Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lice, Petloleum and Campola...

After a recent visit to China, President Cristina Fernandez of Argentine twitted about the inability of (I suppose, many) Chinese in pronouncing the letter "r".

President Fernandez suggested that Chinese struggled to pronounce "rice", "petroleum" and "Campora", the youth wing of her political party.
"More than 1,000 participants at the event... Are they all from the Campola and in it only for the lice and petloleum?" she tweeted.

Of course, it was very undiplomatic for her to do so, since she was counting on China to help her economically.
President Fernandez is not the first to poke fun at we Chinese; there will be more if Chinese do not start to cultivate this awareness. I was visiting Ayers Rock in Uluru with my wife and grandchildren last year. We overheard this from a young Australian who asked his father, "Dad, why did that Asian tour guide kept saying this place is Wujuju?" With a 'l' and a 'r' in it, Uluru is really too much a tongue twister for many Chinese to handle! I thought it would have been Urulu to some Chinese.

I always joke about 'SS2 Bahasa Malaysia'. I don't mean to insult the residents there. But it is a precinct that is teemed with Chinese traders. Its morning make-shift wet market is jammed with people. Just listen to the way they speak Malay, you will know what I am trying to imply. "Ringgit" is pronounced is "Linget"; dua (two) is "Lua", so on and so forth.

Isn’t it time for Chinese to grow out of this ridicule?

Taiwan’s TransAsia Airways has just lost one of its ATR aircraft, which killed at least 40 of the 58 people on board. Apparently, the plane’s right engine triggered an al'arm shortly after take-off and the pilot went on to shut down the left engine. I am not sure if it was the confusion between R and L that caused the disaster. I harbour this thought because of my recollection of an earlier SIA disaster which saw one of its Boing 747 ploughing through the wrong runway in Taipei. Wasn't it a case of R and L confusion?

Because of our language structure and hence tongue make-up, indeed it is a struggle for many Chinese to pronounce the letter ‘r’ when it is combined with non-vowel alphabets. ‘Ren’ as in people and ‘rung’ as in “give in’ are easy for Chinese, but ‘Ferrari’ has to be Felali for them to feel comfortable - tongue-wise. Hence lice for rice and petloleum for petroleum.

If you bother to tune into CCTV News, you will see how pathetic Chinese can be in speaking English. They are treating English like Chinese, where every sound has to emanate from a character in Chinese. Unfortunately, most Chinese are too self-centred to be conscious of the need to adapt.

In Samarinda (the capital of East Kalimantan in Indonesia’s part of Borneo) some years ago, a Chinese was struggling to make himself understood with the hotel’s receptionist. I decided to help out and we got acquainted. Xiao-Yang said he was a graduate of the University of Wuhan in China. While he appreciated my command of English, he thought my spoken version sounded "strange". I suppose he believed his was the be-all-and-end-all Queen's version. How insulting!

Someone forwarded me this satire which I thought friends and readers might also like to read.

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On a SIA flight to KL…

S’porean Pasenger to Stewardess:

Hallo Miss, just want to ask you ah, who and where is this Kevin Khoo ah? He seem to be a very busy man. Everyone is looking for him…

Stewardess: ?? Sorry. Kevin Khoo?? Not sure what you mean sir...

Passenger: You know Keven Khoo la… even the Captain is always looking for him… Kevin Khoo please be seated for take off… Keven Khoo please return to your station… Keven Khoo p…please disarm all doors… Keven Khoo please be seated for landing… aiyo! He’s so busy la… why you all never help him one??
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I am pretty sure it is not a real anecdote. It might have been created by someone who is not quite tolerant with the Singlish or Chinglish that we are now hearing in Singapore and Malaysia today.
I am a product of Remove Class that was common in Malaysia's education system many years ago. After completing my primary six in Chinese in 1960, my second brother, who was my de-facto guardian, decided that I should continue my education in an English secondary school, lest I would suffer the same fate that had befallen him.  (There weren’t many employment opportunities for those who graduated from Chinese schools those days. Becoming a teacher was already a big deal then. But even though he was a trained teacher, he received only about a fraction of what his English school counterparts, a blatant injustice which took many years before his status was corrected - notwithstanding the fact that he had to do six years in secondary school, compared to five years for those in English schools.
The English that we learned in Chinese primary school was so rudimentary that I could hardly string a sentence when I entered High School Muar. The Remove Class was an extra year that was supposed to help us phase smoothly into Form One proper. But High School Muar was most discriminatory those days; Remove A boys were streamed into Form IE and Remove B into Form 1F, the two last classes in Form I. When another school merged into ours the following, we became Form IIG and Form IIH respectively. Hokkien was the lingua franca of the day. Despite the English handicap, many of us did pretty well in Form III’s Lower Certificate of Education examinations, that was when places were fought for and streaming determined for Form IV intakes. But my inferiority complex in the language continued well into my university and the earlier part of my working life. A better command in English would have been more helpful – in university and in career.
For those who continued their education in Chinese schools, few actually went to university or tertiary college. But it didn’t mean that they did not do well in life. Some went to Nanyang University – the only Chinese university in Singapore – or universities in Taiwan. For others, I am sure many have become successful businessmen in their own right. But my point is simply this: they might not have the benefit of good English to advance under a more conventional or traditional environment. Chinese as a language, which is basically pictorial or character-based, is particularly inhibitive for one to speak alphabet-based languages. Hence my empathy with the writer of this satire!
Therefore when it was time to send my children to school, I decided English should be their anchor. I nevertheless engaged a tutor to teach them Chinese. Both excelled in school and university. However, I suspect they did not pick up much from their Chinese language tutor.
As time progresses, I became more and more convinced of the superiority of English as a language in learning, especially in this ICT era. When I was younger, I was never an admirer of Lee Kuan Yew – after having read quite a bit about his earlier political life. Even today, I still think he has treated his comrades very unfairly and ruthlessly. Friends might want to read “Singapore’s ‘Battle for Merger’ Revisited” by Dr Poh Soo Kai who was assistant secretary-general of Barisan Sosialis in the 1960s. He was imprisoned twice under Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA) for a total of 17 years by Singapore’s PAP government. (; there is also a part 1 which readers can google themselves.)

However, wisdom came to Lee as he grew in his shoes. I am particularly impressed by the two volumes of autobiography which he penned after his retirement. He is certainly a sage-like figure now.
Someone forwarded the following to me. I urge readers to read the following to learn his thoughts about English.

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Insights from a Global Citizen
Last night the Hon Former PM of Singapore was given the rare award of "Global Citizen" by an International Board in New York for recognition for services to the World.
  They lauded him for Honesty and Impartiality as a  person who was consulted by World leaders especially both by Washington and Beijing, recognised as the pivotal centres that will greatly influence events of the world in the future.
  As the Hon LKY is now not well, his Foreign Minister received the award on his behalf.
  This honour gives recognition to the rarest of persons for their Brilliance, Honesty AND Courage in bringing about change for a better world.
  Personally it will be a very sad day indeed when he leaves this world and the world will be less bright without him. But the inspiration that he has shown will be such powerful source of light for many in the years ahead.
  But it is indeed righteous to honour such a Son of  the World when this world has so many other sons who use their sacred positions instead to enrich themselves through corruption, deceit, racism, puffed up ego, destruction, playing to the voters, race or religion, lies, distortion of history, suppressing and denying others of human dignity etc., thereby causing untold hardships and sufferings, both mental and physical, to millions due to their Dishonesty and Lack of Courage to bring about change for their fellow humans.
  Insights from a Chinese grand master
  China is remembering the 110th anniversary of the birth of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese political leader who has largely been credited with setting the country on its path of economic reform and modernisation after decades of Maoist madness.
  Deng had a foreign mentor. His name is Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore and one of the few surviving elder statesmen from the cold war era. Lee has also provided counsel to every US president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama.
  One of the biggest questions that confront Australia and the rest of the world is the rise of China.   Will China replace the US as the dominant power in the world?   Is it possible for the country to continue to grow at such a fast pace?   Will China ever become democratic?
  Thanks to Harvard scholars Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill, who interviewed Lee Kuan Yew extensively last year about the future of China, we can tap into the experience and insight of the grand master. The interviews were captured in Allison and Blackwill’s book, The Grand master’s Insights on China, the United States and the World and give a fascinating insight into China’s future.
  Lee is confident that it is only a matter of time before China displaces the US as the most powerful country in the world. “They have the manpower to do things cheaper in any part of the world economically. Their influence can only grow and grow beyond the capabilities of America,” he says.
  The former Singaporean Prime Minister says the chances of something going wrong in China are about one in five. Lee believes China’s strategy of becoming the number one country in the world is largely an economic one.
  “The Chinese have concluded that their best strategy is to build a strong and prosperous future, and use their huge and increasingly highly skilled and educated workers to outsell and outbuild others,” he says.
  Beijing does not want to repeat the mistakes of Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union, and understands that it cannot match the military power of the US.
  “I believe the Chinese leadership has learnt if you compete with America in armaments, you will lose. You will bankrupt yourself. So, avoid it, keep your head down, and smile, for 40 or 50 years,” he told the Harvard professors.
  Though Lee is generally upbeat about China’s economic prospects, he has a unique take on the hurdles in front of the country.
  Lee, a Cambridge-educated barrister, believes the country’s notoriously difficult language will be the biggest hurdle to attract and integrate talent from other countries.
  Lee’s belief in China’s inability to attract international talent due to its language barrier has been shaped by his experience in running Singapore. When he was the prime minister, he implemented and enforced vigorously an English-first policy in Singapore, including shutting the only Chinese language university in South East Asia.
  He deliberately turned his back on the Chinese language to make Singapore an internationally competitive place so it could attract and assimilate talent from other societies in the world. Lee believes it is next to impossible to engineer a similar cultural change in China, a country with 5,000 years of history.
  “We could do that in a small city-state with strong leadership. While I once advised a Chinese leader to make English the first language of China, clearly that is not realistic for such a great, confident country and culture. But it is a serious handicap,” he says.

  China’s governance system, which has been marked by tight control, is under increasing pressure from the onslaught of technology. The proliferation of smartphones, social media, the internet, and satellite TV will result in Chinese citizens being more informed.
  Lee says it won’t be possible to govern them the way they are governed now, because their numbers will be so large.
  One of the biggest questions for foreign policymakers is whether China’s rise will be peaceful? On this point, Lee has no clear answer and says Singapore is not sure. Many Southeast Asian countries are suspicious of a rising China, which has been taking a hard line approach in territorial disputes in the region.
  “They [ASEAN countries] are uneasy that China may want to resume the imperial status it had in earlier centuries and have misgivings about being treated as vassal states having to send tribute to China as they used to in past centuries,” he says.
  Conventional political theory suggests that a rising middle class will bring about democratisation. And will China follow the same path? Lee feels strongly that China is not going to become a liberal democracy. “If it did, it would collapse,” he said, “where are the students of Tiananmen now? They are irrelevant. The Chinese people want a revived China.”
  Lee, a well-known defender of so-called Asian values, does not believe it is possible to impose on foreign standards that are alien to China’s own history and past. “So to ask China to become a democracy, when in its 5,000 years of recorded history it never counted heads,” he said, “all rulers ruled by right of being the emperor, and if you disagree, you chop off heads, not count heads.”
  In essence, Lee thinks China will continue to grow and surpass the US in absolute size, but cannot match it in creativity and innovation. Beijing will become more assertive but it is unlikely to challenge America’s military supremacy, at least for another 50 years.
  China will not compete with America in armaments to risk bankrupting itself, however, letting American worry about their development of military technologies and capabilities and compete towards bankruptcy is now the strategy.
  While making English the official language in Singapore is easy because of its geographic and population size, this will be next to impossible in China. Therefore, the next best option is to engineer the Chinese language to become one of the major languages worldwide, or better still as one of the major second languages within this century.

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Feel free to disagree!

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