Having a Hongkie ‘mah cheh’ as my nanny for the first five years of my life, it was natural that I spoke nothing else but Cantonese (aka Kongfu or Kwongtung) back then as a kid. That, of course wasn’t a problem to me until I was big enough to wander out of my home and found the first SURPRISE of my life…… Niah-seng! The ‘whole world’ out there spoke Hokkien and a whole lot of other lingos that I could barely grasp!
So, learning multiple Chinese dialects all at the same time became the first survival test for this freshie of the neighborhood kids. It was fun.. but for my case, it was more like disastrously funny when I got the different dialects mixed up, causing confusions and wild twisted imaginations.
For instance, how was I to know that by TUA LIAP LANGs (literally translated as Big balls People) in the Hokkien dialect merely meant VIPs who were more often than not, local
These la! Truly Tua liap Langs we hormat.... not that talak bulu mia Samy Blu!
....and as if that was not enough to freak and fry my little brain, I had to muster enough guts to convince myself that those nyonya kuih 'LAMPAR UDANGs’ were (and still are) nothing more than just prawn dumplings with no testicles of any animal or prawns sacrificed in the preparation! Phew!
Lampar Udang- unwrapped and found it was not even 'ball-ish' in shape!
Even my own mother tongue was not spared of confusion. I once told my friends that my mum would ‘fark’ me with her cane if I were late… they went “huh?” apparently not knowing that ‘fark’ means ‘to beat/flog forcefully’ in my family’s Thoi-San Cantonese dialect! (so guys, don't go "OMG! Charles's daddy uses the F word" again!)
That wasn’t the only disastrous incident that I had when I tried substituting Cantonese equivalent for Hokkien words I had yet to pick up at that early beginner’s stage. I didn’t know the Hokkien word for ‘FOLLOW’ and thought that it was okay and safe to replace it with the Cantonese word ‘KAN’. You can imagine the shock my young decent Hokkien neighbor had when I asked, “Gua eh sai KAN lu khee bo? (sounding like "Can I F@rk you off?" instead of the intended "Can I follow you?")
His suspicion of me as a foul mouth kid was again reiterated the following day while we were playing with plastercine modeling clay. I had wanted to warn him not to ‘Press and ruin’ my creation…so I told him ‘Lu mai KAM LAN har’! (in Cantonese, KAM=PRESS and LAN= RUIN)
Those were the happy days when I was just young lad with no fear of shame in making mistakes, always happily annoying the neighborhood with my singing “Lah-sa Sayang, Eh! Lah-sa Sayang sayang eh!”at a pitch they described as like ‘Hor Kooi Teh Tiok’ (victim of a ghost's squeeze!) - I bet my siblings would have done me away if murder was not already a legal crime back then for giving them such horrible torture that even the Japs would not use during WWII!
To that decent neighbor childhood friend who kept correcting me that it should be ‘Rasa Sayang’: You were wrong too! It’s RASUAH Sayang la! Don’t believe? Go ask any Perakians especially that HEE BYE whore!