New island, new language
When I moved from Hong Kong to Spain in 2018, I had this crazy idea, well, faint hope, that it would be like coming to China all over again. I would fall in love with the country, Spain, the island, Mallorca and the language, Spanish, possibly Mallorquin, just like I had felt myself born again and been riveted by everything Chinese way back in 1988.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Perhaps I don't see everything quite as much in love and hate, black and white, and yellow yellow yellow as I did then - yes, I just can't muster all the hormones and strong feelings about everything that I had when I was young. But I was content with living in a stunning place with fresh air and very pleasant people.
Still, I'm a born-again linguist! Why couldn't I get super interested in Spanish and study day and night until fluent? It irked me. I thought I knew the reason: Spanish just isn't anything special. It's too normal. Cantonese is this really cool, happening and subversive language with its own Chinese characters that the Mandohooligans (Mandarin speakers from north in mainland China whose purpose is to eradicate the Cantonese culture) can't understand, and speaking it feels like belonging to an exclusive club. Spanish? With a normal alphabet instead of pictograms and a syntax similar to that of my mother tongue Norwegian, with lots of boring grammar and verb declensions, it felt like studying accountancy.
There was only one thing to do: Write a Spanish textbook! In cartoons.
(I advise you to do the same. If there is something you don't know or aren't interested in, write a book about it! )
It helped, somewhat.
Ah, but Spanish is so cumbersome and uses so many words, where Cantonese is short, elegant and to the point. "Long time no see" is straight out of the Cantonese playbook. I missed the terse, four worded missives, especially "Mou ban fat la" which means something like "I have no other choice" or "There is really very little I can do about it."
Would the Spanish have such an expression?
Only a Chinese could answer me. A Mandarin speaker, but better than nothing. I trotted off to the closest China shop, the owner of which I knew spoke good Spanish.
"Oh yes, that's easy. No hay le medio," she said.
Really? That sounded strange. No hay, there isn't any, okay. But "le medio"? For him half? I wrote it down and showed her. Yes, yes, she nodded. No hay le medio.
My super fluent friend Heather, who is also teaching my Spanish course Learn Spanish without Really Trying, cracked up when she heard it.
"It should be No hay remedio! There is no remedy!" she cackled between gulps of air.
Ahhh, so that old chestnut, that Chinese say L instead of R, was true after all. From Hong Kong I was used to Chinese people saying W instead of R when they spoke English; not the famous "flied lice" but "fie wie." But of course, the Spanish R is something else! Only L will do.
Cecilie's Cantonese school, Happy Jellyfish Language Bureau, is still going on. Currently only on Skype, but if you live in Mallorca...