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.