Tue, Nov 24, 2009
The Straits Times
Adrian Pang flunked A-level Chinese

Adrian Pang makes his living as a funnyman on television in English and Chinese, but his struggle with the Chinese language was no laughing matter during his teenage years.

The actor flunked his A-level Chinese, leaving him no choice but to pack his bags for a law degree in England.

By his own admission, he did not try hard enough to learn the language, choosing instead to go through the motions after losing interest in it. Classes then mostly consisted of spelling and writing Chinese characters repeatedly.

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'It was boring as hell and learning was incredibly dull,' recalled the 43-year-old, who studied at Anglo-Chinese Junior College.

Learning Chinese characters, he said, was like 'trying to memorise thousands of different paintings'.

In 2002, he was confronted by his Chinese bugbear again - this time at work. He was called upon to host and to star in Mandarin TV productions - a prospect which still terrifies him today.

'I still struggle with the language, and that makes the process of working on Chinese productions joyless,' he lamented. 'But if I had made more of an effort in school, I probably would have more of a TV career.'

He still relies on a translator to rewrite all his lines into hanyu pinyin. But he is not bitter about his Chinese learning experience in school, saying he should have put in more effort instead.

As for Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's recent admission that Chinese lessons were made too difficult in the past, he said: 'He did what he thought was best, and I cannot fault him for that. I have only my own shortcomings to blame, but if the lessons were more fun, then I might have done better.'

But problems with the Chinese language remain a family affair.

The actor, who is married to theatre director Tracie, a Briton, has two sons. Zachary and Xander, who are in Primary 4 and 3 respectively at Anglo-Chinese School, have also found it tough going on the Chinese language front.

Both boys have since dropped Chinese in favour of French as a second language, after he and his wife filed an appeal with the Ministry of Education.

'They were getting very down about their Chinese and it was affecting their other subjects because they were spending so much time on it,' he said.

'In the long run, it could be seen as a cop-out, but I did not want them to be miserable like I was. In any case, I will still make sure they do not forget their Chinese heritage when they grow up.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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