餘囂——The Rumbles

2018.10.06 餘囂 The Rumbles 2

It’s been a while, my friends. How are you all?

As the city slowly recovers from the ravages of Typhoon Mangkhut, we have been blessed with a fortnight of continuous fine weather in Hong Kong. And, as a temperate creature (pun intended) whose constitution is less suited to the tropical climate, I tend to refresh my tan in autumn instead of summer. So far in October, I’ve already done two hikes (Mt Butler with my friend Marcus and Sha Tin Pass with my three-year-old), one beach visit (Lamma Island with family) and a couple of runs in our neighbourhood—and possibly too many post-workout pints as well. Snippets of the activities—less the drinking—are collaged in the above image.

To take my mind off a few “earthly cares”, I’ve embarked on a new creative adventure that requires quite a bit of planning (on a spreadsheet, in fact, owing to its complexity) and time (presumably to be completed, give and take, in two more months).

This week, in order to let off some steam, I scribbled the above Chinese poem in an antique form. In case you’re wondering, yes, Chinese is my first language; and I’m a 90% product and 10% dropout of a public school in Hong Kong—in a grassroots pocket of Yuen Long, to be precise. Anyway, one of the “wild affairs” that prompted me to do so was the controversial address by our Secretary for Education, in which the Honourable Mr Kevin Yeung blatantly discredited the sustainability of conducting Chinese learning in Cantonese—and, ironically, Mr Yeung’s message was delivered in the very language it proposed to replace.

As evident in its vast lexicon and colourful phonology, Cantonese has managed to retain much of its ancient Sinitic roots through the centuries, thanks to its geographical seclusion much akin to that which preserved the Basque and Celtic languages. Being a fluent speaker of both Cantonese and Mandarin, I might dare to attest that the poetic pleasures from our traditional literature can only be fully enjoyed in Cantonese, but not quite in Mandarin—a position which even Mr Yeung, as revealed in a passing remark, has agreed.

But, of course, all these squabbles aside, we all know whose ears Mr Yeung is trying to please whilst on the job. After all, by sending his children to prestigious international schools and overseas universities, the head of education has given the game away when it comes to selecting guinea pigs and putting his policies to the test. Never mind! As far as the eye can see, present and future elites will always readily dish out the Mandarin-vs-Cantonese red herring, so long as it keeps our piteous caste churned out by the public school system hopelessly occupied—or whenever a brownie point is needed to appease some watchful big brother peering sceptically from the northern steppes. Anyway, don’t worry, we can always count on the good, old gentry, who had brokered 99 years of peace by converting countless subjects like myself to Anglophiles, to replay the same tricks on behalf of the city’s 21st-century master. In that respect, I’m sure our dear minister who has pledged himself to ace the job must be set to outshine all his colonial predecessors.

That’s all from my rambling. Thank you for listening. Till then!


3 thoughts on “餘囂——The Rumbles

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  1. In Manila, Tagalog’s ‘superiority’ was snuffed by changing the national language from ‘tagalog’ to ‘Filipino’, the latter referring to all 89 and some dialects spoken in the Philippines.

    We non-Chinese in the Philippines have learned, from the Chinese back home, that Mandarin is the courtly, even official, language, and all the others were regional dialects. So, it is interesting for me to know about a different sentiment courtesy of you. Anyway, even if I do not understand any Chinese at all, I think it is laudable that you try to write in the manner of your tradition and culture. It is a good way to keep it alive and to let the world know more of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mabuhay, Imelda! Jolly nice of you to have stopped by. Thank you! And I’m sorry I haven’t very much time to read or write lately.

      The history of languages always fascinates me. The choices of tongue, vocab and even accent reveal so much about the power struggle of an era. By the way, I’m curious … are you a speaker of Tagalog or Cebuano?

      There’s no secret to the not-so-Chinese origin of Mandarin, or our so-called “Standard” Chinese, which actually emerged in the north no more than a millennia ago as a pidgin used by our Jurchen/Manchu, Turkic and Mongol neighbours/colonists. The new “language” in the last few centuries took over as the nation’s “vernacular” and departed from the old language beyond intelligibility. With simplified syntax, reduced tonal dimensions (Cantonese’s 9 tones vs Mandarin 4 tones) and elimination of many consonants, as well as its many abhorrent ways of corrupting our literary traditions, its quality as a pidgin to our age-old language is fairly evident. Another interesting point, I find, is to match up classic loanwords in Japanese and Korean, despite the impossible geographical distance, they often resemble Cantonese rather than Mandarin. (Take “student” as an example: Korean “hak-saeng” vs Cantonese “hok-saang” vs Mandarin “xue-sheng”.)

      Nevertheless, to prove that I’m not a linguistic bigot, I shall add that Mandarin does make a better singing language. Oh, well, every language does have its own virtues, I suppose.


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