The all new Cecilie's Pen & Wok Blog
That's right, people, take Cantonese lessons from me, become a tutor, and then one day you too will have kind students giving you tickets to 1. An exhibition of Hispanic stuff and 2. Windsor Castle!
Arriving by train on a semi sunny Thursday, we were welcomed to Windsor Town with bunting, flags, tea containers etc. It turned out not to be for us, but for the coronation of King Charles III. Both London and Windsor were in a tea towel frenzy.
In England, there are two types of tea towels:
The latter was given to me by another Cantonese student when he came to Mallorca in 2018. Markle and Orange Sparkle unifying the nation in a royal tea towel extravaganza - oh halcyon days of yore.
I hope Charlie will justify all those thousands of miles of cotton a little bit better than Ginge and Whinge.
Meanwhile, back at Windsor, the entire world seemed to be there; after all it was Easter. Inside the hallowed, 1,000 year old walls echoed the screams of history, and I felt myself transported back to the reign of Henry VIII - or at least could view his portrait high up on the wall together with the woman he went against the Pope to be able to, er, marry, only to kill her afterwards anyway.
When we came out, the beautiful day had turned into a torrential rainfall, so I had to brave the souvenir shop hordes to get a very British umbrella. For 15 quid I thought they could have afforded a few inches more of material, but maybe it had all gone to bunting?
Only semi soaked I got back on the train where I had a table all to myself, the hordes still being stuck inside the castle waiting for the rain to stop. As I got off, I heard a voice inside me say: Turn around. Turn around.
What? No! No one tells me what to do. "Turn around!" the inner voice shouted, but I ignored it sniffily. As I got out at St. Pancras I realised I had left my brand new umbrella on the train table. Ahhrghhhh!
Back in Palma I had to hop over to the excellent Chinese supermarked on the other side of town for some lotus root, and set out on foot with my trusty shopping bag, the first thing I bought when I arrived here five years ago from bespoke dog gear shop Palma Dog.
I was wearing flip flops, and a nasty grass seed or something found its way into the sole of my foot. Ow! Ow! What what what to do? Hobbling past Plaza Progres I saw an open door with a staircase, on which I sat down and extracted the intruder with my shorter than average nails. Leaving the lobby I heard the voice again, very loud this time: "Turn around!" But did I obey? No!
About 35 minutes later, in Plaza Espanya, I thought there was something missing and: Oh no! I had left my beautiful shopping bag on the stairs. What a plonker! I was too far away to turn around and wrote the bag off in my mind, although I was very fond of it. But bugger me if I, from the bus window more than an hour later, didn't see the bag inside the lobby! What are the chances of 1. A street door in Palma being open and 2. That no one would have gone in or out in all that time?
The people living in that gaff must have been agoraphobic or something.
My point: You (and I) should listen to not only your dog but to that inner voice, especially when it's screaming.
Also, you should buy my book Don't Joke on the Stairs for "an insightful, yet hilarious, assessment of modern China" according to critics, before you proceed to stick a finger in the eye of the Chinese communist party by learning Cantonese from me. That's right - finger in the eye! They deserve it.
I belong in the former category of course, the type that gets banned from Facebook and ostracised for correcting people’s writing.
Yes, I am the type who, if some lawyer were to send me a letter saying: “The late Queen of England has left you Buckingham Palace and all it’s contents,” I would answer “ITS contents!!!”
Some of you will know only too well what I mean, others will think (incorrectly) "what's the big deal". The latter group can't fathom how it hurts the eye to look at a wrongly spelled word, a sentence that doesn't make sense and even txtspk. (I mean UR instead of you're OR your, and don't get me started on the apostrophes!) They can't imagine how the fingers itch to send an email, a strongly worded letter, go to some office and shake someone lightly to death.
It IS a big deal.
So you can imagine how my eyes have been smarting for the last five years every time I walk past a certain Chinese restaurant in my neighbourhood and see their sign that is set up back to front.
That's right! The characters, meaning Longevity and Take care of separately but together is a transliteration of Sushi, should be shown like this: 壽司
Ahhrghhhhh! Pain! Nausea! To stick with the British theme, it would be like walking past the Savoy Hotel every day and seeing the sign spelled like "Savvy Hostel. Wellcome, Ur Majestie".
Why do they do it? Why? Why? The owners are Chinese. Surely they can read their own language (although the characters are normal, not the crippled version that the communists introduced after 1949 ostensibly to make it easier for illiterate peasants to read propaganda posters, but actually to destroy every remnant of the old culture)?
Yes, of course I have mentioned it to the owner, for who wants to have their eyes taken out with a burning spear every time they walk past an establishment. I think it was my third time there I said it, and the third time they messed up my order and/or overcharged me. "What's the big deal" she shrugged.
Thus ended my patronage of Sushi.
But wouldn't you like to be the one pointing out to Chinese that their writing is wrong? Or at least, learn something about Chinese characters - so mysterious looking yes, downright inscrutable, but when you look closer and know how they are constructed, so simple and brilliant? I can give you an insight into this beautiful writing system if you live in Mallorca.
And if you could stick a finger in the eye of the Chinese government, wouldn't that be fun too?
You can do that by learning Cantonese.
For every person in the world learning Cantonese, a Chinese government official gets another haemorrhoid. Nothing irks them more than people speaking this free and irreverent language, the essence of the real Chinese culture.
I was thinking about those when I visited William Morris' old gaff in Walthamstow the other day.
Not the emotional outbursts, you understand, but the carriage and the manor house. When he lived there as a child, it must have been hours away from central London. Now it was a few minutes' walk from the Tube, where I had been gnashing my teeth because it was packed solid and I had to stand for a few minutes. Imagine living in a time when you had to travel by carriage, pressed together with strangers, shaking, jumping and thudding along on unpaved roads with not as much as an underwired bra for support.
For days! And that's if you could even afford it!
Instead of complaining about cars and planes, we should be super thankful that we can get around so easily and in relative comfort. This is all thanks to oil, by the way, so we shouldn't be so eager to get rid of it. A world powered solely by electricity will soon put us back in costume drama discomfort or worse.
Another thing I thought about was how these people, the artists in the olden days, all seemed to know each other despite how difficult it must have been to get around. Like the master of light, Sorolla - how did he get to know painters from the northern tip of Denmark and be influenced by them? OK, trains had been invented by this time, and of course they all went to Paris, but it must have taken ages and been uncomfortable, hot and with lots of soot.
The Skagen painters in their turn were involved with or certainly influenced by people like Morris, who even as a young man managed to look ancient with hugely unbecoming facial hair. It started with a moustache in his late teens,
and by his early 30s the game was already up.
But despite the facial thicket he managed to work non stop. Not only did he revolutionise design, he was also a writer and champion of great architecture before that even became a thing. He was a socialist while it was still counter cultural and in favour of the common man, before it became all about controlling and killing others. He wanted most of all that the ordinary people should be able to enjoy art just as much as the elite. And he thought even the humblest of tools and utensils should be beautiful as well as useful.
After London I hopped over to Dublin where I ended up in its National Library to see an exhibition of one of Ireland's greatest sons, WB Yeats (whom I discovered through one of my top five bands, the Waterboys) and bugger me if the first thing I saw on a wall showing some of Yeats' associates and friends wasn't a huge picture of William Morris! I'm telling you, they all knew each other.
Another artistic and intellectual elite who all know each other is the non-Chinese who carry on the legacy of Cantonese. You don't have to live in Hong Kong or be surrounded by Cantonese speakers to enjoy and appreciate the logic and wild fun of the Cantonese language. And how about the beautiful characters - wouldn't you want to be able to read and write just a few? It's easier than you think. I'm sure William Morris, already influenced by Chinese design, would have loved being able to write Chinese characters all over the walls.
Oh, and I was introduced to William Morris by one of my ex Cantonese students from Hong Kong who now lives in Walthamstow! You see, we all know each other.
Well! Although I live in exile in sleepy backwater Palma de Mallorca, I knew more than this metropolitan girl about her hometown London, for bugger me if I couldn't casually mention that there was an exhibition in that very town called Spain and the Hispanic World! An exhibition I had wanted to go to ever since the Art Society of Mallorca had opened my eyes to this Master of Light (by yet another amazing coincidence, the same moniker as that of another of my favourites (i.e. painters of whom I have heard) Johannes Vermeer).
Charlotte in her infinite kindness bought me a ticket to the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. That was too, too kind; embarrassing in fact, because she is also paying for lessons.
As we groped our way through the badly lit rooms, we realised there would be few Spanish Masters, of Light or anything else, because the exhibition turned out to be all the treasures (shards, things, tools, icons) an American geezer called Archer M. Huntington (1870-1955) had amassed in his obsession with things Hispanic.
When we finally came to the paintings, it became apparent that Sorolla was the one everyone had come to see, and we had to elbow our way through throngs. It was worth it to see the master lightmaker at work, if only in two pictures.
In the world of photography (advertising) it is well known that people like to look at people, and that's probably why someone like Sorolla draws the eye so much more than for example a hinge or a horseshoe. However, I did spend some time in front of this:
Whose title and author I have forgotten. It was just well executed and looked like a good photo, and reminded me of Spain and how I bloody live there but have hardly seen anything of the country yet but I will.
But how about Cantonese, you ask? Yes, it's possible to be on a journey in for example Spain and still make Cantonese a world language, one victim at a time, online. Then the joy is even greater when I get to meet them in real life. Thank you so much for the joy, Charlotte!
This is the first film we made together:
(You can watch it by clicking on it, while I try to unravel YouTube's many threads)
I still have that camcorder, a Sony, repaired twice but still going strong. I dragged it along to Hong Kong in November last year, thinking I would make fun Cantonese videos with my trusty film star Linda. However, the depressing nature of that mask wearing city plus the fact that it rained almost every day, scuppered my not well made plans.
(The third film we made, and the most watched. Lydia plays ah-Wai and a whore)
Not only that, the sound equipment, a wireless microphone with transmitter, was stolen out of my suitcase on my way from Hong Kong to Australia!!!! This vexed me no end, and it wasn't until January this year I simmered down enough to buy a new microphone on eBay. It was from Germany so I thought it would be okay. The stuff arrived two weeks later and I put it straight into my electronic equipment drawer.
Imagine my unfathomable irateness when I took the microphone out on Sunday during a long-postponed clean-out session of the drawer, and found that it didn't work! First I changed the batteries. Nothing. Then I went out to buy another pair of batteries just in case. Nothing. I turned it on, I turned it off. I even tried to put the batteries in upside down, knowing full well that this wouldn't work.
(The second film we made, a parody on a Hong Kong marketing campaign for better service)
Then I contacted the guy on eBay, to be told "You should change the batteries and turn on the microphone" "It's too late to return the product" and "This is entirely your fault." Wow! Way to blame the customer! Yes, I should never have put the microphone in a drawer - that is the shortcut to breakage of all things.
I googled "Sony wireless microphone Palma" and it informed me that the Sony repair shop closed at 2pm, but there was a Sony shop that was open till 10pm. This should have set the alarm bells ringing but I was in a state, because I had two paid video jobs coming up soon and couldn't rest before I had the microphone. I darted to the Sony shop, a 45 minute walk, only to find an Indian guy behind a counter in an empty, cavernous hall that looked like a 1972 Lada workshop in Kyrgyzstan.
I couldn't control a huge, screaming laughter bursting forth. It was the shop (a money changing slash delivery pick-up place) that was called Sony! It was the funniest mistake I had made all year. And it became even funnier when, right next door, I found an electronics shop full of microphone looking objects! What are the chances?
I asked the guy behind the counter, slightly less scuffed than that of Sony's, if he had any Sony stuff, or if he could repair Sony stuff. I gave him the microphone, he turned it on and - it worked.
WHY. HOW. HOW UNFAIR IS IT POSSIBLE TO GET.
This time my laughter was tinged with angry tears, for it's not the first time I have tried to use something and it didn't work, only to find that when a man did exactly the same thing, it did. This is why we need men more than ever, despite what the feminist "preferred pronoun" brigade says.
And on the bus home I met two people from Hong Kong who knew mr. Lau who lives in my street! We had a right old natter in Cantonese.
Now I have to apologise to the damn German on eBay. But I didn't do anything wrong!
I really didn't. Moral dilemma.
If you want to chat away in Cantonese on the number 20 bus getting admiring comments in Spanish from another passenger, you should Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from Norwegian. New classes start after Easter.
This category contains episodes of the CantoNews From Exile podcast.