myself a cup of honey water, and returned with a nice steaming cup of soap suds.
I would say that on the bright side my cup needed cleaning/at least I didn’t fill it with bleach or something but let’s face it – there is no bright side to drinking soap. After spewing a mouthful of dishwashing liquid all over your worksheets, you’ve pretty much hit the pits right there.
What Honey and Dish-washing liquid look like to a normal person:
What Honey and Dish-washing liquid look like to a color-blind person:
5) When faced with the prospect of doing a 3000 word essay to be handed in tomorrow, and blogging, I will choose to blog instead.
It’s currently 6:26 pm and I have not written a single word of an essay that I was supposed to have started writing at 10 am. Oh well.