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.

Thursday, September 05, 2013


I was patiently waiting till the barber could give me my haircut when a friend walked in to chat with the man. When he saw me, he let the cat out of the bag.
Big time.

"Ah-yah, nei chi keui sik-kong kwantungwa kei hou-ge!"

In over a year of getting my tonsure at that place, I had never once spoken in Cantonese. There was never a reason to do so, and the barber's English is more than fluent enough for conversation. Besides, I don't really know how to say "same as last time, that was perfect, thank you". My facility with the language ain't that good.
He's an excellent barber. Very nice haircuts.
There just wasn't any need.

I was, of course, mortified. My accent is fairly freaky, for a few words I only know the Mandarin pronunciation of the characters, and I often get the tones wrong. It's like listening to an idiot speak.
I only use Cantonese in Chinatown when it is strictly necessary to do so, such as establishing that I do indeed know what that dish is which I wish to order but restaurateurs have good reason to believe most white folks of sound mind wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.

In most cases, the restaurateurs are right; white folks usually will shy away from 'chu huet juk' when they discover that those are cubes of gelled pork blood floating in the congee. Bitter melon really is bitter. Naam yu diu siu ngaap sounds a lot better if it's translated as 'special sauce roast duck' than 'reddish-rotten tofu smeared hung-roasted duckling'.
And the ginger scallion frog isn't even on the English menu.
It's in Chinese on the wall. Along with snails.
Both are seasonal and very good.

The reason most Chinese restaurant owners will not put frog on the English language menu is because they know that white people regard those amphibs as miniature green humans with hopes and fears and a complex range of emotions, small creative individualists with expressive talent, and suitable pet-material.
Frogs have mommies!
It would hurt the Lofans needlessly to know that frogs are food.
Far better to list every variation on tofu instead.
Sweet'n sour tofu? Good for you!
It's delicious!

Frogs do not taste like tofu. Or chicken. Congee is yummy (at one of my regular places they now offer dried fish and peanuts congee). Red-rotten beancurd is a very subtle flavouring.

[Chu huet juk: 豬血粥. Bitter melon: 瓜苦 (fu gwa), 凉瓜 (leung gwa).
Naam yü diu siu ngaap: 南乳吊燒鴨. Ginger-scallion frog: 薑葱田雞 (geung chong tin gai). Frog: 田雞 ("paddy chicken", "field chicken").
Edible snail: 田螺 (tin lo). Dried fish and peanuts congee: 柴魚花生粥 (chaai-yü faa-sang juk). Red-rotten beancurd: 南乳 (naam yü). ]

There are no special haircuts you only get if you speak Chinese. It's the same haircut, the same operational paradigm. Head, hair, and too much of. Reduce quantity and volume with clippers, a comb, and sound judgment.
A level of skill is required, whether the head is Caucasian or East-Asian, and a good eye takes pride in its handiwork.

My barber, his staff, and his customers have never spoken ill of white people in my presence, despite being quite unaware that I could listen in. They have, in fact, not even mentioned whiteness. They've discussed food. And the Forty Niners. And more food.

There are frogs and snails on the walls.

It's a very fine haircut.
Darn I look good!

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



  • At 10:49 AM, Anonymous mr. shank said…

    Wait! What does that translate as?

  • At 11:36 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    "Hey, you know he's Cantonese-speaking, hey."

    More or less.

    The reaction was pleased flabberghastion. Probably because I had been there nearly two dozen times and never let on.

  • At 11:49 AM, Blogger SuperBob said…

    Haha, good story. It's too bad that you were outed but it's for the best because your vocabulary will likely increase.

  • At 1:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    you can say: tung seung chi yat yea(r)ng 同上次一樣

    thanks for the add'l info on the bakeries, btw. now if only your knowledge extended to the berkeley side of the bay and a good bowl of ginger&chicken congee in that neck of the woods. or lo po bing, too. Yelpers can both help and hinder at the same time.


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