Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Slip of the Tongue: Tau1 Sik6

As any language student knows, every hint of progress is won by many, many mistakes.  Funnily enough, several of my recent mistakes were actually still workable in the sentence, although I didn't know it at the time.

A few weeks ago, I dropped into a Circle K to pick up some ice cream.  Since it's near my house, I know some of the workers.  This time as I entered, I saw that the two workers, one guy and one girl, were sitting down behind the counter munching some chips.

Ever trying to practice, I wanted to make a comment about "resting a bit" so I said "lei5 dei6 tau1 sik6."  They kind of laughed, and the guy rang me up.  

I wasn't so happy when later I realized that I had totally said the wrong thing.  First of all, instead of saying "tau5"(rest) I said "tau1"(steal)!  My second problem was that instead of saying "ha3" (a bit), I said "sik6" (eat).  So unintentionally I had said they were stealing food!  Which, although it wasn't what I was trying to say, did kind of fit the situation.

Another friend informed me later that my phrase "tau1 sik6" has another meaning also: cheating!  Hopefully they didn't think I was using that meaning!  Live and learn, live and learn.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Ghost Night

Tonight as I was walking the street, I was mesmerized by the air in front of me.  At first I thought it was a huge flock of bugs, swarming the streetlight.  But as I got closer and started sniffing the air, I realized it was ash.  Lots and lots of ash.  That's when I remembered.

We're right in the middle of Gwai2 Zeet3, or the Hungry Ghost Festival, as we like to say in English.  I'm told that this is the time when Hell's Gates are open so that ghosts can get out and wander the earth. According to Chinese culture, ghosts, just like any other person, needs to have daily necessities like clothing, houses, money, cell phones, tv's, etc.  The way to give a ghost these things is by burning paper versions.  Usually people burn things for their deceased relatives, but at this time benevolent people will also burn for hungry, wandering ghosts, those who don't have family.  So all over the city tonight, there were fires in the streets.

During the day, ghosts look like a normal person, but watch as you walk past a cha4 chaan2 teng1.  If you see a person stretching up to lick the hanging ducks in the windows, it is probably a ghost!  They just can't resist the beautiful, glistening ducks.

I'm also told that you need to be careful during this time.  Ghosts can try to kill you in order to speed up their reincarnation process.  People have told stories of standing by a street and being pushed into the street just as a big bus is coming.  When they looked behind them (after getting back to the curb), no one was there.

I also learned that ghosts like umbrellas.  One particularly cautious student of mine told me to avoid using an umbrella during this whole month, especially today, because ghosts like to hitch rides on your umbrella.  Some other students told me that ghosts do like umbrellas, but I still can use an umbrella as long as I avoid opening it inside my house, since then the ghost would be able to come into the house.

Tonight, apparently the gate of Hell is wide open, so it's the biggest ghost night.  If you believe in ghosts, you probably would have gone home before dark.  I was not good in this regard and didn't make it home until almost midnight.  Oops.

So as you go about your week, watch out.  If someone calls your name, don't turn; just keep walking.  Stand away from the curb.  Watch the window ducks.  And hope it doesn't rain.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Hill of the Nightmares

Recently I took a field trip with my Cantonese class to the Hill of Nightmares.  Well, it's actually called 10,000 Buddhas.  A lot of them are stately and beautiful, but some of the Buddhas would fit right in to a Tim Burton movie.  I mean take a look at these guys.

Seriously, that guy has arms coming out of his eyes!  If that doesn't haunt your dreams, I don't know what will.  

I guess I should rewind to the beginning. Let's start with something more cheerful.

A few of my classmates and I decided to meet up before the appointed time so we could have dim sum at Din Tai Fung, a famous Taiwanese place.  Unfortunately, it's too famous for us; the wait was forty minutes.  We haven't absorbed enough of the queuing culture, so we decided to ditch in favor of Triple O's.  Nothing like a good burger and shake to replace dim sum.

After lunch, we headed over to a historical place highly recommended by our teacher: Snoopy World.  Yes, I did squeal a little inside when I saw the little Woodstock nests surrounding poles all down the walkway.  So. Cute.  The main attraction the giant Snoopy sleeping on top of an enormous doghouse.  They have all kinds of other sculptures.  Not that I would know from going inside. As we were applying more sunscreen, we saw that it was closed because of a "thunderstorm warning."  Strange...

Snoopy is oblivious to the "thunderstorm"

After that it was about time to meet our teacher and other classmates.  On a side note, classmates isn't a word that I ever used in the US, but now after hearing it constantly, I also use it.  There are many English words that once sounded strange to me that now sound normal.  My English is slowly morphing, and I'm not entirely sure that it's a good thing.  Anyway, we met up with our class and headed over to the mountain.  

Now, besides the creepiness of some Buddhas, there was another reason for the nightmare.  It was so sticky-hot!  We were climbing the thousands of stairs to get to the top, and I think we were having some kind of competition to see who could sweat the most.  It was like doing a stair-climber workout in a sauna.  This is real life, people.  

We finally made it to the top.  Triumph!  Our teacher explained the significance of some of the statues, and then we high-tailed it up this tower.  Now climbing more stairs doesn't sound sane after what we went through to get up the mountain, but we were rewarded at the top by shade and a wonderful breeze.  The view of Shatin was also nice.

The tower

Peeking over a buddha's shoulder

 After tearing ourselves away from our breezy lookout, we wandered around the main courtyard.  It was still hot, but also very ping4 zing6, peaceful.  There were a few other people quietly burning incense or looking around, but it was empty compared to Wong Dai Sin or the other temples I've visited. Maybe the climb and the heat deterred other visitors from coming.  Either way, I was not sad.

A beautiful courtyard

We wandered further along and came to a turtle pool.  One couple had brought their six-year-old daughter, and she was enamored with the cute little gwai1.  Lou5 si1 (teacher) told us that it was kind of like a turtle orphanage, so people could take their turtles there if they couldn't take care of them anymore.  That got E's attention.  She has a turtle and has been worrying about what she'll do with it if she moved away from Hong Kong.  And here's the solution!  Although I can't say that lugging a turtle up all those stairs would be that fun...

They look like happy orphans

Just up from the turtle pool was a hill of buddhas.  We'd been seeing buddhas all over: on the stairs, around the courtyards, lining the walls of the temples, in the windows of the tower, etc.  But I think these looked the nicest, nestled against the green.  It kind of looked like it was right out of a storybook.  Above that, there was a beautiful white statue posing majestically in front of a waterfall.  A photo-op if I've ever seen one.


Finally it was time to go down.  We couldn't resist but pausing on the steps next to our chosen buddha and pose.  Although I was entirely too sticky at the end, I had a great time. Thanks for taking us on the field trip, Teacher W!  M4 goi1 saai3, lou5 si1!  

Do we fit in?

Monday, August 4, 2014

HK Shots: Golden Dragon

This is Falcor.  Well, I'm sure that's not his real name, but I decided to name him after the Good Luck Dragon from Neverending Story.  It fits, I think.

Most people don't even know he exists.  I'll tell people about the "hou2 daai6 gum1 lung4" near the Aberdeen Tunnel, and usually they don't know about him.  But to my family, he's very special.  We always say we'll meet at the dragon or when we're coming home we'll text each other that we're by the dragon.  He's a fixture.  But then again, if you don't regularly go through the Aberdeen Tunnel, I could see how you would miss him.

There's a plaque near Falcor.  I guess it's telling about how this golden dragon got there, but I can't read it since it's all in Chinese.  One day, maybe I will.  

So if you ever find yourself on a bus or taxi heading towards the Aberdeen Tunnel, look up from your phone for a moment and say hi.  He'll be waiting!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How I'm Learning Cantonese

I’ve been posting about things I’ve been learning, but recently someone suggested that I talk about how I’m actually learning Cantonese.  So it's a bit long, but a rundown of my Cantonese learning history.

My first forays into Cantonese were a bit half-hearted, I’m embarrassed to say.  The first year that I lived here I didn’t do much studying at all.  My friends or coworkers might teach me a word here or there, but it was all very hap-hazard.  I carried a little notebook around so I could write down new words, and I wrote them just like I thought they sounded.  At that point I hadn’t learned much about tones, so I just wrote high, medium, low, or rising lines to remind myself of the sound.  But even then, it really wasn’t exact, and I often forgot what my own lines were supposed to represent.  

I was so young and innocent (ignorant?) then

And after moving back to the US, I forgot most of the words I had learned, excluding the few I used as a secret code at the cafe I worked at.  I would say sai1 sau2 gaan1, bathroom (or literally, wash hand room), to my coworkers, alerting them of my imminent dash to the little girls room.  Soon, it caught on, and all of my coworkers started saying it.  Even my boss, who for some unknown reason seemed to hold a grudge against the phrase, eventually cracked and used it.  The other two frequently used words were leng3 zai2 and leng3 leoi5/2, handsome guy and pretty girl.  One of my coworkers especially liked to say “leng3 leoi2” to tell me to let him take the register when a fetching young lady approached.

After I had decided to move back to Hong Kong, I started my study in earnest.  I loved watching Carlos Douh videos, a Canadian guy who makes Canto slang videos. I also started watching a lot of polyglot videos that really inspired me.  Polyglots are people who can speak many languages, and they have a thriving community of bloggers and vloggers. I was inspired by some polyglots like Benny Lewis and Moses McCormick (whose favorite language is Cantonese!) and many others to jump into language learning.  

One of the biggest things I took away from them was to "just speak" to people, even if I was nervous and if I felt like my ability was low. Since I was still in Alaska, I didn't have many (any?) Canto speakers to speak with, but I was able to practice my extremely rusty college Spanish. Although I'd forgotten most of my grammar and a lot of vocab, I was still able to have fun conversations with people. Those interactions really built my speaking confidence, which helped me out when I made my triumphant return to Hong Kong.

I'm trying to practice, but my tongue is frozen!

Also while still in Alaska, I started studying a really old version of Teach Yourself: Cantonese from the library. It is quite thorough, but I didn't totally trust it. When I would text a friend, trying to get some practice with the words I learned, he told me that only his grandmother would use some of the words. So a little outdated.

After visiting one of my friends in California, a Canto speaker, I realized that my tones needed some serious work. At that point I kind of knew what they were in general, but I didn't have a very good grasp of them. My friend often had trouble understanding me because of my bad tones, so I decided to sit down and work that out. I found this wonderful website that does tone drills. I would do the basic tone drills at least five times a day for a few months until I felt like I really knew them. I found that after that, people understood me MUCH better than before!

Of course this was also before I fully realized that Cantonese has a written and a spoken language. Ah, blissful ignorance. Well, it was blissful until I realized that I'd been studying words from a website for several weeks that were only written Cantonese! No one would ever say those words! Aaahhhhh. Certainly frustrating. Most of my time in Alaska was trial and error, but at least it was a start. I still consistently run into those problems, as even now people will sometimes tell me the written word instead of the spoken (why?!?!?!?) but I'm more wary now.

After arriving on the island of milk tea, I was eager to start practicing. I've been in Hong Kong for nine months, and I'm still as eager to practice speaking as ever. I try to talk to as many people as possible: my security guards, people in my building's elevator, clerks at 7-11, ladies handing out flyers, etc. And of course I also try to talk to my ever so patient friends and coworkers. I've also joined a language exchange meet-up group so that I can have consistent practice every week. It's great to be able to ask questions and just talk with someone to help me.

I'll do it for you, Bruce.

I also started taking an ISS (International Social Service) Cantonese class. It meets for three hours Sunday afternoon. That can be a little brutal, especially on gorgeous days, but it's worth it. My teacher puts on a tough front to keep us from skipping, but he is really funny and dedicated to teaching us. He's great about mixing vocabulary, practice and drilling, as well as throwing in cultural information for fun. I'm in the intermediate class now (although I wouldn't say I'm actually intermediate level), but unfortunately there aren't enough students to offer an advanced class. I'll have to wait until December. But maybe that's actually good for me, since I can take some time to really go over my notes and try to memorize everything before starting the next class.

Yeah, memorization. Not too long ago, I bit the bullet and downloaded the Anki mobile app ($25USD!). I waited for a long time because of the price, but now I'm so glad that I have it. It's basically a spaced-repetition flashcard app that let's you study anywhere using your phone. I've been working on inputting my notes from class and from the language exchange, and it's a lengthy process. Slowly but surely! This also really helps me with the study challenge my sister and I cooked up. Now I can study anywhere! On the MTR, in between lessons at work, waiting for an ATM, anywhere! I think now I will be the study champion.

Finally, I also think that surrounding myself in Canto really helps. I think watching movies and tv shows are really important in language learning. I've been a little lazy recently, but for quite awhile I was watching at least one movie a week. I really need to get back into it, since I feel like i make a lot of connections that way. I usually watch long movies using English subtitles. I often rewind and listen again if I read something that I know but I didn't hear it. Or if I see it on the subtitle and think it's a useful word, I might pause the movie to look it up in Cantodict and then watch it again to try to catch it. I also like to watch Youtube videos without English subtitles They're shorter, so it's better for my attention span, since my level is still pretty low. I'd really like to start watching some Canto reality shows, so if you have any recommendations (and links to watch them), let me know!

When I'm cleaning, I like to listen to podcasts like Naked Cantonese (no new episodes but over 200 to work through) and CantoneseClass101 (you can find it on iTunes). I also listen to random ones from RTHK. And of course I eavesdrop everywhere I go. So be careful what you say around me! Who knows? I might understand!

Oh, I forgot the other important part, talking to myself! I often try to think in Cantonese. If I'm walking down the street, I will try to talk to myself about what is happening around me. I'll comment on a lady's hairstyle in my head, only to realize that I don't know what hairstyle is. On good days, I will immediately look up how to say "hairstyle." On bad days, I will forget.

Some days, I study. Other days, I just drink Hello Kitty beer.

It's a process for sure, and I'm very far from fluency, but I'm having fun and learning a lot. And that's what counts in language learning!

I've tried to link most of the resources here, but if you have any other questions about anything, just drop me a comment!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Canto Bites: Ceoi1 Seoi2

I've decided to start a new category I'm calling Canto Bites.  They will basically be short posts about a word or phrase of the week that I find funny or interesting.

This week, at my language exchange, I learned a very nice phrase: ceoi1 seoi2.  It can be literally translated as "blow water," but it's a slang phrase that means "chat."  Very descriptive, since if you're excitedly talking, you might just blow some water!

I was doubly excited to learn that word because it made another connection for me.  Awhile back I learned the chorus to a very nice Soler song,  風的季節.  I'm not entirely sure about the English name since I've seen both "Wind" and "Monsoon" as the title.  I'll go with "Monsoon" as it sounds more interesting.

Anyway, in my ignorance, I didn't know that it was actually a cover of a really old song by a singer named Paula Tsui!  When I mentioned it to a friend, she said that it's from her mom's generation.  Old or not, I like it, although I do admit that I prefer the Soler version.  Listen and judge for yourself.

All that to say, the chorus of the song says "Blow, wind, blow" or something to that effect.  I don't know what all those extra words are, but since it's a song, I'm assuming they're written words.  Or I just haven't learned them yet.

Well this is already longer than what I planned for a Canto Bite, so I'll scuttle away now.  I have the feeling I'll be singing this song all night...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My HK July 4th

Mei5 Gwok3, Sang1 Yat6 Faai3 Lok6!  Happy Birthday, America!

I've always enjoyed July 4th.  I love the swimming, the outdoor games, the watermelon, the grilling, the fireworks.  And of course having the day off is always nice.  I've had a few memorable celebrations in my life.

One year I was working at my city's public pool (I was a cashier, not a life-guard, for the curious).  Every July 4th was a free day, so it was madness.  Kids were running everywhere, cannon-balling into the water, screaming at each other, wolfing down dripping popsicles.  We had vats of rubber ducks to give out as prizes for the water games lifeguards were trying to run.  I manned the door with a marker, only letting people in when others vacated the area.  It was as close to a bouncer as I've ever gotten.

Another year I was working as a camp counselor.  We had taken all the kids into the little nearby mountain town for the festivities.  There was a lot of hacky-sack and arm-wrestling going on.  I was a bit envious of the non-counselor staff-members.  They were able to join the townspeople in dancing while those of us shepherding herds of kids were relegated to a field.  Still, while lying in the grass with dozens fo teens watching fireworks light up the black sky, I was happy.

Now that I'm in Hong Kong, I feel like I like July 4th even more.  It's not as easy to celebrate.  I still have to go to work, there's no fireworks, and most people don't even know about it.  So take it on myself to celebrate.

Although I had to work on Friday, July 4th, I decided to dress properly for the occasion.  I had already told my students and coworkers that I'd be wearing red, white and blue, but when I surveyed my closet the night before I realized that I didn't actually have anything to wear!  I dashed down to Maple (a cheap clothing chain) to find a blue and white scarf and then to Bonjour to pick up some appropriately-colored nail polish.  American-attire acquired.

On the day of the 4th, I went around all day practicing my newest phrase: Mei5 Gwok3 dok6 laap6 yut6 faai3 lok6!  Happy American Independence Day!  Now most people didn't quite get that one.  Several friends told me I should say Mei5 Gwok3 gok6 heng3 (America's National Day) instead, but I wanted to say it exactly.  So I compromised by first saying Independence Day, and when they looked confused I would explain that it was our national day.  Seriously, I was practicing it all day.  Of course I said it to all my coworkers.  I said it to my security guards.  I said it to my friends.  I said it to the guy who works at the hardware store on my way to work.  I said it to the lady handing out flyers.  I think everyone who saw me that day should know what day it is.  And I definitely won't be forgetting that phrase anytime soon.

After work, I headed over to a friends to prepare a celebratory dinner.  We figured that breakfast-for-dinner would be a good choice.  He did most of the cooking while I chopped things.  When our other friends arrived, we ate and then played games.  Fun times!

Very traditional.  :)

The next day was Saturday!  I usually have to work on Saturday, but I took off just to celebrate Independence Day.  I was SO happy to be heading to a beach on Lamma Island instead of working. It was a beautiful day!  Well, maybe a bit more hot than I would like, but at least the sky was blue.  

The only way to get to Lamma is by ferry.  I was afraid that I would be late, but got there just in time!  Unfortunately, two of our friends were not so lucky since they had gotten stuck in a traffic jam.  They got there minutes after the gate closed and watched us pull away.  Sad!  They had to wait for another ferry and then hike even longer to meet us.  After we arrived, we hiked about fifteen or twenty minutes to get to the beach.  The sand was hot and the air was hot and I was tired from carrying two big bottles of honey-green tea (my substitute for lemonade).  

The trail to the beach

I rushed into the water, trying to find some relief from the heat.  Unfortunately, the water was also pretty warm, but better than burning sand.  I also found that if I swam out a bit further the water was cooler. I kept finding cool patches and trying to tread water there, but then the coolness would dissipate, and the cycle would start again.  A few of us swam out to the floating dock, and three of us managed to cut ourselves on the barnacles.  We joked that the slowest would get picked off by sharks on the way back.  But don't worry, we still have all our limbs.

After swimming for awhile, it was chow time.  One guy brought the meat (very nice meat!), and the rest of us brought sides like chips or plates.  I had wanted to bring watermelon, but decided that with the heat and hike it would be too troublesome, so I settled on grapes.  And those heavy (but delicious) honey green teas.  

Burgers and chicken. Brats, not pictured.

After eating (too much), it was game time again.  We played a fun game called Masquerade (I think).  It's kind of like a mix between Mafia and Go-Fish.  Kind of.

Let's play!

After the game, it was about time to go.  We packed everything up and headed out to catch our ferry.  The sun was going down on a beautiful day.  The only thing missing was fireworks!

Goodbye, Lamma!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sibling Rivalry: The Canto Edition

I didn't experience too much sibling rivalry as a child.  Most of it consisted of me getting upset at my sister for copying me.  But seriously, she didn't have to draw a rainbow picture just because I was drawing a rainbow.  Why not a unicorn?  Or a bumblebee?  Or a an exploding dinosaur?  The options were limitless, but she chose to draw a rainbow as well.  Am I right?

Thankfully, we've left that kind of rivalry behind us as we left high school.  But for the sake of learning, we've decided to reintroduce a little competition into our lives. 

Both of us want to study more consistently but have run into trouble.  There always seems to be something to clean, someone to meet, a Youtube video to watch, Buzzfeed list to read (no judgment).  Time just slips away, and I'll go to bed with another study-less day hanging over me.  

It's not like I am not learning anything.  Since I go to both a three-hour class and a meet-up once a week, I get my practice in.  I'll also study a few times a week for big chunks of time.  But I was reading recently how it's much better to study for short amounts of time every day than a big chunk of time once a week.  Jan Van der Aa, a Dutch polyglot, studied Cantonese an hour a day for three months.  At the end he was able to have a decent conversation!  Check it out.

I was talking to my sister about this the other day, and we decided to start our own language competition!

The Rules
We are not quite as ambitious as Jan, so we decided to start off with thirty minutes a day.  While we can study more than thirty minutes, we can't make up days we miss by studying more on another day.  We can count class time but not practice or watching videos.  I'm marking small red x's on my calendar for each day that I complete.  At the end of the month, we will compare our x's.  Whoever has the least amount will have to treat the other person to dinner! 

Last week, our practice week, was pretty good but this week hasn't gone so well.  I missed Saturday and Monday!  Saturday I was out ALL day celebrating the 4th of July!  I did do ten minutes on Monday, but that's not enough to count.  Today was successful though.  At the end of August I'll let you all know who won for the month of July!

The faces of bitter competitors

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Of Buns and Floating Children

Steaming white buns stamped with red.  Crowds spilling all over the small island.  Children in intricate costumes "floating" down the main street in the parade.  The pounding of drums.  Lion dancers.  Lots and lots of lion dancers.

Yes, this post is a little late.  Cheung Chau's Bun Festival was back in the beginning of May.  But I had such a good time there that I didn't want to leave it without a post.  So here it is!

It was a public holiday, so I didn't have to work the Monday of the Bun Festival.  I ignored the advice of countless people and decided to make the journey to Cheung Chau.  I heard that it would be a nightmare of sweaty crowds and unending ferry queues.  While it was crowded (I heard around 20,000 people descended on the island), it wasn't quite that bad.  Maybe the slight rain kept the crowds at a fairly manageable size.  Either way, I was happy.  I waited for less than an hour to board the ferry on both ends, and I even had a good view of the parade (although maybe it was just good luck; I'll get into that later).  

I met up with my sister and three friends at the ferry piers in Central in the morning.  The parade was supposed to start in the afternoon, and we wanted to catch lunch as well as grab a good spot well before it started.  We were lucky enough to get seats on the ferry ride over; some people had to stand the whole way.

Goodbye, Hong Kong Island!

When we arrived at Cheung Chau, the crowds were out in force.  We were all starving at that point so tried find a nice place to eat.  I had looked up a restaurant on the internet, but it appeared to be closed.  Another one nearby looked nice, but it was full.  We were tired of fighting the crowds and getting a little "hranky" (you know, hungry and cranky?) at that point.  Thankfully, I remembered that a friend suggested going to a restaurant on the back of the island.  The others didn't have faith in me when I had them walk across the beach and down some people-less paths, but finally we made it to the restaurant!  They forgave me then, because it was so nice.  The tables were outside, overlooking a windsurfing beach.  It was quiet and beautiful, a great place to chill and talk.

Much happier now.

After eating, we plunged back into the crowds to stake a spot for the parade.  We still had an hour before the parade was supposed to start, but we heard it was hard to find good places.  We went to the main square, but it was already filling up.  We were standing behind row upon row of people and couldn't see very well.  We squeezed around a corner onto another street.  It wasn't quite as crowded there, and I noticed that people were setting out chairs.  We figured that they must know something.  I saw a space in front of a shop that looked like a good place to stand, so I saved it while the others look for another place.  In fact, the shopkeeper next door even told Y that she should go watch the parade by the tree; it was a better place.  Of course, we had just been there and knew it was super crowded, so I think she was just trying to get rid of us.  

Now this is where my foreignness helped us out!  While I was saving our spot, several older people set up chairs in front of me, but they didn't say anything.  I suspect that they didn't speak English so they didn't know how to shoo me away.  Several groups of Cantonese people tried to get past them to stand  by me, but the old people waved them away.  Score!  Finally the others came back; no better spots had been found.  It really was perfect.  Since the old people were sitting down, no one was in our way.  We also had an awning over our heads, so when it started raining, we didn't get too wet. The only thing we were missing was a chair!
Eating a potato spiral

People chilling, waiting for the parade to start.

After waiting for an hour or so, the parade started.  I have to say, although this was the floating children's parade, the majority of the parade was people in t-shirts.  They'd have a couple lion dancers and drummers, and then a long crowd of people in matching t-shirts.  It was also amusing to me that a lot of the people in the parade were very casual.  I mean like smoking, texting, drinking beer, casual.  I don't think I've ever seen parade participants texting as they walked down the street before.  A bit amusing.

These guys were more serious

I like the action.  Note the beer can on the left.

It seemed that we had stumbled into the local viewing section of the parade, since the people around us kept waving to those in the parade, laughing together, changing seats to sit with someone else.  It was a nice experience.  We also noticed that the parade groups would often pause a little to our left and do a special trick or blow a kiss or something to the people sitting a shop or two down from us.  We were wondering who was sitting there.  Finally Y heard some people talking about it; all the kung fu sifus (masters) were sitting next to us!  

Of course, we were looking forward to the floating children (yes, not the people in t-shirts).  Although they were few and far between, it was very fun to see them!  Their costumes were great.  Some were historical and some had to do with current events (even poking fun at current events).  

In case you were wondering, they aren't really floating (darn it).  It looked like they were standing on a pole which also ran up their pant-leg and attached to a harness/belt around their waist.  Or something like that.  Anyway, up close you can see that they're standing, but from far off they did look like they were floating above the crowd!

They were all really cute.  Miss Brazil was definitely the most confident floating child.  She was waving and blowing kisses like nobody's business.  Then they had a mini bun-scrambler climbing his mini bun-mountain (the main activity of the festival is bun-scrambling).  So cute!  The little girl in blue and pink looked kind of scared but resolute.  And then Mr. Ga Ga in a suit.  I had asked my friend what his sign said, since he looked like one of the satyrical ones.  She said "ga1 ga3" but didn't know how to translate it. I was very happy because I knew the answer!  We had just learned the phrase "ga1 ga3" (yes, it sounds like a baby noise) in Canto class, so I knew it meant "increase price."  There's nothing like real-life application to make your learning stick.

After the parade, we ducked into a small dessert shop to relax and restore our energy.  After all, we had been standing for around three hours!  I felt better with some sugar in my system, so we went to find the bun towers.

Now the biggest event of the festival is not actually the parade but the bun-scrambling.  They have these huge towers totally covered with lucky buns!  They have a competition where men (do women do this too?  I've only seen men do it) scale the towers and see who can collect the most buns.  It sounds really exciting.  Unfortunately, the competition starts at midnight.  After a full morning and afternoon, I was definitely too tired to stay for the scrambling.  Next year I hope to go at 8 or 9 at night just to see the event.

At least I got a picture with a tower

Before we left, we tried to get more buns.  I looked for a sesame bun in vain (sesame is my favorite flavor).  I had a communication problem earlier when trying to buy some buns, so my hot "sesame" buns turned out to be cold lotus buns.  Well you can't win them all, but at least I persevere!  The others lined up to buy more buns (custard, I think).  While I was waiting for them, a lion dance started right next to me!  I've never been quite this close to the lion before.

The lion snatching up the lettuce

It was a good end to a nice (but tiring day).  We tramped back to the ferry (queuing for an hour) and wearily made our way home.  I can't wait for next year!

This little guy did make it home with me.  Now I'll have a lucky bun all year!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

More and More

I've been learning jyut6 lai4 jyut6, more and more, recently.  It's kind of exciting to catch more, understand more, interact more.  Of course my level is still really low, but I'm climbing the hill.

Recently I've learned some really good phrases that help me express myself more, like "at the same time," "before", and "you've got to be kidding me." Then I've learned a lot of new vocab for things I see on a regular basis.  Just this week I finally decided to look up "tunnel" as I was riding through the Aberdeen Tunnel (Heung1 Gong2 Zai2 seoi6 dou6).  Then later that week I was telling someone that living in Ap Lei Chau was a little troublesome because of the tunnel.  So I got to use it right away!

As I said before, sometimes looking up words aren't so straightforward.  Just like English, often several words will come up, and I don't always know which one to use.  I looked up "must" today, but there are SO many entries, so I couldn't even hazard a guess on that one.  Same story for "only/just."

Last night I watched Young and Dangerous 4 (Gu2 Waak6 Zai2 Sei3).  I used subtitles, but it was cool to hear some words that I've recently learned in class or on my own.  When I learn a word, I think I need a human element to cement it into my mind.  Although it's better when I use it in person, like in conversation, movies also help.  And on a side note, Ekin Cheng looked really cool the whole movie, but he kind of ruined it with the last fight he got in, flailing around, throwing up his arms, grabbing at his opponent.  Not. Very. Cool.

Today I got a lot of practice in, some successful and some not quite so much, but it's all practice.  I was helping my mom, since they're moving to a new flat.  It's only a few blocks away, so we were carting stuff back and forth in suitcases.  I tried to strike up conversations with people in the lift.  I'm not sure how to say "moving" so I was trying to say that my parents are going to live here, but I didn't always get the message across.  After getting off the lift, one man pointed at us and said something to the security guard about "airport."  I don't think he got what I was trying to say and was extrapolating from our suitcases.

Then when I was going home later, I was standing at the stop, waiting for the minibus.  The lady in front of me was watching something on her phone, and I recognized the song that was playing.  It was Dream High, a Korean drama.  I commented that I watched that drama before, and so we started talking.  She asked me if I was watching Sing1 Sing1 (My Lover From the Stars, or something like that) the new Korean drama that is tearing through the city.  I told her no.  Before I was studying Korean so I watched Korean shows, but now I'm studying Cantonese so I watch Cantonese movies.  We went on to have a good conversation.  She said a lot of things that I didn't understand, but I was able to respond and make comments, and we were still able to talk until the bus showed up.   It was quite nice!

I think that's one advantage of being a foreigner: small talk.  Hong Kong people don't seem to be much for small talk, which is quite different from where I grew up.  Of course, I like talking to strangers, and I try to do it even more now because I want to practice.  If I were a local, or even a waa4 kiu4 (overseas-born Chinese), I don't think they'd be so accepting of my small talk (or so I've been told).  But since I'm a foreigner, and a fairly non-threatening one at that, I think people are more open.  Either way, it works for me!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hong Kong To-Do List

Sunset at the Kwun Tong Ferry Pier

Even though I've already been in Hong Kong for almost eight months (hard to believe!), I still am incredibly excited to explore everything!  Maybe even more so since it's my second time living here.  After I moved back to the States, I'd think about things in Hong Kong I had ever done or read about places I'd like to visit.  Right after moving back, I made a list of things to do and see.  I've been slowly working through the list and I've already gotten through a lot of them!  Of course, I also keep adding to the list, but that's part of the fun.  There's always something cool to do or see.

So here's my complete Hong Kong To-Do List.  I've put Xs next to the ones that I've already checked off.  Maybe later I'll turn some of these into blog posts!  I have pictures for a few of them but not all. 

Hong Kong To-Do List

X  1. Kadoorie Farms.  I finally visited this farm in Tai Po, New Territories.  This farm was built on a mountain to create jobs for Chinese refugees.  Absolutely beautiful.

  X  2. Tai Po.  See the big white statue, go shopping at the market, etc.  I went with Amelia and Mom.  We didn't end up going near the white statue, but we did see it.  We were hoping to take a boat out to a Hakka market (only on public holidays) to get some traditional food and watch some dancing, but we didn't get off the bus in time.  So we ended up hiking to a waterfall instead.  Then we went to the Tai Po Waterfront Park, which is wonderful.  Tons of flowers, a kite park, a tower, a waterfront, lots of bikes.  I definitely want to go back.

X  3. Eat in a dai pai dong.  I just did this last night!  These outdoor restaurants are all over, but for some reason I've never eaten at one.  The government doesn't seem to like them, though, so they're not granting any more licenses.  That of course means that they're a dying breed!  So go while you have the chance.

4. Swimming in Sai Kung.  Last time I visited Sai Kung I didn't bring a swimsuit.  I regretted it when I saw the beautiful, clear water.  I went wading instead but it wasn't the same.  

5. Go to Ocean Park.  Yes, yes, I'm a terrible person.  I've never been to Ocean Park, Hong Kong's most famous theme park.  I will go.  Sometime.

X  6. Eat at the Aberdeen harbour view restaurant.  My parents told me about a nice restaurant in Aberdeen that is pretty cheap but has a great view of the harbour.  I finally went there a couple weeks ago.  Two thumbs up.

7. Noah's Ark.  I mean come on.  It's a full-scale ark.  I have to go sometime.

X  8. See the Bruce Lee statue and get a picture.  I don't know how I managed it, but I lived in Hong Kong a whole year without going to see his statue.  I mean, I went to see the light show many times but for some reason I never went to the Avenue of Stars.  I finally went with Amelia and one of her friends who was visiting.  The only problem is that I went at night so I the flash turned me into a ghost, a true gwai2 mui6.  But that didn't stop me from making that my FB profile picture.

9. Go see and mainly understand a Canto movie.  This one will probably take awhile to tick off the list.

10.  Visit an artist village (Fo Tan, Cattle Depot, etc.).  I'll have to wait for this one as well, since they only hold open houses once a year.  I missed them this year, so I'll have to wait until November or January or something like that.

X  11. Go to Knockbox Cafe in Mong Kok with Nika.  Done.  We had affogatos.  Happiness.

12.  Common Grounds cafe on Shing Wong Street.  This is the cafe where Wong Fu filmed "Left on Shing Wong."  I'm starting to wonder if this one is just not meant to be.  I've tried going there about five times and have failed every time.  Two times I went too late.  Since I was in the neighborhood I thought I'd try dropping by.  I also had no smartphone so couldn't look up their hours.  Another time I tried to go on a Tuesday, my day off.  But it turns out that they're closed on Tuesdays (again, should have looked it up before going but I really didn't think they'd be closed then).  Another time I went on a public holiday during their opening hours, but they must have closed for the holiday.  Finally, I was sick this week and went to a doctor in Sheung Wan.  The nurse told me it would be over an hour wait so I thought I would try them again.  But no.  They don't open until 11, after my appointment time.  Sigh.

13. Go to the Hello Kitty Cafe.  Need I say more?

X  14. Visit the Bruce Lee (I mean Cultural Heritage) Museum in Sha Tin.  I had a lovely day going to the museum, seeing Snoopy World, wandering around Kwun Tong, taking the Kwun Tong ferry to North Point (see the first picture), and taking the tram back home.  Wonderful!

15.  Tsing Yi Island.  It sounds nice.

16.  Grass Island.  It also sounds nice.  I think you have to take a boat from Sai Kung to get there.

X  17. Eat snake soup.  Done!  I went with my friend Veronica.  It was pretty good.  Very comforting, like chicken soup.

X  18.  The Wetlands in Tin Shui Wai.  I went with my family over Easter.  My brother was visiting, and it was his fifth or sixth time, so he's already seen a lot of things here.  We all went together and it was quite lovely.  They have lots of flowers and birds, as well as crabs, fish, snails and mud-skippers.  They even have an ngok6 jyu4, a crocodile, named Pui Pui who seems to be a bit of a celebrity. 

19.  Karaoke at Mr. Red with Nancy.  Nancy, we have to make this happen!

20. 10,000 Buddhas.  For some reason I've also never done this.  Not sure why, though.  All the members of my family have been there, even multiple times.  

21.  Infinity Pool.  There's some Infinity Pool out in the middle of nowhere that would be cool to visit.  It's supposed to be a bit of a hike and kind of hard to find, though.  

That's all I have for now, but I'm always adding to the list.  We'll see how it goes!  Some of these will end up as blog posts, I'm sure.  

Have you done any of these things?  Any suggestions?  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ups and Downs

My Cantonese progress, like most things in life, is full of ups and downs.

Some days I feel eager to talk with my security guards or convenience store clerks or anyone who will listen.  Other days, words whizz past me, slipping through my fingers as I desperately try to catch at least one of them.  Some weeks I study at home, watch Canto video clips on Youtube, try to practice with coworkers and friends, and write down questions to ask my teacher.  Other weeks, my brain feels like a cold turnip cake, tired, squishy, and useless.  I usually do nothing then.

Today was a good day, as you might have guessed.  Usually if it's a bad day I can't muster up enough enthusiasm to create a post; if I'm feeling good I'll want to keep going, whether that be studying, watching a Canto video or writing a blog post.

This evening I took the ding1 ding1 (tram/trolley) down to Central for a language exchange meet-up.  I've been going to for several months, and they're pretty fun. They run about two hours.  I practice with one partner at first, and we switch after an hour.  For a half an hour we practice English and for the other half an hour, Cantonese.  After it's over, there's an optional dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Tonight was a good night.  My partners spoke slowly (in general) and were pretty good about explaining new words to me.  I learned a lot of good ones, like yao5 si4, sometimes.  So useful, la!  Then at dinner I was able to talk with more people, having actual conversations!  Of course I made so many mistakes, but the communication was fun, so that's key.

It's funny how much of a difference the other person makes.  On the listening end, I feel defeated if I can't catch anything they're saying.  I swear some people are practicing to be auctioneers.  I've been told by a lot of people that Americans speak more quickly than other English-speakers.  That may be true, but if that's the case I think Hong Kongers are the Americans of Asia.  Wah, they speak so quickly!  I think some people just aren't able to speak slowly.  Even after I ask them to slow down, they'll just repeat what they said at the same speed!  Aiya!

And then there's the vocabulary side.  If we're speaking about some topics, I know a lot of words.  Despite my mistakes, the communication is fun and natural.  I can even throw in some slang words or phrases I've learned.  But then other times we'll be talking about something, and I feel like I don't understand every other word and have to keep looking them up.  And then I don't know how to express myself, so it's a cycle.  A slow and frustrating cycle.

Even week to week my mood can vary.  On good weeks, when I watch videos or read blog posts by other language learners, I feel inspired.  It makes me want to keep going and gives me new study ideas.  On bad weeks, I feel like a failure.  Why am I not putting in as much study time as they are?  Why am I not seeing as much success even though I've been studying longer?  Why don't I know how to say "short"?

I've come to accept the ups and downs; they're part of life.  I think I've settled on a fairly good system of relaxed learning.  Some weeks I work hard and other weeks I slack off, but it evens out in the end.  Maybe I won't learn as quickly as some others, but I can still enjoy the process as well as keep up other activities outside of language learning.  I'll just learn yut1 bou6 yut1 bou6, step by step.

I'll get there some day.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Nail and a Calendar

Sometimes my Cantonese vocabulary is kind of random.  There are very simple words that I don't know, like "heavy" and "short,"  and then I know some pretty random words like "chicken bouillon" and "lemon Ribena." But that's because a lot of the words I learn, I choose for a specific purpose.  Like today.  I had to go to the hardware store, and I always learn something when I go to the hardware store.

I have one lamp, and its light-bulb burned out at least a month ago.  Also, I bought a calendar, probably also a month ago, and it's been sitting on my floor since I didn't have a way to hang it up.  Yeah, I tend to procrastinate on house things.  So I needed a light-bulb and a nail.

Since I had the burned-out bulb I could show them, I didn't need to know how to say light-bulb, but I didn't know how to communicate that I wanted a nail.  I looked up "nail" on Cantodict, an online Cantonese dictionary.  Now Cantodict is super helpful, but sometimes I'm kind of wary using it.  When you look up "nail", this is what comes up.

Found 13 word entries for "nail"
desc手甲sau2 gaap3  finger nail
desc指甲zi2 gaap3zhi1 jia5  nail (as in fingernail or toenail)
desc指甲鉗zi2 gaap3 kim4*2   nail-clipper
desc釘子deng1 zi2ding1 zi5  a nail; a snag
desc眼中釘ngaan5 zung1 ding1yan3 zhong1 ding1  eyesore; thorn on one's side, person hated (lit., "nail in the eye")
desc釘打機deng1 daa2 gei1  a nail gun (lit., "nail hitting machine")
desc洗甲水sai2 gaap3 seoi2  [n] nail polish remover, nail enamel remover
desc釘子精神deng1 zi2 zing1 san4ding1 zi5 jing1 shen2  the spirit of the nail; grasping every available minute (reference to Lei Feng)
desc釘蓋deng1 goi3  to die; to be dead [Lit.: to nail the lid (of coffin)]
desc三寸釘saam1 cyun3 deng1  small in stature (like a dwarf, lit., "three inch nail")
desc大頭釘daai6 tau4 ding1da4 tou2 ding4  tack, large-headed nail, stud
desc指甲油zi2 gaap3 jau4zhi3 jia3 you2  nail polish; nail varnish
desc衝釘器cung1 deng1 hei3  a nail set

See?  There are quite a lot of entries for nail, so which one is the correct one?  I was thinking it might be the fourth entry, since it says "a nail", but I don't really know what "a snag" is in relation to a nail, so I wasn't sure.  I finally settled on it probably being deng1 since in "nail gun" I know that daa2 is hit and gei1 is machine.  So that problem was solved.  

Then calendar.  Same thing.  Actually, I take that back.  Calendar is even worse.  There are twice as many entries, and almost all of them are specific, like "lunar calendar" or "desk calendar" but the entry for just "calendar" was halfway down the page, so I was wondering if that was really what I wanted.  Finally after combing the page, I found a "wall calendar" and settled on that one.  Gwaa3 lik6.

Off to the hardware store!  Whenever I go to there, I can't tell who actually is working unless they're behind the counter.  There's all sorts of guys hanging around.  I went to the counter and waited patiently while a guy in a black t-shirt measured out screws into a bag for the customer in front of me.  Suddenly, an old man broke from the pack and came up to me.  He saw that I was holding a lightbulb, so he had it out of my hand and darted off to the back.  I could barely get out my "Lei yao mou li go?"  Do you have this one?  But he knew what I needed.  

While he was looking, the other customer left and I could ask the black t-shirt guy "Lei yao mou hou sai deng?"  Do you have a small nail?  I must have chosen the right word because he nodded knowingly and said "Yao."  We have it.  But then he asked me a question I didn't understand.  Oops, I wasn't prepared for that one.  I must have looked confused, because he added "wood-ah" and tapped a nearby wooden shelf.  Oh yes, I did need it for wood.  I looked it up after coming home, and I think wood is muk6.  Next time I'll know.  Hopefully.  

By then the old man came back with two lightbulbs for me.  He was ringing me up when black t-shirt came back with a handful of nails.  He kind of laughed when I said I only wanted yut go deng.  One nail.  But he didn't even charge me for it, so that was nice.  

So I went home and happily screwed in my new lightbulb (which turned out to be yellow not white!) an hung my calendar.  I don't know how often I'll use these words, but it's good know.  Forced learning is always the kind that sticks for me.