is home to many interesting people, like the novelist Xu Xi
whose book, Habit of a Foreign Sky was shortlisted for the inaugural Man Asian literary prize last year. It is a terrific book, about a successful Hong Kong businesswoman who, in dealing with the death of her mother, finds herself confronting her family’s troubled past.
Then there is the amazing linkister and lexicographer Kingsley Bolton.
Kingsley has lived in Hong Kong for decades and is an authority on contemporary Cantonese. He is also perhaps the world’s leading expert on the South China pidgin. His book Chinese Englishes: A Sociolinguistic History (Cambridge University Press, 2003) is a magisterial study of the historical evolution of English in China.
But amongst his many works, my favourite is a dictionary (and yes, I do read dictionaries from cover to cover, like novels). It is called A Dictionary of Cantonese Slang: The Language of Hong Kong Movies, Street Gangs and City Life and it is co-authored with Christopher Hutton (Singapore University Press 2005).
Cantonese is a racy, slangy language and it is extraordinarily rich in obscenities, insults and earthy expressions. Here are a few examples, picked at random from the dictionary.
juk chuhng yahp si fat: [to grab a worm and put it up one’s arse] to make trouble for oneself, to cause unnecessary difficulties for oneself.
paauh dung gwa: [to peel winter melon] a humorous name for the official language of the People’s Republic of China, Putonghua.
mh faat fo dong behng maau: [if one doesn’t explode one is treated like a sick cat] used to complain that someone is not taking the speaker seriously.
diu neih louh mei chat choi yun yeung faa laahn doi hahm lung lauh seui daaih sai bin jo king faa lauh daaih chun doi: [fuck your old roasted meat colourful pair of lovers getting smelly and rotten scrotum piss running water lop-sided leaning to the left syphilitic great big scrotum] an expression of extreme anger.
Another memorable gali is one which, if it figured in the Ibis Trilogy, might read: Go charter your mother’s flowery rotten chute!