It’s now trending that the Harry Potter series is celebrating its 20th anniversary. I can still remember holding the Philosopher’s Stone back in primary school loaned from a friend.
Back then books were a luxury for my family. We lived in government quarters as both my parents worked in the civil service. We didn’t have much, but we spent our days outdoors and with books.
My parents signed us up with the DBKU Public Library, then the only public library with a substantial book collection. Almost every weekend we would borrow books. Thereafter my love for reading began. I think that’s why I started wearing glasses as well. Too much reading in dim lighting and cars.
We spoke English at home as well. My parents were dedicated to us being multilingual. Now people exclaim over our command of English and I use to wonder why. Along with a smattering of Bidayuh and Malay, it made for colourful conversations.
My 2 siblings and I went to Chinese medium primary school but I was the only who finished 6 years. Even though I hated every year of it. My father believed in Mandarin as another global language to master. They don’t make us pursue things like music and such because it costs money (I went to an SJK or government funded Chinese medium school). I am fluently conversant in Mandarin but not in reading or writing much. Imagine coming from a home with no prior knowledge of Mandarin and being plopped into primary one with no friends and no understanding of the language. It was a struggle to say the least. And ironically even though I’m fluent I dont love the language. I think that struggle still reminds me to this day.
But I am glad I can speak in Mandarin. It’s something I take for granted being multilingual. I can converse with the English crowd, the Malay posse or the Mandarin gang. Bidayuh being my mother tongue we learnt since childhood, while Chebup my ‘father’ tongue I am greatly inept because we weren’t as exposed to it. Living in Kuching we would return home to my maternal grandparents (Bidayuh) village more often. My paternal grandparents lived in the Baram hinterlands, about 1000 km away so we would visit only once a year.
That’s how I grew up to be a Grammar Nazi.