I try to act nonchalant. “Tiga char siew pau, tiga kaya pau.”
“Tiga char siew pau, tiga kaya pau.” This time I point to the pork buns and kaya buns. I want three of each.
I hold three fingers up and flap my other arm in the direction of my desired food, which I can see through the glass and stainless steel steamer, hot and delicious. I’m saying the correct words, and I’m positive I’m pronouncing them properly, but I have a feeling that the lady I’m speaking with has decided she can’t understand me no matter how clearly I talk. Or perhaps the problem is me. Am I saying the sentence in the wrong order? Char siew pau, tiga? Is it my monotonous kiwi accent? Should I be saying three in Mandarin? Or Hokkien? Or Cantonese? Sometimes Malaysia confuses me.
She walks away shaking her head and fetches somebody else who might be able to deal with my request. A second lady, aged somewhere between 70 and 100, hobbles towards me. She has a shaky voice.
I smile politely. “Tiga char siew pau, tiga kaya pau.”
I repeat myself. There is a short, puzzled silence, before she triumphantly declares:
“No, no. Char siew!” I point to the buns again.
“Okay, pork bun. How many?”
“Three,” I sigh, reverting to English, “and three kaya, please.”