Learn Cantonese Slang: Exploring the city’s cultural space

  • Where would you be meeting your friends if you said see you at 'bou dai'?
  • This week, we look at some slang for different types of homes in Hong Kong and famous places in the city
Kelly Fung |
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This week, we are going to look at some of the informal names and descriptions given to buildings and places in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is known to be a space-starved city, many people have no choice but to resort to living in tong fong.

Because space is money in this city , many places with rich a cultural heritage have been knocked down to make way for redevelopment, such as Hei Tip Gaai. Check out the phrases below and see if you know any of them.

Types of homes

【劏房】[Tong1 fong4] (tong-fong) – “butchered room”
Meaning: flats or apartments which are divided into  two or more individual rooms and rented for a cheaper price than a whole flat. “Tong fong” are notoriously cramped and have potential hygiene and safety problems.
In English: subdivided flats or cubicles
Example: Many low-income families can only afford to rent  tong fong  during the long wait for Hong Kong public housing.

【籠屋】 [lung4 uk1] (lung-oak) – “caged home”
Meaning: partitioned cubicles, some might even call them “coffin homes”
In English: partitioned cubicles, bedspace apartment
Example: In a dense city like Hong Kong, many low-income individuals have to live in lung uk.

【縮水樓】 [suk1 seoi2 lau4] (sok-sui-lau) – “shrunken flats”
Meaning: refers to a significant difference between the saleable area and the gross floor area of an apartment. The gross floor area may include a share of common spaces, like passages outside the door.
In English: shrunken flats
Example: Many people still pay a lot of money for suk seoi lau as they wish to own a home.

Learn Cantonese Slang: Internet lingo you need to know

Places in Hong Kong:

【煲底】 [bou1-dai2] (bo-dai) – “under the pot” 
Meaning: Refers to the protest zone at the Legislative Council complex. People say the Legco building looks like a pot, so the protest zone on the ground floor is called “beneath or under the pot”.
Example: Hong Kong protesters have been gathering at bou dai in hopes of getting their voices heard.

【鵝頸橋】 [ngo4 geng2 kiu4] (ngo-gang-kiu) – “Goose-Neck Bridge” 
Meaning: Refers to Canal Road Flyover in Causeway Bay. There was once a canal there, which looked like a goose’s neck because it was long and thin, so the name stuck. Now it is a place where old women will beat effigies with slippers to change a customer’s luck or curse their enemy.
Example: You can see lots of villain hitters under ngo geng kiu.

【囍帖街】[hei2 tip3 gaai1] (hei-tip gaai) – “Wedding Card Street”
Meaning: Lee Tung Street in Wan Chai, which was a hub for print shops in the 1950s, became famous for  printing wedding invitations in the ’80s. Demolished in 2007 , it became a site for luxury shopping and housing. In 2008, local singer Kay Tse released a song called Hei Tip Gaai, mourning the street’s loss and memorialising it for future generations. Tse’s song was a big hit and won many music awards.

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