Friday, December 28, 2012

下一站,中国。Next station, China.

SMRT’s initiative in making Mandarin broadcast for all our train stations doubly infuriates me as a local-born Mandarin-speaker of a Chinese-ed family. Especially when station names are announced exclusively in Mandarin and not any other ethnic languages of Singaporeans, SMRT's intending target audience couldn't be more apparent. And thus deplorable.

Having lamented on the withering fate of Mandarin/Chinese in Singapore in the face of the growing dominance of the English language, SMRT’s Mandarin broadcast of stations did not come as a solace at all.  

It is insulting, honestly.

When our own ethnic Chinese citizens such as my parents who were educated in the Chinese medium needed Mandarin instructions most during their times, Mandarin broadcast on trains was not there for them. Likewise for all the other ethnic groups who were educated in their ethnic language medium.

When the NE line was completed, Chinatown station which is located in the heart of Chinatown went into service. And naturally drew crowds of mono-lingual ethnic Chinese elderly to the NE line. And Outram Park, being the interchange for transferring passengers from other lines towards Chinatown station should thus be equipped with Chinese instructions to enable these elderly for easy navigation round the interchange. But no such convenience was provided for our citizens back then. And sad to mention, multi-language train station name displays are also only a recent happening despite the annual emphasis of our multi-racial characteristics on each National Day.

Ironically, Mandarin broadcast are now on board purely for the convenience of the new mainland Chinese immigrants pouring into our island who have very limited English language knowledge while the needs of our own citizens can be rightfully ignored and English language rightfully forced down our throats.

Taipei Metro’s Heartware

By comparison, Taipei metro was already equipped with four languages broadcast as early as the 2000s on board for train stations and instructions, in Mandarin, Taiwanese Hokkien, Hakka and English. Such consideration of the needs of local and overseas passengers indicates the human touch of the public transport provider. At least, it caters to the needs of the majority of their people even though languages of their aborigines are not included.   

It took Taipei city ten solid years of construction before their first line of metro went into operation in 1996, covering a mere distance of 10.5km. Our MRT went into operation a decade earlier and was no doubt a more efficient construction. Nevertheless, when it comes to passenger-oriented service, Taipei Metro is a few light years ahead of SMRT. And Taipei Metro’s dedication towards passengers does not just stop with multi-language announcement only but I shall not dwell into it at this point. 

We see ourselves as a multi-racial country and yet whitewashed ourselves with English language, as shown on our main public transport. Taiwan appears to be a more uniformed ethnic place than ours, yet recognizes the diversity within their own ethnic group on their metro.  

The English language mania and the $

The English language was ruthlessly installed as our lingua franca at all fronts in Singapore, at the expense of marginalizing our local ethnic languages (I wouldn't use the term "mother tongue" over here as it specifically refers only to the official languages of Malay, Chinese and Tamil, ignoring the presence of dialects). People who are proficient in non-English language were made to play a second fiddle to the English language and the people who master it. And during my times, it was even used as a determining subject for academic progression.

I wonder if other races felt the same bitterness?

Things started changing around 2006, I returned home for a visit and was stunned to spot Chinese signs at Suntec City. The discovery contrasted the incident that took place during my JC time when my English-ed ethnic Chinese principal disapproved the use of Chinese characters on our Chinese New Year banner within school compounds.

And now the sea change of attitude towards the Chinese language after successful strangle of its growth through political and economic isolation for the past decades. Underscoring the changed mindset is undoubtedly the economic and political profits gained from the millions of mainland Chinese immigrants shored upon our land. Branded as “talents” but ill-equipped with our lingua franca. Contrarily, English language help provisions are available to these “talents” whereas our own people were penalized for the lack of it.  Blatant inconsistent criteria for the locals and the foreigners is a clear indication of a $$$-driven mentality which explains many unexplained hardware malfunctions of our MRT trains. 

Unfortunately, SMRT is not merely a private public transport company but in many ways an epitome of the way which our country is run. $$$-driven mentality and therefore the constant play down of its people/passengers and the severe lack of national pride.   

Such revelation. It doesn’t take a genius to see where Singapore is heading to for the next stop. 

Next station, $$$. Mind the platform gap. If you were to fall into the gap, it is solely your own responsibility.