Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Language Ding-Dong (CsH)

I've just read Rockybru's blog 13 December. His article in mypaper gives a succinct review of the power, potential and actual, of the Chinese educationist movement Dongjiaozong which has threatened a mammoth protest concerning the state of Chinese schools in Malaysia.

I hated history when I was doing my A levels at Raffles Girls' School. Firstly my teacher, Miss Then, was the most uninterested and unprofessional teacher I have ever encountered. During her history class she remained seated and read out in the most deadpan voice her lesson for the day as we frantically copied our notes because she carried on like an express train. Secondly, Miss Then was also trying to convert me by passing on Christian books and tracts for me to read. I felt under pressure when this normally cold fish smiled at me and asked if I liked her 'literature'. And I had to lie - instead of snarling at her to leave me alone for I do have my own religion. Thanks,but no thanks.

Living in England as I did in my 40s I became more and more concerned about what's going on around me. Palestine, the Salman Rushdie affair, the Gulf Wars, visions of dead and dying children on the TV screen, racist taunts from whites, black/white teenagers and Indian bank officers all made me think. I realised how the hypocrisy, double standards, grief and injustice in this world require a comprehension of and an insight into History. I also learned that the History I was given in school was History written by the victors and the powerful, by Western academics and Orientalists , and pseudo and half-baked intellectuals whose only qualification is the Dr in front of their names or other letters after their names.

For most countries, the education system is a powerful agent for nation building and national unity. But not for Malaya/Malaysia. Why? Look at her history.

In her colonial march for profit, Perfidious Albion 'developed' and changed the face of the Malay Peninsula - creating "a political problem of the first order through the rivalry of numerically equal communities, the Malays and the Chinese" (Victor Purcell).

The immigrants from China came in droves to partake of this lucrative opportunity. I can see this in the Asians in Leicester and now the East Europeans from the EC. They slog hard because as one Polish lass told me, what she earns in the factory in a week , is what her teacher-mother gets in a month. And so according to western capitalists, "by their labours" the Chinese added to the prosperity of the Peninsula. Hence the myth of the lazy Malay who prefers to live in his kampong and tend to a self sufficient life style. Why isn't there the myth of the lazy Brit - who, after all, living in the Motherland, understandably doesn't want to do overtime because, for him, money and its accumulation is not the be-all and end-all. He does not think he should leave a legacy of pots of money for his offspring. They will have to earn it like he did! That is what Kim, Mark, Rob and Stewart my white work mates, believe in.

Enterprising economic migrants need not show any generosity or loyalty to the 'goose', only the golden eggs. Basically the attitude ranges from pragmatism to opportunism. There are of course exceptions like the Peranakan but today they are being re-sinified.

Growing up in Singapore, we had to bear the scorn and barbs of the Chinese superiority complex and it irritates me when C. L. Sharma in her/his article "Ethnicity, Communal Relations and Education in Malaysia" (1979) described post-independence Malays as being "imbued with the 'we are the masters now' attitude which encourages them to display arrogance in their behaviour". This academic should be more objective and realise that Malays do not have a monopoly on arrogance.

Peter A. Busch's "Legitimacy and Ethnicity" - A Case Study of Singapore (1974) notes in his research that "increasing tenure in the Chinese stream classes produces the strongest tendency to believe that Malays are inferior." He adds that Mandarin in Singapore (and Malaysia ? ) is more symbolic than communicative. It's "a sign of being a cultured Chinese". Outside of the institution, most Chinese speak to each other in their dialects, especially in Malaysia. This may not be applicable to Singapore today. Although the Singapore Government has successfully de-emphasised Chinese schools, the status of Mandarin has been elevated and the dialects have been marginalised and have almost vanished. Only recently Lee Kuan Yew in 2004 commented "To ride on China's growth, Singapore needs a core group with a deep understanding of contemporary China. This means a bilingual as well as bicultural group of key players. Bilingualism gets us through the front door, but it is only through biculturalism that we can reach deep inside China and work with them." A few months later the Ministry of Education set up 3 Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools. These schools have a strong Chinese tradition and are the only schools that offer the highest education stream.

In Malaysia, of course, bilingualism is a must. Biculturalism is a minefield.

Bausch added "having a proper Mandarin accent is a sign of prestige and good calligraphy is an art form and not just a matter of penmanship. Perhaps then it is not surprising that the ability to speak Mandarin well inclines the Chinese students to see their people as superior to the Malays." Well, that's 1974, you may say. But today, even if Singaporean Malays , the Malai-kwai (Malay devil) can speak Mandarin and there's a growing number of them : they are still third in line after the Indians , the Kaling-kwai.I think nuff's said. Hand on my heart, I know I'm colour blind. But the hypocrisy and selfish double standards I was subjected to brings out my bile and I do not want to re-trace that track.

I'll close this blog with this extract from Sterling Seagrave's Lords of the Rim (1996). "......the social atmosphere of Malaysia is more relaxed and wholesome, and its residents - regardless of ethnic ties - go to bed at night without dread. Mahathir's period in power has established Malay prestige without the stengun or the jackboot, in an atmosphere of civility that is remarkable for Asia and rare anywhere in the world."

Twice I saw my father's tears. The second time was on 31 August 1957. When I asked him why? He said, "I'm happy the British have gone but I have fears for my country." He went through the emergence of Malaysia, and the mantra for "Malaysian Malaysia" worried him for he knew what it implied. When the May 13 riots came , he was one of those in the kampung who rallied the various races to look after one another. It was centred at Seng Teow's kedai runcit. I'm glad he's spared from seeing what's taking place in his tanah air today.

P.S. "Get Back" refers to me only.


Anonymous said...

Hi Nor !

Thanks for that posting. Thanks for the insight . Although we share many sentiments together--but this is so well expressed. Something I will remind , urge and make sure my three kids read and see further than just whats happening . They have been raised to be 'colour-blind too, -just as Abah had raised us. Some of my kids' best friends are Chinese - just like mine are. I remember Sin Ling, Hoe, Tong San, Thomas Lim and a few others. But sometime I can't help wondering what else they wanted out of this country.
I know a few Indonesian students, whom for I didn't even knew were Chinese because there is no indication through their namea that they are. They speak Indonesian and a few of tem could not even speak their dialect and even if they do -- its sounded terrible. I think my Hokkien is better than theirs.
And you know what ?--I can name at least one family of Indonesian Chinese who would love to settle here in Malaysia. They envied their local counterpart.

Yes --like I wrote somewhere. I remember Abah in tears on the eve of 31st. August 1957. Under the 'lampu pam' (pressure lamp) and listening to the radio as they played 'NegaraKu' for the first time. I was only ten the,. It stayed in my mind to see a 47 year old man crying in both happiness and sadness. Yes he said something like 'Finally..." and also added, 'What will become of our country...' I didn't understand then...

But I do now.

Mus...also anaksihamid...

Unknown said...

May I call you Nor

I had the same experience of "conversion attempts" by my own classmates in my pre-u days as well as tertiary days.

This Chinese Christian girl asked me whether I would like to see a mansion with a swimming pool. We were poor then, so to me that was a great chance to step into a wealthy man's house.

I was really brought to this huge dwelling with grand gates and all. This girl and her other friends) took me to a living room with an organ. I was told to take a seat on the plush sofa and listen to the organ music. The sounds were so compelling and powerful, it was truly influential.

Then I was asked to close my eyes and hold hands with the ones seated next to me. The organ player started singing. He had this melodious and haunting voice, it was unnerving.

Soon I was told to open my eyes and drink from a tiny glass with red liquid and a green olive.

When I saw that drink, I was jolted into sanity. I refused to consume that scary liquid and demanded to be shown the swimming pool.

They tried to calm me down but I decided I had enough of their games. I stood up and put on my shoes and walked out the gates.

I never talked to that classmate of mine anymore.

These messiahs in uniform are quite active in school grounds. They approach you and asked for permission to discuss ways of life and will then proceed to TELL you that christianity is the most sensible way of life.

They target the more educated Malays. I heard they also "bribe" other Malays.

chong y l said...

Hi dare: I came here via rockybru and enjoyed your writing at first sight. Maybe I will fall in love again. Will come back for aMore...

Can I re-Post this at My Blue H'aven? My email is -- appreciate a note:)Tks in advance -- I assume AP (approval) is automatically gifted in blogosphere...:). YL, Desi

PS: I am picking up rockybru's post for where i front as Editor, so indirectly your post gets a billing2, via the LINKS:):)

Amir Hafizi said...

Great read!

Finally, someone with the balls to say it.

I am just wondering when the racists will show up here.

prachai said...

I find it strange that much of the discourse about ethnic relations have been centered on cultural differences. Admittedly, the latter do contribute, to a certain extent, in shaping the former. Perhaps an understanding of the basics of capitalist economics, which is embraced by almost all countries at present, will create more understanding.

When one sees how present day foreign workers live, one can perhaps start to understand things that happened 100 years ago. When capitalism hit Malaya, huge labour at "competitive" wages (e.g. those that require you to live in cramped conditions with your unwashed fellow workers) created a vacuum that could not be filled by the local Malay population. Just as today no Malaysian would entertain thoughts of taking up menial jobs (even cops need "extra income" to survive in KL), so was the case too with Malays during those days. This vacuum had to be filled, and one wonders why it wasn't by the Indonesians. If Indonesia had been under British control perhaps one wouldn't have to deal with the politics today. But the Dutch were there, and they just weren't going to allow the British to get ahead of them with "their" labour. Naturally, as a capitalist, you "source" your labour from overcrowded areas with a failed economy: China and India; just like Malaysian capitalists source their labour from Nepal and Indonesia today.

Just as there is economic tyranny in Malay society, where the bangsawan lorded over the peasants, perhaps it is not surprising to see economic tyranny committed by some of the more successful immigrants. But economic tyranny is economy tyranny, regardless of who commits them. What boils down to the end, is purely class struggle, and this is surely colour blind. Each of us have more in common than what politicians (who wish to maintain the status quo) would otherwise wish us to believe.

ipv6 said...

Many thanks for the history lesson as well as those citation.

halimah said...

I must commend you on your well argued, well researched piece, subjective in essence (which no writer can avoid) but not biased. You state facts and your interpretation of them!

The Malaysian language ding dong reveals the deeply racial, oftentimes racist insecurities embedded in the psyche of peoples still unsure how to embrace egalitarianism and universalism - of persons, societies, economies etc.

While recognising that the world has become intolerant of bigots and chauvinists, how do we rid ourselves of innate family, communal and national loyalties? How do we become advocates of a universal citizenry and its values while answering the call of nationalism and patriotism at the same time?

I think this is a tall order and unachievable in a pure form! There has to be compromises!

We will remain intrinsically racial in our groups, loyal to our customs and traditions including language but accepting and accomodating of other groups and their ways.

We are not asking the Mandarin-speaking Chinese and Tamil-speaking Indians to forgo their languages.

Speak it and sspeak it well FOR GOD's SAKE just as the Malays must pay more than lip service to Malay!

But as far as the NATIONAL EDUCATION SYSTEM is concerned it must be through one language (to me ENGLISH which is neutral/universal).

Teach the vernaculars to the native speakers as POL. Their sense of pride at knowing themselves and their traditions must be through their native tongues.

America has been able to engineer its nationalism and patriotism more successfully because of its English-based education system. Singapore too!

Anonymous said...

"Mahathir's period in power has established Malay prestige without the stengun or the jackboot, in an atmosphere of civility that is remarkable for Asia and rare anywhere in the world."

This gwailou doesn't know what he is talking about.Nuff said.

Unknown said...

Beautiful indeed. You wrote it like it was a green and flowery meadow in the country side. It has been long since I last read writings like yours.
On the religious issue, you could have said no. I am not a Muslim but I do read and listen to the Quranic verses. I did learn Jawi during my school days. But hey, was not influenced at all. I am not complaining but thankful because by doing so I understand more about Islam and Muslims. I am still a Christian and always be one. Would you do what I did. Maybe you have done so. Does it make you closer to others who are not Muslims?
Last but not least, i love your English.

Anonymous said...

anoymous said,

'This gwailou doesn't know what he is talking about.Nuff said.'

Is that it ?? Try to be more convincing ? Put your money where your mouth is ! This is written heckling !


Anonymous said...

anonymous 10.33

'"Mahathir's period in power has established Malay prestige without the stengun or the jackboot, in an atmosphere of civility that is remarkable for Asia and rare anywhere in the world."

This gwailou doesn't know what he is talking about.Nuff said. '

You stupid a***-hole---if it had been otherwise, you probably wouldn't be around to write such crap in this blog.

You certainly don't what you are talking about . ..Nuff said.


Anonymous said...


By using vulgar language in your comments, you really shamed yourself.I guess all this talk about "Prestige" by the Gwailou is all nothing but a hot air balloon. If your ego got wacked, please take it out on your dog or your wife. Not when someone's opinion differ from yours.

Have a good day and merry christmas . Could not respond to people like you earlier because I was away in my second home somewhere in a more civilized "western" country and too busy enjoying the festivities. Don't worry, I am not upset by your name calling. Just being reinforced in my thinking that all this talk about "prestige" is just some gwailou's wishful pipe dream.