Part 3: Ngoh Seung Tung Go Gweilo Gong!
Policemen the world over have interesting stories to tell about what we call ‘The Job’. A couple of language-related anecdotes from my own experience include the American lady who approached my PC and I when we were on uniformed patrol in Nathan Road. Having no doubt read in the guidebooks that English-speaking officers had red shoulder tabs, she looked at me – no red tab- and then looked at him – red tab. Appearing utterly flummoxed she asked my PC, “Does he (indicating me) speak English?” I decided that this little moment had some comedy mileage and we proceeded to have a three-way conversation with my PC translating her questions into Cantonese for me, and my Cantonese answers back into English for her. Incidentally the red tab system, which was only for PCs and Sergeants, was abolished a few years ago.
The other incident relates to a suicidal male that my team were called to handle in Mong Kok. He had had a sorry time of it and was threatening to slit his throat with a chopper and slice up anyone else who came near. There must have been a dozen cops and ambulance men at the scene, none of whom could get anywhere with him. As soon as he saw me however, that was it – “Ngoh seung tung goh gweilo gong”. So there I was chatting away in Cantonese about the trials and tribulations of a suicidal maniac armed with a meat cleaver. If I lost the thread at any point, he might kill himself or even go for me. Not much pressure then! I managed to wheedle the conversation round to something I am able to discourse about at length in Cantonese: football. Once he heard all about my own club team’s history of woe not to mention England’s appalling recent lack of success, I reckon it was he who ended up feeling sorry for me. He calmed down, gave me his chopper and went off to hospital like a ‘sei gau’ [lit. dead dog]. That evening I most certainly earned my pint of cool ‘sang lik’ [San Miguel – Our city, Our beer!].