Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Peranakan Heritage/ Discovering the Beauty of the Chinese Language through Sex

1. My Besta 636 language computer: Chinese, English, and 10 other languages.
1. A Perankan lady dressed in their traditional Sarong Kebaya


3. An early Peranakan house in Katong district preserved as a heritage building .Note the ornate tiles and motifs


4. A plate of Kueh Lapis a Peranakan cake with colors of the rainbow, each color a dye derived from natural ingredients such as flowers and leaves.


The Beauty of the Chinese Language
I am a Singaporean classified as being of Chinese ethnicity in the official personal documents I hold. However, the truth is, I could not speak Chinese [Mandarin] fluently until the last few months, when I did some serious self-study using a Besta language computer. [see picture above] Now, as to why I was not able to speak Chinese, part of it lies in the fact that during my schooling years, Singapore was a British colony, and of course we learned English in school. But the main reason for my poor command of the Chinese language is a confluence of historical and cultural factors. In a ‘blood’ sense, I am not a pure Chinese. Somewhere along the line, my mother’s ancestors married the Malays of the Malay peninsula [of which Singapore was then a part] and inherited some of the customs, language, cuisine and dressing of the Malays. My father was a pure Chinese descended from Fujian province peasants who fled the famines and warlords of this poverty-stricken province. Many of the early Chinese immigrants married the local people, having left behind their families to seek a living in the countries of South-East Asia. The descendants of this inter-marriage were called peranakans. Many peranakans like my mother spoke only Malay and English. Their knowledge of the Chinese language was minimal, and they spoke it in a sing-song way, having lost the ability to use the polytones of the Chinese language. But as a social group, the peranakans contributed to the richness of a multi-racial society such as Singapore. Their unique patois, dressing, cuisine, architecture and furniture have been preserved and a recent TV soap opera based on the exploits of a peranakan family of the 19th Century, caused an upsurge of interest in peranakan culture among the younger generation, who began to seek out peranakan food and wear the peranakan sarong kebaya dress; together with the ornate earrings, bracelets and other fashion accoutrements.
Well, that is the past. With my crash course in Mandarin accelerated by this most wonderful Besta language computer [with its audio, visual and context-sensitive language translation and sentence construction algorithms] my vocabulary increased by tenfold. And I began to re-discover my roots and the beauty of the Chinese language. I learned the terminology of Politics, Economics, Computing, Engineering and so on and am now able to have a comfortable conversation on these topics But I would like to reveal the beauty of the Chinese language not with these high-brow terminology but with words of a more basic nature- Chinese words on sex, love and parts of the anatomy. It all began when my friend and I were mucking around with the Besta, having fun keying in obscene words and sentences to see how they sounded when translated into Chinese. To our surprise, unmentionably obscene swear-words, sexual innuendos and direct sexual propositions in English turned out to be almost poetic when translated into Chinese. Here are a few examples.
Penis- The Chinese call it Yang Wu or the Home of the Yang essence [as in Yin/Yang, Male/Female, Sun/Moon, Positive/Negative]. Vagina- The Chinese word is Yin Dao or the path that leads to the Yin essence. Almost magical how dirty words become so poetic. * A vagina is also called a ‘leaf sheath’ and the penis also called a stem or stalk for the Yin essence .
Then the word for sex itself (Xing) is also the word for the nature of things, the character and temperament, and the properties of something or its gender. So it’s not all about reproduction or mating. I like the word ‘nyphomaniac’ (Hua Chi) . In Chinese, it means a ‘silly/idiotic/besotted flower’.
And finally, "I would like to f____ you" sounds so much better in Chinese. (Wo siang fa sheng xing guan xi ni)"
It's approximate meaning being :“ I am thinking of making it occur that I shall have carnal knowledge of you in a personal and intransferable relationship.” The "personal and intransferable relationship with you" part is the word guan xi that many westerners know to mean special relationship, old boy network, reciprocal actions, mutual benefit, the building of social capital and so on. But guan xi in our context is quite different.
So thanks to my Besta language computer, I have discovered the beauty of the Chinese language.

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