Why I Study Bahasa Cina (Mandarin Language)

In my previous post, I mentioned that I was hauled up summoned to the headmistress’s office when I was in Form 5 (Secondary 5). Here’s the story. This is going to be a very long post with no picture until the end. Ye’ be warned!


I studied in a private school throughout my primary and secondary school. It used to be called Sekolah Sang Suria and was located in Taman Cuepacs (Cheras) on 3 bungalows, and then moved to a proper school building in Hulu Langat and renamed as Sekolah Seri Suria. Nowadays I think they are known as R.E.A.L Schools Suria Campus or something like that, expanded into many buildings and houses 2 separate schools, one local and one international.

Now, before you make comments about how I must come from a rich family because I can afford to study in a private school, I have to stop you right here. My dad is not rich. At least not as far as I know. We were not poor, but definitely not rich. My school mates were mostly from rich families, but not me. I would say, the main reasons I studied there for so long were because my parents were attracted by the school being located in a remote area and the school had a reputation for being a peaceful school.

The school is located on top of a hill, nestled behind a housing area. To ponteng (escape from school), one would have to sneak out of the school compound, sneak through the housing area while avoid being seen by the residents, and then wait for the only public bus that comes every 2 hours at the nearby bus stop. The effort was too tedious that none of us really bothered to try, much. The reason I know how hard it is, is because my friends told me, I swear to God I have never attempted this before 😳 .

And my school was devoid of any bleeding incident. You know how in most schools, there would be gangsters and bad boys who get into fights over macho rights/girls/Counter Strike cheating/etc and end up whacking each other and getting bruised and bleeding? Well, not in my school. Because most of the students there were rich, we were all cowards. The furthest we ever got was shouting matches. Usually the 2 fighting guys would be all “COME LAH! SCARED YOU AH?! COME! COME!!” while smacking on tables and chairs but never really making any real moves on each other. And then us prefects (yeah, I was a prefect for a few years) would step in and they would put up token struggles while being dragged away. So.. nope, not much exciting actions going on in my school.

Oh gosh, I just deviated from the topic, didn’t I? Anyway, now you know, don’t comment about how rich my dad is, okay? Okay, now back to the topic.

So, my school was a relatively small school. Even when I was in Form 5, the school had about 1200 students in total. That’s from Standard 1 to Form 5. Each level had 4 to 6 classes, and each class had no more than 25 students. Because of the low number of students, the teachers treat all the top students as prized possessions, sort of. We were the ones who would be responsible to score straight As in UPSR, PMR and SPM.

And then, because the school was following Sekolah Kebangsaan (National School) syllabus, we did not get emphasis on studying the Mandarin language. In fact it was not a mandatory subject, and our results in this subject would not be accounted for in the final exam results. This was the only sour spot for my parents with this school. They were pretty traditional when it comes to maintaining our Chinese roots, and my dad was (and still is) member of various Chinese based associations. He insisted that I study Mandarin language despite the lack of support at school.

For my entire primary school duration, I had a home tuition teacher who teached me English, Maths and Mandarin. Home tuition was cheap back then, not like nowadays. My monthly tuition fees was RM 120 for 2 hours a day, 3 days a week. Then when I entered secondary school, I enrolled for Mandarin in a tuition centre called Pusat Tuisyen Kasturi. I was doing pretty okay I think. But I could not test myself. Somehow, for UPSR and PMR, we were not allowed to select the subjects that we want to take. The school made the decision for us. And naturally, none of us were allowed to take Mandarin in those government exams. I was frustrated. I was programmed to think that exams are the only way to prove my level in the subjects that I studied. I studied in Mandarin, and I was not allowed to prove myself. It felt like I was wasting my time studying a useless subject.

When I finished PMR and got into Form 4, I stopped studying Mandarin. My parents consented, as they think my level of proficiency should be good enough. I was allowed to focus on the tougher subjects like Chemistry and Physics. Although I did squander some of those time playing Counter Strike in cyber cafes and Football Manager in my friends’ homes.

Then came Form 5, and we were given registration forms to fill in for SPM. I saw that check box beside Bahasa Cina. I had mixed feelings then. Am I allowed to select this subject? And I have missed 1 whole year of studying this subject. If I select it, I will have to cram 2 years of Mandarin language text books in 1 year. Will I be able to catch up and do well?

Fortunately, I remembered the thought that I always had even when I was just a little kid. You know we grew up in a multi ethnic country. I have seen the Malays being proficient in Malay language by default, I have seen the Indians being proficient in Tamil language by default. The Chinese being proficient in Mandarin language? No, that was NOT a default. I always thought it was a rather sad scenario. I have seen many Chinese who cannot speak and read Mandarin properly, and to make matters worse, they were proud of it. Surely this is not right? I don’t want to be one of these people. I want to embrace my mother tongue, be good at it, and be proud of it!

So, I ticked on that check box, Bahasa Cina. I would have known it would not be an easy process. When my class teacher saw what I selected, he came to me and exclaimed: “Hoi, you accidentally selected a wrong subject!”, in which I replied: “No, I did not. I selected Bahasa Cina. I am well aware of that.”

Soon the barrage of concerns and accusations came from almost all the teachers I knew, and I ended up in the headmistress’s office, again. She was furious. She spent an entire hour persuading, accusing, berating, pleading and using whatever tricks known to mankind to get me to drop that subject. If I remember correctly, we were not supposed to alter the forms with crossing out or with liquid paper (or correction pen, or whatever those white liquid stuff are called), she would have to go through a troublesome process to apply for a new set of forms for me, and she was prepared to do that. But I was insufferable. I refused to drop that subject. She even called up my dad to discuss this issue with him, but to her dismay, my dad was delighted with my decision 😀 . Once she realized my dad supported me, there was nothing she can do about it anymore, and I was dismissed from her office.

Well some of the words from Mrs Headmistress that I remember clearly were “You are not going to score an A in Mandarin! You do not have background like those students who transferred here from Chinese schools!“, “You are throwing away your straight As!” and “Don’t just think about yourself! Think about the school! We need you to get straight As!

What she didn’t understand was, I had no interest in scoring straight As. The only thing I was interested in was to challenge myself and prove to myself that I can do what everyone thought was impossible. I was a nerd, but a courageous nerd!

I cannot remember how many of us took Mandarin in SPM, there were quite a number of students who transferred to my school from Chinese schools and some of them persisted with the exams. I was the only one who grew up with this private school with no formal Mandarin language education in their midst.

I enrolled in Mandarin language again in Kasturi. I had to travel to their branch in Kelana Jaya for lessons because they only offered SPM Mandarin classes in that branch. For my entire SPM year, I studied Form 5 Mandarin in Kasturi and self studied Form 4 Mandarin at home. Fortunately the teacher in Kasturi knew of my situation. He agreed with my guts and helped me a lot along the way.

It was this tuition teacher that reminded me of another reason why I studied Mandarin. Mandarin language is a beautiful language! Let me quote his words in class one day:

你们知道吗,学华文追女孩子会比较容易。你们如果只会讲英文,每次只会 [I love you. Do you love me? Yes I love you too.],讲来讲去都是一样的,久了女孩子不跟你分手才怪。华文就不一样,她问你 [Do you love me?] 你可以回答说 [我对妳的爱 就好比那浩瀚的海洋] 或者是 [我会爱妳爱到天涯海角 海枯石烂 至死不渝],你们看,哇,多浪漫!她不 Lum 死你都不能啦!

Do you guys know, learning Mandarin makes courting girls easier. If all you guys can speak is English, every time it will be [I love you. Do you love me? Yes I love you too.], every time you repeat the same things, it would be strange if the girl does not break up with you eventually. It is different with Mandarin, when she asks you [Do you love me?] you can respond with [My love to you is equal to the that vast ocean] or [I will love you until the end of the world, until the ocean dries up and the rock breaks, and will endure even death], you see, wow, how romantic! It would be impossible for her not to be mesmerized with you!

SPM result
This is my SPM results

Well, my headmistress was right. I did not manage to score an A in Mandarin. But then, I also did not manage to score As in 2 other subjects. In fact that 2 subjects were killer subjects that year. The school used to have 10 or more students with straight As in SPM every year, that year I think we only had 5, all thanks to Bahasa Melayu (Malay language) and Pengetahuan Moral (Moral studies). The point is, with or without Bahasa Cina, I would have disappointed her anyway.

It did not matter to me though, I was glad that I took this subject 😀 .

31 Comments

  1. Hi,would appreciate if you could please recommend any good tuition center in cheras area for Form 1 Mandarin lessons? Thanks 😀

    • I don’t think I’m the right person for your question. If you have been reading, you would know that I myself went all the way to Kelana Jaya for my Mandarin tuition. Also, all this happened more than 10 years ago. I don’t even know the school holiday dates now, let alone good tuition centers hahaha! Sorry…

  2. hello. nice to have read your post.

    planning to send my kid to this school

    are the teachers good? focused on the students

    • I can’t tell now for sure. Now they have local school and international school under same premises, and don’t know how’s the facilities now. In my days, each class has max 25 students, for sure better than the govt schools in terms of attention to students.

  3. Such alive story, RealGunners (excuse me, I did not find your name).

    Did you read a book Letters Back to Ancient China by Herbert Rosendorfer? If yes, what were the impressions?

    The main hero spoke Mandarin Language, as I think.

    • You are not expected to find my name, as I only operate on my web alias 😀
      I have never read this book before, but it seems like an awesome book. I will search it out. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • I won’t remember too, except when I check back on my cert. I have soft copies of all my certs and transcripts ready, so it was easy to check 😉

  4. so u made ur family proud of ur Chinese language skills…
    Well, Chinese language is very important nowadays. I went for a job interview last year and the interviewer asking me if I m proficient in Mandarin (read & write)…then tht moment I was like…..*looking very dumb & hopeless~~~

  5. I knew it!! You are a smart guy! I cannot compare my MCE cert with yours.. really a lonnnnnnnnngg Gap there… Malu to take out my cert also.. come to think of it, I cannot find my cert already.. gone with the wind liow..
    Well, I guess your efforts pay off, studying hard needs determination, some are smart no doubt, read little bit also know a lot already.. be proud of yourself, Goal no. 1 achieved.. so any plans to go for masters and PHD? 🙂

    • You don’t need to be smart to do well in school, you just need to be a nerd, and that was what I was 😀
      Nope, not going for higher level certs, I think they are meaningless for me. If I were to study again, I would probably go for other fields.

  6. i am also a chinese educated, I was from 中國公學 and then 中華獨立中學.. anyone here from the same school as uncle?? and I am actually glad I studied chinese, I mean it’s really no harm knowing another language, furthermore chinese is my root and it’s slowly becoming an important language nowadays.. 🙂

  7. I know that school.. Previously my in laws lived in Kajang, sometimes we ferry them around and been to Cuepacs, and yes I see the school.. I know the location, and yes gotta agree with you that to sneak out of the school is not easy.. ‘Ulu’ place and I seldom see public transport.. Maybe two hours once like you said.. Good SPM results by the way.. If I remember, I think I got 5 for BM, 3 for Moral and Bio, 7 for Physics and 5 for Chem.. Oohh and 1 for English too.. Add Maths 2 I think..

    • Cuepacs was very long ago lo, we moved to Hulu Langat when I was in Standard 2. I don’t think it is still around when you were able to ferry in laws around. You probably saw a different school. I don’t think you are that much older than me gua? In fact I think you look younger than me 😐

  8. Wahhhhh!!!! Impressive result! Mostly all Chinese students study Mandarin these days but their scores are somewhat miserable. Hardly any A most of the time.

    You can read my Chinese name then: 黃 毓 峨

    • Very difficult to score. May schools are like that – so kiasu. Hard to get A, they will not allow students to take. Really stupid. Students may get a string of A’s in the exam and can be quite brainless – they’re only good at mugging and excelling in the tests….and they fail in the interviews when they apply for anything later, all dumb and brainless. Meaningless.

    • I think there is one section that prevents many people from scoring A. That stupid 文言文, nobody uses it anymore, not even in China, I don’t know why it was part of the syllabus. Even the teachers have a hard time with it. I guess it was designed to deter us from taking this subject and then they can report in the yearly report that the number of people studying Chinese is declining.
      I guess it is understandable for the schools to be like that. As is their measure of success, for sure they would increase the ratio of As for their school by any means. And we can hardly blame the students, it’s partly due to the schools and partly due to reality. If you don’t get good results, you won’t even get any interview opportunities. It is better to be dumb in interviews than not be in any interviews.

  9. Wow. you are really such a determined and diligent kid then (still determined and diligent now also – all the cooking and etc). I can’t imagine having to study for SPM for all those other subjects and still travel to Kelana Jaya (so far from Ampang) for additional Chinese classes.

    Getting tiga for Chinese and not from Chinese school is really very good. Bravo! Did your brother and sister go to this Sang Suria school as well?

    • I guess I have always been like that. I am always distracted and cannot make decisions easily, but once I made up my mind and zeroed in on a target, I would ignore any interference. Some would rather call me a stubborn bastard 😀
      I was quite proud of that Tiga to be honest. When I got my results, I was totally not bothered with grieving about BM and Moral, I was just glad that I nearly scored A in Chinese.
      My brother studied elsewhere, and then transferred to this school after my parents saw how peaceful the school is. My sister was like me, we grew up in this school 😀

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