Now that I work for a long-time Hong Kong law firm, I am really getting a much truer taste of what it means to live in Hong Kong. As a solicitor at a large firm, I naturally have a secretary assigned to me. I asked her to help me with a mailing that I may not have prepared during her office hours, so she called another assistant to help. When she got on the phone, she spoke in Cantonese, of course, and in describing the situation referred to me as her “lou baan”!
For those of you who don’t know, lau ban (老闆) is cantonese for boss. Transliterally it is “old boss” (where “old” is a term of respect, just like in the Chinese for teacher). For you Mandarin speakers, it’s lao ban, and the simplified characters are 老板.
I was kind of taken aback when I’d heard it, since I usually associated lau ban with people who were older, more in charge and senior than a law firm associate (which is almost the equivalent of a lackey, though I suppose there are always lackeys beneath the lackeys!) and always male, though I guess it technically should apply to me — and apply it did that day!
But once I recovered from the initial shock (really it didn’t take that long), I felt a bit of self-satisfaction, and thought, “Hey – I’m a lou baan!”
Now I wonder when someone is going to call me a “大佬”!