Monday 20 January 2020

It's your funeral: Mind your language this Chinese New Year or shirt happens

Woe is the Chinese person who doesn’t know Chinese.

Just ask Mr Derek Leung.

The Chinese-Canadian, who was an exchange student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2015, had tried to register for a basic Chinese language course but was rejected.

He recently posted in a Facebook group that the school said he was not eligible “as this student’s race is Chinese”.

Yes, it was because he is Chinese like one-time disgruntled Gojek passenger and alleged kidnap victim Jovina Choi.

Mr Leung’s post went viral enough that it was reported by several websites including AsiaOne last week.

A Chinese person not allowed to study Chinese in Singapore because he’s Chinese? How ironic is that?

I know of at least a few Chinese people who wish they did not have to study Chinese in Singapore but were forced to, namely my two kids, my wife and me.

Unlike us, Mr Leung wanted to learn Chinese because he was not forced to in Canada. I assume that being Canadian, he was just forced to like maple syrup and ice hockey.

NTU’s policy was based on the similarly faulty assumption that all Chinese people know Chinese, but that policy has since been changed.

The school said: “The previous policy aimed to give opportunities to students to learn non-native languages. Since 2016, ethnicity, race or nationality are no longer considered when signing up for language courses.”

You just have to declare that you do not know the language.

I guess I would not qualify. I can’t say I don’t know Chinese, but I can’t say I know it well either.

For instance, department store Robinsons was mocked last week for its Chinese New Year decorations using Chinese phrases that don’t make sense. I couldn’t tell because most Chinese phrases don’t make sense to me anyway.

AsiaOne reported: “The banners read ‘cai bao dao fa’ and ‘huan le dao xiao’, which loosely translate to ‘wealth treasure arrives prosper’ and ‘happiness joy arrives smile’.”

Which sound okay to me, but apparently they are wrong.

Robinsons later said that a character was inadvertently left out of those phrases and the error had since been corrected. Ill have to take Robinsons’ word for it.

Perhaps NTU should conduct a Chinese language course specifically for local retailers because NTUC FairPrice also slipped up with a Chinese character recently.

The supermarket chain withdrew a Chinese New Year T-shirt from its FairPrice Xtra stores after complaints about the shirt’s design with a Chinese character I can’t even read.

AsiaOne explained the problem: “While the Chinese character means longevity, the term ‘shouyi’, loosely translated as ‘longevity clothing’, refers to the clothes used to dress the deceased at funerals.”

I didn’t know all that. I could have unwittingly bought the red $12.90 shirt and worn it to visit my relatives this Saturday, bringing deathly bad luck to everyone.

Oh well, I see those relatives just once a year anyway. So I won’t miss them that much.

I wonder what FairPrice will do with all the unsold clothes.

Maybe it can send them to undertakers to dress the dead.

Or to Canada.

What about people who did buy the shirt? Can they get a refund?

If you have one, I’m willing to take it off your hands. It’s like a collector’s item now.

I’ll save it for Halloween.

- Published in The New Paper, 20 January 2020

Monday 6 January 2020

Singapore in new Marvel series The Falcon And The Winter Soldier? Maybe, sort of, not really

Dear Marvel,

Madripoor? Really?

I’m not a big comic book nerd, but I’m a fan of your movies, even though I didn’t like Avengers: Endgame despite it becoming the biggest box-office hit ever. (I mean, time travel? That’s Legends Of Tomorrow territory.)

I know you’re coming out with a Disney+ miniseries later this year called The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, which is a follow-up to the movie I dislike so much.

Now I have another reason to hate-watch the new show.

Last month, someone tweeted a photo purportedly of a set in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier and caused a bit of a stir online.

Spotted on a wall in the photo is a symbol comprising a crescent, a star and a lion’s head that looks very familiar to Singaporeans.

The symbol has been identified as the flag of the fictional Pacific island nation of Madripoor.

It is a made-up country like Black Panther’s Wakanda, except it is in South-east Asia, not Africa, and has never been listed as a free-trade partner by the non-fictional US Department of Agriculture.

Also, nobody says: “Madripoor forever.”

You first introduced Madripoor in a 1985 issue of New Mutants (an off-shoot of the X-Men), describing it as a “haven of world-class pirates, crooks and assorted lesser scoundrels”.

Could Madripoor have been inspired by Singapore?

Well, we did have pirates in 1985 – music pirates. That was who I bought my pirated cassette from to listen to Tarzan Boy by Baltimora.

While Madripoor appeared in various Marvel comics over the decades, the Singapore connection only became blatant more recently with the 2012 Hawkeye comic series.

An isuue featured the Madripoor Pearl, a “luxury hotel” overlooking Madripoor Bay. It has a mall and casino, and looks a lot like our Marina Bay Sands, which overlooks Marina Bay and has a mall and casino.

You might as well have thrown in a Merlion statue while you were at it. (That’s a statue of a lion with a tail of a fish and not a fish with a tail of a lion in case you’re wondering.)

What makes it even more confusing is that Singapore also exists in the Marvel comic book universe.

Of course, it is possible that being the lawless place that it is, Madripoor stole the architectural design of Marina Bay Sands from Singapore for the Madripoor Pearl.

Who knows? There could also be a counterfeit Jewel in the Madripoor airport with a long queue for Shake Shack.

And now we have the Madripoor flag in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier set photo.

You know why the lion’s head looks so familiar to us?

Because that’s our lion’s head symbol, which represents Singapore!

How can you use our symbol as part of a flag of another country? Even a fictional one.

Our National Heritage Board website says: “Any Singaporean individual, organisation or company may use the Lion Head Symbol to identify with the country.”

Not: “Any Marvel individual, organisation or company may use the Lion Head Symbol to identify with the country Madripoor.”

Ironically, you have turned the symbol for the country where the fictional Crazy Rich Asians is set into an emblem of a fictional country with a name that has “poor” in it.

Even weirder, the “island” that the city-state of Madripoor is built on is revealed in the comics to be the head of a mega dragon the size of Japan.

So shouldn’t the flag of Madripoor have a dragon’s head instead of lion’s head?

But I know it’s probably too late for you to change it.

Just do me one favour – bring back Baby Yoda.

Oops, sorry. That’s a different Disney+ show.

- Published in The New Paper, 6 January 2020