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Rant: colonial baggage

Cecilie Gamst Berg

 

When the first hirsute, tweed-clad Englishman waddled ashore on Hong Kong Island, in 1839, he inadvertently made my life here in 2012 more difficult than necessary.

First, he quickly established a rule embedded in locals' minds from infancy: no Caucasian can ever learn Cantonese. Generations of Hong Kong people have since clung to this rule, never ceasing to explain patiently to Caucasians such as me that Cantonese is "too difficult". In Cantonese, naturally.

Then, no doubt because his own packed lunch from Blighty was of such superior quality to the local fare, our sweaty, culinarily shy Englishman set another rule in stone: Caucasians don't do Chinese food. In recent years, with Chinese restaurants covering the globe, locals have been forced to acknowledge that maybe a few Caucasians can eat some Chinese food. Word has trickled out; it's been years since I was offered a knife and fork to eat dim sum.

Still, there is no way we whiteys can ever hope to cook Chinese food. That must be why every time I shop for stuff such as lotus root or soya beans at a market, locals ask whether I know what I'm doing.

All right, so I can speak Cantonese and cook a bit of Sichuan food. But tea, that last bastion of Chineseness, comes with the fastest rules: Caucasians dining at dim sum restaurants are never asked what kind they want; they automatically get a pot of jasmine plonked under their nose. It's the only tea we can drink. Everybody knows that.

Oh, first Englishman. You know not what you did.

 

 

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