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My family's Chinese journey

Some of the fun stuff...TV drama, kuai ban, dance fan, books

If you ask the kids whether Chinese is fun, the answer will be a nay at first. Probe further and you will discover that the culprit is mainly the academic part. Although there are definitely enjoyable scholastic moments, how fun can drilling be, right? Had it only been spelling, practice and all things torturous, the kids would probably have abandoned the language once the A-level is over. However, thanks to the fun we had along the way, Chinese is still very much part and parcel of our daily lives.

Here’s some of the fun stuff which made the magical difference.


Reading is one of the oft recommended ways to improve or do well in Chinese – be it in composition, oral, comprehension or vocabulary. With prescribed book reviews & dictionary lookup, it is probably also viewed as nothing more than a scholarly chore, if not an outright torture.

At home, it is anything but. Books hold a special place. New books are greeted with delight. Old favourites are re-visited. Reading is for pleasure, and enjoyment comes in myriad forms. In riotous fun when mummy does the requested read-aloud, effects & all. As accompaniment to food & drinks. In cosy solitude. With laughter when the funny bone was tickled. As a respite from mugging. With heart-thumping anticipation while figuring out whodunit.

Truth be told, more English books were read than Chinese ones. Simply because it was far easier to find interesting English ones. But, when we bagged interesting Chinese books, the enjoyment is no less.

Chinese dance

When the Big One wanted to take up Chinese dance, I was ecstatic. It was a wonderful way to experience Chinese culture. A whole new world of costumes of minority groups like 藏族、傣族. Of techniques like 压腿、下腰. Of the array of props like水袖、彩绸. Of dance movements like 耍手巾花 (e.g. twirling a square kerchief), 舞扇子(e.g. throwing & catching a fan).

A world that must be so entrancing that in less than a year, the Small One was clamouring to be on board too.

More than a decade later, both are still happily dancing away. It still warms the cockles of my heart when I see them bonding over dance – be it preparing for a performance or just simply watching a dance video together.

Kuai ban (快板)

Described by foreigners as ancient Chinese rapping, kuai ban is a style of oral storytelling set to the rhythm of bamboo clappers. To have a better idea, do watch this kuai ban performance by a Canadian professor (with English translation towards the end).

It was pure serendipity that the Small One joined a kuai ban class. Just like how the kids taking up Chinese dance introduced mum & dad to it, the rest of the family were soon acquainted with this form of traditional performing arts.

We were deafened by the high decibel practices. Tickled pink by logic defying verses like these….










Twisted our tongues with our attempts at 绕口令 (tongue twisters) such as...

十四四十十四四 四十十四四四十 四十十四四十四 不知是十还是四

However intrigued we were, the rest of us didn’t have enough bravado to try the knuckle- bruising clappers ourselves. Watching the Small One perform was interesting enough.

Drama serials

Screen time was a rare commodity at home. Attribute it to my offbeat sense of what’s good quality TV and what’s age appropriate. It wasn’t until the kids were almost in upper primary that TV drama serials like大长今(Dae Jang Geum), 大秦帝国(The Qin Empire), 三国演义 (The 3 Kingdoms), 三十六计 (The 36 Stratagems) were inducted as family events.

Drama nights were thrilling times. Homework, revision, chores….all were done with extra zest. All duly completed before show time. Fun continued after show time. We bantered about each other’s hero. Voted 刘备as 伪君子 (literally, fake gentleman) though he was revered by many as 仁义之君. Rehashed favourite scenes. Poked fun at plot holes. Dissected dialogue.

The Small One became infamous for persuading all and sundry who would listen to join the 3 Kingdoms fan club.

Fandom manifested in the Big One as the exhilarated purchase of a 孔明扇 during a China trip.

A Qing dynasty portrait of Zhuge Liang holding a kong ming fan

Many years later, fandom resurrected with 琅琊榜 (Nirvana in Fire). This time, the entire family enthusiastically plugged the show. Our enthusiasm was no match for the exuberance of Big One’s friends who were introduced to the show. They created a Cluedo-like board game based on the show’s characters, locations & weapons. The Big One was of course delighted with the unique birthday present.

A little fun a day

Looking back, our Chinese journey had no roadmap or measurable goals. I wasn’t on the track of how to do well in Chinese, or how to find the best Chinese tuition or enrichment classes. There was just this notion that the kids would get to like and enjoy Chinese. I only knew that it should be fun. Over the years, it was indeed fun that carried the day.


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