Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Adventures of Tofu

I was still hungry a few hours after dinner, so in true Singaporean fashion, I went for supper at a small hawker centre down the block from my home.  I brought my little white maltese for the walk, mentally mapping out the longer route that would pass as few tables as possible (as to not offend anyone who didn't want to have a dog near them while they ate).

There was a different lady handling my favorite duck noodle stall than usual.  As I arrived, her expression perked up immediately into a smile at the sight of Tofu trotting in -- Tofu who looked more like a mongrel at this point, because of the rain.  ...Guess I didn't need to tabao my food back!  When I picked a table closer to the road, she even pulled up a chair and insisted that Mr. Tofu sit right besides me.  At first, I thought I was having a lost in translation moment, or she was kidding...

Nope.  She was thrilled to have him sitting there right besides me.

I suddenly felt very self-conscious as I felt the eyes of the aunties and uncles at the surrounding tables on me.  I didn't dare look at their expressions in case there were any of disapproval (the stall auntie really REALLY wanted Tofu on the chair).

A little Singaporean girl, not more than 5 or 6 years old, straight cut bangs and shoulder length hair waddled up to us (the stall auntie at this point simply stopped doing her job and just pulled up a chair next to Tofu).  She seemed to be family with the folks running the stall, and very comfortable around dogs.  She flinched, but didn't look scared when Tofu got a little cocky and decided to let out a loud RO-RO! at her in excitement.

She spoke to me in Chinese eventually, and I looked back with complete embarrassment at this adorable doe-eyed girl in this pink Angry Birds t-shirt, replying, "I...  um... don't... I uh don't really speak Chinese."  I more or less mumbled it under my breath, thinking there's no way she speaks much English anyway.  She blinked for a moment, then in perfect English (with the Singaporean twang of course) repeats herself, "I have a dog too!  But she's not as nice as this dog."

I don't really know what I was thinking, by assuming she didn't speak English just because she was somebody's daughter or niece at the hawker stall... and well, she was also this tiny little thing, so I wasn't sure how much she could speak at all.  Either way, I felt somewhat ashamed again for making what some might call small-minded assumptions.  (In all fairness, I was at a friend's son's 1st Birthday party with tons of other little toddlers today, so I'm all confused about how much a kid should be able to speak at what age)

Tofu ended up getting spoiled to bits.  The auntie and the little girl with the big eyes fed him a good amount of charsiu slices.  The little girl told me her name, but I couldn't quite catch it--sounded like Israel?--and sweetly asked if she could hold Tofu's leash.

It was pouring rain at this point.  She and Tofu pranced around the white plastic tables and the oddly colored stools under the shelter of the hawker centre, stopping only to introduce herself and Mr. Tofu to the patrons who belonged to a much older generation.  Meanwhile, I sipped on my barley drink then finally finished up the rest of my duck noodles in peace. 

When the rain let up,  it was finally time for us to go.  She handed me the leash and gently kissed him on the head goodbye. 

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