Do you know it is quite ok to ask for help in Cantonese when shopping at the Co-operative supermarket in Chandler’s Ford?
Meet Sonny, the friendly Cantonese-speaking employee of the Co-operative supermarket in Winchester Road.
Sonny speaks Cantonese like a native speaker. He is a native speaker. He had lived in Hong Kong for more than 30 years, and only returned to the UK in 2009.
I first met Sonny last year while looking a bit lost at the Co-op. Sonny came to ask if I needed any help, in Cantonese. I was surprised. His Cantonese was fluent, without any foreign accent.
I speak Cantonese with a funny accent.
“I’m from Hong Kong.” Sonny told me.
Today I visited The Co-operative again to look for Sonny (and I did some shopping too.) Sonny has worked for the Co-op for about 3 years. He first worked at the Co-op in Shirley, but later came to Chandler’s Ford about 15 months ago.
Do you miss Hong Kong, Sonny?
“Yes, definitely! Hong Kong is lively. I love the food. I love the Chinese people.” Sonny spoke with a gentle voice.
Sonny loves Chinese culture. When he left England for Hong Kong with his parents, he was only a baby, and he spent 30 odd years of his life immersing in the Chinese culture in Hong Kong. So, returning to England after 30 years was a culture shock for him.
Sonny, what is your memory of the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong?
“I love the Chinese New Year. I used to receive lots of money in the Red Envelope, which Cantonese people called Lai See (利是). People put money in the Red Envelope to give to children and everybody gave me blessings.”
Sonny also remembers that many Chinese people love to wear red for the New Year. Even wearing the red underwear! Red is the colour of luck and fortune in the Chinese culture.
Sonny remembers Chinese people love playing Mahjong in the Chinese New Year.
What is your favourite food, Sonny?
What? Eating Chicken Feet?
Chicken Feet is a Chinese delicacy. Chinese people call them fèng zhuǎ (凤爪), meaning phoenix claws. Most westerners cringe at the thought of eating Chicken Feet, but Chinese people love them. The texture of the skin and tendons of the feet is unique, and crunching on the small bones and sucking the juice are enjoyable. Chicken Feet can be deep fried, steamed, and stewed, normally cooked in fermented black bean paste or chilli.
Recently, Sonny celebrated his colleague Barnes’ birthday in a Chinese restaurant in Southampton. They enjoyed Dim Sum with lots of dumplings, but not surprisingly, Sonny enjoyed the Chicken Feet all by himself.
I told the Co-op shop manager David how friendly and helpful Sonny is. It’s wonderful to be able to speak Cantonese with Sonny in the store. Sonny said some Chinese customers from the local take-aways do visit the store and speak Cantonese to him very often.
I took this photo of David and Sonny in front of their Chinese food section today. The Chinese characters on the red card 新年快樂 are written using the Traditional script. The phrase means Happy New Year. The characters can also be simplified as 新年快乐.
I wish Sonny and all of you a very happy Chinese New Year.