Quah Phaik Hoon
How can perspective contribute to reshaping the viewpoints of a ‘banana’ in Malaysia? (For context, the word 'banana' is a label used to describe someone of Chinese descent who cannot speak or understand the Mandarin language in Malaysia. Although the issue stems from language use, it potentially runs deeper in history and one's perception of each other within the Malaysian Chinese community.)
Aim and Objective
The label ‘banana’ contributes to the division in the Malaysian Chinese community based on their language proficiency in Mandarin and English. In online forums, little to no discussions appear about Malaysian Chinese who cannot speak or understand English, compared to the larger amount of existing forums discussing one’s experience of being a ‘banana’. Through the online survey, despite the common description of ‘banana’, a handful describe it negatively. Online news media contribute to setting a comedic tone to the topic. While the divide is an apparent issue, there is a lack of stories and experiences of those labelled or identified as ‘banana’ in existence.
The aim is to advocate for the Malaysian Chinese community to understand and empathise with each other regardless of their preferred language. There are misconceptions about those labelled as ‘banana’ and the goal is to shift that narrative from ‘banana’s themselves to speak up on their experiences. Additionally, it’s to create an opportunity for conversations to occur and to set a more serious tone for this issue to be taken seriously. Rather than comedic listicles and articles at the expense of being a ‘banana’, this steers the narrative sensitively and emotionally.
The Personal Journal of a Banana is a publication which features an in-depth experience of someone who has been labelled a ‘banana’ for many years. It explores the journey of a singular person in five short chapters, alongside snippets of experiences submitted by others, chunks of conversations with friends and highlights of survey findings regarding the topic. Nothing is set in stone implying that stories and perspectives could bring significant change in demolishing the segregation of ‘banana’s and ‘non-banana’s entirely. However, this publication intends to offer a curated collection of resources to shift one’s viewpoint of those labelled as ‘banana’s. With offered perspectives and shared conversations to understand, maybe we can strengthen our community one story at a time.
The first section of the publication is the five short chapters of a first-person written perspective of a self-narrated journey with the Mandarin language as an English-speaking Malaysian Chinese. It goes in-depth with first-hand experiences and emotional ties to the language. Across the five chapters, there is a set of reflective questions at the end of each chapter, which the author used to spark writing their narrative.
At the end of each chapter, there is a set of reflective questions. Readers are encouraged to reflect on these questions themselves as they explore one’s journey and emotions with a language. This could potentially be developed further as a tool for people to assess their emotions and viewpoints on a language with their identity. Utilising this could be a way to prompt people to write their stories and possibly create an archive of written experiences for others to read.
The following sections that follow are Experiences, Conversations and Statistics. Experiences showcases a collection of responses from an online survey along with Statistics which highlights interesting results from the same online survey. Conversations feature a snippet of conversations with friends on the topic of language use growing up in Malaysia.
The focus for this project’s outcome begins with a publication, which could potentially expand to other mediums like a website and an exhibition to gather more perspectives and create an archive of experiences and conversations.
How has your practice developed while studying the MA in Graphic Design with a global cohort?
My practice has shifted in terms of the way I work through studying this course with a global cohort. From face-to-face meet-ups, it evolved to receiving feedback and having conversations through chat or recording voice notes for prompt feedback that suited everyone’s time of preference compared to a fixed time. It pushed me to be flexible and to think from a variety of perspectives given that the feedback came from people in different countries.
It has given me the opportunity to think of the context of my project in my home country, and how it would be perceived by someone outside of my bubble. The importance of describing things clearly and concisely proves to be bigger given that the cohort consists of a global cohort and that there’s no one-size-fits-all mould when it comes to coming up with solutions; which was refreshing to experience and have these discussions with one another.
Through this course, I was able to learn about different parts of the world in terms of design, culture and context which shapes the world we live in today.
Please follow this external platform link, to view the Final MA Project in full and/or portfolio documentation.