I must write about Lantau again, because yesterday I interviewed Merrin Pearse, the leader of LIM (Living Islands Movement) whose introduction to the government’s “vision” for Lantau’s and therefore the people of Hong Kong’s future made me break out in a cold sweat and throw up in my mouth.
Basically, the island will be razed to the ground before it is reborn as a Phoenix made of concrete and covered in tile, complete with 1 million new people and about sixteen new multi-lane roads with a few tunnels and MTR stations thrown in. Oh, and some bushes and a sandbox to accommodate all the people who will drive their cars over from hong Kong for ‘recreation’.
It made me think about the halcyon days when we only had a mega-super prison and a 1970s technology rubbish incinerator to worry about. Ha! They were merely red herrings, ruses, it now turns out. We stupidly thought that if we could only stop these projects (and a handful of others) they would leave us alone. But after the incinerator project was approved the mask has well and truly come off and we see that the government’s real plan has been to ruin the entire island all along. And all to fill the pockets of a couple of property developing construction company owners.
Here is a film I made about the incinerator:
垃圾焚化爐 – Lap sap fan fa lou (Rubbish incinerator)
香港政府 – Heung Gong jeng fu (Hong Kong government)
消遣 – Siu hin (recreation)
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In our series “screams and muffled cries from the vault” we bring you another item from our archives. It explains why, when you speak to a HK person in Cantonese, he answers you in English:
“But of course!!!! Now I see clearly. The answer has been right under my nose, literally, for years.
I have complained many times, both in my blog and in general, about Hong Kong (and increasingly, mainland) people’s irritating and not a little insulting habit of answering in a completely different language when addressed in Cantonese.
When asked why they inevitably answer: “I’m afraid you wouldn’t understand, ” which is even more insulting.
Yesterday, however, I found the real reason: They’ve been brainwashed to death since childhood. Why haven’t I put two and two together before!
I was getting on the ferry and behind me were a couple with their young child in a tram. I mean pram. Feeling particularly benevolent I said to the child: “細佬, 你好! 你去邊呀. ” (Sai lou, lei hou! Lei heui bin ah) (Hello, little dude! Where are you going?) wherupon the parents, like millions of parents before them, started prodding the poor tyke and pointing at me, screaming: “Say ha-lou! Say ha-lou!” in a kind of English, in that unnaturally high-pitched, over-bright way that some parents think is easier for children to understand.
The kid looked rather put out and said nothing, certainly not “ha-lou”, so I walked on quickly, cursing myself for even trying.
Then: Bang! Epiphany.
But of course: This “say ha-lou” thing happens every but every every every bloody single time I speak to a child. Therefore it is to be presumed that all parents do it to all children all the time. The habits rammed down one’s throat in childhood are difficult if not impossible to break, and so it is that Hong Kong people, like linguistic Pavlov’s dogs, on seeing whitey invariably break into English. Or Honglish.
It’s an involuntary reflex, like closing your eyes when someone approaches your face at high speed wielding a pair of scissors.
To understand everything is to forgive everything, allegedly. So will I now treat people who answer me in a completely different language when I address them in Cantonese, with more compassion? Probably not. No, definitely not. But from now on I’ll go straight to the root of the problem: The “say ha-lou” parents. Hoi hoi, I’m going to turn this thing around, you’ll see! And in twenty years we’ll have a whole generation answering people in the same language in which they’ve been addressed!
That’s right. Cantonese will be a world language. You’ll see! Whenever the above happens now (every day) I put on a hurt face (like Chinese women in contemporary dramas on HK TV whose boyfriends won’t marry them, just after having cried in a hospital and cried on a bridge) and say: 我講緊廣東話喎！ (O gong gan gong dong wah wo!) (I’m speaking Cantonese, dammit) Then their strong inbuilt politeness will take over.
One thing, one inexplicable thing’s for sure: When Hong Kong people answer you in English after you’ve spent years and years struggling (or in my case, joyfully romping) your way to a passable Cantonese, they think they’re being polite!!!! They think they’re being respectful when they slap you in the face, kick you in the groin and spit on you as you’re rolling around in the dust clutching your stomach. (Metaphorically, hallo! )
That’s good to know … but it doesn’t make it any less irritating. Persistence, as always, is the answer. Never backing down, never giving up. But it can be tiresome, oh yeah.
I’ve just travelled 25 minutes there and 25 back just to eat. What, didn’t I have perfectly good ingredients for Sichuan food in my fridge? you ask. Yes, of course. But no matter how good and life-giving those chillies are, every so often I’m overcome with an intense longing for drinking tea – 飲茶 (yam cha). Or rather, eating dim sum. (點心)
Because, although it’s called Drink Tea, it’s all about the food. Those alluring little packets of goodness arriving three or four together in a basket or on a plate – they call, nay, scream out, to me! I feel the need for a session about every five days or so. What is it that creates the addiction? I’ve always avoided finding out exactly what’s in dim sum but I suspect there’s rather a lot of lard…
Testicles? No, they are 煎韭菜餃(chin gau choy gau – pan-fried chive dumplings. With pork, hello!). For some reason these are much more common in the mainland. Perhaps HK people are more squeamish when it comes to biting into a distinctly testicle-like object? When they do appear on the menu in Hong Kong they tend to be called Japanese dumplings and be considerably smaller than in the mainland.
Ah, 飲茶(yam cha)! It’s so civilised! If there’s something you don’t like, you can just order another basket, and another, and another. You’re not stuck with one big dish all to yourself that you have to sit and chew and chew and discreetly spit into your handbag if you mis-order.
I’d experiment with various forms of tea though, if I were you. If you’re Caucasian, the staff will plonk down jasmine tea on your table no matter whet, instead of asking 你飲咩茶呀？(Lei yam meh cha ah – you drink what kind of tea ah) like they do with Asians. Not fair! And jasmine tastes like perfume!
If you want to find out more about Yam Cha, teas and dim sum, take a crash course in Dim Summing with Happy Jellyfish People’s Democratic Language Bureau. It’s clean, convenient and almost without violence.
香片 (heung pin – fragrant flakes [jasmine tea])