For the third time, Caroline Wilson, the British consul general to Hong Kong and Macau, gave her annual spring speech in Cantonese.
No one expected her to mention last year’s occupation of major streets by pro-democracy protesters given warnings by the Hong Kong government and the central authorities in Beijing about “foreign forces” in Hong Kong.
But alert observers picked up the nuance when Wilson joked that over the past year, she has been “fully occupied” with official functions.
A clip of the speech was uploaded to YouTube and sure enough, it was parsed for anything between the lines.
“We’ve overcome a few hurdles whether in politics, business or consular services,” she said.
“I’m glad to welcome the Year of the Goat, or the Sheep — an animal known to be gentle, calm, patient and also compassionate. It may be just what Hong Kong needs in 2015.”
Wilson said that in a sheep year, “people can also be worriers. There may be some cause for apprehension as political reform continues to be hotly debated. Surely also, there is cause for optimism about the possibility of universal suffrage for 2017, 2020 and beyond”.
That was the English translation of her speech.
The Cantonese version was no less articulate, with notable improvements on her previous speeches in tone and pronunciation.
Interestingly, Wilson received a year’s language training in Mandarin but not in Cantonese, so her command of the latter made the speech impressive.
After all, Cantonese is one of the most difficult languages in the world to pronounce.
However, without meaning to critique the honorable consul general, I thought she might have done one word a tad better.
In the Cantonese version of the clip, she says “no doubt, the debate about political reform will bring some worry to Hong Kong people in a sheep year”.
She nearly pronounced “worry” (fan lo) as “wrath” (fun lo) in Cantonese.
Well, maybe that’s what she really meant.
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