Bat lau dung laai

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Whitehead Refugee Camp, HK disused in 2008
The old RAF headquarters on Kwun Tong Road, Kai Tak, which housed boat people until 1997

Bat lau dung laai (Chinese: 不漏洞拉; Jyutping: bat1 lau6 dung6 laai1) is a Cantonese corruption of the Vietnamese phrase bắt đầu từ nay used in Hong Kong. The Vietnamese phrase means "beginning from now" or "from this point forward" (bắt đầu = begin, start; từ = "from", nay = "now").

The phrase was made famous in a frequently broadcast Vietnamese-language radio public service announcement on Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) in Hong Kong during the late 1980s and early 1990s.[1] The frequency of the broadcast (nearly once every hour) allowed many Hong Kong people to learn the Vietnamese phrase without knowing its actual meaning. It was often mistaken as a greeting, and the phrase eventually became a metaphor for Vietnamese people, but it may also be considered as derogatory by Vietnamese people in Hong Kong. The announcement was also communicated to Vietnamese in detention centres in Hong Kong, such as the Chi Ma Wan Detention Centre.[2]

Background of the radio announcement[edit]

In 1988, the British colonial Government of Hong Kong announced the policy of Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) in an attempt to stop the continuing influx of Indochinese boat people after the communist takeover in Vietnam and Laos. After the "cut-off day" on 16 June 1988, the Indochinese people who fled to Hong Kong would no longer automatically be considered as prima facie refugees, but only asylum seekers. They had to be screened to qualify for refugee status. Those who were screened-out would be sent back to Vietnam and Laos under an orderly and monitored repatriation program.[3]

One way for the Hong Kong Government to propagandise this policy was to make an announcement in Vietnamese on Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), which is a radio corporation operated with funding from the Government. The Government intended to use this radio announcement to inform the Indochinese boat people that they might be repatriated, and to discourage them from coming to Hong Kong.

The radio announcement was broadcast several times in a day. Although most Hong Kong people didn't know Vietnamese, they gradually memorised the pronunciation of the announcement.

Content of the announcement[edit]

Original text of the announcement[edit]

The radio announcement began with a sentence in Cantonese Chinese, the most commonly spoken Chinese variant in Hong Kong.


This was then followed by a paragraph in Vietnamese, spoken with a Cantonese Chinese accent:[citation needed]

Bắt đầu từ nay, một chính sách mới về thuyền nhân Việt Nam đã được chấp hành tại Hồng Kông. Từ nay về sau, những thuyền nhân Việt Nam kiếm cách nhập cảnh Hồng Kông với thân phận những người di tản vì vấn đề kinh tế sẽ bị coi là những người nhập cảnh phi pháp. Là những người nhập cảnh phi pháp, họ sẽ không có chút khả năng nào để được đi định cư tại nước thứ ba, và họ sẽ bị giam cầm để chờ ngày giải về Việt Nam.

After that, the announcement ended with another sentence in Cantonese Chinese.


Meaning of the announcement in English[edit]

The first sentence in Cantonese Chinese:

[The] Hong Kong [Government] has implemented the policy of 'Comprehensive Plan of Action' on Vietnamese boat people. The following Vietnamese-language announcement will elucidate to them the content of the policy.

The message in Vietnamese:

From now on, a new policy regarding Vietnamese boat people has been implemented in Hong Kong. Hereafter, those Vietnamese boat people seeking to immigrate into Hong Kong as immigrants due to economic reasons will be considered illegal immigrants. As illegal immigrants, they will not have the ability to settle in a third country, and they will be detained until repatriated to Vietnam.

The final sentence in Cantonese Chinese:

The Vietnamese-language announcement, which has just been broadcast, elucidated the policy of 'Comprehensive Plan of Action' that the Hong Kong Government implements on the Vietnamese boat people who intend to enter Hong Kong.

Use of the phrase to refer to Vietnamese people[edit]

The announcement was aired frequently on RTHK, one of the most popular radio channels in Hong Kong. Because the announcement was in a foreign language, it drew the attention of a lot of the audience in Hong Kong. Gradually, a lot of Hong Kong people remembered the pronunciation of the first phrase, "Bắt đầu từ nay". They often transliterated the phrase in Cantonese Chinese as "北漏洞拉" or "不漏洞拉", although the Northern Vietnamese pronunciation is closer to "不度隊泥" and the Southern Vietnamese pronunciation is closer to "北逗隊奶". As more and more Hong Kong people learnt this Vietnamese phrase, they started to use its Cantonese transliteration to represent Vietnamese people.

The context of this phrase is disputed. Although it is possible some Vietnamese in Hong Kong may jokingly say that "I'm going to Bắt đầu từ nay", meaning that I'm going to Vietnam, it is sometimes regarded as derogatory. However, as many Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong are of Chinese origin and are often Cantonese, the phrase is seldom considered "racist". Some Hong Kong people that do not know the meaning and the background of this Vietnamese phrase think that it has a positive meaning like "sawatdee" (the Thai greeting), or as "dear friends", "dear compatriot", "dear comrades", or even "hello". If they use this Vietnamese phrase to greet a Vietnamese person, the Vietnamese person would probably either be offended, or not understand what is going on.

Portrayal in Hong Kong Media[edit]

Early portrayal[edit]

The first recorded instance of the usage of "Bắt đầu từ nay" in Hong Kong entertainment programmes was during the 1980s, when it was used in a segment of the light entertainment show Enjoy Yourself Tonight. In the segment, a fight in the refugee camp was parodied, and two actors, using the stage names "Bắt đầu" and "Từ nay", roughed up one of the audience (played by an actor) in the "Legislative Council" meeting who was well known for creating commotions during Legislative Council meetings.[4]


During the 1990s, some asylum seekers managed to use self-made tools to cut through the fence around the refugee camps and escaped. This incident was replayed on RTHK's news parody programme Headline News. In the video, the phrase was split into the following

  • Bắt đầu? (不漏?) (phonetically close to "but lau", which means "leakless?", a reference to the supposedly high security measures in the refugee camp)
  • từ! (洞!) (phonetically close to "dong", which means "hole!", a reference to the holes that were cut and used as escape routes).
  • nay! (拉!) (phonetically close to "lai", which means "arrested!", a reference to the eventual arrest of the escapees).


In the 2000s (decade), Vietnamese cuisine became popular in Hong Kong, and the phrase, which had faded out of memory after the resolution of the refugee problem, resurfaced in an advertising campaign for a Vietnamese restaurant.

Spoof announcement[edit]

During the 2003 SARS epidemic in Hong Kong, Eric Kot, a local comedian, phoenetically spoofed the original refugee policy announcement to parody the SARS crisis.

The format of the spoof was similar to the original announcement.


(Translation: The Vietnamese Government has initiated entry restrictions on Hong Kong citizens. The following Cantonese announcement is intended to announce the policy to those Hong Kong epidemic area citizens who are attempting to enter Vietnam)

This was then followed by a paragraph in Cantonese (with a comical Vietnamese accent).


(Translation: [All visitors will face] Immediate arrest upon entry and be stacked up in a pile. Don't even think about coming to Vietnam, [as there is a] giant campaign to enforce the quarantine. [We] Don't care whether you are fat or thin, don't enter Vietnam. Follow [this] immigration advice. Those who force their way into Vietnam will end their life right there and then. We will drive away even those who bring money into our borders. [Those who] hide will have their looks published [in public gazettes]. [Those who are] Discovered will be charged [with a crime], and be beaten silly by a war club. Spreaders [of the illness] will be imprisoned, and evicted from Vietnam forthwith!)

After that, the announcement ended with another sentence in normal-toned Cantonese Chinese.


(Translation: The preceding announcement was from the Vietnamese Government in an effort to elucidate its policy of immigration quarantine to the Hong Kong people)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Economic bulletin: Issues 17–34 Jing ji dao bao she, 1994 "北漏洞拉"一葫因重台魔播政府封船民的玫策而家博卢晓·孟思是徒今天起。五年前越南眼昆其北郸大哥中团藉阴放政革·樱宿辞展一日干里·途亦决定敌弦易瓷限制·更合外查有不少懂惯。目而越南的诲外投管者中,台洱居首,香港次之。二者有截然不同的投查策略·丽者多 ..."
  2. ^ Soeur Christine Mỹ Hạnh Tỵ Nạn Việt Nam tại Hồng Kông "Chương Trình "Comprehensive Plan of Action" được chính thức bắt đầu từ 1994. Trên thực tế từ cuối thập niên 80 đến đầu 90 chính phủ Hong Kong đã đọc nhiều thông cáo trên các cơ quan truyền thanh. Thông cáo được đọc: "Bắt đầu từ nay chính phủ Hong Kong sẽ giam giữ những người đến Hong Kong." "
  3. ^ Immigration and asylum: from 1900 to the present: Volume 1 – Page 667 Matthew J. Gibney, Randall Hansen – 2005 "In response,Hong Kong, from June 16, 1988, implemented a policy to treat all new arrivals as illegal immigrants unless, ... "
  4. ^ 開放 Issues 37–42 冲天有限公司, 1990 "「危城 I 北漏洞拉」一.作者:張志强在九七前途與越南船民等問題困擾下,受香港前途所影響,聯想香港會否在回歸中國時變成 8 一個越南?到時香港人的努力成果會否被傲底破壞?."

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