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Central (Stanley Street), Pui O (my home) and Tung Chung.

Cantonese Crash Course/ Pub Crawl

Last night was a big victory for Cantonese. Eight young people, unable to utter more than a couple of words in this, the language of angels, came to Knutsford Terrace, shivering a little with apprehension.

But lo: Only one and a half hours later they were completely confident in not only ordering beer of various kinds, but asking for and understanding the price of said items! I felt so proud of my clever hatchlings. 


We started with a light crash-course where the beautiful and intelligent young people learnt the most important Cantonese basics: Beer basics. 

When this was done and they were fluent in beer, I divided them into teams and sent them out in the Hong Kong night, armed only with a piece of paper with Chinese characters. 

The characters were the address of a certain bar, which they had to find by asking innocent bystanders: ‘喺邊度呀?’ (Where is this?)

After an almost disconcertingly short time - my trusty sidekick Ms. White and I barely had time to drink a bottle of beer - the first team came galloping into the bar. After ordering and paying for beer, all in flawless-ish Cantonese, they then got a new address from the bar staff and off they trudged again! 

In the first bar there was karaoke (optional) - in the second, darts! 

It's fun for us oldies to guide the young people of today to drink the good drink

The staff everywhere were also helpful, as well as beautiful

THIS is the way to learn Cantonese. Clearly, this is the way. In only 90 minutes they learnt everything the need to set them up for a lifetime of learning. Sign up here for the next extravaganza! Running every second and last Friday of the month, from 18:30 (or thereabouts)

喺邊度呀? (Hai bin dou ah?) Where is this?

青島 (Cheng Dou) "Tsingtao". Also a place in China. Means Green Island

喜力 (Hei Lek) Heineken. Happiness/strength

嘉士伯 (Ga Si Baak) Carlsberg. Fine/Scholar/Uncle




The Big Apple Cantonese Interview Extravaganza

I think everybody in Hong Kong (and the world) should speak Cantonese. It's fun, sounds great and gets you a moderate amount of publicity. That's right; all you have to do is 1. Be non-Chinese and 2. Speak the local language of the town you have been living in for 27 years. 

Like a few weeks ago, venerable news organisation Apple Daily came to my gaff and did some shooting and asked some, in my opinion, good and well thought out questions. Best of all, they were only two people, one interviewer, who was a real journalist, and a cameraman. That's the beauty of online TV. 

Here is the programme

This little programme led to some media attention and a lot of messages from the young people of today - in English, naturally. "Thank you for saving our culture!" Oh, it's nothing. All in a day's work!

On Wednesday I spent a day with a terrestrial TV station which was a little different from Apple TV in that in order to be seen, they thought the presenter had to be a former Miss Hong Kong runner-up. Me, I don't really care what presenters look like (David Attenborough) but maybe Hong Kong people are different. We went to Tsim Sa Tsui and shot some scenes in Jong Heng ("Chungking") Mansions. They wanted me to say how much I missed staying in Travellers' Hostel but you know what? I have absolutely zero nostalgia for sharing a room with seven people and having to take all my stuff with me into the 30 square centimetre shower so it wouldn't be stolen. 



But I have to say it was more fun to have a chat on RTHK again!



In, out in less than an hour, fun chat, full freedom. Oh how I miss RTHK and Sarah Passmore. 

The Apple Daily thing has had 110,000 views now and I'm very thankful for being given this soap box and an opportunity to beg Hong Kong people to, when a foreigner talks to them in Cantonese, to answer in that language and not English, Mandarin, Hebrew or Swahili! BUT I still think that being able to speak the language of the town where one has lived for 27 years isn't something to make programmes about. 

日行一善 —— Yat Haan Yat Sin (One kind gesture a day)

香港電台 —— Heung Gong Din Toi (RTHK)

蘋果日報 —— Peng Goh Yat Bou (Apple Daily) 






The Death of the Cantonese High Quarters Honolulu

Honolulu Coffee and Cake Shop in Central, a place I have been conducting Cantonese (and, I admit, some Mandarin) lessons for almost ten years. 

How many bright-eyed chickens have stumbled across her threshold, eager to learn Cantonese in a 'real Chinese' setting? How many thousands and thousands of dollars have we paid into her coffers, only to be tolerated at best by surly staff? 


In the beginning I thought maybe it's because we're foreigners, but no. A quick check of Open Rice reveals that Honolulu is known for terrible service. Still, this is the way of many of Hong Kong's 'traditional' restaurants and it was kind of fun the twice a month or whatever we could get some member of the staff to smile. Two notable exceptions were Gam Tau (Gold Head) and Ah-Po, who always seemed to remember they were employed in a service industry. 

Ah-Fai (above) was also good the entire time, if quite aloof. The thing was I could understand the surliness too, as they worked from 05:00 to 23:00 or whatever and were paid the absolute minimum possible. Small wonder every dollar of 'tipsie' was eyed hungrily by staff. And that led to our downfall. I think. But I don't know for sure exactly what started off a several minute long screaming session from one of the women at the till, letting an incredible amount of abuse descend on ah-Po. Apparently he'd had the nerve to take the payment from a table I had left a few minutes earlier but around which my students were still sitting, and bring it across to the counter, about 1.5 metres away. This is not allowed in Honolulu. But why not tell ah-Po this?

No, evidently it was my fault, this woman implied, or should I say, screamed at top decibel as she came over and stood right next to my table. If I had had long hair, it would have blown backwards like an advert for Dove Shampoo at her tirade. We just sat there frozen in shock. "If you EVER let your students do that again, you'll never have to come back EVER!" was some of the more measured things she screamed at me. 

Seeing I thought it's the company's responsibility to train the staff and not the customers, I followed her orders. 

What a shame! I emailed the manager asking for an apology but got no answer. 

I now regret giving the staff $500 lai see last Chinese New Year.

But hey! We've found a new place. Tsui Wah in Wellington street. The first five customers I saw there were ex-Honolulu regulars... 


金頭 - Gam Tau (Gold Head/"blondie")

利是 - Lai Si ("profit is"/lai see, protection money handed out at Chinese New Year)

過年 - Goh Lin (Pass Year/Chinese New Year) 


You Saw It Here First: Happy Jellyfish

You Saw It Here First:

You know how Christmas comes earlier every year? Well, we here in Happy Jellyfish People’s Democratic Language Bureau have beaten off the competition by starting Christmas and the story behind it IN JANUARY!

By the way, I forgot to include the name of the actor playing the Arch Angel Gabriel. It is of course the wonderful Elizabeth McElwee.

дима: Ты лучше всех!

дима: Ты лучше всех!

I’ve just come back from another Russian lesson with the excellent Dimitri. People: You think Cantonese is difficult – try Russian. Every word, I mean noun, adjective, verb and adverb, has hundreds of different forms. Even numbers change wildly according to what comes after them. In Cantonese, dollar(s) have only one form: 蚊 (man) . In Russian there are three ways to say “ruble” depending on how many there are. In Cantonese, if you can count to ten and know the words for hundred, (百) thousand (千)and ten thousand (萬) you can basically count to as many millions as you want, using the same one-syllable words. In Russian, between 1 and 100 there are probably 50 different pronunciations with the number 40 suddenly taking off from the pack and having nothing to do with the number 4.

Then there are the genders of course, and every bloody word veering off to the left and right with only the first syllable (if you’re lucky) known to man. Endings, beginnings, things depending on whether there is one, four or more than five of the bloody thing … It’s like mathematics.

When I’m in the room with Dimitri I go into a kind of trance and can kind of communicate with him by remembering the first few syllables of words and mumbling the rest. When I stand on the pavement outside, shaking lightly and not knowing which direction to walk, I think: What was that all about? If you’d held a gun to my head I wouldn’t be able to remember what had gone on in that room three minutes ago.

So students of Canto: Embrace the Canto. It really is SO easy! When you know ten words, you actually know a hundred words. Whereas in Russian those words will be 1,500 different-sounding words which you have to memorise one by one. I’m just saying.

And the buffalo? Well, that’s a Russian bear with horns.

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