THE parents of seven children from Beijing who attended the three-day ‘Magnificent Sarawak’ edition of the Asean-China Youth Camp in Kuching were pleasantly surprised by language skills of the local children.
They met students from Chung Hua Primary School No. 1 during their stay and greatly admired their fluency in three languages – Bahasa Malaysia, the National Language, and English and Mandarin, two important lingua franca.
The parents were especially impressed that the students from the school are trilingual not only in speaking but also in writing.
This is something the ‘little ambassadors’ and their parents from Beijing have never come across anywhere in China or imagined they could experience in Sarawak before the trip.
The parents told thesundaypost they envied the local students’ command of especially English, noting that some of the young speakers were able to roll out the words with their tongues as if this global language were their mother tongue.
“I’m very excited listening to the children here speaking fluently in any one of these three languages. This is something we find unique,” Ping Sun said.
“I admire this country for upholding such a lofty and holistic policy on education. School children here are encouraged to learn more than one language. In the case of the Chung Hua Primary School No. 1 students whom we met, they can speak and write in three languages. We don’t find this in China,” she added.
Lius Xia chipped in: “The children here are so blessed with such multi-lingual talent. I’m sure it’s a very useful skill to have in this globalised world.”
Apart from this, Zu Ai Ying noted that besides their multi-lingual cleverness, the children here are also exposed to a multi-racial and multi-cultural ambiance not found in Beijing or China as a whole.
“We were also amazed to see the beautiful costumes of the various communities, worn by the Chung Hua Primary School No. 1 students when they welcomed us. We felt so touched and honoured,” she said.
Spoilt for choice
Xi Mei Zhang, meanwhile, admitted to being spoilt by the wide choice of local cuisine.
She said it was the first time she had savoured foods like bamboo chicken, ‘midin’, tapioca leaves, cucumber leaves, satay, chicken rice, and coconut flavoured rice (ketupat).
“The butter milk prawn here is the best I have ever tasted and we all from Beijing agree on this,” she said, adding that their trip to Sarawak was an eye-opener and would serve as a wonderful exposure and experience for their children.
Xi said the local Chinese children and those in China might have the same ancestral roots but the environment they grew up in was very different.
“When we return home, I’m sure the children will be chattering for days with their friends about their marvellous time here,” she enthused.
The camp was organised by Mulu Global Media as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and an extension of Asean Cultural Week.
The visiting children and their parents were led by tour guide Chai Kit Siang, who is also an author.
They were joined by a group of students from Chung Hua Primary School No. 1 while touring Old Town Kuching (Carpenter Street) and the Chinese Historical Museum (Main Bazaar) for a “cultural heritage” experience.
The group gathered at the Old Court House at 8.30am for briefing on the history of Old Town Kuching.
In just three days, the visiting children had picked up some greetings in Bahasa Malaysia like ‘selamat pagi’ (good morning) which they unhesitatingly used to greet Chai.
They had also learnt words like ‘terima kasih’ (thank you) and ‘apa khabar’ (how are you).
Visits to historical buildings
The children were visibly awed by their visits to the Post Office, the Hiang Thian Siang Ti (Deity of the North) Temple and several old shops in Old Town Kuching. They also learned about the history of each place.
The Temple, a popular destination for both domestic and foreign tourists, has an interesting history. It was built more than one and a half centuries ago by Teochew immigrants from China.
The Temple was originally located at Soon Hoon Street (now Main Bazaar). It was shifted to the present site in 1863, was razed by fire in 1884 and rebuilt in 1889.
The children from Beijing, being a new generation, born in a big modern city, were amused by what they heard and saw when they called at Ho Nyen Foh Tinsmith along Carpenter Street.
The noisy hammerings on metal sheets – a sort of rhythmic clink-clanking that has continued from the past to the present day – drew giggles from the children as they cupped their ears with their hands.
The children were also amazed to see various items hammered into shape by an elderly craftsman. The shop owner generously offered the youngsters Chinese traditional biscuits, baked with a crafted tin mould.
The children also learned that the tin ware shop was opened by one Ho Nyen Foh in the early 1930’s and named after him. Ho was the grandfather of the present owner, Ho Chin Hin. The model of the elder Ho’s old tin container can still be seen at the shop.
By about 10am, the group arrived at the Chinese History Museum. Chai briefed them on its history and brought them into the mini hall to watch a short film.
The Museum was originally the Chinese Court, set up by Rajah Charles Brooke and opened on July 1, 1912.
The group ended their half-day tour with some fun activities, including colouring, on the green shady compound near the Museum.