Ho Cheow Seng / Guest Writer

My father has incomplete Secondary Education in English. He speaks better Mandarin than he does the English Language. So he’s an anglophone at the mesolectal level.

My mother, like my father, came from China when she was in her teens. Although her grandfather was a warlord in feudal China and her father fairly well educated in Chinese she was never sent to School. But she speaks a brand of Hokkien with my father that used to leave their anglophone children befuddled. Yes they speak the ‘educated genre’ of their dialect.

So as you can clearly see, my parents cannot be considered to be ‘university calibre’ or academically inclined. However their 4 children all made it to the local national University. How come?

Once I was seated with my friend at a table in a food-centre. The table was not very far from several of the stalls. My friend and I were very amused on that occasion upon hearing the drink-stall owner ‘yacking’ animatedly in ‘market’ Hokkien about how wrong and prejudiced Lui Kong [meaning Thunder-God, MM’s nickname among the semi-literate and the illiterate Singaporeans] was to condemn the not very educated Singaporeans.

The drink-stall owner used a rough-hewn Hokkien idiom to illustrate what he he meant. He said:”How can Lui Kong[LKY] say that because we are ‘sweet potatoes’, we will give birth to ‘baby sweet potatoes’?”

‘Sweet potatoes’ is a term in Hokkien which is used figuratively to describe some one who is a ‘good-for-nothing’. So in Hokkien, the full idiomatic expression of what MM was alleged to have said was rendered as:

“Yee kong nan ‘hun-chih, sare hun-chih kia. Boey sai un nay kuan kong, mah. Yee kuah nan boey kee, aah. Kang nee nah”.

My friend and I quickly turned our face, each in a different direction, because we could hardly control our bursting out aloud in laughter.

But the stall-holder was right. I know for a fact that many among the generation older than I had less than a Secondary, and in some cases, a Primary Education. And in one instance, the Primary-School dropout produced 3 children, two of whom became very successful medical specialists, and the youngest son graduated with an M.A. and became a Secondary School Teacher.

And this is only one instance I am citing here. I have easily half a dozen similar instances to prove that MM’s theory relating to marital discrimination in favour of those with tertiary education holds no water.

Look into the lives of Einstein (high school dropout), Thomas A. Edison (one of the most famous inventors who apparently had less than 3 months of schooling), Henry Ford (no formal education at all), Bill Gates (college dropout), Sylvester Stallone (the man once sold his dog because they had no food to eat), Steve Jobs (college dropout), Michael Dell, Larry Ellison (Billionaire CEO of Oracle Corp)… etc etc.

Oh come on! The older generation did not have 10% of the advantages and privileges that the young of today have because their parents were mostly labourers, working-class folks or, at the most, clerks.

Their children who are now in their late fifties and sixties haven’t done too badly, have they? And we don’t have to go too far to drive home the point, actually. You know what I mean? Aah, I ‘hun chih kia’ also know how to be subtle, you know?



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