Wednesday, February 3, 2010
I was never meant to be here.
When I first arrived in Singapore as a child, I was laughed at, made fun of or altogether ignored because of my accent. Local kids hated me.
They either made fun of me in my face, or they said I was ugly (because of my accent?) and/or proud (because of my accent. i think. and the way i walk)
Troubled, sad, desperate to fit in (and who wouldn't want to, at that age?), I learnt to speak like the people around me. I left no trace of having ever lived or having learnt to speak in Scotland. All that was left was a strange, almost-Singaporean-like accent, peppered with very Brit pronunciations. Like strawberries (strough-breeze), medicine (medi-sen. Never max-sen), Wednesday (wensday, never weh-nes-day) and a few other words.
The same thing happened when I got into primary school and I spent most breaks eating out of my lunchbox at the grandstand that overlooked the school field. Or I would wander around the eco-garden and talk to the animals there. I would spend entire recess periods in the fenced up area that contained the chicken coop and I would carry them and talk to them. Or to the rabbits. or to the squirrels. or to the tadpoles and the baby frogs that were only just losing their tails.
Failing all, I would wander about in the tiny garden, on the cobblestone path. I'd run my palm over forget-me-nots and share tiny bits of my sandwich with the Koi.
The best friends I had when I was in lower primary were these two girls on my schoolbus. They understood me, they laughed and we went quite manic with the most random ideas. They were Janice Yue and Charmaine Koh. We remained quite close throughout primary school and we're still friends now, although just not as close. But they were just brilliant for me back then.
As my accent gradually toned down again, I started mixing with my classmates a bit more and especially when I went to childcare, all hope of speaking decently went completely out the barred windows.
Turning eleven brought about the peak of this. Along with the fact that the coolest thing at the time was tO tYpE lYk DiS lOrX. So yes, I even had my ah lian phase.
Embarrassingly, I made a deliberate effort to type lYk DiS tEw JaMeS aNd tEll hIm sKeWlX fInIsH LiaOx in my emails. Maybe to prove that I fit in here, that I was cool or something.
(sigh. eleven year olds.)
Throughout this time though, as it still does til this day, my Brit accent would come out particularly strong when
1)I'm ordering or talking to service staff
2)I'm sad or angry
3)I'm talking to strangers
4) When I'm reading aloud or acting
When I went into Secondary school, I gave up on trying. I think I was tired. I didn't know what was cool and people still told me off for pronouncing salmon as seh-mon, insisting it was pronounced sellmon. I gave up. I was tired and I figured, Bird still understood me so at least I'd have one friend in school.
It's been a long time since and I've come ages from that kid in nursery now. I laugh at it, I tell people and they go, "aww poor kid" but it's really funny. I don't mind what I went through because I'm very much myself and very comfortable now.
At the end of the day, I still laugh because now, years on, some people try to pick up my accent when they talk to me and then they sound a bit strange. So no more issues.
Teaching, you'll always have curious children asking why you sound different. And I answer them honestly and when it makes sense to them, we carry on with our lesson. Of course I make an extra effort to tone it down so that they understand me better.
ie; saying jelly instead of jello/ char kway teow instead of creme brule/ cannot lar, epic fail instead of you cannot do this because it does not make the slightest bit of sense.
I'm okay with it, I am.
And then today, at the tuck shop, I stood second in line. I waited for five ten minutes before getting my turn. Why? because a hoard of boys just came up beside me and ordered. The stall owners said nothing.
I cannot help saying this, but this would never have happened in PL.
Tired, when it came to my turn, I asked for "a bottle of water." The child beside me mimicked my accent in an inaccurate, typically childish Singaporean, warped and ogre-ish way. He was right beside me. Right beside me and he did this.
Of course it did not help that the stall lady did not understand me. He carried on mocking me for the length of time it took them to understand me. Which was approximately the time it took me to say, slowly, "a bottle of water" about four times.
I stared at him aghast, the first time it happened. And I thought about the things I could do and say to him. But at that point, I was just so tired and drained from the class that had just ended that I couldn't even summon the energy to roll my eyes at him.
It stung. And I left the school in tears on the phone with Mommy. Just like I used to be, when I called her during recess, back in Primary school.
My reaction surprised me as did whatever I felt. I thought it was long gone, something I'd gotten over a lifetime ago.
But I suppose some things will still sting.
And children, can be the most evil of the lot.