Chinese, But Not Chinese

Born and raised to Taiwanese parents in a largely Chinese-speaking environment, I easily got jaded by “this whole Chinese thing” as I grew up.  I guess this, well, exacerbated when my school curriculum transitioned from the Singaporean system to the British public examinations (namely GCSE and IB — update: IB isn’t British.  Silly me), in which the latter does not place much emphasis on Chinese at all.  Thus, my Chinese ability has deteriorated to such an extent that it’s comparable to that of a person who has only been studying Chinese for a few measly years rather than her whole life.

I started reading fewer Chinese books; I started speaking to my parents in English rather than their native Mandarin; I started to forget even some of the most basic of Chinese words.  In the span of a few years, I found much difficulty when communicating with my Taiwanese or Mainland Chinese (please don’t get into politics, I swear) friends and relatives because I couldn’t express my thoughts in their language, much like how I couldn’t decipher theirs.  Sadly, I’m now taking Mandarin Chinese at Standard Level (which is essentially for those who have probably never taken Chinese before) in school, among many of my classmates of higher proficiency than mine.  In those years, it was difficult to admit, let alone acknowledge, that I had taken Chinese for granted.  I guess I didn’t realise it until today.

I just finished my Chinese mock exam today.  The exam that the IB calls “Paper 2: Writing” essentially presents the task of writing about Chinese culture, globalisation or technology (among others that I don’t really remember) in various formats, ranging from emails to interviews to essays.  For the (technically) native Chinese-speaking students who took the exam today, we found the task to be a cakewalk — yet another way we take things for granted.  However, when I drew the last circle (a Chinese full stop) to end my roughly 800-word written piece, I felt my heart sink a little bit.  That was when I had one of the strangest revelations: I really like writing in Chinese.

When my parents asked me what language I’m likely to pick up when I go to college, I often said French or Russian.  Back then, the thought of studying Chinese in college didn’t even seem like an option, because my immature logic dictated that I should just leave it behind.  After today’s little wake-up call, I immediately knew that I would regret making that decision for the rest of my life; not my decision to take French or Russian, but my decision to completely give up Chinese.

As cliched as it may seem, I grew up encompassed by Chinese.  It’s not just the language: the cuisine, the culture, the behaviours, the mindsets…even the faces of the people I see everyday on the street.  Throwing away Chinese feels like I’d have wasted almost seventeen years of my life.  What a shame would that be?

Anyway, I know it’s not always the case that we get such realisations during mock exams (other than the awakening that we either completely rock or completely stink at that particular subject, to say that least) but I guess it’s not going to be a new page, but multiple new pages…each filled with Chinese, Chinese, Chinese.

Because at the end of the day…it’s my life.

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4 thoughts on “Chinese, But Not Chinese

  1. IB isn’t British (sorry! SIWOTI syndrome…)
    My Chinese has gotten noticeably worse over the past two years. I find myself struggling to express simple ideas, even. It’s less of a painful blow to me than I imagine it must be for you, because I’ve never even partially identified as Chinese, but at the same time it’s a disappointment because I’ve put years of time and effort into it only to lose it so quickly.

    1. Ah yes IB isn’t British…silly me.

      Well, it isn’t a lie when they say that Chinese isn’t an easy language to learn. That being said, I doubt any language is easy to learn within minutes (with the exception of gibberish and Pig Latin). But considering how I grew up in this environment, it’s only a shame that I was not only losing it quickly like how it happened to you, but also planning to give it up completely…

      1. It’s a bit of a shame to give up on anything completely, especially anything that has ever been a big part of your life. You don’t necessarily have to study it at university to keep it in your life, though. Join the HK-Students-Society at your university, or watch Chinese movies/TV. Read Chinese books if you’re inclined (I have Sherlock Holmes in Chinese which I plan to get around to eventually, but after I read the original ACD canon).

        1. “You don’t necessarily have to study it at university to keep it in your life, though.” That’s true, but I suppose it’s still a viable option.. :P

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