Western Names in an Eastern Country

One of the things I’ve always found curious about Singapore is that there are lots of ethnically Chinese people that have Western names.  When I first found out about the Western style names I assumed that ethnic Chinese in Singapore had simply started using Western first names in place of Chinese first (or given) names, followed by their surname (ex: John Goh, Michelle Tan, Jimmy Lim, etc).

So, I was a bit confused when I found out that in Singapore, ethnic Chinese have a full Chinese name, but at some point choose an English name to use in addition to their Chinese name.  It sounded a bit silly to me at first, like a bunch of kids at a sleep over picking fake names to role-play with, but I’ve found a few reasons as to why it may be done.

The practice is very common in modern China.  The people there tend to choose an English first name for a variety of reasons.  They might do it because they frequently have to do business with foreigners, and an English name is easier for them to pronounce and remember.  They might do it as a way of expressing social status.  Some do in fact choose an English name that embodies their dream or ambitions for the future.  In China, it is believed that your name will affect your destiny.  This practice has carried over to Hong Kong and Singapore.

I’m just making a guess here but I think the reason that Western names are so popular in Singapore among ethnic Chinese has to do with business reasons.  Singapore is constantly maneuvering and positioning itself as a business hub, and more recently a technology and media hub, for this region of the world.  As such it does quite a bit of communicating with foreign investors and main branches of MNCs that have set up regional offices here.  So, for the sake of simplicity in regards to carrying out that business, I think people here choose English names to use in place of their Chinese names when in the work place.

If someone knows more about it than I do, please enlighten me in the comment section as I’d really love to know!

Also, I think it’s an interesting opportunity to be able to give yourself a name.  In Western countries we’re given the only name we’ll ever have by our parents at birth.  There is a way to legally change your name in the US, but who really does that?  You risk insulting your family if you do.  Sometimes our parents give us names that are really outdated, are in poor taste, or just make you say “WTF?”.  Having the opportunity to choose your own name, based on your own hopes and interests is great!

(Image from Posh Little Baby Names)

Amigos; Western Food

When I moved to Asia I knew I was going to be giving up a few things. One of those things was easy access to cow meat. Singapore doesn’t have much in the way of cheap beef, or reasonably priced steaks. Or, so I thought.

During my first visit to Singapore in March of 2008 I saw that a typical diet here consists of mostly chicken, pork, or fish and rice or noodles with a small portion of some green leafy vegetable. Soups containing those ingredients are also popular. That’s pretty much all I’ve eaten for the last year as well. Not that I’m complaining! A lot of those dishes are delicious! But, I had a craving for something a bit more solid than that, and the last time I had a good amount of beef was on my birthday in the Philippines in March of this year. Even then it wasn’t a steak dinner as most Americans would envision it.

I had resigned myself to the belief that I would only have a good steak dinner when I was back in the US, so I wasn’t actively looking around for good deals. I didn’t want to break my budget to get something I can easily do without.

When my wife and I first agreed to rent our current place in Pasir Ris, the agent that located the property for us gave us a short tour of the area. Well, actually we went on an hour long walk around a good portion of the neighborhood but it was so exciting that we hardly noticed the distance we covered until we looked at it on a map later.

During this walk, we passed a small shop that was part of a hawker area. It’s called ‘Amigos; Western Food’ and doesn’t have a very impressive exterior, but the agent went into detail about how good the food they serve is. I smiled and nodded, but I wasn’t really convinced, and wasn’t in any hurry to try it. A few days ago I had an interesting conversation with a guy from Egypt, who also had nothing but good things to say about the place.

Last night, my wife and I finally got around to checking it out. Good thing the place is open late, because we didn’t make it over there until about 1am! I think we were the only customers there. We took a look at the menu, and I was surprised to see that there was a steak available for only 13.90, so I ordered it. My wife got a plate of lamb chops, which was also reasonably priced at about 9 dollars or so. Still, it was cheap, so I wasn’t expecting much. I certainly wasn’t expecting something that looked better than the picture on the menu. That’s sort of a joke, where what you order rarely looks as tasty as the picture. This time, the opposite was true, and we were more than pleasantly surprised to find such great looking dishes at a hawker stall.

The lamb chops.

The steak.

So, I suppose the real question is, how did it taste? That was the second surprise. The stuff was better than great! It was fantastic! In anticipation of a potential fail whale, we asked for Tabasco sauce, but we wound up not needing it. As you can see from the pictures above, both dishes came with a sauce. Each had a distinct taste that seemed appropriate to the meat. The potato wedges were also fantastic and the veggies used for the small salad were crisp and fresh. As for the meat, it was tender and had just the right amount of fat on it. My steak was a little undercooked, but it had been so long since I’d had a good steak dinner, and it tasted so good, that I didn’t care. I gobbled the whole thing down, then cleared the rest of the plate, and was very satisfied. My wife and I traded bites of lamb for steak, and her lamb was just as good.

If anyone’s looking for a reasonably priced place to get a great steak or set of lamb chops, this is definitely the place to go!