6 In Chinese Novels

Getting in touch with my roots

As a Singaporean, sometimes I have a hard time pinpointing what exactly is my native tongue. I supposed that I’m bilingual in both English and Mandarin Chinese. Then I think I’m a native speaker of English given that I use it all my life in the domains of school, work etc but sometimes I’m made to feel that I’m not one. (We can’t teach English in Korea because we don’t fall under the list of countries deemed as native)

I’m perhaps a native speaker of Chinese, given that it’s my mother tongue and I have used it all my life. It’s also the first language I learnt, before English in fact. But can I really say that I’m equally proficient in both?

Before learning foreign languages, I have always taken a rather ambivalent attitude towards my proficiency in the two languages, especially Mandarin. Amongst the people around me, I’m considered to be pretty good in Mandarin. Back in those days when I was still in school, Mandarin wasn’t considered that important yet and most of my friends would see studying Mandarin a dreadful chore. Well, can’t really blame them, as somehow it was taught in a way where memorisation was the way to go (remember all those 词语手册 guys??).

I still remember distinctly a friend saying “I just need to know enough Chinese to order a plate of 鸡饭 (chicken rice) at the hawker.” People would be like WOAHHH when they see me reading a Chinese novel, thinking it to be some amazing achievement o.O and the reaction was bigger when it’s a novel in Traditional Chinese.

Okay, that made me seem like a pro in Chinese right? Totally not. I used to think I was okay in the language, but as I grew older and met more people (whether native Chinese speakers or otherwise), I realised how limited my proficiency was.

In Singapore, we like to mix our languages a lot – a sentence can contain English, Malay, Mandarin etc. When I spoke to friends from China, I realised that I love to put in English words every now and then and I can’t quite recall at that moment what the Chinese equivalent is.

我们去吃KFC好吗?我很想吃他们的mashed potato。

借我correction tape!我的用完了。

Okay, I realised till now I don’t even know what correction tape is in Mandarin -.- (someone please enlighten me)

As my love for Korean (and Japanese grew), so did my interest in my native languages. The wish to become better in Mandarin grew stronger and thus for the past few years (and especially this last year!!), I have been reading / writing / speaking / listening etc a lot more in the language. Sure, there is definitely something call ‘natural flair in the language’, but effort makes a lot of difference too.

The effort I put in Mandarin is paying off and this last year, I seemed to use it very often. Instead of Korean-English translations, I found myself working with Mandarin a lot more. I’ve always read in Chinese (traditional), but in 2015, I expanded to reading more Simplified Chinese. I really read a lot – you can see the books I read here (need to update…).

I was super into C-novels that originated as web novels and it was just fun to get to know a whole new world 😀 Reading C-period novels made me learn about terms used in the genre / era and introduced me to C-entertainment. I really wanna travel to Shanghai now! It also introduced me to a genre of music which is now my LOVE ♥♥♥♥♥ – 古风 (gu feng).

I’m still new to it but generally it refers to those c-period drama OST style of music, if you get what I mean. The lyrics are usually super poetic and tell a story (: Apparently there’s this whole genre of self-composers and lyricist etc who upload their creations on the net and there is also this group of people who would 翻唱 the songs (do covers).

I’m super super addicted to the voice of one of those cover artistes – 西国海妖!!! (Did I mention how I baidu everything now lolol) She releases her own self-composed songs, write lyrics and also does covers (among other things). HOW COOL IS THIS.

I haven’t stop listening to this song since I discovered it a few days ago.

Please read the lyrics cos it’s just ♥♥♥♥♥ – it’s in the description of the video.

有書生翩翩風流 有佳人獨坐樓閣
有一日擦肩而過 惹來兩情脈脈
詩文裡風月漸濃 只不見天長地久
心事落在琴弦外 又與誰輕輕說

(this is in traditional characters but you can google for the simplified version)

This is my favourite part. ♥ I love how you can convey so much beauty and emotions with a few characters in Mandarin 😀 Reading all those c-period novels have made me a lot better at understanding such writing.

If you like this genre, there’s a lot in youtube haha. Some of my personal favourites to date are: 《宿命》,《化鶴歸》,《 錦鯉抄》and 《風花雪月》.

I’ve digressed. In any case, I really love 西国海妖’s voice. She’s not a professional singer but I just love her style. Go have a listen! (:

I think my mum is pretty thrown off by my switch in tastes. I used to play K-pop stuff everyday for years, interspersed with short periods of j-pop and some mando-pop. But now I’m like in some 古代 (ancient period) world of my own and she was like… “最近吹中国风啊”. LOL.

I’m also writing a short story in Chinese!! 😛 It has always been a small dream of mine to write something! I have no 文笔 to speak of and it’s probably not terribly interesting, but it’s fun to write! May share chapter 1 here next time hahaha.

Okay this is a long post. Besides sharing my love for Mandarin and being a total fangirl over 古风曲, I guess there is something more I want to share. I just think it’s a pity some Singaporean Chinese see Mandarin as a super difficult language and not bother with it even though it’s part of our roots. Sometimes it’s a perspective/attitude issue. Give it a chance, and perhaps it won’t look as difficult anymore. Of course, this applies to all other languages too.

If for some reason or another, you have lost touch with your native tongue or any language, take some time out to approach it again (:

I’m still on my journey but so far it has been a rewarding one!

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  • Reply
    M. C. Maltempo
    2 January, 2016 at 12:32 PM

    Per usual, you’re amazing. And I completely understand your desire to connect with your “home” language and culture because of your exposure to foreign ones. It was the same reason why I wanted to learn Korean, even though I had started by learning Spanish and French. I needed to know where my home mindset was from which I am mentally going abroad. I think Singapore has it tough. It’s culture is an amalgamation of other cultures for the most part. So, good for you to try to figure out what your cultural background is, really. I wonder, though, if you can point to a singular Singaporean culture? In the States, we’ve got American Football, jazz, native tribes and such. It isn’t a cohesive culture but it is enough to make a cultural identity attached to our nationality.

    • Reply
      2 January, 2016 at 7:57 PM

      There are things that make us uniquely Singaporean (and we have Singlish ahhaha) but I just felt that it’s a pity that most people (of my age / generation anyway) focus a lot more on English. Chinese is taught as a second language to Singaporean Chinese, which means that in general we use it only in the the language classes and not in anywhere else (eg. we don’t learn Math in Chinese etc). So definitely there is a difference in proficiency levels.

  • Reply
    This Can Be Pronounced
    3 January, 2016 at 4:21 AM

    As a more internationally-aware and multilingual person, I think you should just not bother with such terms; I feel they come from the perspective that people only have a single native tongue, and others are learned afterwards.

    If I have to quickly and conveniently call out a native language (because what they REALLY mean is what’s your best, most personal language) I’ll say it’s English, but like you, I was raised bilingual. I may have had a nasty Spanish-accent for most of my childhood due to my parents, but my Spanish and English were learned together and relatively equally. Spanish was most likely actually first, but never primary in any of my memories. So I usually just say both are native, or natively bilingual.

    Living in America, English soon overtook Spanish, which is now mostly limited to the family. I definitely do not have the comfort with Spanish that I have with English, and I have quite a few grammatical gaps than I can usually conveniently patch up or work my way around, but they’re there. I’m trying to make the effort to do more Internetting or other activities in Spanish. 😛

    However, what I’d really like to do is do language exchange with someone learning Spanish, because if I teach Spanish, I will have to make sure everything I say is correct – I will be pushed to check myself more and can learn along with the person I’m helping.

    Good luck to you!

  • Reply
    3 January, 2016 at 3:28 PM

    That’s awesome, Shanna! I’m so jealous that you were raised speaking two languages. I know there’s much debate about whether or not that’s an aid or a hindrance in learning a third language, but it’s cool regardless 🙂

    Also, I know that as a fellow language learner you would want to know this – it’s actually “I digress”, not “I digressed”! Just a little thing I noticed!

    Looking forward to reading about your language learning adventures this year 🙂

  • Reply
    5 January, 2016 at 12:37 AM

    We say correction tape as 改錯帶/塗改帶 in Hong Kong (the latter more common), not sure if it’s proper Chinese though lol.

  • Reply
    17 January, 2016 at 7:22 PM

    Hi Shanna!
    Dropping by after a long while. Hope you’re doing well~
    At this point, my Korean is better than my Chinese. I’m currently reading 넓고 얕은 지식, which is extremely readable for those who’ve taken Advanced Korean and want some practical vocab. I’ve tried reading Korean fiction but I just can’t get into the style of writing. You’re much more of a linguist than I am for sure, I learn languages because I like structure & having something to do lol. I am currently relearning Japanese using the Korean Minna No Nihongo books for a bit.
    Anyway, I noticed that you have a C-novel book list. I’m trying to get back into Mandarin after more than 10 years but idk where to begin – level-wise and also with respect to textbooks vs novels. Was hoping for something like 넓고 얕은 지식, which is non-fiction but easy to read. Any recommendations?

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