The first step can be learning to pronounce an unfamiliar name.
Suresh the Tamil Taxi Driver
Tonight I was treated to a lovely dinner at a local Korean restaurant by a Korean friend of mine. Our dinner party also included three Filipinos, a Japanese, and one Canadian. We are together in Singapore. Such a gathering of the scattered in today’s borderless world is becoming less and less novel.
We split up and took a cab home. I sat in front next to the driver, Suresh.
I said, "Good evening, how are you?"
He said, "I am good, sir, and you?"
I said, looking at his driver ID, "I am good. Is your name Suresh?"
He said, "Yes," with a smile.
I said, "Oh, your name means 'God is good'," a fact I had learned from my Nepali neighbors in Chicago. He smiled wider because he hadn't ever known the proper meaning and had only heard that it was a name associated with a Hindu deity.
I asked, "What kind of last name do you have?" And I tried to pronounce "Arokiam" correctly.
He said, "Tamil."
We then spoke about his life, children, parents, and how he was a third-generation Singaporean who had never actually been to India. We talked of cricket and Hindu peoples in Chicago, and that my favorite Tamil breakfast was idli and podi.
Suresh said, "You need to find a very old cook to give you proper idli. Young people now don't know real Tamil food."
He added that my accent was just like an Indian, and said that if we spoke on the phone, then he would think I was Indian. I told him that I felt that was a great compliment and thanked him. We reached our destination and we both wished for a longer taxi ride.
Aliza the Malay Cashier
Several hours later, I gave in to my jet lag and wandered onto Bukit Tima Road and over ...