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«EFD / JFL Edebiyat Fakültesi Dergisi / Journal of Faculty of Letters Cilt/Volume 29 Sayı/Number 2 (Aralık/December 2012) ‘Sorry of my ...»

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EFD / JFL

Edebiyat Fakültesi Dergisi / Journal of Faculty of Letters

Cilt/Volume 29 Sayı/Number 2 (Aralık/December 2012)

‘Sorry of my English’: Lily and Mui in Sour Sweet and Z in

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

‘İngilizcemin kusuruna bakmayın’: Sour Sweet’de Lily ve Mui ile A Concise Chinese-English

Dictionary for Lovers’da Z.

A. Nejat TÖNGÜR*

Abstract

The cultural aspects, life styles, experiences, beliefs and perspectives of Chinese immigrants and Chinese students in Britain have been incorporated into the literature in English with the arrival of the Chinese immigrants in Britain in the 1960s. Sour Sweet by Timothy Mo, which was first published in 1982, mirrors the Chinese immigrants’ lives in Britain in the 1960s with a focus on the Chen family whereas A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo is about the struggle of a single Chinese woman to learn English in Britain. The latter was published in 2007 and chronicles monthly how Z learns English in 2003. Despite the temporal gap of 40 years between the novels and the dynamics of the characters’ move to Britain, there are many similarities between the women portrayed in the novels as far as their problems, reactions, emotions, thoughts and change during their experience in Britain are concerned. The female characters in these novels, Lily and Mui in Sour Sweet, and Z in A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, struggle with problems stemming from Chinese culture, tradition, morality and family structure as well as economic, social and cultural difficulties in Britain. The English language seems to be the most formidable obstacle because their linguistic development takes long time, a great deal of energy and much effort on the part of the characters portrayed in Sour Sweet and A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers not to mention the lack of communication, misunderstandings and subsequent isolation.

Inevitably, their social, financial and cultural hindrances are complicated and exacerbated by their inadequate language skills. Indeed, improvement of their foreign language skills, English, takes precedence over social, cultural and economic elements and their survival and success in Britain are consequential to and conditional on speaking English. No matter how eager or * Asst. Prof. Dr., Maltepe University, Faculty of Education, Department of Foreign Language Teaching, anejatt@yahoo.com © 2012, Hacettepe University Faculty of Letters, All Rights Reserved ‘Sorry ofmy English’: Lily and Mui in Sour Sweet and Z in A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers resistant they are to the impositions of the British culture, they realize that speaking English is a must in Britain. Although the restaurant business and ensuing isolation in Sour Sweet are detrimental to linguistic development for the first generation immigrants, all Chinese people in these novels are exposed to the unassailable effects of the English language sooner or later.

Consequently, Lily and Mui in Sour Sweet and Z in A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers are obliged to develop their English, which parallels their emancipation from male domination. It is obvious that the more adept they become at speaking English, the better and more comfortable their lives become.

Keywords: Timothy Mo, Xiaolu Guo, Sour Sweet, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, Chinese-British.

Öz 1960’larda İngiltere’ye Çinli göçmenlerin gelmesiyle, İngiltere’deki Çinli göçmenlerin ve Çinli öğrencilerin kültürel özellikleri, yaşam biçimleri, deneyimleri, inançları ve bakış açıları İngilizce edebiyatın içinde yer almıştır. İlk olarak 1982’de basılan Timothy Mo’nun yazdığı Sour Sweet Chen ailesi odaklı olarak 1960’larda İngiltere’deki Çinli göçmenlerin yaşamlarına ayna tutarken Xiaolu Guo’nun yazdığı A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers İngiltere’de yalnız başına bir Çinli kadının İngilizce öğrenme çabası hakkındadır. Bu ikinci roman 2007’de yayımlanmıştır ve Z’nin 2003’de nasıl İngilizce öğrendiğini ay ay anlatır. Romanlar arasındaki 40 yıllık zaman farkına ve karakterlerin İngiltere’ye gitme dinamiklerinin farklılıklarına rağmen, romanlarda yer alan kadınlar arasında İngiltere’deki deneyimleri sürecindeki sorunları, tepkileri, duyguları, düşünceleri ve değişimleri açısından birçok benzerlik vardır. Bu romanlardaki kadın karakterler, Sour Sweet’teki Lily ve Mui, ile A Concise ChineseEnglish Dictionary for Lovers’daki Z, İngiltere’deki ekonomik, sosyal ve kültürel sorunlarla beraber Çin kültürü, gelenekleri, ahlaki değerleri ve aile yapısından kaynaklanan problemlerle de mücadele ederler. İngilizce hayatlarındaki en zor engel olarak görünür çünkü iletişim eksikliği, yanlış anlamalar ya da bunun sonucu ortaya çıkan soyutlanma bir tarafa, dil gelişimi Sour Sweet ve A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’da betimlenen karakterler açısından çok zamana, enerjiye ve çabaya mal olur. Kaçınılmaz olarak sosyal, mali ve kültürel engelleri yetersiz dil becerileri ile karmaşıklaşır ve daha kötü hale gelir. Aslında yabancı dil becerilerinin, yani İngilizcelerinin, gelişimi sosyal, kültürel ve ekonomik unsurların önünde yer alır ve onların İngiltere’de hayatta kalmaları ve başarılı olmaları İngilizce konuşmanın sonucunda ve buna koşullu olarak gerçekleşir. İngiliz Kültürünün dayatmalarına ne kadar hevesli ya da dirençli olurlarsa olsun, İngiltere’de İngilizce konuşmanın şart olduğunu anlarlar. Sour Sweet’teki restoran işi ve bunun sonucundaki izolasyon birinci nesil göçmenlerin dil gelişiminin aleyhine olsa da, er ya da geç bu romanlardaki tüm Çinliler İngiliz dilinin karşı konulamaz etkilerine maruz kalırlar. Sonuçta, Sour Sweet’teki Lily ve Mui ile A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’daki Z İngilizcelerini geliştirmeye mecbur kalırlar ki bu durum onların erkek egemenliğinden kurtulmaları ile de eş zamanlıdır. İngilizce konuşmada ne kadar başarılı olurlarsa İngiltere’deki hayatlarının da o kadar iyi ve rahat olduğu açıkça anlaşılmaktadır.





Anahtar sözcükler: Timothy Mo, Xiaolu Guo, Sour Sweet, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, Çinli-İngiliz.

A. Nejat TÖNGÜR

Sour Sweet by Timothy Mo is mainly about the struggle of an immigrant Chinese family from Hong Kong to make a living in Britain in the 1960s whereas in A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, Xiaolu Guo explores the process of selfdiscovery for a young Chinese woman who comes to Britain for a year to learn English in

2003. Despite the 40-year-lapse between them, both Sour Sweet and A Concise ChineseEnglish Dictionary for Lovers are very informative about the sour sweet experiences of the Chinese people in Britain. Another similarity between these novels is that both Mo’s and Guo’s narratives of Britain are “viewed entirely through Chinese eyes, and … the English-language medium” (Skinner, 1998, p. 320).

Apparently the female characters, Lily and Mui in Sour Sweet and Zhuang Xiao Qiao in A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers have to struggle harder than men to cope with the social, cultural and economic hurdles they face in Britain because they also suffer from taboos, family structure, tradition and gender discrimination inherent in their culture as they discover British social rules, codes of conduct and cultural conventions.

The female characters in Sour Sweet and A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers realize English is a “stepmother’s tongue” for them because “English, for many, was never a tongue automatically possessed; it was laboriously learned rather than painlessly acquired” (Skinner, 1998, p. 160). Cultural obstacles were one of the toughest obstacles hindering or delaying for the Chinese women to learn and improve English owing to the fact that “to speak a language is to take on a world, a culture” (Fanon, 1967, p. 38).

The members of the Chen family portrayed in Sour Sweet are representatives of the Chinese immigrants who headed for Britain until the late 1960s when the need of manpower in Britain after World War II coincided with the rapid displacement of the rice economy in Hong Kong. Moreover, the growing demand for ethnic cuisine and takeaway food in Britain and the British Acts which allowed easy access from Hong Kong resulted in a flow of Chinese immigration from Hong Kong to Britain. However, most of the immigrants regarded themselves as sojourners and Britain as a temporary location where they aspired to work in the prearranged jobs in the Chinese restaurants for some time (Skeldon, 1994, pp. 5-6; Baker, 1994, pp. 296-297).

The restaurant business which “would require little knowledge of English or assimilation into British society on the part of migrants” (Parker, 1995, p. 63) minimized the connection of the Chinese immigrants with the mainstream British society. These people were doomed to remain outsiders in “a largely self-contained and alien world functioning within [Britain]” (Ho, 2000, p. 12) without having a chance to learn or improve English, socialize with the British people, or blend into the British society. The characters portrayed in Sour Sweet initially follow this pattern by all means as they live on the upper floor of a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.

Despite the differences in the pull-demand, push-supply reasons and variations in the dynamics of immigration to Britain in the postwar era, the Chinese immigrants, like all other immigrants from the Sub-Continent, the Caribbean Islands and African countries “tend to arrive in new places with baggage; both in the physical sense of possessions or belongings, but also the less tangible matter of beliefs, traditions, customs, behaviours and ‘Sorry of my English’: Lily and Mui in Sour Sweet and Z in A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers values” (McLeod, 2000, p. 211). As for the Chinese immigrants in the post-war era, their close-knit family structures were the most apparent feature they carried with them. They did not “attach so much importance to the individual, but rather they [saw] themselves as part of a family, and act[ed] accordingly” (Hand, 1995, p. 11). Chinese culture is diverse with “filial piety, a sense of loyalty and deference to elders, a formality of relations between the generations, strict patriarchy and firmly policed racial and linguistic boundaries” (Parker, 1995, p. 51) and these distinct Chinese norms and values are easily discernable in the lives and personal traits of the Chen family in Sour Sweet. Chen, Lily and Mui adhere to conventional roles as bread-winner, housewife and babysitter respectively and they are evidently aware of their prerogatives and the limits of their sexes and functions in the family.

Most immigrants were compelled to cope with poverty, alienation, isolation, unemployment or underemployment, ghetto life, climatic differences, linguistic difficulties, racism and discrimination after they immigrated to Britain. However, female immigrants had to struggle with deep-seated prejudices against their sex particularly in male-dominated societies which traditionally favor men and disparage women and the amount of the burden on the shoulders of the female immigrants was twice as much as that of the male immigrants. In Sour Sweet, the roots of gender discrimination against female members of the Chen family can be traced back to their childhood days. Lily was brought up like a boy by her father who hoped that she could take his revenge after he had been beaten in a fight whereas Mui was raised as an “uncomplaining, compliant, dutiful, considerate, unselfish, within her limits truthful and honourable; and needless to say, utterly submissive to the slightest wishes of her superiors which included women older than herself and the entire male sex” (Mo, 1999, p. 15). Lily had rigorous Chinese boxing training while Mui was engaged in female pursuits such as “flower arrangements, embroidery, and the arrangement of refreshments on lacquered trays” (Mo, 1999, p. 15), which was a reflection of the traditional Chinese culture based on hierarchies of gender and age.

As expected from a girl and daughter-in-law and as a result of her traditional Chinese rearing, Mui keeps a low profile at the Chen family’s home in Britain. She is regarded as Lily’s “humble and worthless” (Mo, 1999, p. 53) sister who is “just stupid girl” according to Chen (Mo, 1999, p. 109) as she spends most of her time in front of TV watching soap operas. However, this is an incubation period during which she develops her language skills considerably because watching TV “provides her with a form of escapism but also teaches her about British life” (Ross, 1991, p. 480). In fact, before coming to Britain Mui worked as “a servant for a Cantonese-speaking English bachelor in government service.

During her two years in this post she had acquired working English” (Mo, 1999, p. 10).

Speaking English evidently provides Mui with extra power and advantage for her later enterprises and ventures.

Although both Lily and Mui feel discontent and that they are “wasting their lives” (Mo, 1999, p. 65) in China Town, their primary concerns are different. Lily’s main focus is on her son’s future and she wants Man Kee to have a better life and “the opportunities

A. Nejat TÖNGÜR

from which she had been excluded herself because of her sex and ill-fortune” (Mo, 1999, p. 11). For Man Kee’s sake, Lily becomes very eager to open their take-away place and to move from China Town. The opening of a take-away restaurant broadens their horizons beyond the boundaries of their utterly restricted and ultimately isolated life in the China Town. Indeed, “the creation of an enclave within the new homeland is sometimes regarded as an impediment to the process of assimilation, particularly to learning the language and culture of the host society” (Weiner, 1996, p. 53). As Weiner states, when the Chen family move out of their isolation in China Town, they are exposed to the hegemonic British culture and English language. Speaking the English language and behaving according to the rules of the British society become the prerequisites of the survival and success. They are compelled to communicate with the British customers through the medium of English.



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