The Star reports on "Malay fireman talks man out of suicide in Mandarin". I fancy that if this had happened in other countries, the emphasis of the news would have been on the man attempting the suicide, rather than on the man knowing Mandarin.
This lately, we've been seeing a number of news articles about Malay folks sending their kids to Chinese schools. Actually, the bumiputeras in Sabah, as opposed to just Malays, have been sending their kids to Chinese schools for a long time now. In fact, it's so common that it's no longer surprising these days. But in the national context, especially in West Malaysia, perhaps it is still rare for Malays to know how to speak Mandarin, so much so that it deserves the emphasis in the news.
I'm reminded of the time when I witnessed a suicide attempt near my office a few years ago, and posted an account in this blog entitled "Survival Instinct & Mattresses". It's interesting to note that there are a few similarities between that incidence and this recent one above. Both cases involved suicide attempts by jumping off a tall building; and in both cases, firemen were sought for help.
Come to think of it, I have no idea if the fireman in the earlier case spoke Mandarin too, since the person attempting the suicide was also a Chinese. If he did, there was certainly no mention of it in the news that followed the day after that incidence.
Language barrier can be a complicated matter in an emergency; but in Malaysia, it can also be a sensitive issue. All the other races learn to speak Malay, English and Chinese, if they can get the opportunities to do so, without their loyalty or pride of their country and race being called into question. But that is not necessarily the case for the Malays. I saw a facebook posting by a Malay woman recently in English, pleading for help relating to documents lost in a car break-in. The surprising reaction to her post was that she was criticized for not posting in Malay. I'm not sure if that was a bogus facebook account, and the whole thing was just a set-up to create trouble. But I hope even if it's true, it doesn't reflect the mentality of the majority in Malaysia.
My view is that there is absolutely no harm to learn a second or even third language. Having the ability to converse in other languagesother than one's own languagecan be useful in many ways; not just in the context of earning a living. I consider myself very well-versed in Malay even though I'm not a Malay, and my pride of being a Chinese is not shaken in the least!
Anyway, coming back to the suicide attempt near my office, although the man was prevented from killing himself on that day, he eventually killed himself anyway a few months later. Which brings to mind that if one is determined to take his own life, there is really not much that others can do to prevent that from happening. At best, they can delay it for a bit, but not prevent it altogether.
While giving due credit for the good job by the Mandarin-speaking fireman, perhaps it's a good idea to follow that up with some sort of counseling for the poor chap, because suicidal determination shouldn't be underestimated. Preventing the suicide now, doesn't mean that it's not gonna happen tomorrow. We need people to get to the bottom of the problem and try to fix it once and for all. Otherwise, the Mandarin-speaking fireman's good job will be in vain; when there is a will, there is always a waythe man will keep trying to kill himself, and what's more, he will most probably succeed sooner or later.