There’s been a lot of flu and crap floating around in Hong Kong recently – even I got it! But this wasn’t your common or garden swine flu 豬流感 (zhyu lao gam) – this was at least shark flu! 鯊魚流感 (sa yü lao gam)
It was highly unpleasant, so unfair and deeply irritating. But it made me remember this film I made a few years ago. From it you can pick up a highly useful piece of conversation: Have you seen a doctor?
Cough once, have a broken nail or split ends – off to the emergency ward with you!
This is one of the reasons why I love Cantonese: 咩! (Meeh, wot? or what kind of…)
My theory: It started out as 乜嘢 (mat yeh, what thing. As in: 你飲乜嘢呀？Lei yam mat yeh ah? You drink what thing ah – what are you drinking?). A good Cantonese expression that Mandohooligans can’t understand, in speech or writing. And then (again this is my theory but I think a good’n:) it slowly compressed into one word: Meh (咩）taking the beginning from the mat and the end from the yeh.
And then MEH took on its own life, meaning ‘what kind of’ as in 你飲咩啤酒呀? (Lei yam meh beh jau ah? You drink what kind of beer?) But it created a conundrum. How to write it? Normally in Cantonese if a word doesn’t have its own character you just take a word that sounds identical or similar and slap a ‘mouth’ character (口）on it. Like 呀 (ah) that comes from the word 牙 (tooth). But there is no ‘meh’ sound in Cantonese. What did they do? Wrote it as ‘the sound of a goat’! (Or sheep.) 咩(meeeeeeh!) Goat falling off a mountain!
By the way, the above photo was taken on an excellent day in Inner Mongolia, hitch-hiking through the wilderness.
喂！ 你搵乜嘢呀！ (Wei! Lei wan mat yeh ah? Hey! What are you looking for?)
Yesterday I went on a high-speed boat trip ruining my hair, but it was worth it. As soon as we got off the open boat, it started raining like – well, normal Hong Kong style. Nothing special. But going home I felt it safest to put my watch in my bag
If you’re learning Cantonese, 落雨 (Lok Yu, ‘Falling Rain’)is one of the best ways to strike up a conversation. Every time I go out in a downpour carrying a rather large umbrella, several locals helpfully tell me that it’s raining. 早晨！落雨吖！Jo San! Lok Yu Ah! (Morning! Falling Rain!) can often be the beginning of a deep and meaningful conversation about water.
When I first heard or saw 落雨 I looked up the word 落 in the dictionary and saw it meant fall. So imagine my mirth when I spotted the word on the front of a tram! 落車， (lok che) Fall Out of the Car, ha ha, excellent! Then I realised it means ‘descend, come down, get out of’ too. Oh well.
But when it rains various animals like cats, dogs and zebras, (or 落狗屎, lok gau si, Falling Dog Shit as it’s called in Cantonese) there’s only one thing to do! Play cards!
If you want to know more about Hong Kong weather and other things, take a Cantonese course this summer! Now you can take lessons from all over the world, through the excellent medium of Skype
I’m cooking for eight people tonight and I’m really looking forward to it. I will make Beer O’Clock Dumplings,
and Kung Fu Cucumbers,
– among other things. Five other things, in fact.
Now my Sichuan cookbook CHILLies! Sichuan Food Made Easy
八個人 (baat goh yan – eight pieces people)
川菜 (chyun choi – Sichuan food)
功夫 (gong fu – kung fu)
辣椒 (lat chiu – chilli)
It’s Sunday morning and I just finished doing the dishes from yesterday’s Sichuan food blowout extravaganza wonder party. Chilli oil tastes wonderful but is a bugger to get off plates and worktops. But it’s worth the pain – it’s Sichuan food! (川菜，chuen choi, River Vegetable.) River? Yes 川, Chuen, is shorthand for 四川, (Sei Chuen, four rivers).
All the cuisines of China are called Something Choi, the choi 菜, vegetable, also meaning dish or course. Normally the cuisine is named after one of the words in the name of the province, like Fai (徽） for On Fai (安徽 Anhui) and Sou （蘇） for Gong Sou （江蘇 Jiangsu）But for some cuisines they use the ancient, one syllable name of the province, from when it wasn’t a province but a kingdom like 湘 (Seung) and 粵 (Yuet) for Wu Lam (湖南 Hunan) and Gong Dong （廣東 Guangdong) respectively.
So yes, even I have to admit there are some intricacies about the Cantonese language and not all ‘learn it in five minutes without really trying’. But as soon as you know two to three hundred characters everything will reveal itself.
And talking about food and Chinese characters, this is what happens when you translate Chinese transliterations word by word:
Can you guess it? Answers to this website.
And: Take a crash course in ordering from the Chinese menu this week! You’ll thank me for it later. Around 2023.