The lingua franca in Singapore is Singlish, a complex soup with a base of British English (because Singapore was a British colony until 1965). Add to that the oral spices of Malay, Tamil, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi. Yummy.

So here's a quick vocabulary lesson of some of the things we're learning. Some words are Singlish, others are just local colloquialisms.

Air Con: Air conditioning, of course. But where we in the South would say "AC," they say Air Con.

can: Can is a Singlish word that means "yes, I can", or "I will", or expresses agreement in some way. Replace every "yeah" and "sure" in your vocabulary with "can" and you've got it.

Coffeeshop: Coffeeshops are not just shops where they sell coffee. I know, confusing. Coffeeshops are the name for the mini neighborhood hawker centres. Usually the owner owns and runs the drink stall which will, in fact, have coffee, soft drinks, juice, beer, and usually sells breakfast toast and eggs. The owner then leases out the rest of the food stalls.

The one closest to us has maybe 10 food stalls (Indian, veggie, chicken rice, seafood, etc.) and a drink stall. You order your food at a stall, pay them, and then find a seat in the open seating area that has two big TVs. Just like the larger Hawker Centres, employees bus tables when you're done. Our local coffeeshop has patrons 24 hours a day. In the morning, families and businessmen are eating breakfast (kaya toast, coffee, soft boiled eggs) and late at night people are having a late night supper or enjoying beers from the drink stall while they watch the local soccer game. The food stalls close around 10 or so, but the beer and soccer guys are there even later.

A stall at a Hawker Centre or Coffeeshop

Hawker Centre: Instead of street food in Singapore, vendors are clustered into open-air complexes called Hawker Centres. There's picnic table seating in the center, and small stalls surround the perimeter. Stalls are usually somewhat specialized focusing on fresh juice, a particular noodle dish, or a dessert. The older complexes are huge and you can always tell the best stalls by the long line. All of the Centres are managed by the National Environment Agency in Singapore and each individual stall is subject to health inspection and gets a rating that they post in the stall.

HDB: Housing Developement Board. The Housing Development Board in Singapore manages most of the nation's housing by building clusters of high rises. Individuals own the apartments, but the government owns the buildings, or blocks. The complexes are called HDBs, and the apartments are HDB apartments. We are looking to rent an HDB apartment.

An HDB Complex

lah: means nothing at all as far as I can tell, but you add it to the end of every word or phrase. The Singlish Dictionary says that it expresses emphasis. If so, these are emphatic people lah!

MRT: The Subway system. It's incredibly clean, efficient, and cool. There are four lines that service a good chunk of the island, and they are actively expanding one of the lines now.

Thousands of dollars: This isn't a vocabulary thing exactly; here they use the same "point" convention we reserve for a quantity of millions for thousands. For example, $4,200 would be said "4.2K" whereas we would probably say "forty two hundred." It's funny that rent on a place is "1.6" or "2.1" and that doesn't mean a mansion.