This is all about our very own Malaysian Chinese.
Or at least those unfortunate enough to land in our hospitals as sickly invalids. Let's just say, their sheer reluctance to speak in the national language irks me greatly. Comes as no surprise that my nurses frequently mistake them for mainland Chinese immigrants since most of them flatly refuse to speak in the local Malay language.
Much to the distaste of the local natives, some don't even bother trying! So much for our vaunted national integration!
Nurse : Why are you here today?
Patient : 请给我挂个内科.
Nurse : What did you say? Are you in pain?
Patient : 我肚子疼了两天了，有时候很厉害，有时候不疼.
Nurse : What? I don't understand Chinese. Do you speak Malay?
Patient : 救命啊!
Nurse : Translator!
Paul : Good God. Not me again!
Faced with their cantankerous refusal to reply in form, you can imagine my nurses' growing frustration. To my conscience-stricken nurses who are barely conversant in the different Chinese dialects, obviously what they hear is an unintelligible gobbledygook of rambling ching chongs and ling longs.
Enough to make them turn anti-Chinese.
You talking to me?
Look, I'll readily excuse elderly China-born immigrants for being unable to converse in simple Malay. They still get a free pass despite the fact that my own surprisingly well-versed grandparents would probably chide this unschooled lot with a disappointed tsk tsk. Since the rest of these old folks weren't brought up in this country - nor were they educated in our gradgrind schooling system - it makes sense that the common Malay patois they picked up along the way isn't quite the best.
But what about the obtuse citizens around my age? Malaysian Chinese born and bred? How do we explain their unforgivable lack of comprehension? Surely after more than a decade of compulsory education in the Malay language - with a smattering of mediocre English classes, there should be a small dint of retained knowledge, no matter how paltry. Perhaps not enough to publish an instant literary classic but certainly enough to answer the simple straightforward questions posed by my nurses.
Barely past the usual greetings, these befuddled patients would be crying out for a competent Chinese translator. Pathetic as my lamentable grasp of the different Chinese dialects may be, I'm still the closest they can find.
Has our education really failed so badly that a significant number of our population can barely converse in the national language? Or do the people just not make the effort to learn?