Lee Kuan Yew, in his wisdom, abolished Chinese schools in Singapore a long time ago and turned Nanyang University which was then a Chinese university into the NTU of today where English is the primary medium of instruction. He quite rightly reasoned that English, the world's common language, would be of greater benefit to the people of Singapore than that silly Northern Chinese dialect which is not even the language of Singaporeans. People of Chinese descent form the majority of Singaporeans but all these Chinese people had ancestors who came from South China where Mandarin was considered a foreign tongue until that unfortunate day when the Commies took over China and forced this Northern dialect on every China citizen.
Although Singapore has 4 official languages, English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil, English is the ONLY real official language. Road signs are in English and official letters from the Government are all in English. English is the language of the courts and this can sometimes be amusing. It's not uncommon for the courts to scramble for a Hokkien interpreter because a witness can only speak Hokkien even though counsel for both sides and the judge all understand Hokkien perfectly. It can be hilarious when the interpreter makes a mistake in the translation and the judge has to ask him to translate again, this time, more carefully because everyone in the courtroom knows what the witness is saying in Hokkien. But the courts can only record evidence in English. Given the primacy of English in Singapore, one would naturally assume that Singaporeans should speak and write it like native users of the language. But the reality is quite different.
My pet peeve, as readers of my blog are no doubt aware, is the national newspaper, the Straits Times. On many occasions, instead of being the champion of good English, its journalists have flagrantly flouted every imaginable grammar rule. Sometimes, they use the strangest unidiomatic expressions and they stray as far as they can from standard English. Lately, news readers who can't even manage a decent pronunciation appear on the air and online.
It is not surprising then that after my prata breakfast in Little India this morning, I found this sign in a supermarket that is sure to confuse anyone. But since I have talked about my prata breakfast, it would be wrong of me not to post at least a pic of the most delicious prata in the whole of Singapore. I have travelled far and wide and this prata is the tastiest I have ever eaten but alas, it's sold in a rather inelegant eatery and the food is not attractively presented and so, this pic of the prata soaked in curry won't do justice to its real taste which is heavenly. But I don't care about externals. As they say, the proof of the prata is in the eating.
The sign in the supermarket was placed where the alcoholic beverages were and it read "FIRST PAYMENT AFTER DRINKING". My first thought was this was an instalment scheme to lure customers to drink first and pay later. You must understand that this supermarket is not exactly in the more elegant part of town and there may very well be customers who are attracted by such an offer.
There was another sign in Malay:
"Pembayaran pertama selepas minum". It means precisely the same thing as the English sign. You need only make the first payment (not even the full payment) after you have drunk the alcohol.
There was another sign in Tamil which I couldn't read. Finally, there was this notice which again was very badly written but at least the meaning is now clear.
All this confusion could have been avoided if the supermarket had merely posted a sign that said "PAY BEFORE DRINKING" and in Malay, "BAYAR SEBELUM MINUM".