Monday, August 29, 2016

Overcoming the Chinese wall

During the Rio Olympics, one of the sports we followed closely was, of course, badminton, since Andre is a badminton player. The epic match was the semi-final between long-time rivals - Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan. It was cathartic to finally see Lee Chong Wei beat Lin Dan at an Olympic setting (Andre has idolised Lee Chong Wei ever since he could hold a badminton racket). Unfortunately, the fairy tale was still not to be as Dato Lee was denied the gold medal once more by yet another China player - Chen Long.

The less talked about match though, was the one where Viktor Axelsen, in his first Olympics, beat titan Lin Dan in straight sets to clinch the bronze medal. That was a real shocker and prompted some to say, perhaps Lin Dan tanked that match cos he didn't want to stand third on the podium.

I don't know if that's true but it certainly made me sit up and notice the 22-year-old Dane. Then he talked to a Chinese journalist after the match and that nearly made me fall off my chair. Because Axelsen spoke to the journalist in perfectly fluent Mandarin.

Later, I found out that Axelsen had only been learning Chinese for the past two years. WAH! Colour me impressed. I showed Andre, who struggles to get even the intonation of basic words right, the video. He watched it, mouth open, and mumbled, "What am I doing with my life."

The Chinese language was a topic of interest in our household recently because Andre had just completed his 'O' level Chinese exam last month. Studying Chinese has always been an uphill battle for our kids, even for Lesley-Anne who basically memorised her way to a B3 in Higher Chinese. Andre has even less aptitude and interest. Let's just call a spade a spade - we're a jiak kantang family lah.

For the Chinese 'O' levels, Andre flubbed his oral component because the topic was on water polo and he had no clue what water polo was called in Chinese. So we were mighty relieved when the results came in and he found out that he had managed to pass his Chinese exam. Woohoo! He was whooping so loudly when he received the results in school that his friends thought he'd scored an A. 😂 Hey, different strokes for different folks, ok? Don't judge.

For us, we're satisfied with his grade so he won't be retaking his Chinese exam at the end of the year. But we were surprised to find out that 90% of his school cohort intend to retake the exam. Except for those who had already earned their A1s, most of the students want a second attempt to improve on their score. In fact, for students like Andre who didn't want to retake the exam, the school asked for a parent's letter explaining why they should be exempt.

Where do I even begin? Here were the thoughts that were running through my head:
  1. After 10 years of learning Chinese, Andre's Chinese is still atrocious. What makes you think he can suddenly improve in 2 months? 
  2. We prayed so hard for him to pass. In other words, pass = miracle. If he takes it again, he might FAIL. 
  3. I dowan to pay for any more Chinese tuition. 10 years is enough. 
  4. He has 6 other O level subjects where he has a chance of doing better in. Can focus on those instead of flogging a dead horse? 
  5. Not everyone is like Axelsen.
In the end, I sent a polite version of this letter, thus marking the end of a chapter. Not that it's the end of Chinese in Andre's life, just the structured lessons bit. I'm sure at work or in life in the future, Andre will need to use Chinese at some point, and hopefully he'll be fine in this respect, outside of the academic environment.

Maybe the trick is just to find an Axelsen to play badminton with.

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