The past year has opened up so much more of Hong Kong to me, it's like I've seen a completely different city. I've even gained more confidence in Cantonese.
The extent is still limited to pointing at things and saying "This!", and handing over the correct amount of money without taking several minutes to translate in my head. But I think it's mostly that the intimidation and fear has lessened. I have learned to buy baskets of dimsum from a sidewalk shop (shumai fish dumplings are only $14hk for a kilo.. which converts to $2US for a half pound? 10 ounces? something cheap), socks from the lady screaming into a loudspeaker (socks don't just sell themselves!), get bus money from the recycling men who pay for paper and metal by the kilo.
After all this time my lack of cantonese ability has made me realize that I probably should have listened to everyone's advice and just began with mandarin. It only took me 2 years to accept this.
My mandarin teacher is a very jolly looking lady. She has a way of speaking that makes it sound like she's laughing at the same time. She also has a habit of smacking my arm when I don't answer correctly, or shaking my shoulder when I'm not speaking loudly enough for her. I'm never sure whether I should be afraid or laughing.
We sit at the coffee shop, loudly gesturing at each other. She likes to act out things, rather than explain them. And because I'm confused I mirror them back at her.
I'm sure we look like we're half-mad, especially because of the occasional smacking. But I've given up being self-conscious and any attempt at dignity. I'm trying to learn a language don't judge.
From the beginning, she has never taught me in English, so most of the time the lesson is her rattling something in mandarin and me saying "sorry shenme? what?" and then her smacking me and pointing her middle finger at my head, as in "Use your brain" until I finally figure it out.
I'd made the point of telling her at the first lesson that I wanted hardcore teaching, tough love, none of this "Ni Hao" "Ni Hao" for an hour. I want tough! I'd said.
She looked skeptical, saying that Chinese education tough and American tough is different.