Whether you live in Hougang, you know someone living in Hougang, you are going to Hougang, you are passing by Hougang, or you simply love Hougang, as long as you are saying the word Hougang, always read it the way it is spelt, i.e. /hougɑ:ŋ/ (hereafter “hougang” in lowercase) when you’re speaking with a Japanese person.
I moved to Hougang when I was 14 and when I was attending Japanese classes at Temasek Polytechnic, there once came the question on where we live. I vividly remember telling the teacher “Hougang” in the common dialect reading /ɑogʌŋ/ (hereafter “aogang”) and he asked “How do you spell it?” I spelled it out for him and he declared, “It’s hougang!” And I declared, “It’s aogang!” He insisted, “It’s hougang!” And he decided to read it as hougang. I didn’t think there was the need to argue since his reading is understandably correct but wondered why he was so particular about it.
Recently, while having dinner with a former classmate and the teacher, that topic came up and for the first time in over 12 years, I learned why he was so insistent on not saying “aogang” back then.
Apparently, “aogang” sounds like 青姦 (aokan) in Japanese which means “outdoor sex.” 青 (ao) refers to the sky as in 青空 (aozora) and 姦 (kan) means sex. For those who understand Chinese (Mandarin) however, unlike the Chinese meaning, 姦 does not mean rape.
So, watch it when you express hometown pride. Never say “I love aogang” to a Japanese person. Always say “I love hougang.” Well, unless you love outdoor sex, that is.