Teaching a foreigner Cantonese is pretty good fun. That will evoke some laughs, and plenty of smiles!
When we walked past a bakery shop in Shau Kei Wan (an eastern district in Hong Kong Island) some days ago, my new friend from Poland opened her eyes wide with excitement! Gosia, who had arrived at Hong Kong for just a few days, was really fond of these brownish yellow local classic food. Amongst them, obviously 蛋撻 (egg tarts) had won her heart the most!
Actually I didn’t need to invite her to try. She knew the taste and was more than happy to eat some again. The funniest part was that she would like to buy some herself. I mean, she was so enthusiastic to use Cantonese to communicate with the shop assistant in this bakery!
Two types of crusts
Well, Hong Kong egg tarts have two main types of crusts: 酥皮 and 牛油皮. I tried to be a good host by telling Gosia the difference between these crusts, but found it difficult and clumsy to explain. “Hmm… 酥皮 is something puffy… while 牛油皮 is sort of like cookies.” Haha, I found myself actually learning more English through teaching Cantonese!
After all, it was good to let her buy one of this and one of that. She was really learning fast. It was amusing to hear her translating “I want one of this” into “我…想要…一個呢個”. Yes, the sentence sounded a little bit funny, but she spoke with good tones!
Relaxing little smile
The shop assistant in the bakery, who was waiting patiently with a smile, was apparently impressed by Gosia’s eagerness to learn Cantonese too. That relaxing little smile on the face of the assistant (which is not easy to be found in many shops around Hong Kong) spoke silently for itself.
Some magic here
I have done a lot of travelling abroad before, and understand very well the magic of learning a local language. The moment I tried to squeeze out some simple phrases in that local language (no matter how awkward and funny the pronouciation might be), usually even the most expressionless people raised their eyebrows with surprise, and smiled like a breeze. Yes! Those barrier-breaking interactions were subtle and priceless, for both travellers and locals.
Gosia was really sweet telling me the reason she liked Cantonese. “It sounds like music, with ups and downs. It is even more gentle than Mandarin.” Wow! Can’t believe it! Perhaps it is time for us Hongkongers to appreciate our mother tongue from a fresh perspective.