While driving home just an hour ago, I popped in my favourite MD by Beyond. Beyond is a Hong Kong rock band and their lead singer had the most amazing and mesmerizing voice. It's one of a kind and if you like Hong Kong songs, be sure to grab their greatest hits CD. Unfortunately, the lead singer died of brain concussion a few years ago. What a big loss to the industry.
Anyway, I was listening to these songs and all of a sudden, I feel extremely inadequate. These guys sing in Cantonese. I speak Cantonese everyday and yet, I don't understand what they are singing! The reason is simple - I don't read/write Chinese. My understanding of the language is based on a very crude version of Cantonese. Something that was passed down from generation to generation. It's like the language used by the uneducated, peasant folks in China. An analogy would be the languages used by the rednecks in America versus one used in a by an author in his/her book.
That would imply that I am just an uneducated peasant, by Chinese standard.
And I feel really inadequate.
The Chinese has a term for people like me. Banana-man. We are yellow on the outside (our skin colour) but we are white inside (as in English educated). I used to be extremely proud of my status as a banana-man. Why not? I am superior because I could read, write and converse in English. I used to despise the so called Cina-men because they were crude, dirty, inconsiderate, loud and extremely rude.
But listening to Beyond, I feel extremely small. I don't think it was Beyond that caused this train of thought. Today I gave an interview to a Korean who is working in Singapore. He learned English when he was 20 and is now working in Singapore for a multi national company. Even though his command of English was not very good and he had to struggle to make a point across, at least he could read and write Korean, his national language - and can be proud to call himself a Korean. Our guide Mido speaks English albeit with grammatical and pronounciation errors but I am sure he retained his identity as an Egyptian as he could still read and write Arabic, his mother tongue/language.
If I were to mingle among the kwai los (the Westerners), they would probably had a hard time understanding my English. My accent is thick. I do not speak proper English but a localized version. To them, I probably sound crude like a peasant but I am sure they'll forgive my lack of command of their language, as I am, after all, from Malaysia and English is not my first language.
If I were to mingle among the Mandarin speaking Malaysian, I am probably an outcast as I don't speak the language and who wants to talk to a banana-man anyway. For goodness sake, he can't even understand the Hong Kong song that he's listening to, that barbarian.
If I were to mix with the Malays who speaks Bahasa Malaysia, they'd think I try to hard to imitate their slang and the way the speak.
So, where do I stand? Where is my identity? Dare I call myself a Chinese even though I don't read a word? Should I declare that I am an "English"? Am I a Malaysian?
Maybe I should just say that I am a citizen of Banana-republic who has no language except a mix of Cantonese, Malay and broken English. BTW, forgive any grammatical errors in this post.
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