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