Little Nonya

3
Did you watch the TV series Little Nonya? I honestly don't know what's the big deal about that show. All of a sudden, because of this TV series, it is now trendy to be Nonya or Baba. I'm sure this show attracted many Nonya-Baba wannabes who claim that they are even though they're not. Although Nonyas or Babas have a tend to have certain facial features, you can't really look at a person's face and insist that they don't have a tinge of Nonya-Baba blood running in their veins so it's easy for anyone to claim that they are.

What's Nonya, Baba or Peranakan?
Many years ago, men from China migrated to countries in South-East Asia. Many of these immigrants married the non-Muslim natives in these countries. Their decendents are known as Peranakan. Babas refer to the males and Nonyas the female. Peranakan men usually took brides from the local Peranakan community and the more affluent families "imported" brides from China or sent their daughters to China to find husbands. Not all Peranakans are a mix of Chinese. There are also Indian Peranakans and Eurasian Peranakans among others.

I am a little nonya. By little, I mean a little bit: just 25% in my blood. (No, the other 75% is not just Chinese). I was young, it was certainly not trendy to be Peranakan. Peranakans were looked down upon because Peranakans are just seen as people who are Chinese but can't speak Chinese well, if at all. Being Peranakan was a good excuse for not doing well at the Chinese language. After looking at the grades my sisters and I brought home for our Chinese tests, my mum repeating commented that we should be allowed to learn the Malay language instead of Chinese. I started to fail Chinese exams from Primary 4. The first time it happened, I was the only person in class who failed the test. My Chinese teacher humiliated me by calling me up in front of the class to explain all my mistakes in the test while everyone else sat and watched. I don't recall whether I went home to cry that day. I continued to do badly at Chinese for the rest of my primary school days. Whenever I came home with a poor grades for my Chinese tests or exams my mum would say, "It's alright, you are Nonya." I don't know whether it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Surprisingly, I got an A for Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). In secondary/high school I still did badly at Chinese and only got a C for my "O" levels - that sure made my certificate look bad. In junior college I failed my oral exam the first time round and got a C for the written exam but I was determined to "finish off" my Chinese language studies with better grades. I had to stop making excuses for myself. To help me pass my oral exam, my Chinese teacher made me come 30 mins early to school daily to read passages. I am very grateful to her for that now though at that time she wasn't my favourite teacher for making me wake up half an hour earlier every morning! I managed pass my oral exam and got a B3 for the written exam :) [During that time, oral exams are separate from the written paper and just graded as pass or fail.]

Did my family and relatives watch Little Nonya? Hell, no! With our own fair share of deaths, re-marriages, bankruptcy, ill-treatment and even incest, our real-life drama is far better than what Mediacorp could come up with!

3 comments:

David said...

Yu-Kym,

Thanks for the link back to this post.

Very interesting. This is a great insight to life as a Singaporean.

"I continued to do badly at Chinese for the rest of my primary school days. Whenever I came home with a poor grades for my Chinese tests or exams my mum would say, "It's alright, you are Nonya." I don't know whether it was a self-fulfilling prophecy."

By primay school, I am assuming you refer to sometime during the first 8 years of formal schooling, or would Primary school be the same as American high shcool that we call grades 9 through 12 taken prior to going to college or a university.

You are fortunate if you can still speak and write any Chinese.

David

Yu-Kym said...

Here, we go to primary school from age of 6 to 12. I can still speak Chinese - I use it in day to day conversation and also for work sometimes. But I can't write it very well now. Like all languages, if we don't use it, we lose it.

Anonymous said...

Very impressed you did so well at PSLE! just shows your determination, you moved from last in class to the top! Very mean of the Chinese teacher to do that to you
Red kitty