Learning Cantonese: Dickson Chan and Welcome to My World!

Within a week of his life, Dickson Chan went from earning 30,000 dollars a month as a banker to delivering takeaways meals for Foodpanda. In this Apple Daily video from January this year, we follow him in his efforts to bounce back from his disappointment.

He is a challenging speaker for Cantonese learners, using dislocated syntax in places as well some very intense code-switching that includes not only the use of “last day” as a verb but short English linking expressions such as “so far” and “and then”. This serves as a reminder that sometimes when we come across new things in Cantonese, occasionally it turns out to be English in a slightly unexpected context!

Apart from his speech habits, Dickson employs some noteworthy grammar. One segment contains an instance of the structure 冇得 móuh5 dāk1. The Chinese scholar 彭小川Peng Xiaochuan devotes a chapter to this structure in her book 《广州话助词研究》(2010) and identifies six different meanings, but of these the most common are to express (1) the objective possibility of an action [行为的客观可能性] and (2) reasonable permission or otherwise to realize a certain verb-action [情理上允许不允许实现某种动作行为]. However, please keep in mind that she writes specially about the Cantonese of Guangdong province, and so some of her conclusions may not apply to Hong Kong Cantonese. When Dickson uses it in 我唔摺埋架單車 | 就冇得入閘 it roughly means “I couldn’t go through the turnstiles unless I folded up my bike”.

We’re also treated to another instance of the aspect marker 開 hōi1. I talked about this in the post on Alfred Chan, as an indicator of habitual action, and here it is again in 以前冇洗開車呀, meaning “in the past, when [I] wasn’t in the habit of washing cars”. As I mentioned in the Alfred Chan post, Yip and Matthews present a basic introduction to this marker in Intermediate Cantonese, and give the examples 我哋做開呢行 = We have been in this profession for some time, and 佢用開嗰隻牌子 = He regularly uses that brand.

You might also enjoy this clip for the musical soundtrack: they’ve done a brilliant job of matching sound to image here.

Apart from the banking terminology, you’ll hear the following vocabulary items: 幻想 waahn6 séung2 = illusion; fantasy; 長命斜 chèuhng4 mehng6 che3 = a steep slope; 騰空 tàhng4 hūng1 = (?) to leave space to do sth.; 遜於 seun3 yū1 = inferior to; and 孭鑊 mē1 wohk6 = take the blame for the fault of others; bear the responsibility of sth. gone wrong.

Please scroll down if you want the transcription, notes and English translation. Otherwise, you can view the video here. Since it is a YouTube video, you can slow down the playback speed if you wish: at 0.75 and 0.5, the sound quality is still good. And remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.

You might also like to make use the Ekho Text to Speech Converter if you have trouble matching any part of the transcribed Chinese text to the spoken version. Just make sure you select “Cantonese” under the language menu before you paste cut and text into the relevant box.

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我都曾經有過,即係 *je,希望 | 或者幻想 | 可以係,即係 *je,仲有嘅彎轉 | 仲有份工手囉 | 頭嗰一兩日都會有諗 | 點解係我啊,咁樣 | 但係 *daai 既然過兩日都係我喇 | 咁不如就唔好諗啦,做啦,咁樣 | Caption 疫情下的 ibank 人 | 我係喺銀行入便做金融法規範疇嘅工作 | 喺11月初啦,公司就同我講話,呃,即係 *je,有個解雇嘅通知 | 噉然後就,一個星期之後,就已經 last day 咗 | 呃,我失咗業之後呢,除咗我就送外賣之外呢 | 我都有幫人洗車啦 | 同埋幫人砌電腦啊

● 幻想 waahn6 séung2 = illusion; fantasy | ● 法規 faat3 kwāi1 = laws & regulations | ● 解雇 gáai2 gu3 = to discharge; to dismiss; to fire | ● 外賣 [ng]oih6 maaih6 = ① to provide a takeout service ② takeaway; carryout | ● 砌電腦 chai3 dihn6 nóuh5 = (?) to put a computer together from parts

Note: In verb-object verbs such as 失業 sāt1 yihp6 = “to lose one’s job; to become unemployed”, aspect markers such as jó2 come between the two parts rather than at the end of the verb: 失咗業 = lost my job; became unemployed.

Once I entertained the hope, or the fantasy, that there might be another turn [of luck], that I might get my hands on another job. For the first one or two days, I was constantly thinking “Why me?”, But since, after one or two days, it was still me, [I said to myself] “Don’t think [about it] any more. Do something!” | Caption: An ibank Worker during the Time of Covid-19 | I work in a bank in the area [範疇] of financial laws and regulations. At the start of November, the company told me that there was a notice to dismiss staff. After that, one week later, it was my last day. After I became unemployed, in addition to collecting and delivering takeaway meals, I washed cars for people and helped them take apart computers and put them together again [砌電腦].

【1:00】烏溪沙去馬鞍山呢 | 基本上係全馬鞍山最 beep 條路嚟㗎 | 隔條長命斜啦 | 踩上去都要兩三個字啦 | 搭馬鐵都要一個站 | 啱喺馬鐵站長俾人趕 | 話我唔摺埋架單車 | 就得入閘 | 噉呃,焗住唔入囉 | 因爲我,攞咗嘢食喇嘛 | 噉攞咗嘢食點摺埋?| 好,我今次好彩喇 | 可以直接喺利安邨執到個麥當勞 | 噉即係喺隔籬啫 | 首先我哋睇吓今日賺到幾多錢先 | 唔錯喎!| 兩個鐘有138,都 | 最好試過賺百五蚊 | 即係 *je,約莫  77蚊一個鐘 | 試過最差嘅話5,50蚊一個鐘㗎咋,圍返開 | 50蚊一個鐘就真係低喇 | 平均每個星期呢,都 around 做十個鐘到嘅 | 噉有平日盡量騰空返呢 . . .

● 隔 gaak3 = to separate; to partition; to stand or lie between | ● 長命斜 chèuhng4 mehng6 che3 = a steep slope (Sheik Cantonese) | ● 站長 jaahm6 jéung2 = a station master | ● 摺埋 jip3 màaih4 = to fold up | ● 焗住 guhk6 jyuh6 = 《香港粵語大詞典》 gives the meaning as (在別無選擇情況之下被迫;逼迫, that is to be forced (when there is no other alternative)(p. 234) | ● 約莫 yeuk3 mók6*2 = about, around, approximately, roughly | ● 平均 pìhng4 gwān1 = average | ● 平日 pìhng4 yaht6 = usu. “an average/ordinary day” but sometimes also “a working day” as opposed to a day off | ● 騰空 tàhng4 hūng1 = (?) to leave space to do sth.

Native-speaker’s comment: It is difficult to find an equivalent term for 圍返開, in English. I would say it is the action of “to divide (something)” (in most cases it is about mathematical calculations). For example, often in a conversation, we would say “今晚餐飯總共400蚊,我哋有四個人,圍返開每人100蚊”, which means “Dinner tonight cost us 400 dollars. We have four people in total. After splitting the bill, each of us should pay 100 dollars.” However, in the video, I think we need not express the action. We can simply say: An hourly (implied that you divided the total wage on that particular day into hourly wage) wage of 50 dollars is pretty low.

Note: Firstly, the beeped out word is almost certainly 閪 hāi1, better known to many people in the form 自由閪.  (Please feel free to explore all the meanings of this word through the Sheik on-line dictionary.) Secondly, this segment contains an instance of the structure 冇得 móuh5 dāk1, which generally seems to indicate absolute inability [ADD note from Chinese scholar]. And so, 我唔摺埋架單車 | 就冇得入閘 means roughly “I couldn’t go through the turnstiles unless I folded up my bike”. I am (still) wondering whether the use of 冇得 occurs in situations where (a) the prohibition is very strong; and (2) no one (or no particular factor) is being blamed for the inability. Thirdly, after reviewing all the ways of expressing “approximately; roughly” in the introduction to Alfred Chan’s video on dai pai dong’s in Hong Kong, I come across a new one: 約莫 yeuk3 mók6*2 (note the changed tone)! Incidentally, in this segment, Dickson Chan also uses another less common terms for approximations in the phrase 都 around 做十個鐘到嘅, where dóu3*2 is used (I don’t know whether this is the accepted writing). Finally, there’s a couple of uses of 試過 si3 gwo3 towards the end. In ordinary situations, this is just the verb “to try” followed by the experiential aspect marker 過gwo3, but it can take an idiomatic meaning close to the more formal 曾经 chahng4 ging1 = “to have had experience of something”, sometimes reduced in English to a mere “ever”. For this reason, 最好試過賺百五蚊 does NOT mean that Dickson “tried to earn 150 dollars” but that he “once earned” such a princely sum.

The road from Wu Kai Sha to Ma On Shan is the most [beep!] road. A steep slope separates [隔] [the two places]. On the bike [踩上去] it takes [a good (都)] 10 to 15 minutes. By MTR it is a trip of one station. Just now, I was turned away by [俾人趕] the station master at the Ma On Shan MTR Station, who said that I couldn’t go through the turnstiles unless I folded up my bike. Having no choice, I did not enter the station [局住唔入囉], the reason being that I had picked up some food. Why should I fold up the bike when I was carrying food? Good stuff! Today we are in luck. I can go straight to the Lei On Estate to collect a McDonalds. It’s just nearby. First of all, let’s have a look at how much we’ve earned today. Not bad! 138 dollars for two hours [here, 都 dōu1 is dislocated to the end of the sentence]. [My] best ever was 150 dollars, that is, about 77 dollars for an hour [while] [my] worst was only 5-, 50 for an hour. What amounts when divided up to a wage of 50 dollars in an hour has really been the lowest. On average every week I do around ten hours, and try to leave has much time free during work-days . . .

【2:00】. . . 唔報更係因爲 | 萬一如果有 interview 嘅时候 | 噉我可以即刻去 | 比起之前我嘅收入 | 都同之前我諗會接近相差十倍嘅 | 呃,我哋金融法規呢一個範疇呢 | 其實相對哋都比較係所謂「鐵飯碗」呢,銀行入便 | 月入都,呃,三萬到啦 | 因爲,呃,金融法規本身 | 係,即係 *je,因應好多金監管機構嘅要求去設立嘅 | 噉所以基本上都唔會話大規模去裁員嘅 | 嗯,我公司如果根據啱啱上季嘅業績呢 | 其實都係有賺嘅 | 不過就遜於預期呢 | 全球都炒一千個呢 | 但係香港就冇一個實數話炒幾多 | 噉所以其實都好,好彷徨 | 會唔知道下一步 next step 應該要做啲乜 | 因爲都相信自己 | 會冇咁快揾到工嘅 | 噉就 . . .

● 報更 bou3 gāang1 = (?) to let someone know that one is available to do a certain shift | ● 相差 sēung1 chāa1 = to differ | ● 鐵飯碗 tit3 faahn6 wún2 = an “iron rice bowl”, that is, a secure job | ● 月入 yuht6 yahp6 = monthly income | ● 因應 yān1 ying3 = ① to cope with ② to adapt oneself to | ● 金監管機構 gām1 gāam1 gún2 gēi1 kau3 = (?) institutions that supervise financial matters | ● 大規模 daaih6 kwāi1 mòuh4 = on a large scale | ● 裁員 chòih4 yùhn4 = to cut down the number of persons employed; to reduce staff; to retrench staff | ● 上季 seuhng6 gwai3 = the previous quarter | ● 業績 yihp6 jīk1 = outstanding achievement | ● 遜於 seun3 yū1 = inferior to | ● 彷徨 pòhng4 wòhng4 = to feel utterly lost; not knowing what to do; to disorientated and anxious

. . . not putting my name down for any shifts [報更] just in case an interview [comes up]. That way I can head off at the earliest possible time [即刻]. Compared to what I previously used to get paid, I think I earn nearly ten times less [相差十倍] than before. Our field of financial regulation is a relatively secure one, an “iron rice bowl” as they say, in a bank. [My] monthly wage was around 30,000 dollars. This is because, in itself [本身], financial regulation was established to deal with all the demands made by the many [different] financial institutions that play a supervisory role. For this reason, basically there would be no talk of any large-scale reduction of staff. According to the figures [業績] of the quarter that has just finished, my company made money, but this was inferior to the predicted [earnings]. Across the globe, [they] have fired a thousand workers, but there is no actual figure for how many people have been fired in Hong Kong. For that reason, [I] feel in fact quite at a loss, and I don’t know what my next step should be, because I believe that I won’t be able to find another job so quickly. And then . . .

【3:00】. . . 變咗會覺得乜都要做住先 | 佢哋通知我係星期一 | 噉星期二我就登記咗 Foodpanda | 跟住星期三就同我講可以上去裝備 | 呃,最主要因爲冇咗一個固定嘅收入呢 | 噉係靠呢份 ,即係 *je,所謂糧啦 | 或者老底啦,或者賠嘅錢呢 | 其實係冇乜安全感嘅 | 因爲我呢個 moment 被人裁出嚟 | 我都唔會知我係唔係,即係 *je,要等幾耐㗎嘛 | so far 失業之後,都 reach out 過十零個 headhunter 啦 | 呃,我諗 send 都有 send 咗四、五十份 CV 呀 | 即係 *je,一個月内 | 噉有四份工都有見過嘅 | 當時我啱啱一收到公司電話呢 | 就已經同屋企人講咗話有呢個,即係 *je,消息 | 噉屋企人都震驚喇 | 但係又好似都見怪不怪啦 | 因爲都,嗯 . . .

● 攞裝備 ló2 jōng1 beih6 = to get the equipment | ● 老底 lóuh5 dái2 = usu. “basic salary”, but it may also refer to the money Dickson saved/earned from his original job as an ibanker | ● 賠 pùih4 = to compensate; to pay for | ● 震驚 jan3 gīng1 = to shock; to amaze; to astonish | ● 見怪不怪 gin3 gwaai3 bāt1 gwaai3 = not be surprised by anything unusual

Note: Dickson uses another approximation expression 零 lèhng4 in this segment, which is added after numbers somewhat like the English -ish: 都 reach out 過十零個 he-hunter 啦 = I have been in touch with 10 or so head-hunters.

. . . I felt that first of all I must do anything. They notified me on a Monday. On Tuesday I registered with Foodpanda. After that, they told me that I could come and collect the [necessary] equipment. Because I don’t have a fixed source of income, the most important thing is that, frankly speaking, I don’t have a strong sense of security relying on the so-called basic salary I earned from this foodpanda job or the compensation offered by my previous company.. Because I was retrenched at a moment [like this], clearly I don’t have any way of knowing how long I will have to wait [to find another position]. So far, after I became unemployed, I have been in touch with [Dickson uses the English “reach out”] to 10 or so head-hunters and I think I have sent out 40 or 50 CVs in a month. I have had interviews for four jobs. The moment after I got the phone call from the company, I told my family that there was this news. They were shocked, but by the same token they didn’t make a big fuss about it [見怪不怪]. This was because . . .

【4:00】. . . 我相信我唔係疫情之下唯一嘅受害者啦 | 噉我自己都唔介意去被人知道 | 我當刻係被人炒 | 對於面子 | 我自己更加重要嘅就係希望得到人哋嘅支持 | 喺 Facebook 公開講咗之後 | 亦都好多好好嘅朋友譬如佢哋會介紹一臨時工、散工我 | 一開頭其實有啲難開口嘅 | 𢯎朋友俾車我洗 | 絕對有啲難開口嘅 | 因爲,呃,當個身份對調咗 | 如果我揾人嚟洗車嘅人 | 你洗花咗或者洗得唔乾净 | 我可以嘈人哋㗎嘛 | 噉如果而家我幫個朋友洗 | 噉洗得唔好、唔滿意 | 或者有啲咩嘢譬如整花咗嘅 | 噉其實係自己孭鑊㗎喎 | 以前冇洗開車呀 | 以前,呃,俾錢人嚟幫我洗 | 而家,呃,收錢幫人洗 | 有乜感想? | 辛苦 | 但係 . . . 都係一個必要時嘅收入

● 當刻 dōng1 hāak1 = approx. “at that time (in the past)” | ● 介意 gaai3 yi3 = to take offence; to mind | ● 臨時工 làhm4 sìh4 gūng1 = casual labourer; temporary worker | ● 散工 sáan2 gūng1 = 1. casual labourer; odd-jobber; odd hands; journeyman. 2. odd job; short-term job; day labour; intermittent/recurring job; short-term labour; freelance work | ● 𢯎 [ng]āau1 = usu. “to scratch” but here with the idiomatic meaning of “to beg; to request; to entreat” (the subtitles have 求 kàuh4) | ● 對調 deui3 diuh6 = to exchange; to swap | ● 洗花 sái2 fāa1= to leave marks or stains when one washes sth. | ● 嘈 chou4 = usu. noisy; clamorous; booming, but 《香港粵語大詞典》 also adds the meaning of 爭吵 = to quarrel; to wrangle (p.591) | ● 孭鑊 mē1 wohk6 = take the blame for the fault of others; bear the responsibility of sth. gone wrong | ● 感想 gám2 séung2 = thoughts; impressions; reflections | ● 必要時 bīt1 yiu3 sìh4 = if necessary; if need be; if the need arises; should it be necessary

Note: Firstly, in this segment, the verb 幫 bōng1 is used quite a bit, but instead of serving as a full verb meaning “to help”, it functions instead as a co-verb expressing the sense of “on behalf of; for”. Examples include 如果而家我幫個朋友洗 = “if now I wash a car for a friend” and 俾錢人嚟幫我洗 = “pay money to people to come and wash [my car] for me”. As is usual with co-verbs, they appear before the main verb in which they work in tandem. Secondly, another interesting point here are the verbs 洗花 and 整花 in the context of car-washing. Here, 花 fāa1 has the meaning of both “anything resembling of flower” and “blurry; dim” and suggests a mark or smudge made by washing. The subtitles have 抹花 maa3 fāa1 = to wipe or rub a mark. Thirdly, I can’t see any real difference between the words 臨時工 and 散工. They both seem to refer to an odd job.

I don’t think I am the only person to suffer during [the outbreak of] Covid-19. Me, I don’t mind if other people know that now I have been given the sack. As for “face”, to me what is more important is the hope of gaining support from people. After I went public on Facebook, many many very good friends also told me about, for instance, some casual work [opportunities] and odd jobs. At first, I did indeed find it a bit hard to open my mouth [and tell people what had happened], to ask friends to let me wash their car, it was a bit hard to do that, absolutely. The reason being that when your status suffers a reversal [對調], if I found someone to wash my car, and you left marks on it, I left it dirty, I would be capable of kicking up a fuss [嘈]. Now [when] I wash a car for a friend, I have to take the blame if I don’t do a good job, or he’s not satisfied, or there are marks left on the car, for instance. Before I started washing cars, I would pay others to wash my car. Now I take money to wash other people’s cars. What do I think about that? It’s painful, but it is also a necessary source of income.

【5:00】記者:自尊心個關其實點過呢 | Dickson Chan: 嗯,當諗到冇錢嘅時候 | 都咩自尊都唔緊要 | 噉我都會係,即係 *je,好 friendly 樣同人講呀 | 呃,,你架車,即係 *je,使唔使幫手洗呀咁樣啦 | 咁樣跟住就話 | 唉,你知啦,我而家冇工開 | 噉,即係 *je,俾個機會呀,老細 | 因爲冇咗一個叫做固定嘅工作喇 | 咁所以喺,呃,消費上個消費習慣係都會改變咗好多嘅 | 就譬如好似啱啱失業之前嗰個星期啦 | 噉其實我都係啱啱先,即係 *je,都會同朋友喺蘇豪區食飯呀 | 跟住就去酒吧度可能飲吓嘢 chill 吓咁樣 | 以往,即係 *je,準時返工 | 準時放工 | 噉 and then 可能會諗去邊度玩 | 去邊度食嘢 | 而家個心態係會 | 我嘅目標:想做到幾多張單 | 噉我 . . .

● 過關 gwo3 gwaan1 = pass a barrier; go through an ordeal; perhaps more colloquially “to get through a difficult time/experience” | ● 自尊 jih6 jyūn1 = self-respect; self-esteem | ● 老細 lóuh5 sai3 = boss; chief; manager; employer; owner | ● 啱啱先 ngāam1 ngāam1 sīn1 = just now; a moment ago; not that long ago (the shorter 啱先 is also used)

Reporter: How did you deal with the issue of self-respect? Dickson Chan: Um, when I think that I don’t have any money self-respect isn’t important. In a very friendly manner, I would say to people: “Hey, your car, do you need anyone to wash it?” And then I would add: “You know, I don’t have a job now, so give me this opportunity, boss”. Because I no longer had a regular job, in terms of consuming things my consumer habits changed drastically. For instance, in the week just before I became unemployed, I had just been to Soho for a meal with friends, and then we went off to a bar for a drink and to chill. In the past, I would go to work on time and finish on time, and then perhaps think about where to go to have a good time and where to go for a meal. Now my attitude is: my aim is to do a certain number of orders [做到幾多張單]. I . . .

【6:00】. . .  踩快囉,行快啲囉 | 當做完之後,我就 OK ,噉我今日就返屋企食飯 | 會想慳返啲錢。噉所以唔會諗咁多,即係 *je,呃,不必要嘅開支喇 | 噉變咗其實個人諗嘢都會簡單咗 | 以前有啲,即係 *je,覺得 | 食好著好就個人就開心喇 | 被人裁員之後啦 | 呃,個心態會唔同咗 | 而家會更加重視人與人之間嘅關係喇 | 當你有事嘅時候 | 始終都係需要身邊,呃,你,即係 *je,建立好嘅人際關係 | 去幫你過渡 | 噉就算你話,我譬如而家咁樣 | 我自己一個去,呃,即係 *je,外賣啦 | 自己一個去洗車啦咁樣 | 噉都係其實有朋友教我送餐攻略 | 都係一樣有朋友肯俾架車我洗

● 慳返 hāan1 fāan1 = to save money, time or effort | ● 開支 hōi1 jī1 = ① to pay (expenses) ② expenses; expenditure; spending | ● 重視 juhng6 sih6 = to attach importance to; to take sth. seriously; to value | ● 人際關係 yàhn4 jai3 gwāan1 haih6 = interpersonal relationships | ● 過渡 gwo3 douh6 = transition; interim | ● 送餐 sung3 chāan1 = (?) to deliver meals| ● 攻略 gūng1 leuhk6 = tactic; perhaps also “strategy”

. . . ride a bit faster, walk a bit faster, and when I’ve finished, I [think] OK, and today (?) I will go back home and eat there. I will want to save some money. And so I won’t have so much to think about unnecessary expenses. And so, a person’s thinking gets simpler. Before, [I] tended to think [有啲,即係,覺得] eating well and wearing good clothes was enough to make you happy. After being retrenched, the state of mind is different, and now [I] attach more importance to my relationships with other people. When you meet with a problem [當你有事嘅時候], you are always going to need to establish good relationships with the people around you to help you get through things. So even if you say to yourself I’ll go off on my own and find [a job delivering] takeaways, actually it was a friend who taught me this strategy, just as friends are willing to let me wash their cars.

Caption: 感謝在逆境中勇往直前的你們 | 香港人加油

● 逆境 yihk6 gíng2 = adverse circumstances; adversity | ● 勇往直前 yúhng5 wóhng5 jihk6 chìhn4 = to march forward courageously; to advance bravely

With gratitude to all of you who advance bravely in the face of adversity | Hongkongers, “Add Oil”

採訪: 文睿芳 | 攝影:倫星楊 | 剪接:倫星楊 | 監製:王秋婷

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