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Learning Cantonese

Fellow Victims Wanted for Young Man

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) 

The Reign in Spain

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. 

 

Interview with South China Morning Post

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.  

Youth and Beer and Crash-Course and St. Patrick and Cantonese.

 

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

 

 

 

 

Mandarin Hotel Versus Sichuan CHILLies!

Last Thursday my old friend from Norway was kind enough to invite me to dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, the Man Wah. Opulence! Beauty! It's been a while since I've been in an expensive restaurant with a handsome man. So what if it's a platonic friend from 1980s Norway? 

We had prawn toast, Peking duck and Tsengdou. ("Tsingtao") So far so good! As a Sichuan food-lover it's difficult for me to get excited over Canto-food but figured Peking duck is Peking duck and it's difficult to get it wrong. 

And of course they didn't get it wrong, as such. After all, here's a restaurant that charges $1,600 per person for some boiled cabbage and a slab of abalone. But the waiters! 

I hadn't seen Svenn in many years, and this was only the third time since 1984. We had much to talk about. That didn't faze the waiters. In they barged with detailed descriptions of every item on the menu, although we could clearly read it in Chinese and English. First they explained everything before we ordered, and then, when they brought the food, they started explaining again. We couldn't get a word in sideways as they droned on and on, in robotic, unintelligible English. Stoooop! It's a grilled bird wrapped in pancake, drenched in a sickly sweet sauce! Get over yourselves. Cantonese food is not a great mystery to be worshipped and paused before in awe. 

CHILLies!, the rooftop Sichuan restaurant in Pui O, is kind of the opposite. Underpriced and unpretentious, we serve dish after dish without bothering you. Just cook, cook, cook, serve, serve, serve, that's us. Like last night for example. We served 10 dishes to 18 people between 20:10 and 22:00. Because of some vegetarians, we even had to cook some of the dishes in two versions. 

If there was one complaint, it was that the got too full. That and beer and sparkling wine too, for only $400 per head, children half price! 

 

Next meal served for your undisturbed pleasure on March 18th. 

 

文華酒店 (Man Wah Jau Dim) Cultured China Wine Shop/Mandarin Hotel

北京鴨 (Bak Geng Ap) Peking Duck

辣椒 (Lat Chiu) Chillies 

 

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