My Mandarin problem | 我的中文問題

我的中文問題

Originally posted 1.05.2012: Last week Hyphen Magazine posted this story, getting hundreds of "likes." We thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit it here as well.

Mandarin is the language of my parents and my grandparents and beyond that I am not so sure. But my Mandarin is horrible.

Speaking in ribbons | Illustration by Jee-Shaun WangIt wasn't always this way. As a young boy in Monterey Park, I learned to use Mandarin at home and English at school. If I spoke English to my parents or grandparents I was scolded. Scolded! But it worked. Mandarin became the language of my home life just like almost all the other kids I knew would go home and either speak Mandarin or Tagalog or Cantonese or Fukienese or Spanish.

But when I was 10 or 12, my Mandarin vocabulary sort of plateaued. I stopped watching Chinese dramas with my grandmother and started to play basketball and video games instead. I lost touch with the language as I clicked buttons on controllers and made beeping sounds on the television screen.

That's when I discovered Chinglish, a mix of Mandarin and English that most of my Chinese American peers share and speak at home with their parents. Each party learned to understand what the other wanted, but not how and why we wanted what we did. Speech became utilitarian and only later would I realize what was lost.

My senior year I rejoiced when I was accepted to the Maryland Institute College of Art. But going to art school can be highly frowned upon in the Chinese community. My parents, their friends, and older relatives all would tell me “you should consider how you are going to make a living and how you expect to support your parents by being an artist.” I tell them, “it's okay”; they say, “but still.” Chinese parents want their children in popular big schools like UCLA and USC and Yale and Harvard. If you mention anything other than the best, they will scoff or shake their heads and mumble something along the lines of “I’ve never heard of that school…”

I had never lived in a city with buildings like Baltimore; I never experienced autumn or winter the way you saw it in movies with snow and cold weather. All that was foreign to me since I grew up in a place where winter meant 60 degrees Fahrenheit (or 80 right now). Baltimore reminded me of fairy tale books with all the brickwork and stone churches (okay, along with the not-so-fairy tale muggings and murders). But the biggest change was the fact that this place was not overflowing with Asians.

Crying Tofu | Illustration by Jee-Shaun WangI didn’t feel welcome. I felt invisible and I was certainly shorter than the average white person. For the first time in my life, I felt Asian. When I entered an apartment in which a party was being held, somebody from the corner yelled out that I had brought the sake. Another time I was walking down the street and a bus full of young black children threw crayons and yelled “Go back to China, Jackie Chan!”

When I returned home for the first time in college during winter break I cried into my bowl of rice and tofu because I had missed it so much. I felt like I had left America for three months, and then I realized that maybe I had never really been in America in the first place. The people I met in Baltimore seemed to live something more like what the movies depicted. People’s mothers actually sent them cookies in the mail! We never bake at my home. The oven is only good for storing pots and pans.

This was around the same time that I realized that I actually had, for once, important life-changing things to tell my family. I wanted to share my progress as a man and as a student and I wanted them to know how I’d felt while I was away. But when I turned to speak to them, only a few words dribbled out of my mouth. I could grasp what I wanted to communicate to my parents, but lacked the words in Mandarin to do so. I can't tell them about the grey sky which I love for its color, or lack thereof, because I cannot explain how I felt just like a cloud — without sounding like a child in elementary school.

To this day they know me only as their son who draws comics well, nothing more. They know that I am a nice person, but they do not know that I enjoy the books of philosophers as much as I enjoy reading the Sunday comic. They know that I like to eat, but they do not know that I relate the flavors of food with the culture of my family. In short, I have never really spoken with my parents.

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Jee-Shaun Wang enjoys hot drinks and books with pictures. He is inspired by the cold and also by cave paintings. You can find him when you need someone to draw. If you like looking at things, look here!

我的中文問題

最初發佈於2012年1月5日:上週Hyphen雜誌公佈了這個故事,獲得數百個“喜歡”。我們認為這將是一個很好的時機,為此在這裡重新發表。

國語(普通話)是我的父母和爺爺奶奶的語言,但除此之外,我所知不多。但可以肯定,我的國語是挺糟糕的。

其實我並非一直都是如此。作為一個生活在蒙特利公園市的年輕男孩,我學會了在家用國語,在學校用英語。如果我對我的父母或祖父母說英語,我會被罵。是的,罵!但這是有效的。國語,就像幾乎所有的其他孩子們一樣,成了在我家裡生活的語言,我知道其他人回家後與我一樣,要么說國語,菲律賓語或粵語或閩南語或西班牙語。

但是,當我到了10歲或12歲,我的國語詞彙開始停步。我用開始打籃球和玩視頻遊戲來代替,停止了與我的祖母看中文電視劇。我失去了與母語的接觸,代之而起的是我點擊控制器上的按鈕在電視屏幕上的BB聲音。

這時候我發現了中式英語,一種我的美國華人同伴與他們的父母在家講的英語—國語和英語的混合。每一方都嘗試去明白對方,但不是我們所做事情的“怎樣和為什麼”。對話變得功利性,而我後來才知道迷失了些什麼。

畢業那年,我高興地得知我被馬裡蘭藝術學院錄取。但去藝術學校很容易引起華人社會的人們皺起了眉頭。我的父母,他們的朋友,和年長的親戚們告訴我:“如何您希望成為一個藝術家,你應該考慮的是你如何去謀生和供養你的父母。”我告訴他們,“這是沒關係的”。他們說,“還有呢”,中國家長希望子女進那些名校,如加州大學洛杉磯分校,南加州大學,耶魯大學和哈佛大學。如果你提出還有其他較好的學校,他們會嘲笑或搖著自己的頭,喃喃自語地說,“我從來沒有聽說過,這學校……”

我從來沒有生活在一個有著與Baltimore一樣的建築物的城市,我從來沒有經歷過你在電影裡看到的有著冰雪和寒冷天氣的秋天或冬天。因為我生長在一個冬天意味著只是華氏60度(或是現在的80度)的地方,這裡對我來如同外國。 Baltimore讓我想起童話故事裡所有的磚牆和石頭教堂(大概,還有不是那麼童話故事的搶劫和謀殺)。但事實上最大的變化是這個地方不是滿目所及皆亞洲人的地方。

我沒有賓至如歸的感覺。我感到是隱形的,我肯定是比一般的白色人矮。這是在我生命中的第一次,我覺得是亞洲人。當我進入了一個正在派對的公寓,有人從角落裡大喊,我帶來了古典。還有一次當我走在大街上,一輛巴士上載滿的年輕黑人兒童向我扔蠟筆並大喊:“回中國去,成龍!”

當我第一次從大學回到家裡過寒假時,我哭了。因為我對一碗米飯和豆腐的懷念是如此的多。我覺得我已經離開美國三個月了,然後我才意識到,也許我從一開始就沒有真正在美國生活過。我所見到的Baltimore人的生活似乎超越了電影中的描述。他們的母親真得會通過郵件寄來餅乾!我們從來沒有用家裡的烤箱。烤箱僅被用於存儲鍋碗瓢盆。

這大約是我人生階段的第一次,我才意識到的,我其實是有重要的生活改變的故事要告訴我的家人。我想分享我的進步:作為一個男人,作為一個學生,我想他們知道,我在離開的這一段時間的感受。但是,當我轉過身來要對他們講時,我的嘴只能擠出很少幾個單詞。我可以抓住幾個要點傳達給我的父母,但我缺乏這樣做的中文詞彙。我無法告訴他們關於灰色的天空裡我喜歡的顏色,或由此而生的缺陷,因為我無法告訴他們以解釋我就像雲般的感覺—而又能聽起來不像一個在小學的孩子說話。

直到目前為止,他們只知道我作為他們的兒子,能畫很好的漫畫,沒有更多的了。他們知道我是一個不錯的人,但他們不知道,我喜歡哲學家的書,就像我看“星期日漫畫”也有一樣的享受。他們知道我喜歡吃,但他們不知道,我把有關食物的味道也與我的家庭文化相連。總之,我從來沒有真正地與我的父母交談。

* * *

Jee-Shaun Wang喜歡熱飲,由圖片的書籍。他的靈感來自寒冷的洞窟壁畫。當你需要有人來繪製圖畫,你可以找他。如果你喜歡觀察事物,請看這個鏈接!

 

4 thoughts on “My Mandarin problem | 我的中文問題”

  1. Thank you Mr. Wang for putting your fingers on very important issue.

    Educators in the Alhambra School District attempted to address this some 40-45 years ago – certainly not an issue that is new to us in the last 25 years or so.

    As a matter of fact it was addressed through the district’s multicultural education programs – i.e., bilingual education. Students at places such as Brightwood Elementay, Highlands Elementary received instruction in two languages for a number of years. Unfortunate and even irrational politics, policy, and school practice have fractured that important history in our community. It might explain why some of us lament a fractured capacity to communicate deeply and profoundly with the people who raise us.

  2. At some point you end up being OK with not being totally one or the other, and laugh at the unfortunate souls who are monocultural-lingual. I had very liberal Chinese parents who were OK with me being an art major (though the job thing was harder to come by afterwards). Any journey to refresh or renew Chinese identity and culture was appreciated by my parents and created a bridge for me to discover how rich and complex their own pasts was–it helped me to empathize with how much they gave up coming here.

    Ditto on the East Coast experience, since I lived there until after college. Some of my learning about Chinese culture and language was because I knew I'd end up having to be the Chinese cultural and linguistic ambassador to all I met, even my friends and professors. A burden most West Coast Asians don't really have to carry I discovered.

  3. Mr. Wang,  your piece is so indicative of the struggles that second-generation Chinese Americans face. I can completely relate.

    While I agree that these are real struggles that pose difficult barriers to understanding one's identity and heritage, I believe that we also have the responsiblity to own up to this challenge. This is what makes us unique and different from our parents, and the next generation that follows.

    We are not simply American. We are Chinese American. To live up to expectations or stereotypes of either American or Chinese is futile; we must make our own path and define it. 

    Will you do this? You can.

    The piece is quite depressing; I will agree with SinoSoul. Yet, I hope you soon realize that you are not without a voice. Use it.

     

  4. Should’ve listened to your parents…

    I would’ve flipped a buncha racial epithets back towards the kids on the bus. Protect yourself, your brand, and your identity. It’s something the Chinese suck at, but the Koreans somehow excel.

    What a totally depressing piece. G’luck with your Mandarin, though you didn’t mention anything about relearning the language.

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