Jo sun! Neh ho mah?
For those of you who don't speak Chinese, I wished you "Good Morning." And for those of you who do, apologies for not getting the tones right - not easy for a white guy learning Cantonese.
San Francisco boasts the second-largest Chinese community in the United States. And after years working in the city's Sunset district, with many friends and co-workers speaking it, I developed a fascination with the language, if only to join the lively conversations in the lunch room. So, after enduring my fumbling attempts, co-workers taught me some basics of Chinese, cracking up at my mangling of the nine tones.
Though my halting Cantonese would sound about right on a four-year-old in Hong Kong, I've gotten a lot of mileage out of speaking Chinese. My shaky ordering in Chinatown has resulted in waiters practically dropping tea pots in shock. And when an actual correct order shows up, I can barely manage to eat it all. And I do mean all: ordering in Cantonese, however stumbling, results in big grins and the most heaping helpings of food you ever saw.
And it isn't only hospitality. A language reflects its culture, and learning Chinese has provided many insights - the clean economy of words, respectful courtesy, hilarious puns, direct get-to-the-point-don't-waste-time approach and, most of all, the kindness and generosity of the people.
Everyone is astonished I managed to learn conversational Chinese. But I find it astonishing more people don't learn it. Cantonese is the third-most-spoken language in the United States, after English and Spanish. And almost everyone knows some Spanish.