At the back of the hill

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Lunch yesterday was at one end of Chinatown, the smoke that followed led through several alleyways to the volley ball court at the other end. There are a number of businesses that are unique to the environment, such as barber shops, service centres (translation of, and help with, pesky documents in English), ginseng stores, and mahjong parlours.
Some mahjong parlours are social clubs -- the association of alumni from Song Wan Bay middle school, immigrants from Fang Tin county, the ugly and auspicious little black immortal reverence club -- others are less than that, and, consequently, more likely to have a large trashy woman as permanent overseer as well as slightly seedy customers.

The sound of clacking tiles waxes and wanes, mahjong parlours alternate with haircutting opportunities. One can look spiffy, or go broke, all in the same block.

The crucial factor that comes into play is the nature and and number of interaction with other humans.

Sure, like "normal" Americans, they could go to a Starbucks .....

And either bend over a laptop, or yack on their cellphone.

Most Cantonese in Chinatown have not bought into the seven dollar cup of fancy coffee and free Wifi paradigm. Surely one goes to a coffee shop to talk? Why are all these White People avoiding each other? Why are they hunched over electronic devices and drinking so much coffee?
And why are they all so agitated?

It must be because they are anti-social and more than a little crazy.

Mahjong parlours, barber shops.

When Toishanese men play volleyball, half of them are smoking. And there is conversation. It's an energetic game, but it is social.


Toishanese are a subset of Cantonese, whose impact in the diaspora is not at all insignificant. They are a distinct subculture, and their speech is odd.
As a language, Toishanese has a few peculiarities, the most noticeable one being the 's' at the beginning of many words, that in their pronunciation becomes a 'thl', often transcribed as 'hl' or 'll'.

Three: 'saam' thus becomes 'thlaam'.
Ten: 'sap' becomes 'thlip' (thleep).

The 't' in many words falls silent; 'gwong ong' instead of 'gwong tung' (廣東), 'ong waa' rather than 'tong waa' (唐話), 'hom' in lieu of 'taam' (譚), etc.

Second person plural 'nei tei' (你哋) is 'niek' (▯偌、▯聶).
Likewise third person plural end is 'ek'; 'kiek'.
'An' can become 'in'. 'yan' (人): 'ngin'.
There are other differences.
Plus tonal deviance.

Many of the Chinatown people are Toishanese. Most of the men who built the railroads forward from the coast were from Toishan and its environs.

四邑: 臺山 (台山,又稱「 新寧」)、新會、開平、恩平。

NOTE: for non-standard characters, ▯ used next to phonetic.

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