Thursday, April 28, 2005

Cantonese for Beginners

Am just getting back into the swing of things at the gym again after my broken wrist. This morning went to my first Bodypump class in months and wimped about with the lightest weights possible. But it was so nice to get back into the usual sweaty cameradierie with the regulars. We tease each other like mad. Today's changing room talk was all about bra size and they're all envying me my more, while I'm envying them their less. It must be nice to be able to wear teeny little tops held up by a wish and a prayer I say, while I require nothing short of a miracle of modern engineering to keep me from hitting myself in the eye with a stray boob. They they fall about.

Some months ago the ladies from the gym invited themselves round to my house for a pot-luck lunch, and arrived bearing offerings of fried noodles, chicken curry, yong tau fu and cakes. Melody,our Bodycombat instructor (hey, don't mess with us!) came a little later bearing fruit salad.

Goodness though, the noise level! As soon as I came to Malaysia I discovered Cantonese is not spoken as much as yelled, and with twelve excited and enthusiatic ladies crammed around my dining table, the decibels rose and rose.

The conversation strayed onto sex and relationships and pretty much stayed there, and more interesting bits got translated for me. Of course, the ladies wanted to know how much Cantonese I can understand. I know how to swear and talk food I said.

I told them about how I picked up my first words in Cantonese from the grandmother who lived with the family next door to me whan I lived in my first small Malaysian town twenty years ago. The poor woman was given the job of looking after the small boys (I lost count of how many there were) while the parents were at work. The kids were constantly up to no good and I frequently heard the words "Ley sey!" drifting over the fence. When I asked my friends at school what it meant,thinking that perhaps it was a greeting or some term of endearment, they laughed. It was a curse: "You die!" or "Drop dead!

The ability to speak enough Cantonese to get by in a restaurant is an absolute necessity when living in a small Malaysian town. Very few places have a printed menu, so you carry your own in your head. If you know the words for the basic ingredients like rice, fish, prawns, meat, vegetables (fan , yi, ha, yuk, choy), and words for a few different cooking styles (ching is steamed, chow is fried, for example, you're well away. And then you ask for the bill by yelling (yes, yelling) "Sow loy!" at the top of your voice.

But of course the ladies were determined to add to my store of knowledge and taught me an extremely dirty song, which they said I have to learn to sing for homework. I have now added "lin ku pau" (breasts), "ku ku cheow (penis) to my vocabulary.

They also taught me a little ditty about relative penis size in the different varieties of Malaysian male, set to the tune of the romantic Indonesian song "Bengawan Solo":

Bengali one so long,
Melayu one potong,
China one so hard and strong,
Orang putih macam sotong.

And of course today they wanted to test me today to see if I was still word perfect.


The Visitor said...

ku ku chiao is not really cantonese....cos chiao means "bird" in hokkien.

the lesson continues ...


bibliobibuli said...

Aaaahhhh. Yes the lesson does indeed continue ...

michaelooi said...

in cantonese, it's called "look cow"... heheh.