23 May 2007

Turning Chinese In Second Life #1: My youth, my first SL fling

I am writing this as I am in real life. No masks, no pretensions. But I've changed subtly in a way I didn't realise, until I read something I'd typed up for Hamlet.
I need to reason it out, and I don't see the damage in doing so in front of you, my reader...

It's not something I advertise much, but in real life, I have a bit of Chinese heritage. I don't spew classics like a person seeking a official post in feudal China, but I can write and read simplified JianTiZi (Beijing's idea of Chinese, less strokes, more speed) at a level that lets me read the weekly Perth Chinese papers without picking up my Besta dictionary more than once or twice a page, though I don't speedread in JianTiZhi the way I do in English.

My real-life father once bragged that knowledge of Chinese opened the doors to an entire new kingdom in a way few other experiences could match (No, fanboi, your copy of WoW Burning Crusade doesn't hack it). I was the last person anyone would ask to translate anything written in Chinese. As a kid, I was rebellious in a way that proved deleterious later on in life, and I chafed at my father's suggestion to read the classics and learn the language deeply. I regret a little now that my command of Chinese is barely sufficient enough to order a short-order cook to get me my favorite mock beef claypot (he doesn't have a good command of English, but apparently, Australia is short on good cooks, so... ^^;)

For most of life, I felt far from comfortable with this aspect of me. I confess to having flunked formal Chinese qualifications on several occasions in my youth. In Singapore, failure to meet standards of understanding in one's mother tongue led often to abject failure. Significant work was done to correct this, but only after my cohort, sadly - There is a recognition that some people *JUST* don't cope well with their mother tongue in a country where a unified language is a must-have, and that this is not necessarily a sign of stupidity on its own. But it was too late for me...

Following my obligatory years in service to my country of birth, this necessitated relocating my RL avatar to Perth for further studies, where Chinese was an advantage only half the time. Except for a couple of stumbles, I have found a certain calm in the way my studies were conducted (barring my contraction of Ross River Virus, something that still occasionally moves in and makes my life a living hell for a few days).
There were others like me - bonded in a knowledge of English rather than whatever their parents' patois was - Swahili, French, a million other languages, all bonded by the fact that they were anything but the Queen's English (or POTUS' English, come to think of it). I didn't feel like I needed to speak or write Chinese any longer.

And then I logged into Second Life on Halloween, in a country where the only cool thing about it was the opportunity to pub crawl while disguised as a demon from hell. I entered Agni, another world where being disguised as a demon for hell was something people sometimes did all their lives. (Garn Conover, you are one hell of a Cerebus, and one damned good shephard of newbies. Aryn Lassard, you are an accursedly patient scripting mentor. Charming devil too.)

They say people change Agni by the way they touch it. I'm proud to confirm it. But what most people don't consider is the fact that the favor is reciprocated! I would lapse back into a desire for my mother tongue as part of my new sickness, but that's telling the story a bit too fast.

At first, it was a couple of touches here and there. brief excursions into the world. often lasting less than an hour. I camped here and there while checking my mail and writing my obligatory educational stuffs. I may have indulged in some minor griefing (<-- spoken in an 'I may have inhaled' tone) at one or two points in time.

And then I got to know of the full extent of the world via a chance encounter with a older Resident. I believe you may already know her all too well if you have come here via references in the Second Life Insider or her own blog. If that doesn't chime totally: she wears her heart, but she doesn't bother to waste a perfectly good sleeve to mount it on. Why would she need to?

But I digress. Over the course of several drop ins, I learnt the fact that Second Life had beauty and power beyond anything one could imagine in the real world. Prejudice still existed in Agni, but the things that people could be prejudiced about were ideas and beliefs, not fixed constructs like age, sex, or cultural backgrounds. One could, given the right application of smarts and societal skill, become someone of significant note, or even wealth (take a bow, Aimee Weber, Starax William Niangao, Max Case et al.)

I would wake into Second Life every other day with a new landmark from someone who thought I needed to see more of the world... And I did.

Navora. NCi Kuula. Midnight City. Silk Waters Mountain. Samurai Island. New Paris.
A few others. I didn't pick any favorites consciously when I wrote that list... I think.

A landmark into Svarga pretty much clinched the deal. It is pretty funny how the things one takes for granted in the real world suddenly become important in Agni. Feeding the birds with virtualised birdseed scattering and listening to visitors turn Svarga into a celebration of Second Life on the region's own elven orchestra, right there in the virtualised morning sun of Svarga, I realised something important:

This is the best of all possible worlds.

I also realised something else:

Now and tomorrow, this is where I want to be.

Like a Red Gyarados on a Neo-Realms Epic Rod, I was hooked in Agni.

(To Be Continued)


Shockwave Plasma said...

My step-mother is from Malaysia, and she speaks five languages, her children, all who grew up in Australia speak english only.

I always thought it was rather sad, but I find that it's very common in english speaking countries.

Either the children rebel, or the parents don't think that it's worthwhile, or don't take the time to teach them.

It must be even harder when your going back to the Orient, and your features mark you as such.
Everyone else is saying " What, you don't understand what I'm saying? "

My step brothers and sister have never visited, and I suspect that is one reason why.

Patchouli Woollahra said...

Oh, it does get a bit easier to cope with gradually... Identifying myself more these days as an Ozzie and an Agnian tends to help salve the wound.

If anything, my father has relented on his old stridency. He still thinks I should be properly chinese, but he points now to the market I can access if I can speak and write well in Chinese. 7 billion sinophones can't be wrong (even if half of these happen to be using one of several offshoots verbally)

Not every country sees the value in equipping their children with more than one language. I suppose I should have appreciated it, given the nature of Singapore - we can't look inwards, there's not much 'in' we can look towards.

Bigger countries than Singapore can tolerate it to some extent, but inevitably, multi-lingualism in some form, even mere bilingualism, seems to be the future direction. And this seems to be peculiar to me, given the fact that we're actually experiencing LOSS of languages.
Re: your stepsiblings never visiting you in Australia... Not every part of Australia is as accessible as Perth. For some places like Brisbane, that trip is as trying as trying to visit, say, some European country. Not everyone can cope with long-haul flights. Hell, not everyone can cope with flights. (you know who you are...) The reasons you fear may not be as significant as you think. Console yourself that way, and things don't become too heartwrenching.

Shockwave Plasma said...

I should have said it better, I meant they never visited their family in Malaysia.

Patchouli Woollahra said...

Eh, distance is still distance in any direction.

If it's Penang or Malacca though, I can see them missing out very badly.

Both cities have very good seafood ideas and recipes... and Penang is where half the tech in Australia gets sent down from, especially most Dell computers that aren't branded Alienware.

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