Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Tai O 

Met the folks from the St. Andrews Church at the Tung Chung metro station (you can actually ride the metro across the causeway to the island now), and rode the bus with them to the old Cantonese village of Tai O. Really touristy today, but it was interesting none the less. I usually stay away from places like that on holidays, but there are some things you would see at a festival time that would probably not be seen ordinarily, such as the lion dance (above), which I filmed with my pocket camera. So, sometimes for the sake of culture, one must suffer.

I got into a conversation with a Canadian guy who has lived in Hong Kong for 12 years and speaks Cantonese. I asked him if it was really possible for a Westerner to learn Cantonese because of its many tones. Mandarin has four basic tones, and everybody knows what they are. When I first started learning Chinese, my tutor used some books for elementary children she had brought with her to Arizona. The beginning of the book introduced the four tones of Mandarin using four little drawings. The first little drawing showed a car driving on a road. The second showed a car driving up a hill. The third drawing showed a car driving down the hill and up the next one. And the fourth showed a car driving down the hill. Mandarin is like that. It is a tonal language to be sure. But the tones are simple and straightforward. Cantonese is so different in that respect. I have never been in a conversation with more than one Cantonese speaker at the same time and had them agree on how many tones there are. Seven. No nine. They always argue. And forget about asking them to tell you what they are. So learning Cantonese seems a hopeless endeavor. But the Canadian guy told me that because Cantonese has so many tones, it is a bit more forgiving. You can get a few wrong, and still be understood. He's probably right about that. When I am speaking with Chinese people who do not speak English, especially when I am asking for a specific item in a store, or something, they just cannot understand me if I don't get the tone just right. It can be really frustrating. There are fewer tones to learn in Mandarin, but there are so many words that sound exactly the same, except for the tone, so if you don't get the tone just right, it is really hard for them to guess what you are saying.

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