So I spent the last 6 days in Mainland China for a holiday. It wasn’t the complete culture shock being that road rules seem to not exist or sales assistants follow you everywhere you go that made me feel uncomfortable, it was that the so-called local language seemed to not exist.

廣州 - gwong2 zau1 - Guangzhou (the Capital of Cantonese) left me rather disappointed. It seemed that the majority are non-Cantonese people and simply refused to learn. You speak Cantonese, and you get replied back in Mandarin or extremely accented Cantonese. Not like Hong Kong where people know Cantonese but want to practice English, when I speak Cantonese they simply cannot speak it and continue in Mandarin until I stop them and they grab another person to help me in Cantonese. I get replies like “How is it possible that you know Cantonese and not Mandarin?”

When I actually found a local (seemed like 1 in 10 people), I was immediately elevated to “GOD” status. They loved me speaking Cantonese and treated me like a native Cantonese speaker.

On the other hand, 潮汕 - ciu4 saan3 - Chao Shan, being (潮州 - ciu4 zau1 - Chaozhou) and (汕頭 - saan3 tau4 - Shantou), two major Guangdong cities were both very limited in Cantonese. Some would reply in super broken Cantonese or Mandarin. Most people can understand Cantonese but can’t speak it well. If I spoke in Cantonese, then I couldn’t understand their Mandarin. Though shops would normally have a sales person who could speak Cantonese quite well and were happy to use Cantonese but with a heavier accent than mine.

In Guangdong, there is a vast amount of Cantonese resources. All Hong Kong television stations are available, and the Mainland even have many Cantonese TV and radio channels of their own. Though in Guangzhou, it still confuses me how people could learn to understand the language perfectly but couldn’t be bothered to open their mouths to speak Cantonese after 20 years of living there. I even saw many situations where one person spoke Cantonese and the other replied back in Mandarin. Seemed to be very popular in Guangzhou for people to speak their native language and receive replies in another.

This has not deterred me from learning Cantonese, or distracted me to take up Mandarin. On my return to Hong Kong and sharing my experience, my colleagues insisted that I should start learning Mandarin to be able to communicate with Mainland Chinese. However, many of them couldn’t speak Mandarin themselves, showing simply a double standards point-of-view on Chinese language.

I’m so sick of the learn Mandarin talk that I’ve listed why I shouldn’t learn it (pardon any ignorance):

1) No environment - Everyone including my family only speak Cantonese all the time.
2) I’m not interested in going to Shenzhen every weekend to practice Mandarin.
3) I’m not interested to learn Mandarin for short trips to China every year.
4) I’m not really interested in doing business in China (which it seems to be many people’s motivation).
5) Actually only 53% of Chinese people in China can speak Mandarin (source). So the exaggerated myth that 1.3 billion speakers cannot be as valued as wide spread languages like Spanish or French.