The Agony Broccoli writes (3/4)

Monday 16 January 2012, 3.00am HKT


WHERE YOU STAND depends on where you sit, as the saying goes. The nice reader who wrote in about possible relocating touched on the matter of knowing the right lingo and our home countries change with times.

* * *

On knowing the right Chinese language

And also … Cantonese sounds much nicer, and probably easier for me to learn.

I’ve been saying this for a long time to one and all, but nobody believes me.

Cantonese has long been the Chinese language of the UK. (Yeah, I know how that sounds.) If you’ve lived long enough in the UK, it just ‘makes sense’ that you find Cantonese easier to handle.

(It’s roughly the same situation in Canada — but that’s another story.)

I don’t have a drop of Cantonese blood in me, but Cantonese is my mother tongue, believe it or not, mostly learnt in the UK. I happen to be an extremely fluent Cantonese speaker. Whenever I open my gob in Cantonese, many Hongkongers presume I’m an out-and-out local — that’s how locally Cantonese I speak.

A slight digression:

Right up until the most recent time (around the mid-1990s), when Chinese people came to the UK to live, work or study, they just spoke Cantonese, regardless of Chinese origin. The Hakka spoke Cantonese, the Shanghainese too, the Fujianese, the Mandarin-shleppers, Singaporeans, and the Indochinese.

“Cantonese speak Cantonese: if you don’t understand Cantonese, go back to your village.” Let’s not travel down that road about Cantonese-ness. (via Wikipedia)

Back in my day, my Mandarin-speaking friends and classmates spoke Cantonese in the UK. Every Chinaman in Blighty spoke Cantonese, and no one paid a thought about speaking any other kind of Chinese.

(In case there are morons out there who misread this, Cantonese-speaking in the UK is just a convention — a social commonality — not some pro-Cantonese ethnolinguistic rights activism like we see in China of late.)

Today, the last time I was back in the UK (2006?), I heard only Mandarin, usually in a variety of mainland Chinese accents.

It’s broadly the same story in the USA, where my family lived for a while:

  • Toishan and Cantonese in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco
  • Cantonese and Hokkien in New York City and environs
  • Cantonese for the whole of Texas, Colorado and Nevada
  • Vietnam-style Cantonese in Nebraska (!)
  • Chicago Chinese are normally Mandarin speakers but they’re pretty fluent in Cantonese too
  • Mandarin in and around Washington DC

Today, it’s Mandarin all round in America.

Srsly, if you’re planning on coming to Hong Kong, it’s Cantonese or English — don’t try anything else. Mandarin a.k.a. Putonghua is secretly dissed in the minds of most Hongkongers. Right now, with the Dolce & Gabbana ruckus going on in Hong Kong, best avoid Mandarin in public places.

That being said, be advised that Hong Kong’s manufacturing base is in China, specifically in the Pearl River Delta region about 50 miles (80 kilometres) west of here. If you don’t know Mandarin (as I don’t), you’re pretty much stuck hire-wise.

* * *

On a changed Britain

UK has changed a lot,  I grew up in the ’80s so can only remember the dreks of the ’70s. But in some ways it’s the same. And, yes, with the economy and riots and whatnot, it’s not the greatest of times.

I hear you. I was in the UK in the Seventies and Eighties, and they weren’t the greatest of times either. But in my day, the UK was latest and greatest when everything was crumbling to bits:

  • Harold Wilson and Teddy Heath taking us into the EEC
  • Decimalisation of the quid — not nice, but still a serious relief to the venerable £.s.d. because by then we had stopped learning proper arithmetic and multiplication tables so couldn’t work out Old Money anymore
  • The county of Westmorland became part of the Orwellian republic of Cumbria in the North West of England (see map) (and that’s srsly unforgivable)
  • The Spaghetti House Siege
  • Jim Callaghan and the ‘Winter of Discontent’
  • The Labour Party’s Michael Foot and his foot in his mouth
  • The heatwave of 1976
  • The rubbishmen’s strike (phooew!)
  • Maggie Thatcher (enough said)
  • The newspaper strikes that lasted more than a year
  • The Falklands invasion
  • The Harrods bombing (I was there not more than 20 feet away from the blast!)
  • The Brixton riots (I was NOT there)
  • The university fee overhaul that caused The Great British Brain Drain (a contradiction in terms!)

I have to say things seriously started unravelling by the late 80s. My last trip back was around 2006 and, boy, the UK felt more like America than anything else.

(Disclaimer: I’ve nothing against the USA. For cryin’ out loud, I’m even a cowboy boot wearer since when very young. But I do like the UK to feel like the UK, and America like the good ole’ US of A. Just sayin’.)

* * *


Look in the mirror carefully, and observe accidentally,
then prepare for reality


© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012.

Images: Cantonese poster by Apple Daily via Wikipedia ♦ Regions of England and the UK both via Maps of UK.

One Response to “The Agony Broccoli writes (3/4)”

  1. george orwell said

    actually the face of british chinese is changing. so many mainlanders now. the chinatown is all mainland speaking. cantonese DOES sound nicer than mandarin because of the tones. mandarin only has 4 thats why cantonese hk films sound great because people are screaming and shouting and cussing. also mandarin is a bit ‘colder’. ive heard some punk songs sung in mandarin and maybe because of the 4 tones available doesnt have that colourfulness of the cantonese tone.

    ive still yet to make my decision . business calls mandarin. my roots call cantonese. business or roots? and if im in the uk…and live in the uk and dont relocate…business or roots? and the real question is, what difference does it make when you are just shagging white birds?

    i think you need to do an article on the different types of birds being shagged. from an intellectual angle – in regards to the quality of after-sex conversation had.

    michael foot my arse


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