A Guide To Alien Life by the South China Seas

A Guide To Alien Life by the South China Seas

Has it been 6... no scratch that... 7... wait 8 months since I blogged? Been absolutely snowed under with life in general - and (still) adjusting to life in Hong Kong. Honestly I don't think both my partner and I have quite settled in here. Still a daily routine of micro-shocks to wake up and dive into the heat, traffic, noise, swarms of air-condition waste water drip-dripping from buildings, people bumping into you like it's a national right... BUT winter is coming and I never thought I'd be happy to say that. Cooler, dryer weather, as of now dipping below 30ÂșC, is such a welcome change!

Learning to speak alien

That feeling of being alien is especially heightened by the fact that we look like locals (yup, asians all look like jackie chan -_-). Which explains why when we try to converse in our most comfortable medium (English or Mandarin), we meet with the pinched brow of silent judgement - 'what kind of chinese are you, no speak cantonese what is dis!'

Ok people, Cantonese is not Chinese and Chinese is the race and the spoken language is Mandarin. I've often been asked if I speak chinese (hello, mandarin!) when they actually mean Cantonese... Honestly...

Learning to speak a dialect is like learning to walk sideways. It's possible but sooo awkward.

In Mandarin, there are 4 intonations of the same word. Which, when spoken, each mean entirely different things. In Cantonese, there are 9.

NINE! WTF! It's really a lesson in karaoke while trying to get high on mints.

Quick and Useful Phrases


Means - excuse me, beg your pardon, appreciate it. This is the most common and dare I say most powerful phrase. You can add it to anything opening remark preceding what you wanna say. Mmgoi... aidon speaka kungtungwa. (Excuse me, I don't speak cantonese). Ok, that's a hybrid. But sometimes, your english can be better understood when you speak in a singing tone. Because cadence.


Means - thank you/thank you very much. Pretty much explains itself. I used to confuse Mmgoi and Dorje thinking they mean thank you and it's interchangeable. Dorje is used when someone gives you something or there was an exchange of favours or transaction, as explained by our local friends. Mmgoi can sometimes be used as a 'thank you' when someone gives way to you when you want to get off the train. It's an 'appreciate it' kind of thanks.


Means - don't worry about it, I don't need it, it's not required. When at the cash register, you'd get asked 'yaudoimou?' (do you need a bag), and it's usually 'mmmsai' because the climate change conscious you brought your own shopping bag. 

Mmmganyew (ler)

Means - that's ok, it's fine, don't sweat it. Someone knocks into you and proceeds to apologise, you respond by saying it's ok. You add the (ler) at the end if you want to diffuse the situation a lot more. But if you are the one knocking into someone...


Means - Sorry but more like, I beg your pardon, it wasn't intentional. In essence the phrase means 'Please excuse me'. Which can also be used in place of 'Mmgoi' when you are being extra polite asking for help on the street, or the attention of the sales person to find your shoe size that is 9.5 on the right and 9.25 on the left. 

Mousi, mousi

Means - No worries, no dramas. Which can also be used interchangeably with Mmmganyew.

Common Anomalies

Now those are basic ones but here are some identical sounding words but when sung... I mean, spoken, with different intonations, produces very different outcomes.


Can mean either Chopsticks or Waste Paper.

Cheong Zai

Can either mean Sausages or Worms. One time he ordered worms to go with his noodles. Colleagues had a field day.

There are of course many others which I may not even remember. But it's good to have local friends laugh at you when you try and converse. Education by humiliation is the best assimilation. 


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