Saturday, October 11, 2008

How the first Mandarin Toastmasters in Penang started..

First Club Meeting - Newspaper report: Lim Ah Lek of JB Mandarin Toastmasters (seated far right), Division N Governor Jayie Tan (seated far left), Protem President Ong Poh Hin (standing, second from right)

Charter Night Photo @Bukit Jambul Country Club, Penang
(Front Row) Club Sponsor SL Liew, Guest-of-Honor YB Koay Kah Huah, Charter President Ong Poh Hin, Club Sponsor Margaret Chan
(Back, left to right) Mah Swee Chin, Lim Seng Tean, Quah Kean Lim, Emily Tan, Poh Bak Lean, Amos Teoh, Ooi Poh Tin, Koay Kah Hin were all charter members.

I have just wandered into the Bayan Baru Mandarin Toastmasters Club website and am impressed by the achievements of the Club over the years.

Back in 1998, I had tried without success to ask bilingual Toastmasters to form the first Mandarin Club in Penang. I had seen how dynamic Mandarin Toastmasters Clubs were in Singapore, Sabah, Sarawak and Johor.

Although my Mandarin was rudimentary, I decided to take it upon myself to establish the first Mandarin speaking Toastmasters Club in Penang. I felt strongly it was a worthwhile venture.

With the help of Margaret Chan from the English Speaking Bayan Baru Toastmasters (7764-51), we advertised in the local newspapers. One of the first persons who called me was Ooi Poh Tin.

She asked me in Mandarin whether it was a public speaking or social club. "Shi bu shi ju le bu?" I replied "Bu shi". At that time, my Mandarin was still not so good. I thought she asked me "Jiao Yi Bu" - whether I was from the Education department. And so I said "No" but invited her to attend our first demonstration meeting to find out more.

The first demonstration meeting was held at Panther's Club, Relau in Penang Island which was located across the road from PISA. Arrangement was made for a Chinese newspaper reporter to attend our first demonstration meeting. But how was I going to explain the role of SAA or Table Topics session in Mandarin?

I had the Mandarin version of C&L manual but I wanted to put the best foot forward to the news media. Luckily as District Governor, I knew some of the Mandarin Toastmasters Clubs. Lim Ah Lek of Johor Bahru Mandarin came to the rescue and took a bus from JB to Penang to be present at our first demonstration meeting and to professionally answer all the questions asked by the guests and newspaper reporter.

We had members in our Bayan Baru Toastmasters who were Mandarin speaking and they all chipped in by becoming charter members too. Even our outgoing Bayan Baru President Janet Lim, incoming President Joachim Xavier and Rosalind Chan who did not speak Mandarin joined as Charter Members to help us get the minimum twenty members to start the Club.

Bayan Baru Mandarin (7050-51) was chartered on June 1998. For several years, many of us were dual members of both Bayan Baru English and Mandarin Clubs. I even completed up to C&L P5 in Mandarin. Both clubs still meet at the same location, now at PSDC on Thursdays but on different weeks but both clubs are no longer Siamese twins and have chartered each own independent separate journeys. Perhaps one day, we can reestablished closer ties again including waiving of guest fees or joint meetings.

Now back to 1998 again, at the Bayan Baru Mandarin Charter night, as the Club Sponsor, I had to give a speech in Mandarin. Again, Lim Ah Lek helped me through fax to write a splendid speech in Mandarin. However, my delivered speech was more impromptu than the text. It was like giving my icebreaker speech. Fortunately, the audience were very supportive and there was no YouTube then.

Here are some milestones.

Despite initial objections, I made a bold proposal to move Bayan Baru Mandarin from N2 area to be aligned with Division A Mandarin Clubs in Johor. That helped to accelerate the growth of Mandarin Clubs in Penang with Officer training in Mandarin, a Mandarin speaking Area Governor as well as inter-Mandarin club exchanges.

Eventually, Division M in District 51 was formed for all Mandarin Clubs covering Singapore, Peninsular Malaysia and Hong Kong. Mandarin Clubs in Sarawak and Sabah chose to remain in their own Divisions.

Another milestone that I am glad I was involved was this. When I was LGET, with the initiative from Lim Ah Lek and support of the 5th JB Annual Convention OC ET Lee, we officially formalized the Mandarin workshops/contests into District 51 Convention program.

I also helped to submit to Toastmasters International 3 more advanced manuals in Mandarin that was translated by the Mandarin Toastmasters Clubs in Singapore.

Eventually, I hope, although there are current obstacles, there will be a separate Mandarin Speaking District in Asia like the Spanish Speaking District of Mexico. I think the mindset that "not more than one District over one geographical region" can be changed. As Toastmasters, we need to adapt with the changing reality of the global community as Mandarin gains more prominence.

Though no longer active in the Mandarin speaking Clubs, I have benefited from the opportunity to deliver speeches in my begining Mandarin. It gave me much confidence when I later worked in China.

To Bayan Baru Mandarin Toastmasters and all other Mandarin Toastmasters Clubs in Penang - "Jia You"

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