Adsense Leaderboard

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Learning the Tongue Twisting Cantonese

Growing up a Hwa-Tsiao/ Hua Kiaw/ Filipino-Chinese has it's own roller coaster ride.
Sometimes it's hard to relate to deeper Filipino culture while maintaining the Chinese culture.
Here at home we speak fluent Fookien, sometimes I speak to my lil darling Brownie in Mandarin and the dog understands me @_@ Watching too much Chinese channels make Brownie smarter- I'm afraid even smarter than me! Nah.... I don't think that would happen... Would it?

I'm quite inspired to write this blog article because I read Shanghainese Dumpling's article on the topic of Chinese language and how she trains her lil pork bun to speak in Chinese even if they live in Australia because that's their root.

At times, we often speak a fusion of Filipino-Fookien which is very very natural to most Filipino Chinese. This is our version of Taglish or Filipino-English.

Fookien and Mandarin are relatively easy Chinese language for me because there are a lot of similarities and it's somehow in my nature knowing the translation from Fookien to Mandarin and vice versa.

However, my real hurdle is learning Cantonese. My father speaks fluent Cantonese because he grew up with the language in their household. I do have relatives who stayed in Hong Kong and they didn't follow the family's migration to the Philippines a long time ago (even before I was born) but I don't have any contact with them; my older cousin communicates with them but it's easier since they also learned Cantonese.

Why oh why didn't they train our generation to speak Cantonese? It's seems like it's our dying Chioa family tradition. There were funny instances before when my late grandmother would ask me in Cantonese but I can't seem to understand her, I thought she was stuttering but it turned out she's talking to me in Cantonese thinking I know how to speak the language, whew! Those moments where funny, I really thought she was stuttering but I just didn't understand her. Thank goodness for papa who translated the conversation for me.

Whenever we watch Cantonese films at home we have papa to translate it for us if there are no subtitles, however I also try to watch it on my own and figure out the story- after all, you will know a good movie if it can tell the story without the aid of script or conversation.

I can't describe Cantonese- it's like a fusion of Fookien, Mandarin and another language I do not know. Sometimes I find myself surprised that I understand what others are saying, sometimes I scratch my head figuring out what others are talking about.

So, here's the compilation of the little Cantonese terms I know.
Sei- 4
Um- 5
Lok- 6
Tsat- 7
Pat- 8
Kaw- 9
Bak- hundred, example: yat bak is 100
Tsin- thousand
Go- point, divider indicating the next few numbers you're going to say is in cents, example: yaah man go tsat man is $20.70
Man-$ example: sap man is $10, yaah man or yi sap man is $20
Leung- it also means 2, in Mandarin the direct translation is 'Liang'

Kei Chin ah/Kei To Chin ah?- how much?
But in my experience don't use this if you're not prepared for the answer/ your're not familiar with the numbers

Siu tse- miss, the direct Mandarin translation is Xiao Tsie

Ngo- I
Lei- you
Um Koi- excuse me
To Tse- thank you
Yau Lok- stop the car (this is handy if you're in a cab coz most Hong Kong cab drivers can't understand English and Mandarin)
Tik Si- taxi
Tin wah- telephone
King Tsat- police

Sau- hands
Soi- water- I just say 'Siu tse, soi' if I'm thirsty and I need to buy water from a food stall- I have to survive
Yam soi- drink water
Pi Tsao- beer
Tsa- tea
Tsi Kang- spoon
Tsi Kang Mai Tsa- spoon and fork
Lei sek um sek?- Are you going to eat or not? (I forgot where I got this, perhaps in my dear Ku Tsiong's home where I used to eat lots of his good food even when I'm having stomach aches)
Cha Siu- asado, aah... My favorite juicy asado from Hong Kong
Siu Ngo- roasted goose, this is a lot better than roasted duck
Soi ko- dumplings; I'm not sure with this one though
Fan- rice
Ho sek- delicious

Um hai- no

Ngo um sik kong ying man- I can't speak in English
Mei kwok yan- American
Fei Li Pan yan- Filipino
Fei Li Pan-Philippines
Lieng Loy- pretty girl
Lieng Tsai- handsome boy
Soi Tsai- bad boy (I think I picked it up from papa whenever he's referring to my brothers haha)
Fei tsai- fat boy

Go pin- over there
Tso sau-left
Yau sau-right

Nei kong mat yeh wah?- what did you say?

Everytime I'm in Hong Kong, some locals think I can't understand them so they usually say bad things in front of me; that's very very rude. I'm used to hearing HongKongese making fun of me and my family so this is my best bet.

  • One time my cousin asked for fork but the lady in Mcdo told him 'Ai yah! What are you gonna use for fork?!' 
  • On the train my baby brother sat on the bench and an adult man was cursing him for sitting down because he wanted to take the seat, shame on him, how rude and immature! I was saying King Tsat! King Tsat! And the rude adult man stopped cursing my baby brother.
  • I asked for 2 extra chopsticks in Hong Kong International Airport- I think it was the Vietnam dumpling place but I forgot the exact food stall name. The attendant was laughing while telling her fellow attendant why I'm asking for spare chopsticks if we ordered just three meals? She gave me a pair of chopsticks. Well, if I could just explain to her we're just eating some snack before we board the plane and we're not after for a full meal; if she would be nicer perhaps tourists might eat at their place more often. Working in an international airport entails culture tolerance. 

Be wary, a lot of non-Cantonese tourists are often made fun of without their knowledge but I'm not saying all Hong Kongese are rude, a lot are also nice and accommodating, I've met a lot of nice Hongkongese and I enjoyed and learned a lot from them. Just be wary, sometimes a few locals might be cursing you already and you don't know it.

I have yet to ask father for some words of wisdom he could teach me so locals won't bully me anymore. Ha!


  1. poor kid. well, that's better than the time we went to china many many years ago. i think we went in to this "state-owned" department store and your achi menmen wanted to try on a pair of shoes, so she asked me to get it for her.
    i think we don't look very local coz we were staring at these topsiders and keep muttering, wow so cheap so cheap... we can buy 10 pairs here compared to 1 pair back home, haaa...
    this stupid saleslady said, are you going to buy it when i asked her to pls. get the shoes my sister wants from the glass shelf. wah!
    that did it, i blew my top, and glared at her and in a smattering of curse #$#&@$%#$# i said if you are not going to show it to me how do i know if i will buy it or not, you dummy! it may look nice but how would we know without trying it on if it fits and if we like how it looks on our feet? @$#$@%#@
    she looked taken aback and quietly got the shoes. haaa... i sounded nasty right? yeah, i know but she started it with bad customer services. just imagine those who couldn't understand or speak the language. we deserve to be treated right since we are paying, right? ^,^
    that's been a long time and i bet you were still a baby back then... LOL~~

  2. same with me here! I'm Indonesian-Filipino-Chinese, lots of mix of cultures there.. what a roller coaster ride, hehe.. :)
    I went to HK 2 months ago and I also experienced a few things you mentioned above, I was completely blank for Cantonese language.. I can speak Chinese, but Cantonese.. O_O but thank goodness that I found your blog! and thank you so much for writing this post, it really helps me.. ^^

  3. interesting.
    instead of speaking, do u write in Mandarin?

  4. chelle! include a regular post for mandarin naman ha! haha! i wanna learn basic mandarin sana. this is a very very good post/topic.

  5. haha feel free to ask me about Cantonese lol if you have any difficulties, that is :)

  6. when boyf and i was in HK last time.. almost all stores/places we went to, HK-ies keep talking Cantonese full blast to me.. i just give them a puzzled face and turn to my boyf who speaks cantonese to translate..

    it's just weird for them to have mistaken me for a Chinese girl..coz i look very much a Filipino.. hehe

    btw.. i love this post.. i should start learning this soon.. :)more please!

  7. @Shirley yeah we've encountered that before too, if you want something they'll ask you if you're gonna buy 'em or else they won't show it to you, sometimes they tell you to hurry up and buy one already, sometimes if you're asking for a bigger size since the pair you're fitting is too snug, they'll shout at you and tell you why are you looking for a bigger size? It's too big for you! Kham nan! @_@

    In those instances papa always negotiates for us and I just remain silent so they won't know I don't speak fluent Cantonese thus no discrimination.

    @Ceecile Ooh going to Hong Kong and listening to people talk makes me dizzy! It's hard to travel not knowing the language... There are lots of tutorial on the internet for Cantonese I just Google some if I need to ^.^

  8. @ning*star yup I can write in Chinese characters ^.^ I can write the Chinese Calligraphy too...

    I also know how to type Chinese using the Chang Chie method but I just can't type it on the computer since I don't have the program and most computers and laptops here in the Philippines are set on English mode =p I think that's downloadable and you're making me want to download one haha =p

    @Jing sure! ^.^ I'll do some Chinese language tutorials from time to time... Hopefully I'll grab hold of a program so I could key in Chinese characters!

  9. @Jennifer oh thank you! ^.^ believe me a have a lot to learn with the Cantonese language! I usually learn by watching Cantonese movies...This reminds me to watch the Wong Kar Wai films I've accumulated, I've been watching Cantonese comedy films but I haven't watched Wong Kar Wai's...

    @Kay hahaha! =p that's normal, in my observation, most locals often speak in Cantonese if they don't know how to speak in English, in most cases I just ask them in Mandarin 'Ni hwei pu hwei tsiang min nan yu/ ing wun ma?' (Can you speak in Mandarin/English?)

  10. My family says 'Nei' instead of 'Lei', and 'Nuy' instead of 'Loy'. :)

    Love your blog, btw.

  11. hi Tala! =) thanks for the tips! Yeah, in my observation sometimes L and N are often on the boundaries and it's almost hard to distinguish but once you get the hang of it it's easy understand ^.^

  12. From Manila, I arrived in HK 6 months ago and I don't speak Cantonese.
    One thing I learned when going to markets/shopping places:Money/business is the best translator. I know this trousers stall on Li Yuen St in Central and the old Chinese lady there doesn't speak English at all,but I'm her "suki" now and I get discounts for myself and my friends now ;-). How did that happen? Show that you mean doing serious business with them, that you're seriously considering purchasing something (even if you're just looking around).
    HK life revolves around making money/business. If you think the business way, chances are people here won't make fun of you even if you don't speak their language. If people start talking to you in Chinese, don't just look quizzically, you could say "I speak English" or just say "Ying Man" (means English).
    I better go now, I'm going to Cafe De Coral (big Chinese fastfood chain) to get some Cha Siw Phan (BBQ Pork with rice) plus ginger sauce.

  13. @Anonymous Hi! Glad to know someone from Manila in Hong Kong! As my father says, money talks... =p that's true... Are you a Chinese or a Filipino? If you're a hwa tsiao you'd know there's an underlying context why the other Chinese countries make fun of us...

    I usually say "Ngo um kong gong tong hwa" or "Ngo kong gong tong hwa tsin siu siu" or my best bet is to have my father talk to them, haha! It's easier that way, I talk to my father in Fookien and he talks to the vendor in Cantonese. But of course now I'm more familiar with Cantonese than before because I keep on watching Cantonese films here at home...

    Oh Cafe de Coral! I love cha siu too ^.^ Hong Kong's Cha Siu is tender and juicy... We had a Cafe de Coral branch in the Philippines before, in Chinatown, it was way way back then but it didn't click due to local Chinese restaurant competitors so it closed down