Monday, February 01, 2010

Cambodian family shopping in Singapore

Well, I have been back for about a week. Went to see the doctors and the appointment for my day surgery at KK (Kendang Kerbau) Hospital is 22March. KK is a famous hospital among Cambodian doctors because they give training and I have met a few Khmer docs who know Dr so-and-so from KK.

I will be back 23rd Feb to Siem Reap to see my family (Alan and my doggies!) and then 25th to Phnom Penh to meet with a customer. Then back to Singapore around the 8th Mar for a blood test which they need to do prior to the surgery. It's all very hectic and I think it is getting to me. Everyone tells me I look very tired.

Anyway, the other day I was at the bank and then stopped by Plaza Singapura on Orchard Road where the French hypermart ("hypermart" is a giant supermarket or supermart) Carrefour was having a sale. I picked up a CD on building your own website. It cost SGD17 (USD12) - before my Cambodian friends exclaim "so expensive!" - it's genuine lah.

While queueing to pay, a middle-aged man bumped into me. "Somtoh," he said.

I was spacing out as usual and it took me a while to register he was speaking Khmer. The family was Cambodian! I was excited because I have never, ever, met a Cambodian in Singapore in my life there. (There are many Khmers in Singapore now - students usually, but I had never met or known any when I was in school because only recently have Cambodians been able to send their children to school in Singapore. Cambodians have also started winning ASEAN scholarships to study in this country).

So I spoke to the man in Khmer. He was super excited and started chattering away, telling his wife and daughter and friends that I am a Singaporean working in Cambodia. I felt happy he found someone in Singapore who could speak his language.

Meanwhile his wife was trying to buy some red cushion covers; it is approaching Chinese New Year (Feb 14) and everywhere you see red ornaments and household furnishings. Red symbolises prosperity and good fortune in the Chinese culture.

The saleswoman was patiently speaking to the wife in English, putting up her fingers and speaking slowly to her, to indicate the price. I have seen Singaporean saleswomen do this when trying to sell to Indonesian customers. Maybe the saleswoman thought they were Indonesians? I was looking at the family and musing how similar they look to Indonesians, except the rich Indonesians who go on regular shopping sprees to Singapore's Orchard Road dress differently - expensively, dripping with jewellery and make-up. The Cambodian family was casually dressed, in T-shirts and jeans, like many of us Singaporeans when we go shopping. The weather is just too hot lah.

This reminds me of what a Cambodian friend in Cambodia said to me. He was remarking how casually foreigners dress in Cambodia, just T-shirts and sandals. He was amazed to learn we actually dress up back home to go to work. He says when Cambodians travel overseas, they wear their finest, and keep the casual clothes for home. Exactly the opposite! I was explaining for us when we travel we have no one to impress, since nobody knows us and we know nobody. We are just out to relax and have a good time. In the office, on the other hand, we have to make a good impression for business, hence the extra effort.

Anyway, back to the family. Nobody around us understood what we were saying in Khmer, and it felt quite interesting. For a moment I experienced what it must feel like to have a private language. Other people like the cashier were looking at us, I guess trying to figure out what language we were speaking, since the word "Cambodia" was not mentioned; only "Srok Khmer". Haha.

However, the daughter, in her late teens/early 20s, was a surly, arrogant creature. Her upbringing made me wonder what the man and his family did for a living. I did not stay long enough to find out. I really hope they are not one of those corrupt military families out to spend the country's money on a shopping spree in Singapore! We only discussed his impression of Singapore - sa'at ("beautiful", but also "clean", which Singapore certainly is) and what I do in Cambodia. He say "aw-kun" (thank you) when I told him.

I'm off to the library now. Yesterday I bought a Singer sewing machine (SGD199 down from SGD399, because it is a display set) and am going to borrow books on sewing. I love Singapore libraries.


dsowerg said...

Welcome back Diana!!! I still want my Doctor bag!!!!! :)

Diana Saw said...

hey eve+line, your doctor bag flew home yesterday- will pass to you when i see you next! cheers diana


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