I’m not exactly Uhura but I thought it might be a good idea to go through my Cantonese notes from my exchanges and my own slow progress through whatever book I happen to be reading.
In this case, it’s Goosebumps ‘Horrorlandia.’
My Chinese reading level is around that of a 9 year old, with a few discrepancies e.g. adult interest vocab like politics, history, science etc. that a 9 year old probably wouldn’t know, or basic Kindergarten nouns like animals, buildings, toys etc. that I don’t know.
I sometimes use the Cantonese written word, not the traditional Chinese one.
My handwriting is erratic.
There’s a chance I might be wrong in my explanations.
Also a chance I may be right.
If anyone’s a beginner or has half an interest in learning Cantonese then this post might be both useful and/or confusing for you.
Maybe I’ll turn it into a whole series…add in my experience with other languages, like Japanese and Portuguese…though Cantonese is by far my best one. Can’t say I’m fluent, but solid intermediate is a fair appraisal, I think.
Okay, let’s start with my notes from today’s exchange.
Usually, I’ll write in a mix of Chinese and Yute Ping [Romanized Chinese], but mostly the latter as I don’t want to slow down the exchange and make the other guy bored.
Synopsis on the back, maybe three words I don’t know, the rest fully comprehensible.
Either the translator is slumming at my level or those three back to back exchanges chatting about Halloween are about to pay off. Hopefully they go easy on the idioms. Or I can probably just skim over them now. Long as I recognise they’re idioms then things should work out.
The beauty of reading Chinese is that I have no standards, no gauge of the actual quality of the writing. Though I suspect Goosebumps is pretty basic in all languages. Best-selling series in history? Maybe cos there’s about seven hundreds books in said series.
Scientist 4 sat on the highest stool, in a lab that looked more like a Varo exhibition, studying the EK-BOT in front of him.
The maintenance crew had done a decent job repairing it – refilling the cheeks, adding more eyelashes, growing out the fringe – but the greyish tint was still there, as if someone had underlaid a steel sheet in the planning stage and then been cremated before having the chance to take it out again.
‘Am I here?’
‘My face feels different.’
‘It’s been repaired.’
EK nodded, looking at the files on the desk. ‘Am I ready to liquidate the Algerian Foreign Minister?’
‘That’s been re-assigned.’
‘You don’t have to say understand.’
‘You can try alternatives.’
EK paused, tilted its head left. ‘Comprehend.’
Scientist 4 smirked, realised he was smirking and stopped. Comprehend was close to understand. Not necessarily humour. Could be EK only knew those two words.
‘You look like you are thinking,’ said EK, increasing eyeball exposure by seven percent.
‘Are you thinking about the Algerian Foreign Minister?’
‘Are you thinking about Scientist 2?’
‘Scientist 3 told one of the maintenance crew that the two of you were visiting hotels.’
‘You heard her say that?’
‘Last night, during the fifth of my seven semi-alert phases of repair. Neither of them were aware that I was receiving.’
EK stared at Scientist 4’s forehead, something they’d programmed him to do after reading Metal Rising: Intimidation in the Age of High Self-Esteem by Chu Tsin Suet.
‘What is it, EK?’
‘Are you visiting hotels with Scientist 2?’
‘Of course not. He’s married.’
‘That is not a physical obstacle.’
‘No, but it’s-…’ Scientist 4 turned the next word quickly into a cough and tried not to look left; a classic sign of guilt. Instead, he looked down, at the files he’d brought in for this exact kind of moment. ‘I think we should get back to your mission.’
‘The four of us have decided that you are potentially capable of genius. Or at the very least, creativity.’
Forced against my will to consume Disney but not really.
When it comes to languages, especially Cantonese, I usually go with books or things I already know so I won’t be completely lost when I read them.
I read dozens of Geronimo Stilton books when I first started learning, the ones with a castle on the cover or a horror element initially then, later, the one where Stilton is on a fitness binge.
It’s a kind of brain death, but you’ve got to do it.
Cos then you get to the non-translated stuff
like Wai Si Lei.
Somewhere in my room, there’s a box with about 20-30 local Hong Kong sci-fi novels, all in Chinese, and I don’t think I’ve read more than five pages of any of them.
Give me a week of no interruptions and I could probably get through it, but it’d take a lot of dictionary work and only a vague intellectual concept as to what was going on in the plot. I wouldn’t be able to really feel any of it. Or judge the writing.
It is my sincere hope to one day reach the level where I can write a review of one of these novels that doesn’t sound like a seven year old’s school book report.
If it happens, I’ll put it up here.
‘We must expect not one, but a multitude of revolutions taking place in different countries at different times.’
Red Star by Bogdanov, the anti-War of The Worlds.
Not that I’ve read it yet. Just bits here and there. A utopian, communist society on Mars, capitalist drudgery on Earth, a Russian Bolshevik sliding between the two…
In some ways, Bogdanov saw Disney coming, only he called it the ruling classes and overstated its ability to put together military expeditions. Then he sailed off into the realm of endless blood transfusions. Interesting guy.
Would he have borrowed Jedi Academy from the library?
In the tradition of reading above my level, I got the Chinese version of The Restaurant at the end of the Universe // Douglas Adams from the library and, so far, I’m up to page two.
Not sure why I’m doing this, I have some of the Sherlock Holmes kids series in Cantonese to get through, but for some reason they’re not sticking, so here I am, pushing the rock up Mt Sci-fi.
Previously, I attempted So long and thanks for all the fish in Portuguese, and it’s already clear that, language-wise, I’m about to start having the same problems.
Problem 1 – idioms
This is also an issue I have with the kids books in Cantonese…they use a lot of idioms, some easy to guess, others impossible. Like in English, if a character says they’re a bit under the weather, you probably won’t know what it means unless you’re fluent. Same problem here, only worse, as Cantonese idioms are more localised and non-existent in western culture.
An example, the four characters highlighted in green below:
The best way I’ve found to get through it, is to skip them. Skip the whole sentence and aim for an understanding of the paragraph as a whole. If the idiom turns out to be foundational then go back and look it up.
Problem 2 – logic
In my experience, when you’re a non-native speaker of a language…anything up to high intermediate, possibly higher…you have to rely on logic and context to understand what people are saying.
I’m finally done with ‘A espada da gruta’ and the Lemony Snicket book set at the carnival and now it’s time to level up. And I don’t mean going somewhere and asking new people the same few questions I asked the last people I met and the ones before that and…
The Lemony Snicket book was tough.
It took a few weeks and a lot of dictionary work but I got through it, and now it’s time for three other books at the same time.
Ate mais e obrigado pelos peixes [So long and thanks for all the fish]
Matadouro Cinco [Slaughterhouse Five]
Another Lemony Snicket book, the one at the school
I started with ‘Ate mais’ but struggled a bit as the writing is a lot more complicated than I remember the English version being. I should’ve known. There’s so much slang and random weirdness and huge run-on sentences in the story that reading it in Portuguese is borderline impossible.
The only saving grace is the fact that English and Portuguese have a lot of crossover vocab – without those I’d be lost. If I were reading the Chinese translation of this book, I’d be deep in Children of Tama territory, much worse.
As I was plodding through ‘Ate mais’, the Vonnegut book arrived in the post, a book I also believed, based on my reading of it 10 years before, to be quite prosaic in terms of writing style.
Managed to clock up my fourth city in China last week. A family trip to Beijing, land of alleged blanket pollution.
It was grey for about two days, not sure if that was pollution I was sucking in or just general mist, could’ve been mist as April is a month of infamous changeable weather, but after that the sky turned blue and I could see that Beijing was surrounded by mountains.
The trip itself?
As with all my family trips, or trips with my in-laws, I was able to understand about 20% of what they were chatting about. Actually, I would say it was closer to 40% this time as I’ve been working on my listening skills and my vocab is broader…
Both my parents in law must have noticed this improvement and, in order to keep me in the pit of language-learning despair, made their vocab more obtuse and their pronunciation more slurred. I don’t know how he does it, but my father in law especially always manages to come up with a synonym for a word I know instead of using the actual word I know.
E.g. we went to the site that the foreigners burnt down over a hundred years ago [not my ancestors, they were all working in factories far as I know] and I asked my father in law what was in this place. Straight away he used the word ‘Wai zee’, which to me meant ‘place’ or ‘location’…therefore I thought he was pointing at the map saying, ‘here is a location and here is a location over here…that’s also a location.’ Very vague stuff, so I kept on asking him, ‘what is at that location? Anything?’ and he would again answer with ‘wai zee.’ Continue reading →
It’s been about five days since the last dinner with the in-laws, but they were in the area to get their fingerprints done for the new HKID card, so off we went to the nearby shabu shabu place.
Shabu Shabu = 90 minutes of hot pot, all you can eat and drink
Unfortunately, I was the one who went ahead to get the ticket. Usually, when this happens, I’ll ask the staff in Cantonese how long we have to wait for a table or do they have a table straight away, but this time they sucker punched me with a ‘how long…’ question of their own.
Jung yau gei loi do?
Gei loi is ‘how long’, jung yau is something like ‘still have’, and do is a short way to say ‘arrive’…so I could understand what was said, the problem was, what did it mean?
My brain ran through the logical options: how long until the other people in your group arrive, how long are you willing to wait for a table, how long have you been in Hong Kong, how long does it take to arrive in places generally…
But none of them seemed to fit, so I replied, ‘gei loi meh?’[how long for what?] which was probably quite rude, but I didn’t have a clue what they were saying.
They said the same thing again, I stared back at them blankly, and then the ultimate frustration…a guy standing nearby stepped in and translated for me. They want to know how long your friends will take to arrive, he said.
My wife says translations into Chinese are always a bit weird, but I liked the cover of this one and the first person voice, so I took it out.
In Hong Kong, you can renew a book 5 times at the library before they send Joaquin Phoenix after you. I think I renewed this one 4 times. Actually, I didn’t finish the first one, I got side-tracked by another book, maybe 3 Body Problem or Virgin of the 7 Daggers, but the second one hooked me a bit more and, despite a few troughs, I got through it.
Then I got through book 3, the one where their neighbour steals their frogs without getting punished for it at the end, and now I’m on book 4.
Each book starts at a gentle pace, with Araminta wandering around the mansion, either looking for a relative, looking for a ghost, looking for a secret door, looking for Uncle Drac’s old Shannon Tweed vids.
The voice is quite natural, and I can pick up a lot of good phrases, though half of them aren’t used in spoken Cantonese. Some of them are Taiwanese, too, as that’s the place it’s aimed at/translated for.
There’s about 17 different ways to say ‘usually’ and ‘even if’, I’m not sure why. Some of the ‘even if’ words double as ‘although’ or ‘even’, a lot of it is situational in Cantonese, and of course a lot of them you wouldn’t say in conversation. The trick is knowing which is which, and the supplementary trick is being able to not mix them up. Continue reading →