Confessions of a self-proclaimed bookworm

“I’m quite illiterate, but I read quite a lot” – J. D. Salinger

One of the things that I learned to realize after studying in the university, is that, I am not as literate as I thought I was. It took me about a year or perhaps more (an F grade did help me to see that, ouch) to accept that fact, as painful as it might be.

Some of my concerns:

#Confession 1 – Help, I’m an illiterate bookworm

#Confession 2 – Goodbye fast reading days, I’m now a slow reader

#Confession 3 – How the heck did I ever get called a bookworm?

#Confession 4 – Dear dictionary, sorry for ignoring you for a long time

First of all, I love reading and I think it just started ever since I was taught how to read. The meaning of ‘read’ at that time simply refers to the way people can spell, pronounce and understand some words, meanings and sentences. According to the society, if you can do that, it’s enough to call you literate. The meaning of ‘read’ when I get to university, however, has a lot more weight and the gap is freaking huge. The academic level is no joke. It’s more than just a formal language, it’s critical!

Especially when you’re in the Social Sciences Faculty, where you cannot run away from tons of reading tasks and assignments. And because I like to experiment and enjoy suffering, I took English Literature, Sociology, Philosophy and lastly, my major, History courses in my uni years and I’ve tasted similar pains that led me to question my grammar and how the heck did I manage to get in uni again and again.

Some of my friends and peers did have similar experiences (thank God for that) and it was a comfort to know that I wasn’t alone in that. We’d complain every chance we got about how crazy and heavy the language of the articles was. Fortunately, some of us were quite literate and some were talented in bluffing so the class discussions went alright. Then there were not so alright moments, when the awkward silence reigned over and most of us became suddenly interested in looking at anywhere but the lecturers. Those were some fond memories.

Yet, the discussion of the issue itself never really came to light. We would talk about it, yes, but hardly ever delve into it. Frankly, I don’t blame anyone. With the daily routine, it was hard to do so. Assignments were always piling up – usually approaching the mid-semester (but sometimes even earlier) and the only thing that people were mostly worrying about was surviving, not excelling! Well, excluding a small number of people maybe, super human beings…I think.

Anyway, by my second year, I would tell myself to learn how to read properly again. I had already taken the compulsory communication skills (teaching academic skills) and didn’t realize how utterly important it was, especially for someone who wants to continue studying after degree. I’m ashamed to say, that the memorable memories I had in that class, consisted of me enjoying the cool air-conditioner and meeting my childhood buddies. I was totally guilty of treating the class as another GP class. Sigh.

After a while though, I would soon forget the task I’d put myself to do. My poor time management swayed my momentum (if there was even one) and procrastination always came in the way whenever I wanted to perform well in every class. Sorry mum. Not to say there weren’t some achievements, I did manage to finish some assignments, but I’d often feel guilty for the inconsistency that was repairable. By my fourth year, I continued to suffer and tried my best compensating the skills that I thought I should have attained even pre-university. Thankfully, I graduated and my wish of going back to basics still hasn’t disappeared and in fact, is stronger than ever.

So where did it go wrong?

Primary and secondary education didn’t help?

Were the books I’d read in my childhood weren’t that great?

Am I really illiterate and not capable enough?

And some more questions roller-coasting in my mind~

My take?

1. The role of EDUCATION

This, I believe, is the most important thing and even more so after reading Dorothy Sayer’s The Lost Tools of Learning. However, since I’m planning to review her speech-essay, I won’t go into the details too much here. One thing that I’d like to mention is one of the questions she’d so wonderfully raised:

“Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined?”

It’s amazing how this was in 1947 when she made that speech and can still be made so relevant today. The point she made here, as I understood it, is that we might trick ourselves into thinking that the literacy rate accurately shows how far we’ve progressed our minds, skills and abilities when in fact, many people have been easily influenced by the mainstream media. She’s suggesting that if we were better equipped e.g. with reasoning and critical thinking, we would’ve been less vulnerable and less persuaded by those ridiculous ads and implicitly negative messages in movies etc.

Brunei is one of the countries that experienced an increase in the literacy rate, it jumped from 1981 (77.83%) to 2015 (96.66%). Of course, statistics don’t always tell us anything but I do feel there’s a parallel to Sayers’ point there. A lot of us are exposed to the media, particularly social media and tech stuff. I’m one of them and I’m realizing more and more how dangerous it is that everything seems so convenient and easy these days. It’s not challenging and it’s not healthy that our source of entertainment and leisure activities do not depend much on our brain.

This is why, education is important in nourishing the kids from the early age – not by teaching them what to learn/read but how to learn/read.

More points next time, hopefully in my next post!

2. I forgot to mention that English is not our first language, so, English is not our first language but I think the problem lies with LANGUAGE itself

One of my lecturers who was not a local, had kindly pointed out that the fact that English was the overall standard language in the uni might be a disadvantage to a lot of us. It was, but not exactly the way he thinks. He thought that we were more fluent in our native language and we would have performed better if the essays were done in Malay. Well, I’m not sure about that.

The problem is that, though, the idea of being bilingual is great, a lot of us are struggling towards achieving that. Most of us who are fluent in our native language, are not necessarily fluent in the standard native language aka the formal language, especially written.

English is made the official language in most public schools and that means, most subjects are taught in the English language. That could explain how some are poor with the standard Malay language. Yet, some of still struggle to grasp the most basic English. I remember that one of my lecturers (different one) complimented how well Bruneians speak English here generally (probably owe to American tv shows), but he couldn’t say the same for our written English.

So here are the things that I frequently hear that we’re lacking of generally with both Malay and English: Grammar, structure, format. Effort, definitely, yeah we need to do a lot of work.

3. To a lot of us, the university is the first, real INTELLECTUAL institution

Like I said before, there’s a huge gap between the university level and the previous education. When I first started university, one of my modules was a Philosophy course and I couldn’t forget that experience. It was probably an indirect introduction to critical thinking and reasoning (it was actually an introduction to Islamic Philosophy class) to me. I realized then that I’ve been missing a lot of prerequisites in my life!

Since Philosophy deals with rational thinking more directly than other courses that I’ve taken, it came to me how fundamental it was to have these instruments – logic, thinking skills – before getting to the big league. Even if you’re not from the Social Sciences Faculty and even if you’ve read Descartes or al-Ghazzali or every Shakespeare’s work at a young age, you’d need them not only to survive, but excel in the academic field.

I’m realizing now that I’ve been writing this stuff as if I was talking to my past self. Despite everything though, I’ve enjoyed my uni years overall. It was rough, but it was worth to know the things I couldn’t do and am capable of doing in the future.

For one thing, I really need to read more.

Life that is rarely known

If I were to begin talking about Brunei, I have a pretty solid idea what to talk about but not exactly what it is. Generally, our history is told through textbooks during primary and secondary schools and is passed down orally from generation to generation (at least that’s what I think). The recorded past has definitely shaped our minds and our identity, whether we know it or not.

Of course, our surroundings have probably played the major role in doing that. Personally, from my own experience, there are 4 important things that also help to define the Bruneian identity: Family, friends, culture and religion. The internet’s a pretty big deal as well. Food is, needless to say, loved by everyone. (I don’t know anyone who hates sambal) I haven’t forgotten MIB but that’s already been mentioned frequently, I assume.

But this is my surrounding, my experience and my thoughts. Outside the sphere of this ‘solid idea’ of what my world looks like, I do believe, is so much more. Like a lot of people, I’m quite comfortable in my own position, quite privileged and (alhamdulillah) I never really starved. A typical Bruneian? Somewhat. A real Bruneian? Well, I passed my O level Malay but I don’t know. An alien? Only if you’re an immigrant or a foreigner.

This is not an insightful piece towards understanding the Bruneian identity but more of a vague realization on being a Bruneian. I sure hope I’ll be able to write more about this issue in the future. For now, though, I’ll give you something that I’ve been pondering about in the past years – life that is known and rarely known:

Where do I start?

The people, the places, the jobs, their faces, their thoughts, their conversations, the problems, the daily occurrence, the wisdom, the burdens, their dreams and ambitions.

The commonplace

The ambiguous

The marginalized

The history – the origin – the other truth

The locals

The immigrants

The ordinary

The unusual

Different minds, different goals

Different priorities, different stereotypes

Different cultures, different beliefs

Different lifestyles, different standards

Different behaviours, different leisures

Different wardrobe, different design

Different salaries, different manners

Different way of thinking

What do I know about this life?

That I know so little about?

The name of the trees and plants found only here

The name of the roads and streets

The reason why the river flows so slowly here and the sea roars so gently

The family tree

The attire

The wedding

The food

The rules and laws

The worn-out office workers

The relaxed privileged people

The mountains that the ‘aliens’ have to climb

The smiles of the immigrants

The arrogant speech (where the citizens are unaware/unconscious of)

The elders

The high local servants

The wondrous

The determined students

The strange villagers/locals

The confused, educated people

The cynical 21st century thinkers

The uncaring people

The rude, obnoxious civilians

The defensive speakers

The quiet observers

The happy, pleasant optimists

The never-ending penny seekers

The doting, responsible adults

The obedient workers

The educated but narrow-minded officers

The strict but hopeful teachers

The westernized but still yellow-card citizens

The madness of the uncivilized people

The protests of some westerners

The westernized and modernized authors

The things we should be grateful for

The things we complain

The things we don’t see

The things that we take for granted

The white people

The other

The business expertise

The small fortune

The centre of the place

The things that attract the population

The entrepreneurs

The benefactors and the ones who benefit

The factory workers

The repetitive messages

The town

The music

The survivors

The living-loving creatures

The adventurers

The influenced children

The irritated wanderers

The bills that we pay

The intolerant waiting

The yawns of the receptionists

The diligent yet limited space

The sighs of the labourers

The fears of the newcomers

The spontaneous fellows

The friendship of the unlikely

The chaos of the misunderstood and miscommunication

The aimless

The curious

The obvious but manipulated words

The faces and crimes

The apparent truth

The green

The comparison

The fortunate and unfortunate youngsters

The average and simple people

The opinionated columnists

The small region

The laid-back environment

The ambitious activists

The creative, modern artists

The hybrids

The assimilated and comfortable settlers

The insensitive opportunists

Family

The hidden

The helpless

The worsened teenagers

The tradition-keepers

The literary world

The money-counters

The ignorant

The indifferent

The responsible and capable adults

The dependable, future leaders

The dreamers who crave for space

The ordinary who wants the best