Monday 18 March 2019

As a Chinese who can't speak Chinese, I don't know what's Bayfront in Mandarin either

Three weeks ago, I went to a barbershop and asked for the Kim Jong Un haircut to commemorate the US-North Korea summit in Vietnam as normal people do.

The woman at the reception counter asked: “Who?”

I was shocked that she had never of the man with the most famous haircut in the world – and she worked in a barbershop.

It wasn’t like I was asking her to name her favourite Watain song. I would understand if she had never heard of the Swedish black metal band because their concert here wasn’t cancelled yet.

They weren’t in the news at the time, but Mr Kim was. You know, summit and all that. He’s easily the planet’s most famous Korean not in a K-pop band or a sex scandal.

Watain have a song called Nuclear Alchemy. The Supreme Leader has actual nuclear arms.

But in the eyes of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Watain is probably more dangerous since Mr Kim was welcomed to Singapore last June with open arms – but Watain, not so much.

“Kim Jong Un,” I repeated. “The North Korean leader?”

The woman still didn’t know what I was talking about.

So I took out my iPhone, found a picture of my man online and showed it to her.

She said “Ohhhhh” and something else in Mandarin which I presumed was Mr Kim’s name in Chinese.

I got my haircut.

This is sort of the reverse of what happened to Mr Timothy Bon last week – except I didn't shame the woman for not knowing Mr Kim's name in English.

But as someone who can't speak Mandarin very well myself, I empathise with Mr Bon. Big mood.

The 22-year-old had a rough week.

It all started last Tuesday at Jurong East MRT station when a “China lady” approached Mr Bon and asked him in Mandarin how to go to Bayfront.

Like many Singaporeans, including me, he didn’t know the Chinese names of all the MRT stations by heart.

So Mr Bon, who got a C6 for his O-level Chinese, took out his phone to Google what station the woman was referring to.

Seeing him fumbling with his device and the language, she said in Mandarin: “A Chinese person who doesn’t know how to speak Chinese, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

Here he was, trying to help, Mr Bon was taken aback by the sudden scorn. So he pointed her to the train heading towards Tuas Link, which is the opposite direction of Bayfront and civilisation in general.

The woman walked off without saying thanks, according to Mr Bon.

Later that day, he went on Twitter to rant about the incident because “it’s cheaper than therapy”.

Well, his tweets went “Jovina Choi during Chinese New Year” viral and were reported by Mothership, AsiaOne, Lianhe Wanbao and even China and Taiwan media.

It got so cray that on Saturday, Mr Bon went on Instagram TV to “clarify the entire situation” and “milk his 15 minutes of fame dry”.

“Guys,” he said to the camera, “I was just complaining. Stop. It’s not that big of a deal. Stop.”

In the two-part profanity-laced IGTV video, he described how on the day after the tweets, it “started spiralling out of fucking control”.

“I was on Facebook just basically replying to goddamn trolls,” he said.
“I just want to make it clear this was never meant to be an attack on China tourists because I’ve been getting so much hate over this…

“I was rude to her because she was rude to me. Was it petty? Yes. Was it what she deserved? Yes. Is it because she’s from China? No. Okay?

“I guess why Singaporeans think this is an attack on China tourists specifically is because I probably tapped into this repressed rage Singapore has as a collective towards rude China tourists.

“So they just took it and this entire thing morphed into a life of its own and it’s just so fucking messy.”
Mr Bon didn’t expect his tweets to go viral.

He said: “I thought it was going to be like a C-average tweet. I have better tweets out, but nobody fucking gets the humour. Okay, sure.”

But at least one good thing came out of it. He said he “freaked the fuck out” when big-time celebrity Hossan Leong replied to him on Twitter: “YOU ARE MY HERO! Mandarin pfft! F9 for me all the way!”

Oh. So we’re now just openly bragging about how low our O-level Chinese grades are, are we? I got B4!

We can start a Chinese Who Can’t Speak Chinese support group, or CWCSC for short.

Mr Bon also has a message for my bread and butter:
“Hi, newspapers. Thanks for using my tweet. I hope you enjoy the engagement you get on your page. I hope you enjoy your increase in readership. Let’s talk about compensation. I would like to see it.”
LMAO! Increase in readership? Compensation? That’s hilarious. Who says no one gets his humour? I get it.

He said his “endgame” was not to defeat Thanos but get a Starbucks sponsorship.

Okay, I can’t give him that, but here are the three causes he wants to plug: “Repeal 377A, fuck Islamophobia and get your damn kids vaccinated.”

You can follow his Twitter @Timothy_Bon.

How’s that for compensation?

If that’s not enough, I may be able to afford to buy him a cup of Starbucks coffee after I withdraw my money from CPF.

I’m feeling generous. How do you say “venti” in Mandarin?

- Published in The New Paper, 18 March 2019