A sad day in the country club today! My banjo teacher, Austin, （亞天，Ah-Tin) came for his last Cantonese lesson/to provide banjo lesson. We recorded the instrumental to our next Cantonese Bluegrass music video (don’t know what the song will be about yet – any suggestions?) and talked about when he was leaving. He said 三個日(saam goh yat, Three Pieces of Days).
Yeah, isn’t it typical! This happens to all students of Cantonese I think. When you finally get your head around the classifier 個 (goh, meaning ‘piece of, item of’) and can use it with ease and confidence 我有兩個香港朋友 (O yau leung gah Heung Gong pangyau – I have two HK friends) 俾六個杯我呀，唔該 (bei luk goh goi o ah, m goi, give me six glasses please) – suddenly there are these nouns that don’t have classifiers!
Primarily 日 (yat, day) and 年(lin, year). So unfair, but there you are.
The funny thing is, it’s the second Petrashune I lose in one year! (一年， yat lin). Is that carelessness or what? His older brother Adam was my banjo teacher before, before he had the crazy idea of going to the USA for good.
Last jam with Austin! That’s also unfair. Oh well, at least I have the video:
I think one of my biggest weaknesses is my temper, or rather that I sometimes can’t control it. I specifically blow my top at government officials and other puffed-up people in uniform, telling me what to do when it makes no sense, (“meh-dem! Tekk kee-ah! Tekk kee-ah!” (madam, take care, take care – there is a floor and it’s fraught with danger!) and I get really angry, perhaps most angry, when people openly state that I’m a total idiot.
Or rather, state that they think I’m a total idiot.
These are “issues” I obviously have to “address,” and therefore I promised myself before last weekend’s trip into the Guangdong hinterland, that no matter how patronising people were towards me, no matter with which frequency they told me that Cantonese was too difficult for me, or told me that I couldn’t eat spicy food because it had chillies, I would just laugh it off instead of getting pissed off.
I managed that to a certain degree; at least I didn’t raise my voice. But I didn’t exactly laugh either.
The main problem with 興寧(Heng Leng) five hours by train north, north-east of Shenzhen, is that although it’s Guangdong province, almost nobody speaks Cantonese. It’s a Hakka town: Established by Hakka for Hakka.
At least people spoke to each other in the local language – not surprisingly Hakka – instead of their mangled version of Mandarin. They could understand a lot of Cantonese though (too bloody right) but as I spoke, I had to suffer through that old scourge of life in Hong Kong: Addressing people in one language and being answered in another – this time garbled Mandarin. It was painful and really put me off my game. I started speaking a half Mando half Canto awful hybrid, often stopping in mid sentence to wonder what I was really saying, and where I was…
So people, if you want to practise Cantonese, stay the hell away from Heng Leng!
Anyway, the train there (apart from – horrors – having no restaurant car) specialises in torturing passengers with a never-ending stream of train staff selling stuff, socks, toothbrushes, stamps and the like, and at 3000 decibel. One guy stood in our carriage for about 30 minutes, screaming out the advantages of some smokers’ toothpaste, 5 cm from my ear.
Anyway, they did have one thing I really wanted: Crazy Light Balls. These were see-through rubber balls with a kind of sensor inside that, when the ball was bounced, started emitting really strong blue and red light rays as well as a glitter-like substance wafting around in it. I wanted it! At 10 yuan, I thought it would be steal. On the way back I wanted to buy another of these balls and couldn’t believe my luck when it, in addition to the light show and glitter, also featured a plastic fish swimming around in there.
"這是魚" (This is a fish) the uniformed woman informed me, pointing to the yellow and orange fish which every single inhabitant on this earth immediately would identify as a fish. I pointed to another ball with a slightly larger, blue and green fish in it."這都是魚嗎？"（Is this also a fish?) knowing full well that mainlanders seldom understand irony; it was more for the benefit of my friend sitting next to me.
“是！是魚!”（Yes! It’s a fish!) she beamed, holding up her thumb in appreciation of the clever foreigner that could put to and two together to such an astonishing degree.
I sank back in depression. (“Depression is anger turned inwards.”)
Safely back in Shenzhen and among Canto speakers, it was time to hit the tailor’s. When I came out of the changing room my friend had disappeared, and before I even moved my eyes to look for her, the tailor started pointing around the corner with wild, exaggerated movements. Your friend! There! There!
OK, cheers,I think I can …
She started pulling my arm, trying to drag me around the corner when I didn’t gallop to be with my fellow whitey fast enough for her liking.
“Yes, I know. I can see her.” My friend was talking with three fabric-mongers, so I hung back a little, thinking I’d let her do the Canto thing by herself. This wasn’t good enough for my tailor, who rushed up to the group and started pointing at my friend from quite close up.
“Here! Here! This is her!”
“Oh, for Chr… Please. I talked to my friend three minutes ago. I still recognise her.”
I thought I was showing amazing restraint, but do realise that most people spend every day of their lives not losing their temper. Bear in mind that it was my first time, though. Well, maybe the third.
Back at the tailor’s gaff, my shirt was ready to be taken home. The tailor handed it to me in a plastic bag. “Now you can put it in your wheelie-bag,” she explained slowly and clearly, as if dealing with a particularly dense village idiot with Aspberger’s.
No, I didn’t raise my voice! A huge victory for me. But I didn’t laugh either.
Last Saturday Mister Public Security Uncle took a trip to Wan Chai to join in the rugby revelling and cavorting, as well as spreading the word of Canto.
Fun much? I have always laughed (in my mouth) of people who drink beer with a straw, but because of the moustache I had to do just that. It tasted exactly the same! I’m considering switching to straw-beer-drinking on a permanent basis. I want to make a film with Mister Public Security Uncle again, but can’t find a topic. Because everything’s allowed nowadays. Does anyone have a good idea for whom I can arrest?
This cheerful chap begged me to arrest him, whereas British guys were all interested to know if my truncheon had batteries. Women, if you feel ignored by men, put on a uniform and a moustache! Men will flock to you.
Joy to the world, my life is complete. For ages I’ve been writing Chinese characters in the worst way invented by man; by typing the words in pinyin, in other words Mandarin, imperialist communist speech-language.
Oh, the pain! Not only did I have to remember the pronunciation of all those Mando-words, but it was so fiddly to look up the ones I didn’t remember how to spell (and when has Chinese ever been about spelling?) and I had to use zeros to write normal Cantonese characters like 0野， 0的 and
But now, wonderful Penpower Handwriter has issued a writing pad suitable for Mac. Now I’ll be able to use handwritten Chinese characters and get them right every time. It’s a new era. A new dawn.
Oh, and where can you get it? Why, the Mac shops! And probably all computer shops worth their salt in gold.
It’s happened at last: After months of hard work and sacrifice, behold my own podcast. It puts the FUN back in Fundamentalist!