Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to saunter around Hong Kong, southern China and chinatowns around the world, conversing freely with locals in their own language?
Happy Jellyfish People’s Democratic Language Bureau can help you to achieve this with little or no effort on your part – all you have to do is follow our instructions.
The course is practical, hands-on and tailored to your needs, and, importantly, created by a foreigner like yourself.
If I can learn it, anyone can learn it! All it takes is the right attitude, namely accepting that Cantonese is an extremely easy language and not like English at all.
Recently I have received and been tagged in a terrible new story from the mainland: The government is planning to crack down on "crazy English" or Chinglish, on signs and posters throughout the nation. Again. I think it was four years ago that they threatened something similar, which inspired me to write a column about it:
Yes, yes, I can understand! Who wants to see "C*** Examination" in the gynaecological department of an international hospital in Beijing? It's still funny though. And again I hope fervently the Chinglish will never stop. But it will. And by the way, Lie Fallow Agora in Shenzhen mentioned in the column above, is now boring old Leisure City. Ya-a-a-awn!
休息 (Yau Sek) Rest, relax
英文 (Ying Man) English language
深圳 (Sam Jan) Deep drain/Shenzhen
Take Cantonese lessons from me this summer! I'll teach you how to read Chinese characters too, so you can see what hilarious signs actually say.
The beautiful Kasa, a 'new old' cha chanteng in Wellington street. After I lost my beloved Honolulu to the rising rent in Hong Kong (as well as them employing really bad staff) I have been pretty much milling around in the wilderness, but fortunately the cool and happening Kasa has come to my rescue.
Beautiful interior, weird drinks (have you ever had pineapple and ginger juice?) kind, service-minded staff. What's not to love? Now we only need to fill'er up every day.
And now I have a new 'victim', a young man called Ben, desperately seeking fellow course members to learn Cantonese for beginners. It's the old story of course, with his colleagues advising him not to learn Cantonese because "it's too difficult for him". No, I say. No! It's not "too difficult" for anybody. Especially not for people like Ben, who is ready to face down the opposition and nay-sayers. I have been doing that for more than 20 years, so I'm ideally placed to give you tips on how to get around the dreary old untruths about Cantonese.
Sign up today, be fluent by Christmas!
茶餐廳 - cha chan teng (greasy spoon)
威靈頓街 - Wai Leng Dun Gai (Wellington street)
菠蘿姜汁 - Bo lo geung jap (Pineapple and ginger juice)
Last month I went to Mallorca to look at cobblestoned street and low-level houses with window shutters, and it was even more beautiful and civilised than I had imagined.
Having never been to Spain before and thinking it's best to be prepared, I started studying Spanish about a month and a half before departure. After Cantonese and its communist cousin, Mandarin, I thought, how hard could it be? Well, apart from suddenly having to deal with tenses and plural and damned nouns AND adjectives with genders - not very.
I thought the language of the region, Catalan, (yes, Mallorquin in Mallorca but I have to do some more research) would be more or less like Cantonese in the mainland and Hong Kong, despised and reviled and facing imminent execution by the Spanish behemoth. But on official signs and documents it was all Catalan this and Catalan that, with Spanish thrown in at the bottom as an afterthought, if at all.
Best of all, when I talked Spanish to people, they answered me in Spanish. Not only that, when I said stuff like "Soy calsado" (or something) when I should have said "estoy cansada" (I'm tired) they understood what I meant and corrected me! And one woman asked me what time it was in the street and I could answer her "Seven" and we both just walked on as if we were normal human beings! That was huge. Yuge!
In fact it was like in my early days learning Cantonese in Hong Kong, when I still enjoyed it when people applauded me for being able to walk and say "jo san" at the same time.
Learn Cantonese this year! Stand up to the mandarin juggernaut.
On Monday I had a surprise visit: It was South China Morning Post's Aleksander, an old student of mine who now uses the Cantonese he learnt from me in his job as a cameraman! I'm proud of him.
He wanted to interview me about July 1st, 1997 and how I felt on that day. I couldn't lie, so I said 'miserable'. Of course, when it eventually stopped raining torrentially about three weeks later (talk about easy symbolism) I started perking up, but the thought of being ruled by a communist dictatorship didn't appeal to me even when I was young and 'radical'. Something about the grim humourlessness. Oh yeah, and the bloodshed.
Many changes, natural and forced, have taken place in Hong Kong since then. That's only to be expected. But for me the worst by far is the slow and steady eradication of everything Cantonese and 'typical Hong Kong'. Although often called a cultural desert, the place really has a lot to offer, especially for those who like quirkiness. And the language is central to all this. You can't have 'typical Hong Kong stuff' in shrrr shrrr shrrr shrrr grrmrrr Mandarin! It's like the Mona Lisa laughing out loud with hundreds of teeth. Brown teeth, thrown in willy-nilly like the tombs in a Victorian cemetery.
To cheer us both up and ensure absolutely nothing of the interview ever see the light of day, I hoisted the beautiful Hong Kong flag of yore.
Recently I've had a lot of Hong Kong people writing to me saying stuff like "thank you for saving our culture!" That is SO sad. They should be doing it themselves! Still, the more people speak Cantonese, the harder it will be for the faceless bureaucrats to suppress it. Take an intensive course this summer and you'll be fluent by Christmas if you follow my directions.
Last Friday in Tsim Sa Tsui - oh what a beautiful adventure! I thought only four people had signed up for the Find-The-Pub-Crawl Cantonese Scavenger Hunt Extravaganza, and was just about to cancel the whole thing when I found out there was something wrong with the events site, and that it was actually 18 people who had signed up! Waaaaaaah
I had to come up with a venue, and quick! Who would take 18 Norwegians on a Friday night, and on St. Patrick's Eve at that?
The China Bar in Knutsford Terrace certainly wouldn't. A shame, because that venue has a quiet outdoor area normally reserved for the smokers of cigars where we did the last crash course, but of course that was only with eight people. Still! Had they been a little bit willing to accommodate the Norwegians, they would have been drowning in Norwegians for life. And don't forget: Norwegians are now officially the happiest (or was that luckiest? Something like that) people on Earth.
But I found somewhere else, and although it was a bit dark and noisy, after an hour or so, all the 18 knew how to order Tsengdou, white wine and cocktails, ask for and understand the price and to ask where stuff is. Off they went into the seething underbelly of Kowloon, or Gau Long as it's really called.
And bugger me if we didn't come across a drum set in one of the bars, and bugger me if one of the participants, ah-Bui (Cup, because his Norwegian name is Jacob) didn't know how to play the drums, and that with flair! Brilliant. What a great night. And talking of great, the wonderful Miss White was there to keep me company again
Thank you Linda. Thank you, Cheyenne! And thank you, beautiful Norwegian youth.
白小姐 (Bak Siu Jeh) Miss White
挪威 (Loh Wai) Norway
後生人 (Hau Sang Yan) Young People