MC Jin, a rapper ever in Hong Kong, has a song in his debut Cantonese album called “Able To Speak, Unable To Read”, mocking himself as a US-grown kid who could speak and listen Chinese but not read.
I am so impressed with this song, as I did know a similar guy when first heard it.
That guy was the superior of my first job --- here I call him Dennis.
Dennis was a CBC (Canadian-Born Chinese in short form), with a serious look accompanied with black frame glasses, deep voice, and sturdy body. Our colleagues all agreed he was outstandingly charming among the Hong Kong guys.
Later I found this sturdy guy was actually very funny and even cute --- he had a Bunny doll on his desk.
Able to speak in pure Cantonese, he was very much like a local guy rather than a Canadian. He could rectify my English spelling and pronunciation. Meanwhile, he taught Cantonese foul languages to our foreign colleagues.
Nearly all the passwords of the company’s servers were the English pronunciation of Cantonese foul languages --- thanks to Dennis’s “great works”. I was so curious if my foreign colleagues could find any secrets in the passwords after Dennis’s Cantonese “tutorials”.
Though being my superior for less than a year, I could learn a lot from Dennis. One of his most impressive words was, “Just remember two ways to succeed: either by making yourself top, or by expanding your networks to make top guys surround you”. Obviously, he preferred the latter, as he usually then invited me to join his happy hour group after such word.
I always thought Dennis was no different than a local guy, until a day when I found he was “able to speak, unable to read”.
Let’s back to the day. Together to lunch with some colleagues at a Hong Kong-style café, locally called “Cha Chaan Teng”, Dennis picked up the menu, searching what to eat.
“No English inside! Can you manage it?” One of my colleagues started making fun on him.
“Stop it. It’s FAAN (rice)!” He pointed at the Chinese word and replied impatiently.
“Any more else?” The colleague kept on the quiz, grinning cunningly.
As soon as pointing at the Chinese word GAI (chicken), he blurted out, “It’s CHICK! I always like to have hot chicks!”.
A sudden dead air. All the guys on the table were considering seriously what he actually meant for “I always like to have hot chicks”.
Then a sudden burst of laughter. Meanwhile, I found that the middle-aged waitress was in fact standing aside, with an embarrassed but mannered smile.
Being immigrants nowadays, I think our next generation may generally become “able to speak and listen, but unable to read”, as reading is much more difficult.
If we can communicate with our children in Cantonese, at least they can still practice listening and speaking every day. But as for recognizing Chinese words, I cannot think of another way except reading.
Back to the song, MC Jin rapped, “Well, it’s only yourself to blame. Just blame yourself of being a lazy Chinese learner when young.”
Only when needed do we always find and then regret our knowledge is so limited. Our children do not learn Chinese spontaneously, until a moment when their interest triggered, or it becomes essential. Otherwise, there would not be so many regretful stories about mother language.
I recalled Dennis again. Perhaps menu is the best introductory Chinese textbook for our children.
“Who can read all the Chinese words of your ordered drink will have my treat.”
“’DUNG HAK TONG JANG JU NAI CHA (Iced black sugar bubble tea),” my daughter answered without any effort.
“Good job! You’ve made it!” I did think my way worked.
“Daddy…there’s English in the menu…”
What a pot of cold water pouring on me… it’s colder than her bubble tea.
To be continued
香港曾經有一個叫做MC Jin既饒舌歌手 (rapper)。佢第一隻廣東話大碟入面有一隻歌，叫做「識講唔識睇」，內容係自嘲喺美國長大既自己識聽、識講，但係唔識睇中文。
Dennis係俗稱CBC (Canadian-Born Chinese)既加拿大華人。佢外表嚴肅，戴住一副黑框眼鏡；低沉既聲線再加上粗壯既身型，公司同事一致認為佢應該去選港男。
MC Jin果首歌其中一句： 「Well，你只係可以怪自己，邊個叫你細個學中文唔俾啲心機」。