By YS Chan
I refer to the article “Zaid: Chinese love Malaysia and want to do more, but…” and wish to share my personal experiences in this country I call home.
My parents were Chinese school teachers when I was born, but they sent me to an English primary school in 1957.
Needless to say, the school was multi-racial and we mixed more with those we liked, rather than those who shared the same race or religion as ourselves.
Textbooks then were from Britain and pictures of English cottages on a meadow with a running brook beside it, are forever etched in my mind. To this day, it is my vision of paradise.
My secondary school was La Salle Klang. I obtained a distinction in Bible Knowledge without ever becoming a Catholic.
During this time, I mixed mostly with Indians who were Catholics and after leaving school, a Malay friend pointed out that I spoke English with an Indian accent.
In primary school, I was a top scorer in Malay, even though my class included students who completed six years in a Malay school but had to start from Standard Five when switching to an English school.
If I am now asked to read in Malay, I could fool many as I can pronounce the words without any trace of a Chinese accent, although I now understand only a little of the language.
Throughout my working life, I used only one language and that was English, as all the companies I served were big firms.
I never worked for any “Chinaman” company as I would have been a misfit. I would have spoken a few words in Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien and Hakka and before long, I would have been asked what my actual dialect was.
It was always a struggle to speak to my mother and aunty in my dialect. Luckily, all my siblings are conversant in English.
When I drove taxis, I placed a sign on the dashboard stating: “I speak, read, write and dream in English”.
My granddaughter was a self-learner as a young child, refusing to learn how to speak when taught, as she would not repeat the words when told to do so, and only give a knowing smile.
It was only after she turned two that she started to speak, and we were shocked at her range of vocabulary.
She could speak in complete sentences and learned the words from watching television, which were mostly children’s educational programmes and cartoons in English, with adult entertainment programmes taking a back seat.
She spoke “television English” and pronounced the words clearly. For example, when saying “look”, the ‘k” was clearly discernible.
Although family members tried teaching her some Mandarin and Cantonese, English was her lingua franca, which suited her well as she is now studying in Australia.
During my childhood, Rediffusion, a commercial cable-transmitted radio station was popular and radios in many houses were switched on loud in Pandamaran New Village.
I picked up the tunes of many classic Chinese songs without knowing the meanings of the words. Not long after television was introduced in Malaysia in 1963, I watched many black and white movies, including those older than what P Ramlee and AR Tompel produced.
I found those shot around the 1950 era particularly nostalgic as I would travel back in time to the days when our country was tranquil and pristine.
Till today, I would rather tune in to Radio Klasik FM than listen to the boring songs played by local Chinese or English radio stations, apart from a particular business station.
In the 1960s while in secondary school, I ate more nasi lemak and roti canai than my Malay and Indian friends.
But today, my genes dictate what I should eat. I am a Hakka and my ancestors were originally from northern China until the southward migration that continued to Nanyang (South Ocean) or South East Asia.
I enjoy food and drinks that are hot and still remember how my grandmother enjoyed steamy hot rice by inhaling the steam.
But I have not visited China, which is alien to the majority of Malaysian Chinese. Although there are strong links in language and culture, few consider China home.
Instead, the majority of local Chinese have greater affinity with English-speaking countries as evident by the countries they choose to emigrate to.
As such, I totally agree with Zaid Ibrahim that it is shameful to say that local Chinese are closer to mainland Chinese than they are to other Malaysians.
There is simply too much Malaya or Malaysia in us that cannot be taken out, and we have contributed just as much as we have received.
After all, we are no different from any other Malaysian, and those who think otherwise must be wearing blinkers.
YS Chan is an FMT reader.