Chonglish

Chinglish: Chinglish refers to spoken or written English language that is influenced by the Chinese language. The term "Chinglish" is commonly applied to ungrammatical or nonsensical English in Chinese contexts - Wikipedia

It was an early Sunday morning in Chinatown, I was still sweaty from my workout and I was standing in line for take-out dim sum. The steam from the baskets of shrimp dumplings added to my already wet sock frowning face countenance. There was one person ahead of me, he was a very tall Chinese man, although anyone over 5'2" is tall to me. What struck me first was not his height but the sound of his voice; he was ordering dim sum with an American accent. It pained me to listen to him.

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Every second generation has their shared story, mine is the rude Chinese waiter who slaps down a fork and not chopsticks or the feigned "I have no idea what you are trying to say" face from the busboy when you ask for more soy sauce in Cantonese. On one hand, I am proud that I can speak Cantonese, on the other I am hamstrung by my accent. It's not Chinese. Its a nasally Canadian/American twang of an accent and when I run my tongue over the nuances of Cantonese, instead of it sliding out like silk, it comes out like a goose's honk.

As the gentleman ahead of me ordered his BBQ Pork Buns, I cringed at every syllable. It struck me as why I made FOBs* cringe, I sounded terrible. When it came to my turn to order, I looked at the woman behind the counter, she looked at me with eyes that screamed "HEY!" I looked at her and ordered in Cantonese. Even though it was like nails across a chalkboard, I had earned the right to honk it out by the sheer fact that I learned it and kept it. Honk.

Chonglish: Chonglish refers to spoken Cantonese by an American Chinese; commonly applied to the grating sound of the Cantonese being uttered. - Wikipedia

Artist, designer and teacher Ophelia Chong explores her adopted city of Los Angeles with an eye and ear for the small moments that tests the duality of being an Asian American. Join her on her journey every Thursday on KCET's SoCal blog.

*FOB: Fresh Off the Boat, Fob's are immigrants a.k.a. Fresh off the boat.

Image: Ophelia Chong / Forever Fresh (letterpress)

About the Author

A true multi-tasker: illustrator, designer, teacher, networker and writer of short blasts of pent up hot air.
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