The “hanyu pinyin” rant

I hate those hanyu pinyin names we were forced to use for the greater part of my growing up years in school. Being Cantonese, no matter how Mandarin provides a common platform for the Chinese to understand one another, to me it is another dialect. (As much as I appreciate how it has made things easier for many people, the simplification of all Chinese characters from the traditional style has also “dumbed down” the cultural significance of the language. But this is an entry for another day.)


My name in hanyu pinyin is downright awful. In Cantonese, there is a nice ring to it and due to how it is pronounced, I have a fairly unique “middle” dialect name which I can use interchangeably as an English name. However, I will cringe whenever someone addresses me by my hanyu pinyin name (which thankfully is a rare occurrence these days). Which begs the question of how I managed to survive my formative years being called by that name almost every single day at school, at play and at home.


Now, this rant was brought to you specially by Facebook.


I know many people have played this nifty application almost to death, burning away hours of productivity and navigating through its many nice applications. The greater significance of Facebook is ultimately establishing contact again with long-lost friends or poring through page after page of search results for the name of some old flame (and cursing to selves about why the ex in question didn’t get a less common name). I can certainly appreciate the arms in air feeling whenever the extensive search proved to be fruitful, which ultimately leads to more poring over every detail on that said person’s profile page (and I suspect the first stop would be the person’s photo and followed by any info on that person’s relationship status, and then, photos of girlfriend / wife or boyfriend / husband).


So how does this hanyu pinyin rant fit into all of these? It’s simple. The use of hanyu pinyin became somewhat less popular a short time after I left secondary school. Almost everyone switched to their dialect names. Therefore, typing in my ex-classmates’ hanyu pinyin names (as I know them) in the search section of Facebook would usually yield less-than-satisfactory results. Trying to find these contacts wouldn’t be half as hard as finding the needle in a haystack when you have to think of the various permutations of how a certain Chinese character is pronounced in dialect. What’s more, because all and sundry were forced to speak Mandarin, no one knew (or remembered) which dialect group a particular classmate belonged to.


Now, I received an invitation to join a group recently. It was set up by one of my secondary school classmates and imagine my delight when I realised I could burn hitherto precious productivity time at work by trawling through my ex-classmates’ profile, admiring the pretty faces of their significant other (for males) and ogling at how well those pretty lasses who were once decked in drab uniforms have matured (was about to put the word “aged” here) and criticising their choice of beaus.


The problem now is that because I was so used to their hanyu pinyin names, I have to match faces to their dialect names. Therefore, except for “guesstimating”, I would have to contend with having new set of faces to admire and be a silent participant while everyone else put the Wall section to good use.


At the same time, being someone with a weird dialect name and having put up a hand-drawn version of me as my profile photo, it’ll probably cause some of my ex-classmate grief when they try to establish who I actually am.


Ah… fun and games.


(“Yesterday Once More” by the Carpenters was repeating in my head as I was typing this.)

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