The Wedding Banquet in Yau Ma Tei

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For the first time in my ten years in HK, I went to a Chinese wedding banquet.

I didn’t have to do much, just sit at my designated table with my wife’s friends and eat whatever they put in front of me. Luckily, no fish with a face or chicken feet, though I would’ve eaten either if forced.

If you’ve never been to a Chinese wedding banquet, it’s basically this:

i] You drink some wine and watch two people on stage introduce the married couple.

ii] If the married couple haven’t already done this, they’ll get a lawyer up there and sign the papers chaining themselves to each other for the rest of eternity.

iii] They show a slide show of pre-wedding pics and baby photos.

iv] Everyone eats as the bride and groom go round all the tables and say hi to the guests.

v] Finally, there’s about 5 days of photo taking.

Oh yeah…before the first step, you have to give red packets to the bride and groom which is basically payment for the meal you’re about to eat. Most banquets require about HK$800 [$100?]

The whole thing actually went pretty fast, even the baby photos.

The married couple were my wife’s friends, so I was sitting on a table with all her other friends, as well as a Japanese couple with a baby.

The last time I met my wife’s friends I used English cos my Cantonese level was shit, but the last month or so I’ve stepped up the learning to 2 lessons a week, so I thought, man, I’m just gonna speak Cantonese, even if they only reply in English.

Turns out my wife’s friends had no idea I knew anything in Cantonese so they went through three stages

i] shock + awe [possibly fake]

ii] Laughter at my tone fuck ups and attempt to say ‘relatives’ [it’s a tough word to say for me]

iii] boredom

Well, maybe not boredom, they actually said ‘No English’ for the rest of the night, which lasted about 25 minutes until I was derailed by both my own lack of vocab and the Japanese guy sitting next to me.

Japanese + Cantonese = brain shutdown

I always wondered if I’d be able to translate Japanese into Cantonese and vice versa…the grammar is so different for each one, and especially tough for Japanese – I have to go into a Japanese zone of my brain when I speak it, and it’s hard to switch to another language, probably cos my level is lower intermediate, not advanced.

My Japanese level = lower intermediate

My Cantonese level = the vast wasteland between upper beginner and lower intermediate

My Cantonese reading/writing level = I know about 5 characters, less than a 1 year old.

Yup, I’m not the best judge, but I think my Japanese is still better than my Cantonese, even though I haven’t lived there in over ten years. I have one lesson a week to keep it stabilised, and I enjoy it more than Cantonese cos the words are longer and more distinctive and, honestly, I prefer Japanese culture, but that could change as I’ve been trying to read more Chinese books recently

especially Chinese history, which is always one of the best ways into a culture as it has so many stories and legends centred on specific cities and regions so you get a feel for the names you see on a map.

Chinese films should also perform this function

in the way that the US does with its own cities

e.g. Detroit + Robocop

but, unlike Japan and its mighty anime, China is still figuring out how to export its culture to the rest of the world via film, or the Communist Party is

here’s a clue: stop censoring everything, fuckwits

and stop copying other countries’ styles

have faith in your own talent, give them room to breathe and

make more science fiction

weird horror too

You ever heard of A Chinese odyssey 2?

so yeah

the best way into Chinese culture, or HK culture, is:

history, martial arts fiction, old Hong Kong films

and, of course, learning Cantonese

Pushing the Cantonese boulder up the hill

Back to the wedding banquet…

You can tell how well you’re doing in a second language by the language the other person uses to respond, and when the Japanese guy started replying in English [even though his English wasn’t that great] I knew I was having problems.

My wife asked me afterwards why I was saying random Cantonese words to the Japanese man.

‘Did I?’

‘Some. You said ‘this’ and ‘where is it?’…’

‘Are you sure it wasn’t Japanese?’

‘I don’t speak Japanese.’

‘Good point.’

I think it’s probably inevitable for low level speakers to mix up languages, though it’s weird that I managed to mix up an entire question.

Hai bin doh?

Doko ni aru no?

They don’t even sound alike.

Still, it was good practise, and hopefully in another year I’ll be able to kidnap that Japanese guy and get him back around a table with HK people who don’t speak English and then we’ll see if my brain can handle things any better than it did this time.

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