What’s that got to do with the price of cheese in China?

matematicas_2347053I recently watched an exchange between a native English speaker and a small town Cantonese woman.

The English speaker wanted to express how much a piece of property in her home country was ($180,000), and said “yāt baak baat sahp chīn mān” (one hundred eighty thousand dollars).  The Chinese woman didn’t understand this at all, even after several repetitions (with reasonable pronunciation).

The English speaker didn’t realise that in Cantonese, after you reach 10,000 (yāt maahn), you begin counting in lots of ten thousand.  Thus, the price of the house should have been “sahp baat maahn mān” (eighteen ten thousand dollars).

There is no singular term for ‘million’, and the Cantonese count in units of ten thousand until they get to 100 million, which is called “yīk”.

1 = yāt
10 = yāt sahp
100 = yāt baak
1,000 = yāt chīn
10,000 = yāt maahn
100,000 = sahp maahn (ten ten thousand)
1,000,000 = yāt baak maahn (one hundred ten thousand)
10,000,000 = yāt chīn maahn (one thousand ten thousand)
100,000,000 = yāt yīk (one ten million)

It’s not too confusing once you know how it works, but it is still yet another thing to get your head around when you’re in a new culture.

More on counting later…

The phrase used in the title is used to mean “Is this relevant [to the conversation]?”, especially if a person seems to be actively avoiding the topic being discussed.
Some other variations are:
“What’s that got to do with the price of rice?”
“What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?”
“What’s that got to do with the price of fish?”