Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Mm chee kui ngup mut."

Ask me to point out a sentence encapsulating the very worst anti-intellectualism I've witnessed in my life and the title would probably be it. They've haunted me my whole life, and to this day, the very sound of them gets my blood boiling quicker than any other sentence.

It's Cantonese, and I must confess I don't quite know the proper romanization of those words (hoping a Canto speaker may see this and help me out here) but the sentence translates approximately as a fairly vulgar way of saying: "I don't know what he's on about."

By itself, it appears harmless enough, but as with any collection of words, the impact comes from the context. These words are almost always used derisively. They are blurted out, an anti-intellectualist dismissal of anything the speaker doesn't comprehend. Someone speaking in a foreign language? Mm chee kui ngup mut. Talking about evolution? Mm chee kui ngup mut. Putting forth logical arguments undermining faith in gods, ancestral spirits and feng shui? Mm chee kui ngup mut. Explaining why there's more to life than your bank account? Mm chee kui ngup mut.

This phrase belies an attitude of "Don't know, don't care to know." that has been deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of Cantonese speakers around the world. To be sure, this attitude isn't restricted simply to Cantonese speakers, but having been around them for most of my life, I'm especially infuriated to hear such talk spilling forth from the mouths of Chinese youth. I could throw a rock into Sungei Wang Plaza and reasonably expect to hit 5 dyed-blonde airheads who would look at any popular science book and not be able to come up with anything more than "Mm chee kui ngup mut.", then amble off again, looking for the latest from Samsung, Jay Chou or Ferragamo.

"Mm chee kui ngup mut. Bwahaha! Why bother with such silly things?" How many times have I watched a bright young mind's flame snuffed by derisive laughter from his peers and elders in this fashion? How many times have I seen inter-cultural understanding curtailed by those simple, insensitive words? Never heard about it before, so they're uncomfortable with it. Uncomfortable with it, so they reject it. And thus they reject it in the fashion that most reinforces the message: "I'm Chinese. Your way is different and I'll have nothing to do with it. Because I'm Chinese and that's that." Mm chee kui ngup mut.

So stand up, young Chinese around the world, and thirst for knowledge! Break the shackles of stagnant tradition, do the world a favour and SMACK the next son of a bitch who brushes you off with "Mm chee kui ngup mut." Gweilos, feel free to smack 'em, too. You have my moral support in this. And to everybody I've ever known who's ever uttered those loathesome words to me: Diu gau lei ah!

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