See me pulling the "Long Tea" in the picture below? Teh tarik, for us locals. It started when the boys were walking out of my house after one of their brainstorming sessions preparing for the inter-school debate (my youngest daughter is in the Chung Ling Butterworth school team). I said "knock them out. And I will buy you all teh tarik". And so they went on to not only knock out the other team but went all the way to the district finals. And came up champions. They beat St Marks, Dato Onn and Convent in the process.
So, I had to honour my promise. But getting them together is a logistics nightmare. They are not only so busy (I told my daughter her schedule is worst then mine) but it would involve several sets of parents driving their kid to the mamak stall.
Then my wife had a brilliant idea - "why don't you do the teh tarik yourself". OK, I am game. To make it authentic, we walked to the corner sundry shop to buy a can of condensed milk. Hey, this was what we used to feed babies and toddlers in the olden days. So, this is also an indulgence for me 'cos I usually take my evening tea without sugar.
Not bad for a wannabe mamak hawker. If you are wondering, this was not my first teh tarik attempt. I am actually quite good at it - something to fall back on if the university were to offer us all VSS. Picture courtesy of my wife.
Ah, but my wife was equally indulgent. She baked cinnamon rolls to go with the teh tarik. Lot's of sugar too.
The two boys fighting for the biggest rolls? Actually, the two of them shared one roll - too full from sumptious dinner (eh, not provided by me). Photo courtesy of Jillian.
So, knock them out again, I said! This time they are going up against Penang Free School tomorrow in the State-level competition. They are aiming to go only up to the semi-finals. My daughter told me she hopes they don't get into the finals. What? Why? For one, the final competition will be on thursday and she (and one other team member) is in the School Band parade for their annual school sports day on thursday. But the backup team (reserves) can take over, what? "I don't think they will let us win". Huh? Apparently, the winners at the State-level will go to the national level competition. And there is a rule which says that the state team must include a bumiputra member. Sure or not? Yes, for sure, I was told.
It is almost impossible (ok, make that totally impossible) for the Chung Ling team to find a non-Chinese (much less a bumiputra) student good enough to debate in English. You can probably count on one hand the number of non-Chinese students in a "Chinese" school. Heck, they have enough trouble trying to find ANY student willing to take part in debate, more so for English debate. Do you know how bad the English is in our schools? I know, 'cos I encounter many of the outputs from our schools in my classes.
So, of course you ask, if English is so bad in the Schools, how come these kids can go on to win even the District competition? Take my word for it, they are good. And you can be sure they didn't get that good from the English lessons in School. More so in a Chinese School. I think some of these schools even have a policy banning any spoken language other than Mandarin. They are not allowed to speak even in the Chinese dialects (like Hokkein). Those who are good in spoken and written English are mainly getting it from outside the School.
Anyway, I think the rule sucks. The people organising these events should figure out what is their agenda. National unity and integration? Or promoting excellence in language (English, in this case). Get your priorities right. Not everything has to be in the same bag.
Of course debate is only half about language. A major part of it is the "points", the arguments, and being convincing even if you think the topic is working against your position. In debate, it does not matter whether the topic seems to lean towards either "government" or "opposition". It's creative line of attack which wins the day. And these chaps from Chung Ling had caught their competition by surprise by stretching their imagination.
For the record, my roll, ooops, role is not just to pamper them when they brainstorm in my house. I also play the role of storm-maker. Ah, but I try very hard not to try too hard. It's part of their learning.