Navigation of Tongues

Dang It! No Tea Today 😥

In the time I had last written a post, lots of things happened not too long after I posted it. Some sad, some joyful – everything of which you can find in the media. In that, I took an extended break from SecretTeaLife and focused on my main interest which is writing. Not content writing even if that’s the only thing a career advisor could ever suggest to me given my majors. However, my focus in that time was not simply on writing creatively but rather, how one navigates their tongues in contexts that may exclude one of them. 


I could use romanisation in the way it is often used to describe a Chinese tea in an English Language context. But if I were to write Bai Rui Xiang without the Chinese characters, I wouldn’t always understand what it means since romanisation is an approximation of a language via phonetics, not meaning. At point blank, I wouldn’t know which Bai, which Rui and which Xiang make the phrase Bai Rui Xiang. If I were to write Baak Seoi Hoeng or Baat Sui Herng or Bai Rui Xiang, an English speaker who does not know Chinese may think they are three different things. Or they may think they’re the same thing in three different dialects. The truth is, only the writer knows which phrase and words they are using in these contexts – or at least they should know. 

如果他們不懂,為何不?百瑞香和白瑞香不是一樣,但是我看到拉丁化拼音都是一樣或很相似。如果我用粵語拼音,有人不明白中文以為是另外一種茶葉。即是 Bai Rui Xiang (普通話拼音)和 Baak Seoi Heong (粵語拼音)兩種説法都是同一類茶葉: 百瑞香。除非我表明字調同調號或數字,Bai Rui Xiang (普通話拼音)和 Baak Seoi Heong (粵語拼音)都是白瑞香。

Although that doesn’t explain Baat Sui Herng. That’s because it is how I would transcribe one of the phrases into English. It doesn’t cater to any particular romanisation system so a non-Chinese speaker may think it’s a tea they’ve never heard of. If I include the Chinese, then someone is going to disagree on the pronunciation in the same way they might with the romanisation systems I already include. In that, language is a very personal tongue to each their own. But by virtue of the romanisation, a Chinese speaker will know I’m not talking to a Chinese-speaking audience. Rather, the inclusion of these systems cater to an English tongue as the Chinese has become contextualised in an English language setting. 

因為英文是我的第一種語言,但是我父母語言是中文。在英文語境我看中文茶葉時,是聽到普通話,不是廣東話。我認為每人可以用他們喜歡的語言,不是問題。我用繁體字形式寫中文, 我想認識中文的人會明白。

In this, I will no longer include the romanisation because the ones I include only emphasises two understandings of the Chinese language in an English language context. While this invites more readings of Chinese, it still doesn’t mean I’m trying to specifically communicate with those who can only speak Chinese. Nor does it mean I’m catering to those who only understand English. It definitively doesn’t mean I’m trying to specifically write to those who know languages beyond the two used throughout. I have no qualms with romanisation but for myself, it’s not really how I would go about my tongues personally speaking. While difficult, I listen and learn but do not write when I hear my mother speak. Rather as the spiritual successor to The Idea of Authenticitea, I am now emphasising another understanding of a language and culture through the lens of tea. In a similar way to how my understanding of tea and its practices do not stem from one understanding of a culture, neither do my languages. To me, they are intersectional. Like how a British person does not have to be of Anglo-heritage, 不需要是中國人才可以喝中國茶。 However, it is true my increased usage of Chinese and the absence of romanisation for this language will detract someone. Perhaps a community even but if your passions precede you, the inclusion of what could be seen as a foreign language should not isolate. In a similar way to how one can enjoy films in a language they do not speak, there is some sort of universality to a beverage like this. But, if you reject my increased code-switching or the lack of a romanised tongue then 我不是為你而寫。


Yiyun Li, ‘To Speak is to Blunder’, New Yorker, 25 December 2016

Gloria E. Anzaldúa, ‘How to Tame a Wild Tongue’, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (US: Aunt Lute Books, 1987)

Jhumpa Lahiri, ‘I am, in Italian, a tougher, freer writer’, The Guardian, 31 January 2016

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