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The Persuader

My personal blog, started in 2006. No paid posts.



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12.10.2021

台山阿伯返鄉下講英文

This is one of those things I have to note down otherwise it’ll get lost to time. And you won’t see this mentioned during ‘Chinese Language Week’ here.
   In the old country (台山, or Taishan, China), when my father was a boy in the 1930s and 1940s, there were some whānau in the village who had been to the United States, where his paternal grandfather had settled. When conversing with them about their experiences in foreign lands (specifically, 金山), they said a few things that confused him then, but as an adult it all clicked.
   One was when they spoke of their travels to 金山. They claimed, ‘船頭打鑼船尾聽唔度.’ As a child, Dad would think, ‘Wow, that ship must have been massive.’ He knew that if someone had 打鑼 in one village, the next village could hear it. Conclusion: the length of the ship between the bow and stern must be greater than the distance between two villages.
   As an adult, ‘The buggers tricked me. No wonder they couldn’t hear 鑼 at the bow of the ship. They would have travelled in the hold!’
   The second one was in response to, ‘What are movies like?’ I imagine cinemas were thin on the ground during wartime, so he could only ask those who had been to the US. Their response, ‘打煙塵.’ Hitting smoke and dust? (Note that these have to be pronounced in Taishanese, not Cantonese, and definitely not Mandarin, for this story to make any sense.)
   Again, as an adult, who wound up grasping English better than many Anglophones, he realized the old 台山阿伯 had seen westerns, where they fought Indians, or more specifically, Injuns.
   The third one was, ‘What’s it like speaking English?’ The reply: ‘婀籮心.’ He never figured that out as a child—it sounded like gibberish. Again, when older, having learned English, he realized what they meant: all the same.
   Bear in mind those early travellers, or immigrants who were returning to visit the old country, wouldn’t have had great jobs and learned little English. It isn’t surprising in this context that they had pidgin phrases, ones they could fool a boy with.

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Filed under: China, culture, humour, interests, USA—Jack Yan @ 09.23

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