Many, many moons ago when I took my O-level exam, I scored a B3 for Chinese as a second language. In today's super-achieving world, that's just a so-so grade.
But to me, it was a miracle. I had struggled with Chinese all my school life, barely passing it at each exam.
Around the time I took my O levels, the government decreed that students would need to pass their second language to enter junior college.
It was the worst possible news for me, and my Secondary 4 year was one of fear and dread. If I couldn't get to junior college, it meant I couldn't get to university, and if I couldn't get to university, what hope did I have in life, I thought. My parents didn't have the funds to send me abroad to study. My future hinged on passing Chinese.
I'm not exaggerating when I say it was only in recent years that I stopped having nightmares (yes, literally nightmares) about failing the subject, even though I took the exam decades ago.
I've always struggled with Chinese. Maybe I'm what is today described as dyslexic in Chinese (although a part of me wonders if such a condition really exists or do I just need to work harder at the language), but the script simply confounded and still confounds me. I find it a struggle to tell the words apart, or remember how to pronounce or write them.
My command of Mandarin was also very poor, and as I came from an English- and Teochew-speaking home, I got no help there.
The only reason I not only passed Chinese but got a decent grade too was because of tuition. Starting from primary school, I had a string of tuition teachers.