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!