Dans le soleil

The weather in Hong Kong is erratic these days. Last week was so cold that I had to wrap myself in down jacket. Today it’s 27°C. Out came the shorts (and mosquitoes; damned opportunists!).

Such a Sunday is best spent slacking off under the shade:

If only I can change size like Alice…

A song to go with this post (Dans Le Soleil et Dans Le Vent – in the sunshine and the wind):


Subtle Chinglish

Apart from hilarious signs like “Slip Carefully (Careful! Slippery Floor)” and glaring grammatical errors, Chinglish can take more subtle forms. They may appear all correct at first glance, but just don’t feel right upon closer inspection. Here are some common examples in financial writing:

Market: 市場(market) is used more frequently in Chinese than English. 市場傳言, 市場預期 and 市場情緒 (lit. “market rumours”, “market expectation” and “market sentiment”) are simply “rumours”, “expectation” and “sentiment” in English, because it’s understood that they belong to the market. Likewise, don’t let 市場上的競爭對手 trick you into writing “competitors in the market”. “Competitors” will do. Where else will you find competitors? In your dreams?

Successfully: Because of the interference of 成功收購, many people write “successfully acquired” without second thought. But of course if you have acquired something, you have succeeded in doing so. It’s even worse when people say “successfully achieved” and “successfully won”, as if it is possible to achieve or win unsuccessfully. Use “acquired”, “achieved” and “won”.

The 成功 in Chinese serves an emphatic purpose. This is commonly seen in press releases. To reproduce the same emphasis in English, try “with great success” or “the event is a complete success”. It is also better to explain why it is a success than just giving empty descriptions.

Relatively: Relatively strong / low / weak makes sense; relatively stronger / lower / weaker doesn’t, because “relatively” overlaps with the comparative form of the adjective. However this word is often used as lousy cosmetics. An investment with “relatively small risks” will probably break you. “Kevin is relatively good-looking” is not a complement, but an euphemism.

Sullen sigh

My mother hates it when I sigh. She says it’s inauspicious. I used to dismiss that as pure superstition, but I’m starting to see her point.

I have no problem with people sighing as long as they do so discreetly. Nor am I against the sigh of relief, which my father gave (supposedly) after his brat got a place in university. However some people like to broadcast their frustration by incessant sighing – at the highest volume and pitch. Now I know why my mother finds it intolerable. The sound is dreadful, depressing and infects others with gloom, which is contagious like flu, and excessive sighing works like a cough in the face. Perhaps that’s where the inauspicious bit comes from.

It makes me want to wring the person into a ball and kick it out of the door.

I know sometimes we all need a little release but please dump your emotions in private, or you pollute the environment everybody shares.


My last post mentioned a life-threatening pie I had in Paris. 

It was in 2002. I just finished touring the military museum and had to join my tour group at La Fayette before they go to Switzerland. With no time for a proper lunch, I grabbed what I believed was a meat pie. A lady at the bakery shot me a weird smile. I didn’t know why, until much later.   

Turned out it wasn’t a meat pie. It had a dense, sweet filling similar to the Chinese lao po bing (“wife cake”) and was very soft. So imagine my surprise when my teeth slammed on something rock-hard. I probed with my tongue and, using a tissue, I pulled this guy from my mouth:    

What is he doing in my pie?

My first thought was it must be some French version of Kinder Surprise egg. Wait, what if I had unknowingly won a 1-million euro lucky draw and that man was the ticket to my prize? But it was neither. The pie (well, not exactly a pie) was a galette des Rois, or “King Cake”. According to Wikipedia: 

“La galette des Rois”, gâteau des Rois or french king cake is a cake celebrating the Epiphany in France and traditionally sold and consumed a few days before and after this date. 

Tradition holds that the cake is “to draw the kings” to the Epiphany. A trinket, “la fève”, which can represent anything from a car to a cartoon character, is hidden in the cake and the person who finds it in their slice becomes king for the day and will have to offer the next cake. 

So I was king, but close to becoming a dead king. 

You see, a person familiar with the tradition would have expected the trinket and therefore eaten carefully, or may even remove it before eating. I, however, was devouring the cake since I was so hungry. That little guy could’ve easily passed detection and choked me to a royal death. 

They said Paris will take your breath away. It almost did.