I had an opportunity to participate in an exchange visit between Taiwanese junior high school students and first year students at a local Towada junior high school today.
It was a lot of fun taking pictures, observing how the (Japanese) students interacted with their guests and vice-versa, and helping to encourage conversation by speaking (in English) to both the Japanese and Taiwanese students.
Listening to the Taiwanese students and teachers' Chinese, I felt a little frustrated (with myself), however. Coming from a Chinese background, the words and sounds of the language were oh so familiar, but having given up learning Chinese after only one year of Chinese school (which I failed), they were also pretty much indecipherable.
About the only thing I could understand (apart from the really basics of the basic, like "thank you") was the part of their school song where they sang "Wo ai [school name]," meaning "I love [school name]."
After the school song they also performed a classic/popular Taiwanese song (most sang but some students played instruments--trombone, saxophone, violin and flute). I have no idea what the name of the song is, but I definitely knew it--and knew it well enough to be able to hum along pretty much from the get go.
Living in Japan (so close to China/Taiwan), I've definitely thought before that it would've been a huge asset if I could speak Chinese, but today I really felt a strong sense of regret that I never learned Chinese. Not just because it would be useful and/or make finding a job easier, but because I felt like I'd cut myself off from a big part of my heritage by not being able to understand/speak Chinese.
Listening to the song (the name of which I can't remember) I felt a strong sense of nostalgia. Thinking back to my childhood, I can remember watching Chinese dramas and movies (particularly action ones) with my mother and family. A lot of Chinese DVDs have English subtitles nowadays, but if I wanted to share them with, say, Japanese friends, I'd have to try to get along with reading Japanese subtitles (and my Japanese reading isn't nearly proficient enough for that). If I understood Chinese it would be no problem, but...
Way back in grade one when I told my parents I wanted to quit Chinese school (again, after failing first grade--so you can guess how indifferent of a student I was), my parents told me "OK, but you'll regret it in the future."
They were right.