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11/20/2006

Cantonese is awful at Mandarin

I was visiting Guang Zhou China for my company's annual off-site meeting two weeks ago. It was not my first trip to Guang Dong as I has been to Dong Guan and Shen Zhen for work during 1997. Interestingly, Guang Zhou is actually inside Guang Dong and not the other way round. In fact the city I went to is called the Guang Zhou City.

The off-site meeting is much different from standard work trip. It is a mix of both work and play. For golfers, there will be a golf session. As for those non golfers, there is a tour round the city for whole afternoon after the first day meeting. I chose the second option since I have "retired" from golfing.

Our trip was accompanied by a tour guide. He was born and grown up in Guang Zhou and he is a Cantonese. I also learned from him that there are 3 main dialects in Guang Dong, Cantonese which is the dorminant group, followed by Kek and Fu Lao. There are also numerous groups of indegineous people staying in the Northen Western part of Guang Dong.

One thing that I noticed about Guang Dong is that its people has a hard time learning proper Mandarin. I am a Cantonese myself but I have found no such problem when it comes to Manadarin. The locals are not the same.

The first thing that I noticed was that the tour guide has a strong Cantonese accent when he spoke Mandarin. He also has an issue in prolong mandarin conversation. Only after a short while, may be three to four sentences, he had to revert back to Cantonese. He was not the only one.

Apparently all the locals are the same. This is probably due to the fact that the dialect that they used on daily basis is cantonese. As a Cantonese, I am proud of my own mother tongue, I guess the same goes with them. I also noted that the Southern side of China is separated from the Northern part by an array of mountains, making it difficult for the North to migrate down, as compare to other states in China. Probably this is the main reason why the use of Mandarin is not that crucial in this part of the world and people continue with their lives using their mother tongue.


However, it post an issue when it comes to communicating with oversea Chinese especially Singaporeans who are pre-dorminarily Hokkiens. Singaporeans as I see it have also lost their mother tongue due to its "Speak Mandarin" campaign. So it ended up with Mandarin as the only language that they speaks when it comes to Chinese.

So I was entertained with the communication problem between the tour guide and my colleagues. I enjoyed myself during the trip and to some extend felt the closeness with the place. Afterall, my ancesters were from Guang Dong.

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