(Please scroll down for English)
綸：我的建議就是：想清楚才去。你要認識那個地方才去。你不要去到那邊才怪別人排擠你。因為很多台灣人會覺得自己被新加坡人歧視。因為有很多台灣人去了那邊之後，覺得“為什麼他們都跟我講Singlish？我不想學！他們還糾正我的英語發音”。其實那個糾正是一個排外的動作，而不是真的在糾正他的發音。我覺得他們應該認識到台灣使用的英語腔調是美國為中心，而且是加了台灣特色在裡面。新加坡使用的是加了新加坡特色的英國腔調以及新加坡試的英語。就這幾個之間是平起平坐的。他們不應該覺得他們不想要使用Singlish，覺得很不好聽，再來怪人家排擠他。我覺得入境隨俗是基本道理。他們堅持使用他們所認為的American English。他們會反過來說新加坡人根本不懂什麼是American English。但他們也不知道自己講的不是American English。他們沒有認知到自己的英文是台灣特色。但是他們又不願意承認。他們覺得台灣英文是負面標籤。可是我認為這不是什麼負面標籤。這世界有那麼多種腔調，很正常。他們不應該認為新加坡人糾正他們的英文是在糾正他們的美式腔調。他們應該反過來說自己講的就是台灣的英文，應該尊重我用台灣的英文，同時我也尊重你用新加坡的英文。基本態度應該是這樣，才不會有那麼多衝突。再來就是新加坡的生活也沒有很有趣，所以大家想清楚才去！
Alan Wan (a.k.a Wan Ah Boy), a Taiwanese from the post-90s generation, graduated from the National Taiwan University majoring in Geography, and the National University of Singapore majoring in Language Studies. In a short span of one year in Singapore, he documented his detailed observations and real experiences from daily life into articles, and later compiled them into a book. The title of the book “Auntie, One Rojak! Understanding the Little Red Dot – Singapore”, highlights the richness of the language and culture of Singapore. Wan Ah Boy, who regards Singapore as his second home, is also a columnist for ‘udn Global’, ‘Opinion udn‘, and ‘The News Lens Asean‘. He writes about things related to Singapore. This time I interviewed this young gentleman to understand how he blends himself into the society of Singapore in order to learn about this tiny tropical island state.
JL: Why did you chose to study at the National University of Singapore?
AW: Because I wanted to go abroad for my graduate studies. But I was not ready to go to the States. I wanted to go to a place that is closer but is a westernized society. So I opt for Hong Kong and Singapore, where English is the teaching language. Then I wanted to study sociolinguistics, and these two places are also the strongest in sociolinguistics. But at that time, because my TOEFL transcript went lost in Hong Kong, I was rejected. In fact, the transcript sent to Singapore was also lost. However, NUS still gave me a chance. I didn’t know that the transcript was lost until they gave me the conditional offer letter!
JL: English is an obstacle for the average Taiwanese. So how do you learn English well? Have you been learning English since childhood?
AW: I have been learning English since I was a child, so I have been learning English for 16 years. When I was studying geography during undergrad days, the teaching materials and textbooks are in English even though the class is conducted in Chinese. So my academic English is quite good.
JL: When you were in NUS, was it the first time that you went to Singapore?
AW: No. I have been there once when I submitted my application. I remember it was five days.
JL: Before you first came to Singapore, what was your understanding or imagination of this country?
AW: Before I went to Singapore, I didn’t have any impression of this place. But when I was in elementary school, I watched the movie “I Not Stupid”. I didn’t even know that the singer JJ Lin is a Singaporean.
JL: Without knowing much about Singapore, what kind of mentality did you had when you went there to study? For example: How do you live in this place?
AW: I attended a class on Southeast Asia at National Taiwan Normal University. Professor Zhang Bijun’s area of specialty is Singapore. So I went to attend this course. Under this circumstance, I felt that my understanding of Singapore was quite OK. I learned about Singapore through thesis paper first before I went. Later, I realised what was described in the paper is no different from reality. What my school senior wrote are quite real.
JL: What challenges did you face when you were in Singapore?
AW: Life is too boring, and I feel that there is no place to go. There is no night market in Singapore, and the stores are in shopping malls. There are no shops along the street, so I am not used to it. Because I am used to walking along on the streets instead of walking in the shopping mall. (JL: How did you solve this problem?) Unable to solve, hahaha! Whenever I encounter something different from Taiwan, I will quickly ask people or check the thesis paper. Therefore, understanding Singapore became the focus in my life.
JL: During the period in Singapore, did you try to maintain your own Taiwanese subjectivity in that environment?
AW: Absolutely not! The Taiwanese I met in Singapore are very strange. Most of them moved to Singapore as their parents feel that their future will be better over there. At that time, some of them tend to be quite snobbish and would discriminate against the Malays. This makes me feel very unhappy. As a result, I stopped hanging out with them. I have a very good Taiwanese friend. He is a PhD student at Nanyang Technological University. He is a friend that I know since university, so both of us would always stick together, hahaha! Because he also dislike the Taiwanese people whom he met in Singapore. (JL: Is it because Taiwanese people does not have the concept of race or ethnicity, which leads them to discriminate against non-Chinese?) I think Taiwanese people do not have the concept of race or ethnicity. Because most of them are Han Chinese. And some Taiwanese tend to say incorrect things. But they don’t feel that they are wrong.
JL: Is it because Taiwanese language was banned for a period of time, therefore a lot of young Taiwanese these days have a poor ability in speaking that language?
AW: Because Taiwanese language is regarded as a very uncivilized form of expression. Some people will laugh at Taiwanese Mandarin. Taiwanese Mandarin refers to the accent that is influenced by Minnan language. Then it will become a subject to be laugh at during variety shows. This is still the case for now. But that was related to the Mandarin movement. During the process of belittling local dialects in the early days, we formed our discrimination against local dialects. You must have heard from Taiwanese people saying, “Look at that person speaking in Taiwanese, that’s so uncivilized!”. So in Taiwan, language has been divided into different classes. If you use Taiwanese, it is considered as no class. If you want to put on a gesture, you have to use Mandarin.
In a political event, you will use Mandarin. If a legislator uses Taiwanese language for interpellation, some people will think he or she is very uncivilized.
JL： If one day the Taiwanese government wants to promote Taiwanese language, allow young people to learn Taiwanese language and turn it into a common language in Taiwan. Do you think it is necessary?
AW: I don’t think there is a need to turn Taiwanese language into a common language. Because there are too much political consequences in this matter. It will certainty provoke a strong reaction among the Hakkas, aborigines, and other ethnic groups. We have always questioned the word “Taiwanese”. They often asked: Why is only Minnan considered as ‘Taiwanese’ language? Can Taiwanese language be considered an aboriginal language? Can it be Hakka? Why is it only the Minnan language that is occupying the term ‘Taiwanese’? Therefore, I feel that there are too many political consequences to pull the Taiwanese language up into the Taiwanese common language. I don’t think it is okay to do this. But I think it’s okay to allow people of all ethnic groups to use their own language.
JL: As a Taiwanese, do you think that the ‘Speak Mandarin Campaign’ pushed by the Singapore government for many years has been effective in encouraging people to use Mandarin? Is this an effective strategy? Or will it create an invisible form of counterproductive result?
AW: In terms of promoting Mandarin, of course it is positive. It has indeed successfully pushed the use of Mandarin in Singapore. But it has a lot of side effects. For example: the dialects are eliminated. In recent years, there is also the issue of Beijing standard Chinese. I would think going in the direction of Singaporean Chinese should be the way to go. Let everyone feel this is our language. When we have an emotionally attachment towards our language, we would be willing to use it more often. If we follow a foreign standard, everyone would not want to speak the language at all.
JL: It has been said that Taiwanese (especially the younger generation) lack of international perspective. They seems to have no concept of the world’s national geography and things happening outside of Taiwan. Do you think this is an issue of education or is it because of the shortcoming in the news reports by the Taiwanese mass media?
AW: Yes, it could be both of these. You see, our geography textbooks are very funny. Our geography textbooks are history; history textbooks are myths. You can look how the geography textbooks teach about Africa. It is not keeping up with the times and is very stereotyped. Then the United States is in a separate chapter. One chapter is about the United States, and one chapter is about Japan, depending on the version. Some versions will talk about North America, but they will only cover the United States and not Canada. Taiwan’s international perspective is always the United States, China and Japan. Other places will be Southeast Asia and Africa. (JL: So does the Taiwanese media also the caused of this issue? I found that Taiwan’s TV news generally reports domestic news only. So is it because of this reason that the Taiwanese people lack of international perspective?) I found that Singapore’s TV stations are always reporting international news and very little news about Singapore. So I think it is the opposite! If you look at the Public Television Service or Hakka TV under Taiwan Broadcasting System, there will be international news. But these two are not TV stations with high viewerships. The media people says that everyone does not like to watch international news, the viewerships are low, there is no way to deliver, no advertising benefits, why bother? Why not show a little bit more of dash cams recordings? Why not report more social news or fight in Legislative Yuan? These will attract higher viewerships! The viewerships of each minute is used to determine the advertising revenue. Then when you find that the viewerships during international news segment falls, you don’t want to do it! The Taiwan Broadcasting System is a TV station for all people, and the budget is from the government. They don’t care about advertising, so they can report half an hour of international news. Like I am writing an article for ‘udn Global’, which is a website under the UDN. They are also struggling. Because they have been helping UDN in making losing money, they don’t know when it will shut down. If you can’t see the benefits of the website at all, just shut it down. This is a vicious circle. Because everyone doesn’t like to watch, and the boss doesn’t want to do it, they won’t be able to watch international news, and you wouldn’t want to know what’s going on outside. (JL: This would turn Taiwan into a closed-off country?) I have heard one of the reason is that Taiwan is isolated from international affairs. All international hosts do not allow us to participate. Everyone knows what is going on. Because no matter what happens to the United Nations, it has nothing to do with us. We also have no rights to participate. Then why should I watch? So all together is a vicious circle!
JL: In what ways can Singapore learn from Taiwan / Taiwan can learn from Singapore?
AW: To be honest, many people asked me this question. But I can’t answer it. (JL: Based on your observations?) For example, the media which I just mentioned. The Taiwanese media can try to be more international like the Singapore media; the Singapore media can try to be more localized like the Taiwanese media. In other respects, I feel that there are too many differences between the two countries. I don’t know how to make comparison between each other. The history of each place is different. Everyone has different set of values. If you want to talk about the international environment, Taiwan can learn from Singapore in terms of the foreign talent policy. Basically, it is impossible for Taiwan to attract any foreign talents. Our policy is over-protecting our labor force. Whether it is a white-collar or blue-collar, there are no incentives to attract them. Then there is no foreign investment that wants to invest in Taiwan. I was looking at the jobs listings lately. I feel deeply that there is really no job opportunity in Taiwan!
JL: What is your view on the Southbound Policy?
AW: I don’t see the the government going far in the Southbound Policy. I don’t know what they are doing. (JL: But Taiwan has a lot of migrant workers from Southeast Asia. Is that the result of the Southbound Policy?) There has always been a lot of migrant workers, and it has nothing to do with the Southbound Policy. The Southbound Policy is just making use of this to say that we have connections. Let me give you an example. Taiwan often provide scholarships for people to go abroad for studies. There is now a scholarship in Taiwan specifically for Taiwanese to study in Southeast Asia. But there is this particular score section: What is the QS rankings of the school that you are applying? There are only a few universities in Southeast Asia that are ranked on the top! Except for NUS (National University of Singapore), NTU (Nanyang Technological University) or UM (University of Malaya), the others are not in the top 100. The rankings account for 10% or 20% of the application result. In the end, it will affect the applicant’s total score and will not get the money. Scholarships can only be applied if the applicant is applying for NUS, NTU or UM. This is a very funny policy!
JL: If there are Taiwanese who are thinking of studying in Singapore, what advice would you give them?
AW: My advice is: Think clearly before you go. You have to know that place well before you go. Don’t go there and blame others for not accepting you. Because many Taiwanese feel that they are discriminated against by Singaporeans. Because there were many Taiwanese who have gone there, thought “Why are they talking to me in Singlish? I don’t want to learn! They even want to correct my English pronunciation.” Actually that is an act of discrimination and is not really correcting his or her pronunciation. I think they should realise that the English accent used in Taiwan is following America, and it is mixed with Taiwanese characteristics. Singapore uses British accent with Singaporean characteristics and Singapore-style English. It is considered equal among these few. They shouldn’t blame others for not accepting them because they don’t want to use Singlish as they feel that it sounds bad. I think that to blend yourself into a foreign society is a basic thing. They insist on using the American English that they know. They will turn it around and say that Singaporeans simply don’t know what American English is. But they don’t know that they are not speaking in American English. They did not realise that their English is of Taiwanese characteristics. But they are not willing to admit it. They feel that Taiwanese English has a negative label to it. But I think this is not a negative label. There are so many accents in the world, and that is normal. They should not think that Singaporeans correcting their English means correcting their American accents. They should instead say that they are speaking in Taiwanese English. They should respect the Taiwanese English that I am using, and I also respect the Singapore English you are using. The basic attitude should be like this, so there will not be so many conflicts. In addition, life in Singapore isn’t so interesting, so everyone should think clearly before going!
Interview conducted on 02 April 2017.
Translation by Jason JS Lee
(All images taken from Wan Ah Boy FB Fanpage)