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I HAD car problems the other day. So, I took my car to my mechanic, Seng.

Unfortunately, Seng was occupied, so he assigned one of his workers to attend to my car. Not comfortable with someone new working on my car, I made my worries known.

Seng, pekerja you tu okay ke (Seng, is your worker any good)?” I said.

Baguih baguih. Dia hor, cepat belajar punya budak. Gerenti tarak problem punya (He is good. He is a fast learner and there will be no problems),” said Seng.

You janji punya ha (I am taking your word for it),” I said with a smile.

A few minutes later, a man in his early 20s walked up to my car and drove it into the workshop.

As the car was parked over the pit, ready for the tyres to be changed, he got out of the car and began speaking in Cantonese to his boss.

I was surprised to witness a young Malay man speak the Chinese dialect with such ease.

A while later, he approached me: “Kakak tak nak pergi minum-minum dulu? Lagi sejam lebih baru siap (Sis, don’t you want to go and have a drink first? It may take an hour or so).”

Okay lah. Kalau dah siap tolong telifon ya (Please call when it’s ready),” I said, before adding: “Nak tanya sikit ya, adik memang dah lama belajar cakap Kantonis ke (Can I ask? Have you always been fluent in Cantonese)?”

He laughed. “Saya orang Perak kak, baru mula kerja sini. Sebelum ni tak tahu cakap Kantonis. Tapi dekat sini boss pun Cina dan customer kebanyakannya Cina, jadi saya pun belajarlah (I’m from Perak. I wasn’t able to converse in Chinese prior to working here but my boss is a Chinese and most of our customers are Chinese, so I had to learn the language).”

Amazed, I asked how long it took for him to be able to converse with such proficiency, to which he claimed five months.

Walking to a kopitiam for coffee, I thought about the compulsory requirement for medical officers to obtain a pass in SPM Bahasa Malaysia paper, which many doctors were complaining about.

While the Malay mechanic took only five months to master Cantonese, our medical professionals seem to be complaining about passing a language that they have been exposed to since birth.

On the other hand, we have many Malaysian students who spend a year or two mastering foreign languages, such as Japanese and German, with no qualms before proceeding to the countries to begin their education.

Why, then, is it so hard for our medical professionals to handle one examination paper that requires only a 40 per cent pass? Are they ignorant? Or are they incompetent?

Doctors can’t be dumb. But then again, doctors should not be ignorant too, should they?

Oh, well, perhaps our doctors who are having trouble passing their Bahasa paper should look into taking a class with my young mechanic. I am sure he can share tips on how to learn a language.

FA Abdul, Kuala Lumpur

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