Yesterday I wrote about a guide to recognise white-to-coloured racism or “microaggression, the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional(my italics), that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership” manifesting itself in horrible insults like “where are you from.”
Why is this question (when asked by a white American) microaggressive but not, presumably, asked by a Hong Kong Chinese? Or maybe it is but I just haven’t noticed it. Anyway, the author of the list of microaggressive insults, slights and snubs, one Derald Wing Sue, explains just why “where are you from” is such a kick in the face: “Message: You are not a true American.You are a perpetual foreigner in your own country.Your ethnic/racial identity makes you exotic.”
Fair enough. It must be vexing and exhausting for people of Chinese descent to get this question every day, maybe from the same people like their neighbours, again and again, because all Chinese look the same.
But then he goes on, only two lines further down, to describe another type of microaggression, namely “Color Blindness” with the following examples of hurtful slights and snubs: “"When I look at you, I don't see color." "There is only one race, the human race." "America is a melting pot." "I don't believe in race."”
Now suddenly the Message is: “Assimilate to the dominant culture. Denying the significance of a person of color's racial/ethnic experience and history.Denying the individual as a racial/cultural being.”
Now all of a sudden he wants the race or culture of the snubbed victim singled out and made different. Make up your mind, Derald?
I wonder whether, if his parents hadn’t buggered off to California before he was born, he would be one of those Hong Kong and mainland people who tell me: “Wah, you’re a foreigner but you know the name of a Chinese tea!” “Wah, you have even heard of lotus root!” “Wah, you can go shopping in Shenzhen!”
According to Derald, these are terrible snubs and insults based solely on the way I look. I wonder what he’d make of white people in Hong Kong being called devils, as a matter of course, in newspaper headlines for example. But I, although sometimes weary and exasperated by hearing these remarks day in and day out, are supposed to smile gratefully and take them as compliments.
Because only white people can be racist and make racist, patronising remarks. And political correctness never made it into Hong Kong Chinese society. Thank God!
你係邊度嚟呀？(Lei hai bindou lei ah? – You from where come ah?)
鬼佬 (Gwai lou – devil geezer/white man)
鬼婆 (Gwai poh – devil hag/white woman, NOT “gwai lou woman” which many foreigners call themselves)
Wei! I’ve discovered a new tea! Don’t know how it could have escaped me for so long, as often as I go to yam cha, but there you are.
Maybe I’ve become too stick in the mud so I always order the same: 水 仙 (soy sin, water fairy) or 鐵觀音 (tit gun yam, iron buddha)? By the way, about yam cha: It vexes me that staff always but always have to plonk 香片 (heung pin, jasmin tea) down on the table without asking me what I want. Reason: I’m white and jasmine is all whitey ever drinks, even though she was there the day before ordering something else. I think any whitey who’s ever been to yam cha without a Chinese person with them will know what I mean.
Therefore, even if I loved jasmine tea, I would have had to send it back. And I don’t, so even more reason to order iron buddha… If you feel like I do about being lumped together with tourists and are vexed at never getting the chance to taste any tea but jasmine, you can say: “咦？點解唔問我飲咩茶吖？” (Yi? Dim gai m man o yam meh cha ah? What? Why don’t you ask me what kind of tea I want?)
But anyway, guess what, I’ve just spent three days with ah-Sa! That’s right, ah- Sa from RTHK. We went to Shanghai to NOT go to the Expo, and almost succeeded in that. Also, we were to make some programmes about Mandarin, the communist speech quackings of which we were there to investigate.
And it was in Shanghai I discovered a tea I’ve never tasted before (if I had, it would be goodbye 水仙 and 鐵觀音) namely 龍井 (long cheng – dragon well.)
We found it in the worst place in Shanghai, possibly the world – now you’ve been warned! Yu Garden in the Old City. It looked so good on the map – a place with a ring road circling it, with Old City in big letters. I should have known that anything the Chinese government, be it central or municipal, designates as a tourist attraction, should be avoided at all cost. How to describe it? Like … Lo Wu Shopping Center rebuilt in Disneyland by Liberace and Elvis’ bastard Chinese children.
We retreated into a dodgy looking building just to get away from the screaming and arm-touching touts; where in Lo Wu shopping center it’s “Missy missy melicure pelicure missy hello you buy DWD mowie hello missy you buy looking hello, ” here it was “Missy watchee, watchee you buy watchee.” Only one thing in other words – but that was enough! We dove into this structure supposedly built in the Qing Dynasty where they advertised “genuine Shanghai dumplings” which were made three days earlier and catapulted ah-Sa into a stomach upset. I, a purist, fortunately restrained myself, sticking to boiled soy beans. When in China I just don’t accept eating food off a plastic tray in a canteen like setting! I’d rather starve. For a while.
Anyway, next to dead dumpling mansion was Overpriced Tea House, the Hu Xin Ting, (湖心亭，Lake Heart Pavilion.) There they had the nerve to charge 68 yuan for one cup of tea. However, as it allowed me to discover my future drink forever 龍井, I won’t complain.
See how lovely ah-Sa looks! It’s the effect of Dragon Well tea. Actually, the effect of me drinking Dragon Well tea, thus wielding the camera better than usually.
We discovered many things in Shanghai, for example that the HK style has well and truly arrived: You address Shanghai people in Mandarin and they answer you in English … and some do the applauding thing and the” wewwy good lah” thing. I suppose it was inevitable.
Behold my student Ah-Mei. Not only is she beautiful, she’s also learning Cantonese at a galloping speed. Why? Well, one reason is that all her notes and papers are in order. Look how she’s had the course material professionally bound by a professional binder! Her other notes and vocabulary are in a ring binder divided into categories. Oh yes, order. It really works.
The second thing I wanted to remind you of, is that today is the LAST RECORDING OF NAKED CANTONESE. We’re doing the last live show in the studio first, and then zooming down to Treasure Lake in Jubilee Street for some yam cha and programme-making. You simply must take part. It’s from about 3pm onwards. Last chance!
Perhaps you’ve made some new year resolutions this year, and broken them already. Here is one that won’t hurt, but on the contrary will enrich you no end for the decades to come: Decide that this is the year in which you’ll learn Cantonese!
Today I had a student who told me full of pride that she had told a taxi driver where to go in Cantonese and: (Here she made a surprised face) He went there!
Well, why wouldn’t he? She talked to him in his own language and he understood it. What’s so strange about that?
As a Cantonese teacher, I’ve found the biggest obstacle facing most of my students is this: They don’t really think they can actually learn this language. Years of conditioning with people (Chinese) telling them: It’s too difficult for you, you can never learn it, you should learn Mandarin instead etc. have more power over their thinking than me, a person they pay to instruct them, saying: It’s just a language. If I can learn it, anybody can learn it.
It’s a strange thing. If you’re taking tennis lessons from someone, you won’t keep saying to your tennis instructor: But everybody tells me I should learn the piano instead! Tennis is too difficult for me. Are there any good books I can learn tennis from instead, or possibly chess?
No, you grab the racket and try to do what the instructor tells you. And after a few weeks, you can play tennis.
And then you practise for a few months until you become a good tennis player. You take every opportunity to play tennis, to the point where you actually play tennis with other people!
Cantonese is just a language. Anybody can learn it, provided they have the two things necessary: A head and … yeah. That’s the only thing you need. A head with ears and a mouth. Eyes help, but ears and mouth are essential. So why not give it a go? You live in Hong Kong, you want to communicate with locals in their own language – make 2010 your big I learnt Cantonese so screw you, naysayers! year.
(The photos above are all of people who a few months ago couldn’t speak a word of Cantonese but who now can. They just went ahead and did it.)