The Working Life

Posts filed under The Working Life

Mixing the languages

Filed in The Working Life, Writing

I attended a film shoot yesterday for a TV documentary series that my employers are sponsoring (I hesitate to say “my company” as it sounds like the company is mine, when what I really mean is “the company where I work for” , so I feel more comfortable saying “my employers” instead of “my company” , but I digress … ).

The series includes on-screen (or on-camera) interviews with people involved in the various areas of the documentary’s focus. While the main language is Bahasa, the interviewees have been told they can reply in either Bahasa or English.

Yesterday, my young colleague answered the first question on-camera in a mix of English and Bahasa – mostly English phrases with a Bahasa word thrown in here and there. The director stopped the filming and suggested that she either says a whole sentence in one or the other language. Even tho she’d said she was more confident answering in English, she ended up answering the various questions in Bahasa (and answering them very well, too, I must add – both in fluency and in content; okay, maybe she wasn’t that fluent, but her hesitations now and then only added to the authenticity and sincerity of her answers).

I can’t fully remember the director’s reason for why my young colleague shouldn’t reply in a mix of English and Bahasa (AD setting in), but I think he said something about people not talking like that in real life. I would also think it would be distracting to listen to someone speaking in English and then throwing in a Bahasa word or phrase here and there. Indeed, I have heard this before, and found it rather irritating because it came across as condescending. It felt like “I know you understand English, but hey, we’re all Malaysians, so here’s a Bahasa word” .

How does this apply to writing for a multi-racial readership and trying to express the richness of a multi-racial society?

Fast forward to this morning …

I’ve just come back from what I thought was a quick trip into Popular Bookstore to get a copy of Lydia Teh’s Honk! If you’re Malaysian. But since when does one go into a bookstore for a quick trip? I ended up with 5 books more than what I’d gone in to get.

One of the books was nineteen: a collection of stories by women. I’d bought the book based on one name found among the contributors to the book. Dina Zaman. When I got home, I took up the book and flipped to her story “Of Fishes and Wishes”. And there, on the page, dialogue in a mix of English and Bahasa.

Did it sound natural? Was it distracting?

Yes, it sounded natural. No, it was not distracting.

The director of the documentary series was not entirely right when he said “people do not talk like that in real life” . It depends on the situation. In private, among family and friends who you’re familiar with and “talk like that” with, it would be natural and not distracting. But in public, especially in a formal situation, it would not be natural and it would be distracting.

How then, does one present private dialogue in a public setting? A private dialogue as in a family conversation, and a public setting as in a story in a book or even a movie. I think this is a concern that has hampered the local writing scene, altho not one that has been widely discussed.

On the one hand, if a local scene is written in perfect English – even for the dialogue – it would not be real. Malaysians from different walks of life do not speak perfect English all the time. On the other hand, if the local scene featured too much localised English, it would run the risk of being accused of broken or pidgin English.

What’s the answer? An occasional “lah” and “haiyoh” in the dialogue?

Maybe there’s no answer for now. Maybe the answer, for now, is to just keep writing and to keep finding one’s voice. And this is as much for me as for any Malaysian writer who may be suffering from writer’s block because of this.

By the way, for an example of mixed-up dialogue in a movie, go watch Sylvia Chang’s Rice Rhapsody (aka Hainanese Chicken Rice) which features conversations between mother and sons in a mix of English and Mandarin. I read somewhere that it was badly done, but I personally enjoyed the movie, especially the scenes of Singapore life. And then, of course, I’m a big fan of Sylvia Chang, one of the best actresses turned producer and director to come out of Asia.

Oh yah, sorry for digressing …

30 days to NaNo

Filed in The Working Life, Writing

That’s all I can think of to post. Have been very busy, working past midnight at least three nights in the past 10 days. Not at home but overseeing production of the annual report at the colour separator’s. ‘Nuff said.

Yeah, I’ll probably NaNo again this year. Shouldn’t be hard. The trick is to just write every day of November and be a little ahead of the word count each day. Couple of other tricks I’ve found that helps – start at the stroke of midnight on 1 November and keep writing early in the day during the month, and break the writing into a few sessions each day. It’s easier to write three 600-odd words three times a day, and to have the first session early in the day when I’m fresh and before other stuff overwhelm me and zap my energy, than to sit down at the end of the day, trying to fulfill the 1,677-word requirement for that day.

I’ll be out of the country for about 10 days during NaNo month, but with my Dana, that shouldn’t be a problem, or an excuse not to write!


Filed in The Working Life

Work is going pretty good, even tho there’s lots of it. I’m seeing things get done at the end of each working week.

So why is it that I still feel like I’m not getting much done? In fact, feeling a great emptiness at the end of each week, and wondering “is this all?”

Oranges are not the only fruit

Filed in The Working Life

But that’s how it seems to be during Chinese New Year in Malaysia!

The type of orange favoured during CNY as an inexpensive but meaningful gift is the mandarin orange. With a name in Cantonese that sounds like “gold” (gum), it sounds like you’re giving “gold” to family and friends during CNY. And not just to family and friends, but also business associates, too.

At my office, we still have “gold” in the fridge, gifts from suppliers who gave not just a plastic bag of a few gum, but boxes of them. There must have been at least four boxes that I know of. Looking at the fridge, it was probably more.

The good thing about the “gold” is it’s rich in Vitamin C. And a good alternative to the usual bags of chips (at least for me).

Some People

Filed in Stress Busters, The Working Life

My colleague had developed a new logo for one of our subsidiaries. It was submitted to our Big Chief for approval.

This morning, it came to mind so I asked him if it had been approved. He said he didn’t know. So I called another colleague who would, and she said yes, it had been approved.

I called out to my “logo developing” colleague to tell him. His reply?


Oh Lord, thank You for creating those furry black and white balls and the advanced technology for me to look at them at times like this. It’s not for nothing that I call them my stress-busters. Thank You.

Mama Mei giving baby Tai a hug
and a kiss (I want!)