Last year, she published a book, Don’t Joke on The Stairs, about her adventures in China and her love for the country.
After imploring Varsity to buy it, she lifts the dollar notes to her nose, sniffs them with her eyes closed and jokingly says: “Smells good.”
Gamst Berg’s fascination with and affection for China is unending. After she came to Hong Kong, she first learnt Chinese language through a Mandarin song, “Around Wintertime” by Taiwanese singer, Chyi Chin. In those days, karaoke consisted of a big room with people and a microphone. There was no monitor for subtitles. She could only memorise the lyrics in order to sing the song.
After learning Chinese from songs, she moved onto read newspapers and watch cartoons to learn the language.
Later on, she began noticing some strange characters that she could not find in the dictionary. “And that was when I started getting really interested in Cantonese because it looks so cool and it wasn’t in the dictionary,” she says.
Even though she has not received any tertiary education, Gamst Berg has a flair for language learning. She managed to speak Cantonese within a year and a half by speaking to everyone and became famous in her village for her Cantonese proficiency; although she says her language learning never stops. Improbable as it may seem, she says her Chinese reading skills are self-taught.
However, she finds people’s response to her Cantonese capability very annoying. “I can speak. So why can’t they treat me like a normal human being?” she asks. Many people make a fuss about it instead of conversing with her properly in Cantonese.
Gamst Berg observes this reaction only exists in Hong Kong. “If you are in Norway and you speak Norwegian, nobody would say ‘Wow! You can speak Norwegian! But you are Chinese!’ No, they will just answer you,” she explains.
Moreover, she believes the attitude of locals hinders foreigners and other people from learning Cantonese. “The only problem of Cantonese is Hong Kong people,” she says. She explains that Hong Kong people often answer foreigners in English, laugh at them or even chide them for their mispronunciation. In addition, they often tell foreigners that Cantonese is too difficult for them, which Gamst Berg finds extremely patronising.