黎育維 or Leonard Lai Yok Wai?

26 10 2008

Just a few days ago, I was reading a page on a film maker’s friend website. She writes in Chinese. As I was reading, I was thinking how the chinese words just flow effortlessly for her.

You see, I have lost the ability to write in chinese. I can read and speak, and I can type on a computer using “hanyu pinying” (where chinese words are written by spelling it out in alphabets that sounds like the character and you can choose from a suggested list of characters from the character help bar), but to ask me to write on a paper the characters, I have difficulty. Come to think of it, I can’t remember when I lost the ability to write in chinese.

When I was attending kindergarden, I started out learning and writing in chinese. Often, my homework was to write out the characters in mandarin at least a few times on those note books with square boxes. The first characters I learned were my chinese name, 黎育維. But things changed when I started Primary School. It must be frustrating for the teachers. Imagine a six year old boy who doesn’t know a thing about English, and on the 1st day of primary school, the teacher is talking to you in that language and teaching in English. I remembered my confusion.

However, slowly I learned my a, b, c and started conversing and using english more and more, and chinese became my “2nd Language”. I started writing it less and less, only during chinese lessons in class. I still speak chinese mandarin at home, so that is why I haven’t lost the language completely. Come to think of it, my family used to speak in Cantonese because my dad is Cantonese. Also, more importantly, I started to think and rationalize in english.

Now that I am all grown up and in my thirties, I still regret not having practiced writing the chinese characters more and being able to write chinese effortlessly. Why? Because I have come to realize that language is more than a tool for you to communicate. Being able to read and write a language gives you a sense of identity, of your ancestry and culture, of where you come from.

In Singapore, we have “hijacked” the english language and made it the common language, partly to maintain racial harmony so that none of the races and hence its language are deemed favoured over the other, and also because english is the common language of the world at the time to better conduct commerce. So did we also inadvertently “hijacked” the culture and identity associated with the english language? I think we did, to a certain extent, but a “compromise” is reached because ultimately, the language does not belong to us. I also think that this is also one of the reasons why the Singapore identity is so hard to pin down.

So now I have started to write more in chinese, and have also started to read a lot more in chinese. And I find that I am slowly regaining this language ability that I have lost. I can write better now, although I still need to check with my dictionary once in a while. And I am now able to think and rationalize in both chinese and english, depending on my mood. You can say I have a split language personality. I have also started to add the chinese characters “黎育維作品” together with “a Leonard Lai Yok Wai film” for my films. So am I – 黎育維 or Leonard Lai Yok Wai? I would say it is both, they are both me.

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