Not busy, apparently

I have previously written about Wrong MTR station names and the Hong Kong Free Press has an interesting article on a similar theme

Foreign influence Part 1: Lost in translation

[..] Mong Kok is another prime example. The former coastal region was named after the overgrown silvergrass found in the area 芒角 mong4 gok3, (‘corner of silvergrass’).

When the government reclaimed the bay and developed the area in the early 1900s, the Chinese name was changed to 旺角(wong6 gok3) which means “Prosperity Point.”

The English name was never updated.

I remember being told that 芒角 meant "busy" place, but that seems to be another Chinese character 忙with the same Pinyin romanization, which is an understandable error for anyone who didn't check a 19th Century map.  

The author of the HKFP piece seems to be Chinese, so predictably makes a better job of this than I did!


SF Express - EF Lockers

imageThe instructions are in English.

But the touchscreen isn’t.

So, that icon on the ‘pick up procedure’ with an arrow pointing up…

This one:


Don’t see anything like on the touchscreen.

imageGotta be the green one with an arrow pointing up?


It’s the orange one with an arrow pointing down.

Now, yes, since you mention it, the Chinese characters 取件 do appear in the instructions and on that orange button.  So if you can recognize Chinese you can get this far.

There are, of course, more screens to navigate - all of them in Chinese.  Trial and error seems to work.  Eventually.

Wrong MTR station names

Many MTR stations have really confusing “English” names on the official maps.

尖沙咀 appears as “Tsim Sha Tsui" on signs.  Good luck trying to pronounce that - and if your valiant effort is “Sim Sha Chewy” you won’t be understood by locals because it's actually more like "Jim Sa Joy".

紅磡 is shown as “Hung Hom”, but really it’s Hong Ham, which I always find confusing.

旺角 isn’t “Mong Kok” (as the MTR would have you believe), it’s "Wong Gok". 

上水 isn’t “Sheung Shui”, it’s something like “song soy”,

Some are more or less correct (at least to my tin ear), such as: 葵芳 Kwai Fong and nearby 葵興 Kwai Hing, and others are probably close enough, though it would help if you pronounce

  • 大 as “dai” (not “tai” as the MTR have it), 
  • 沙 as “sa” or “za” (not “sha”),
  • 上 as “soeng” (not “sheung”)

But why can’t we have simple Romanization that's easy to understand?


黐線 chi1 sin3 – crazy, idiot; nuts

Waitrose Double Gloucester

ParknShop were selling this cheese for HK$40 (which is reasonable by Hong Kong supermarket standards).  Then a few weeks later it went up to HK$88, which is definitely 黐線 chisin.  Then it went back down to HK$44. 

Then it was HK$22, which is slightly cheaper than the regular price in the UK (£2.55, since you asked).  Only in some PnS stores – one branch of Taste is selling it for around HK$70.

But there was no information about those earlier prices.  This from a company that will advertise reductions such as HK$88 down to HK$87.90, not to mention “alt fact” reductions (where the higher price might have been charged for one day, if at all). 

Sadly, it’s not one of my favourite Waitrose cheeses.  OK on toast, but that’s all.

Lei Hou

I was amused by this story in the Economist: Long live Cantopop - about the University of British Columbia (UBC) offering a course in Cantonese.

I have been listening again to Naked Cantonese (RTHK Podcast), in which Cecilie Gamst Berg tries to teach us to speak like Hong Kong people.  One of the many tricks played on foreigners is to pretend that it’s correct to say “Neih” (you) and “Ngoh” (me) rather than “Leih” and “[ng]oh”.  Cecilie rightly teaches the latter as current usage (however ‘wrong’ it may be).

Yet the Economist persists with this nonsense in its story:

Newcomers to Vancouver’s Chinatown are richer and speak Mandarin. A sign advertising luxury apartments welcomes potential buyers (in Roman letters) with ni hao, the putonghua greeting, rather than the Cantonese nei hou. A decade ago, dignitaries at Chinese-new-year festivities gave speeches in Cantonese; today they speak Mandarin.

Then we learn that the university has been paid to do this:

The university has rejected four offers from the Confucius Institute, a cultural body financed by China’s government, to expand its teaching of Mandarin. “When a university can reject money, it’s a subtle form of pushback to an overbearing culture,” says Mr King. Instead, in 2013 UBC accepted C$2m ($1.5m) from a pair of philanthropists in Hong Kong to offer Cantonese.

You want English? Learn Chinese!

If you live in Greater China you will know that stuff (phones, tablets, etc.) often comes with Chinese as the default setting.  And the (pitifully) few Chinese characters I might recognize are nowhere near enough to navigate through the menus to find the option to change to English.  

Yes it’s my own fault for buying a tablet with Chinese Windows.  I was in a hurry and I assumed that it would be easy to switch to English.  Indeed (with some help), I changed the primary language to English. 

Then I downloaded Evernote Touch, and it’s all in Chinese.  What?  I couldn’t find the menu in the application, and it turns out you have to do something in Windows and then all is (reasonably) well.  Anyway, waste of time because it’s rubbish.  Back to the normal (desktop version) of the program, which is fine except that there’s no way to do a right-click.  

This is strange because in Google Chrome you can do a right-click (hold your finger and up pops a menu). 

But back to the point - is it too much to ask that there should always be a button or high-level menu in English, Spanish, or French that takes you to language selection?  

English? Only if you can read Chinese

imageAnother piece of stupid website design. 

This is the UPS Hong Kong website.  It’s in Chinese, which is fair enough, but surely there must be an English version.  Common sense would dictate that there would be a button marked ‘Language’or ‘Eng’or something similar.  In English.  Nope, can’t see that anywhere.

Yes there is an English version, but you have to be able to read Chinese to find it.  Click on the correct button and a little drop-down appears and gives you the choice of Chinese or English:  image

Too difficult for you, lah!

Look, I've tried, really I have.  I've attended public courses, I've paid for private tuition, I've bought books...and yet my Cantonese is still rubbish - and I've always felt that somehow this wasn't actually my fault. 

Now I'm delighted to discover that this might not be self-delusion, and that Hong Kong people don't really want foreigners to learn Cantonese.  They tell us it's so difficult, it's not really a language (it's a dialect, lah), and helpfully suggest that we learn Mandarin because it's so much easier.  Right. 

In case we hadn't quite got the message, they make fun of our attempts to speak their "dialect", pretending that they don't understand the dumb gweilo who used the low falling tone when it should have been the low rising tone. 

Hong Kong's most famous Norwegian Cantonese teacher, Cecilie Gamst Berg, isn't having any of this nonsense.  She plays down the importance of tones, arguing (rightly in my opinion), that generally the context is enough for people to understand what you mean, even if you get the tone wrong. 

She also points out that Cantonese is actually quite simple compared to English.  No past or present or irregular verbs or any of that nonsense.  If you can learn the words, sentence construction is the easy bit.   

Yes, I finally got round to downloading RTHK's "Naked Cantonese" podcast, and I have listened to the first three (only 97 to go), and I am feeling slightly more optimistic. Cecilie's approach is certainly quite refreshing, and the format seems to work quite well (she is teaching an RTHK presenter how to speak Cantonese).  

If you haven't yet discovered this podcast, go to iTunes and download it now.  Or try You Tube.

English - if you can read Chinese

Paypal have set up a Hong Kong site.  Hurrah - there's an English version.  However, you have to wonder about the common sense of the people who set it up, because this is the screen header:


Well-designed multi-lingual sites have a button saying 'English'.  This one doesn't.

However, if you can recognize any Chinese characters you might try clicking that button on the second row:


and when you click it it duly expands to give you a menu:


Easy wasn't it - if you can read Chinese...