I’ve given up learning new languages. I’ve found out that with English, Spanish, and vigorous handwaving I can get by in any country. I didn’t used to be this lazy, but senility and age has its drawbacks.
Don’t take me wrong. I love the idea of learning Italian, French, and maybe German, but most of these languages are useless. Ok, with the possible exception of French. After all, there are enough French speaking countries in Africa to make it worth the effort. Italian? Well, unless Italy makes another attempt to invade Ethiopia and actually succeeds this time, I find that my time is better served eating gelato and drinking lattes. Why learn a language that has about a country’s worth of speakers, unless you are moving there? Whatever, I’ll keep to my “ciao bellissima” and “prego”, until I decide to spend a summer cycling in Tuscany. And don’t get me started on German, that’s just marginally more useful than Haitian Creole.
I overstayed my visa in Cambodia barely being able to say “thank you”, something of which I’m profoundly ashamed of. But the truth of the matter is that, much more than “thank you”, one, two, and beer, is basically useless everywhere, since anywhere you visit today is bound to have at least someone at the bar that can understand beer, mojito, and toilet.
This is about to change however. Seeing that my leave is about to come to an end, I’ve decided that it’s best to ramp back up in the world of the gainfully employed, so I’m having my laptop shipped. This is only partially influenced by my impulse to check out the source code to WordPress (which powers this blog), and find out what kind of idiots designed the picture layout routines.
Not wanting to pay three times the price of my laptop to ship it to Vietnam, and not having any trust whatsoever in the Kingdom of Cambodia’s postal service, I’ve decided that the best bet to receive anything is either Japan or Hong Kong. This is how I landed in Hong Kong last week with nothing but a basic understanding of local politics, communism, or Cantonese. Seeing that I may have to stay for a few weeks while I sort everything out, I decided that in my copious free time I should pick up some Chinese, albeit Cantonese the red headed stepchild (no pun intended).
If there was ever a useless language to learn, Cantonese would be it. It’s slightly behind Italian, but without the inherent sexiness. After all, nobody ever said “your Cantonese accent in English is sexy. Women will go wild when they hear you speak”. Curiously, for the numbers oriented, Italian and Cantonese are tied for world speakers at 0.90% and 0.89% of the world population respectively– which as far as I am concerned is well within statistical noise.
Being completely clueless on Chinese, I decided to read up a bit, and quickly surmised that this must be the hardest language to learn. It’s close to impossible to google anything up on it, because everyone on the net is interested in learning Mandarin (the “other” Chinese language) instead. It’s only spoken in Hong Kong and the Guangdong province of China (that is, not Beijing, or any place containing things you would likely be interested in, like the Wall of China, the Forbidden City, or the olympic pool where Michael Phelps won 8 medals before succumbing to taking olympic sized bong hits. Similar to Mandarin, learning to read it is just as useless to understand it, since it’s mostly a pictorial language, and reading the newspaper is even harder because newspaper and literature are actually Cantonese pictograms with Mandarin grammar (ahem, unintelligible even to locals when spoken out loud). So, even if you could read it, no one would understand you because nobody speaks like that.
Interestingly, nowadays popular songs in Cantonese are sung with Cantonese words within a Mandarin grammar. That’s like singing Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice in Spanish, but following English grammar: “bueno no es no sirve sentarse y preguntarse porque bebe” would be our version of “well, it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe”. Completely nonsensical, and may shed some light on why the Chinese are poised to take over the world– just being able to keep all this shit in your head, and you’re on your way to world domination.
Good thing we claim that IQ tests are culturally biased. Were they not, I would hate to be compared to someone who can sing Bob Dylan in Cantonese with Mandarin grammar, while practicing kung-fu to Bruce Lee movies dubbed in English. Cause let’s face it, they only make us think it’s Tai Chi they’re practicing in the park, because when they think I’m not looking, I’ve actually seen them landing blows. You may think they’re preparing for the Elderly Ultimate Fighting Championship, but in reality it’s world conquest they’re getting ready for. So stop slacking: It may be all Chinese to you, but your grandchildren may be speaking it, so at least learn how to say “grandpa”. At least you’ll be able to know when they’re talking about you.