Taiwanese Mandarin doesn't help her here
Tan Dawn Wei
Sun, Mar 30, 2008
The Straits Times
MOST men might find Ms Diane Lee a tad intimidating.

Standing at 1.75m tall, the tanned Taiwanese has discernible biceps sculpted from years of yoga, a throaty voice prone to loud chuckling and a candid demeanour devoid of coyness.

Perhaps that's why Singaporean men have stayed away since the singleton moved here in 2005 to start hot yoga studio Bikram Yoga at Raffles City Shopping Centre with her savings.

'I'm pretty tough and strong so unless a guy can be stronger than me...,' said Ms Lee in North American-accented English, her words trailing off into a chuckle.

Besides, she claims to have no time to date.

The former marketing consultant, who moved to Toronto in 1989 and graduated with a mathematics and commerce degree from York University, settled here to be closer to her parents in Taipei and her younger sister, who is a permanent resident here.

She lives in an East Coast apartment with her homemaker sister's family 'so someone can help do my laundry'.

But don't ask her for directions. The 39-year-old says, after 21/2 years here, she is still confused about 'north, south, east and west'. She bought a minivan only last July after converting her Canadian driver's licence.

'Singapore is really easy to settle into. It's a very modern city, very multicultural, very similar to Toronto,' said Ms Lee who enjoys Broadway musicals and the Japanese calligraphy Shodo.

She may also be taking up permanent residency here.

But Singlish took some getting used to, she said. 'At first, I thought Singlish was just about a different accent. Then I realised they chopped all their sentences in half,' she said, laughing.

But even her Mandarin doesn't always get her what she wants.

For her first takeaway meal at a hawker centre, she told a stallkeeper she wanted to 'wai dai', which is the common term for takeaway in Taiwan. The stallkeeper didn't understand her, of course. The Singaporean equivalent, 'da bao', has since become part of her vocabulary.

Ms Lee doesn't read the local Chinese papers either - she occasionally reads The Straits Times - as reading simplified Chinese gives her 'a headache'. Taiwanese go by traditional Chinese characters. That might explain why she forgot to vote in the Taiwanese presidential election two Saturdays ago.

'I'm so clueless about politics,' she said, shaking her head.

'But it doesn't really matter which party you come from as long as you fulfil the people's wishes.'

Her family, however, are staunch pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party supporters as they have been in Taiwan for more than 100 years.

The Kuomintang, whose candidate Ma Ying-jeou won the election, is seen by some Taiwanese as a non-native party whose supporters arrived only after losing to the communists during the Chinese Civil War.

And if you thought Singapore's hawker food would be perfect for MsLee's Taiwanese palate, the self-professed picky eater says local fare is too oily and has too much starch and MSG.

Her meals are often sushi and fruits from the supermarket in the basement of Raffles City.

On what she feels most homesick about, she said: 'Montreal bagels', which she used to enjoy in Toronto. And nothing in Singapore even comes close.

'I don't think they understand what a bagel is. Bagels here are just bread in bagel shape,' she said, laughing again.


One thing about Singapore I wish I'd known before I came here...

If I knew Singapore's air-conditioned interiors were so cold, I wouldn't have given away all my winter clothes. I had to buy a few jumpers here.

From next week, The EX-pat Files will replace this column. Look out for it in the Think section.


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