If you were fortunate enough to have grown up on Singaporean soil or have been administered a lethal dosage of Singapore culture during your stay here, you might be familiar with the local lingo often used to taxonomize and abbreviate the little things that make life in Singapore oh-so-gerek (minah-speak for “awesome”). Like a pasar malam (Malay for “night market”) meandering around neighbourhoods bringing with it an infinite variety of sinful snacks and local paraphernalia, Singapore is fertile ground for myriad cultures to intermix. It comes as no surprise then that people from different walks of life here end up learning and adapting from each other, borrowing certain lingo previously used exclusively by their progenitors.
Mesh these elements together with the fact that you have all these different people living in such close proximity (imagine squeezing all five million of us into one really long MRT train), and you’re bound to get a few oddball pairings and unlikely friendships, and that’s exactly what Dream Academy’s new comedic showcase Meenah and Cheenah is all about.
Meenah: Minah /mee-nah, adapted from the common Arabic name Aminah. It is used to describe a rambunctious, uninhibited and often expressive Malay woman.
Cheenah: a. Also cina. Overly Chinese or oriental. Someone who is very Chinese in outlook, obstinately resolute in idiosyncratic habits associated with Chinese culture.
Set to leave the crowd in stitches with their criss-cross multi cultural teh-tarik gongcha chapalang nonsense (now say that 5 times faster!), Meenah and Cheenah features a series of oh-so-Singaporean sketches that explore the whirlwind adventures of two unlikely companions in a series of diabolically hilarious and highly relatable scenarios. Featuring two-time award winning Life! Theatre Awards best actress Siti Khalijah and comedic genius Judee Tan, Meenah and Cheenah pokes fun at the irritating and often misunderstood stereotypes we know and love. We couldn’t resist asking the two ‘garang’ (minah-speak for “fearless/bold”) comedic heavyweights what their thoughts are on bringing these personas to life on stage.
Popspoken: Were you very meenah/cheenah growing up?
Siti: Yes. I spent the first five years of my life living in Boon Lay. We then shifted to Jurong West and that’s where I’ve been ever since. I went to neighbourhood schools, have been in detention, bought clothes from This Fashion and my family is very “on” about wearing the same colour every Hari Raya.
Judee: In primary school, my two best buddies were a Malay girl and an Indian girl. In secondary school, my best friend was a Malay. So I suppose I can’t say I was absolutely cheenah growing up. I would say I was very multi-culturally correct.
PS: What’s a meenah and cheenah’s best kept secret?
Siti: We know how to make ourselves look fresh and bright-eyed even though we actually have not had enough sleep the night before from partying or from overnight-ing at East Coast. We just wear thick-thick makeup and cover our super heavy eyebags with an industrial strength concealer.
Judee: Our secret in coming up with 4D numbers. There’s an art to it, and we are not telling.
PS: Name three quintessential things makciks/kiasu aunties can’t live without.
Siti: Foldable Fan – It’s a lifesaver especially in this crazy Singapore heat. And comes extremely useful for Sunday void deck weddings. Santan – It’s in a lot of malay cooking. Nasi Lemak, Lemak Cili Padi, Lemak Pucuk Ubi, etc. Geylang Serai Market– It has everything under one roof! Wet market, beautiful baju kurungs, many different types of delicious Malay food!
Judee: Fake branded bag, discount vouchers and loyalty cards.
PS: What makes Singapore’s special blend of racially-inspired humour so well loved?
Siti: It’s special because anyone can relate to it! It doesn’t matter if you’re Malay, Chinese, Indian or any other race. Racial-inspired humour will let you learn a little more about each other as well.
Judee: Because it’s uniquely Singaporean mah!
PS: Siti, you have both Chinese and Malay lineage. What about it are you most proud of?
Siti: I’m 75% minah & 25% lian. I’m very happy to be this special mix because, relatively speaking, I’m the one and only mi-lian!
PS: What’s the one thing you wish people knew about a meenah-cheenah relationship, for those who’ve never had one?
Judee: It’s definitely spicier, no pun intended. Our cultural differences like our up-bringing, environment, customs and traditions definitely enhance our interactions. The sentiments can be so diverse, and that’s what makes it interesting.
PS: What’s your favourite thing about your meenah/cheenah counterparts?
Siti: She is like the mascara to my eyelashes and like the pearls to my bubble tea. We complement each other.
Judee: Her mother cooks the best Malay food! On a more serious note, she’s a great actress to play against. Specifically about Meenah, her steady-ness and loyalty! Despite tough times, she will never pangseh me. She will climb mountains and swim in big oceans with me because we are BFFs!
The term meenah or cheenah is so often associated with negative connotations that tend to assume the worst, but what really lies at the core of these identities is an unwavering pride in one’s own cultural inflections, quirky traditions and die-hard routines found nowhere else but here. Unadulterated, unabashed and most importantly, unashamed of the habits and eccentricities that make us who we are, Meenah and Cheenah is one show-stopper not to be missed. Don’t say we never jio! #confirmgerek #diediemustwatch
Where: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place
When: May 11 to 22, 8pm (Tuesday to Friday), 4 and 8pm (Saturday), 4pm (Sunday)
Tickets: $46 – $130 from SISTIC
Photo credits: Dream Academy Productions