Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Language Differences

Few days back I read this really interesting column in The Malaysian Insider on a language-divided Malaysia. Have a read, it highlighted some very interesting points that I believe are quite accurate.

In it, the author wrote about how he has different groups of friends that he speaks different languages with- English, and Malay.
Chances are that, like me, you also have different categories of friends based on what language(s) they are comfortable with. Maybe in addition to English and Malay you have friends who shy away from both languages, preferring Mandarin or any other dialect. 
I found that premise very interesting given my own upbringing and experiences. For one thing, I quite agree that I have different groups of friends with whom I speak different languages. Or rather, I speak different languages when I am with different friends.

How cool is that!
The author went on to propose the possibility that one day, what if Malaysia becomes even more divided- not just by culture, religion or ethnicity, but by language as well?
“By my son’s generation in few more decades, I see Malaysia as being divided not by race but by language,” he concludes. “Those who speak English and those who don’t.”
I think this is quite an understatement considering how many languages are spoken in our country, but I do think that language is definitely one of the barriers that prevent us from being united as citizens. But going back to myself, I can definitely say that I speak from experience when I say language divides us.

I grew up speaking English- that was the first language taught to me, and it was the first language I learned to speak. It has been the language I am most comfortable communicating in (though when I was younger I was quite bilingual), and so I've always maintained that English is my first language. I do enjoy listening to stories from my mother about how my sister would have to be the de facto translator while our parents were at work when my grandparents were looking after us- I spoke next to no Cantonese and they didn't know English.

But being in a Chinese primary school, I also learned to converse in Mandarin. And from my parents' families, Cantonese and Hokkien. Yet, I was still always more comfortable in English- with friends in school I do remember that even though I was conversing in Mandarin most of the time, I still had several friends that I spoke to completely in English.

Tried using this site to zombify myself- pretty cool, no?
Then I entered high school, and I think this is where the main language barrier comes in. I think that we were quite segregated according to our language because of school policies- I was placed in a class with all the other students from Chinese primary schools. But then I also mixed with other groups- the ones who came from the national schools. Then I stopped taking Chinese classes and I think the separation started to widen as I was sorted into a class with others who spoke predominantly English as well. And I do believe that it is this difference in language that caused a division among these groups- they just were not comfortable communicating with each other.

Even till today, there are some friends with whom I would converse completely in Mandarin with, and some completely in English with, although I admit since coming to Australia surprisingly quite a number of friends started speaking to me in English instead of Mandarin, which was a little awkward at first- there just seem to be this wire inside our heads that this is the language that we converse in and when it's different, you feel a little odd.

But at the same time, as with every other issue, I think there are more layers to this- one of them being that in Malaysia, culture is always tied to language. And I do think that, stereotypically speaking, Chinese educated people think differently than non-Chinese educated people. Take basketball for instance- it seems to be a sport filled predominantly by Chinese educated people. But soccer, on the other hand, is the opposite. I believe that in our country, the way we are brought up affects all of that and that's how you have Chinese educated people into basketball and non-Chinese educated people into soccer. It's just as if you're brainwashed into liking basketball upon entering a Chinese school (along with other brainwashes I might add).

So do I think that one day we will be divided by our language? I think we already are.
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Saturday, 27 October 2012
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I've never been so committed to completing a piece of writing. But today upon stumbling on a certain website I decided to take the plunge.

Over the years, I've written here and there, recently I've taken to simply writing on my laptop, though that hasn't been very fruitful with my hectic schedule. It seems that discipline is really one of the toughest things a writer like myself can face.

So today, when I found out about the National Novel Writing Month, I was immediately intrigued. Here's what you do:
National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000-word (approximately 175-page) novel by 11:59:59 PM on November 30.
So I signed up, and brought up this document in my laptop where I write down ideas for my stories, picked one that has actually been hovering in my head for the past few days, and started planning. It says in the website that I can do all the pre-work beforehand, I just can't write yet, so I'm drawing up some research and plot outlines now. If you know me you would know that I enjoy having my stories well planned rather than writing as I go, so I always like knowing how a story will end before even writing them (although this hasn't always been the case, I've modified my stories a few times). I figured that since I'm now on my holiday and don't really want to work yet, this could be a great way to do 'work' and experience the life of an author.

But in conjunction with that, I thought I'd write a journal of my whole experience writing this novel. I think I'll document them offline first, and if I want to maybe I'll put them up here. 30 days of updates about writing a novel can be rather off-putting after all... Maybe I'll have to set up a new blog specially for this. Unless you don't mind reading about my emotions and thoughts throughout those 30 days?

And if there are any of you out there who would like to partake in this challenge, please do! It would be  really nice to share our thoughts later on.

Wish me luck!
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Thursday, 25 October 2012
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I've just finished reading J.K Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy. My first impression is that although it is different from the Harry Potter series, being that there is no magic involved and no supernatural themes, it still has her style of writing in it- a carefully planned and well researched story.

But having said that, there are similarities- the story takes place in a fictitious town called Pagford, and it is also a tale of growing up, at least for some of the characters. For those of you who are unaware of the storyline, here is the synopsis:
When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils... Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

At the start, I must say I was left quite confused, as the pace of the story was quite fast- it seemed as if we were moving between characters and storylines too quickly and I could not differentiate between the characters. But this is also where I think you can see J.K Rowling's talent- very quickly, the characters are differentiated and all have their own story (some longer and more detailed than others) and I found that I was quickly familiarised with the characters.

The plot was simple enough- it's a tale about small town politics and how seemingly perfect exteriors hide some very dark and flawed interiors (yes, it's Desperate Housewives-ish). I can tell why it has been labelled a novel for adults- not just because of all the swearing and sexual content, but also because even though it's a simple storyline, I found myself having to concentrate completely to be able to keep up with it; if I weren't I actually had to flip back to reread a certain part to be able to grasp what was happening.

And it really got me hooked in the later parts as the secrets began coming out and everything started unravelling. The ending, though, wasn't what I was expecting. Although there was closure of sorts, I felt myself feeling a little incomplete, as though the story was not completed yet. I suppose that's how good stories end- they leave you wanting more, and do not give out all the details; it is up to your own imagination and curiosity to fill in the blanks.

So all in all, despite people saying that it's not as good as the Harry Potter series (and yes, I do think that it's not as good) I do think that it is a good read nonetheless. It's a different kind of story, but you can still see the style of J.K Rowling in it all.
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Saturday, 20 October 2012
An End, and a Beginning

Yesterday was an extremely special day for me- it was the day I submitted my final university assignment. And since I do not have any exams, it also meant that I have currently, pretty much completed my undergraduate degree.

I have to say, this day has been a long time coming- a culmination of three years' hard work. When I think about it, it is rather bittersweet. After all, uprooting a life of 18 years and moving to another country is not easy. I learned so much, gained so much, but also lost a few things along the way, so this journey has been quite an emotional one to say the least.

My room in my first apartment! 
I remember my first semester in uni. I was new to life at university, a new country as well as a new environment. I was completely ignorant about the way that things work in this weird new place, and it is suffice to say that I was a little shocked at how quickly people here would brush you off and / or take advantage of you. I was foolish and naive, and got into an unsatisfactory contractual lease on an apartment I lived in in my first year. I was smart enough to record everything down, though- just because I was that vengeful. But through all that, I learned not to trust people too easily, even though I was already very distrustful of people.

Uni was not all smooth sailing, either. First of all, I found it very odd that I was at times the only international student in my classes. Then, socialising was not easy either as I found myself stigmatised and stereotyped. My shyness sure didn't help, either. But I was lucky enough to find a few people who took some of the same courses as me, so we enrolled in the same class times. And of course, there was that time when I lost many files in my laptop due to a virus, which unfortunately included my assignments which were almost due. In the end, I had to redo them after obtaining special considerations from my tutors.

This was me in 2010. What a ghetto I was!
Then there was the people. To be perfectly honest I did not enjoy the circle of people that I surrounded myself with. I would've distanced myself if I could, except that it was not possible; I wouldn't have anyone to talk to otherwise. I would say that it did contribute to my unhappiness in Adelaide, and my decision to move to Melbourne- which was a tough one since at the time, it was taking another risk- can I make a big change once again to move to yet another alien environment? Thankfully, I moved in with a friend and have since settled down well.

So to actually think about it, Melbourne changed my entire perspective of life over here. Before this, I did not quite enjoy myself, but as I slowly settled down and adapted, I started enjoying myself more. Like when I went exploring new restaurants and recipes with the housemate. Or when I was given more responsibilities which made my life a lot more meaningful than just attending classes. I travelled, which is always a plus and made me enjoy myself even more.

Handing in my last assignment
So much has happened that I do not even remember some things- reading my blog posts from 2 years ago is quite a refresher! But it's suffice to say that I have learned a lesson or two about myself and the world, but at the same time I did lose some of myself as I changed into who I am today. Honestly, there were some downright depressing moments, as those closest to me would know- filled with tears (yes, tears), but there were also some moments of triumph and jubilation, when I would jump around the house like an idiot.

And now, I'm moving on to another chapter, one that is yet to be plotted on a map. I do not really know what the future holds, and it is kinda scary knowing that I am officially unemployed. But hopefully that will change soon!
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Monday, 8 October 2012
I See The Light!

It's the very last stretch now- I'm just a week away from submitting the last of my assignments. With that, I would've completed my undergraduate years.

It feels weird, when I think about it. But I also know that I look forward to walking past the finish line when my graduation comes- it has been a whirlwind three years and I have gone through quite a bit, so it is quite a bittersweet ending. But I'll write about it in more detail when graduation comes (also because I don't have a lot of spare time).

From my Instagram account
But I do know what I want to do when next Tuesday arrives. First, I would gorge myself on books. I recently bought J.K Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy. I've yet to even flip the cover yet- yes, it's been that crazy- just today I stayed at uni till 9pm, something I've only done once when I lost my entire assignment. I also bought O, which is really a parody / fictitious account of Obama's reelection campaign. I started reading 2 or 3 chapters but have put this on hold for now.

Then, I shall catch up on TV shows that I've missed throughout this year, because of the whole Megaupload issue as well as having uni and other commitments to deal with.

I look forward to my well-deserved break!
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