Butcher's Block

There is a lovely cafe (and restaurant) in Wahroonga, New South Wales (just outside Sydney) named "The Butcher's Block."

They serve a very "Aussie" breakfast menu, and by that I mean hearty and meaty dishes, with a creamy bias, sized up to Texas portion sizes. As the name implies this is not a Vegan-friendly place by any means.

I do enjoy the setting and the coffee is de-lish and the high-protein brekkie every once in a while, though I realize more and more (if I'm not skipping breakfast) the Chinese breakfast of congee and deep-fried cruller is ultimately my go-to.

But that's not I want to make comments about today.

I want to take about what's in a name, in particular "The Butcher's Block."

This name strikes me as an utterly Western name. Yet why is that? Why is it utterly not Chinese, and such a good example of real cultural differences between Chinese and Western?

"The Butcher's Block" is a purely descriptive name. There is something attractive about it in a Western context due to its matter-of-factness, its total and willing abandonment of adornment. It is what it is. Take it or leave it. The context does not matter. This is a hyper-Western example: 100% description and nothing else is "Veritas," it is truth, brother.

But why is it in a hundred years you would never see a cafe in China named as such (at least one opened by Chinese people)? Why is there no Chinese 屠夫塊咖啡室 (literally, butcher's block)? Is it just the characters, which have graphic representations which foil this name? In this case the first character for "butcher" 屠 is composed of the modular parts "protagonist" and "corpse." A truly "nail on the head" ideogram, if I've ever seen one, Sweet Bloody Christ... Give me a bloody Acai bowl stat...

Nonetheless, I dunno if it is just that characters are too heavy, leading to "matter of fact" failures to conjure contextless images...

I reckon that Chinese are culturally attuned to using aspirational names. That is not to say that the names have to necessarily be grand, like sometimes you see "Peaceful Universe Dim Sum" or "Galaxy This" or "Ocean That." Xiaomi 小米 is maybe a little "humblebrag" but it isn't grand, "little rice" gets into some metaphorical space about bits and data though.

The core difference is Westerner's tend to compliment themselves when they "tell it like it is," whereas Chinese do not.


Cantonese and Other Dialects

I met someone in Hong Kong the other night from a publicly listed Chinese Tech company. His company is headquartered in Shenzhen. I wondered whether or not he speaks Cantonese (粵語,廣東話,or more colloquially on the Mainland 廣州話).

Baidu gives a number of eighty dialects, but the specifics of what counts as a dialect and what doesn’t is a doozy. To those hailing from smaller communities, which in China probably means entities containing fewer than 100,000 people, with fewer tongues speaking that particular vintage of local dialect, why doesn’t theirs “count?” To Beijingers for example, the Cantonese dialect that is spoken by about as many people as speak Italian around the world, Cantonese is “earthy.” It is “bird talk.” If a Beijinger wants to amp up the insult factor, they would call a Cantonese speaker, or probably a speaker of any other dialect, a “bird person.”

It turns out he does speak Cantonese- that is his lingo. Anyone who visits Hong Kong and predicts that because Mandarin is more and more commonly heard, means that this comes at the expense of Cantonese, only has part of the picture. Hong Kong's facility in English is what is declining- but with tens of millions+ strong native Canto speakers in the Mainland, and a wider group who speak it as a second tongue (I'm thinking Fujiannese, Guangxinese, Hainannese), Cantonese is doing just fine.