David Lewis Paget
Pu Tong Hua - Poem by David Lewis Paget
English is simple, it flitters from the tongue,
It means what it says when all’s said and done,
No matter how we say it, stress it or declaim,
In English it always means the same, same, same!
Chinese is difficult, your ‘Pu Tong Hua’,
Is drawn in little pictures that go back so-o-o far,
And every one’s a concept, with no strict meanings
Making it impossible to delve your gleanings.
As often as I study, and try as I might,
I can’t get your xiang xing’s or qing qing’s right.
There isn’t any gender; there isn’t any tense,
So how can your past, present, future, make sense?
Then when I’ve mastered some simple Chinese
You say: ‘That’s fine – but it’s Wenzhou-nese,
Nobody in Guangzhou, Wuhan or Beijing
Would understand a pennyworth of what you’re saying! ’
Every city’s dialect differs from the main,
Canton-ese, Shanghai-nese, nothing is the same.
Beijing has its Mandarin, the old ‘Pu Tong Hua’,
But it’s not what you’ll hear in a Wenzhou bar.
So don’t look for sympathy with adjectives and pauses,
Proper nouns or pronouns, adverbial clauses,
Your cousin’s not your brother, and a ‘she’s’ not a ‘him’,
But how do I tell you in your old Mandarin?
4 April 2006
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