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All Aboard the Harmonious Forgiven Train

Ahh! Back from another trip to my ancestral home, Guangdong province, cradle of Cantonese language and civilisation. The government must have been working overtime the last month, or since I was there last, to drum into people that thing they do about Mandarin being the language of the gods and the only language on earth that has always been, is and will always be, etc.

For never have I met with such a resistance towards speaking Cantonese; when my opponent interlocutor was clearly a native Cantonese speaker. People would switch to Mandarin in the middle of a Canto sentence, they would answer me in Cantonese, then immediately translate what they had just said into Mandarin, they would answer in Mandarin to the first six or seven Canto-sentences I asked them, only to turn around and talk to their colleague or friend in Canto.

Actually, Guangzhou, traditionally a not very obedient city when it comes to edicts from on high, was fine. It was particularly in Yeng Dak (英德)I couldn’t get a word of sense out of people.
So I fear that even Guangdong is no longer a paradise of Cantonese, but that it’s going the way of

Hong Kong where all whitey can only ever communicate in English and where local people would think they themselves can suddenly understand Swahili rather than accept that a foreigner is actually talking to them in the local language. French, Swedish, Urundi Burundian – anything but Cantonese.

This combined with the really crappy service at the Ai Qun Hotel and the terrible new taxi stand 500 meters away from the Guangzhou East train station plus the fact that all tickets to Hong Kong that day were sold out, had put me in a bit of a bad mood. But all was forgiven, all, when I finally got into the packed waiting room for the Shenzhen train and found this:

I mean – right? Who says that it shouldn’t be called an “extrance” when “entrance” is so patently a word. I’m totally with the Chinese there. Stop making English so inconsistent, I say. On the other hand, Chinese, stop calling everything, including the train to Shenzhen, “Harmony.” (和諧)We all know what you mean by that, namely: Do as we tell you, or else.

Buy SCMP On Sunday

Next Sunday I have a feature in the South China Morning Post (Post Magazine) about Cantonese. I probably won’t say much that I haven’t already said here, but please read the thing anyway?

The photo session was quite good fun with me and a photographer walking around Central asking people to write down some new Cantonese slang. Oh, how they struggled to think of something! Which rather contradicted my article which was partly about how proud HK people are about Cantonese slang (while at the same time saying it’s rubbish and too difficult for white people… anyway, please read it.)

CORRECTION! It will be published Sunday April 14th.

A Delicate Piece Of Medical Advice


Hong Kong’s airport – don’t you just love it? I do. It’s so so airport-y! I had been looking forward to spending a couple of hours there before my flight to Mexico (I’m now in Mexico! Wooooooo!) but Lantau’s taxis had other plans. They have decided not to be around in the mornings; apparently they just want to drive people from Tung Chung to Cathay City from 07:00 to 09:00. Who knew? Oh, that’s right, everyone except me.

So I barely had time to dash through the airport with hardly a glance at a shop. The thought of missing planes makes me nervous and I can’t rest properly before I’m at the gate. There was also another issue. A delicate issue which caused me a lot of hand-wringing, to put it mildly. Last time I flew to the USA, I suffered three days of constipation afterwards. I tried ‘special’ teas, I tried walking, I tried drinking lots of hot water, eating fibrous stuff – nothing. It was such an awful feeling, like being poisoned from inside.

And this time I would get straight onto another flight without respite. Ahrrghhh, what to do?


I’d like to say it was this lovely lady who saved me from embarrassment with a flick of her wand, but she was too busy pushing moon cakes on unsuspecting tourists. (I can’t say for sure, but I imagine moon cakes wouldn’t exactly alleviate constipation?) No, the electric internet it was that had the answer.

Constipation is caused by dried-out intestines. Alcohol dries out the intestines. Therefore drinking lots of white wine and little water (because asleep) on a long flight is not smart. It should be the other way around.

Also, a good exercise is sitting down and lifting one knee up to your chin 20 times, then the other 20 times, etc, until you feel you don’t need to do it anymore. I followed both pieces of advice and what do you know! Great success. It was boring though, not drinking wine on the flight. Especially seeing United Airlines – gasp – don’t have individual TV screens at the back of the seats! But health is the most important thing. Good health, I mean. Not bad.


機場 (Gei cheung – machine park/airport)
羊咩屎 (Yeung mee si – goat bleat shit/constipation)
墨西哥 (Mak sai goh – Mexico)

A Little Proddie Placie

Wei wei, it’s finally happening: I’m launching my new book Don’t Joke On The Stairs on Blacksmith Books this week. I actually wrote most of it four years ago and had signed a contract with South China Morning Post Publishing House when that venerable institution suddenly packed it in two weeks before the book was to be published. Vexed? How could I be, when they in the mass email they sent out to all the authors saying breezily that they wouldn’t print any more books, added: “But you are allowed to keep your script.” Oh really!

Well, that what seemed at the time major setback was of course a blessing in disguise, because it allowed me to have some more bizarre, surreal and semi-wild experiences in China to squeeze into the book. In it, you will find out

How to gate-crash a Ketamine party

Why China and Norway are almost identical

What “the slippery are very crafty” really means

How to get around China by train, sleeper bus, horse and camel while staying in the worst hotels because you’re a Hong Kong compatriot

What to write in a self-criticism when you get arrested for spying

How to get into North Korea without a visa

How to hitchhike around the entire country and the etiquette of hitchhiking in China

Don’t Joke On The Stairs is also full of helpful hints when it comes to language learning, as well as containing a useful travel glossary with Chinese characters and their pronunciations in Cantonese and Mandarin. And photos! I mean – what?

So I hope you can swing around the old Honolulu in Stanley street on Thursday night. If you don’t speak Cantonese already, I will teach you the basics. I will also launch my new Canto-teaching DVD Going Native, a two hour extravaganza of film which will take you not only all around China but the world! while learning Cantonese. Oh yeah, Canto will rule the world. But the other languages will be allowed to live too!

Honolulu Coffee and Cake Shop, 33 Stanley street, Central:

A Movable Feast (But not very far)

Table laid with dog

Saturday night! What a brilliant night. Above is the table just before the hordes (12 people) started pouring in. I hosted, cooked Sichuan food for and expressed my life through the medium of dance (optional) in front of a bunch of people who didn’t know each other and some of whom I’d never met! It was the same on Thursday night. I had met only two of the nine people who turned up then. Excellent! There are SO many great people around and I want to meet them all.


Then the people started trickling in and I became rather busy with the precision cooking. Sichuan food: 95% preparation, 5% cooking! (And then about 200% cleaning, but hey).


So it was chew, chew, swallow, swallow, drink drink for a couple of hours. As I stood precision-cooking in the kitchen, I heard peals of laughter coming down from the roof. That always makes me happy. Of course during precision cooking I never have time to take photos, but I did manage to snap Ma Po Dau Fu (Pockmarked Hag Tofu) before:


and after:

Ma Po Doufu

Yum! Yum! Yum! and double YUUUUMMMMM


Wonderful people, good fun and they gave me beer! Then it was time to trot off to Tap Tap for some more beer and being drunkenly explained about addresses by the local postman. That’s what I call a brilliant evening in and out. Thank you very much for coming, people!

You can take cooking lessons from me and/or come to the next Meet New People Extravaganza on September 3rd. However on that night it’s vegetarian/vegan food only. Still good! The protein will come from dau fu (tofu), beans and peanuts.

禮拜六夜晚 – Lai bai luk ye maan (Saturday night)
麻婆豆腐 – Ma Po Dau fu (hemp/pockmarked old woman/grandmother bean rotten)
郵差 – Yau chai (postman)

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