Thursday, 24 January 2013

Honk If You Wear Suspenders

For a while, the then homemaker/author wrote a series of English language columns for The Star, and also authored several books on winning contests and tourist destinations.

By Lydia Teh: “Honk! If You're Malaysian” and “Do You Wear Suspenders?”
Since returning to full-time employment, Teh seems to have stopped blogging, but hopes to write more books.

Like what we've done with Adibah's books, we're converting her books, Honk! If You're Malaysian and Do You Wear Suspenders, into e-book format.

As is often the case, I ended up reading the books instead of merely proofreading them - I believe there is a difference. And it was kind of fun.

Malaysiana, sharply sliced and served
Honk! If You're Malaysian and its prequel, Life's Like That are similar to Sri Delima's three books on Malaysiana, but has a more urban feel to it. The city, specifically Kuala Lumpur, is the backdrop to a lot of scenarios.

Unlike Adibah's coy, teasing former schoolteacher, Teh spares nothing and no-one when delivering advice and home truths, like the fiery, quick-witted, sharp-tongued aunt in the family everyone wants on their side of a discussion - or argument. No beating about the bush for her. Busybodies, procrastinators, fake beggars, annoying LRT passengers, look out.

And: "If a typical Chinaman, the type who wears Pagoda singlets and baggy drawers, tries to kiss me, I would punch and kick him until he resembles pickled mustard." Don't you like her already?

One thing about Honk! is just how insightful and instructional many of the articles can be. Her tips on becoming "the savvy shopper" (shh, don't let the supermarkets in on them) shows she's an old hand in writing tips and tricks. I'd heard that Congratulations! You Have Won!, now out of print, was considered a best-seller in the day.

Equally instructional are her suggestions to avoid being a victim of snatch thieves, decorating your new car, and things to do when the traffic lights turn red. Encyclopaedic chapters on things such as the kinds of beggars we have; the kinds of men, according to how often they wash their cars; and some common Manglish phrases are entertaining and enlightening.

New cover for “Honk! If You're Malaysian”
The new cover for Honk! If You're
that marks its 20,000th
sale milestone
And with a certain chapter, she scores a palpable hit for women everywhere who've been deprived of their husbands, thanks to the World Cup.

When Teh introduces chatroom lingo, she points out that: "...PITA isn’t the bread with a pocket where you can stuff all sorts of fillings for a delicious meal. POTS aren’t the vessels you use to cook your chicken stew in. SOS isn’t the distress signal you draw in the sand when you’re marooned on an uninhabited island. GAL isn’t a young girl, and KIT isn’t a set of tools."

Is Teh Malaysian? Definitely. Are you Malaysian? Honk honk!

Life, love, lexicon
Teh's Do You Wear Suspenders? The Wordy Tales of Eh Poh Nim, however, shares the same concept as Ellen Whyte's Logomania series. Both also started life as newspaper columns. Teh introduces idioms, eponyms, heteronyms, malapropisms, contronyms, oxymorons and so on through the life of a fictional character.

Eh Poh Nim, a marketing executive with a pharmaceutical company, is a talkative woman who can't resist any opportunity to show off her English knowledge - you know, the kind who'd use "pulchritude" instead of "beauty" and tells you of several other synonyms for it. And:

If she was entertaining clients at the lounge and someone ordered a Bloody Mary, she would launch into an explanation of how the cocktail of vodka and tomato juice came to be named thus.

"Did you know that Bloody Mary was named after Queen Mary I? She put to death some 300 people as heretics and imprisoned many more. What a shame, isn’t it?"

If someone at the office came down with diarrhoea, she would announce to everyone that Daniel Elmer Salmon, an American veterinary surgeon, was the one who identified and gave his name to the bacteria Salmonella which was probably the cause of the diarrhoea.

Of course, this behaviour doesn't sit very well with many of her acquaintances and an old flame. But because of her generally upbeat disposition, it doesn't keep her down for long. And, quite unexpectedly, someone new enters her life.

Why does it sound like a story? Because it is. And that's why it's engaging.

Read what happens when Eh Poh Nim meets Big Bertha, chats with Big Willie and gets stunned by a ball of fire. Eh Poh Nim also gets educated by a dogged cobbler but don't pester her about it, as she can be acerbically alliterative when annoyed.

Also: Learn how to chew the fat and talk turkey and find out why you won't get any writing done with stationary. And no, I don't think Grand Prix legend Michael Schumacher makes or has ever made shoes in his career.

Though each chapter is short and doesn't really expand a lot on the characters, the length is sufficient for the purpose of this book. I don't think all the -isms and -nyms are featured here, just a few to help us get by - and maybe impress/irritate our co-workers and dates.

Fun, fast, educational
Some would feel that the stories are a little dated; Honk! and Suspenders were published in 2007 and 2009 respectively, though the articles that comprise them may be older. But it's great nostalgia and English is evergreen. Both are fun, fast reads. Informative, too.

...can't help wondering what the combined genius of Adibah Amin, Lydia Teh and Ellen Whyte would produce...

Honk! If You're Malaysian and Do You Wear Suspenders? is now available as e-books at MPH Digital. Sales for the former has reached 20,000 and it has been released with a new cover.

Putting Adibah Amin, Lydia Teh and Ellen Whyte in the same room, however, might be a bit foolhardy.

Honk! If You're Malaysian
Lydia Teh
MPH Group Publishing (2007)
286 pages
ISBN: 978-983-3698-12-7

Buy from

Do You Wear Suspenders?
The Wordy Tales of Eh Poh Nim

Lydia Teh
MPH Group Publishing (2009)
240 pages
ISBN: 978-967-5222-08-5

Buy from


  1. What an awesome write-up. Thanks, Alan! I like the heading Honk if you wear suspenders.

    1. You're welcome, Lydia. It seems the edition with the new cover has been out for some time.

      All the best with your books!


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