Nei ho ma?

Learning Chinese is turning out to be a bit harder than I had initially thought. There’s a lot to remember so I’m taking it step by step. I don’t have a problem remembering things but because there are some words that sounded like the other, it’s causing me some dilemmas. I’m trying to train my ears to pick up the differences in tone but what comes out of my mouth isn’t what I heard.

In Chinese, you have to make sure that you pronounce the right tone in order to get the right word. If your tone is off, the other person will think you’re saying something else and it’ll confuse them. That part confuses me a bit because if they’re singing a song and the song has the word in a certain key, how do they know what word is being said? I think once I understand that part, I’ll have an easier time learning the language.

I learn best when I’m trying to imitate the person especially in a song. I’ll have no idea what I’m singing but I’ll know the words to it. I can sing the song word for word but I won’t know what it means. But now that I’m picking up the language, the definition of each word is starting to come out. I’m also able to recognize the word if i see it. So when I watch videos, I can look for the word and sing to it when I see it.

Some of the stuff that I’ve learned so far was fairly new to me. Some of the words I knew from before because my friend taught me some. Back in high school, I had a Chinaman as a friend. I had Chinese friends before but they all spoke English. This Chinaman spoke English too but he was the token Chinaman in the group. At first I thought he was gay because of his long hair. Also, due to the fact that my friend called him gay all the time. I later found out that, that friend called everyone gay no matter what. My Chinese friend goes by the name of Ricky. In high school, we called him “Medang” because of his last name. But I later found out that “medang” is the word for “black” in Vietnamese but by then, we didn’t care. So technically, Ricky was Blackinese.

One summer, I started hanging out with him almost every day. Eventually I started learning Chinese. Ricky informed that that Chinese had two different dialects, Cantonese and Mandarin. Ricky was from Macau and spoke Cantonese. At the time, there was a virus spreading that would kill cattle. That virus was known as Bovine spongiform encephalopathy. We would tease him about it and called it the “Macau Disease.”

I was over at his house often enough and his mom would always say something which I didn’t understand. Usually, it had something to do with eating rice. I wanted to know what exactly his mom was saying so I started to ask Ricky if he can teach me the basics of Cantonese, starting with counting. I learned how to say the numbers from one to ten. After ten, I had to use a combination of the numbers to make the next group.

  • 零 (ling)
  • 一 (yat)
  • 二 (yee)
  • 三 (sam)
  • å›› (say)
  • 五 (mm)
  • å…­ (lok)
  • 七 (chut)
  • å…« (baat)
  • 九 (gow)
  • 十 (sup)

It took me a while to memorize these numbers along with their pronunciations. I don’t think I’m saying each number perfectly but I think it’s close enough that someone will understand me. I think it helped when I heard a song that helped me a lot. The song had the same melody as “Three Blind Mice” but used the numbers instead of the lyrics. I started singing the numbers with the songs and found that I learned them a lot quicker because not only was I practicing the words but I was also practicing the tone.

Sometimes, in order to say the number in Khmer, I would have to say it in Cantonese first. Back in Thailand, I only managed to get to grade one before immigrating to Canada. I learned my 1, 2, 3’s up until thirty, I think. After that, I had no idea who to say 40 and up. Forty in Cantonese is “say sup” which turned out to be the same in Khmer. But then once you get into the 50’s and 60’s it didn’t work. But 70, 80, 90 it worked again. I had a hard time remembering 70 and 80 in Khmer so I said it in Cantonese and then use that to say it in Khmer.

Some of the numbers in Khmer were similar to the numbers in other languages. I found out recently that the way you say 50 in Khmer is similar to 5 in Thai. There was a Thai commercial that I saw on YouTube where the guy needed something quickly. He asked how much it would cost and the old lady behind the counter said $5, “ha baat.” In Khmer, 50 is “ha sup.” Even the way we say 100 in Khmer is similar to the way they say it in Thai, “roy.” After watching that commercial, I saw that the way they say 9 in Cantonese and Thai was similar as well. Once I noticed the connections and stuff, I started to become more fascinated in language.

Anyway, after learning the numbers, I wanted to know how to say some basic phrases. I didn’t want to waste time and learn how to swear in Cantonese. I’m sure that’s the first thing people want to learn is how to swear in the other language. I was sure that I would eventually hear someone swear at me if I saw a word wrong and offend them but I’ll worry about that when the time comes. I didn’t ask Ricky how to say, “Hello, how are you?” It just didn’t occur to me at the time. Since I called his house a lot, I wanted to learn how to say, “Is Ricky home?” That phrase wasn’t that hard to learn because there were some English words in there, “Ricky ahh mm hay okay?” At least, that’s what I heard. I tested it one time during a call to his house. His sister picked up the phone.

Alison: Hello?
Me: Wei, Alison?! Ricky ahh mm hay okay?
Alison: Oh, Don? You speak Chinese?
Me: Ummm, did you understand what I said?
Alison: No. Wait, I call Ricky for you.

It wasn’t perfect but I think she got the idea. Even if she didn’t, I’m sure she would have figured out that I wanted to talk to Ricky because I mentioned his name. I didn’t stop there though. Every time I called his house I would practice that question. I only practiced it when his sisters picked up the phone. I don’t know why I didn’t ask in Cantonese when his mom or dad picked up. It would have made more sense to ask them since their English wasn’t that good.

MSN notification

Every now and then, MSN will pop up the following notification. I found it pretty funny but unless you know Cantonese, you won’t get it. I’m not going to translate that for you so you’ll have to fine your own Chinaman/Chinawoman to help you.

Thanks to Ricky, I was off to a good start. Every time I watched a Cantonese movie, I barely read the subtitles because I didn’t need to. Majority of the times, I was watching the movie. But then there were times when the words that they were saying didn’t match what I’ve read. Every time I saw a character that I recognized, I was expecting a certain word. But the words that they were saying was nowhere near what I thought it would be. The movie wasn’t in Cantonese, it was in Mandarin. That’s when things started to get a bit confusing.

2 replies on “Nei ho ma?”

  1. Chinese is like vietnamese in whose sounds. With the same words ,in vietnamese, we have to add some punctuation to differ its meaning and sounds. Lao, Thai are the similar ones with the different sound in the same words. In thai, we have “May Ek, May Tho…” so does Laotian.

  2. Oh, I didn’t know Vietnamese was like that too… I remember one time my friend was doing karaoke. The words didn’t match what he was saying… something that was spelt with a “tr” was pronounced like a “z”… Unfortunately, I only know swear words in Vietnamese cuz my Vietnamese friends are always annoying me…

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