Breaking Barriers

As I was having dinner with my colleagues yesterday, my mind wandered off for a moment. I got lost in all the multiple threads going on at once. Everyone was speaking in either Cantonese or English.

My friend asked me, “do you understand what they are saying?”
“A little here and there..” I replied.

Over the past year working in Inspidea, my skills in non-English language have tremendously improved. I am now able to pick out the main words and key phrases from Cantonese and Malay sentences and decipher the meaning of the whole line. Communicating with my colleagues isn’t much of a problem now.

Language has never been my strongest point. People shit on me for having a bad command of Malay and Chinese/Cantonese. So how come people think its wrong for me to shit on other people who have a bad command of English? What kind of one way street is that? Not that I do it anyways. The only time I ever rag on people with bad English is when they bring it up first. I’m pretty tolerant towards non-English speakers, I know just how they feel whenever I try to speak in Malay/Cantonese to them.

But I hate the fact how the alot of people think that locals who speak English as their main language, and by English I don’t mean Manglish, (as opposed to speaking in Malay/Canto) are snobbish, disrespectful, and uncultured people. Those people aren’t snobbish- they just happen to communicate better in English! If you’re gonna criticize anybody for speaking a ‘foreign’ language well, I think you should start pointing fingers at yourself for being so narrow-minded in the first place. Who knows why they don’t speak with their mother tongue.

It wasn’t a choice to choose what school you attend or the people you mixed with. You couldn’t choose what language your family used to communicate with each other. Its not like you purposely chose not to speak the local language. These things can’t be decided by you. Why don’t people look at it the other way instead- “I was unfortunate I did not get the chance to learn our local tongue” instead of “I’m too good to speak other languages besides English”.

I was born and raised by an English speaking family. I didn’t grow up on Hong Kong movies or TVB serials. Neither did I watch the locally dubbed cartoons. Does that make me any worse or better off? No it doesn’t.

And despite speaking only English, I was never really good at it. I was in the top English class for year 7, then going down to group 2 in year 8, group 4 in year 9 (i think there were 6-7 groups then), and the group 4/4 in year 10 and 11 (the lowest non-ESL group). I was in the last Malay class as well. For my IGCSEs, I didn’t get any As for English Language, Literature or Malay.

So I know my place, and I don’t act like I’m some bigshot just because I speak English. I am who I am because of everything that’s happened to me, and the result of my actions.

I’m grateful that I went to a prestigious school and met the people whom I know as my friends today. If not for this life, things might have turned out differently.

The very same night I had that conversation, I bumped into an Ah Beng in a petrol station. From the way he looked to the way he talked and walked, this dude was the real deal. And when he got into his car and sped off (you know how ridiculous cars move in real life when they’re driven by people who think they’re the stunt driver for the next Jason Bourne movie)- it was how I expected it to be. Now it was probably wrong of me to judge someone by their cover. But from what I observed, it was like skimming through his book, I had him figured out. I wonder if everyone else looks at me and stereotypes me the same way as I did to them? Of course they do.

“thick framed glasses..black hair..t-shirt and jeans..this kid must listen to Taking Back Sunday..”

The encounter with the Ah Beng made me think about my past. Imagine if I was brought up in another school (no I’m not saying that kids in non-international schools turn out to be delinquents, this is just an example), and I mixed with Ah Bengs and ‘gangsters’. I could be a pedlar parading the mamaks of kl selling dvds and vcds or even pushing drugs. I might be ‘pimping’ out my Wira with unnecessary spoilers, headlights and chrome rims. Life would’ve turned out very differently for me.

So if I got the chance to do everything again, like most people would say, I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s the very same reason why I am where I am right now. It might not be where I want to be or what I hoped or wished for. But who I am is who I am now, and the only way is forward. Sure we can regret things that we did in our past, but don’t dwell on them. Just because you did something wrong in the past doesn’t mean that if you did it right back then, things would be better now. Life is unpredictable. And change is the only constant.

6 Replies to “Breaking Barriers”

  1. Lol. No worries lah. I’m in a mainly Malay speaking community and my Malay sucks. Once I open my mouth to speak Malay, people will laugh cuz they say I sound very Chinese. I normally have to phrase a Malay sentence in my head before I say it out. Yes, that’s how bad my BM is, so I stick to speaking English to my Malay speaking friends. Thank God I’m studying English. And so are they. Or else there will sure be a communication problem. Hahaha!

  2. People will always stereotype and create labels. I understand what you mean when you say that people may think of you as snobbish because of your proficiency in the English language. I think it’s good that you are allowing yourself to understand bits and pieces and to pick up other languages as well.

    I’m Chinese, and I speak English and Malay better than the Chinese language. I recall being subjected to teasing and mockery by a Chinese schoolteacher once, being accused of not appreciating my roots. Like you, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, though.

    I’m learning the language myself, but I also think that everything happens for a reason :).

  3. there are all kind of people. like what you have mentioned, the up-bringing of a person dictate a majority part of how he/she would turn out to be.

    sometimes we find it hard to get along with certain people, people who stereotype, people who scorn at another for not speaking their own tongue. similarly, it’s all part of the up-bringing that mold them to act in such a way.

    i like to put people in spectrum (my own way of stereotyping XD). a person would find it hard to click with the one at the other end of the spectrum.

    personally, i don’t see much point in closing the gap between two persons if it’s too hard. we might as well look for people we could get well along with. life is short. we should be happy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. M : I can’t even phrase the sentence in my head- I have to speak word by word, and then insert English for the words I can’t transalate haha

    Sharon : yeap, i agree with what you said. and everything does happen for a reason ๐Ÿ™‚

    Jason : *flex* haha

    moy : true, sometimes it might be too hard to connect with somebody, but sometimes it’s worth the effort.. sometimes ๐Ÿ™‚

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