Daily Archives: January 20, 2009

Surfing the Financial Tsunami

The Cantonese description of the mess we’re in is way better and more colorful than that dull old CNN/New York Times-standby: “Financial Crisis.” It shows more poetic flair, too, than the slangy, “Ponzi scheme”. And I’d take it in a minute over the other C-words that have been bandying around the newspaper headlines: calamity, collapse, catastrophe.

The Cantonese term for the global economic crisis is gam yung hoi siu:


literally: gold fuses, the ocean screams.

I know, I know, you can’t translate these things so literally. Chinese words consist mainly of pairs of characters that carry a different meaning in combination than the individual parts. Yet for a Westerner, it is hard to resist parsing the elements and delighting in the uncanny, poetic resonances of the basic building blocks. For me this is one of the joys of being a student of Chinese, so you’ll just have to put up with my quirks. (In elementary school English class I was the number one diagrammer of sentences and sleuth of root words, so at least I’m consistent).

Anyway, the “Gam Yung” part of this equation is the character combination that translates as “financial” (as in the Hong Kong building we all call IFC, but which occasionally gets referred to by its “official” Cantonese name “Gwok Jai Gam Yung Jung Sam” –International Financial Centre.)

But the “hoi siu” is another story. The literal power of these two characters only amplifies the meaning of the pair. It carries, for me and anyone who has lived close to the sea, the same kind of powerful horror as “dai fung” the great wind of the “typhoon.” The ocean screams, surges out of control, without favor or pity wipes away everything in its path.

Ah, if only our current financial ocean scream were as democratic as nature’s big winds and giant killer waves.

But it isn’t, and it is–typically–hitting those people hardest who deserve it least.  And barely moisturizing those who deserve to get soaked to the bone and swept out to oblivion.

I don’t belong either of those groups. I’d say I’m in a pretty average and typical situation, all things considered, and I’m thankful. But I’ve still taken a couple of hits, which is why you may have noticed my blogging has gone dark for a while. Writing these Learning Cantonese essays about Hong Kong is my passion, but it takes my full focus and energy to put out work I’m proud of. If I’m tapped out because I’ve been spending that brain capital on money-spinning projects, I’d rather not post some old blah blah blah on the blog. I’d rather wait and hold on until I can tap my top-shelf product.

So I thank all of you, this Chinese New Year of the mighty ngau, for your patience and continued support. No matter how long the blog goes dark, you terrific readers have come back. I appreciate that.

Speaking of support, I have been brainstorming a way to support the time I spend on this blog, and came up with a little project called Little Adventures in Hong Kong. You may have spotted the button for the link down on the left side of the page. It is my small way of trying to surf this financial tsunami, and I hope it may generate the $$$ to offset the hours I spend wandering around the city looking for adventures to recount on this blog. If you plan to come to Hong Kong, or have a friend who’s planning to come, please do check it out.

Enough self-promotion. Here’s to a powerful year of the OX, which I just now notice spells, backwards, my favorite Hong Kong spicy fishy flavored sauce. This must be a good thing, and when I figure out if there’s any luck or fortune attached to this lovely coincidence, I will come back and tell you all about it.

Sooner than later, I promise.

In the meanwhile, San Nin Faai Lok!