Thursday, February 17, 2005

Language Issues

The issue about Manglish - when people get sensitive about being ridiculed for their poor english, the topic sometimes gets hot. My contention is that if you’re poor in a language, it doesn’t make you any lesser as a person. It is another of those things called talent if one can speak well and pick up a language easily. Those who learn languages easily usually talk a lot and don’t mind being wrong some of the time. They laugh and get themselves corrected and they learn and improve their command of the language. To them, it is no big deal. It is the sensitive or shy individuals who find it difficult to learn when they take every criticism too seriously and personally. They should be willing to take every step possible and keep going. Kids would never walk if they are afraid to fall again after taking the first few steps.

Many of us had to fall off a bicycle countless times before we managed to stay on it. We just concentrated on mastering the balancing act and ignored the aches and scratches from the falls. Being able to ride the bicycle with ease was the ultimate goal. Of course, nowadays the kiddy bicycles come with extra wheels for learners. Similarly, language learners nowadays have lots of help from videos and audios and what-nots to help them. No excuse if you can't learn another language unless you don't like to open that gap!

I also found that no matter what language it is, there is always the local version. Which means that any spoken language has to evolve into a different version whenever it leaves it original location. Therefore, we would be only kidding ourselves to think that we can maintain and speak perfect Queen’s English on Malaysian soil with everyone we meet.

Each person has his own strengths or weaknesses and each should take learning in his own time and mark his own progress. This real-life situation is not a school where you need to pass to certain standards within a certain period. I was schooled in English but I had to speak and improve my Mandarin when my kids started school. My eldest came home from school and switched on to Mandarin and the younger girls just followed. And I had to keep up with them. No choice lah. Their mother suggested that I spoke English with them so they can be better at it. But it doesn't seem to work. Brain can't switch, tongue can't switch. Selector jam. so, we're stuck with Mandarin with the kids, Hokkien with wife, and Teochew with my side of the family, and campur with all the rest of the population.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The lesson from May 13

Whatever happened on May 13 was the result of too vigorous boat rocking by all parties concerned. It did put a scare on us all. "The boat" could have capsized and drowned everybody if not for strong leadership and eventually some level-headedness among the parties involved.

Sure, every one of us wants something for ourselves. Our grandparents left whatever little they had behind them, braved the high seas hoping for a better life for themselves and their descendents. They survived the hard work, the Japanese occupation, the Emergency and after they'd seen May 13, they willingly voted for those who were ready to sit at the negotiating table. They'd seen that armed struggle did not produce anything but worse conditions. In the end there'd be nothing left for anyone. We could fight off each other for what's left of the cake or we could work together to make more cakes. The ISA has nothing to do with that mindset. But it did help keep those who think otherwise in line.

The NEP is not a law. It's a compromise. Call it "acceptable discrimination". But as with any compromise, it's open to abuse. That's when it begins to hurt, not just individuals, but national progress. Our previous leadership with foresight has already planned for its eventual end. But it's up to us to keep reminding our current leadership to ensure that those who implement it uphold the rules and stop its abuse. Failure to act now would push us further from its maturity, and our maturity as a nation. Together, we base on each other's strength to face the world or get screwed up. Those who intend to depend on it as a crutch, or for personal benefit, will keep finding excuses for it to be prolonged.

I believe no community will get stronger if it depends on protection all the time. In face of globalization, each one must pull its own weight but work as a team. Otherwise we go down together.

History Lessons & Patriotism

I flunked history because I kept forgetting the dates when such and such events happened or when who was born and when who died. But I didn’t forget the lessons and the principles behind them. Of course, some of the teachers didn’t mention these principles. I wondered why we had to learn history and I figured them out myself later.

How wonderful for us all if humans can really learn from history. But alas, that is not to be. We think we are different. Our situation is different. But is it really? I believe we would go through similar situations and make the same mistakes all over again and again. And the generations that come after us will still commit the same errors. If by good luck, they turn out right, they’ll live happily for a while. If not, they are thrown into another age of chaos, each fighting the other for their rights and ruining the country until something happens or some leader comes along and save them from killing off each other. Otherwise, they keep their country in perpetual state of chaos and finally destroy the country and its people beyond salvation. The world watches helplessly while that happens to some African countries today.

The US went through a devastating civil war before the southern states surrendered and gave up their rights to own slaves and to achieve unity as a nation, to live up to their principle of liberty and equality for all. The Chinese went through years of a destructive cultural revolution to redistribute wealth for equality and decades of closed-door policy and eventually, after a few more decades of re-learning, are finally ready to get back to be on equal footing with the rest of the world. The Russians managed to bring their nation together for a while under communism. But they didn’t realize their ideology couldn’t hold the people under it for long. They successfully controlled the people and saved the country from ruin but they failed to revive the people’s self-reliance.

The Indian sub-continent, still shackled by their caste system for centuries, would probably have achieved equality and better wealth distribution for all their citizens if Mahatma Gandhi remained alive to guide them through that phase. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as he was killed by someone who represented those who wanted to keep their status quo. Thus India remains a nation of huge contrasts between the haves and have-nots. Japan and Germany had their countries and economies rebuilt because they took too drastic actions which fell back on themselves. Their actions, however, turned out to work well for them because it cleaned up their old systems and were compelled to start afresh.

I could go on and name more examples of historical lessons, but I’ll miss my point. If my understanding of history is correct, it would surely be a sad day if we have to solve our problems the way some of these countries try to solve theirs. Therefore, the way I see it, we'd gone through the first step of re-engineering we wanted to make. The next step must be followed through. The crutches must go before too long, before the mould sets, before the extremities become too deep, before we drop too far behind and find our cake becomes just a shell with icings and decorations but hollow inside. The good stuff all gone. Our cream of the crop scattered all over the world, benefiting everyone else except us.

All the flag flying and slogan shouting will do us no good. All must start with changing that mindset. Yes, it's easier said than done. But every positive step is a lot better than bickering about who's got more rights.