At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Sometimes change is disturbing, and altogether horrible. Such as the gradual shift in Chinatown from all Cantonese-speaking to a fair amount of Mandarin. Not only as regards communicating with Chinese from the less interesting parts of China, but also businesses owned by folks from the north.

The other day I went for a nibble at one of my favourite inexpensive snacketarias, only to discover that they now have a Fresh-Off-the-Boat cousin from Toishan (臺山) working the counter. A person of otherwise unassailable character, save that unfortunately she speaks Mandarin better than Cantonese.
Yes, that does make her close to tri-lingual.
Toishanese as a first and fluent tongue.
Mandarin for nearly everyone else.
Cantonese badly, last resort.

I do not particularly like Mandarin. Partly because I speak it very poorly, hardly even at all, and I'm not likely to improve significantly. But mostly because it sounds like mush-mouthed snobs barfing-up hairballs. Even the very best Peking diction does not have the sheer oomph and glory of Hong Kong or Guangzhou Cantonese.
I am by no means fluent in Cantonese, but far more likely to have a conversation and catch the drift of other people talking than with Mandarin.
Mandarin just lacks the right attitude.

Cantonese (粵語, 廣東話) is a beautiful language, possessed of style, guts, a rich and colourful vocabulary, and a history that goes back to the T'ang Dynasty (唐朝 618 - 907 C.E.). Whereas Mandarin (國語) is a harsh-sounding descendant of the speech of shepherds and hinterland bumpkins stuck in North China after the fall of Sung (宋朝 960 - 1279 C.E.) to the barbarians (東胡民族).
Mandarin, in fact, would now not even be spoken if the Manchus (滿族) -- who were ab initio a completely foreign bunch of savages -- had not decided that to prevent any other interlopers from conquering what they had so recently taken by violence and rapine, they would shift the centre of power to Peking (北京).
And, being altogether primitive, they wouldn't bother with finer speech forms, but would gibber in pidjin Pekingese (狂吠話) if they had to communicate at all.

It isn't that long ago that the post-Manchu revolutionaries decided with regret that Mandarin should become the national tongue, because most peasants north of the passes (嶺北) couldn't possibly pronounce Cantonese correctly.
Just too difficult (太難) for the herd.

Until the nineties, Mandarin barely even had a vocabulary to cuss in.

So hearing THAT language spoken by people who don't even have the courtesy to learn Cantonese is particularly unpleasant. Mandarin is the domain of pompous party hacks, pronunciamentoes, and politely obedient official poofle, on both sides of the straights. Not of riotous, often eloquent, and sometimes ribald, outbursts.
But please note that Cantonese people ARE capable of learning Mandarin, and WILL use it to transact business with those folks.
If that doesn't show considerable superiority, I don't know what.


It is ironic that Hong Kong movies (香港電影) are watched by Mandarin speakers with considerably greater pleasure than the didactic garbage produced either in the mainland (大陸或中華人民共和國) or on Taiwan (臺灣或中華民國).
If it weren't for Cantonese drive, creativity, and enthusiasm, the Chinese movie industry as such might not even exist, and they'd have to watch baffling song-and-dance dramas produced in Bombay (孟買城).
Hardly an attractive prospect.

The fact that the Cantonese have the best cuisine in China perhaps further proves a point; without them, Chinese food might be all cabbage, all the time.

Note: further 'research' into these matters will be enabled if you pursue these clickable links: (Yue: Cantonese), 香港電影 (Hong Kong Movies), 香港 (Hong Kong), 菜譜 (recipes), 點心 (dim sum), and San Francisco Chinatown.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


  • At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Cantonese has that conspiratorial slangy feel. At once, pandering, condescending and sympathico. Kinda like Mexican Spanish. It is the language of commerce and apolitical pragmatism.

    Mandarin could either be stiff upper lip Beijing, rebelliously butchered on purpose by "native" Taiwanese or striving but not quite there Malaysian/Singaporean. It's use is always political.

    Toisanese on the other hand is so similar to Cantonese that people who speak it but not standard Cantonese are basically saying fuck you but our people were the first Chinese to arrive in America.

  • At 6:08 PM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    I accept your point about Toishanese, but while I can understand HK Cantonese, I have a somewhat hard time with Toishanhwa.

    Mandarin, when spoken by most mainlanders, does not sound good, and is often unintelligible. I would hesitate to ascribe a conspiratorial quality to it.

    Shanghainese sounds like a leaky soda-water syphon. Really not a lovely language, though it does have a slanginess.

    I like the description 'pandering, condescending, and sympatico'. Very appropriate.


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