Speaking in Tongues
Among the many pleasures of life in Liuzhou is the endless opportunity to be baffled in a variety of languages.
I really don’t know how many different languages are spoken around here, but a good illustration came the other night when there was a large (mainly) family gathering to celebrate the New Year.
There were around twenty people sharing a wonderful feast of roast duck, steamed chicken, ducks’ tongues, chickens’ feet, boiled snails with chilli, steamed tilapia fish, stir fried squid, roast pork with taro, fish and doufu soup, and various vegetable dishes.
I did a quick count and it appeared that there were five different languages/dialects being spoken at the same time (not including me muttering to myself in English). One or two people were speaking Mandarin Chinese (putonghua), most were speaking the local Gui-Liu dialect, some were chatting in a Guangxi variation on Cantonese, some were babbling away in the Zhuang language and finally there was a smattering of the Dong language. Most of the guests were at least bilingual and were happy to translate comments into their speciality.
Towards the end of the meal, I plucked up my courage and toasted the couple opposite me in Zhuang! The woman looked as shocked as if the duck she was eating had just started reciting The Thoughts of Chairman Mao in perfect Mandarin (which is more than the Chairman could do!)
Now, let me make it clear that I can only say two things in Zhuang. a) Eat up! b) Drink up! (says a lot about me, really!) One of the dangers of saying anything at all is that the listeners assume that you can say everything and start a barrage of conversation which flattens your ears to your skull.
Fortunately, just at that moment the city’s firework display began and we all ran on to the roof to watch! WOW! seems to be understandable in all languages.