As I was walking alongside the fishing pond at Pasir Ris Town Park, the gardener stopped me. “Where are you from? Holland? Uden?”
Now, Uden is a small town a few kilometres from where my father grew up, so he surely had my attention. It somehow puzzles me that he seems to have recognised me as Dutch from miles away.
Now, David, as I have come to know him, is a Singaporean Chinese in his late sixties.
He lived in the Netherlands for about 10 years. He speaks Dutch and is very eager at what may be his only opportunity to use it here in Singapore, and perhaps show off his linguistic skill to colleagues and passers-by.
I pass through Pasir Ris Town Park daily on my way to MRT and run into David perhaps every other week. When I do, it always brightens my day. He’ll ask me “Hoe gaat het?” and “Waar ga je naartoe?” and when time permits, we’ll have a little chat.
I don’t have many opportunities to speak Dutch here in Singapore. Except to my son, but given that he’s just about reaching two years old, you can imagine that it’s a very different kind of conversation. In a way, David is my mirror image. We can reminisce about the Netherlands and compare the two places.
David’s Dutch sounds fresh. I can really have a conversation with him and talk about all kinds of things. and that made me assume that he had returned only recently.
One day, our conversation came to cost of living, and he told me that he felt living in the Netherlands was much more affordable than Singapore. For example, he believed the price of a beer in Holland would be about one guilder. In reality, it’s closer to 2 euros now (4.40 guilders!).
Turns out that David left the Netherlands in the late eighties! I hadn’t reached 10 years old when he last saw the Netherlands. Pretty amazing how he managed to keep his ability to speak Dutch over the past 20 years!
By the way, did you think that it’s possible to take Dutch lessons in Singapore?