January, 2015 Monthly archive


Tell us, Zinkie, how Singaporean are you? Do you use tissue paper packets to chope seats at the hawker centre, or have you queued for Hello Kitty plush toys at McDonald’s?

Based on your two tests, I probably don’t pass lah, but I think I am very Singaporean because I eat, think, breathe and speak like one, and I am self-confessed sibei kiasu with my photography.

While working on this project, I also realised that many people have the misconception that only ah bengs or ah lians or army boys use Singlish. But hey, wrong lor! The whole Singapore does!

What’s your favourite Singlish catchphrase?

Bo-xi-kan and jin-bo-eng (busy, no time)!

From your previous projects, such as Meet the Candi-dates (which documented people playing Candy Crush, 2013) and Republic of Pulau Semakau (about people and trash, 2012), you seem obsessed with social habits. Why?

I am interested in sociological habits and identities that seem to be mundane or banal. Most of my observations come from personal ‘complaints’ or ‘bitching’. (Very Singaporelang hor?) For instance, it can be what I dislike, or what I find wacky. I don’t need to photograph superstars or heroes to make a statement or to make ‘good work’.

What Singaporelang habits do you find the most interesting? And what do you find most disturbing?

Consumption plus hoarding. These two themes are intertwined and can appear overtly or subtly. I see them in myself as well! I am hoping to remix them into something visual.

There are a lot of Singlish phrases in Singapore. How did you select the ones presented in this book? Was there a vote among friends, or did you simply tikam and decide?

This is an ongoing project and I have selected my best (so far) 15 images for I picked the Singlish phrases that I wanted to photograph based on a long list from books, comics and online dictionaries. Then I spoke to ah gongs and ah mahs, professionals, uncles and aunties, people from different races in Singapore, and also young children in primary schools..

Which is one phrase you want to shoot, but weren’t able to include in this book?

Tio Stomp’! For me, the more classic the term, the harder it is to illustrate.

What is the best and worst thing you have heard about your photos?

Best: They really capture a slice of life and in a roundabout way, I make a social statement that hits the viewer at the end of my series.

Worst: Some people have said my works are exaggerated and contrived. I think exaggeration is needed because Singlish is never used in a subtle way. Also, some friends say my photographs are outrageous colour-bombs. But I like that!

Who are your photography heroes?

I am very influenced by street photographers, especially those who have stories in their images, but I would rather not name them.

Complete this sentence: “In 10 years, I hope Singapore will be …”

sibei tok kong but give discount on cost of living.

Is Singlish a behaviour or just a language?

To me, it is a happening way of life.

Give us an example of a funny Singlish exchange you were part of, that left bystanding foreigners looking totally ‘catch no ball’.

I was trying to explain the pronunciation and meaning of piah (to strive hard) to a Thai friend. Ironically it sounded so downbeat and unsure that it didn’t encapsulate the spirit of the term at all! We had a wacky time trying to add emotion to the word.

Do you think the authorities will ever regret trying to discourage Singaporeans from using Singlish?

I don’t think it is a matter of whether the authorities have a say. To me language is about the people on the streets who use it. As language historian Anne Curzan puts it, “there is no objective dictionary out there that is the final arbitrator of what words mean … if a community of speakers is using a word and knows what it means, it’s real.”

It is really a question of attitudes – are we bothered by the question of language change, or do we find it fun, interesting and creative? We are asked to make new music, art … so how about new words?

Given that after going through years of Speak Good English campaigns, we Singaporelangs still stick with Singlish, it probably means that Singlish has withstood the test of time. We just use English and Singlish for different contexts.


The portrait of Zinkie Aw was drawn by Flee Circus; and Leonard Goh, who will anchor all the interviews in this series, is a co-founder of Platform.

To purchase a copy of Singaporelang – What the Singlish? by Zinkie Aw, please visit:

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Zinkie Aw |zɪŋkɪ aʊ| [zeen-key ahow]
noun. Singaporean photographer NRIC S85XXXXXX born in 1985. Female. Has an obsession with ‘trashy portraits’. Has photographed trend stories about the Psy-nomenon (Once Upon A Gangnam Style, 2012) and Candy Crush (Meet the Candi-Dates, 2013). Also tells Home Store-ies (2014) through photographs of storerooms in Singapore. Her observations revolve around issues of identity, urban consumption, trends and the environment.

Zinkie’s photos have been published in the Sunday Times (UK), Kult Magazine, Catalog (Singapore), Straits Times (Singapore), Weekend Weekly (Hong Kong) and《 L a V i e . 漂 亮 》 (Taiwan). Her work has also been featured online news at Invisible Photographer Asia, designboom, PetaPixel and PSFK. She has exhibited in the Singapore International Photography Festival (2014), Milan Image Art & Design Fair (2014), Px3 Prix de la Photographie Paris exhibition (2013) and Galeri Petronas in Kuala Lumpur (2013).


The portrait of Zinkie Aw was drawn by Flee Circus; and Leonard Goh, who will anchor all the interviews in this series, is a co-founder of Platform.

To purchase a copy of Singaporelang – What the Singlish? by Zinkie Aw, please visit:

Read More


Singaporelang – What the Singlish?

| sɪŋɡʌpɔ læŋ | [sing-ka-poh-leng]
● noun. Singapore language in shortform. From English.
sɪŋɡʌpɔ laŋ | [sing-ka-poh-lang]
● noun. Singaporeans. From Hokkien.

Welcome to the new Visual Singlish Dictionary!

Whether or not you are sing-ka-poh-lang, I’m very sure you will enjoy my remix on this Singapore slang one.

Sorry I a bit kiasu, but try to follow my instructions, OK?

Step by step, slowly:

    1) Study the images carefully first hor.
    2) Then what you think is the Singlish word for it, go and write in the white space provided.
    3) Finish already take selfie, then post. Of course must hashtag #singaporelang. Wait for what siah? Chop-chop kali pok!
    4) Salah ah? Start again lor. Waliao eh. Like that also must teach ah? Anyhowly lah

Easy, right?

Actually, you can also see this as a form of the famous word-guessing game, Charades. Remember that game or not?

Whether or not you are a native speaker of Singlish, this rendition is confirm-stamp-chop better than Charades lah.

Don’t pretend and act atas lah, you really don’t know what is Singlish meh? It is a rojak or chap chye of English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil and some Chinese dialects lor. Linguistics experts will say, it’s the creole version of English spoken in Singapore.

So I thought, to spoil market, I see whether I can try and illustrate this uniquely Singaporelang thingy into photographs lah.

Swee boh?

As angmohdan says on his website, “Singaporeans are efficient people, and prefer to take less time and words to express themselves.”

Indeed, the brevity of Singlish is what makes it tick. Some say it is chapalang, disorderly or illogical, but Singlish evolved to convey specific feelings or situations that can’t quite be described in standard English language.

No one really ‘owns’ Singlish, and that is why free-style (suka-suka) experimentation led to creative spins on how we modify and use the languages that we speak and hear around us all the time.

In piecing together this visual dictionary, my aim is not to put parameters on the spelling and usage of Singlish, but to provide a reference and to celebrate it. After all, language is ever-evolving. We use it everyday and we should be allowed to attach meaning to each scenario.

Who really decides what words go into a dictionary? Maybe if we tan-gu-gu, Singlish will eventually get validated. But does a dictionary give legitimacy to words?

Halfway through this project, I accepted the fact that my visual dictionary probably CMI but ok mah, because Singlish words have spelling variants, different pronunciations depending on who is speaking it …

The whole point of this is sometimes catch no ball also never mind one. Anyhow hamtam, mata also won’t catch.

I’d say Singlish is just like a swee char bor, pattern zuay zuay – ‘pattern more than badminton’.

At the end of the day hor, the same scene might be shiok to someone, but might be just siao or sot sot to another.

Just like life, right?

Steady lah,
Zinkie Aw

To purchase a copy of Singaporelang – What the Singlish? by Zinkie Aw, please visit:

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Relac One Corner
Edition of three, plus one artist’s proof
S$1200 per print*

* By purchasing a print, you are making a direct and important contribution to the publications of twentyfifteen books. Without your generous support, the financial burden of self-publishing them will be significantly higher for us.

About the print:
– Paper size: 17″ x 22″
– Image size: 13.8″ x 20.8″
– Each print is carefully made with Epson professional printer, using original Epson inks.
– The paper for this edition is Museo Silver Rag, 300gsm.
– You can find out more about the paper specifications for Museo Silver Rag paper here.
– Signed with title, edition number and year, in ink, recto

Singapore shipping:
– Free hand delivery for any Singapore addresses.
– Each print is delivered in top grade Mylar or equivalent.

Overseas shipping:
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– Additional charges to be borne by buyer.
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More info about digital printing in general:
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