This would be a basi entry coz Ramadan was so 5 days ago. But I wanted to blog about the time I spent roaming around Geylang with Crystal and her friends. The only reason why I had not written about it was because I didn't snap enough good pics on those days, and for the life of me, I can't seem to remember one of her friend's name.
But I'll write about it anyway. Hopefully, my readers will be able to enjoy this piece in the absence of great imagery of the bazaar. But this piece will be about racial harmony more than it is about Ramadan.
Crystal and her confused housemate (whose name has somehow lost in my memory. urgh)
Anyway, let's get started by talking about my friend Crystal.
Well, Crystal is a Malaysian Chinese who had studied here, and is now working in Singapore. I met her while we were volunteers in NYC. We clicked, somehow, coz maybe I was the mat, and she was the minah cina.
Furthermore, I was captivated by her ability to converse in Bahasa Malaysia extremely well, that sometimes I do forget she is Chinese. Her roots are clearly Chinese. But her ethnicity is influenced by Malay culture. She loves her first language, Bahasa Malaysia, and I find her passion for her country of origin and her country's culture rather addictive.
In her, I find someone clearly very rooted in her Chinese way of life as a Buddhist, speaking Mandarin and Cantonese, celebrating CNY and Mid Autumn Festivals, yet having the ability not merely to tolerate, but to appreciate her Malay heritage in her Bahasa and her previous dikit barat life.
Interacting with other Malaysian students and graduates online, I found many that are colour blind. I found that some Malays are able to converse in Mandarin rather well, picking up the language since they were young. Apparently in Malaysia, they could pick up a 3rd language eons before Singapore began our 3rd language program.
Which is why I found that since Dr M's change of stance to build a Bangsa Malaysia Malaysia rather than a Bangsa Melayu Malaysia, Malaysia's racial harmony efforts have been more successful than Singapore. The one thing about Malaysia is its authenticity. They maintained their roots as an Asian nation, scrapping English as the national language in 1967 and replacing it with Malay. This was one of the main arguments from the PAP side which was in favor of keeping English in for the purpose of progress.
Sure, Singapore progressed. Yet, somehow, for the benefit of a "first world living", we had forsaken much of our heritage. I find it so amusing how difficult it is for us to put up an entertainment program that could revolve around Singaporeans from different races without it being plastic.
Watching reruns of last year's Hari Raya concert was case in point. The dialogue was palpable, the humor was horrible, and the pride of our multiculturalism was pretty much in shambles.
Patricia Mok couldn't speak an inch of Malay, and I dare say that the Malay artistes probably knew more Mandarin and Hokkien words than Patricia could muster.
Ok, I digressed.
Her friend was of Indian origin, but had spent almost her entire life in Jakarta. Because of this, she could speak Bahasa Indonesia without problems. In fact, she calls Jakarta home.
Having an American education helped her earn entry into Singaporean varsity and later a job in Singapore. Her English was superb. Her Bahasa was equal.
I felt proud and embarassed all at the same time. Honestly, my Bahasa Melayu isn't that great. But I dare say that sometimes Crystal puts me to shame with her "kehalusan bahasa". And the fact that she, a late starter in English corrects my English usage, a native speaker.
We roamed around Geylang, me, more of a tour guide, pointing out to them the various delicacies during Ramadan. We were on a mission to munch, and munch we did. I had Turkish ice cream, kebab, and prata tumbuk in one night. The richness of culture on one bench having an everyday conversation about work and life over dishes from the mediterranean, the Indian sub-continent and the Malay peninsula was well worth it.
I loved it a lot, and I wished that Singaporeans were more like Crystal and friends. Walking around Geylang, there were few Chinese that were going around the bazaar. Most of them were students, particularly those from TKGS and a few Boys Brigade boys from a school I could not recognise. But they were more of a kelompok cina rather than a mix of races.
We visited every part of the bazaar, and bought stuff like keychains for Derrick apart from the makan. (haha).
This is something I'd love to do again next Ramadan where we could enjoy time with other races, in a rich cultural environment. Having spent time with Crystal motivated me to pick up Mandarin. Well, she was more of an inspiration. It was my gf that influenced me in the first place. She can be such a cheena especially since she has Chinese blood and was from very Cheena schools (except for JC).
The only reason why I wasn't able to converse in Mandarin well, despite having had Mandarin classes in kindergarten, and Chinese friends in primary school, and later going on to a very Cheena secondary school was due to one thing.
I didn't see it as my language. Neither was there an effort by my kinder teachers to pay attention to the non-chinese students. I wouldn't have failed, even if it isn't my language if my teachers had given us non-chinese the attention we deserve. We weren't able to pass our Mandarin because firstly, the teachers couldn't be bothered to teach us non-chinese students with much needed attention. My parents clearly don't speak the language, yet my mother demanded why I didn't pass my Mandarin! In the first place, even they couldn't help with my assignments!
If they had only seen it as an opportunity to share the Chinese part of Singaporean culture, and emphasised on how Malay, Chinese and Indian culture all form our heritage and how we would all benefit from our multi-lingualism, I'm sure that not only would I be conversant in Mandarin, I woudn't feel out of place using it regularly.
When the Speak Mandarin campaign was the in-thing, and the media frequently writes about non-Chinese picking up the language, it was often because the non-Chinese needed to get an edge in getting jobs in Chinese majority Singapore. (Truth be told, I dare say we are still prejudiced in the real world.) It was a material need. Non-Chinese picked up Mandarin because they needed to survive. Not because it could help understanding the Chinese, or appreciating our heritage.
I sincerely hope that young Singaporeans would wake up, and see each other in shades of grey rather than in colour. Maybe, one day, Singaporeans could understand, word for word what Majulah Singapura really means. Otherwise, we would still be mouthing the anthem in a language many of us don't even understand, even though we're smack in the middle of the Malay archipelago where every other country around us are native speakers.