It started in 2019 as a hire on Upwork - "can you proofread our website so it doesn't look so Danish and rewrite it to make it a bit livelier?" but in April the next year turned into customer service and then writing content for their new website Liguster.no and writing and drawing for their Facebook and Instagram.
(This is an early effort: No need to wait - make your neighbour disappointed today with a ready grown hedge!)
Writing and drawing pictures is the most fun, naturally, but I like talking to customers about privet hedges, yew hedges and my favourite after a life in China, bamboo, as well. Yes, bamboo can grow and thrive in Norway! Who knew.
Last autumn a landscape gardener found us, and what a godsend. In a covid world where no one could travel but were stuck at home looking at their ugly garden and even uglier neighbour all day, gardeners suddenly became more valuable than plumbers and with much less bum crackage. This one was eager, turned up on time, worked fast etc. So I was shocked, nay, dismayed, when talking to a customer on Saturday who told me that our excellent landscape gardener was leaving Norway to set up a new company overseas. What the! I quickly went through our other options - this one never turned up, that one had laughed at a customer who asked him to inspect his garden, yet another one was useless... OH NO!
I emailed our landscaper: WHAT! WHYYYYYY! and he answered at once "Take it easy, I LIED because I had heard this customer was a bad payer." What? Instead of just saying no, I don't want to take this job, or even "I can't take this job" in a pinch, he had to make up this idiotic lie, sure to be found out?
And why choose such a complicated lie, when the truth, slightly tweaked, would have been so much easier? If this was a TV show like Seinfeld, Friends or Breaking Bad, he would then have had to actually move abroad so he wouldn't be found out, leading to much blood and mayhem.
The very next day I was frightened and, again, dismayed, when I heard that a woman in the neighbourhood who has already suffered indescribable pain between last November and now, had come down with Covid and was quarantining at home. Poor, poor woman, after all she has been through. How could I help. Imagine my surprise when I met her in the street a few hours later. I'm not ashamed to say I jumped back when she approached me, and mentally shook some garlic and did the sign of the cross in front of me. What the...?
"Oh no, take it easy, I don't have Covid. It was just something I said to some woman who wanted to rent my flat. I thought she might be a prostitute." What? Instead of just saying no? Surely you don't need to come up with some deadly disease just to get out of saying no to something you don't want to do?
Judge not, lest ye be judged! Yes yes. But question with boldness? Or just question? Is that allowed?
After these two completely unnecessary scares, I have decided to become even more brutally honest than before. And so I'm telling you straight: Without Cantonese, there won't be any Hong Kong. There is a plan under development to eradicate Cantonese. The long term goal for the boys in Beijing is to teach the whole world to speak Mandarin, but, unlike me, they won't let the other languages live. They can't. It's their nature.
Just as it is human nature to spin idiotic webs of lies when telling the truth would have been so much easier.
One eternal truth: It is best to Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian!
Today's Cantonese: 講大話 Gong daai wah. Speak big words. (To lie)
The owner is also young and beautiful with huge liquid, oval eyes hinting of a North African heritage. She speaks, as far as I can tell, perfect Spanish, but is originally half French. We got chatting and I started praising El Terreno, its beauty and proximity to bosque (forest) and bay. I wanted to say it's funky too, but don't know how to say that in Spanish. But it IS! It has the perfect blend of run down former glory and quirky nooks, crannies and hidden gardens.
Do you know, she said she doesn't like El Terreno! She said it is old, it has bad access, it's impossible to park there and it's far from everything (30 mins walk from the centre of Palma along a boaty promenade, not too shabby I say)
However, she said her parents love it. So it's a place for the old? Who would have thunk it! But after a lifetime in Hong Kong I understand that some people like convenience and parking houses and lifts and highways. A lot of Hong Kong people told me they didn't understand how I could live in a house - so scary and too near the ground. They preferred to live on the 21st or 64th floor, air conditioned and with lots of people around.
Me, I spent almost the entire 30 years in Hong Kong in various villages on the same island, Lantau Island, supposed to be the Green Lung of Hong Kong. The last village I lived in was Pui O, by far the most beautiful and interesting of the three I tried, with its long beach, mangroves, great walking terrain and huge areas of wetland harbouring Lantau's at the time best kept secret: The mighty Water Buffalo.
These enormous beasts, remnants from days of not very yore long, when farmers used them to till the fields of Lantau but now semi feral, sauntered around the wetlands not three minutes' walk from my house, in herds of up to 70 animals. Completely harmless, they spent their days rolling in mud, digging new trenches through the wetlands with their sturdy hooves, and sometimes walking down to the beach or river for a good old bath.
But because the Hong Kong government (and a fair number of villagers it has to be said) don't like things that remind them of their childhood of poverty (and who can blame them), they see buffalo as old fashioned, backwards and dangerous. Not least, the hulking 'water cow' slow down traffic as they amble across the roads making busy people with city aspirations stop for five seconds or more. The buffalo must out! Forget that they keep all the grass in the area trimmed, attract migrating birds and tourists and have created an entire eco system on the wetlands complete with little fish; we must get rid of them!
Raising much ire with their first cack-handed attempt at "moving the buffalo to another island" (where they would have died from lack of fresh water) by tranquilising them and stacking them in a truck, resulting in 18 of 20 animals being crushed to death, the government found a different, "kinder" approach: Eliminating through sterilisation and culling. Now all the females in the herds have been 'done' and when I left, many newborn calves were dying after a few weeks because the water and grass has become so polluted, so it won't be long before the last mighty hoof has squeezed out its last footprint in the mud, which will by then be concrete covered in crap anyway.
That was another reason for me to leave Hong Kong. Pui O without the water buffalo, and, as I will show later, with the continued destruction of the entire wetlands and surrounding beauty spots, is really nothing. In fact, most of the green stuff you see in the photos above, is already gone.
Still, there is one way to keep at least a corner of Hong Kong alive: By Learning Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian. Go on! You know you want to.
Today's Cantonese: 水牛 Seoi Au - water cow - water buffalo.
I went into exile from Hong Kong after a long deliberation, but choosing Mallorca as my new place to live was done almost on a whim. Island, tick, no snow, tick, population friendly, tick, beautiful place: Tickety tick tick tick. By an incredible stroke of luck, I ended up in the best, coolest and most beautiful area of Palma: El Terreno.
Apart from some grotesque buildings from the 70s and 80s, this place is like a village with its narrow cobblestone streets and bougainvillea exploding out of every garden.
My office overlooks a church and a staircase with 270 steps. Outside is the Carrer de Robert Graves, named after the Mallorca dwelling poet who wrote I, Claudius. I used to live in a street called Joan Miró who, to be honest, is not among my favourite painters. Yes I can admit it now that I no longer live there but was kicked out by a lying cheating landlord who told me he was getting Covid divorced. I have to hand it to him (Miró) though - he did go to Japan to buy a whole shop's worth of ink. But now I live in a place named after a writer! Much better.
El Terreno, as well as being close to the water and boats, close to a medieval castle surrounded by a large forest and walking terrain and situated 25 minutes' walk from Palma Centre, is a doggie paradise. After a lifetime in Hong Kong where dog haters rule the streets, parks and beaches, resulting in most people there growing up afraid of dogs, I was pleased to find a place where dogs are welcome everywhere (except, admittedly, beaches). My local pharmacist encouraged me to bring Koldbrann into the shop so he wouldn't have to suffer outside! People bring their dogs into banks!
Having a dog is like a golden key, it opens up the whole neighbourhood. Most of the people I know and socialise with here in El Terreno, I have met through the medium of dog. One barrio (neighbourhood) guy I always talk to is Mr. Lau. To think, the first two and a half years I lived here, I called him 哥們 Ge Men - something like "Dude" in Mandarin that only Beijing men are supposed to call one another but I do it anyway because I think language belongs to everybody and hey! I'm a foreigner and know nothing, and he answered me in a strange Mandarin that I didn't really understand - it turns out the guy was from Hong Kong! Ahrrrghhh so many months wasted!
I found out through his son, whom I got chatting to through the medium of dogs, of course. Small wonder Mr. Lau didn't speak Mandarin, having lived here in Mallorca for 40 years and being totally immersed in everything Spanish. He doesn't play Chinese poker though. What a waste. A real Hong Kong guy not 30 metres away, but...
Talking of Cantonese and beautiful barrios, here is another reason why I had to leave Hong Kong; the rampant destruction of Lantau Island where I lived. Designated by them to be Hong Kong's Green Lung in the year 2000, the HK government set out to cover it in concrete, metal and quite simply rubbish right away. These photos were taken in days of yore, before the destruction began in earnest:
One of the great tragedies of my life. But more about that later! Now, today's Cantonese:
鄰居 leun goi neighbouring dweller - neighbour
Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian!
After I became an exile in Mallorca, many people have asked me: WHY did you leave Hong Kong?That is to say, they used to ask me. After around July 2019, the asking kind of petered out, for some reason. Nowadays, people say stuff like: You got out just in time! As if I were the last one off the rooftop in Saigon or something.
But yes, I have given Why did I leave Hong Kong? a lot of thought, and have come up with a list of reasons which I will analyse in this forum. I think Beauty, or rather, Ugliness, must be near or on top of the list. Hong Kong just got too damn ugly. Now, I understand that for a lot of people nothing can be more beautiful than a smooth, metal surface interspersed with mirror glass, but for me it looks dead. Soulless.
Scuttling along the narrow canyons of Central, the business districts of Hong Kong in its perpetual twilight, I felt like an ant ready to be squashed. I don't think being surrounded by, nay, being loomed over by hard, sharp, black, forbidding surfaces that block out the sky is good for the soul.
At least not mine.
I need beauty around me, and in Mallorca I found it in abundance. Here is some juxtaposition to show you what I mean, and why I am architecturally much happier now:
Hong Kong street:
In Hong Kong, pedestrians are seen as a nuisance and made to criss-cross walkways in and out of shopping centres to get around
Mallorca was just made for pedestrians
Town square in Hong Kong:
Town square in Mallorca:
Sea view in Hong Kong:
Sea view in Mallorca:
"Outdoor" dining in Hong Kong:
Outdoor dining in Mallorca:
I think you see where I'm going with this. In Hong Kong I felt alienated, and I suspect that is by design.
Oh my Hong Kong, which was once so beautiful! But more about that later - now I must work on my Cantonese course
Yes, do like hundreds if not thousands of people from all over the world, (including Beijing and Taiwan!) have done before you, and Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian.
Today's Cantonese: 嘩！好X靚呀！ Wah! Hou ek-si leeng ah! - Wow! Damn beautiful!
I have seldom worked so hard to achieve something I don't want to do. Yes, I'm talking about getting the Covid vaccine. Having lived through all the various illnesses of recent years, like SARS, bird flu, and swine flu, I knew Covid, or Nouveau Corona, was a serious thing for people with underlying illnesses, but I can't help wondering if the whole thing would have blown up so if it hadn't been for Facebook and Twitter. Oh the halcyon days of only Swine flu! (see film below)
That being said, after much deliberation I finally decided to take the damned vaccine - if only to be able to travel. Side effects be damned!
Then began the fight to get the thing I didn't want. After many phone calls, a visit to the Norwegian consulate (to pick up my passport but I thought they could give me some vaccine related pointers) I finally landed on: You CAN'T get a vaccine unless you are in the public health system.
But I can't enter the public system because I have private insurance. Unless I go to my local public clinic, where I need a social client number, and to have that, I need to be in the public health system. I tell you, Kafka would have been lime green with envy! Not even he could have invented the intricacies of the system here in Mallorca.
Seeing that the clinic is only a few minutes' walk from my house I went around there anyway, carrying a bag full of documentation to show that I live here, and quacking in Spanish "I would like to get the vaccine..." Ha! Talk to the hand! said the granite forehead nurse (the lower part of her face was covered in a mask, naturally). I was sent away with a flea in my ear the size of a hippo.
A new round of phone calls and asking around ensued, and everyone said the same: You MUST go through your local health clinic. They MUST register you.
By this time I was getting just a little irritated, so armed with a trolley full of documentation I strode back to the same clinic, saying "I would like to register to take the vaccine." Aha! After much sighing on the nurse's part but only half an hour later I stumbled out blinking in the sunshine, registered and with yet a new phone number to call to book the actual shot. After which I must book new appointments to get the certificate, after which... but I'll burn, nay, pulverise, those half a dozen bridges when I get to them.
This incident, if an 'incident' can stretch over a two week period, made me think about Cantonese and how I should have followed my own advice that I always gave my students: If you speak with confidence, it doesn't matter if the sentence isn't 100% grammatically correct. Act as if you can already speak Cantonese. Act as if you understand everything people tell you, and eventually you will.
Head held high, purposeful Spanish spoken with confidence while being prepared to say "I'm not leaving until..." , pretend to understand everything they ask me at machine gun speed - it worked!
(Of course it also helped that I said "I would like to register myself for (eventually getting) the vaccine" instead of "I would like to get the vaccine." For how in the world should it be the nurse's job to guess that it was registration I needed, the first time?)
Hong Kong's efficient civil service, all is forgiven!
Talking about Hong Kong: Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian!
Today's Cantonese: 打針 da tsam (hit, slam, punch needle) - have an injection