Do as I say, don't do as I do, is always good advice. But when the 'I' is both the one giving the advice and the one receiving it?
Take the Spanish language, with which I'm still grappling.
When I was teaching Cantonese in Hong Kong, I always told my students they wouldn't really have to study as long as they spoke Cantonese to Chinese people every day. I was right too, because that's how I learnt Cantonese. OK, so I spent hours a day learning Chinese characters, but that's different and just fun.
But what do I do now? Do I follow my own advice? Well yes, of course I speak Spanish every day; to neighbours, shop keepers and so on. But I don't sit down and play cards with Spanish guys for example. I don't spend hours and hours talking to them on a train thundering through the mainland. Instead I study on Duolingo! Boooring. But I mean, 16 tenses of the verb!
I think up until now, deep inside I felt I was being disloyal to Hong Kong and China if I started enjoying Mallorca, the Spanish culture and all it has to offer. Perhaps I thought by some miracle I could live both there and here.
But this week, after five years in the country, something happened.
First I went to the Arts Society's monthly talk on arty things. I almost didn't go, for unlike other events I had been to, such as the one about Picasso and vastly overrated Joan Miró, I had never heard about the artist in question. It was Joaquin Sorolla (1863 - 1923).
Why the HELL hadn't I heard of him? After all, he painted at the same time as the Skagen painters whom I adore, and knew them. What ignorance on my part! But the superb lecturer Jacqueline Cockburn did mention that he wasn't that well known outside the USA (!) because American galleries had wisely snapped up all his stuff, more or less before the paint had dried on the canvas. Small wonder.
Oh, what a painter. How is it possible to show sunlight like that, clearer and more lifelike than in a photograph? I immediately wanted to go to Madrid, see his gaff and find out more. And I wanted to go around Spain like Sorolla had done, to see all the villages exactly like he had, only with more cars and Germans. I came out of the venue looking at Spain with new and favourable eyes.
Then, only a few days later, I took my writer colleague E to a nearby restaurant, established in 1970 and with not a thing changed since then. We sat at the bar, not tucked away at some corner table, and nibbled at the best tapas I have tasted since the excellent but unfortunately named Hostal Corona turned into Japanese fusion.
And when this geezer suddenly started playing Spanish guitar with many flourishes and another geezer joined in with the most beautiful singing voice, I thought: YES. I want to live here.
Yes, I want to learn Spanish and Spanish songs. I immediately got on Wordle Español and solved it in three tries, sent it to my new friend Veronica from Uruguay and said "let's meet!"
And this morning walking Koldbrann past the military compound near the excellently curated military museum where no one I know has ever been, I suddenly heard it for the first time: The Spanish national anthem!
Now you may wonder how I knew it was the Spanish national anthem when I had never heard it before, but I just knew. Also it coincided with two guys leisurely hoisting the Spanish flag inside a military compound, so what else could it be? I took it as a huge sign that something had shifted and that I now live in Spain. In exile, but with joy.
Amazingly, the same week I also got some new Cantonese students - there must be a connection. For of course, the real purpose of my life is still to make Cantonese a world language. That goes without saying. But I can enjoy life more while doing it, right?
Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian!
Today's Cantonese: 西班牙 Sai Ban A - West Squad Tooth (transliteration) - SPAIN.