I am, by dialect a Hokkien, as printed on my birth certificate. But my maternal side is Cantonese, so I am also quite well exposed to Cantonese. I speak neither well because I don't live with any of my grandparents, so my lack of knowledge of dialects doesn't hinder me in any way.
Recently, because of my Singapore Film module, I was being exposed to quite a number of Singapore films which contain quite a bit of Hokkien and my Hokkien improved by quite a bit. At least it's enough for me to hold a conversation with my grandfather and help my cousin and my sister to translate. My sister and cousin never learnt Hokkien because my grandfather speaks English and Chinese, more of my grandfather's English another time though.
I think I've mentioned in my blog a couple of times, I'm closer to my paternal side of my family because basically I don't really like some figures from my maternal side. And because of my unwillingness to converse with them, I don't use Cantonese that much. I once read somewhere that more Cantonese families usually converse in Cantonese at home than families of other dialects. It seems to be true in my family too. Most of my maternal aunts converse in Cantonese between themselves while the Daddie converses in English with his sisters and brother-in-laws.
Okay, the topic today is Cantonese and not dialects in general so I better focus a bit. A couple of days ago I caught Confession of Pain which as with other Hong Kong movies screened in Singapore, was dubbed in Mandarin. Most of the actors did their own Mandarin dubbing so it was not that bad, but Tony Leung's dubbing was done by someone else, and it was very badly done. After the movie, I went onto Youtube to search for Cantonese clips of Confession of Pain, hoping that after hearing Tony Leung in Cantonese can help lessen my trauma of hearing his dub in the movie. It did help, thank God.
While at Youtube, I came across a couple of Takeshi Kaneshiro interviews. Watching these interviews in their original language without subtitles, I realised that I can actually understand Cantonese. I don't know why but this revelation hit me pretty strong, sort of like I'm expecting myself not being able to understand. I must admit, Takeshi Kaneshiro's Cantonese isn't that good, in fact he at times had to revert to Mandarin to get this message across, but well, the interview was indeed in Cantonese.
I refer back to a memory of me being in a neighbouring country which I hold great disdain for. In a queue, I overheard a couple of kids (about 16-18 years old) talking in Cantonese. My first thought when I heard them was "These kids sound so gay." Then I thought, "Cantonese is such a gay dialect." Maybe at that time, after watching all those gangsterish Hokkien films, that was my thought. But after I had that thought I realise that I made a huge mistake. In saying that Cantonese was gay I had negated my love for Hong Kong movies, TVB dramas and all the TVB ah-ges that I love.
Then later another revelation hit me harder. The medium of conversation between the parents was Cantonese, so in saying that Cantonese is gay is almost like saying that the Daddie is gay. oops... The parents speak Cantonese at home because the Daddie's Mandarin is damn bad and maybe it's also because of the Cantonese factor itself ba.
So, I've to conclude that Cantonese is not gay, as much as I might wanted it to be, and it was only those kids who were gay.
That memory stung me, and I realised that that is a reason why I should not have been surprised with my ability in understanding those Cantonese interviews I watched on Youtube. The parents speak Cantonese at home, even though they don't speak to me, and I don't answer them in Cantonese, after listening to them for twenty years, I should have been able to comprehend quite perfectly. (I speak English at home, sometimes a bit of Mandarin. Other than "fuck" and "shit", I curse and swear in Hokkien.)
Rewind a couple of months ago when I was in Strasbourg, I met a pair of Hong Kong girls and we travelled a bit with them. On an occasion when my friend and one of the girls were in the homestay sleeping, I went on a walk around the town with the other Hong Kong girl. We conversed in English until a point I we were having difficulty understanding each other, I told her to speak in Cantonese while I spoke in Mandarin. That arrangement worked much better for the both of us.
So, why was I so surprised that I was able to understand Takeshi Kaneshiro's interview?
The only answer I came to after some thinking was that living in Singapore pampered me so much with subtitles that subtitles came so naturally to me. Even online, stuff I watch comes with fansubs, Japanese anime, Chinese dramas, all of those are catered to the American English speaking audience. So basically everything I watch comes with subtitles, even lately all the Hong Kong dramas on Channel 8 comes in both English and Chinese subtitles. Even the Taiwanese variety programmes I watch are equipped with Chinese subtitles. Sooner to come, all news in Singapore will also feature captions so that deaf people can watch the news too. It's almost as if I can't watch anything without subtitles.
So it's not the fault of the dialect itself. I'm still trying to decide if I actually like that dialect. Within my family, I do not like those who speak in Cantonese, ie the maternal side relatives. And those gayish kids' voices still haunt me everytime I think about that dialect. (Really, people with gayish voices should not be allowed to talk. On another note, I have nothing against gay people, it's just that ah gua-ish high pitch voice that I greatly dislike. On yet another note to dispell notions that I might be discriminating gays, I'm a big sucker for yaoi, I think Brad is almost god-like, and recently I've this bit crush on this gay blogger whom I think is damn cute, and I like his writings, and have a big soft spot on his sexual escapades.)
Maybe if there isn't such a thing as dubbing, and I get to hear the voices of my favourite TVB stars on a regular basis, I might like that dialect. Right now the only two people whom I can hear Cantonese from are the parents which isn't really that helpful.
hmm... I was thinking if I've any Cantonese albums, but I don't. Okay, I've a couple of Wang Fei's Cantonese tracks, but no male Cantonese singer's albums. Wait, I do have one entirely Cantonese album, Karen Mok's 《一枝金花》, but no male singer's. Maybe a couple of Andy Lau and Aaron Kwok's tracks. Other Cantonese tracks I have are all opening themes from various TVB dramas.
Maybe I should buy a couple of TVB drama serials on VCD to watch.