Cantonese: learn m'learn?

Learning Cantonese is not easy, and it can lead to some, ah, poignant miscommunications. Here you can find both practical advice on learning 'the Wah', as well as some diversions for when you're thinking it's hopeless.

The Joy of Text

I wanted to call this article ‘Why Daughter Tall’s English Homework takes 37 seconds, whereas her Chinese homework takes 37 minutes’, but that seemed a bit much.

Never the less, most nights it’s more or less true.  Read more »

Understand Chinese names

When I first arrived in Hong Kong I'd regularly make mistakes with peoples' Chinese names. Here's the Batgung primer to help you do better ...

Power language

Some time ago, I came across the following quotation in a Washington Post review of a book about lost languages:

People will always educate their children in what they perceive as the power language. Success . . . means belonging to the elite; to belong to the elite you must speak the official and international language. As soon as they can, that is what even the most down-trodden of minority language speakers will aim at, for their children even more than for themselves.

This got me thinking about the linguistic situation in Hong Kong. Given that the language of power in Hong Kong was English for so many years, why is the English standard here so uneven at best, and why has it seemed to slip in recent years? Read more »

Schools in Hong Kong, part I

Soon the Talls -- and a little later, the Baldings -- must make a fundamental child-raising choice. Do we send our little darlings to local schools, or to expatriate-dominated international schools?

This is a no-brainer for expats who arrive in Hong Kong with children who are already school-aged: since such children don't speak or read Chinese, it's international school (or English Schools Foundation schools, which I'm lumping together with international schools for pure convenience) or nothing, and in Hong Kong 'nothing' is illegal. Read more »

What's a gwailouh?

There comes a time in many a Hong Kong expatriate cultural commentator's life when he must face the word: gwai louh.

As anyone who's been simultaneously conscious and physically present in Hong Kong for more than three days knows, 'gwai louh' is the Cantonese slang term for a white-skinned foreigner. It's not a very nice term. I've seen it translated as 'foreign devil' most often, but this is only a rough attempt at nailing down its sense. For one thing, there's no direct reference to 'foreign' in the term 'gwai louh': 'gwai' means ghost or other unwholesome inhabitant of the netherworld; 'louh' simply means 'old guy'. Read more »

Gonna learn the Wah?

Gonna learn the Wah? If you're newly arrived in HK, you may be wondering whether or not to learn Chinese. Unless you have a large amount of free time on your hands, you probably won't be able to learn to read and write, but you can certainly pick up the spoken language.  Read more »

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