This also applied to me some time ago, and I will just share one story with you.
a. Some time after the last General Election, Prime Minister called me and said he wanted me to take over the chairmanship of the Chinese Community Liaison Group, so I took it on. Some of you would know that this is a group that was set up by the government to build relations with the Chinese community. We have a similar one for the Malay and Indian communities as well. The task for me was to foster deeper relations with almost every aspect of the Chinese community - Chinese clan associations, Chinese temples, Chinese arts, culture, literary works, even getais – basically everything that is Chinese.
b. Those who know me would know that I didn’t do well in Chinese in school. I came from St Joseph’s Institution – I think that alone says something. I grew up in an English-speaking family. My parents came from Malaysia, and in their time, they studied Malay as a second language. They couldn’t speak Mandarin. Similarly, I didn’t speak Mandarin at home. I think I fell off my chair, or maybe froze in my tracks, when I was confronted with that challenge. I think a few of my colleagues in Cabinet also gave me a couple of funny stares, when that was announced.
c. To be honest, I struggled a lot with the speeches, meetings, understanding dialects, and some of the customs to be observed when you attend rituals at temples. But it was something that I had to do for me to be able to build these relations. It was something I had to do and embrace.
d. It took me sometimes double, triple, maybe even four times as much time to prepare for an event, to make a speech or to simply be accustomed to what a particular event was about at a temple or a function.
e. But it did force me to learn a lot more Chinese, push me out of my comfort zone, and do my own research. And I got to understand a lot more about our roots, our heritage, and our culture.
f. Now, one year on, I feel that I have benefitted. I know a lot more about where I came from, and what the significant moments and events in the Chinese calendar are. Some say I now speak Chinese better, but maybe they are just being nice to me. Certainly, I hope that I have made some contributions to the process and to the community – that is my story.