by Gwee Li Sui
KNN, The Middle Ground mampus liao? Liao liao? Kua kua-ded? How can liddat? I’m not prepared to see it go yet leh! It’s like hearing that the community cat whose company you’ve enjoyed for years has kena run over by a stupid car. Sibeh sad lor!
Plus The Middle Ground has a special meaning for me. Back in 2015, when unker started giving talks on Singlish – dunno why got people interested, but I still get invites – one day Bertha Henson messaged me. She said that her team wished to do more than news, and she liked me to write a weekly Singlish column.
I thought: Waah, zhun bo? This ST-trained journalist not scared later people complain meh? But Bertha was determined. She asked me to write ten articles first and make them “light and fun”. When she revealed that the column would be called SinGweesh, I was sold.
That was how all the madness started lor. The Middle Ground staff were macam from Middle Earth; they worked like a fellowship. I had to coordinate with si geenas like Daniel Yap, Cheong Yao Ming, Md Suhaile, Abraham Lee… who else ah? It took some weeks before I felt zai and knew clearly what SinGweesh should be doing and what tone would work.
I used the opportunity to experiment with written Singlish and to collected insights from readers. We oso tried gila stuff like getting Abraham to make Singlish sound files. This Abraham’s Singlish is sibeh solid, OK: can malu most Singaporeans one! So just liddat, ten articles became twenty… then thirty… although I knew that I should really end at fifty.
But my most memorable experience was yet to come. It arrived late in May 2016, when I famously kena buak gooyoo by the PM’s Press Secretary for my The New York Times article on Singlish. At that time, I had a handful of articles left to do for The Middle Ground nia.
The controversy made me want to run away from it all. I thought of just suspending my column until further notice because it was sibeh discouraging. Here unker was trying to celebrate Singaporeanness before the world, and the Gahmen and all these buay tahan kay ang mohs must come and hentam me.
But Bertha ketuked some sense into me. She said that we mustn’t behave like some wrong had been done and should stay calm, straighten up, and press on. That I did. In those weeks when people ping-ponged about Singlish’s value in the media, I kept writing, describing Singlish as a language and refusing to let it kena politisai.
To do this, write SinGweesh, is shiok but not easy, OK. I’ve always conceived of it as a limited series where, after a year or more, I would close shop, rest, and then plan my next move. I would decide what to do with all I wrote and, when the time was right again, emerge with a plan to take SinGweesh to the next level.
But –alamak! – I deen expect The Middle Ground to oso close shop lor. Teruk lah. I blame all you bodoh Singaporeans. Good news site dun sarpork, go and read those cockanathan ones that anyhow gasak news, make fake news, write anonymously, or whole day kolaveri. Here got good-hearted people with good energy who sayang talented geena journalists – and you dun give chance. Why you all liddat? Sibeh sian, man.
Featured image from TMG File.
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