one of many, many street markets
There is a cult classic movie among the wannbe hippie, lefty, organic honey and kale smoothie drinking—I’m thinking of another word for lefty… commie… now what was I saying? Somewhat of a cult classic: Idiocracy. Owen Wilson, whose character is of supremely mediocre intelligence, is cryogenically frozen and wakes up hundreds of years later to find the average intelligence of the entire planet equal to a crumpled Pepsi can (I was tempted to say Coke, but felt it cliché) leaving him the smartest guy in the world. While there are no zombies in the post-apocolyptic world of Idiocracy, there is a giant Cosco the size of your typical metropolis, say Walnut Creek. This is what I thought during this day in Hong Kong, my motherland—a really big mall.
There are many things to say about Hong Kong. Am I articulate enough to express them here? Many things were just fleeting feelings, images and observations, like, we sure do like our pork or that person just paid money to eat two slices of Wonderbread with a slice of Kraft cheese in the middle. I can only guess the original Blues Brother’s movie had an outsized effect on Hong Kong’s culture.
Back to the big mall. Hong Kong truly is a monstrously sized mall. It’s overt culture may be whittled down to one word: consumption. Clothes, gifts, snacks, Chinese restaurants, Japanese restaurants, French and Japanese and American themed bistros, more restaurants, herbs, and of course Asian women—either of the sex worker or mail order bride type.
I could have specified the different ethnicities represented, typically Chinese or Filipina, however such details are lost on the consumers of said women as they are unable and apathetic to such differences. The operative criteria is small, young, slanted (obscene, yes; racist, no shit; I’m simply naming their perception to the best of my ability) and female.
At US customs an elderly white man in a wheel-chair, accompanied by an Asian woman three times his junior, cooed to the customs agent that a baby was on the way. Looking at his distended belly, I was momentarily confused as to whom was pregnant.
random artsy-fartsy picture
I can feel this kids silent judgment
Back to writing about what I know second best or actually least, as I’ve spent my entire life in the US. That is to say I know little about being Chinese in Hong Kong. This generated genuine disgust among some people and at the least annoyance among all. In addition to consuming pork, my people’s other favorite pastime is to display their disgust, when upon hearing my totally inadequate and retarded Cantonese and designating me another dirty jook sing (TRANSLATION: Bitch-ass, punk-ass, Wonder-white-bread, can’t spell his own middle name, sellout motherfucker). Hey, I just taught you some Cantonese.
For example, one a particular night in HK me and my mother dined in Causeway Bay. Sounds posh! Not really. Anyway, to our misfortune, as we were about to discover, we chose a restaurant at random for our dining pleasure. This particular restaurant from did not stand out from hundreds of others (not only do we all look alike, but our restaurants all look alike). All was going well, until I opened my big mouth and spoke my infantile Cantonese. There was an imperceptible shift in the waitresses demeanor. She took our order, then tossed our utensils on the table: one pair of chopsticks, one fork. What a fucking c&^*. “Mom how do you say… oh, never mind.”
Language acquisition. Or lack thereof. 99% of my time was spent listening to a language that escaped me. I understood a word here or there. Usually, by usually I mean 100% of the time, the meaning these conversations, after having been explained to me, were always totally different from what I thought was being said, but not always as poignant as the raised, guttural voices and fierce gesticulation of hands, fingers, arms, lips, and heads would suggest.
wasamatta with you?!
For example, a discussion on how to cook a type of savory egg custard seemed to illicit the same excited flailing of arms and raised voices as a discussion on something more important… actually I don’t think I was privy to the more important discussions. Korean dramas, the cost of real estate, shopping, the relative taste of a particular dish were common themes for discussion.
he’s also unimpressed by my Cantonese
“They” say that Cantonese is the one of the most difficult languages to learn (probably the same They as from the John Carpenter movie. Ironically, Jesus was a carpenter). To my people—a request: don’t talk so fucking fast in your action movies. It makes it extremely difficult for white bread jok sing like me to learn my ancestral language if I have to constantly play with the volume and rewind the movie on Netflix. Which brings me to another topic. In many ways Cantonese is a simpler language or more efficient with it’s meaning, compared to English. Going back to the Netflix example, the following captioned movie dialog: “Boy, you just said a really smart thing.” WHAT?! I know for a fact that the movie character said in Cantonese: “I heard it.” I’m a whinny jok sing.
Another point of mid-life crisis, lost, wandering, rootless, jok sing observation: measure words. I have no idea if “measure word” is the right designation in Cantonese and there may be no translation to English, so I’m calling it ass-butter. Ass-butter is typically used when referring to a specific amount of something. Example: in English if I want to refer to 13 people—I say so. In Cantonese the following happens:
- number of people [sup sam]
- + ass-butter [goar]
- + word for people [yun] and all together you have, sup sam goar yun.
I know for a fact you haven’t reached this far in the paragraph because I’ve bored you to the point of dementia. Of course, this means I shall continue onto the next section.
My people (Chinese people in HK, not Berkeley)… OK you’re not my people, well you sort of are, anyway, please do me a favor and stop almost running into me as if this white-bread guey-lo with an elderly mother at his side didn’t exist, and then only at the last second moving your shoulder the precise number of millimeters necessary to avoid shoulders and/or chests and/or heads bashing together… again and again and again and again. Thanks, you’re the best!