Growing up in the late 90s, I recall being the use of Singlish being discouraged in school – we were constantly reminded how it would compromise our abilities to speak and write good, proper English. Now, to my delight, Singlish is viewed with less disdain – defenders of Singlish will even tell you that Singlish has language conventions of its own.
As a fan of Singlish (it’s how I recognise fellow Singaporeans when I’m abroad), I was excited to come across Singlish Mamashop, a cosy home-run business which sells a range of Singlish-themed merchandise for all occasions.
Singlish Mamashop is run by “Singlish Mama” Zinkie, a photographer who photographs events and portraits for a living, but also pursues and executes her visual story ideas as personal projects on her website.
In 2015, she embarked on a personal project entitled Singaporelang – What the Singlish?, where she found that the theme of Singlish had an intangible value and quirkiness – befitting of her personality.
“There was rapport and my work connected with audience; I enjoyed the process of engaging the community and visitors to Singapore.”
From this, Zinkie realised she could share Singlish with the world via merchandising – doing so also served as a platform of self-expression for her.
“I’ve always felt that Singlish is fun, a way of life – and bonds people living in Singapore together in an endearing way.”
“I felt that in certain environments, Singlish seems to be overly frowned upon, or ‘repressed’. (But I think) Singlish is approachable, (a) part of life and our celebratory identity.”
As such, the shop name also comes from the Singlish colloquialism, because Zinkie always loved the laid-back, and colloquial, neighbourly vibe of a ‘mamashop.’ To Zinkie, a mamashop is also a familiar, accessible and user-friendly space that she grew up seeing in the HDB environment.
“The term ‘mamak shop’ encapsulates a universe of its own, where many things can be found in a small space. I hope to build my brand to represent all these vibes in the years to come.”
Wares Of The Singlish Mamashop
In the Singlish Mamashop, the range of available products include Singlish stickers, a Visual Singlish dictionary with postcard and stickers, double-sided wrapping paper and poster, and greeting cards disguised as passports.
In deciding on the range of Singlish Mamashop products, Zinkie shares that the products have to be “quirky and celebratory, usable in every-day life, and importantly, can help communicate our gratitude for the little things in life to our family and friends.”
Curious to know if any of the Singlish Mamashop products have found their way into non-Singaporean hands, I ask Zinkie about her encounters.
Citing the Visual Singlish Dictionary as an example, she tells me that buyers of the Visual Singlish dictionary have given feedback that having a dictionary in the four main languages of Singapore is unique and valuable to them.
“They are buying a slice of our cultural communities in a book. Dictionaries are usually just words and words to them, (but) now they can have ‘postcards of Singaporeans (or) Singlish’, together with a Singlish guidebook – the total value is more than the sum of its parts,” she explains.
Other products with interesting stories behind them include the Singlish Passports, which bring to mind phrases that Zinkie’s sister and nephew taught her, such as ‘Chop Chop Curry Pok’ and ‘Alamak, Nasi Lemak’.
The Singlish Huat Packets, on the other hand, was borne out of a collaboration with Lions’ Befrienders in 2017, and handmade by the elderly there – Zinkie describes these as “perfectly imperfect as a blessing for (our) friends and family.” These red packet wrappers come with lucky numbers inside some packets – Zinkie shares that “supporters were intrigued with (this) local spin.”
A Fulfilling Endeavour
What brings joy to this Singlish Mama?
“Seeing people receiving their goods from Singlish Mamashop light up with a smile, and telling you that it’s a great invention is really fulfilling. I also delight in seeing how people use (or) mix and match the things that I have invented,” Zinkie shares.
She explains, “I invent and design something, but the users are the other part of the equation, giving life to the product in their own way.” I find her perspective that users and sellers are in some form of “partnership” refreshing.
“It reminds me of a quote – ‘The world needs the special gift that only you have.’ We can find strangers and ‘tribes’ who will support our ideas, find rapport in the quirkiness that I believe in, and so grateful for that.”
Her personal experiences include seeing travellers use the Singlish Stickers on their luggages overseas, and people reading the Visual Singlish Dictionary, back in their own country.
Nonetheless, Zinkie also faces certain challenges in running the Singlish Mamashop. However, she sounds unfazed as she shares that these challenges are “(perhaps) just logistics, and physical storage for goods!”
Moving forward, Zinkie hopes to create more eco-friendly products, even as she seeks to “invent more funki-licious and valuable slice-of-life products that can enhance our quality of life!”