Talk Canto to Me

講‧東話啦

 (跟我說廣東話)

Written by David Yee
Translated by Jennifer J. Lau & Elaine J. Sun

Photography by Dahlia Katz

 
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When I was a teenager, there was this video store I’d go to. It was in one of those small Chinese plazas that you see in the suburbs: a restaurant or two, an HSBC branch, maybe a dried goods place… and a video store. This particular video store was tiny, but well-stocked. It had low ceilings and fluorescent lights that made it feel like an office or call centre that someone had repurposed. Depending on the time of day, the long makeshift counter at the front was manned by either Sam or Diane. Those weren’t their real names. I never learned their real names, I just made up names for them… a habit that continued well into my adult life. I usually visited the store in the evening, which meant Diane was behind the counter. She was nice enough, but I tried to discourage small talk by silently nodding in response to her questions and looking vaguely grumpy. Again, a habit I’ve held onto past adolescence.

我十幾歲時,常常去一間出租影片店。它就是大家都見過的在多倫多市郊的那種華人商場:商場裡面通常有兩家餐廳,一家匯豐銀行,或者也會有一間海味舖⋯⋯還有一間出租影片店。店面不大,不過選擇挺多的。天花板很低。裡面的燈光有點像一般辦公室裡的螢光燈一樣,讓我懷疑它之前是一間辦公室或是一個呼叫中心。店裡櫃面的人也常常換班。不同時間去就會碰到不同的服務人員。有時候是 Sam,有時候是 Diane。(Sam 跟 Diane 是我給他們的代號,並非他們的實名。我從來都沒有問過他們怎麼稱呼。這個替人改名字的習慣跟著我長大。)我一般都是晚上去,所以碰到的經常是 Diane。她很友善,可是我不太喜歡跟別人聊天。我躲開別人目光的方法有兩種。第一:沈默地點點頭。第二:裝作不耐煩的樣子。而這些習慣也一直跟著我到了現在。

I started renting Cantonese movies because they’d always be playing at the homes of my full Chinese friends. By high school those friends were already well versed in John Woo, Chow Yun-fat, both Tony Leungs, Wong Kar-wai and the Shaw Brothers, while I was versed in Salinger, Steinbeck and Spielberg thanks to my mother — a Scottish schoolteacher — and the marked absence of my Chinese father. I was a highly literate teenager, but a shitty Chinese person. Which is how I ended up at that video store, renting Cantonese movies by the armful. 

我為什麼會開始對粵語電影有興趣呢?為什麼放學會到一間影片店呢?我朋友圈中全都是華人朋友,他們的家裡一整天都在播著粵語電影而引起了我的興趣。中學時開始,他們已經對吳宇森,周潤發,梁朝偉,梁家輝,王家衛和邵氏兄弟非常熟悉了。我則一點都不懂。我認識的作家和導演包括:塞林格,斯坦貝克和斯皮爾伯格。這是理所當然的,因為我是跟當教師的蘇格蘭籍母親一起住的,從小就沒有跟香港來的爸爸相處。因此我成為了一個優秀好讀的書生,同時也成為了一個非常不稱職的華人。也是因為這個原因,我開始租一大堆的香港電影,也開始拜訪這間店。

About six months into my Canto bender, checking out Tsui Hark’s Time and Tide and a handful of others, Diane at the counter gave me a smile and a scrutinizing look that I’d become all too familiar with. She’s going to ask the question now, I thought. 

六個月後,我在瀏覽徐克的《順流逆流》的時候,Diane 贈給我一個微笑和充滿懷疑的目光。她的眼神非常熟悉。我心裡在想:她快要問那個問題了。

“Are you… Chinese?” 

There they were. Those three dreaded little words.

“Half.” I tried to be as terse as possible to dissuade further conversation.

“You understand Cantonese?”

“No, but I’m fluent in Subtitle.”

“Oh.”

“你是⋯⋯華人嗎?”

它們就這樣跑出來了。這些我最不想要聽到的字。

“一半。”我趕快地回應。希望講完這一句就不要再多說話了。

“你會粵語嗎?”

“不會,不過我會看字幕。”

“哦。”

She pursed her lips a bit, then smiled warmly at me. “Okay, you watch this movie and when you hear a word you like, come back and tell me what it is. I’ll teach it to you. You can learn Cantonese this way.”

Diane was, apparently, immune to my misanthrope routine. Rather, she’d decided to make me into something different. I’d become, to her, a project, a thing with a missing piece she believed she could fill in. She wanted to be the Francine Patterson to my Koko, to bridge our linguistic divide. The next week I returned the movies earlier in the day, when Sam was working. I never went back to the store again. Diane never taught me Cantonese. 

過了一陣子,她對我溫柔地笑著說:“好,你看完這套電影之後,回來告訴我你喜歡的字眼。我教你。你就可以學廣東話了。”

顯然,Diane 一點都不了解我。相反,她決定要把我變成她理想中的我。對她來說,我已經成為一個大工程。我已經成為她認為有缺陷的作品,而她是可以幫到我的人。她想成為我的導師,填滿我們語言的鴻溝。接下來的一周,我比往常更早些到店裡還東西。Sam 正在上班。那天後,我再也沒有回到那個地方。Diane 也沒有教我廣東話。


My relationship to Cantonese is complicated, as is my relationship to Chinese-ness, as is my relationship to mixed-ness. Strangely enough (or predictably, relative to your thoughts on colonialism), my relationship to Scottish-ness is acutely uncomplicated. If we think of identity and culture as performance, then it is easier for me to perform being Scottish than it is for me to perform being Chinese. From years of reading trafficked Scottish comic books as a child, I’m familiar with the quaint and arcane Scottish colloquial dialect a native Scot would have absorbed as cultural history. I can even adopt a thoroughly convincing accent. And while no one — certainly no Scot — would consider me on sight to be Scottish, once I’ve spoken with them for a few minutes they are by and large convinced. 

我和廣東話的關係,跟我對中華性還有身為混血兒的認知一樣複雜。然而很奇怪我和身為蘇格蘭的那一半的自己關係卻很簡單明確。如果我們把文化和身份定位當作一場表演的話,那麼明顯的我表演蘇格蘭人的能力遠遠高於華人的那部分。從小那一本本的漫畫使我可以很自然輕鬆的理解並運用蘇格蘭本地的方言、諺語和表現方式;就如同在蘇格蘭本地長大的人們一般。我甚至能說一口使人信服的蘇格蘭口音。當然光看我的外表,任何一個人都不會把我當成蘇格蘭人,更不用提本地人了。可是只要我和他們交談幾分鐘,他們便心服口服了。

My relationship to Cantonese is complicated, as is my relationship to Chinese-ness, as is my relationship to mixed-ness.

The opposite is true in my performance of being Chinese. Our dominant metaphors for identity are fullness and wholeness. We have no way to talk about a mixed-race identity other than being fractional, which begets a cultural understanding of us as being less. Moreover, the inability to speak both mother tongues is seen as a failure. A deficiency. Maybe not consciously, but culturally. My inability to speak Cantonese (or any dialect) delegitimizes my Asian subjectivity because it’s already seen as fragmented. I become Chinese in name only. A cultural paper son. Worse, I am forgiven my linguistic shortcomings because of my White half, not held to the same standard as a “legitimate” Asian. 

然而我對於身為華人的表演卻截然不周。我們對身份認知的主流意識是“完整”。一旦遇到混血,混雜的自我認知,除了“缺陷”我們便想不到其它的定義了,這也導致像我一樣的人被視為不完全的、次品的。當然,無法熟練的運用兩種母語更被看作一種失敗。也許我們並沒有自覺這樣做,但是它卻是埋藏於文化之中的偏見。因為我無法熟練的運用廣東話,我便不為被視為真正的華人。我華人的部分僅僅體現在名字之中。人們把我當作只佔空名的空殼。甚至更過分的,人們會“原諒”不具備華語能力的我,僅僅因為我身上流淌著白人的血。

People don’t choose to be right-handed or left-handed. Factors you aren’t aware or in control of push you in one direction or the other; dominance of one side is claimed before you can walk. This is how most people view bicultural identity: one side must have more influence. It’s the only way they know how to conceptualize identity, in terms of a binary, but it’s also damaging. The expectation it places on mixed-race people is that both hands are required to be dominant. 

人們無法選擇做右撇子還是左撇子。就像我們這輩子的主導手在我們會走路前就被決定了一樣,我們也一直被不為自己所知的因素推著走。而這些因素會導致我們偏離某條特定的道路或遠離其它的一些可能性。這也是人們在看待雙重文化背景時所戴的有色眼鏡:其中一方必定主導。這種“非一即二”的兩極化思維方式也是人們唯一可以理解身份的方法。但這卻是傷害性的。它導致的是人們對混血兒不合實際的要求:左右手都一樣有力。

In Lan Kwai Fong a few years ago, at the end of a long night, I find myself chatting with the owner of the bar I’m running up a tab at. He’s half French, half Chinese and fluently trilingual. We converse in English, then in French for a bit, and I watch him argue with the bartender in Cantonese. 

幾年前,在一個漫長的夜晚,我坐在蘭桂坊的一間酒吧裡,和老闆閒聊著。他有著一半法國和一半中國血統,能流利的說三種語言。我們用英語交談,時不時參雜著幾句法語,然後我看著他和酒保用廣東話爭論。

“You’re living the dream” I tell him. He brings me another Sing Tao and raises a thick, French eyebrow. “You can get by in every place you’re from, like a local. That must be nice.” 

He waves the comment off with a swipe of his Gauloises. “Not really. The locals can all tell. They still speak to me in English here, because my accent isn’t perfect. And the French… they’re just assholes.”

“Still.” I steal one of his cigarettes and light it. “It’s like you were born ambidextrous.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

I shake my head. “Long story, forget it.”

我忍不住對他說:“你真的過著美夢般的生活”。他再拿了一瓶青島啤酒,然後好似不解般的挑了挑他那濃濃的法式眉毛。我解釋道:“你可以在任何地方生活,像本地人一樣。那一定很棒”。

他揮了揮手中的高盧香煙,說:“其實也不行。那些本地人總是有辦法看出來。在這裡他們還是會和我說英文,因為我的口音不完美。而那些法國人…他們都是些混球。”

“那也不錯,”我拿了他一根煙,把它點了起來,“就好像你天生兩隻手都一樣順手似的”。

“這跟我們現在討論的有什麼關係?”

我搖了搖頭,“沒什麼,當我沒說”。

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A crowd of young people pass by, the tones
of a language I don’t understand wash over us. I smoke a stolen French cigarette and think up a new name for this new acquaintance. Pierre, maybe. We talk about Hong Kong movies and that brilliant stereo scene from Infernal Affairs. I tell him that, even though I don’t speak or understand Cantonese, the sound of it just feels like home. I drink on the house and smoke all of his cigarettes. As the bar shuts down, I give him what money I’ve still got as a tip.

一幫年輕人從我們身邊走過,他們用我所不熟悉的語言交談著。我一邊抽著從老闆那裡拿的法國煙,一邊想著要給他起個什麼代稱才好。Pierre,也許。我們聊到了香港電影和《無間道》裡面那精彩的一幕。我跟他說,雖然我不會說也聽不懂廣東話,可是它們的讀音聽起來讓我想到家。最後我不但一分酒錢沒付,還抽光了老闆的香煙。在酒吧關門之際,我把自己剩下的所有錢都當作小費給了他。

“Forget it.” He hands it back, then crumples his empty pack of Gauloises and tosses it in a bin. “Hey, if you’re around for a while and you want to learn some Cantonese, come back and I can teach you a few phrases. Simple stuff.”

“Yeah. That sounds good, I’ll do that.”

We say goodnight and I head back toward the MTR. The night air is warm and sticky. Cantopop bleeds out the walls of an after-hours club. I stay in Hong Kong a while longer, but I never return to that bar again. Pierre never teaches me Cantonese. 

It’s true what they say about old habits. They really do die hard.

“不用,你收著吧”說著,他把錢還給了我。老闆把他空空的香煙盒擠成了一團,扔進了垃圾桶裡。“嘿,如果你會在這兒落腳幾天的話,你可以過來,我能教你些句子,簡單的東西”。

“嗯,聽起來不錯,就這樣辦吧”。

我們說了再見,然後我轉頭向地鐵走去。夜晚的空氣溫暖而黏呼呼的。粵語流行曲穿過夜店的牆壁飄蕩在街頭。我在香港待了一陣子,但是我再也沒有回去那間酒吧。Pierre 也沒有教我廣東話。

就像他們說的,舊習難改。真的很難改。

David Yee is a mixed race actor and playwright, born and raised in Toronto. He is the co-founding Artistic Director of fu-GEN Theatre Company, Canada’s premiere professional Asian Canadian theatre company. A Dora Mavor Moore Award nominated actor and playwright, his work has been produced internationally and at home. He is a Governor General’s Literary Award Laureate for his play carried away on the crest of a wave. He has worked extensively in the Asian Canadian community as an artist and an advocate. He has been called many things, but prefers ‘outlaw poet’ to them all.

 
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