Jul 23, 2015

Language Appreciation

Such a lame title.

Anyways, I was always an 'ang moh kia', which if literally translated from Hokkien to English is 'Westerner's child'. Because I used  to only know how to speak in English, Malay and in terrible Hokkien. But my English is slightly better because my mom is an English teacher and she used to insist that the whole house must speak English. We sometimes have 'English Day' while my father would advocate his 'Hokkien Day'. But they are both English-educated, and they do not really speak Mandarin. I have no knowledge in Mandarin at all and I never bothered to learn Mandarin. I was like, "Mandarin? Why do I even have to learn Mandarin? English is 'cooler' and more widely used anyways."

The effort that my father spent to send me to Mandarin classes ended up in despair. I always slept in the class, while my sister alone studied with our private Mandarin tutor. They did wake me up but I soon fell asleep again. It soon became, "Nah, she's still small. Let her sleep." And with a sense of childish irresponsibility, I slept and pretended I attended class when I did not even do my homework or listen what the tutor said. We changed many different teachers but I was still the same; stubborn, lazy, and very 'ang moh kia'-minded.  

It never really bothered me anyways because I do not have Chinese friends to speak Mandarin to, so it did not seem to be a trouble to not be able to speak Mandarin. Until I entered summer camp and I met many Chinese friends who some of them refused to befriend me just because I am a 'banana'. Yeap, that's what they call Chinese who cannot speak Mandarin. I was sad at first because I was ostracised by the Chinese group but then I thought, "Why should I be sad about that if I have to change myself to fit in?" 

So with that I walked away and befriended friends mostly of other races. Even though some Chinese shot me the is-she-a-Chinese-or-not look, I pretended I was unaffected by that at all. 

Until 2012, when I was fourteen years old (I only formally learn Mandarin 3 years ago, my God) and my father decided I should pick up Mandarin now. There was a new Mandarin teacher in the neighbourhood and my father asked him to be my private tutor. I was against it so much at first, considering that it was going to be a one-to-one tutorship which would take my free hours of weekend and that the tutor is a guy. Our first class was awkward, especially when I even wrote my name wrongly! Then day by day, month by month, the class was more bearable and I was able to see the fruit when I went to the same summer camp again and was able to use Mandarin in communication. 

Now I am in a different school, with many Chinese around; my roommate is also a Chinese, I learnt Mandarin a lot. And I could not explain in words how grateful I am. 

I have been quite stupid to ignore my own mother tongue. Now I regretted why I did not study it earlier. 

Why I am inspired to write this? The story goes like this.. 

I am a fan of Japanese anime movies. Note: MOVIES. I do not like to watch anime series and I do not like the typical anime characters which big eyes and other exaggeratedly-sized body parts (you know what I mean). So, the only Japanese anime movies I watch is the normal type of anime with normal-sized eyes, not that handsome or pretty, but just some real Japanese faces. I watch Studio Ghibli movies and some of Makoto Shinkai movies. The first Studio Ghibli movie I watched is Spirited Away and I was so inspired by it. Then Howl's Moving Castle, The Wind Rises, Whisper of the Heart, Only Yesterday and From Up on Poppy Hill. Non-Studio Ghibli movies I watched are 5cm per second (I do not really like the anime because of the characters' big eyes, but the storyline is worth it), Into the Forest of Fireflies and The Garden of Words. 

These movies that I listed are worth the watch. They have real, logical themes that we will face in our lives. I do not know how to put it in words, but they are really wonderful. Anyone of you should really check them out. But how are they related to this post? 

Well, when I watched these movies, they are English-subbed and therefore I listened to the Japanese dialogues. I am a person who appreciates the beauty of language and to hear them saying the Japanese words with such subtle emotions, touched my heart, "Their language is so wonderful." And we know that generally Japanese people are very proud of their language that some of them might lack in other languages. But still, do you see the appreciation they have for their language? How they place their language, their mother tongue first out of all other languages? And how Japan is modern, even with little or moderate emphasis on English? Japanese language is really beautiful.

And so does my own mother tongue, Mandarin. 

As I watched some Mandarin dramas, movies or vlogs, I realised how desperate I am to understand them, without the need of subtitles. Alas, I can read a little and write a little. My listening and speaking skills are better, thanks to my friends. I owe my Mandarin ability to my tutor, especially and my wonderful friends. 

I really love my own mother tongue and every time I speak in Mandarin, my mind constantly whispers, "May, you can speak in Mandarin now!" 

I like how my tongue twists as I change from English or Malay or Kelantanese dialect or Korean to Mandarin. I like how simple the syllables used in Mandarin sound. I like how I translate every thing from English to Hokkien then only to Mandarin whenever I speak Mandarin. I like how my friends correct me when my intonation goes haywire. I like how I understand Mandarin conversations much easier now. I like how I am not that afraid to approach someone with Mandarin. I like how my heart does a tiny 'hoorah' jump whenever I use new words for the first time in a conversation. 

I just enjoy learning my language so much. I am currently learning Korean as well but too bad I have completely forgotten Thai language and my Arabic is pretty rusty. 

But God, must I say, that languages are beautiful masterpieces that connect everyone in a blanket that we never see, but we feel the warmth and a sense of proximity in a community of universally diverse people we are. 

Appreciate your language, and witness the beauty in the languages you speak and hear. Then in some ways, you'll find a better person unleashed from you. 

Jul 22, 2015

The Garden of Words

なるかみの, すこしとよみて,
(Naru ka mi no, sukoshi toyomite, sashi kumori, ame mo furanu ka, kimi o todome mu)
[A faint clap of thunder,
Clouded skies,
Perhaps rain will come.
If so, will you stay here with me?]

(Naru ka mi no, sukoshi toyomite, furazutomo, wa wa todomara mu, i moshi todome ba)
[A faint clap of thunder,
Even if rain comes or not,
I will stay here,
Together with you.]

A tanka (a type of Japanese poetry) taken from The Garden of Words - Man'yōshū Japanese poetry collection