I have apparently been inducted into a mysterious, shadowy organization. Many of its members have accessed something equally enigmatic: their CPF funds.
The name of the organisation? Sorry, the first rule of the Brotherhood of Ah Peks and the Sisterhood of Aunties is that you don’t talk about – *cough cough*.
Girl, ask you ah…
A gregarious auntie sat down next to me when I was midway through my bowl of fish noodles and began telling me about her life, her best friend’s work woes, her son … and her pet rabbit.
Me: Auntie, I also have rabbit. White colour one. Like to eat banana.
Rabbit Auntie: Wah! Your rabbit so clever know how to eat banana ah?
Me: Yah. He everything also eat. But we don’t give him fruits every time, later get too fat. He ah pui already.
Rabbit Auntie: Orh. Mine clever to eat apple. He eat very fast one!
Rabbit Auntie always greets me with a giggle and invariably says, “Wah! Eat already!” Maybe it’s just me, but it’s nice to receive such enthusiastic affirmation for the simple act of finishing my food. A few days ago, Rabbit Auntie shuffled over to my table during lunch, looking uncharacteristically serious.
Rabbit Auntie: Girl, can help me? My son buy for me new phone, I dunno how to off the torchlight.
Me: (in my head) OH NO A NOKIA ARGH HOW DO I WORK THIS THING HELP HELP HELP
Me: (out loud) Can, auntie. Wait ah, I see the menu …
(Frantic scrolling through an interface I last used a decade ago)
An embarrassing three minutes later, I finally located the dratted torchlight in the menu. If Rabbit Auntie thought I was semi-intelligent before, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t now.
Then there is Laksa Uncle, purveyor of mee pok and laksa. He is my buddy because anyone who is generous with cockles in laksa and lard chunks in mee pok is automatically my friend.
Laksa Uncle: Miss, ask you ah, this one how come cannot play?
(Shows me his phone screen displaying Candy Crush levels)
Me: Uncle, this one locked. Must ask your friends send you the … uh… things to unlock, then can play the level.
Laksa Uncle: Orhhhh. (pause) You got play this game anot? Can send me the thing to unlock?
Me: Sorry uncle, I don’t play this game. I like fighting games.
Laksa Uncle: Aiyah wasted.
Say What, Uncle?
I’ve observed some endearing and surreal moments involving uncles and aunties. Like the group of five or six uncles who sip teh and kopi for over an hour in complete silence, except for an enormous transistor radio blaring hits from the 60s. Or the group of aunties and uncles I spotted playing ukuleles and singing at a kopitiam. (I can’t be 100% sure, but I don’t think Tan Cheng Bock was there.) Their conversations aren’t always the standard fare about the Gahmen shafting us plebs: I once heard a group of ah peks discussing Fox News and the Uber service here.
Sometimes they tell me their secrets – completely unsolicited and often awkward. A taxi driver once told me about the challenges of maintain his mistress. He then gave me the historical context of how concubines and multiple wives were status symbols in China, and added that Singapore was way too expensive to maintain a wife and a mistress. As you can imagine, I’m now a gold medallist in smiling and nodding politely.
Perhaps the elderly denizens of Singapore are friendly to me because I do things that are damn ah pek. Most mornings, I have boiled eggs and teh peng siu dai. Sometimes, I do this while reading the newspaper and shaking my head at the news. I have even caught myself muttering “Aiyah. This one cannot,” grumpily while inspecting fish at the supermarket.
Is there an Uncle/Auntie sensor that automatically grants you membership into the organization once you hit a certain number of incidences of age-inappropriate behaviour? Ah-Pek-O-Matic? Insta-Auntie?
My interactions with uncles and aunties have unearthed a few realizations:
Singaporeans are a lot more kuku than you think.
Inclusivity is one of the most awesome things about this country.
Aunties and uncles really like talking to me. I have no idea why.
A blur student disguise (spectacles, no makeup, jeans and a tee, slightly lost expression) will inexplicably endear you to aunties and uncles in Singapore.
The stereotype of Singaporeans being aloof and unfriendly isn’t necessarily true. Sometimes, you just have to take the first step with something as simple as a smile and eye contact.
Dear aunties and uncles of Singapore, please keep being kuku and friendly. And please keep me in your mysterious organization although I’m a few decades too young to qualify.