Thu 1 Feb 2007
Through daily contact with the HK Chinese I have built up a list of things that have irritated me.
Firstly, if you are a foreigner, most HK people that I have met believe that you must speak English to some degree of fluency being superior to their own. It doesn’t matter if you are from France, Spain, Italy, or the Philippines; all foreigners especially Caucasians have the ability to speak English. Now my face isn’t a Caucasian face being mixed blooded, but I recall telling several Chinese that I’m not an English speaker and to look carefully at my face, does it look like I come from England? (in Cantonese) They reply, “you are a foreigner, all foreigners speak English.” (in English) I simply give no reaction and continue in Cantonese. Remember I have not told them where I come from, nor have I spoken any English.
Today I was teaching the word “to co-operate” in my English class. I made a mistake and said 作合 zok3 hap6 instead of 合作 hap6 zok3, in which I immediately self-corrected my mistake and apologised. My students couldn’t stop laughing. I seriously didn’t think it was funny and I had to force the adult students to stop their childishness. I said, why is it funny that I accidentally make 1 measly mistake, but you are all able to make 200-300 mistakes when you speak to me in English? One response instantly made my blood boil and I had to try very hard to control myself, “We take English seriously, and as you are a foreigner, Cantonese is just for fun.”
Another time I told my students that I had spent 2000+ hours learning Cantonese, when one lady told me she could teach me Cantonese. So I asked her if she knew the tones and a Cantonese romanisation system. She told me she knew the tones and pinyin system from China. Turns out she is talking about Mandarin pinyin and couldn’t understand that Cantonese (a dialect) could be written differently to Mandarin (a language). Clearly wasting my time in this discussion, I wrote on the board “wo bu shi xiang gang ren” and asked her how that looked like “ngo5 m4 hai6 hoeng1 gong2 jan4″. Then I wrote sam1 gap1 (心急) and asked her how to pronounce it in Cantonese. Immediately she said sam (as in Samual) and gap (as in the English word gap). Then I got a complaint from her, “ah Cantonese pinyin is too hard and impossible”. She already decided that it was too hard after 20 seconds.
Many Hong Kong people think that Cantonese has no grammar. This statement has caused me to waste many hours re-educating people that every language has a set of grammar rules, and it is simply that you haven’t learnt it.
Lastly, I was in Yuen Long , and I went to a small shop to buy a drink. I asked the old man in Cantonese, “gei2 do1 cin2 aa3? (幾多錢呀?).” He says in English, “7 dollars”. I told him, “deoi3 m4 zyu6, ngo5 m4 sik1 gong2 jing1 man4 (對唔住, 我唔識講英文)”. On each attempt (4-5), I got “hah?”, he finally said in Cantonese “$7.50″. Then I exchanged a few unfriendly words and left.