Happy New Year of the Gau!

animation of dog on a globe with a megaphone for Chinese New Year of the dog

Beware of the dog! The Cantonese word for dog is gau, but it can also mean 9, enough, to teach, old, lump, plastic, to stir, if said in a different tone.

As there are a limited number of syllables in Chinese, tones are used to differentiate words. Tone is one of the trickiest aspects of learning to speak Chinese and can lead to much bewilderment. This is demonstrated whenever Dave, my husband, tries out some Cantonese on my mum. It goes like this:

He annunciates a short phrase (usually food related). She looks at me blankly. I repeat it. She exclaims ‘Ah!’ in recognition, and he says, ‘That’s what I said! – I’m hungry.*’

‘No, Dave. You just told her you have diarrhoea!’ And so it goes on.

So even good pronunciation is hard to understand with incorrect tone.

It’s difficult to hear the tonal variation unless the words are spoken in succession, so here’s some absolute nonsense I made up earlier for the purpose of illustrating the point. This isn’t so much a tongue twister as a tone twister!

**Gau6 si4, gau2 zek3 gau2 hai2 gaau1 ngoi6 gaau2 gaau2 zan3. Ngo5 gaau3 gau2 zek3 gau2 gaau2 gaau1 seoi2. Dang2 keoi5 gaau2 dou3 gau3, gaau1 bei2 ngo5 lei6 gaau1 wun6 gau2 gau6 gaau1.

Translation: Once upon a time, 9 dogs were messing about outside. I taught the 9 dogs to stir glue. When they’d stirred it enough, they gave it to me to exchange for 9 lumps of plastic. 

16th February 2018 begins the Chinese New Year of the (earth) Dog. People born in Dog years are thought to be brave, loyal, independent and kind. If you were born in 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958, etc, this is your year so make the most of it. For everyone else, you should just be more dog anyway!

Kung Hei Fat Choi

Wishing you joy and prosperity,

Mo and Dave


*ngo5 tou5 ngo6 = I’m hungry. / ngo5 tou5 ngo1 = I have diarrhoea.

**the numbers denote different tones in the Jyutping romanisation system for Cantonese:

1 high, flat / 2 mid, rising / 3 mid, flat / 4 low, falling / 5 low, rising / 6 low, flat

Happy New Year of the Fire Rooster

Fire Rooster animation

I’m about to astound you with a piece of knowledge that somehow evaded me til now, despite growing up in a Chinese family – the Chinese lunar calendar has a leap month! I know!!

It seems that lunar months are just 29 or 30 days long, shorter than the ones we use in the Gregorian calendar. So some years squeeze in a 13th month. In effect, the lunar calendar has a whole month added every 3 years or so. But its position in the year varies and, to add more confusion, the extra month has the same name as the previous one! No mere mortal can be bothered to calculate when it’s going to happen because it’s far too complicated, so we all just wait until the Chinese calendars are printed and released into the wild. In lunar leap years though, Chinese New Year tends to fall earlier than usual, in January rather than February.

28th January 2017 begins the year of the Rooster, the fire Rooster to be precise. Roosters are thought to be hard-working, resourceful, confident, active and like being centre of attention! If you were born in 2005, 1993, 1981, 1969, 1957, 1945, you are most probably a Rooster. More importantly though, 2017 also has a leap month which falls after June. So, whatever doesn’t go well in June you can have another go at in the following month – the ‘yun’ version of June (which loosely translates as enriched or nourished)!

Here’s wishing you a happy and enriching year of the fire Rooster!
Kung Hei Fat Choi
Mo and Dave (aptly aka The Cockburns)

A Christmas Robin

Wishing you a chirpy Christmas and a heroic New Year.
And remember, if you are going to jingle, please do so responsibly!


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