On raising a bilingual child

I think that while I’ve wanted to write about this subject, I have had a difficult time getting started because it seems like a constantly but imperceptibly evolving subject. I fear that I need some kind of conclusion to a blog post and this is just ongoing. So I’ll just talk about how it has been so far.

Simply put, for as long as I could remember, I knew I would speak exclusively Chinese to my child. There’s no “ifs ands or buts” given the way I was raised and the pride I have in being able to speak what I can speak. I observed and eavesdropped as friends who started having kids five years ago spoke to their children. I listened for their accents, admired their determination and wished that my own child would respond as obediently as their children do. If they could do it – and some have thicker accents than I imagine myself to have – then I can do it, too.

But as D Day drew near last year, I wondered if I would execute it. Despite living in Vancouver and feeling in many aspects in my life surrounded by Chinese people, I don’t actually use it often: I don’t exclusively or often shop at the Chinese grocers, I don’t often talk to my mother or see the MIL, and NPY and I speak perfect and exclusively English to each other. Would I shy away from my intentions in self-consciousness?

It turns out that I spend a lot of time alone with the child and since what I say is a narrow set of words (to start), it’s not hard to speak exclusively Chinese to him. We often take videos of E and sometimes in them, I am speaking to him. I’m so picky whenever I hear my mistakes, but I am speaking to him in Chinese.

I attended a couple of Infant Communication sessions at the parent-infant classes and they made me wonder if I had made the right choice. In the first session I attended, the counsellor who lead the discussion advised us to use the language “closest to your heart”. I’d like to think that is Chinese but I might be forcing it and it ought to be English given my proficiency and love of writing. In any case Chinese does qualify as being “close to my heart” so I felt justified. In the second session I attended, a different counsellor advised that we use our “best language” with baby and unfortunately that would be English for me. I was reminded of what I fear, that my limited Chinese will limit E’s language development. For example, am I limiting E’s language ability because I only know one or two words that express “happiness” in Chinese but know about 10 in English? Would I be so fancy when talking to him to say such words as “joy” and “content” anyhow?

I give him all that I can give.

I started from the moment I met him, partly because I was afraid that if I started in English, I wouldn’t be able to switch. NPY is of the opposing belief that it didn’t matter when E was a newborn or infant. Now that he is a toddler, NPY is trying harder, but it is not exclusively Chinese because he’s not comfortable with it and that disappoints me.

I wanted NPY to bring the Mandarin component since I can’t. The way things are going right now, Cantonese will be even more marginalized but it is still vital to link the speakers to others of the population who know it. It connects a community that is proud, the one that paved the way for the rest of the Chinese population in Canada. But, practically and educationally, Cantonese is kind of useless. It twigs on me that I can’t give E Mandarin, the language that will pave the way to opportunities, that people learned to assimilate. It bugs me that E won’t get it from either of his parents and it is my MIL who can take credit for it.

Which is exactly why I am not explicitly requesting that MIL – who can speak English, Cantonese and Mandarin – conducts an exclusively Mandarin programme. That would acknowledge her knowledge and I won’t do it. E will attend Chinese school that all children despise and learn from the ground up and I will be enthusiastic and tutor him.

And now we come to this point when he is 13 months old and no longer in my care 100% of the time. For two days a week, he spends business hours with his grandparents and he learns whatever they speak. For two days a week, he is at daycare and that is exclusively English exposure. And for three days a week – greater than the 33% guidelines – he is with us and I speak to him in Chinese. There is a hope it sticks but now that we are approaching the time when he will say his first words, I do wonder if it will be Chinese.

I observed that my friends were doubling up their Chinese words, like it is more difficult for children to use the proper name and it is more appealing to a child to give it a “nickname” that is the word repeated. “E, would you like some 奶-奶 or 水-水? And then read a 書-書?” You don’t hear in English parent’s saying to a child, “Would you like some milk-milk? And then read a book-book?” And certainly not, “Would you like some water-water?” Why is that? I swore I wouldn’t do that but there I go.

My final opinion is this statement: My mother is first-generation Canadian and while she knows English well enough that I could speak English to her and she understands, she continued to speak only Chinese to me and my sister and I benefited from that. I am second-generation Chinese so there is that natural loss of the language ability and E is third-generation Chinese. And a boy. He’s going to rebel either from the very beginning or at some point. And that is natural and I accept it.

On raising a bilingual child

August 2016 update

Aside from the post I just published about Chinese calendar web tools, which was essentially me flushing my Drafts and it was an easy one, I haven’t blogged here in nearly a year! Amazing how time flies and it certainly reinforces that I need to make some domain name changes (i.e., next year I won’t renew this .com domain but move to .ca or I might give it up altogether and this blog will be a subdomain of another blog, etc.).

After all, I still like this moniker which is uniquely me. I haven’t heard of it from anyone else and it is also a sign of my times, too, as I don’t think “Catch Star” is that often used any longer. Chinese slang has evolved since the ’90s and there’s some other term for us probably.

In any case, to catch you up on the past 11 months….


Since November 2015 and now, I visited Toronto and Halifax twice, in November 2015 and April 2016. Dining in Toronto during each trip was heavily skewed towards Asian food but I didn’t have the time or sufficient material to split off the Asian dining.

Oh, and we went to Portland in July 2016 and what Asian food we had was anything but Chinese!


I just looked at my 2015 recap and all four Asian-American novels I read are Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee installments. Funny. It was that kind of year!


Here’s the biggie. As intimated three posts ago, I reproduced (had a child). Running up to that eventful day, I had lots of disagreements in my head with elders about what I should do, coming up against superstitions galore. Long story short, I still think the superstitions are a bunch of hooey and hate to even give them a brain cycle’s attention. After E was born, yet more traditional customs were foisted on me including confinement and the confinement diet. Long story short, I didn’t need to be confined as I didn’t want to go anywhere and I’m grudgingly accepting that the food that was prepared for me was convenient and it was in my interests to comply.

Then there’s this lifelong project we have now taken on to raise E. Eep. I haven’t gathered together my thoughts about the language thing so, among other reasons, I have not blogged about it. Further, it’s an evolving matter anyhow. And long ago, I created a category called “Parenting a 3rd Gen’er”. It’s a lousy name I should change. So a post that has been kicking around my head is to state my expectations.

Finally, reproducing and having a third demographic in the household just opens up the can of worms that is shopping for both materials and services. The former might not be so relevant to this blog but the latter, as I seek supplementary educational services, is.


And… this template is so drab. I should find a new one.

August 2016 update

Chinese calendar web tool

Last year, NPY’s birthday on the Gregorian calendar fell on the same date as his birthday on the lunar calendar. According to MIL, and quite incredible to NPY, this is the first time it has happened in 38 years. She doesn’t have to check really since NPY’s birth date fell on a festival day she observes every year so she can easily tell if the two dates ever coincided.

So it made me wonder if it just so happens that next year my “Western birthday” and “Chinese birthday” happen to coincide and they do!

And to thoroughly check, I looked back on all of the years using a web tool. It’s a lot of years to check… I found that my birthdays coincided once before in 1997.

Chinese calendar web tool

Heritage speakers

“Why It’s Easier for Children to Become Bilingual”
“Meaty Middle” of Grammar Girl podcast episode #482
– Written by Syelle Graves, read by Mignon Fogarty

[emphasis are my own]

Many people all over the world spoke one language at home and then a different one at school, as young children. Because both languages were technically acquired in that critical period, we (and these speakers themselves!) expect them to be balanced bilinguals. However, this is rarely the case, because language dominance will occur quickly, especially if the speaker does not attend a bilingual school, or learns to read and write only in the community language. Also, if speakers don’t have other types of exposure, like regular travel to a country where they can become immersed in the other language, the school language can take over.

Linguists often refer to these bilinguals as “heritage speakers.” Heritage speakers may understand that home language better than they produce it, or, have “no accent” yet not know very basic vocabulary. The more fluent in the school language that these speakers’ parents are, the more likely the children are to lose their home language because children quickly figure out that their parents understand the school or community language. Then, their brains “resort” to the community language, in order to save resources and communicate more expediently. Heritage speakers come in many different levels of fluency, but all possess a rich and special familial and cultural connection to the home language. It can be helpful for these folks to understand that it is totally normal to default to a dominant language, and to realize how challenging it can be to maintain two languages throughout one’s life, when both languages aren’t necessary.

Heritage speakers

Chinese name numerology and other considerations

My paternal grandfather, 爷爷, gave me my Chinese name. He also named my sister and two male cousins. While it is not the case in other families, my male cousins and my sister and I share the same generational name, the second character.

I’ve always liked my Chinese name. My surname means camel and it is fairly uncommon. It even has as a radical, the character for horse (馬), which is my Chinese zodiac sign. The more popular surname that sounds the same is , which means happiness. The second character, as mentioned above is the generational name that ties my name with my sister’s and my cousins’, 文, means literary and I like to think that it comes from the artistic side of my late grandfather who passed away when I was just four or five years old. The unique part of my Chinese name is the last character, 慧. It is half of the common word for wisdom, 智慧, and I guess means wisdom on its own, too. Besides appreciating having a solid name meaning wisdom, perhaps I also like the character because its pronunciation starts with a “w” sound like my first name.

I’ve always liked my Chinese name and have been saddened – in the height of my identity crisis a couple of decades ago – it wasn’t used by anyone. My maternal grandparents referred to several of their twelve grandchildren by their Chinese names but not me and my sister. I wonder now if my mum didn’t want to use the name that her in-laws gave. Or she was so “modern” that she made her parents work with our English names.


My MIL named her three children and she also came up with the Chinese names for her five nieces and nephews who carry her maiden name. Since I was named by my grandfather, I thought it would be a patriarch’s domain (i.e., her father’s) but if she displays the most interest in it, why not let her?

I gather that of her children and nieces and nephews, I’m the one who displays the most interest in this subject and I also have the most background knowledge. It is not merely that she is naming my future child, but that is certainly a factor in my interest!

At first, MIL was pulling together names she liked, counting the number of strokes in the characters and guessing what would be auspicious. But then she dug out the naming book from her storage room packed full straight from a Hoarders episode and guided me through the process. Now, I can look things up and cobble together a name with the correct strokes to be auspicious… but I can’t read the fortunes associated with the numbers!

Here is Chinese name numerology and determining a Chinese name in a nutshell:

  1. Count the strokes in the surname and find the page with the charts for that number of strokes (first image below – page on the right)
  2. Select one of several sets of stroke counts that are determined to be auspicious in every way, e.g., 15-stroke surname matched with 9-stroke generational name and 7-stroke unique name (first image below)
  3. Select from the pages listing characters based on stroke count your generational name and unique name keeping in mind (a) the characters are appropriate for the sex of the child and (b) the elements associated with each of the characters (fire, water, earth, air) are compatible with the other characters selected (second image below)

Here is the process of reading the numerology of a Chinese name:

  1. Add up total strokes in the name – is that a lucky number?
  2. Add up the total strokes in first two characters – that number is associated with your early life fortune
  3. Add up total strokes in the last two characters – that number is associated with later life fortune
  4. Add 1 to total strokes in last character – is that a lucky number?
  5. Are the elements (fire, earth, water, air) associated with each character compatible – e.g., water extinguishes fire and they should not be together.

In the case of my name above, the total strokes for all three characters is 35 and this is a good number, denoted in the book with a circle. MIL read the fortune to me and I can’t remember it all but it was acceptable. (And what if it wasn’t??) Then we added the strokes to determine my early life fortune and later life fortune, neither of those numbers, 20 and 19, are lucky, marked with an “x”. MIL is not a master interpreter and reassured me the entire number is good and that’s all that matters!

Further, my surname has a “fire” element which is okay with the “earth” element of my generational name. But the third character is a “water” element that clashes with the fire but we’ll shrug that off, too.

Then, aside from the numerology calculations, to help you narrow down from the still large number of possibilities, there are personal considerations:

  • What would be their nickname and do I like it? Mine would have been 慧慧 (“Weiwei”) which is not bad.
  • We prefer a softer sound name that has fewer hard consonants.
  • Simplistically, we want something “easy to write” but it’s not as simple as that. I want a name that is beautiful to write, a name that does not necessarily have fewer strokes but is constructed such that it’s not too difficult to write it tidily. That is, there are some characters where if I’m not careful (or even if I am), it comes out lopsided – top-heavy or not balanced. It is the part of my name that couldn’t be helped, but I don’t think I write my surname beautifully, especially not the component on the right side. And my generational name is a little too simple – I always feel it looks awkward when I’ve written it.
  • How does it all sound together in Mandarin and in Cantonese? This is, of course, the most subjective. I don’t naturally know what sounds good and I came to accept my Chinese name fully only when I learned how it shows up in some HK singers’ names either the exact same character or homophones: Karen Mok (莫文蔚,”rhymes” with my whole name), Sammi Cheng (鄭秀) and Kelly Chan (陳琳).

So, MIL came up with a generational name: . I’m not previously familiar with this character and find it tricky to pronounce and until I get the hang of it, I might say it wrong! It’s also a bit of a balancing act to right the character, ensuring it has a solid enough base. The character was first defined to me as “handsome/pretty” and I was resistant. I’m not sure I wanted a physical attribute to be part of the name. But it also means “talented” so I’ll take it.

Then, MIL presented me with the options for the unique part, the third part of the name:

  1. A word I already know and means “accomplish, success, mature”.
  2. This was defined to me as “protect” and I quite like that attribute but found the character too simple.
  3. MIL really liked this one and told me it meant “great” and the dictionary agreed, adding “magnificent”. NPY and I didn’t like how it sounds as a nickname “宏仔”. Further, the whole name sounded flaky to me – “handsome” + “great” – so I resisted.
  4. 賢 (贤) This was defined to me as “composed” but the dictionary says “virtuous” and I quite like it but NPY didn’t. This is one complex character to write but that simplified version is ugly.
  5. I know this name from male HK singers Andy Lau (劉德華) and Alex To (杜德偉) and it means “morality, kindness”. Unfortunately, it sounds like “duck” in Cantonese and we’re so Anglophone we don’t like it or its associated nickname “德仔”.

While we are keeping the English name under wraps because – who knows, it might change – it’s different with his Chinese name. A Chinese name is full of calculation (literally!) so I feel like I can share it. It’s more of a “prediction”, a statement, than something that NPY and I have privately enjoyed as “our little secret” for several months.


Interestingly, MIL found that, just as in English, boy names were harder than girl names to find. Also, this name will set the precedent for any other child we might have and the one(s) NPY’s brother has in the future.

We also know that we won’t be putting the Chinese name on the birth certificate. This is the stance NPY’s family took for the three siblings. Meanwhile, both my sister and I have our Chinese names as part of our legal names. There’s an argument for both avenues. NPY and his siblings never had to deal with spelling out their Chinese names the way I did and the horrid spelling my parents selected. But I find it a little sad their Chinese names are not at all a part of their life, not used by grandparents either. So, when I asked NPY which way we’d spell the name, using Pinyin or Wade-Giles, he was seriously baffled. He had never “spelled out” his own name before, never needed to. We concluded that, if forced, it would be spelled the Cantonese way to match his Cantonese surname and neither of us are fond of the “zh”, “x” and “j” so prevalent in Pinyin!

It’s one thing to look up the fortunes for my early life (past) and whole life (going on) but then it started to feel like we were predicting/setting a life on earth not yet begun! Wild! And cannot be taken overly seriously. :P

Chinese name numerology and other considerations

Chinese seals and typefaces

Once upon a time, a Chinese seal was lovingly made for me. My late aunt carved it in a block of stone but part of one character (the “E”) she mistakenly carved backwards so I couldn’t ever use it.

For my next crafty project, I needed to look up my name in a particular “font” or “script” I what even are the names of different typefaces you see?

In my search, I came upon the Chinese Seal Generator and my quest is satisfied.

Actually, while I put in my Chinese name to trial the typefaces, I will need to look up the giftee’s name. Finding the Chinese Seal Generator website, in any case, is a good start.

Since no typeface names were given for each style that was available, I have – tongue-in-cheek – given them my own names below.

First row
Fat Brush Script
Your Dad’s No-Nonsense Handwriting
Calligraphy Handwriting
Chinese Arial

Second row
Chinese Hieroglyphics
Chinese Seal Typeface (the typeface I was looking for)
Chinese Comic Sans
Handwriting with a Pen

Third row
Chinese Newspaper (a.k.a. Bolded Impact Typeface)
Elegant Cursive Albeit Simplified Chinese
Comedic Movie Title Typeface
Chicken Scratch Typeface

Fourth row
My Rudimentary Ridgidly Upright No Personality Whatsoever Typeface
Chinese Reader Typeface

Chinese seals and typefaces

Cantonese proverbs poster

I think it was back in high school when I was introduced to the Pieter Bruegel the Elder painting Flemish Proverbs and I counted it amongst my favourite artwork. That was back when I also preferred Monet over the other Impressionist painters, too. It has a stark style and is a bit of an eyesore but it’s so interesting!

In 2014, in a nod to Bruegel’s work, graphic designer and cartoonist Ah To created a Chinese version for the Passion Times. Specifically, a Cantonese version, and I couldn’t be more pleased. The comic is called “The Great Canton and Hong Kong Proverbs” with the intent to propagate Cantonese culture and language and I can really get behind that. It depicts 81 (plus two bonus) proverbs – why not 88? – and is now available to overseas buyers from a link on Ah To’s Facebook page.

Several blogs have posted about this work with the translations and while I work through it, I thought I would, too, in a more succinct way, doing away with the Soundcloud links and use my Sinosplice Pinyin Tooltips plug-in – hover over the Chinese characters to get a pop-up with the characters in larger font and the pronunciation.



01 上山捉蟹(難上加難)
To catch crabs on a hill
Harder than hard, almost impossible.
02 鬼揞眼
A ghost covers one’s eyes
To fail to see/find something / A Freudian slip
03 有錢使得鬼推磨
If you have money, you can make a ghost push a millstone
Everything is possible with money; money makes the world go around.
04 鬼畫符
A ghost draws a talisman
Illegible scribble, poor handwriting
05 鬼拍後尾枕
A ghost slaps the back of one’s head
To let out a secret unknowingly
06 多個香爐多隻鬼
An extra incense burner would attract an extra ghost
Creating chance for someone to share your benefit / A foolish act to invite losses.
07 呃鬼食豆腐
To trick a ghost into eating tofu
To lure someone into a trap, to trick someone / Used to express skepticism or disbelief, “You’re kidding me!”
08 扮鬼扮馬
To masquerade as a ghost and as a horse
To play a role to deceive/trick somebody
09 放飛機
To throw a paper airplane
To break a promise/commitment / To fail to turn up for a date
10 樹大有枯枝
A big tree has some dead branches
There are good and bad people in every group.

11 床下底吹喇叭(低聲下氣)
Blowing a horn under the bed
In a begging/humble tone (kowtow position is implied)
12 佛都有火
Even Buddha gets inflamed
To a degree that is intolerable, “That’s the limit!”
13 老貓燒鬚
An old cat burns its whiskers
An expert who makes a careless mistake in his/her own expertise.
14 拉牛上樹
To pull a cow up a tree
A vain attempt to do something
15 豬乸會上樹
Female pigs can climb trees
When pigs fly
16 開籠雀
A bird in an open cage
Someone who chatters all of the time
17 兩頭蛇
Two-headed snake
Someone who works for both sides in a deal / A servant of two masters
18 床下底劈柴(撞板)
Chopping wood under a bed
Epic fail / A method that doesn’t work (If someone under a bed but moves vigorously, he would probably bang his head against the bed above him.)
19 玻璃夾萬(有得睇冇得使)
A glass safe
Something that looks good but is not practical
20 上面蒸鬆糕 下面賣涼粉
Steaming sponge cake on top, selling glass jelly below.
It usually describes women who wear heavy clothing on top but barely cover their legs with mini skirts/short shorts during cold winter.

21 掛羊頭賣狗肉
Hanging up a sheep’s head and sell dog meat
Try to palm off something
22 大石砸死蟹
A big stone crushes a crab
An unequal contest
23 倒瀉籮蟹
Spilled a basket of crabs
Messy, troublesome
24 賣魚佬洗身(冇晒聲(腥)氣
A fishmonger washes his body (no stinky smell)”
To have yet to receive a positive response (冇晒腥氣 sounds like 冇晒聲氣 which means “no news”)
25 煲電話粥
To boil telephone congee
To talk for hours on the phone.
26 冬瓜豆腐
Wintermelon and tofu
An emergency/crisis / An unfortunate event, especially death
27 倒吊沙煲(窮到冇米)
A pot hanged upside down
Poverty/penniless (implied there is no rice left)
28 十個沙煲九個蓋
Ten teapots and nine lids
Demand outnumbers supply / Not enough
29 刀仔据大樹
Use a little knife to saw down a tree
Use little capital to make big profit
30 賊佬試沙煲
A thief breaks a clay pot
Test the waters before doing bad things

31 冇柄遮(死撐)
An umbrella with a broken handle
To fight to the bitter end / To refuse to admit one is in the wrong
32 甩繩馬騮
Loose string monkey
A very naughty child / Someone no longer under the control of their superior or guardian
33 馬騮執到桔(執到寶咁開心)
A monkey got a tangerine
Someone looks very happy as if he has discovered a treasure
34 運桔
To ship tangerines
To visit a shop or a person without any particular purpose, to be “just looking” in a shop / To waste someone’s time
35 鬼食泥
A ghost eats mud
To slur your words
36 盲公食湯圓(心中有數)
A blind man eats glutinous rice balls
Know the score
37 食拖鞋飯
To eat slippers rice
Used to describe a man who is supported by a woman, i.e., he can keep his slippers on, because he doesn’t have to work / A man who sponges off a woman
38 食人隻車
To have eaten someone’s cart
To exploit or expropriate the belongings of others (a reference to the rules of Chinese chess)
39 食碗面反碗底
To eat from a bowl and then turn it over
Go back upon somebody. Play somebody false. Betray a friend.
40 食死貓
To eat a dead cat
To take the blame for something one has not done / To be a scapegoat, to “carry the can”

41 放葫蘆(吹噓)
To throw a gourd
Self-boasting, bragging
42 放飛劍(吐痰)
To throw a flying sword
To spit
43 企喺城樓睇馬打交(袖手旁觀)
To watch a horse fight from the top of a fort
Observing from the sidelines
44 飛象過河
An elephant flies across the river
To break a rule / To reach across the table for food (a reference to the rules of Chinese chess)
45 事急馬行田
In a crisis, a horse can move in the field
To be flexible, to adapt to circumstances in an emergency (a reference to the rules of Chinese chess).
46 過橋抽板
To pull up the planks after crossing the bridge
To betray one’s friends once the crisis is over, to abandon one’s friends once one is safe
47 和尚擔遮(無法(髮)無天)
A monk holding an umbrella
No respect for law and order / Unruly (無髮無天 “no hair no sky” sounds like 無法無天 “no law no heaven”)
48 牛唔飲水唔撳得牛頭低
If a cow doesn’t want to drink, you can’t force its head down
If someone is unwilling to do something, it is not possible to force them / You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
49 冇鞋挽屐走
When there are no shoes, grab the clogs and run
To withdraw hurriedly from an awkward situation
50 馬死落地行
When one’s horse dies, one has to walk
To rely on oneself, to have to get oneself through a difficulty without help.

51 捉到鹿唔識脫角
Caught the deer but can’t get the horn
To be unable to make best use of an opportunity.
52 一竹篙打一船人
Hitting everyone on a boat with a punt pole
To overgeneralise in assigning blame, e.g., to blame a whole group of people for one person’s mistake. Get tarred with the same brush.
53 缸瓦船打老虎(盡地一煲)
Hitting a tiger inside a boat full of potteries
To risk everything on one bet / To gamble everything on one plan
54 船頭尺(度水)
Plumb line on a ship
Someone who is always asking others for money (since 度水 dohk séui can mean either “to borrow money” or “to measure water”).
55 黑狗偷食 白狗當災
The black dog gets the food, the white dog gets the punishment
Somebody benefits by their wrongdoing, while another person gets the blame.
56 豬籠入水(八面亨通)
Water enters a pig basket
To have many different ways to make money, to have money coming from many different enterprises or sources.
57 濕水炮仗
A damp firecracker
Useless / Someone with a calm temperament, who doesn’t lose their temper
58 菠蘿雞(一味靠黐)
Pineapple chicken
Someone who takes advantage of other people / An exploiter
59 單眼佬睇老婆(一眼睇晒)
One-eyed man looks at his wife
Too few/simple/obvious that one can see/understand everything in a “second”.
60 狗仔抬轎(不識抬舉)
Puppies lifting/carrying a sedan chair
Fail to appreciate others’ favours/flattering (不識抬舉 not knowing how to lift/carry things)

61 畫隻耳上牆(當你耳邊風)
Draw an ear on the wall
Words treated as unimportant, advice that is ignored
62 摸門釘
To scrape the door nails
To go to visit someone but not find them at home, to arrange a meeting with someone but not to find them.
63 狗咬狗骨
A dog bites another dog’s bones
Fighting among members of the same group
64 死雞撐飯蓋
Using a dead chicken to push back the cooking-pot lid
To fight to the bitter end, to refuse to admit one is in the wrong
65 炒魷魚
To stir-fry squid
To dismiss an employee
66 劏白鶴(湯白喝)
To slaughter a white crane
To vomit, to throw up
67 風扇底傾偈(講風涼話)
Talking under a fan
Saying something rude upon others’ mistakes or misfortune, inconsiderate to others’ feeling (風涼話 a chilling talk)
68 風吹雞蛋殼(財散人安樂)
Wind breaks an eggshell
Don’t worry about losing money. Be at ease with less fortune.
69 打蛇隨棍上
To hit a snake and it crawls up the stick
To exploit a situation to one’s advantage, to ask for something or something extra by seizing a particular opportunity.
70 禾稈冚珍珠
Rice stalks covering pearls
To pretend to be poor, to hide one’s true wealth (e.g., residents of public housing estates who are too wealthy to qualify for public housing)

71 雞食放光蟲(心知肚明)
A chicken eats fireflies
To know in one’s heart, to fully understand, to not need to think further (As the chicken eats fireflies, its belly lights up)
72 冇厴雞籠(自出自入)
A doorless chicken coop
A place where you can come and go as you wish.
73 籠裏雞作反
The chickens are fighting inside the coop
Dissent withing an organisation, an internal rift, factional fighting / Infighting
74 一雞死一雞鳴
One chicken dies, one chicken crows
When one person leaves a business or an occupation, another will take it up.
75 老鼠拉龜(冇掟埋手)
A mouse pulls a turtle
At one’s wits’ end
76 扯貓尾
To pull a cat’s tail
Two people supporting each other’s stories in order to avoid a problem / To lie one’s way out of a problem.
77 捉黃腳雞
To catch a yellow-legged chicken
To catch someone having illicit sex / To arrange a trap or “set up” in which someone is blackmailed after being lured into having sex, to set a “honey trap”.
78 貼錯門神
To paste up the door gods wrongly
To become hostile, to turn aggressive and nasty (since the door gods are normally pasted up so that they face each other, put if put up wrongly they face away from each other).
79 龜過門檻(唔上唔落)
A tortoise passing a sill
Unable to solve a problem or escape from it. A stalemate. (Implying someone who can’t get on or get off.)
80 騎牛揾馬
To ride an ox looking for a horse
To be working one job but looking out for a better one

81 執死雞
To pick up a dead chicken
To take something which someone else has lost or thrown away / To take advantage of a situation / To start off a relationship with someone who has been rejected by their former lover / To get the benefit of someone else’s hard work / To score an easy goal after a shot has been blocked by the goal keeper.
82 水過鴨背
Water off a duck’s back
To make no impression on (the memory), to forget (a lesson) / Like water off a duck’s back
83 咁大隻蛤乸隨街跳
such a big frog hopping around the street
Too good to be true

Cantonese proverbs poster

Late discovery: Oliver Stone’s Heaven & Earth

Heaven_&_EarthA little while ago, I was scrolling through the on-screen TV guide and saw the movie Heaven & Earth was airing on on APTN, of all channels. The movie’s title meant nothing to me as I hadn’t heard of it before but being the prowl for a movie, I read the description. A Buddhist Vietnamese woman married to Tommy Lee Jones’ character who comes to America after Vietnam War? That’s enough for me to give it a try and I tuned in about a third of the way through.

Heaven & Earth (1993) rounds out Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War trilogy which consists of Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989). While the preceding two movies focus on  the war from the soldier’s point of view, the final installment completed his statement with the Vietnamese perspective. Roger Ebert wrote a comprehensive analysis in 1993.

What I did see (because I tuned in a third of the way in and haven’t watched the full movie yet) rang true to me from the social isolation Le Ly felt among her American in-laws to finding her niche in Chinatown and building her fortune. I was really captivated by the climactic scene showing how war can leave just shells of people and despite the couple finally being completely honest with each other, the marriage could not survive. And, of course, Tommy Lee Jones’ character’s tragic outcome.

In the midst of creating his Vietnam War series of movies, Oliver Stone read Le Ly Hayslip’s 1989 memoir When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and he was inspired to make his third movie from a Vietnamese perspective no matter the risk of public opinion. The plot of the movie covers the story in Hayslip’s first memoir and her 1993 publication Child of War, Woman of Peace. The on-screen worded epilogue at the end of the movie informed me how the movie is based on the memoirs and how Le Ly dedicated her energy to East Meets West, a charitable foundation she founded to help improve the health and welfare of the Vietnamese and heal some of the pain the Vietnam War caused in the US and Vietnam.

600full-when-heaven-and-earth-changed-places-cover child_big

Of course, I considered reading the memoirs but my reading list for the year is already stacked so I can’t be sure.

In an interesting twist that further motivated me to blog sooner rather than later, BBC World Service released an interview with Le Ly Hayslip on February 5, 2015, “Heaven and Earth: Le Ly Hayslip” [mp3 link]

Now what’s with the title? It is of importance and is first addressed with scrolling text in the beginning, describing the colonization of Vietnam over the centuries. “The French rulers are far away in Saigon, Hanoi or Paris, but in Ky La, life goes on as it has for a thousand years, protected by Father Heaven, Ong Troi, and Mother Earth, Me Dat. Between Heaven and Earth – Troi va Dat – are the people, striving to bring forth the harvest and follow Lord Buddha’s teachings.”

The film shows or describes the most horrific treatment of the Vietnamese in the hands of the French, Viet Cong and Americans. The power of faith ti impressive if it was gets them, at least Le Ly and her family, through the decades of upheaval and suffering. In a voiceover at the end, Le Ly figures out her place and accepts her fate. “I had come home, yes. But home had changed. And I would always be in between. South, north, east, west, peace, war, Vietnam, America. It is my fate to be in between heaven and earth. When we resist our fate, we suffer. When we accept it, we are happy. We have time in abundance, an eternity to repeat our mistakes but we need only once correct our mistake and at last hear the song of enlightenment with which we can break the chain of vengeance forever. In your heart you can hear it now. It is the song your spirit has been singing since the moment of your birth. If the monks were right and nothing happens without cause, that the gift of suffering is to bring us closer to God, to teach us to be strong when we are weak, to be brave when we are afraid, to be wise in the midst of confusion, and to let go of that which we cannot hold. The last victories are won in the heart, not on this land or that.”

last-flight-outThis all reminds me of the TV movie I would have watched around 1990 when it was released, Last Flight Out, starring an ensemble cast including Rosalind Chao (I think she was a flight attendant), James Hong and James Earl Jones (I think the latter played a military man character). The film depicted the chaos and events the days and hours leading to the withdrawl of US military forces, closing of Vietnam’s borders and South Vietnam fell under North Vietnam forces. Everyone was clamoring for a chance to get onto the last flight out and for a new life in America. I remember the movie as being one with heartwrenchingly dramatic scenarios and a heartwarming ending and would love to get to watch it again.

Late discovery: Oliver Stone’s Heaven & Earth

Vancouver’s recent restaurant exports to Toronto

For me, the world revolves around Toronto… and Vancouver. Hey, if I don’t pay attention to stuff going on in Toronto, it’s my disadvantage. How many things go to Toronto first?

At the rate that American companies are expanding into Canada, it’s exciting to see Canadian businesses succeeding and crossing the great prairie divide. Recently, I was listing to NPY Vancouver restaurants that I know of that have started up shop in Toronto. Not that he needs any kind of addition affirmations about his hometown. I just have to keep reminding him that the world doesn’t end at the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

I did a bit of digging but this is by far not a complete list.

Long ago, Vancouver exported The Keg, the steakhouse chain. Not bad.

More recently, upscale casual dining chains Earls (which isn’t really that recent and its head office is in Vancouver while it was founded in Edmonton), Joey and Cactus Club Cafe have joined the fray. In the articles listed at the end of this post, I found that they are all actually related to each other.

But of course the interesting exports are the Asian restaurants.

  • Guu, the original izakaya concept in Vancouver, has expanded the most in Toronto with Guu Izakaya, Guu Sakabar and 4 locations of Kinton Ramen – I’ve visited the Izakaya and Kinton’s first location.
  • Kingyo, another izakaya with two locations in Vancouver (we go to Suika partly because it’s not downtown), opened under their main name
  • Hapa Izakaya, our favourite izakaya in town, was the latest to go over – since I’ve been to all Vancouver locations except for one, I made a point of hitting up the Toronto one. The Toronto website is frank about disclosing they had some problems in the beginning (when I went to dine there), closed and reopened severl months later!
  • Deer Garden Signatures, our favourite DYO noodle soup spot with three locations in Vancouver has two locations in Toronto, Richmond Hill and Scarborough
  • Zakkushi – we dined at a restaurant next to Zakkushi often but never tried this one. They have two Zakkushi concepts on Carleton and Ramen Raijin – I’ve tried Ramen Raijin.
  • Miku Restaurant, serving fine Japanese sushi and specializing in seared aburi creations, I’m most excited about. They have three restaurants in Vancouver and I hope they do well in Toronto.

And while coffee isn’t Asian, I was pleased as punch to learn recently Milano Espresso Bar is opening in Toronto. It’s kind of my neighbourhood roastery while not being exactly only a stone’s throw away. And that reminds me that earlier this year, I think, I heard that Caffe Artigiano just opened in Toronto. Mmm, Spanish latte… On the coffee note, what I would like to see from Toronto is Dark Horse Espresso Bar and Rooster Coffee House.

One of Vancouver’s cutest exports (to LA, not Toronto) is Japadog. Some fusion hot dog vendors exist in Toronto but I know the price point is lower so I’m not sure how Japadog would fare. Somehow, Vancouverites got conditioned to thinking a $6 hot dog was average!

My main source of news is Vancouver-based Scout Magazine that informs me of exports, particularly of restaurants in their network. I’d love to know what cool restaurants Vancouver has imported from Toronto that it can’t take credit for. I’m sure it’s not a one-way street!

Interesting reading about the export of Cactus Club/Earls/Joey

Vancouver’s recent restaurant exports to Toronto

The 100 and I’m so off the CW

NPY introduced me to The 100 on our six-hour flight to Maui earlier this year. Somehow, I hadn’t heard of it at all or its bland name hadn’t registered. A few years ago, this type of dystopia setting would capture my interest and it is one of the reasons why I sat through the pilot and one other episode. The 100 is currently halfway through its second season.

The pilot, aired in March 2014, starred three Asian-American actors: Kelly Hu in the one-episode role of being the implausibly righteous woman who is the girlfriend of a wannabe dictator; Terry Chen, the Canadian actor I watched in Combat Hospital; and series regular Christopher Larkin, a name new to me.

In The 100, Earth suffered catastrophic radiation exposure and a small population managed to escape and reside on a space station (the Arc) for 97 years so far. Now, life on the Arc is becoming unviable so 100 juvenile delinquents were selected to participate (unwittingly) in an experiment, sent to Earth to determine if the planet is habitable again. You can imagine the endless possible stories with 100 characters under 25 years old who have no adult supervision or limitations.

I don’t have the patience to watch the caricatures from self-righteous rebels who will do exactly everything that is a bad idea with cringe-worthy bad consequences to self-righteous “do-gooders” and worry about their fates. In particular, I pretty viscerally despise the characters of Bellamy and his sister Octavia and one of Bellamy’s wildcard thugs. I’m so over and unempathetic to whatever “coming of age” tale this might be for them.

kellu-hu terry-chen christopher-larkin

Images from imdb.com.

So, Kelly Hu showed up in the pilot and I like to remind NPY how different a pilot can be from the rest of the series and how much in advance it was filmed. She’s like a bigger name that got attached to the pilot but was an unnecessary character and we don’t see her again.

I cheered to see Terry Chen in the credits and kind of would only watch to see when he reappears (three more episodes). NPY and I get a kick out of seeing him on screen and he plays the military personnel role really well.

Christopher Larkin, being just 24, has a shorter filmography and it’s great to see he’s is a series regular on a CW show. He seems to be cast in a goofy sidekick and technically-minded role but here’s to hoping he’ll get to expand his character in this lawless society where people are carving out new niches for themselves.

Some time in the past two years, I’ve just moved on from CW shows, except for one (Hart of Dixie). Shows like Gossip Girl and, to a lesser extent, 90210 were the last straw for me. As I get older, I want to see people who represent me on the screen, not college-aged twentysomethings with envy-inducing implausibly fabulous lives and gracefully (at least, successfully) navigating adult scenarios. I get it – I’m approaching the end of or out of the network’s target demographic with every passing year.

I watched Vampire Diaries for a few seasons because I do like Nina Dobrev (Canadian!) and Ian Somerhalder so very much but the vampires and werewolves lore just got really old and convoluted with some bad joke that every character is just going to become some kind of fantasy creature and I went from caring little to not at all. I watched only the pilot of Beauty and the Beast and shuddered – perhaps I wasn’t being fair. Veronica Mars was a great show on the CW that was so wholesome by comparison and smart without being obnoxious.

So, Hart of Dixie is my own remaining CW guilty pleasure because the characters are closer to my age and legitimately in adult situations. It’s still set in an unrealistic place (Bluebell that is seemingly caught in mid-twentieth century style) but just a darling weekly rom-com kind of drama.

The 100 and I’m so off the CW