You Can Never Hate Your Mandarin: What Lee Kuan Yew Showed Me


Of all the languages in the world that is most talked about on the internet and least liked is .

It is so damn hard! It is greek to me! It is just impossible to remember how people can even remember a character let alone a stroke in the character! The ones who have been converted, perhaps I am one of them, may just brush it off as part of a journey to satisfy an intellectual passion.

Insofar as Chinese is concerned, I have to learn it. Majority of the population in Singapore are Chinese. Even if English is the main language of instruction, the way people do business at the ground level is predominantly Asian oriented.

Assimilation

I was brought up in a multi cultural commmunity which taught me that knowledge in language is needed for the community to develop its civilisation. How on earth can people co-exist if it is not for accepting other people’s language, system of beliefs and lifestyle? There are many cultural practises of Indians, Boyanese, Indonesians, Thais and also western people that I just can’t assimilate. However, it does not drive me to hate and isolate my own children from the knowledge that the good life can offer. The world does not revolve around a particular race.

It was our upbringing in a multi-cultural society, ability to speak Mandarin and the experience of living with the Chinese people that free us from poverty.

I recall browsing through a second hand bookshop in downtown Brash Basah complex and the book was on sale for just $10/-. My heart yearns to find out more and the Chinese bookseller was lightly amused that I wished to purchase it. She said in broken English, “You want this one ah? Aiya, I thought nobodys want it..” I read that Mr Lee Kuan Yew took 50 years to understand Mandarin.

You Can Never Hate Your Mandarin: What Lee Kuan Yew Showed Me
I found this book sold for just $10/- in a bookshop at Brash Basah Complex. When I picked it up, the shopkeeper was surprised, “I thought nobody wants to buy…You want ah?” That was in 2009.

Keeping My Mandarin Alive: Lee Kuan Yew’s Language Learning ExperienceYou Can Never Hate Your Mandarin: What Lee Kuan Yew Showed Me

 

I am impaled

When I read or learn about how Chinese themselves are no longer interested to learn Mandarin, I am impaled. I could just see the sadness in my father’s eyes. I bought many books to teach and learn Mandarin, because it is the only language that I did learn at school. It was not my choice, I was thrown into it. It was at that time, the only way out for my father, who laboured and toiled with my mother to raise us.

When my hubby found out that my friend recently named her baby without a Chinese name, he said it would be difficult in Chinese class, presuming that the baby would finally be receiving her education in Singapore. (Chinese is a compulsory 2nd language). That would be so sad for her. Today I realized how Chinese education lead to so many auspicious believes: how they played with number 8, certain characters, numbers, births, dates etc. Because I remember how my poor aunty was rejected at birth because she’s believed to bring terrible disaster to her family.

Yes it is true. A few lady members of my own family were adopted from Chinese families who at the time before World War II, were rejected because of their sex. Many Malays gladly adopted these baby girls..

Mandarin is indeed a very difficult language, if you are only used to learning one language. But it is not impossible to pick up. It is the easiest language to structure a learning programme due to its uniqueness. The words are pictograph, the pronunciation is set upon a few rules of intonation. All you have to do is learn how to match the words with the sounds.

Mandarin has left me distant from my .  I can no longer pass on the richness of the Malay culture to my daughter, but the spirit hasn’t died. I still eat with my fingers and eat lots f chillies. When I really need to love and cuddle my daughter, I do whisper kind gentle words in my mother tongue, “Alamak sayang dia anak Mummy.” I still take Jamu, which has been my mother’s recipe for health. My native tongue, my mother tongue is not separate but a part of who I am.

You can never hate your native tongue. That is because language does not evolve through culture, they are mutually exclusive yet interdependent for development of our civilisation. We have earned our place in society due to the sacrifice of our parents and forefathers; it is the seeds we sow which will determine what our future generation will reap. To survive in harmony with one’s soul, you need to continue to learn to live, love and use langauge.

Google search results for these phrases:

You Can Never Hate Your Mandarin: What Lee Kuan Yew Showed Me
“Love Mandarin” results.

“love mandarin”

You Can Never Hate Your Mandarin: What Lee Kuan Yew Showed Me
“Hate Mandarin”

“hate mandarin”

Not An English Native?

Singapore is not recognised as English speaking nation as far as the Indonesia or China education system is concerned. There are just a number of countries that will be offered a working visa which would say “English Teacher”. Singapore is not one of them. Sorry. Any holder of a Singapore passport is however considered eligible for getting a teaching visa that says, “Mandarin Teacher”. Period. South-east Asian natives are not considered native English speakers. I have experienced it in Indonesia; apparently it is true in China. If you hold a passport from UK,USA,Canada, New Zealand or Australia, that will not be a problem, even if you are coloured.

🙂

Fortunately, I can teach Mandarin, so I had no problem getting a visa that said, “Mandarin Teacher”. (I won’t go into how people actually got around teaching English; it’s been possible to get around the system.) It goes to prove that if we have been bestowed a gift, it might just the one that will keep us employed for the rest of our live.

You Can Never Hate Your Mandarin: What Lee Kuan Yew Showed Me

You Can Never Hate Your Mandarin: What Lee Kuan Yew Showed Me

5 thoughts on “You Can Never Hate Your Mandarin: What Lee Kuan Yew Showed Me”

  1. Chinese characters are one of the most difficult parts for Chinese beginners. One of my American friends said that a Chinese character for him liked a picture, there no way to remember it. However, Chinese grammar is one of the easiest ones to learn. If you know the meaning of a Chinese character and the rules that a Chinese character is formed, you can easily understand and remember it. You even can learn Japanese much faster after you have learned some Chinese.

  2. I agree with you Aihua. Chinese characters are very difficult to remember. I have formed a habit of forming an image of the character in my head whenever I hear or say the character. So far, I have managed to distinguish between what I can remember and what I should remember.

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