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What Singaporean Parents Say vs What They Mean

1. Bring a jacket. It’s going to be cold

Used when: Anytime and every time.

Loosely translated: Bring a jacket, or else.

It’s usually sweltering hot in Singapore – the kind of heat that could cook an egg if you cracked it on the pavement. (I exaggerate, but you know what I mean) That doesn’t seem to stop our parents from determinedly layering us with jackets and sweaters every time we’re headed out.

Going to the cinema? Bring a jacket.

Going to the mall? Bring a jacket.

Going to school? Bring a jacket.

Going to East Coast Park? Okay, have fun! No wait, bring a jacket just in case.

Asian parents aren’t the best in openly showing affection - sputtering ‘I love you’ usually does nothing but raise goose bumps while making them choke a little.

Asian parents take a more subtle way in showing affection, like nagging at us to eat more during dinner or to bring a jacket everywhere we go.

It’s no surprise if we head to school with a heavier-than-usual backpack, only to find a jacket stuffed and hidden, or if we get dropped off by parents only to hear them shouting for us with car honks while a line up of cars impatiently wait behind as we run as fast as our legs can take us back to the car to retrieve the jacket we left behind.

And God forbid we ever feel cold outside when we don’t have a jacket on hand. Plus points if our parents reminded us to bring one. Bonus points if they’re with us when we so much as utter the sentence ‘It’s cold’. The air goes still and the animals flee - it’s a sign of impending doom.

I’m 23 years old and when I’m out and it gets cold, I can still hear my grandma’s voice in my head saying, ‘冷死了’ (Read: Freeze to death)

2. You were picked up from the dustbin

Used when: We ask where we came from

Loosely translated: Don’t make things awkward. Stop asking.

C’mon, we all wanted to know where babies came from. And parents have gotten so creative with their explanations:

1. The birds and the bees

2. The stork delivery

3. When Daddy loves mummy...

Asian parents have taken it a step further:

Where’d you come from? Dustbin. I picked you up. We wanted to return you but it was too late by then.

Bet it gave some of you high hopes that maybe your real parents were of royalty.

3. If you don’t behave yourself, the Karang Guni man will come and take you away.

Used when: A threat is needed for children to stop misbehaving.

Loosely translated: I’m so close to slipping some alcohol in your milk and knocking you out. ( Note: extremely loosely translated)

My parents never used this on me but I’ve heard relatives and strangers use it on their children so many times.

The Karang Guni man ( Read: Rag and Bone Man) drives by estates every once in a while. You’d know when he was passing by because you’d hear the noisy engine of an old lorry accompanied by honks. Sort of like, grumble grumble beep beep grumble grumble. (Obviously, I’m not the best in describing sounds.) Helpers who had stuff to get rid of would usually run out of the house to flag the Karang Guni man down. He’d take in and pay you for almost anything from newspapers to computers. Sounds fantastic, right?

So I never understood that threat. Hell, if the rag and bone man took me to his place, I’d be so happy because I’d get to play with all the weird stuff he’s bringing back as part of his day’s haul.

But other kids, wow, you should see how wide their eyes open and how quiet they get after the Karang Guni man threat is issued.

4. I’m going to go home and use the cane.

Used when: Parents are mad. Abort mission.

Loosely translated: Somebody is going to have a swell of a time later on.

If you didn’t grow up with a cane, you didn’t grow up with Asian parents.

There were also other forms of punishments:

1. Kneeling on an abacus set (ouch)

2. Staring at the wall for an hour

3. Standing in the dark storeroom

The cane also came in different forms:

1. Back scratcher ( My parents loved this one)

2. Feather duster

3. Rattan cane

4. Ruler

5. The palm of their hands

6. Chopsticks

Asian parents love using the cane so much that we actually have some games for this.

1. Hide and Seek: Cane edition.

It’s about how creative we can get with hiding all the canes in the house, and how good our parents are at searching for them.

2. Guess the number – Underwear edition

This one involves putting on a multiple layers of underwear each time we’re about to get caned, and how good our parents are at spotting our swell our buttocks already look and how many layers we can get on without raising suspicion.

3. Guinness World Record – Crying to gain sympathy

This one’s all about how pathetic we can look in front of our cane-wielding parents and tugging at their heartstrings so that hopefully, they’d let us off with just a warning.

4. Catching – Cane edition

It’s all about our fitness levels in this one. 10 rounds about the dinner table, 3 tours of the entire house – upstairs and downstairs – and sometimes with a little bit of hiding in the storeroom or under the bed.

So if our parents managed to find the cane (Game 1) and grab a hold on us (Game 4) while exposing the many layers of underwear (Game 2) all the while remaining steadfast in their mission of caning us despite our pathetic crying (Game 3), then I guess they can cane us.

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