My long-term resident friends complain about the locals and their cruelty to animals, but in my neighbourhood at least, people mostly seem to treat their dogs very well - some even to the point of paying others to walk them.
When I lived in Hong Kong I noticed with some dismay that almost everybody paid others to walk them, and almost nowhere welcomed dogs. Children were brought up to fear them, with parents and grandmothers shouting "Dangerous! It will bite!" when the tiniest puppy hove into view. I know, because I brought up my first dog Piles (a pain in the arse) from he was one month old and could fit into the palm of my hand. Grown girlfriends shrieked and hid behind their masculine protectors when they saw Piles' little head stick out of my waist pouch. "Oh no! Dog! I'm afraid!"
Here in Mallorca it's almost too much the other way. Children are completely fearless and rush up to touch my Koldbrann, astutely commenting that he looks like a bear and wolf. Yes, I deeply regret calling him Koldbrann ("gangrene") now, but when I got him he was just called Wong Wong (woof woof in Cantonese, or possibly Yellow Yellow) and I had to come up with a new name. After Piles I thought it would be good to stay in the realm of afflictions, telling people that Koldbrann was a Viking name.
How could I have known that one day I would be living in Little Stockholm? Everybody knows Norwegian here! I should have called him Bjørnulf - Bear Wolf.
Anyway, not only children but adults too are interested in Koldbrann, and too right! He is a true elder statesman of fur. However - here are some tips on how to meet a strange dog. Or any dog.
1. Don't rush up and put your hand on its head. Imagine if an elephant did that to you. Dogs don't like having their heads pushed down, and they don't like big shapes bearing down in them from above. Who does?
2. Let the dog come to you. Crouch down and let it come and sniff you. Now you're friends!
3. If approaching the dog, do it slightly from the side with your turning eyes away, not head-on.
4. Always ask the owner first if your child can touch the dog. If yes, let the dog sniff the child, and tell him to touch only the back, sides and chest, stroking toward the tail. Don't touch the head, tail and paws.
5. Always ask the owner first if it's okay to give the dog a treat. If the child is doing it, make sure the dog is sitting down and in a calm state. Let the dog take the treat out of an open palm, not the fingertips.
6. Learn Cantonese! The self confidence this gives you, will make you better suited to take on a leadership role when you get your own dog! Mastering or even being able to say 20 words in a new language makes you stand up straighter!
Yaoooo! Culture on a high level right here in El Terreno!
Yes, fabled Swedish hotel, Feliz, has had the excellent idea of providing live music on its terrace every Saturday night. Not only that, the performance starts at a normal hour: 7:30pm instead of 9, 10 or even 11 like others crazily think I'll stay awake for. Big applause.
Last night it was cheerful Irishman Adrian Flatley (possible brother or son of the Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley himself)
who entertained us with his incredible voice and guitar skills and great musical versatility. And, you know, being Irish!
I have always had a special affinity for the Irish. When I lived in Hong Kong, I joined the St. Patrick's Society as a life member, just so I could go to their quiz nights and what not and listen to Irish being spoken. I mean English with an Irish accent. And the island itself - can anywhere get more beautiful and Tolkienesque?
Another thing I did in Hong Kong was to get a banjo. The banjo is my favourite instrument because it's happy-making. It's quite simply impossible to sit still when I hear bluegrass or any other music where the banjo features prominently. As with everything I do, I had an linguistic ulterior motive: I wanted to make music videos in Cantonese.
Having myself learnt Mandarin largely through karaoke; learning songs by heart and going to what used to be public karaoke rooms to perform them, I thought my Cantonese students would leap on the chance to have songs written in real Cantonese, not pseudo Mandarin with Cantonese pronunciation which is the rule in Canto pop.
This strangely failed.
Since I came here, my banjos have been largely sitting there gathering dust, because, lame excuse, I couldn't find a teacher. In Hong Kong I had the multi talented brothers Petrashune who both worked as musicians at Disneyland to help me with the banjo - we did Cantonese lessons in exchange for banjo lessons.
But guess what! Mr. Flatley also plays the banjo! Right here in Mallorca! Is it possible that ...? It's probably too much to expect that he will want to have Cantonese lessons in exchange for banjo, but then again, why not? According to his YouTube channel he likes cool things, and nothing can be cooler than Cantonese. But if all else fails, yes, I will pay.
As they say in the bluegrass world: Learn Cantonese the Natural Way, from a Norwegian!
Today's Cantonese: 彈班卓琴 tan ban jeuk kam - pluck banjo zither (play the banjo)
Although I had and still have little interest in the Spanish language per se because after Cantonese, any other language is bound to seem too normal, I enjoyed writing the book. Not only because I like drawing and it gave me a chance to poke fun at the covid restrictions that were just kicking in, but because I had a deadline every week - my editor Heather was using the book to teach a new group on Zoom! Unfortunately (for me) they were super intelligent and fast learners, and every week they kept clamouring for more, ever more course material.
It was a relief to be able to write The End after 131 pages of intense working in a language I don't speak and which isn't Cantonese, but then came the kick in the teeth: Heather wanted me to, not unreasonably I have to say, 1. Edit the book so we could be sure everything was correct (damn accents) 2. put numbers on the questions in the exercises and 3. Give, yes ADD, the correct answer to the questions in the exercises.
What? Revision? Nooooooo! So boring. In Cantonese of course, I was the teacher and would correct my students live, in the same room. That was fun!
This was turning into la plume de ma tante, but in Spanish. But with a higher incidence of plonkerism, that is true.
However, yesterday something great happened which is forcing me to crawl up the last bit of this seemingly insurmountable hindrance that the normally affable Heather threw in my path and which has been weighing on me like an old murder case: My friend is coming to visit me with her son, and her son is learning Spanish, and he is going to use my book as a prop!
Yabba doooo this is the deadline I needed. Now I leap to the task with a renewed, nay, new joy.
So that will be published soon on a website near you! Cheap as chips and twice as crunchy.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong and the Cantonese language are struggling a bit these days. So if you want to learn something really fun and happening - and easy! while making a huge political statement and sticking a finger in the eye of the dour and humourless Mandohooligans, do yourself a favour and
Today's Cantonese: 肥佬 Fei lou - fat geezer
In a world where everything is delivered, it's good to have the post office nearby, because not even I am at home 24 hours a day! Sometimes I'm at the post office buying stamps, for example. That's what I must have been doing when a parcel came via Amazon on the 16th of August. But I didn't know, because there was no note, no phone call, and when I tried to track the parcel, only "your parcel can't be found." That was a bit vexing, because it was a present I had bought on July 7th; a farewell present for Palan - Patricia and Alan - who were leaving forever on the 20th.
Ahhrghhh! Not another loss! One of the worst things about living in Hong Kong was that although it was easy to find friends, especially since as a Cantonese teacher I had unlimited access to like-minded, adventurous people from all over the world, they left as soon as I really became attached to them. Two years, five if I was lucky, then a big going away party and pfffft.
Here in Mallorca, largely stuck at home during lockdown this and curfew that, and working online without colleagues, it hasn't been so easy to make friends. So I was very happy to meet excellent couple Palan at the end of lockdown, through their dog, of course. We talked about dogs, then I invited them to a Matal Party to celebrate possibly the world's only devout Muslims starting their own wine label called 'Shitfaced' (in Bengali).
Then came another semi lockdown with all restaurants closed. That would have been dire if not for Palan. I discovered they are as crazy about card games, board games and quizzes as I am. Roping in a fourth victim, Aaron, we started a dinner and Cho Dai Di club,, meeting from one to several nights a week in each other's houses, scurrying home well in time to beat the 10pm curfew, of course. What do you think we are, criminals?
When restaurants tentatively opened up again with the somewhat puzzling closing time of 5pm, we started doing Happy Hour in nearby Bar Michel, arriving at 4 pm and buggering off at 4:45pm. That's when the put-upon owners of Bar Michel started getting nervous. Plain clothes police were everywhere trying to catch their fellow citizens in the act of surviving.
So for me, the worst year in living memory for many was actually great, because of Palan. They also helped me move, and both lent their services as cabinet makers and architects, for mates' rates. They were fun, interesting, kind, trustworthy and understanding. They made me feel I wasn't living in a world of acquaintances.
Therefore, when they told me they were leaving to settle in Ireland, I was kind of devastated, but also vexed. Who would be my game night mates now? And everything?
I decided to get them a special going away present, a neon lamp in the shape of playing cards. Yaooo! But just in case it got intercepted between China and here, I also had two cups made with the following motive:
I tracked and tracked the parcel, even wrote to the seller explaining that I had to have it before August 20th. So while I was tracking and writing, checking and tracking, the neon lamp was safely ensconced at my local post office three minutes' walk away while I was supposed to know this by telepathy. And so it was that I couldn't get the lamp until yesterday, August 31st. That's when the seller mentioned that it had been delivered on the 16th.
I like it a lot. And isn't it really fairer that I should keep it, after all I've been through? I think so. In fact, if they want it, they can come and get it! Forever.
After losing my friends, I really only have one joy left in life, and that's teaching Cantonese. So I would urge you to start to
Today's Cantonese: 唔好走呀! M hou jau ah! - not good leave, ah! (Don't leave!)
I never knowingly get in a car with someone who's been drinking. This is really annoying to drunk drivers. "It's okay, I'm a good driver," they say, almost menacingly. Yes, well, I'm not a good passenger. I could tell them it's because as a child I was hit by a drunk, nay, shitfaced, driver in the middle of a pedestrian crossing on my way to my ballet lesson that was supposed to be followed by a concert with the Trondhjem Philharmonic Orchestra with my favourite violin player Arve Tellefsen and I flew through the air and landed headfirst on the tram tracks and thought "now I can't go to the concert" and that was true and a bystander drove me home and my parents didn't take me to the hospital because it was the 1970s when children were supposed to be able to fall off a bike or out of a tree or be run down by a drunk fucker without needing medical attention. Yes, that's what I could say, but they (my wine guzzling friends) would probably think it was a stupid lie to get out of a situation, so I never do. Anyway it wouldn't be because of that. I don't need an excuse not to get in a car with a drunk driver.
However, I also love road trips.
When I lived in Hong Kong/China I used to take my Cantonese students on "language seminars" in Guangdong province just across the border from Hong Kong. It was one such student/friend, L, who suggested we start hitchhiking around China instead of getting on dirty and crowded buses. How fun! The Chinese, being hospitable to a T and especially to (white) foreigners, simply had no choice but to stop. We learnt always to say we were just going to the nearest town instead of where we were actually going, because drivers would then inevitably drive us there and then turn around and go back .
The nearest town was not an option, however, when we were hitchhiking through Xinjiang, formerly known as East Turkestan. It is a province larger than Europe, way out in Central Asia where all the neighbouring countries is a Stan. There were hardly any cars and certainly no towns, so we had to tell the few drivers who picked us up, exactly where we were going. And where we were going was Korla, hundreds of kilometres away and on the northern edge of the dreaded Taklamakan Desert, whose name is supposed to mean "If you go in, you can't come out."
After a couple of short/distance truck lifts, we were picked up by two Uyghurs in a car that looked as if it hadn't been cleaned since it fell off the conveyor belt in 1968. The front window was encrusted with yellow sand and completely opaque. Cool! Their Mandarin was almost unintelligible, but we understood they were going to a transport hub 200 kilometres down the road. I also made out that the driver said "First, drink beer."
They took us to a small village and into a shack made of plywood. Inside were three other Uyghurs - one of whom was the spitting image of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - and a Chinese guy. All four were already shitfaced, which I found strangely reassuring as I never liked Ahmadinejad much. In fact I think one of the problems with the Middle East 'conflicts' is that so many of the actors don't have access to the pacifying balsam of beer.
An intricate ceremony involving 15 large bottles of beer and two thimble-sized glasses followed. The honoured guests L and I were give the lion's share, or rather the lion cub's share - the real lion's share went to the driver. He must have put away eight or nine bottle in the hour we were there. Thus fortified, we staggered back to the car where I got the best seat, next to the driver who navigated by looking out the side window. We took off at top speed, the driver clinging to the steering wheel for balance, while the car veered from side to side.
There was desert on both sides, the road was razor straight and there were no other cars. But still, I was afraid! No beer could dull this dread I felt. Of course both the driver and the other Uyghur thought it was hilarious to see me hang on to the side door (no seatbelt, naturally) and idiotically close my eyes - what for? It was impossible to see anything through the windshield anyway! But the 200 kilometres flew by, I'll give them that.
That's the last time I've been in a drink driving car, that I know of. But of course, in China beer isn't seen as alcohol.
After my life in China, Mallorca seems decidedly dull normal. But crashing in a car with a driver over the limit is one excitement I definitely don't need.
One excitement you need, on the other hand, is that of being able to speak Cantonese, the most fun and happening language in all of China and the world.
Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian!
Today's Cantonese: 貓咗 Mau jou - catted. (Shitfaced)