Around the time the National Rifle Association (NRA) announced that its solution to the Sandy Hook tragedy is armed guards in every American school, my love for Hong Kong, and its strict gun laws, low crime rate and strong economy, grew tenfold.
In fact, I’ve been inspired by the NRA to re-double my efforts to learn basic, friendly every-day Cantonese.
So over the weekend, I braved the holiday crowds and took a special trip to Hong Kong Island from my home in the New Territories (also know as “Mordor” to the Hong Kong Islanders) to seek out a few more Cantonese study books.
First I checked out Eslite, the three-level Taiwanese books store at Hong Kong’s newest mall, Hysan Place in Causeway Bay. They had a full shelf of Mandarin learning books for English speakers and a grand total of two Cantonese learning books for English speakers, one of which I already own. So I bought the other one: the Lonely Planet Cantonese Phrasebook.
After riding the tram from Causeway Bay to Central, I enjoyed a nice lunch of garlic eggplant and pork dumplings and then visited the two bookstores at the IFC mall in Central: Bookazine and Dymocks. There I found another Cantonese study book, “Interesting Cantonese” by Susanna Ng. More of a list of sentences than a language study book, I bought it because there is simply so little out there. Well, that and because it taught me how to say “ParknShop” and “7Eleven” in Cantonese (Baak Gai and Chat Sahp Yaht) as well as a bunch of Hong Kong place-names.
Now I have four books to help me learn Cantonese, plus some Pimsluer language CDs. I could really use a class, but since I live in the aforementioned “Mordor of Hong Kong” that is easier said than done, so I’ll use my books and CDs for a bit.
Despite my newfound enthusiasm, I still secretly feel that studying Cantonese is a practice in futility:
- Many (most?) locals speak (some) English. Well, save for the ParknShop clerks and the ladies who collect the rubbish from my house. And those who speak English, answer back in English as this funny video by Norwegian Cantonese teacher Cecilie Gamst Berg illustrates:
- There is no standardized system for Romanizing Cantonese (that is, writing it out using the alphabet–like Pinyin for Mandarin). So each book uses a slightly different system to account for sounds and tones.
- Bloody traditional characters. Thanks to my previous Mandarin studies I can read a slew of simplified characters. But in Hong Kong they use the traditional characters. Obvious ones that I see every day I know, like 車 for 车, 長 for 长, and 電 for 电. But I often get lost in a maze of strokes when trying to suss out traditional characters. (Don’t hate me Hongkongers, I know you love them.)
- Lastly, and related to all of the above, I think native Hongkongers secretly don’t want the rest of use to learn Cantonese. After all, how will they gossip about us and our spotty, untaken-care-of skin then?
Still, I will persist if only to learn enough to be a bit more chatty with the eternally friendly rubbish ladies and to stick it to the NRA. After all, I can have a coveted permanent Hong Kong ID card and “right of abode” in only 6.25 more years.
(What does the comic say? Credit is due to the Wikipedia page, Cantonese profanity, for help with the comic. “仆街”, pronounced “puk1 gaai1” can mean both “prick” and “drop dead” and “can also be used in daily life under a variety of situations to express annoyance, disgrace or other emotions.” “𨳒” pronounced “diu2” means “f*ck.” The full phrase roughly means: “Disgraceful prick! F*ck your gun rights!”)
The Retrograde Chinese Lesson (Comic)