What comes to mind when you think of bananas?
Growing up as a Chinese who doesn’t read or write Chinese characters got me referred to as a banana myself. Simply because I have yellow skin (being a Chinese) but inside, I am practically “white” (metaphor of being a Caucasian). Yellow skin with white flesh….just like a banana!
I remember my mom telling me why she decided to send me to a national school instead of a Chinese medium school when I was a kid. You see, rasing a child in multi-racial Malaysia, parents have the choice of sending their kids to either a Chinese medium school, Tamil (Indian) medium school or a national school where the language of conduct is Malay and English.
During my mother’s schooling time in the 1960s and 1970s, Malaysia was under the British rule and going to a national school means attending all classes in English, following the British curriculum. The English-eds (English-educated), as they call it during her time were seen as the elites. The “better ones” as compared to those who attended Chinese or Tamil schools. My mother attended a Chinese school. Even so, the quality of education then was very high and my mother speaks perfect English even though she attended a Chinese school.
However, during her teens, she still used to envy the English-ed girls who ride the same school bus as hers, speaking confidently in flawless English to each other while she hung her head in silence, feeling inferior. She said she vowed to ensure her kids to be English-eds so that they could “hold their head up high”. What she didn’t realise was, during my time (1980s and 1980s), Malaysia was no longer under the British rule and national schools were conducted in the national Malay language with occasional English lessons instead. Somehow, the term “English-ed” stuck on.
And so my elder sister and I grew up as bananas. It wasn’t too bad though, I speak Cantonese as this is the language I grew up with at home. My sister is much better than I am. She taught herself how to read chinese characters by reading Chinese newspapers on her own during her free time. Amazing eh? Not me though.
My biggest regret is I can’t speak Mandarin properly and I certainly cannot read or write in Chinese characters. Although schools do offer additional and optional classes for pupils who wish to learn their mother-tongue languages, I pleaded with my mother to let me stop attending them because, “It’s too hard, ma!”
Yes, now I regret it! Fortunately, I managed to learn how to write my name in Chinese characters. To be fair, I still think Chinese characters are not easy to learn! Did you know every stroke in a character must be written in order, similar to spelling? Or else, you’ll be “drawing” characters instead of writing them.
Maybe in the near future, I should really put in some serious effort to learn up this sophisticated language that is supposed to be my mother tongue and shed off my banana image.