Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for Chinese

I did not know the term "banana" until I went to college.

I can't even remember how I learnt it, because I don't recall anyone ever calling me a "banana", despite admittedly being quite banana-ish! Amazing.

What's a "banana", you ask? Someone who is "yellow outside, but white inside": a Chinese who doesn't speak Chinese. Not really derogatory (at least, I've never taken it as such), but it does imply that you've forgotten your roots and discarded your heritage.

Actually, I always kinda feel like I'm undeserving of the term banana. I can speak Chinese! I can! At least enough to order food in restaurants -- priorities, hello? -- and to exchange some social pleasantries! And I celebrate the Chinese New Year (yay, angpow!), I know what the mooncake festival is all about (even if I don't exactly know when it is), and I like origami. Oh wait, that's Japanese. Darn.

"I wasted all that money sending you for Mandarin classes," my dad says to me.

When you're 8 years old, and no one, absolutely NO ONE in the ENTIRE WORLD speaks Mandarin to you, why would you want to learn Mandarin? I didn't see the point. Now, well... okay, now I feel a bit regretful. Especially after my younger cousins laughed at my pronunciation the last time we met. Twenty years younger than I, laughing at me! I get no respect around here. *shakes head sadly*

My family is definitely not traditional at all, despite celebrating Chinese New Year, which is the only Chinese festival we do celebrate. Last CNY, nobody wore anything new (you're supposed to dress in new clothes on the first day of the new year), and not only that, only three of us cousins wore red! Gasp! (Red is an auspicious colour for the Chinese.) About the only CNY ritual we follow is giving angpow (red envelopes containing money... yay, money!). And, of course, eating. Chinese New Year would not be complete without lots and lots and lots of food.

To compound the problem, not only is my family untraditional, I also read! Reading is dangerous! It can change you. Having grown up reading timeless favourites like What Katy Did, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Heidi, Black Beauty, Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables, to name a few, many of my attitudes and ways of thinking are decidedly "western". At the same time, I can't deny that I'm Chinese and there's still a teeny weeny bit of Chinese influence floating around somewhere. I'm sort of stuck in between two worlds, and don't fully fit in either.

There's one way in which I'm very Chinese, though: I always eat noodles with chopsticks. It just doesn't feel the same if I use a fork and spoon!


jaybird said...

Maybe with practice your Mandarin will come back to you. I strongly regret not speaking and learning more Italian with my grandmother. Now that she is gone, my family (and I) have no occasion to speak it. Because it is important to me, my husband and I just put this challenge out to our kids- if they can learn Italian by their 16th b-days, we will take them on a trip to Italy. (win-win for parents and children if you ask me)

Thanks for your help over at Cathy's blog; it was very kind of you!

Sunflower said...

Woohoo I hope you guys get to go to Italy! I practiced my Mandarin in college because I had roommates who spoke Mandarin fluently (and didn't speak English very well). But ever since graduating, I haven't had occasion to use it much, so I've forgotten a lot of words.

You're welcome; I hope it works for you, because it's so convenient if you happen to write posts ahead of time!

Anonymous said...

Knowing any language other than English is a huge bonus in our ever-shrinking world. I'm so sorry to hear such a derogative use of "banana". It reminds me how much I don't know about other cultures, and the angsts that women like you suffer because you are independent enough to be seeking an educated, productive life. Kudos to you for knowing what's really important!

Anonymous said...

Not sure my comments are coming through - there seem to be some glitches between wordpress and BlogSpot users. Not always but just enough to frustrate me. I can't find a way to "follow" on your site (I don't have a google account), but I will try to do so through WordPress. If unsuccessful I will check back each day. Love your posts so far!

Sunflower said...

Hi Sammy - yes, your comments are coming through! I have comments moderated due to spam. The 'banana' term is not specific to the female gender. I think the problem is that it's difficult to hold on to things of the past and move into the future at the same time. A person can be bilingual, but it's very difficult to be equally fluent in both languages. One will usually become more dominant than another.

We have the same problem at national level: Some people in my country (Malaysia) fear that if we become too good in English, we'll 'lose' or forget our national language. So there's a huge debate over whether to use English in schools. At present, everything is still taught in the national language (Malay), and English is only one of the subjects.

Tammy J Rizzo said...

Hi, Sunflower! When I was a young teenager, my family lived in Holland for a few years because of my Dad's job, and my siblings and I attended Dutch schools. We got to be very fluent in Dutch, to the point where I was dreaming in it about half the time.

That was, alas, more than thirty years ago, and I haven't used my Dutch since then. I have lost almost all of my Dutch language. Likewise, my late husband had lost almost all of his Italian language that he had learned when he was 19 or 20. If you don't use it, you do lose it.

I like your blog. :-) I'm subscribing!

Shelley Batt said...

This is a great post. I loved learning about you a little bit and about a few Chinese traditions. Thanks for sharing.

Andrew Leon said...

Not only have I never heard of that term, I didn't even know that was a thing.
But I do have familiarity with being between things.

Anonymous said...

I wonder who is the genius who came up with the term and why the heck he/she needed to. I have many banana friends too but they can speak cantonese! So should not be banana right?

Sunflower said...

Tammy - Thank you! I like your blog, too. Alas, it's true that if you don't use the language, you lose it. *sobs*

Shelley - Thank you for the kind words :)

Andrew - Being between things is not the most comfortable place to be, is it?

Amelia - If they can speak Cantonese, they're absolutely not bananas! Haha