Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Peeling The Banana & Being Less A Potato Man

"Ta shi 'speaking' de"... says my friend when they introduced me to their group of Chinese speaking friends. That was about a decade ago, back in high school.

Well, what to do... I'm an English educated Malaysian Chinese (what a mouthful), having been raised in an all English speaking family (with some Malay language - which Malaccan house doesn't?) & studied in an all English speaking school.

It maybe hard to believe, but during those school days, everything seemed perfectly fine. Communicating in English was like the world - our teachers taught us in English (& Bahasa Malaysia), we conducted our extra curricular activities in English, listened to English songs mostly, and talked to each other in English.

There were hardly any Mandarin, and if any, there were just the Hokkien dialect.

However, this all changed in Form 6, when the influx of the other school boys & girls came over to my school for their education.

From the all English world, suddenly, I felt like I was in China! All I hear is
chee chee chor chor, chee chee chor chor
And that's also when I learnt the words xiang jiao ren - 'banana man' (香蕉人). -.-

I thought this would change once I went to university in Singapore. After all, Singapore has this image of where the people speak perrr-fect English. But how wrong was I!

I enrolled to what most would say the most 'cheena' university of them all, where classmates switch from English to Singlish... then to Mandarin. & they tend to stick to it thereafter. So back again to the chee chee chor chor, with some lei, hor, ah!

And soon came another nickname... I still remember my more Chinese speaking Singaporean friend telling me:
Eh, you don't so kantang can?
Huh? kantang?
Ya lah, you don't be such a big potato lah you!

Ah, so he was referring to the kentang (马铃薯 ma ling shu) - same thing like the banana, yellow outside, white in the inside!

So, from being banana, I then became a potato!

Well, the 8-9 years there has made me improved my Mandarin a fair bit. In many ways, it was forced upon. It was one to be called a big potato, but another to get scolded by bus drivers for 'speaking' when asking for directions!

Besides, I was exposed to Mando pop + the government had this Huayu Cool! campaign (like real like that). Most of all, it was about fitting in to the 'cheena' world.

All these have paid off a fair bit - one success being able to travel around China (Shanghai, Wuzhen, Hangzhou & Beijing). And the best part - though with my limited Mandarin, many of the Chinese (minus from Shanghai) think I am from China itself - just by the way I speak! (dont' play play ah! lol!)

Now, I'm planning to take this whole Mandarin thing one step further. It's time to learn proper tones & also to write. I think it's time to peel that banana & be less of a potato man... who knows,
someday, I'll be known as Orange!


*cheena is a Singlish term for Cina.


  1. What a beautiful post, thanks for sharing ur experience of being a 'banana' *haha* I know how it feels, I started to pick up Mandarin when I entered secondary school too..Then again, I found it so hard to understand some terms in Mandarin, and struggled hard to master d language itself. After so many years, despite I still cant write Mandarin well, I'm proud to be able to speak fluently and even sing Mandarin songs at KTV!! *lolz* So, dun give up and practice more..try to sing mandarin songs, it really helps to improve ur mandarin ;)

    I like this quote : "It's time to peel that banana & be less of a potato" *haha*

  2. From banana to potato to orange! haha! First time hear it described like this! Funny! LOL.

    Kantang = kentang? haha! So we can laugh at the Singaporeans with their poor pronunciation of Malay! Haha!

  3. Hahaha :D Hey, you know what bro? I love this post of yours. So damn funny. :)

  4. Haha..from banana to potato! :)

  5. A most entertaining post, QC. Thanks for the laugh too.

  6. This is a wonderful, inspiring post. :) It reminds me of my secondary school days where my mostly mandarin-speaking classmates avoided me like a plague all because I speak English and is not good in Mandarin so most of my friends then were Malays. How sad. :(

    Anyway, I'm officially a half orange now and am proud of it. Don't think I'll fully be an orange though. :D

    P/s: I thought 'fan su' @ potato is used to refer to someone who is 'bodoh-bodoh'? My friends refer me that quite often. Haha! XP


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