Thursday, January 22, 2009


Talking about interests is a great way to make friends and expand your vocabulary. Some vocab:
  • tai2 dinying2 (or tai2 hei) - watch a movie
  • tai2 dinsee - watch television
  • ying2s'heung2 - take photos
  • da2 mon2kau4 - play tennis
  • da2 lam4kau4 - play basketball
Ngoh jung1yi da mon3kau4 (I like to play tennis) is a useful phrase.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Cantonese like all Chinese dialects is monosyllabic; almost every syllable carries meaning. Not every word though, is made up of one syllable, for example:

  • sau2biu1 - wristwatch (lit: hand watch)
  • syutgwai - refrigerator (lit: snow cupboard)
Cantonese also has borrowed a lot of words from English, for example:
  • chu1gu1lik1 - chocolate
  • nei4lung4 - nylon
  • wai4ta1ming - vitamin
  • wai1sigei2 - whisky

Friday, December 12, 2008


About 150 km from Guangzhou, Kaiping is a place full of fortified towers called Dialou. These towers were built by rich merchants as housing and protection from bandits. They started building them from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and kept building them till about the 1930s. There are about 1800 of these 'castles' left and they are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The locals have started to commercialize them and villages have an entrance fee to see up close.

We visited them recently on a trip to Guangzhou, taking a dick si to Kaiping for the day. Well worth the trek if you're in or around Guangzhou.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ding2 ding2

Hong Kong seems to have it's own take on Cantonese. I just got back from Guangzhou, where the folks speak a slightly different version of Cantonese that is easier to understand and relate to Mandarin than the Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong.

Ding2 ding2 is the Cantonese word for tram and it comes from the noise that trams make as they hurtle around the streets at snails pace.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Haak2 yan jung tong

The Cantonese word for President is Jung Tong. The phrase above means Black President.

People talk about life changing events, such as the moon landing, the first man in space and the shooting of JFK as events where people knew exactly where they were when they occurred. As an American resident and married to an American citizen, I can only say what has happened in the United States is life altering. I was in Hong Kong to witness it.

It's easy to lose hope in a democracy like Americas', which, has often been criticized for its hypocrisy and apathy of voters, but today marks a change that is so profound, words cannot describe it.

It is a day where America, truly, is a land of opportunity and where you can indeed be whatever you want to be regardless of where you are from.

I am proud to be a citizen of Earth today.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Dim Sum

Dim sum (lit: touch heart) is a thriving activity in H'eung Gong. It's usually a morning or mid afternoon event. Yum cha (lit: drink tea) accompanies the eating of little dishes. Cha aids digestion and is consumed in large quantities. Food items include sweet and savoury and can get very exotic. One of the best places to enjoy dim sum is at City Hall Maxims near Admiralty (Gum Jung). Get there early and enjoy these things.

  • Po ('bo') nei - Pu'er tea (a strong fermented cha)
  • Guk2 fa2 - Chrysanthemum flower cha
  • H'eung pin - Jasmine cha
  • Ha2 gaau - lit: shrimp dumpling
  • Chun gyun ('goon') - Spring roll
  • Chaa2 siu2 baau2 - BBQ pork bun (baau2 = bun;bread)
  • Law baat go - Turnip / radish cake (go = cake)
  • Law hon chai2 - Mixed vegetables
  • Yin y'eung fan - Tomato and white sauce fried rice
  • Cheung fun4 - White noodle paper
  • Jue cheung fun4 - White noodel paper with sesame
  • Jar2 leung - deep fried dough wrapped in rice paper
  • Yau jar2 gwai4 - lit: oil deep fried ghost - Shanghai fried dough (like a baguette)
Be careful with dim sum, it can easily be mistaken as healthy. There is very high salt content and saturated fats. Hong Kong food tends to be drowned in MSG, which in part, might explain the bad breath that's prevalent here (excessive salt consumption causes dry mouth which causes bad breath).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

[Ga] fe sik2

The word for colour (color for the Americans) is sik2. Again the hard 'k' isn't fully aspirated. [Ga] fe is the Cantonese word for coffee, it's also colloquially the word for brown. Folks in Hong Kong seem to have forgotten what the word for brown was before coffee was introduced here.

There are other words for brown:
  • jung2 sik2 - lit: palm colour
  • hot sik2 - lit: dark colour
Other colours to be aware of:
  • hung sik2 - red
  • wong sik2 - yellow
  • laam sik2 - blue
  • ji4 sik2 - purple (also means paper)
  • haak2 sik2 - black
  • baat1 sik2 - white
  • chang sik2 - orange
  • gum sik2 - gold
  • un4 sik2 - silver
  • luk sik2 - green
  • yuk sik2 - colour of flesh / meat
  • fooi sik2 - grey (or gray)
In Chinese culture colours play an important role. The Chinese believe that colours represent the five elements (which make everything in nature according to Chinese physics):
  • water - haak2 sik2
  • fire - hung sik2
  • wood - laam / luk sik2
  • metal - baat1 sik2
  • earth - wong sik2
5000 years ago (during the Huang Di - yellow emperor era) they worshipped wong sik2, over time this lead to a deep understanding of colours and elements impacting everyday decisions. People chose colours for clothing, food etc according to the time of the year.

Haak2 sik2 was regarded as the colour of heaven, baat1 sik2 represented gold, purity and fulfilment. Baat1 sik2 is also used for mourning.

Hung sik2 has been in high regard in Chinese culture, it's used everywhere during Chinese New Year (Lung Lic Sun Lin), it symbolises wealth and joy.

Laam / luk sik2 is indicative of spring when everything is abundant. Wong sik2 is earth and is said to generate yin and yang, it's the center of everything. Wong sik2 is the colour of emperors and is used to decorate royal palaces and temples. It's also the colour of Budhism and represents freedom.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Phang yau lai lai lai

In Hong Kong, you'll commonly hear the phrase Phang 'pang' yau lai lai lai. Phang yau is friend in Cantonese and lai is come. They are simply trying to entice you into the store to buy something. Here are some shopping vocab:
  • chin2 - money
  • my2 - buy
  • my4 - sell
  • gwai3 - expensive
  • peng - cheap
  • my2 yeah - shopping (lit: buy things)
Hong Kong used to be a shoppers paradise, but the big designer brands and the ultra modern new malls have really dampened the bargains a lot. There are however bargains to be had in Hong Kong for the discerning shopper. One place is Tung Chung where there is an outlet mall. It's located in Tai2 yue san, also known as Lantau Island. I'll cover shopping in more detail in future posts.