Before Covid - can anyone remember that far back? there was some kind of sports event on a major thoroughfare near my house. A bus had to be rerouted for the day, and the bus company had put up information about how and where, on various bus stops. It was all written in Mallorquin, or rather Catalan, the official written language in Mallorca. Across the piece of paper put up in the bus stop nearest me, someone had angrily scratched: WRITE SPANISH. Obviously some monolingual person who thought people should write his language wherever he went.
Yes, Mallorca,and Catalonia are kind of the opposite of Hong Kong and Guangdong province when it comes to taking care of their language. In Guangdong province, the very cradle of the Cantonese language and starting point for all Chinese emigration in the early to mid 19th century, Cantonese has now been all but eradicated. The last ten years or so I lived in Hong Kong, I started noticing this trend every time I crossed the border: The parents and grandparents spoke Cantonese with each other, but Mandarin with the child. The child didn't speak Cantonese at all. (Yes child, not children. China's draconian one child policy had long put paid to anyone below 40 having brothers. and sisters.)
Naturally, I asked them how come. After all, it would be like a British family living in London for generations but the child unable to speak English. I must have asked dozens and dozens of people, with the same result: they looked sheepish, their eyes started darting here and there, and then they said: "It's just not convenient."
That's how I knew the government was involved.
And sure enough, it turned out the children would be punished for speaking Cantonese at school, while being "encouraged" to speak "the civilised language". So it became more 'convenient' to speak only Mandarin at home too. This is how one efficiently eradicates a culture.
Everywhere the Han Chinese venture forth; Tibet, East Turkestan, Inner Mongolia, it's the same dreary story. In comes the Mandarin, out goes the local culture. It's just more 'convenient.'
Therefore I was very pleased to come to Mallorca and find Catalan used as the top and sometimes only language on signs and official documents. Having lived in Hong Kong and China for so long and there being told every single day how I shouldn't learn Cantonese because it was just an inferior street language - yes, by Hong Kong people themselves - I had somehow expected Catalan and its local variant Mallorquin to be seen with the same disdain.
But no! Here it is almost the other way around. Many people think this is stupid and that everybody should just write and speak only Spanish (Castellano) because it's the national language and - you guessed it - more convenient, and I can sort of see their point. Here all official doors are closed to you if you don't speak/write Catalan, and Catalan is used as the language of instruction in schools. But, damn it, are we to have only a handful of languages left in the world? Can't languages live side by side in peace?
Spanish, like Mandarin, is a big boy and can look after itself. People in Mallorca grow up bilingual, and what's wrong with that? It only makes it easier for them to learn other languages.
I thought of this when one of my subscribers to my YouTube channel Cantocourse contacted me to ask about the title of a song featured in one of my videos.
This - protesting against the local language being removed from TV and radio - is the kind of thing you can get arrested for in today's China, and soon probably Hong Kong too.
Me, although I'm a Cantonese fundamentalist and want world domination for Cantonese, I want all the other languages to live in peace too!
Today's Cantonese expression: 叫雞 Giu gai - order chicken (employ the services of a prostitute/visit a brothel)
Yes! Cantonese! For you didn’t think I have abandoned this wonderful language in its darkest hour, did you? No.
I now live in exile, that’s true, but I’m still the only Norwegian Cantonese teacher in the village. I will remain a Cantonese fundamentalist but let the other languages live, too.
Tagging and graffiti mar Mallorca
One of the first things I noticed when I came to Palma de Mallorca, was the vandalism everywhere. Yes, I’m talking about tagging. No building is too venerable, no church too medieval and historically significant to be safe from these spray-painting vandals who seem to have so little self-worth that they find meaning in seeing their name desecrate other men’s work.
Talk about “there goes the barrio”! Even the most stately and picturesque building will look like a dump when sprayed down with moronic hieroglyphs.
Madrid is no better. Even a Henry Moore-ish statue, no doubt put there to spruce up the neighbourhood had to succumb to the neanderthal-like scribblings.
Many buildings are so covered in crap, you can’t see their original colour.
Even in my young, wild days I hated vandalism. Why do they do it? WHY? It’s not for or against anything? It’s not trying to enrich oneself or making a desperate statement against a tyrannical state. It’s just saying: “I was here, stupidly”.
Wall art in Mallorca
But it’s not all ugliness and despair. There’s lots of wall art around too, both excellently done
and nose-snortingly funny.
Wall art pleases the eye, whereas tagging attacks it like a dagger. Sometimes wall art has to fight for space with tagging
Vandalism in Hong Kong
When I came to Hong Kong more than 30 years ago, on the other hand, I noticed how un-vandalised it was. In the Oslo I left behind it was difficult to find a public payphone (yes, payphone! 1988, hello!) that was still working, an underground station with a clean wall, whereas in Hong Kong people respected public property and outdoor spaces in the city were gleaming, un-vandalised.
I thought it was probably because young people were too busy working and bettering themselves to have time to break things and write on walls. Perhaps they were warned by their parents about what wall writing and breaking things (and people) could lead to.
When I went back in 2019 after an absence of just a year and a half, however, things looked different.
I hate vandalism and always have.
But I love art. And freedom.
The 2019 protests in Hong Kong brought an incredible amount of creativity bubbling to the surface. And, naturally, they brought yet again the very soul of Hong Kong, the Cantonese language, to the forefront.
Long live Cantonese!
Today’s Cantonese word:
雞尾酒 gai mei jau Chicken Tail Wine (cocktail)
Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian!
Norway, my motherland, is not a member of the EU. So why the hell does it have to follow EU regulations? I have asked this of many people, and get the same EUsplanations about Schengen etc each time. Of course I know. But it still seems weird. And vexing.
And last week I had a reason again to curse the whole sorry setup which I hasten to add has allowed me to continue being a climatic refugee and now also an exile, by living in Spain. One day in June I woke with a start from a year long covid slumber, remembering that my passport was about to expire! Help! I called the Norwegian consulate, and was told I had to go in person to the embassy in Madrid. I ask you: Is that modern?
Yes, instead of sauntering round to the consulate here in Mallorca, 32 minutes' walk away, I had to go to an airport dripping with plague, sit on a full plane for more than an hour and navigate to another blood red airport (red is the colour of Spain in the high alert danger stakes), and check into a hotel riddled with disease in order to get to the embassy the next morning. But, as the embassy person said on the phone, sounding very proud of herself: Because of all the precautions they had taken, I didn't risk getting covid in the actual embassy. So, yay!
This wasn't the first time I had an embassy related vexation.
10 years ago I was living in Hong Kong which has a Norwegian consulate, and needed a new passport. Again I couldn't just go to the consulate or apply by post to the embassy in Beijing, no, I had to take a day off work, get a visa, travel two and a half hours by train to Guangzhou in mainland China, stay in a hotel, bla bla, all because as a non member of the EU, Norwegians have to get a special passport and use a special machine to take the photos, and Hong Kong wasn't deemed worthy of having this machine.
AND, and this was something I remember feeling particularly irked by at the time, I had to go to a photo shop and have photos taken anyway, in case the machine didn't work.
In the event, the machine did work, and instead of the rather fetching photos I had taken that morning (had to buy minimum 25, another economic setback) now, every time I look at my passport I see the kind of face and hair I have after walking to the consulate in 35 degrees celsius and 99% humidity, going up to the 18th floor to be told by surly staff that they couldn't take credit cards or Hong Kong dollars, only cash renminbi ("the people's currency") so I had to take the lift down and walk to the nearest cashpoint miles away, and back. I suppose the words "angry murderer" describe that Schengen mugshot best.
At least the staff in Madrid were less surly, and I could pay with my credit card, in fact I had to. But I tell you, if I caught covid in those damned airports or on the plane, I'm going to be so very very vexed.
Today's Cantonese word: 恐龍 Hong long - terrible dragon (dinosaur)
Learn Cantonese the natural way - from a Norwegian!
Remember this? I don't mean this particular dinner, Chinese New Year almost one year ago, but the act of sitting down together in a warm room with more than five other people?
Yes, it's happening again; Mallorca is cranking up the action after first setting a curfew between 10pm and 6 am, then decreeing that only outdoor eating and drinking is allowed to the despair of a hospitality industry that was already on its knees, then plunging in yet another knife "...and all bars and restaurants have to close at 6pm" before finally landing on a lovely "oh what the hell. Let's close it all down again. Because it worked so well before!" (At least I presume they thought it worked well, despite having presented no evidence of this.)
When the only outdoor eating and drinking decree came, restaurateurs rushed to buy awnings, big umbrellas and gas heaters, as the outdoor temperature hovered around 9. I hope they managed to scrape together enough profit to pay for it all before the death knell sounded two weeks later.
So it's China to the rescue, again! They started this thing, so they'd better step up. And what could be better than succulent, just spicy enough, piping hot Chinese food on a winter's night - indoors?
Right in the middle of El Terreno is a beautiful, candlelit house with a crackling fire and lots of lovely Chinese food just waiting for you. Maximum six people of course - I will stay in the kitchen most of the time and promise to wear a mask while serving. Personalised menu according to your taste and preferences:
Best of all, you won't have to leave before 21:30, or at a time guaranteed to get you home before the curfew kicks in! Your cook is an expert in everything Chinese with 30 years' of living and cooking in that country.
P.S. Chinese New Year is coming up soon. A very special night awaits with traditional Chinese New Year food and everybody's Chinese horoscope for 2021 written out. What animal in the Chinese zodiac are you? Next year is the Year of the Ox. Yes, no more Rat! That's probably just as well?
As Kirsty MacColl sang in the legendary Fairytale of New York: "Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last." Fag?
Moving from Hong Kong/China to Mallorca it appears I have fallen out of the ashes and right into the other ashes, fag wise. Everybody smokes. Well, not exactly everybody, but it seems there are a higher percentage of smokers here than in Hong Kong and China because here women smoke too whereas in the Chinese world they haven't quite caught up.
Christmas always reminds me of the joyous fact that I don't smoke anymore. A few days ago it was eight years since I took my last drag on those smelly twigs, and I haven't looked back. Some ex smokers say they never stop dreaming of cigarettes, calling getting rid of them "giving up" as if it was a sacrifice, but apart from a few fleeting seconds in the beginning where the mental habit manifested itself, I never thought of cigarettes again.
Over the years I had stopped many times, then started again. I never saw myself as a "real" smoker, but thought I needed fags as a crutch because my life was so difficult. It took me years to realise that my life was so difficult because I smoked. Yes, yes, only when drinking, but that was more than enough. I could easily put away a packet of Marlboro Lights (lights! So healthy!) in an evening. The alcohol and nicotine evened one another out, to enable me to drink more.
I started feeling heart palpitations and pains in my leg, but would I stop? My mother died of lung cancer and that frightened me, so I needed to comfort myself with my good friends Fags. One day I just got down on my knees and cried, praying to God: "I can't go on like this! Please let me never want to smoke again." Three weeks later, the 20th of December, I went on a Christmas trip to mainland China with two non smoking friends, and from then on I have been free! If I hadn't been a Christian before, I certainly was now. If God can make me stop smoking without pain, what can't He do?
Ordinarily, of course, mainland China would be the worst place in the world to go if you want to stop smoking.
China and smoke are like... lips and teeth. One can exist without the other but it’s a miserable existence, cold and full of longing. Cartons of cigarettes is a currency, frequently handed out, gift wrapped, at special occasions, like your child's kindergarten graduation. Guys light up as they walk into lifts. Restaurants, shops, taxis, massage parlours; no place is off-limits for the Chinese fuming male.
Once, on an already full overnight sleeper bus from Dandong to Beijing, the driver started letting on stray people without official bus tickets soon after departure until every square inch of the bus was full of people, mattresses, blankets, sheets and pillows, presumably of the cheapest material available. The staff’s hull on the Mayflower would have been like a ballroom in comparison. And all the men smoked, maybe to allay their fear of death as the overfilled bus careened all over the road for ten hours.
I spent the night in a state of hyper alert, terrified of perishing in a fireball. That’s when I decided to stop smoking, again! And only seven short years later, I did.
So now I'm the one sitting alone at bar tables while all the other people are out in the street, smoking. I would say I miss the camaraderie, but feeling smug makes up for it. That, and waking up the next morning happy and free.