Uncle, one ‘shoe-tie’ tea please
Culture shock in a foreign country? I got it just from hanging out with a bunch of Americans
The boyfriend’s flatmate from New York has been in town for the past three weeks, and I’m starting to think that my grand plan of showing him around Singaporean-style might not work out so well after all.
When we heard that Brandon was going to be posted here for work for a couple of months, the boyfriend and I - being the massive foodies we are - made a long list of places and dishes we decided he had to try in his time here. And just for the sake of being well-rounded hosts, we threw in a few token tourist attractions we had to take him to as well - like the Merlion and Geylang.
Unfortunately on Brandon’s very first night here, we ended up at a bar in Holland Village celebrating his arrival with pitchers of beer, countless glasses of gin and tonic, and baskets of chicken wings. So much for the 24-hour wanton mee stall we had initially planned on taking him to.
Our subsequent attempts at playing local host were foiled again when Brandon got food poisoning and was violently sick after eating from a hawker stall near his workplace. Our conversation on determining the cause of his ailment went something like this:
Me: “What did you eat?!”
Brandon: “I don’t know. I asked for chicken and rice but the lady didn’t speak English. So I pointed at what looked like chicken and vegetables and the auntie just dumped it on my plate. Half the time I’ve been here, I don’t know what I’m eating. I just put it into my mouth and if it tastes alright, I just keep going.”
After I recovered from laughing so hard, I was overcome by shock, horror and felt mildly insulted. Who would ever declare anything other than love for our cheap and tasty hawker food!
Because we’re such a westernised nation, I sometimes forget that despite everything else, we’re still Asian after all, and very different from the real ang mohs.
Another conversation I had with one of Brandon’s colleagues, Ben, went something like this:
Ben: “What does ‘shoe-tie’ mean over here?”
Me: [paused to wrack my brain on which Chinese phrases sounded like shoe-tie]
Ben: “You know, like when you order your tea.”
Me: “Oh! You mean siu dai! As in teh-c siu dai! It means less sugar in dialect.”
Ben: “Oh, and all this time I thought the tea I was drinking was called ‘shoe-tie’ tea.”
Thankfully, after almost a month of working here, Brandon seems to have adapted quite nicely to our local cuisine, meaning he eats whatever we order. He tells us his favourites so far include hokkien mee, sambal stingray ('I didn’t know you could eat stingray!' he exclaimed on his first try), and orh luak.
Now wait until we get him to try some durian.
Disclaimer: The writer understands that this does not represent all Americans, as she knows a fair share of them who enjoy their Din Tai Fung as much as their Boon Tong Kee.