Sandcastle on Copacabana Beach

JP Wong is back!

Why JP Wong and not Pj Kwong? That is a very good question. All I know is, there was some confusion when I went to check in to get my uniform for the recent Synchronized Swimming event in Rio where I was the PA announcer. Turns out that it was listed under JP Wong. Naturally. Why didn’t I look there first??

As most of you know, I am a language nerd and a compulsive communicator. I figured with my knowledge of French and Spanish – how hard could Portuguese be? I mean, I could kind of figure the words out on paper. So my strategy, as it always is, was to ask people to speak very, very slowly. And then I would come to understand…..


Not only is Brazil’s version of Portuguese very different from Portugal’s – but Rio (and maybe the rest of the country) has some linguistic idiosyncracies.

For instance: R at the beginning of a word or a double RR in the middle of a word is pronounced as an H although an R in the middle of a word is really an R. So Rio de Janeiro is actually Hio (pronounced Hee-yo) de Janeiro. The Brazilian currency is Reals or as they like to say Hey-als. It is a little confusing.

What I do like – a lot – is the way they jazz up the words by adding syllables; seemingly just for fun. You know me – coming from figure skating, I do love a nice embellishment. I do consider these added syllables as kind of verbal sequins on a plain serge suit. If you ever consider going to Hee-yo – here is a preliminary glossary of useful terms used in context: (You’re welcome!)

“I want to go to Ouchee-backy steakhouse and if it is full, then let’s try Hadjee Hock-ey Café. Who doesn’t like a little old school Hockey Hole? I know it makes a nice change from the Hippy Hoppy that fills my playlist. Do you think we might see Bradjee Pittchee once we get there? Hmm…I am a little worried that my breath is stale – anyone have a Chicky Chacky? Failing that –I always have yummy Emee Emees and at least one Kitchy Katchy finger melting in my purse. I am glad I remembered to update my Facey-bookee status on my Macky-bookee lappy-toppy before leaving, otherwise documenting this expedition would have gone down like the Chee-ta-neekee of 1912.”

Adorable. Makes me smile even writing it. English as a second language is the explanation and it all makes sense.

What I still can’t figure out is the nice older couple from Las Vegas with whom I was chit chatting at Christ the Redeemer. Louise is the kind of woman who panics at the sound of what she thinks of as a ‘foreign’ name like Kwong, for example. “Kwuh – Kwuh – Kwuh” she said. It made it easier for her once she found out I was involved in figure skating. “Pj KWAN!” she said triumphantly, and then went on to say that Michelle Kwan (or maybe Kwong?) was her favourite skater ever. (One of mine too 🙂 )

We shook hands as we parted company after a delightful conversation. Louise said: “Nice to meet you Pj Kwantoe.” I smiled. Marvin, the husband, said “no, no, no it’s Kwong.” Here we go again: “Kwuh – Kwuh – Kwuh”.

It’s not what you say – it’s how you say it.