For some time, Mr Wang has been toying with the idea of taking up a Mandarin course. Mr Wang can already speak Mandarin, of course. He can even write Mandarin (what little he remembers of it anyway, from AO-Level days). However Mr Wang would like to take his Mandarin to a Much Higher Standard.
Why? You see, Mr Wang is aware of the rising economic importance of China. China is just going to grow and grow in importance. Mr Wang is a lawyer, and he would like his Mandarin to be good enough for him to understand legal contracts drafted in Mandarin. If possible, Mr Wang would even like to be able to draft legal contracts in Mandarin one day.
Mr Wang thinks that having a strong command of the Chinese language can be a very valuable asset for a lawyer who regularly works on cross-border, international transactions. Why, that is exactly the kind of work which Mr Wang does.
Today, the Straits Times has a story about Singaporeans and the Chinese language. Let's take a look.
Sept 3, 2005Mr Wang is smarter than Mr Lim. Mr Wang never failed his Chinese tests in school. However, Mr Lim is one up on Mr Wang. Today, Mr Lim can speak good Mandarin and read Chinese legal contracts, but Mr Wang cannot. Hrrrrumph. Mr Wang admits defeat.
THE NEW CHINESE GROUND
Who's afraid of Chinese poetry?
Film-maker Jack Neo says that older Chinese-educated Singaporeans represent the last traces of the country's 'true essence'. Not true, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who cites the emergence of a new generation that's discovering their heritage. Who's right? Li Xueying and Ong Hwee Hwee find out.
THERE was a time when Mr Philip Lim failed all his Chinese tests with distinction.
His Mandarin was fractured. He could write only a handful of Chinese characters such as wo (me), ni (you), and ta (him). He put up with snide remarks about being a 'fake' Chinese.
But he did not care. After all, to him, Chinese was a language that was neither hip nor useful. That was then.
Today, the 31-year-old businessman speaks Mandarin with a Beijing lilt, and can even read Chinese legal contracts.
It's all about business.
Mr Wang and Mr Lim, however, share one thing in common. Their newfound interest in the Chinese language is motivated by economic imperatives. If China were an economic slum today, Mr Wang would rather take a Time Management course than a Mandarin course. Mr Lim probably feels the same way.
But what does PM Lee Hsien Loong think of people like Mr Wang and Mr Lim?
Mr Lim is among a 'new generation' of Chinese Singaporeans described by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who are rediscovering their Chinese heritage and identity.
Educated, bilingual and well-versed in Chinese culture, they are riding the wave of China's economic rise.
Singapore's Chinese ground, it seems, is entering a new chapter.
'Over the past year, I have noticed a new mood and confidence in the Chinese community,' said Mr Lee in his National Day Rally speech on Aug 21.
Speaking in Mandarin, he added: 'China's emergence has strengthened our confidence in the future of Chinese language and culture in Singapore. More generally, Chinese Singaporeans appreciate their Chinese heritage and identity more, and understand the importance of learning Chinese.'
I am not sure if I agree with Mr Lee. Although I do understand the importance of learning Chinese, I don't know whether I can honestly say that I appreciate Chinese heritage and identity more than I did before. Most likely I think that my level of appreciation has stayed about the same, all these past years.
As I have mentioned, my newfound interest in Mandarin is driven by economic considerations. If it were Indonesia, instead of China, that was booming today, I think that I would be interested in learning Bahasa Indonesia instead. I would probably employ an Indonesian maid and make her teach me Bahasa for at least 20 minutes each day.
I think I would bring tears of disappointment to some Chinese cultural diehards. I like Jackie Chan movies and I eat Chinese food more often than not. But I have no desire to learn the guzhen and definitely, I am more likely to get lost in the streets of Beijing than, say, in Sydney. The latter has street signs in English. See this next part of the article:
... others like Mr Sia Yong, 79, founder of Singa-Sino Friendship Association, agree it is 'a lost battle'.Well, I'm sorry, Mr Sia. But Mr Wang cannot tell a lie. How I feel about Mandarin is really how I feel about Mandarin.
'It's sad when young Chinese Singaporeans are enthusiastic about their language only because there is money to be made from it.
'It's different from our generation, when we are genuinely passionate about our culture and heritage. In that sense, the better part of Chineseness is lost.'
Statistics seem to bear his observation out.