Mercedes salesman with family in Beijing
Living away from your home country is a lot easier when you can stream your favorite TV programs. One of them is a Dutch documentary series called ‘Tegenlicht’. 2 weeks ago, I saw a really good documentary about what life is like for ordinary people living in China. You can watch it if you understand English and Mandarin, as those are the main spoken languages throughout the documentary (it’s subtitled in Dutch).
In the 50-odd minutes of the doc, 4 Chinese people are followed:
- A taxi driver
- A luxury car salesman
- A construction worker
- A real estate tycoon
It showed China from the different view points of lower, middle and upper class and even my wife, who is from Beijing, commented that she had never seen such an honest depiction of life in China. Having grown up in a middle class environment, she has little insight into what the life of a construction worker is like, and sure won’t be shown by China’s state television.
If you, like most of my readers, live in Asia, I’m pretty sure you haven’t seen it, even if it’s more relevant to you than to the average Dutch person. Even if you chanced on an announcement on the Internet (which is highly improbable), you wouldn’t know what it was all about as the documentary was only announced in Dutch. I bet this video isn’t even blocked in China, even though lots of the content is critical and readily available in Chinese.
By mentioning this documentary I’m not saying that you should learn Dutch, or that Dutch TV is so much better than anywhere else. I’m mentioning it as an example of how knowing another language opens the door to more knowledge and different viewpoints. Even in this day and age, lots of the best stuff is not available in English.
If I were to be fluent in French, German, Korean, Swahili or any other language, there would be other unique things to be appreciated, be it literature, movies, journalism or science. Some things are not available in translated form. Others lose their meaning when translated.
As life is limited, we can only hope to learn a few languages well. So if you have the luxury of choosing which language to learn for leisure, choose one that connects with you as a person.
For those of you who speak at least 2 languages. Imagine you wake up one day and could only understand English. What would you miss the most?