What does bat lau dung laai mean? – Viet­nam Vic

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It’s the Can­tonese in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Viet­namese phrase

“bắt đầu từ nay,” mean­ing “From this point for­ward.” But— in Hong Kong, it’s also a deroga­tory term for “Viet­namese per­son.”

The phrase passed into com­mon us­age in the late 80s and early 90s, at the height of the Viet­namese refugee cri­sis. The com­mu­nist takeover of Viet­nam and Laos led to an ex­o­dus of refugees from the ter­ri­to­ries, with Hong Kong be­com­ing a key place of refuge. But the city—and in­deed, the re­gion—was un­able to han­dle the in­flux, with refugee camps spring­ing up across the ter­ri­tory.

In 1988 the govern­ment an­nounced a Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion to deal with the cri­sis. The plan stip­u­lated that af­ter June 16 of that year, all Viet­namese who ar­rived in Hong Kong would no longer au­to­mat­i­cally be con­sid­ered refugees, but in­stead be treated as asy­lum seek­ers—mean­ing that would have to ap­ply for refugee sta­tus.

In or­der to spread the word, the govern­ment broad­cast an an­nounce­ment in (heav­ily Can­tonese-ac­cented) Viet­namese on RTHK ra­dio, ap­prox­i­mately once an hour. The first line went as fol­lows: Bắt đầu từ nay, một chính sách mới về thuyền nhân Việt Nam đã được chấp hành tại Hồng Kông. Which trans­lates as:

“From now on, a new pol­icy re­gard­ing Viet­namese boat peo­ple has been im­ple­mented in Hong Kong.”

Hongkongers soon learned the open­ing phrase, turn­ing the Can­tonese translit­er­a­tion into “bat lau dung laai” (不漏洞拉, the non­sen­si­cal “don’t leak hole pull”).

The term rapidly set­tled into the Hong Kong con­scious­ness, be­com­ing an um­brella term for all things Viet­namese, in­clud­ing the peo­ple. Be­cause of its place at the be­gin­ning of the an­nounce­ment, Hongkongers even as­sumed that the phrase was a greet­ing, as you’d say “sawas­dee” to the Thais.

Of course, if you un­pack it—go­ing up to some­one and call­ing them “From this point for­ward” is pretty bad, if not straight-up of­fen­sive. Much like the term “gweilo,” it’s not re­ally meant in a neg­a­tive fash­ion—but it’s not ex­actly sen­si­tive to the rich lin­guis­tic di­ver­sity of an­other cul­ture, is it?

The Viet­namese “boat peo­ple” at the height of the refugee cri­sis

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