Tag Archives: language

The Five Gold Shop

My dragonboat colleagues were impressed with the gloves I’d gotten for practice. Like the ones provided by the firm, they were simple workman’s gloves, but mine had this amazing coating of rubber all across the palm – very useful for applying pressure to a wet wooden oar. I tried to explain that I had bought them at my local hardware store.

Hardware store? What’s that?

We were all fluent English speakers, and yet the term “hardware store” was unfamiliar.  And when you stop to think about it, the term “hardware” is a little odd, isn’t it?

I started explaining what you buy in a hardware store – tools, supplies, simple electronics, and then she said – “ah! you mean a 五金鋪!”

五金鋪 literally means a 5 gold shop. I tried to research the origins of this word, but to no avail. I did, however, find that there is a Chinese wikipedia page! Here’s the entry.

Anyway, these Chinese hardware shops are jam packed with stuff needed for home improvement.  But as noted in this Chinese wikipage, it doesn’t stock lumber or steel, and those sorts of things.

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CDotD: So You Wanna Fry Rice? *wink wink*

I have learned a lot more Chinese living in HK despite it being a place where you really don’t need Chinese to live.  But the reality remains that HK is still very much a Chinese place, and there are many opportunities to practice and learn the language.

One way I learn more Chinese is from television — even English television programming, because most channels automatically feature Chinese subtitles.  I have come to a point where I don’t always ignore the characters below and even can’t help but read.

Recently while watching an episode of New Girl I learned that 炒饭 or fry rice is the translation for make love!  I did a double-take initially when I saw that translation, but then Winston said it again and it was again translated this way.

Where this comes from, I have no idea.  I learned during an internship providing legal aid to indigent Chinese that to fry squid means to get fired, so I can’t say what the connection is.

But next time you say you want to fry rice, be sure it’s clear what exactly you want to do!

Note – despite my usage of simplified Chinese above (I still haven’t figured out how to use my traditional Chinese language inputter quite), this slang might just be in use in Cantonese and not Mandarin – so don’t be surprised if this is inapplicable on the Mainland (though there is a good chance it is).

Working in HK: Is Chinese Necessary? (Part 1 of Many)

(Again behind by 4 posts today on my own writing challenge, but again, will not make that an excuse to give up.)

As I had mentioned previously, a number of readers have been asking me about required language skills while working as a lawyer in Hong Kong.  My opinions are based on a fairly limited experience, mind you, but from what I’ve learned in my 2+ years here, working at both a very new foreign firm, ang now a well-established UK-born firm, and from my job searches in between is that the answer to such a query can really vary.

Generally speaking, some is better than none!  Whether you’ve got Cantonese or Mandarin skills, you should try to identify whatever Chinese proficiency you have when applying for jobs.  And if you have any opportunity to improve your Chinese, do so!

But is it really necessary, as the title to this post posits? My quick and easy answer is a simple “No.”  There are plenty of lawyers all over Asia who have no Chinese language skills whatsoever,  doing all kinds of practices too.  But my “No” is limited and conditional in many senses.  But I think I will reserve that for one of my other many parts.

Frankly speaking, I don’t really use any Chinese in my job now.  I’ve been called upon to translate something on the spot during a hearing once, where no one else on my team knew Chinese.  I’ve used it on my own volition to get a better understanding of some news pieces we used in support of an argument in that same hearing, though I was having the pieces translated by others.  It also came in handy when I’d listen in on testimony given in Mandarin and Cantonese, and could see where the interpretor was inaccurate.  But did I officially have to know Chinese in any one of these single instances? No.

My firm is large enough and well supported enough that we have many other bilingual attorneys, secretaries, trainees and paralegals that help out, including our own full time in-house translators.  My boss, who is also my practice group’s head, can speak pretty good Cantonese, but otherwise doesn’t know Chinese, and he neither tested mine nor required it of me. 

So no – I do not need Chinese in my job, but I do use it, and I do find it helpful, and I do think that it was a bonus point on my resume when I was interviewing for this position.  So as the title of this post suggests, stay tuned for more musings on Chinese in the law practice in Hong Kong.

Cantophiles – Cantonese is Here to Stay!

Followers of my blog will know that I am a staunch Cantonese supporter. Thought I’d share this interesting piece coming out of CUHK on a specialist on Cantonese:

http://www.iso.cuhk.edu.hk/english/publications/newsletter/article.aspx?articleid=34811