Thursday, 15 February 2018

Marital bliss: 05 (London)

One of my Japanese conversation teachers at SOAS used to tell us, “This general impression of Japanese women being subservient to — and walking three paces behind — their husbands is a myth.  On pay day, after removing his shoes in the genkan, the Japanese man will go on his knees and shuffle towards his wife, pay packet held above his head with both hands.  Every morning, she will dole out what he needs for the day, which is usually his train/bus fare, and lunch if she doesn’t make him a lunchbox.  If he wants to go out drinking with his colleagues or mates after work, he’ll have to ask her for the extra money, so there’s no room for last-minute impulses.”

*genkan (玄関): traditional Japanese entryway areas for a house, apartment, or building—something of a combination of a porch and a doormat.

(London 1978)

Marital bliss: 04 (London)

One day, I ran into Roy, someone who was on a different course at SOAS when I was there in the late 70s.  After reminiscing about the good old days, I asked about his classmate and flatmate, Mark.  Roy said Mark was now on his second wife, from China, who was very strict about Mark going anywhere.  I decided not to email Mark to say hello, so as not to get him into any trouble.

Fast forward another six or seven years.  Chris, who knew Roy and Mark, organised a get-together, so I saw Mark for the first time since 1983.  After the meal, Mark said we should get together again, adding, “Use my mobile number.  Don’t email me.”  He then muttered, “Some people just have no respect for other people’s privacy.”

*Roy and Mark: not their real names.

(London 2017)

Marital bliss: 03 (London)

One of my evening class students, whom I shall call John Smith, used to come to the pub with the class after the lesson, and to the annual meal outings at Christmas and Chinese New Year.

He’d been corresponding with a woman in China, as a pen friend, for years until his wife died, after which he married this pen pal.  She soon got her son over.  Within no time at all, he stopped turning up for these gatherings.  Each time he was invited, he said his new wife didn’t approve.  Perhaps his work pension didn’t stretch to feeding him, her and her family as well as allowing him little treats outside.

(London 1980s/1990s)

Marital bliss: 02 (London)

The pub customer with the Japanese wife reminds me of an engineer who came to repair the photocopying machine at SOAS in the 80s when I was working there.  I was in the equipment room at the time, using the only Mac computer around at the time.  He started asking me where I was from, then proceeded to tell me his wife was from Thailand, adding that as soon as they got married, he was not allowed to go out with his mates to the pub or the restaurants.

(London, late 1980s)

Marital bliss: 01 (London)

On my shift last Saturday, a British pub customer in his 70s asked me where I was from.  (I get asked that a lot, with some amazing/outlandish guesses, like some country in Africa.)  

He said he had a Japanese wife, and had lived in Japan for a while.  I asked him if he spoke any Japanese.  He said, “Not really.  Only things like ‘Shut up’, ‘Stupid’, ‘Go away’.  They’re things said to me by my wife over the years.”

(London 2018)

Thursday, 28 December 2017


There's a Chinese phrase:  (archaic usage) :  置喙 zhìhuì / "to-place beak" / "to stick one's beak into something" = to interfere / interrupt

Interestingly, the Italian phrase is exactly the same:  non metterci becco / "not put beak"!

Update, 311217:  My friend Valerio says his Peruvian friend Ari says the Spanish have the same phrase:  meter el pico / "put the beak".

Maybe the link between the Italian and Spanish is the fact that they're both Romance languages.

Update 170218:
Spanish: no meter la nariz (also: el pico) (Thanks to Ben Vickers)

Catalan: no ficar el nas (Thanks to Ben Vickers)
Both "nariz" and "nas" mean "nose" (which is closer to the English version "to stick one's nose into something"), so the Romance language rule doesn't work here.

Romance | rə(ʊ)ˈmans, ˈrəʊmans | 
adjective: relating to or denoting the group of Indo-European languages descended from Latin, principally French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Catalan, Occitan, and Romanian: the Romance languages. 

[mass noun] the Romance languages considered as a group. 

ORIGIN: Middle English (originally denoting the vernacular language of France as opposed to Latin): from Old French romanz, based on Latin Romanicus ‘Roman’.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Babies (Singapore)

An ex-student, Petra, gave birth a few months back, and has been posting updates on Facebook, one of which said she gets peed on and is covered in vomit.

This reminds me of what happened on one of the post-natal trips I made with my mother, who was a private midwife.

The term “private” needs to be clarified here:  in those days (1950s and 1960s), women who were illiterate did not want to go to hospital to have their babies delivered because they couldn’t speak English (the official working language of the time in British colonial Singapore).  They also preferred to be at home, so that they could be cared for by family members, usually the older children.  These women mostly lived on coconut and rubber plantations, and some would have 12 to 16 children.

My mother’s post-natal visit routine:  bathe the baby, clean the area around the tied-up umbilical cord, bundle the baby up in clean swaddling cloth, check the baby over (take body temperature, etc.), then leave it lying on the bed and go and attend to the mother who’d be sitting in a chair (a change from lying in bed).  

It was after my mother left the all-clean, all-nice-smelling baby on the bed and went over to the mother that I, aged six, would sneak up to the bed, open the swaddling cloth at the bottom, pull out the baby’s feet and kiss them.

If I was spotted by the mother, she’d ask, “Would you like to take it home with you?”  I’d look at my mother eagerly, as if to say, “Can I?  Can I?”

On one of these occasions, however, I opened the swaddling cloth to find the baby had just defecated.  Not realising what had happened, the baby’s mother asked the usual question, “Would you like to take it home with you?”  I reeled back in horror, “No!”  She asked, “Why not?”  The six-year-old me said, “I only want one that doesn’t poo.”

(Singapore late-1950s)