Yesterday evening I was at the Esplanade and caught the second half of a free performance at the Esplanade Concourse, “It’s Time for Sayang Sayang” by the Golden Girlz of Katong. It was a charming little skit, with two nonyas (beautifully dressed in their kebayas) teaching a new (but not young) nonya bride about the traditions of the Peranakans.
I missed the section on food but was present when the new bride was learning about the marriage gift exchange practices. These do appear a little complicated. Some gifts, you have to give half back. So if you get 8 oranges, give 4 back. Sometimes you have to give a gift, only to get it back three-fold. And then there is the brandy – which is apparently not for the bride to drink (horrors!) but for her husband-to-be and his male friends in the baba equivalent of a stag night. Some practices are similar to the Chinese customs – the wearing of a black veil to signify sorrow at leaving her family, but with a bright red dot underneath for good luck.
The play was littered throughout with Malay words, slipped into the conversation. “Sayang” is one of these words, a versatile word with multiple meanings. In one context it means “darling”, in another, “caress” or “stroke” and in another, “affection”. Somehow, I use it most often with my cats. Especially when they get a little “manja” – another Malay word which I translate as “being needy” in relation to my little pusses. But looking at the audience, I wonder how many of them are able to understand even the simple phrases used. I was talking one day to a friend of mine, who has lived in Katong all his life, and I let slip a Malay phrase which I then had to translate. Another of my ex-colleagues, who has again stayed in the east coast of Singapore all her life, had never eaten gado-gado (a salad dish with potatoes, egg, cucumber, tempeh, tauhu and a peanut sauce poured on top) or tauhu goreng (tauhu with cucumber, bean sprouts and peanut sauce on top) before. If food-loving Singaporeans aren’t even familiar with the different types of food each community eats, then it’s clear we still need to work on building mutual understanding between the communities here.