Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Language and Music

An English friend pointed out to me I speak three languages now - English, Mandarin, Khmer. Actually five, if you count the Chinese dialects Cantonese (spoken in Hong Kong) and Hokkien (also known as min nan yu 閩南語 when spoken in Taiwan), which I can speak conversationally, however badly. I wished I could speak Teochew (潮州話) though as most Cambodian, as well as Thai, Chinese speak it. You can read here about the Teochews.

This came up after I told her about my stereotyping nationalities after working in the Bloom shop for almost 2 years. I won't go into it here but I mentioned I was twice told off by French people for not being able to speak French. One woman said in English, "Why can you not speak French? Don't you know there are many French tourists here?!" [Cambodia used to be a French colony for those of you who did not know]. The other, a man, said, "I dislike Anglo-Saxon people because they think we should all speak English. Why do you speak English?!"

I pointed out to the two of them as we are in Cambodia, I am happy to speak Cambodian to them--but, can they speak the language? As for why I speak English and not French, well, I was born in Singapore, an ex-British colony, so we learnt English. I said, yes, it's a pity the French did not colonise more countries (including the big one, the USA), or more of us would be speaking French (haha!).

The point is we need a common language to communicate and whether we like it or not, English is it. (Again, if another nationality had conquered the USA, we would no doubt be speaking the language of that nation). And I *have* learnt how to say the numbers in French, which is to say I do make the effort.

I really should point out I have friends who are French so this post is not about French people. One of my closest friends in Cambodia is a French woman working in Phnom Penh. And one Parisienne lady who shares the family name of a certain famous furniture designer and I ended up being email friends after meeting just once in the Bloom shop.

There was another lovely, lovely lady born in France but now living in Australia. She helped me decorate the shop while she was in town and even bought me massage oil and an oil burner for aromatherapy, and took me for breakfast at the FCC, because she thought I needed looking after. [Liza, if you're reading this - thank you and get in touch please! I can't find you online! I hate the thought we were just two ships passing in the night.]

One of the cook helpers whom I hired for Bloom cafe in Phnom Penh used to live on the streets. He was in his early 20s and refused to learn to speak English. He argued that we should all speak Cambodian, since we are in his country. I told him, that's fine, and I agree, which is why I learnt Khmer (on my own, I should add, with the help of Franklin E. Huffman's Modern Spoken Cambodian). But, I explain, if he does not learn English, it is not me who suffers, it is he. He won't be able to get a better job and earn a better living. That is not to say speaking English is a guarantee to a good job, but at least it is an additional skill which will open more doors.

Anyway, this post is supposed to be about language and music.

I listen to English and Mandarin songs in the shop. Sometimes Thai (only one, really, a teenybopper type song I find cute), Japanese, French (I like French language and music). I play it off my MacBook so it is not particularly loud, since laptop speakers are crap.

What is interesting to me is how people react to the music. Often Western people will hesitate to enter the shop if a Chinese song is being played. And just yesterday an Indian lady was most uncomfortable, maybe even a little annoyed, by the Chinese pop/rap song (I love Taiwan's Jay Zhou, 周杰伦).

It is not just Westerners, though, Koreans and Japanese too, do not like the Chinese music. On the other hand, if I play Western music, it attracts a certain sort. Young people, usually. (On my iTunes playlist is The Violent Femmes, Band of Horses, Beautiful South, Placebo, the Cure, Coldplay, Alan Ke, Sinead O'Connor and 80s hits, like the Boomtown Rats "I don't like Mondays".) There was one time this group of English girls came in and started singing to Amy Winehouse, Dido etc and would not leave!

Anyway, because of this cultural difference and reaction, I have considered playing only English language songs. But I decided against it. One of the good things about being a shopkeeper and having your own business is you can do what you like.

I don't please everybody, but that's ok. I am who I am and Bloom is what it is--a multicultural business.


Anonymous said...

Hard to believe some Westerners won't enter a store if Chinese music is playing. I'm a Westerner who lives near Chinatown in Queens and hearing Chinese music will make me go INTO the store.

Diana Saw said...

Cool. Wish all Bloom's customers were like you! Thanks for the comment. This is great - just goes to show you can't please everybody, but you'll definitely please *some*! Cheers, Diana


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