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.

Sunday, February 12, 2017


A teacher gave instructions to students a while back. "You are to assume the role of a Chinese immigrant in 1870 and write a letter home describing your experiences ... "
The class was apparently composed of people representing the full gamut from fluent English to Chinese.
And the response of one student was internet-memed.
You've probably seen it on-line.
It was "hopeful".

Translation: "My life here is very bad. The working circumstances are horrible and the advantages are few. But do not worry, each day there are only about ten people who are badly injured and I am very careful. We have opened a small store, and business isn’t bad. Although English is still mostly incomprehensible (to me), I can understand what these white people say. Hoping that we are successful! I will work hard here and take care of my health.
Are you (plural: 你們) well?
Miss you very much, and hope that we will see each other again."

我在這裏生活得很差。 工作環境不佳,福利缺少。 不過不用擔心,每天只有大概十個人受重傷, 而我亦很小心。 我們開了一間小舖,生意不俗。 雖然,我對英文不是很認識,但是也能略略明白那些白人所說的話。 希望能夠出人頭地吧! 我在這裏會努力工作,也會小心身體。 你們還好吧? 很掛念你們,希望我們能夠在見面。

Note that the text typically reflects some modern Mandarin usages.

你們 at that time would have been 你等 and a Cantonese person should have said 你哋 instead, or written 台端 (a formal term of address). The vast majority of Chinese immigrants to the U.S. in that age were from Guangzhou, and if they could write, probably wrote literary Chinese.
As was then the standard written koiné.

[See "inventing the feminine pronoun" for further discussion anent the differences regarding pronominal terminologies in Chinese languages. The term 台端 "toi duen" raises the party thus addressed up on a pedestal.]

Every day there were only about ten people or so who were badly injured.
大概 'daai koi'; "roughly, approximately, generally speaking".
Common in Cantonese usage.

Here: 在這裏 (Mandarin: tzai cher-li) is more frequently and casually written 在這裡 and in Cantonese said thus: 喺呢度 ('hai ni tou').
But 裏 is the traditional spelling of the character.
里 is the Mainland simplified version.

The word for business (生意 'saang yi') is a Cantonese expression.
Not so much Mandarin, although it is used occasionally.

The person who wrote this is probably from Hong Kong.

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


  • At 8:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Here's the backstory:

  • At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Interesting! You're saying based on usage and script that he's modern educated, BUT not simplified script conversant?


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