Speaking Putonghua Hong Kong-style

By Elsea Lee Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/13 18:48:39

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

I was on a business trip to Hong Kong when the recent conflict broke out between pro- and anti-independence students at several Hong Kong universities. The conflict was triggered on September 5 when a female student from the Chinese mainland tore down a pro-independence poster from the "democracy wall" at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Several Hong Kong students then confronted her.

"If you're talking about democracy, you can put it up; I can tear it down. It's my school as well," the girl argued in English in a video clip circulated on the Internet.

The two parties quarreled in English because the Hong Kong students spoke to her in Cantonese, a dialect the girl couldn't understand.

Maybe the Hong Kong students might have chosen not to speak Putonghua as a way of separating themselves from the Chinese mainland. Many Hongkongers speak pretty good Putonghua. I was able to communicate with a local taxi driver in his 40s without any problem during my trip. The driver was obviously proud of his Hong Kong accented Putonghua, and I liked it too. My generation, those born in the 1980s, grew up watching Hong Kong TV dramas dubbed in Hong Kong-style Putonghua. In the past, when Hong Kong had inspired us with its metropolitan lifestyle, we were also keen on mimicking the Hong Kong accent.

There have been news reports of the dislike and distrust between mainlanders and Hong Kong residents over the years. On Zhihu.com, China's equivalent to Quora, some Web users answered questions such as "Are Hongkongers really unfriendly to mainlanders?" by sharing their personal experience in the city.

I met Hongkongers who were indifferent, arrogant and impolite to mainlanders. When I paid the bill at a local restaurant, a female cashier looked at me askance because I paid with coins the restaurant didn't accept.

I think it upsets some Hongkongers that the people from mainland no longer look up to them. The economy on the Chinese mainland has seen rapid development in the past decades so much so that cities like Beijing and Shanghai are on par with Hong Kong. Today, fewer mainlanders visit Hong Kong purely to for its metropolitan scenes.

I also had positive experiences. While eating at a local restaurant, an elderly lady seated next to my table gently asked me what the weather and life are like in Beijing. I was pleased that she was curious about the Chinese mainland. She is among the many Hong Kong residents who are trying to learn more about the Chinese mainland.

Another time, I asked two Hong Kong middle school students for directions and was surprised when the girls replied in standard Putonghua. Perhaps they belong to the younger generation who grew up with Putonghua being taught in their classrooms, or maybe they watch TV dramas and movies produced on the Chinese mainland. Either way, the experience of meeting young Hong Kong residents who speak good Putonghua made me feel optimistic about the future relations between Hongkongers and mainlanders.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.


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