Talking Cock

By Celeste Chia

As one of the organisers of the inaugural Talking Cock event, an informal session where locals would teach exchange students some basic Singlish phrases, my central concern was that nobody knew about the event. Even if they did, the sign-up rate would be dismal. We exhausted many channels of publicity. Jared, my ‘boss’, indicated to cater for 20-30 people in total. We had only 3 confirmed Singaporean volunteers then, and about 6 confirmed exchange students.

Time passed weirdly for me on Tuesday as the clock ticked closer to 8pm. I heaved a sigh of relief when the first exchange student walked into Master’s Common, 5 minutes early. At 8pm, only 3 exchange students were inside, staring expectantly at me. “Let’s wait for the rest to come,” I told them nervously, at around 8.05pm. We contemplated storming into the dining hall and dragging some exchange students up, caveman style. But slowly, more people started streaming in, completely meeting our projections.

A good turnout!

A good turnout!

Hou Cheng kickstarted the event as a brilliant emcee, and after some quick introductions to Singlish we broke the exchange students up into small groups, assigning them to locals who would facilitate their learning of Singlish, aided by a small booklet. The energy level in the room went off the charts, as everyone quickly warmed up to each other and started talking excitedly about the new phrases they wanted to learn off the booklet. I observed the atmosphere for a while, making sure everything ran smoothly, feeling  like a proud mother hen. Afterwards, I took 2 Indonesian students under my wing and had a great time introducing the common Singlish phrases. The best part of teaching was seeing their eyes light up as they go, “Oh, so THAT’s what it means!”

Afterwards, we brought in Singaporean hawker favourites purchased by Simon and Jared into the lounge, including popiah, chicken rice, char kway teow and carrot cake. Hou Cheng insisted that each exchange student could only try one dish if they practised ordering hawker food in Singlish from him. After a few brave souls attempted the conversation, the rules just broke and everyone rushed to the table to have a bite of hawker food. The sounds of their approval were music to our ears, as we spotted some people going for seconds and thirds for their favourite dish.

Sampling hawker food

Sampling Singaporean hawker delights

Then came the highlight of the day, when durian was brought into the lounge and we urged everyone to eat it. “I’ve already tried it, and I didn’t like it!” was the most common protest, but we all know how durians are an acquired taste. Unsurprisingly, more than 50% of them who tried it that night for the second or third time were pleasantly surprised by their receptiveness to the taste. “It’s sweet in a bitter way,” a Latvian commented.

Trying durian for the first time

Trying durian for the first time

The exchange students mingled with the locals over food, and the energy levels in the lounge went up again as different groups chatted excitedly in their small groups. After the official dismissal, many still stayed back to continue and create new conversations. A lovely Filipino even came up to me to congratulate me on the success of the event, reiterating how much she had enjoyed herself.

At times, I can be the worst worrier. After the event, feeling utterly exhausted, me and Chen Yun took a walk to Cheers to grab a quick supper. She asked a somewhat rhetorical question, “Do you feel satisfied after having organised a successful event?” “No,” I replied. “I just feel really relieved.”