‘I Wish I did’ – Story of B. and Her Shanghainese


I was chatting with my wonderful hairdresser, B, earlier this week (so yes as you gathered I even managed to get a proper hair cut finally!! the first since the birth of Nina).

B was born and grew up in Sydney to a Shanghainese mother who left Shanghai as a young girl. B speaks Shanghainese (the dialect from Shanghai – more about dialects in China, see this blog) with her mother at home, but B has no knowlege of Mandarin nor is able to read/write any form of Chinese.

So I asked B if her mother has tried to teach her Mandarin/reading/writing. She said she went to a Chinese school on Saturdays when she just started school (in Australia, it is called Year 1 / 2, equivalent to the first/second year of Primary school I think), but she hated it.

–  ‘It was just too hard’. B said. So after a few Saturdays she stopped going.

– ‘ Do you wish you had continued?’ I asked. I am curious.

– ‘I wish I did’. She didn’t hesitate to reply.

– ‘Did you mum try to convience you or force you to go?’ I asked.

–  ‘I wish she did’. Another swift reply.

B.went to Shanghai for the first time – and the only time so far – two years ago. She was so excited before the trip that she’s finally able to speak Shanghainese for real. To her astonishment and disappointment, not so many people understood her – partly because not everyone in Shanghai speaks the local dialect and Mandarin is more popular (although in recent years there is a movement by the locals to re-instate Shanghainese as another official local language. I perhaps should write another blog entry about this, a very interesting movement), and partly because her Shanghainese is the one from almost half a century ago. The dialect has evolved and changed, like the city itself.

B. told me she wishes to learn some Mandarin and perhaps even one day go to Shanghai to work and live for a while.

It makes me ponder, if one day, Nina tells me ‘mum, it’s just too hard’, what should I do?


3 responses »

    • I read the book last year, and I thought that I would never become a Tiger mother – it’s just not what I do and how I am. Then by talking to a few people who have similar upbringing background as B., I realized perhaps becoming a tigher mother, at least to certain extent, would perhaps be necessary, even as a parent’s duty for the benefit of the child in long run … So I’m quite confused now, not sure what to do.
      Is there an approach that would encourage the child to take on the language challenge with enjoyable experience?


      • I’ve never read the book but have heard lots about it… my mum calls herself a Tiger mum (maybe not as strict as the author who wrote the book but quite strict and determined in many aspects of parenting). I think if my mum never forced me into learning Chinese then I would never have learnt it, learning Chinese in a non-Chinese environment will probably never be a fun experience, although I am keen on learning it myself now without the pressure of my parents, it is still extremely difficult and often question why I need to learn it… But no matter what, I don’t wish my parents did anything differently despite the strictness and strong discipline they had with me going to Chinese classes every weekend (rain hail or shine, no matter if my friend had a birthday party or not). I am now proud to say that I am fluent in Cantonese whereas the friends who dropped out of Chinese school tell me that they do not even know what and how to write their Chinese name.


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