Chinese Immigrant Misunderstandings of the English in Mo's Sour Sweet

Lily discovers "I'm A Little Tea Pot. . . "

Having fun, Son?" ('Ho m'ho wan?")


Lily began to sing him a Kwangsi cradle song, the one about the wicked pirate who steals children. He shook his head, the cap swinging from side to side, and in a clear, higher than treble voice, without an ounce of self-consciousness, began to sing in English a song about being a teapot. He mimed to the words with gestures: crooked arm on hip for the handle, other arm for spout.

"Again, Son."

Man Kee repeated his performance: "Here's my handle, here's my spout. Tip me over, pour me out."

Lily was delighted. She clapped her hands together, causing the Infemal Carapace to swerve violently onto the grassy road verge before she nonchalantly brought it on to the tarmac again with a twirl of the wheel."'Show Mar-Mar how you do with your hand again." How clever! Imagine the English having a tea song. This was really quite civilised of them -- for a change. But what a peculiar, eccentric thing to teach children in school, she couldn't help thinking with misgiving.

Lily Views English Treatment of the Elderly

A few days later a green bus-type ambulance came (no light, no siren). There were other old people inside. Ambulancemen helped Grandpa in and they all drove off. Perhaps for compulsory euthanasia, Lily mischievously hinted to Mui. Despite herself, Lily was impressed. Of course, help from the State couldn't be compared with the loving care of one's own family but the English had slightly redeemed themselves in her eyes. Grandpa looked a spry old fellow when you compared him with the other grey-haired, wrinkle-faced persons she had seen at the windows. (He was shaved bald which helped, mind you.) . . . "'Did it hurt, Grandpa?" Mui asked solicitously.

"Not at all," Grandpa said. "I had a really good time."

Ho wan! Lily thought, staggered. He certainly couldn't have said that about being turned into a human pin-cushion. Still, it gave him an interest. And, she had to admit, it was a relief not to be bombarded with opera all day. Not that she wouldn't have gone on loyallyenduring. [246]

Lily's Misunderstanding of the Kindergarden Terrapin (Terror-Pin)

Son's schooling, English-style, continued on its peculiar, bewildering way. Lily rested her faith in his once-weekly exposure to Chinese curriculum, as a measured dose of radiotherapy might burn out cancerous growth. Occasional alarms still shook her confidence when Man Kee's physical well-being was concerned. Such was the case of Teacher's Terror Pin. Lily was horrified but not basically surprised. Typical of the English: their discipline was either lax to the point of non-existence or ferocious -- like beating Hong Kong factory workers senseless with truncheons and then giving them free medical treatment. The Terror-Pin was kept in a glass box of its own. (Display of force often eliminated need for its exercise.) Occasionally, it was brought out when as an additional refinement of torture the children were actually allowed to handle it! She discovered about it when she saw Man Kee taking some winter greens in his satchel, obviously as some kind of propitiatory offering, similar to the symbolic offering of lettuce (money) to the New Year dragon. Concerned, as what mother wouldn't have been, Lily examined Son's adorable arms for tell-tale puncture marks but hadn't found any. Good boy. They wouldn't have need to punish him. Fortunately, there hadn't been any more fighting between himself and other boys. He was friendly with Indian boys now, he told Lily. They ate the same special lunch and went round in a group. "Nice for you, Son," she said, pleased it wasn't those monkey-looking black boys. They looked so primitive. Might have got him into trouble and pricked with the Terror-Pin. [247]

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