Boris Johnson gives greeting in Cantonese over Mandarin
By Ricky Browne
Gung Hee Fatt Choy!, as Chinese descendants from the Hakka tribe in Jamaica give Chinese New Year greetings.
Everyone is hoping that the new year of the metal ox will be a much better one that 2020’s year of the rat.
But according to Chinese astrology, the rat and the ox are the best of friends, and the ox usually builds on the previous work of the rat – which in this case could mean more devastation. Hopefully that’s a lot of bull.
And hopefully it will be good for the metal bull on Wall Street.
Last year was the year of the metal rat. It was anything but cuddly bringing about as much devastation to the planet as the regular rat did during the Bubonic Plague in Europe.
To be fair to the rat, the modern-day answer to the black plague actually started in China at the tail end of the year of the earth pig. But the world didn’t really know that, as the coronavirus we now call Covid-19 didn’t really become well known until around China’s new year celebration on January 25, 2020.
And because millions of Chinese were travelling as they usually do, leaving the cities to return to their hometowns to celebrate – the world did not believe that there was anything to really worry about.
So much so that Carnival went on as usual in cities like New Orleans in the United States, Port of Spain in Trinidad and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
These became super-spreader events, that ensured that people would contract the disease on the jammed streets during the celebrations and then travel unaware that they were sick back home, to give it to their friends and family.
But people learned their lesson – and this year Carnival the world over will be a mere memory of times past.
As will be Chinese New Year celebrations now. At least in London, where Chinatown has pared down its celebrations of some 700,000 people to being as close to non-existent as possible. Instead of its big celebration across Chinatown and into Trafalgar Square, the London Chinatown Chinese Association will be having a “virtual celebration” via YouTube on February 14.
There also appears to be less celebrating going on in China as well, where the government has called on people to avoid travel.
As a result, Hong Kong won’t be having its annual parade. And in China itself, the government expects there to be ‘only’ 1.7 billion trips made during the holiday – 40 percent down on 2019. Down is good. But it is also 15 percent up on last year, when the severety of the virus wasn’t yet appreciated.
Hopefully, 1.7 billion trips won’t increase the growth of the disease at all.
Elsewhere it is reported that In terms of people, an average of 450 people move during the holiday period – but that this year the numbers are expected to be 20 percent less than last year and 60 percent less than 2019.
To help achieve that the Chinese government is offering people as much as US$160 to stay in their cities. But if they choose to travel, they have to take multiple Covid tests and being monitored on your return.
Meanwhile, although Chinese New Year is not a big thing outside of Asia, many people were going online to give wishes of a happy Chinese New Year.
KUNG HEI FAT CHOY
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted “Happy Chinese New Year! I want to wish everyone celebrating in the UK and around the world happiness and good fortune in the Year of the Ox.” With it he included a short video saying a huge thank you to the British Chinese community and their contribution.
“I hope all of us can take heart from this year of the ox, and just as that mighty beast demonstrates strength and determination as it forges ahead to make progress so too I believe we will win our struggle against the pandemic,” he said on the video.
After three hours the tweet got 2,800 likes and 900 comments.
Johnson ended his video with a hearty “Kung Hei Fa Choy!” – the more common Cantonese version of the Gung Hee Fatt Choy heard in Jamaica.
That choice was a bit of a political statement, as Kung Hei Fat Choy is Cantonese – the language spoken in the south of China, and by the people of Hong Kong – many of whom may soon be emigrating to the UK as China starts to clamp down on freedom there.
The phrase’s literal translation is actually “wishing you great happiness and prosperity”, according to National Geographic. Others translate it as a little more capitalistic and crass, meaning “wishing you to make lots of money”.
If Johnson had wanted to cosy up to Beijing, the Prime Minister might have chosen the Mandarin version as that is the language pushed by the capital as the main language of China. In that case he would have gone for “Gong xi fa cai”. Or he might have said “Hsin Nien Hui” which is Mandarin for “Wish you well in the new year”.
But he did not. Instead he used Hong Kong’s preferred language.
In contrast, US President Joe Biden made no Chinese new year’s wishes on his Twitter site – whether in Manadarin, Cantonese or Hakka.
But he did do one better, as he actually spoke to Xi Jinping on Wednesday. Its not known if New Year’s greetings were exchanged between the two leaders, although they likely were. But the conversation appears to have been tense, and it lasted for two hours.
“Last night I was on the phone for two straight hours with Xi Jinping…if we don’t get moving they’re going to eat our lunch,” Biden was reported as saying.
If Johnson had wanted to get some traction on his tweet, he could have gone some along the lines of Elon Musk’s much simpler tweet.
“Happy New Year of the Ox!” tweeted Musk, the CEO of Tesla. With it he put a Tesla branded image of an ox.
For that he got 350,600 likes and 14,300 comments after 17 hours.
Mind you, Elon Musk does have 46.6 million followers, compared to 3.3 million for the prime minister.