Friday, August 9, 2013

Oh, I speak English too.


The current weather in Taipei reminds me of home.

Being a foreign student in Taipei, (thankfully) I'm still treated as an equal. No doubt I pay double the school fees the locals did, but I also get to enjoy the National Health Insurance system, as all full-time students are required to sign up for the insurance. Not only the medical fees are heavily subsidized so are the dental services. (Whether NHI brings about more pros OR cons to the country, be it economically or socially, is altogether another debate.) The school fees are still very affordable despite the recent hike for international students. Rumor has it, that is to curb the influx of PRC students enrolling into local national universities. 

Fact is, I want to pursue my further studies based on my passion for Liberal Arts (mainly Literature). Another fact is, I don't think I can afford studying in Singapore without taking a bank loan. Else, the pragmatic choice that I should have made is to continue my bachelor's degree in Business (related courses) after graduating from Temasek Polytechnic's business school. But no, I refuse to be in debt even before I start to contribute to my CPF monthly. Looking back on my decision after 3 years, I'm still glad I chose this path. Even when there are always raised eyebrows or worse, disparaging voices, I would still proudly say, I read Literature, Chinese Literature. 

Being away from homeland, one still faces many cultural differences and also had to put up with the stereotyping, despite having the same ethnically Chinese face. There were many instances the Taiwanese people have certain notions as to how Singaporeans should speak, (no) thanks to Jack Neo's movies. My peers are envious that I'm (rather, or at least more so, as compared to them) effectively bilingual. (Yes, unlike the characters in the movies, thank you very much.) But I don't feel superior when they asked me for help with their second language, and likewise they don't jeer at me when I don't know some words in their first language despite me being a major in Chinese Literature. We merely learn from each other. 

Yet sadly, this is not the case back home.

Speaking fluent Mandarin, sometimes get me ridiculed?! Trust me, they cringed at me as if I was an unwelcome intruder. Until I explained I'm a born and bred local. (I can only imagine the treatment the PRCs face daily due to the stereotyping.) Each and every one of us is an individual before we're a member of certain nationality, hence shouldn't we have basic respect for the individual before we judge them collectively? Perhaps the tension back home between locals and foreigners is escalating during my absence.

Other than English, I also use Singlish whenever it helps to get my point across better, or it depends on the comfort level of my audience. THEN, tadah, there you have it - the accusation (according to my critics) that Chinese Majors can't speak proper English to save their lives. Seriously, it's already laughable that as a nation, we claimed to be bilingual (sorry, this is not a blanket statement to judge fellow countrymen of Malay or Indian ethnics) when our reputation abroad isn't so. But guess who is our worst critic? Our fellow 'elitist' Singaporeans armed with their powerful ammunition of impressive English vocabulary. Sometimes, it's just tiring that I feel like a misfit back home and just so coincidentally I saw an article on our ESM's take on elitism. 

To quote our dear Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, 'There is a need to guard against elitism because it threatens to divide the inclusive society Singapore is seeking to build.'  HE said: "When society's brightest and most able think that they made good because they are inherently superior and entitled to their success; when they do not credit their good fortune also to birth and circumstance; when economic inequality gives rise to social immobility and a growing social distance between the winners of meritocracy and the masses; and when the winners seek to cement their membership of a social class that is distinct from, exclusive, and not representative of Singapore society - that is elitism."

Hence, this is not a war on the superiority of any languages. This is about the superiority of the elites and their distance from the masses. Being an insignificant member of the masses, I don't even want to think of social immobility right now, when I've to worry about the yet another potential hike in ERP by the time I graduate and go home, not forgetting the fees of public transportation that could easily cost me a decent meal. Immobility, is already an issue. 

(I know this may sound like an exaggeration to many of you, but as a student who supports herself in Taipei, when I don't have a single cent in my pocket at least I don't have to worry about transportation. I commute to school and work by my bicycle, yes, it's safer to cycle here than back home. When there's a need, the bus/metro ride wouldn't cost me a meal.)

I'm not campaigning that living in Taiwan is better than staying in Singapore. Some of the locals here think that Singapore government has done a great job, and as a Singaporean, I'm proud of what my country has achieved too. They have also mentioned that Taiwan should take a leaf out of Singapore's book to bring down the high crime rate. (Well, there is also the other school of thought - a country should be governed according to the Confucian ideals, instead of instilling fear to command obedience.) While the beauty of living in Taiwan appeals greatly to me, I'm not blind to her lacking aspects.

All I'm saying now is, although I miss home, can I go back? My government (yes, we collectively have voted for them, so let's take ownership and pride) have outdone themselves. Sometime I wonder about our next generation of leaders, would they be able to keep up? Outstanding individuals like Darren Woo Hon Fai, the Nanyang Technological University (NTU-HSS) valedictorian for example, I'm not even surprised that he made such a politically incorrect statement, nor am I offended by him, because he's merely one (at least he's frank?) out of the many byproducts of our current education system, which claimed to have the Bilingual advantage, as stated in MOE's brochure. 

Bilingualism is a key feature of Singapore’s education system. The main medium of instruction in school is English, but all students learn an official Mother Tongue Language. Our bilingual policy aims to equip our students with the language competencies to access Asian cultures and develop a global outlook. This will give our students a competitive edge, enable them to appreciate their culture and heritage and connect with people from different backgrounds, so that they can thrive in a globalised world.

Perhaps, such an outstanding student and the likes of him and I have our nationality (or maybe the coincidence of shared love for laska) as our only common denominator. As our outlook on society and life most probably would differ greatly. 

Just like for now, how the 29°C temperature is the only common attribute Singapore and Taiwan share. 

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