Tag Archives: Hong Kong

Carinna Chamberlain’s beautiful Cantonese singing, and Coca-Cola’s beautiful multilingual America

Corinna Chamberlain, aka Chan Ming Yan (Photo courtesy of Corinna Chamberlain)

Corinna Chamberlain, aka Chan Ming Yan (Photo courtesy of Corinna Chamberlain)

Listen to the audio above for a quick take on Coca-Cola’s multilingual Superbowl ad. That’s followed by a Big Show contributor Charlie Schroeder’s report on Carinna Chamberlain. Below is Charlie’s post…

It’s rare to see Western singers attempt to sing in Chinese.

Celine Dion did it last year during Chinese New Year. An estimated 700 million people watched the Canadian diva sing a famous Chinese folk song — in Mandarin — on China’s state-run CCTV.

Dion’s appearance may have been a one-off event, but in Hong Kong, there’s a Western singer named Corinna Chamberlain who’s fully committed to having a career in one of the city’s most famous exports, Cantopop (Cantonese popular music).

Her song “Yi Jung” opens with lyrics that are unlike any other Cantopop song. She sings that she feels like an “Alien from Mars” who’s landed on Earth.

“In a body with this skin color,” she continues, “I’m not quite like them. In fact, what kind of race am I?”

“Yi Jung” translates as “Different Breed,” which Chamberlain, also known as Chan Ming Yan (陳明恩) — is.

Her parents are from Australia and New Zealand; she’s white and has long, curly blonde hair. But unlike most Westerners here, she grew up in a remote part of Hong Kong, far from any ex-pat enclave. She attended local schools and speaks fluent Cantonese.

Growing up immersed in local culture caused something of an identity crisis for Chan. In high school, she had many friends. But not necessarily close friends.

“When it comes, like, especially to the girls in Hong Kong, to have your best, best friend, it’s always somebody who is the same as them,” Chan says. “Somebody who likes Hello Kitty, somebody who likes Snoopy as much as them.”

A best friend who’ll go everywhere with you — everywhere.

“It’s like, you know, ‘Oh, I need to go to the toilet, come with me, let’s go to the toilet together,’ “ she says.

At school, Chan wasn’t the same as anyone, so she didn’t have a best friend.

“I started to really feel like ‘where do I belong, who am I?’ And I was like, ‘maybe I’m not one of these people.’ So I thought ‘well, maybe I better just be a Westerner like the rest of the Westerners’ or something.”

The problem was she didn’t feel Western — direct, loud, independent. She felt Chinese — non-confrontational, humble, happy in a group.

“If you’re in their circle of buddies, then you’re there for life. It’s really on the inside, the way of communicating that we get used to,” Chan says.

As the daughter of missionaries, Chan learned to sing in church, and she listened to Christian singers like Australia’s Rebecca St James. She later studied musical theater at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, but didn’t listen to Cantopop until six years ago when she had a reality check. If she was going to have a career here, she thought, she’d have to sing local pop music that wasn’t like the Western music she grew up listening to.

“I’ve noticed that Western pop is a lot more in-your-face attitude, really be tough, strong diva. But [in] Hong Kong, a lot of it’s very sweet,” she says.

Those sweet songs and ballads give Hong Kongers the chance to escape from the territory’s hectic pace.

Then there’s the Cantonese dialect itself. Chinese is a tonal language, so the smallest change in inflection will completely alter a word’s meaning.

“If it goes up, it’s different. So it’s a lot more complicated, a lot more restricted,” she says.

Chan’s big break came last year when she acted on a popular TV show called “Inbound Troubles.” Her combination of blonde hair and flawless Cantonese created a sensation. She’d just recorded “Yi Jung,” and the timing couldn’t have been better. After that, she appeared on an American Idol-like show, where she placed third in the singing competition, boosting her visibility even more.

In her second single, “Ngoh dik gwai suk,” Chan again addresses her outsider status, but keeps the storyline old school: she wants to find a husband who’ll take care of her. It’s Chan’s understanding of traditional Chinese culture that’s earned her the respect of locals.

“Now, when I go out on the street, everybody’s my neighbor. ‘Oh, Chan Ming Yan!’ You know, like ‘How’s your mom?’ ” she says.

And they see beyond the color of her skin, which is just the sort of thing she’s been looking for.

“I know it’s really not easy for a Westerner to have that kind of acceptance in Hong Kong,” Chan says. “Westerners are accepted as Westerners, but as one of your own? That’s something really touching for me.”

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    Observing the Tiananmen Anniversary with ‘Big Yellow Duck’

    China’s Internet users tried to keep memories of the Tiananmen Incident alive through use of popular memes like the Rubber Duck. (Weibo via Tea Leaf Nation)

    China’s Internet users tried to keep memories of the Tiananmen Incident alive through use of popular memes like the Rubber Duck. (Weibo via Tea Leaf Nation)

    Here’s a post from my Big Show colleague Traci Tong…

    June 4 was the 24th anniversary of the bloody crackdown by Chinese authorities against student protesters in Tiananmen Square.

    China’s leaders go to great lengths to prevent people from remembering what happened.

    That includes banning online searches for words or phrases like “Tiananmen,” “tanks,” or “June 4th.”

    Today Chinese censors added another phrase: “Big yellow duck.”

    Rachel Lu, editor at Tea Leaf Nation, an e-magazine that analyzes China’s social media, said the big yellow duck refers to a giant rubber yellow ducky, similar to the bathtub toy.

    "Tank man" blocks a column of Type 59 tanks near Tiananmen Square during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.  (Photo: Jeff Widener /AP/Wiki Media)

    “Tank man” blocks a column of Type 59 tanks near Tiananmen Square during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. (Photo: Jeff Widener /AP/Wiki Media)

    The duck is 54 feet high and is an art installation that’s been floating in Hong Kong’s Victoria harbor for the past month.

    The floating duck has become a minor celebrity. An anonymous poster on the Chinese social media network, Weibao, took four images of the duck and superimposed them on that iconic image of the four tanks during the Tiananmen Square pro democracy protests.

    Lu says the duck has now become a symbol to remind the Chinese people about the Tiananmen Square event in 1989.



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    Mademoiselle in Song, and Translating Jargon


    The French government has turned its back on Mademoiselle, eliminating the title from official forms. Mademoiselle roughly equates to Miss. Though it means unmarried woman, it also implies that said woman is young—25 or younger. And that just doesn’t fit with the times. In fact, it hasn’t for several decades.

    French singers love Mademoiselle. Aside from it being rhyme-friendly, the word rolls sweetly off the tongue. Will singers now take the government’s lead and stop using the term?

    In a way, they already have. These days, Mademoiselle is often used self-consciously and ironically. Consider Zaza Fournier’s 2009 song Mademoiselle . It’s about a cross-dressing man. In the video, Fournier returns the gender favor, and wears male clothing and a painted mustache.

    That’s a far cry from the breezy, if tearful, 20-year-old who struts along some of Paris’ poshest streets as described by Jacqueline François in her 1948 classic Mademoiselle de Paris.

    We sample those songs in the pod, and hear from my French-born colleague Adeline Sire, whose two sisters take opposing views of Mademoiselle’s official demise. Adeline has a very funny post on that here (and another post on an overlooked moment at the Oscars here).

    Also in this week’s pod:

    • Native speakers of Russian, Vietnamese and Arabic discuss how they translate English language news jargon. As one of them describes it, journalists and politicians like to “hide behind a pyramid of nonsensical words.” And for all your nonsensical word needs may I suggest that you consult the very fine Newswordy site?
    • As Britain’s Sun newspaper faces questions over alleged payments to police officers, we consider the language of tabloid news.
    • Hong Kongers and Mainland Chinese clash over language and politics.

    Listen via iTunes or here.


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    Banning Hungarian, swearing for pain relief, and dog barks translated

    clarklostFor this month’s language news podcast, I roped in The World’s Online Editor Clark Boyd. In a former life, Clark taught English in Hungary — yes that’s a barely younger version of him posing beneath the signpost. He, of course, has some choice stories about that time. (I wish I could offer up a hyperlink here…) He and I chose the following stories:

    5. Slovakia passes a law banning Hungarian in official communications in some of its Hungarian-speaking regions. The is just the latest in a long-running series of bureaucratic battles between this small country’s Slovak-speaking majority and its Hungarian minority. Hungarians are getting used to this. Because they found themselves on the losing side in World War One, their country contracted. That left millions of Hungarian speakers living in surrounding nations, primarily Slovakia, Romania and Serbia. And aside from –in some cases — sharing the same script, the Hungarian language bears no similiarities to the languages spoken in these countries. Cue suspicion, fear and loathing.

    bilingual4. New research out of Italy seeks to show why babies and young children are so adept at learning two languages simultaneously. It’s more evidence of the possible advantages — social and neurological — that bilingual speakers have over monolinguals. Above is a picture I took inside a Phoenix-area elementary school that has had to change its curriculum because it was deemed to be teaching “too bilingually.”bowlingual
    3. Stereotyped Japanese toy story alert: toy maker Takara Tomy has come up with a device that claims to translate dog noises into human language. . That language, for the time being, is Japanese, so it might not work for you. This may or may not be entirely a gimmick. But even if there is something to the translation “algorithm,” do you ready want to know what pooch is saying? $220 will buy you a Bowlingual.

    2. Six years ago, the Malaysian government ordered its public schools to start teaching math and science in English. After several protests, mainly from ethnic Malays, the government has lifted the requirement, so that schools can choose which language to use. The main languages of instruction there are Bahasa Malay, Chinese and Tamil. This will please rural schools where finding a English-speaking math or science teacher was vitually impossible. But the fear now is that Malaysia may fall further behind the the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong in producing a tech-smart, English-speaking younger generation.

    swear1. Good news for people who occasionally swear: results from a new study show that the trangressive nature of cursing helps when it comes to tolerating pain. You can keep your hand submerged in a jar of ice for longer if you put filthy words to your feelings. Try it at home! However, this methodology won’t work if you are a over-sweary person, you swear constantly even in your most painless moments: the curses will have lost their meaning.

    A bonus this week: our favorite hated words. This is inspired by the Ledbury Poetry Festival in England which asked poets to come up with their least favorite words. The winner: pulchritude — not a bad word till you know what it means: beauty. Clearly, it needs a meaning reset. How about the lingering smell of garbage? Other words Clark and I discuss: benign, dadrock, homeland and alien.

    Listen in iTunes and here.

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