Posted in Personal Essays

“Sorry for My Bad English”

When an interviewer tells you that your résumé is very impressive but they cannot give you the job because of your accent, you can’t help but ask yourself, “Is my English that bad?”

I never liked the way I speak English. I hate how my vowels are never as smooth as they sound in my head. My tongue sometimes does not know how to position itself in my mouth. I always clear my throat before I speak as if there is a solidified saliva stuck in my larynx. Six years of studying the English language and I still do not sound like a native speaker, not even close. I am aware of that. However, the truth hits differently when someone else throws it at you.

“I am sorry for my bad English.”

This is a sentence I have heard a lot of times when I was teaching in an ESL academy. It has become part of every ESL student’s introduction. I heard it a couple of times from my non-native classmates here in Sydney. They apologize when they stutter during their presentations, when they pause to reach for that English word trapped at the tip of their tongues. Yet, I have never heard the British guy in the class apologize when his talk was all fillers and when grammatical errors jumped out at every corner of his sentences.

“Sorry, my English is very poor.”

An old Chinese woman said these exact words as she called her daughter to help her understand the nurse’s directions. She smiled apologetically the whole time. When they went out of the clinic, another patient remarked, “Ugh. These old Chinese people, they keep on coming here in Australia not knowing how to speak basic English. The government should not let them get in that easily.” That statement would have horrified me but I have heard them a lot from old white men that my ears have learned how to filter them out. Then, I think of the old white expats in the Philippines drinking their black coffee in Ayala terraces. They have stayed in the country for years but they still manage to butcher Cebuano words and most of them do not have an interest in learning the language at all. No one expects them to speak Tagalog or Bisaya. No one thinks they should go back to their countries for knowing only their native language. I think of my friends and former ESL students who cried when they failed their first IELTS examination whilst Western backpackers in Thailand beg for money in the streets.

I am in love with the language that has been used by colonizers to oppress my ancestors for almost five decades. The same language that subconsciously made me believe that Western books, movies, and songs are inherently superior. I love the language that has instilled in me the feeling of inferiority.

The interviewer who told me that my English isn’t good enough offered me another job and I was in no position to say no. He said that I should study English in an Australian university. He said that I can learn more about Shakespeare and other classical authors if I enrol in their university. I did not tell him that I have spent the last six years studying about Western literature. I did not tell him that I spent most of my free time reading classic novels. I just smiled, nodded, and shook his hand.

I got a cappuccino for free. I won.

Posted in Personal Essays

My Affair with Loneliness

“These days, loneliness is the new cancer–a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
tea, cookies, and a book: antidote to loneliness

Eleanor Rigby, a song about lonely people, is one of my favorite songs from The Beatles. Now, I am reading a book about another lonely woman but with the same first name, Eleanor Oliphant.

Loneliness is a theme often present in books that I have loved. I take delight in reading about the eccentricities of people who have chosen to be obscure. However, the delight of reading about loneliness vanishes when you realize the familiarity of silent days, talking to the walls, talking to no one but your brain, reading a book out loud to hear your voice and to remind yourself that you still exist. The joy of reading about loneliness disappears when you realize that you yourself is one of those lonely people The Beatles sang about. This joy turns into a dash of sadness, that will later turn into a tad of confusion about how you lived your life, and finally into a question: ‘Why am I so lonely?’

Before I moved here to Australia, a lot of people had warned me about the solitariness of living in a foreign land. I just shrugged off all their comments for I have always considered myself a master of isolation. With all the goals and confidence I packed in my luggage I came to Sydney feeling better than ever. And yes, I was in bliss for the first few months. I had no social obligations. I went to grocery shops disheveled with no fear of meeting a high school classmate. I stayed in my room all day to read books on my free days and no one would tell me to get out. I was living my dream life.

Then the lonely days crept in.

On New Year’s Eve while everyone at home was busy preparing for their festivities, I was alone at my new house. I was skimming through Netflix titles and wishing that there was someone else with me who could choose a movie in a heartbeat. I wished I had somebody to hug me that night. I had forgotten what it’s like to touch another human being.

Three days after, I found myself crying on the morning of my birthday. I woke up early expecting to smell my mother’s cooking and my father’s voice but then I remembered that they are 3, 540 miles away. I spent the whole morning sobbing and hugging myself.

Loneliness is not romantic. It isn’t always an image of you drinking wine in a tub surrounded by scented candles. Most of the times loneliness is staring at the ceiling all night or scrolling through all your social media accounts for hours waiting for a friend’s message.

Perhaps, John Donne was right when he said that ‘no man is an island’. Yes, there is beauty in solitude but we need each other in order to live and not just exist. I learned that the hard way.

I am still lonely now at times, but I have learned how to reach out. I hope Eleanor Oliphant learns that too.