I am Teochew, not Singaporean

First posted 25th January 2013

I have a distaste for being Singaporean and instead, have an affection towards Swatow and being a Teochew. No, I don’t feel a thing for China either.

Update on 3rd July 2019 from here on

My angsty phase is over.

Indeed, Teochew is still my mother tongue no matter how poorly I speak it. There is no other language that comes close to making me feel at home whenever I hear it being spoken around me, at home and in public.

In fact, I would like to credit myself further for being able to distinguish between Hokkien and Teochew. I had done a mini test of sorts with a pal in the renovations industry. He is constantly in the company of old workers who speak Hokkien and Teochew and be forced to speak them, more than the average civil servant or those working in the finance sector for example.


Deciding my baby girl’s Teochew name

As a personal revelation, the best way to arrive at a Teochew name is to ask your elders what common Teochew names they remember, be they the names of their relatives or friends. To understand this point better, we can ask ourselves what common Mandarin names there are. To list some of them: 俊伟 (Jun…

The test was simple. I asked him if he knew how to pronounce certain words in Hokkien, then in Teochew. For example, 雨 (rain) is pronounced as hor in low tone in Hokkien. It is pronounced as hou in a higher tone in Teochew. 坐 (sit) is pronounced as tsay in low tone in Hokkien and tsor in a higher tone in Teochew. But these test results were really unnecessary because he mostly spoke mandarin with his partners and colleagues.

I had also done the same tests on other pals and the results point me to the same conclusion. The Teochew and Hokkien languages are easily distinguishable to those who grew up with them, mainly the older generation. One will not be surprised to know that most peers of my age at 30++ are unable to speak them, let alone tell the difference. We are proficient speakers of English and mandarin, while the Teochew, Hainanese, Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, Hock Chew and many many more Chinese languages have taken a back seat.

An individual anecdote can never account for a broader societal pattern. Do I have friends who primarily speak Cantonese at home? Yes I do. How about Hokkien? Yes I do. But unfortunately, they are the minority and the languages are slowly dying out. It is an irrefutable fact despite growing on-the-ground efforts to counter these cultural losses.

Returning to point

I feel like I am a Teochew but here’s more:

I feel like I am a Hainanese too. My mum and my extended family are Hainanese. I grew up on Hainanese food as much as I grew up on Teochew mueh.

I feel like a Malayan Chinese too. I feel equally at home when I hear mandarin spoken in the 大马腔 (Malaysian accent). I know I feel that way by comparing with the Taiwanese mandarin accent. I am neutral about the latter accent at best without that feeling of affection. Ding ding dong dong blah blah blah, for all that I resent about mandarin, I feel at ease around Malaysian Chinese and their accent. Mandarin did have its place in my heart.

Last, I love the Malay language, or should I say the Malay languages.

I taught myself to detest mandarin for social and political reasons as state policies had resulted in my inability to communicate with my paternal grandparents. They knew neither mandarin nor English and I didn’t understand Teochew and Hainanese. Then many years later, when my maternal grandfather started suffering from dementia, he forgot how to speak mandarin but still did Hokkien and Malay. Therefore, I made the additional effort to learn Hokkien by speaking it with my neighbours at my factory.


I am afraid my past affection for Swatow was misplaced. I never went there and I do not intend to go there ever. This is for as long as China remains in the hands of the Communist Party of China. They are not worthy custodians of more than 7000 years of Chinese History and Culture.

In case I come across as being biased, I am increasingly inclined to not visit the United States ever again too. This is because of the growing fascist momentum. However, at the same time, despite fears of the United States becoming a fascist state or a dictatorship prior to Trump becoming elected, the US’ institutions have largely remained democratic throughout Trump’s first term. This is a Big, Huge, Giganormous topic that this little post nor my entire blog can handle.

Swatow had, for a brief period of time, a place in my heart because my roots in Swatow and the Teochew language were not mandarin. That was it. It wasn’t because Swatow was something. It was because Swatow and all its given meanings were not something else.


Languages come languages go

Despite Qin emperor’s burning of books, it didn’t prevent the diversity of languages creeping in. Despite multiple relatively liberal regimes, the unimpeded use of minority languages didn’t prevent them from dying out either.

Again, the phase of indignation is over.

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