Ah Lian Vs. Lily

Ah Beng and Ah Lian went on a date at Singapore Botanic Gardens. At the spur of romance, Ah Beng plucked a jubilantly blossomed water lily from a nearby pond and gave it to his sweetheart.

Wa diam diam kua dio jit aey huey, wa dio siong ki li (Every time I see this flower, I think about you),” he said lovingly.

Ah Lian looked at the beautiful flower and cupped her lover’s face in her hands. She looked deep into Ah Beng’s eyes, tears brimming from hers. She started to cry.

“This flower is salah (wrong)!” she wailed. “I am lian huey (lotus flower), not water leelee!”

For the uninitiated, Ah Lian is a derogatory nickname given to a subculture of Singaporean girls, typically teenagers, who are characterized by loud, uncouth behavior and mismatched fashion sense. They’re also associated with gangsterism in the early days. But I think they’re kinda cool!

‘Lian’ is derived from 莲花, which is Chinese for lotus flower. I can’t trace the etymology of why this word was used to represent this group but presumably, it’s due to the common usage of 莲 ‘lian’ in girl’s name.

Are you like Ah Beng and can’t tell the difference between a lotus and a water lily? Well, not that being able to identify them correctly is crucial to survival, but I thought it is rather interesting how these two aquatic plants are same same but different!

A friend recently went to Pulau Ubin and knowing that I like taking photos of lotuses, tagged me in a photo showing a lotus pond there. But it was a water lily pond, not lotus. To her, the difference is negligible and I totally agree that the point is not in identifying the flowers correctly, but to enjoy the great outdoors.

These are water lilies

But would you put salt in your coffee and sugar on your French fries? Both seasoning without labels can look the same, yet what a difference they make in taste! I wouldn’t go all the way to Changi and take a boat to Pulau Ubin just to photograph water lilies because great pictures can come from them even in a small pot. Lotuses on the other hand, in my preference, look best when photographed in a big open pond.

But for a change from the concrete jungle on mainland to the rustic, back to nature appeal of Pulau Ubin, I would still make the trip. Some day. When I’m not lazy. And I think it’s soon.

Seems like I’m distracted from what I want to talk about again… and that’s how to tell the difference between a lotus from a water lily. Actually, it’s very obvious. The easiest way to differentiate them is their leaves.

These are lotuses

Lotuses have leaves that extend out and above the water whereas lilies have leaves that float or sit on the water surface. The other difference is that the lotus has a fruiting body in the middle that gives us lotus pods, whereas water lily produces nectar.

For me, I differentiate between lotus and lily simply from the shape of their petals. Lilies have petals shaped like the fingers, and lotuses have petals that are shaped like a closed palm.

Pointed lily petals Rounded lotus petals

Knowing the difference between a lotus and water lily now, Ah Beng scoured all 63.7 hectares of the botanic gardens in search of the flower that befitted his darling’s name. His eyes descended on a bril莲t bloom in a lotus pond and swiftly plucked it for Ah Lian.

Just then, a park ranger came up to him and handed him a S$500 fine for plucking flowers in the garden. *gua gua gua…*