Michelle, Anywhichwaywards

The limelight is not in her nature;

at any contest, she is one being who makes no crowd of itself;

standing with her back to the front of other people’s stages, she looks further out into the picture, and then — after that — into that further-out;

she is the alien-word of heart in a world of seven billion mouths, running to honey but beyond all sweet;

only she bewares the false-middle and the false-end just as well as the false-start;

and her shrewder nudity of Earth attention (stronger, brighter, deeper) means:

an aliver saliva in the vital sense and wider — wondering — why?s.

Photograph: 香港西貢大浪灣大洲尖洲 The islands of Tai Chau and Tsim Chau in Tai Long Wang, Sai Kung, Hong Kong

Zolima City Mag’s “Alleyway Haircuts”

“Alleyway Haircuts” is another short documentary video in Zolima City Mag’s wonderful “Forgotten Icons” series.

After seeing Wong Kar-wai’s film Fallen Angels as part of a film course, Mark Lau abandoned cinema studies and instead took over his father’s barber shop in Wan Chai. This is his story.

For the grammatically-minded, the video contains several exciting moments. Two terms that are often translated as “even” in English get used. The first of these, 甚至乎 sahm6 ji3 fuh4 = “even; go so far as to” is used in the line 甚至乎引申到係一個知己囉 and indicates a sense of surprise on the speaker’s part, or that what one is saying might fall beyond the usual range of the listener’s expectations.

The other “even” is expressed by the structure 連 lìhn4 . . . 都 dōu1 and is also concerned with expectations (in comparisons it has to do with reaching an expected standard). It appears in the phrase 傳統嘅理髮師連乞兒都不如 = a traditional barber is not even as good as a beggar.

The second item of interest is the aspect marker 返 fāan1. 返 fāan1 in its own right means “to return”, and this hints at the fact that it functions somewhat like this re– in English, suggesting return, repetition and perhaps even resumption in the case of an action that has been broken off. In the three examples found in Mark Lau’s presentation, the first means “to take a second look”, the second means “to see again (after a certain interval of time)”, while the third ⸺ “to take on” ⸺ implies a kind of resumption, since Lau had been actively discouraged from taking over his father’s business:


There may be cases where 返 fāan1 as an aspect marker creates an idiomatic meaning, in the same way as 住 jyuh6 sometimes does.

Finally, the mystery final particle 囉 lō1 is used quite frequently by the speaker. Consider the following instances:

而唔係話去到嗰個位就 stop 咗,停咗喺度囉

According to Yip and Matthews, 囉 “gives a suggestion that what is said should be obvious”, and can be used with the word 咪 maih6 = “then” to indicate “an obvious conclusion” (Intermediate Cantonese, Unit 23). The Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary has various definitions, including “[final particle] showing argumentative mood or making emphasis” and “[final particle] expressing a changed condition”. Certainly, in all the examples quoted from this video, the speaker is making claims that might invite disagreement. My working hypothesis here is that it is used “to soften the force” (?) of strongly asserted arguments: look, I really think this is the case, but you may wish to disagree . . . However, I need to do a lot more work on this question.

This video lasts for 2:45 minutes. Scroll down for the Cantonese transcription and notes. To watch the video (with English and Standard Chinese subtitles), click here

To check anything in the transcription and for standard jyutping romanization, please refer to the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.


我叫劉家成,噉我英文名叫阿 Mark啦

理髮師 léih5 faat3 sī1 = barber; hairdresser

● One striking habit of the speaker is to use phrases such as 我父親佢 = lit. “my father he” in which the pronoun seems redundant. It might help to think of it as a form of apposition, roughly equivalent to the English “he, the man who is my father”. Watch out for the other examples in this video, including阿王導演佢 and 香港人佢.
● 創立 chong3 laahp6 = to establish; to found; to set up | I guess in this situation we could also say “he opened the Oi Kwan barbershop in 1962”.


● 有型 yáuh5 yìhng4 = handsome | You can also hear this expression in the podcast “A Postman’s Gaze (1)”: 主持人:你都係好有型呀!

電剪 dihn6 jín2 = electric clippers
Note that 同 tùhng4 in this context does not mean “with”. The meaning here is “for; on behalf of”.



The syntax of this sentence is clearly unusual. The main part appears to be 可以變咗個朋友咁嘅 = “can become friends, like”, to which is added the afterthought “interacting, [they] can be”. By the looks of it, this afterthought also employs dislocation. For details on this, see “Afterthoughts and dislocations” in Unit 24 of Intermediate Cantonese by Yip and Matthews.

傳統嘅 barbershop 嚟講就有一個「家」嘅感覺
Here, the structure 對[於] . . . 嚟講 = “with regard to; as far as . . . is concerned”, but the 對[於] has been dropped.


甚至乎 sahm6 ji3 fuh4 = even; go so far as to. This is a very useful expression in Cantonese, frequently used to add further information to a topic that might be considered unexpected. Here, for instance, Mark Lau suggests that customers become like family members, perhaps friends, and then finally even “bosom buddies”. Often, the乎 fuh4 at the end of this term is dropped.
引申 yáhn5 sān1 = to extend (the meaning of a word)
知己 jī1 géi2 = an intimate friend | The literal meaning suggests someone who knows [知] you nearly as well as you know yourself [己].

心事 sām1 sih6 = sth. weighing on one’s mind; a load on one’s mind; worry
The expression 有啲咩is often heard in questions. In a statement, it creates a general expression: “Whatever people have on their minds, they will talk about”.

當初 dōng1 chō1 = at first, originally | Here, perhaps “back [in the days] when I was studying . . . ”


墮落 doh6 lohk6 = to degenerate

熟口面 suhk6 háu2 mihn6 = a familiar face; a familiar person. Also expressed by the phrase 熟口熟面.

細查 sai3 chàah4 = (?) to examine closely/carefully

衝擊 chūng1 gīk1 = charge; assault; attack | Here, perhaps “impact” is what an English speaker would use here.
震撼 jan3 hahm6 = to shake; to vibrate; to shock; to rock | Or something more colloquial like “blew me away” or “left me reeling with the shock”.

親切 chān1 chit3 = (adj) amiable; friendly; cordial; kind; warm; sincere; gracious; intimate; dear; familiar (adv) heartily; warmly; graciously; kindly; (n) friendliness; hospitality cf. 親切感 = sense of cordiality / warmth

場景 chèuhng4 gíng2 = scenario; scene
背後意義 bui3 hauh6 yi3 yih6 = (?) the meaning behind sth.; the hidden meaning

從而 chùhng4 yìh4 = thus; thereby. I would have thought that this expression is something characteristic of written rather than spoken Cantonese, but here it is!
引發 yáhn5 faat3 = initiation | In this context, it must be the verb (?) “to initiate”.

接手 jip3 sáu2 = to take over (duties, etc.)

感恩 gám2 yān1 = feel grateful; be thankful

嚟㗎 leih4 gaa3 is added to create an “explanatory tone”:

噉而家係香港兩栖及爬蟲協會現時唯一嘅員工嚟㗎 = At present, I am the only employee of the Hong Kong Society of Herpetology (Henry Chan Man-hou)
噉所以呢,就後來我好鐘意我個名,因爲我覺得,即係,係一個好嘅開始呢,都係一件好嘅事嚟㗎。(Hong Kong Foothpath, Chan Siu-chi)

動力 duhng6 lihk6 = motive; motivation | Perhaps in this context “impetus” might be possible

師傅 sī1 6*2 = master worker; | Here, the addition of 老 lóuh5 suggests a highly experienced “veteran” of the barbering industry


乞兒 hāt1 4*1 = beggar
The structure 連 lìhn4 . . . 都 dōu1 is a useful one and expresses the idea of “even” in English ⸺ here, “not even as good as a beggar”. Also note that 不如 bāt1 yùh4 here, used at the end of the sentence, means “not as good as”; compare the 不如 used at the start of a clause to make a suggestion.

忿氣 fahn6 hei3 = accept failure; willing to concede/admit defeat

噉我上網睇 YouTube

噉仲有啲朋友介紹,去咗其他 barbershop 呀,salon 嗰度去到實習
The second character 仲 juhng6 commonly means “still”, but in this situation, it means “furthermore”. 仲 juhng6 can also be written 重 juhng6.
I first encountered 實習 saht6 jaahp in the sense of “work experience”. It can also refer to doing field work. Here, however, “to practise” or “to get more practice” is what is meant.

The literal meaning is “Don’t say the word “master”, but the implication is something like “Don’t even mention the word ‘master’” or “Never mind thinking about becoming a ‘master’”. | Note the routine use of 啦 lāa1 to soften the force of the imperative.

工藝 gūng1 ngaih6 = craft


Here, 追求好 jēui1 kàuh4 hóu2 seems to imply “the pursuit of excellence” or “to pursue excellence”.

This is a curious example of code switching, since Mark Lau gives the Chinese version straight after the English “stop”!

遺忘 wàih4 mohng6 = to forget | I don’t hear this very often. My feeling is that 唔記得 mh4 gei3 dāk1 is the usual expression for “to forget”.
留落嚟 is made up of 留 làuh4 = to leave and a directional complement 落嚟 lohk6 làih4, which suggests downward movement, but approximates the English “to leave behind” or even “to pass on (to posterity)”. I once read an explanation of the Chinese sense of time which likened it to a climb down a sheer mountain with one’s back to where one was going. In other words, one “falls” into the future facing the past! Time expressions such as 上星期; 下星期; 前天;後天 provide some support for this interpretation.

隔籬街 gaak3 leih4 gaai1 = the next street | Note that 隔籬 is pronounced in exactly the same way as the 隔離heard a lot at the moment because it means “isolation; quarantine”.



屬於 suhk6 yū1 = “belong to; be part of”. I get the impression that this is used a lot in Cantonese, so is definitely worth adding it to your repertoire of grammatical structures.
The syntax is curious in this sentence, and may be an example of an odd kind of dislocation! In 呢一點係咪屬於自己嘅文化呢個就, the last three characters 呢個就 = “this is [then]” may restate the earlier 呢一點係咪 = “is this [point]?”. Translated literally, we have “whether this [point] is a part of one’s own culture or not, this [then]”. However, it may just be a fairly vague afterthought, similar to 其實呢個都好感恩啦,呢個.

Lovers, Dogs, Etc. (Cheung Shue Tan Village 樟樹灘鄉)

● If you’ve ever liked any of the poetry I’ve posted on this site, you have Hong Kong to thank. It was my first trip there in 1998 that really got me writing again after a bit of a lull. What do I remember about Cheung Shue Tan? There was an old woman who made wonderful scarecrows out of modern-looking dolls with very Western faces: well, they certainly scared me! And there was the crab that stayed up one night to greet me in the moonlight after another hard day at the office at nearby CUHK. It had one big, white-tipped claw that shone at me through the dark. And of course there was Mr Yeung’s sandalwood incense, burnt at dawn and dusk to appease the ancestors and, in the process, bringing a hint of true fragrance into my life . . .

Oh, and before I forget, there was the huge python that crossed the road as a file of us were making our down from the bus stop. You know that feeling: human beings standing very still, hardly daring to move, while waiting for danger to take our breath away.


Love walks the lovers down the hill with practised elegance until —
aaai! it looks like an insect got her right in the eye
(they’ve got me too this way and no doubt you as well . . .).
There’s, she’s fixed. They walk off again down the asphalt road,
the dark patch there banana trees actually by daylight
still busy with small fruit this time of year (autumn).
I say hello to “my” dogs like signposts along the way:
the timid one that lies in front of careless traffic —
canine death-wish (I think to myself) — home-life must be bad,
and the wicky black one with the black tongue to match
his friendly bad manners.
I’m always moved by the endurance of these creatures, their doggedness
(sorry . . .),
patient through endless rounds of gates, locks and fences,
all the human words for NO! banging in dog-ears.
(Oh, the lovers have just turned off. Why do I always
take my eyes off the lovers?)
Here’s the giant grape-fruit tree (the tree itself largish)
on the corner that smells of shit worse somehow after dark.
I say a few soothing words to the mutt in the Plexiglas kennel,
the one that gives me that gitouttahere growl every time
(I’d give me that growl too cooped up in such “space”)
and there looms home unlit on the first floor
above Mr Yeung’s flat with the two glaring door-gods
pasted squarely before me on his glass sliding-doors
to ward off evil.

Photograph: Tai Po Cheung Shue Tan Heung

《新心界》: 第六章

•  「心界」

阿綠約咗陳之一喺上晝十一點見面。東鐵嘅粉嶺站俾人嘅印象係比較平易近人,香港大部份嘅車站都好似迷宮咁,繁忙時間特別容易令人攪錯:蕩失路、喪失方向感、揾唔到想揾嘅出口等等。粉嶺就零捨唔同,上樓梯行到車站大堂,就可以一目瞭然,睇清楚整體佈局。因此,阿綠即刻見到 A1 出口嘅位置,再行近啲就見到一早就喺度等緊佢嘅高瘦外國人。唔識阿一嘅人會以為佢喺度進行緊一次獨白式嘅演講。





















The Hiker’s List by Teddy Law

● 《山友的路線名單》 / 羅榮輝著

Nearly every one of my fellow mountaineers has their own wish-list of hiking destinations. This wish-list may be long or short. It may be highly detailed or little more than a sketchy outline.

Recently, a friend of mine shared her wish-list with me. It was roughly divided into long journeys, short trips, and routes for clear and cloudy weather. I myself have a similar list of destinations, simply drawn up in terms of the different areas of Hong Kong: Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, Sai Kung, the New Territories and Lantau Island. From this list, I choose a suitable route in order to fit in with the season, geographical position and the availability of people to accompany me. If the weather is fine, I select a location with exceptional scenery. If the weather is not particularly good, I pick a route for its history and its culture. As I complete my objectives, I tick them off my wish-list one by one, constantly crossing off and adding things as I go.

Given their hectic lifestyles, the people of this city tend to be very adept at calculation and, in everything they do, weigh up pros and cons, as well as consider outlays and gains. Since our time in general ⸺ as well as holiday time ⸺ is limited, we tend to explore new vistas, even where feasible making our way to the top of several mountains, never going to the same place twice, to ensure that our effectiveness improves. Such behaviour cannot really be criticized but, at the same time, this individual thirst for achieving goals reveals more than a hint of utilitarian self-seeking.

The footprints we make walking over mountains amount to little more than a split-second in their long-drawn-out formation. With a wish-list of routes in one hand with its individual destinations rather arbitrarily divided into any number of grades, one can’t help wondering: how can we ever hope to understand a mountain in our rushed ascents and abbreviated excursions? Any list, no matter how explicit the objectives, is at the same time a set of invisible shackles. Any true personal insight into a mountain is inevitably limited by a wish-list, restricted by specific locations, confounded by numbers. But for all that, many people are still bent on walking to the top of all Hong Kong’s mountains, ascending all the well-known ranges of Taiwan and challenging tall peaks throughout the rest of the world.

To take delight in mountains and rivers is not difficult. With the increase in individual physical strength and skill, an enhancement of mental calibre, improvement of hiking gear, the perfection of pathways together with the coordination of resources, many people have eventually managed to reach their objectives. Undoubtedly, reaching your goals one after another enriches your experience, and might even make you into a superb mountaineer, but in my view, the true lover of mountains should be something more than a Perfect Executor of Plans. Such a person is not defined by a dazzling curriculum vitae but realized through true insight into the Earth. What such a person displays are resoluteness and spirit, vision and a broad mind, cultivation and attitude, with an emphasis on responsibility over rights, and the common good over any personal loss or gain.

People like this can understand the language of mountains, and so are able to converse with them, and have the ability to discover fresh new feelings in familiar surroundings, delight in mundane scenery, as well as experience mighty mountains and rivers on narrow trails. They walk where their own nature happens to lead them, and their paths grow wider along with their own hearts.

At any rate, my feeling is that the most difficult mountain to overcome is not written down on any list but can only be found in our own minds.

Photograph: 香港西貢蚺蛇尖 Sharp Peak in Sai Kung, Hong Kong (www.oasistrek.com)

The Chinese version of this essay first appeared on Hiking Windfire.

Note: Obelisk’s Demise


When you died a second time
and came back to life, I was worried you’d begun to make
a habit of it. You never did,
growing instead
easily to become the biggest fish in the pond
with a healthy curiosity for what lay beyond, overwater.
As a fully-grown giant,
you started fattening out sideways
and would orbit your sphere round and round the perimeter —
a trundling red planet
truly at home in your girth. I guessed
you were sick
when you took to planting yourself upside-down
in a clump of waterlilies,
poor, demented mermaid headstanding in ocean and waving her gauze
at some air-drowned mortal
like me: Farewell! Each day you waved
and each day, unfinned,
I’d wave you my dry human wave in return — Farewell!
till existence inside you shrank to a speck
and you sank
through the wreck
of your own dead weight

completely out of my depth.

Wide Awake and Dead to the World (Volcanic Glass)

Prehistorically once flung from the mouth of a volcano,
then frozen by time
into this — dark glass.
It must have been a fragment, I thought at first,
of some antique rural bottle, but
then it dawned on me
that the only thing it could be
was a whole fragment unto itself,
an entire jigsaw puzzle
consisting of only exactly one piece.
Stupidly, I wanted it
to show me another world, or at least
something astonishing hidden in the seams of visual habit —
after all, ours is an era of a myriad of transparencies —
how we long to see through
past the gloss of the surface to voluptuous promise
o so expertly packaged within,
but my toy showed me nothing —
I might as well have been looking through a carrot for the moon —
I was merely blinding myself better in the name of vision.
My friend the carpenter
goes out each day precisely to hit the nail on the head
and to saw with his ruler
down to the nearest millimetre
planks of timber beyond all our wildest dreams.
Perhaps this explained my newfound deep thirst for murk,
for that which was never meant to excite the organs of sight,
for that jagged lens
which will make absolutely no spectacle of itself
under any circumstances: optical point-blank refusal
of all acts of seeing. Geologists, I know,
have a word for it, drenched in Latin. They pronounce
rather than say it:

Photograph: 香港東坪洲 Tung Ping Chau, Hong Kong

Hong Kong Footpath: Interview in Cantonese with Leung Wing Mo (Part 1)

Cindy Chea-Shuk-mei calls him in her introduction that “Great God of Meteorology” [天氣大神]. Professor 梁榮武 Leung Wing Mo was formerly Assistant Director of the Hong Kong Observatory and Adjunct Professor of Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He now hosts a successful TV program concerned with weather issues, and is a passionate advocate for action on climate change. This edition of Hong Kong Footpath, aired on 5 January 2020, was the first of this year’s programs.

You can listen to the interview on RTHK1 here. Scroll down for a transcription of the Cantonese with vocabulary notes (so far, I’ve only done the opening five minutes).

To check anything in the transcription and for standard jyutping romanization, please refer to the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.

Note that the program proper starts at 1:55.


車淑梅: 新年快樂!今日呢,係2020年呢,【2:00】1月5號,亦都係我哋嘅《舊日的足跡》第一位嘉賓呢。我當然呢,希望我今年會風調雨順,國泰民安,天下太平,所以我請呢一位呢,我一見到成個人唔知點解呢,好似有一種好祥和嘅感覺。佢係我哋第一代嘅天氣先生,係我哋而家嘅天氣大神。阿武哥!梁榮武先生。

● 國泰民安 gwok3 taai3 màhn4 [ng]ōn1 = the country is prosperous and the people live in peace
● 祥和 chèuhng4 wòh4 = (?) 祥 “auspicious” + 和 “affable”

梁榮武:Ah 淑梅!


梁榮武: 早晨,早晨!好榮幸呢,可以非常榮幸2020年第一個節目嘅嘉賓。(車淑梅:真係 . . . 一定要揾你壓場). . . (They both speak together)

● 榮幸 wìhng4 hahng6 = honoured
● 壓場 [ng]aat3 chèuhng4 = (?) “the show time as the key guest speaker”

車淑梅:好重要。嗱,其實,武哥啫係我哋前香港天文臺嘅助理臺長啦、 又香港氣象學家啦,香港氣象會嘅發言人啦、350 香港嘅發言人啦,亦都係呢,《武測天》嘅節目主持人,嗄,我哋嘅男神呢,嗄。有諗過自己會變成明星呢,嗄,啫,退休之後?【3:00】

● Note that with verb-object compounds such as 退休 teui3 yāu1 = “to retire”, the aspect marker jó2 can be placed between the two components, giving the sense of “having retired”.
● 男神 nàahm4 sàhn4 = male idol; prince charming; dream guy

梁榮武:想都冇想過,啫 (車淑梅:Laughs),當時退休都好惆悵(車淑梅:係咩?)因爲我都算係一個鐘意返工、鐘意做嘅人嘅。就好似百無聊賴(車淑梅:Mm mm)。噉但係好快,好快過咗好短時間,噉機會陸續喇。

● The phrase 想都冇想過 is a common pattern, and many other verbs can be substituted for 想 séung. In idiomatic English we could say “it never even occurred to me” or “the thought never occurred to me”.
● 惆悵 chàuh4 cheung3 = disconsolate; melancholy
● 百無聊賴 baak3 mòuh4 lìuh4 laaih6 = be bored stiff


梁榮武:第一個機會係去 . . . 一個 um 做科教育工作機構 ah 四周圍去呢學校演講。

● 四周圍 = sei3 jāu1 wàih4 = on all sides. In the interview with Kwan Chuk-fai, the same expression is used to mean something like “all over the place”: 四周圍去食嘅喎.



● As an aspect marker, 開 hōi1 can be used to indicate habitual action (see Matthews and Yip, Intermediate Cantonese Unit 12). Another example of this use of 開 in the phrase 後來慢慢識佢傾開計 can be found in the podcast A Postman’s Gaze (1).
● To me, Leung Wing Mo seems to pronounce the word for “climate” as 氣候 *hei yau.
● 延續 yìhn4 juhk6 = to continue; to go on; to last

車淑梅:噉而家你就唔同呢,就唔單止係啲,啫,學校呀,社區裏邊呢,講呢,甚至乎呢, 見到你電視上邊,《武測天》咁樣樣,呵 (梁榮武:Mm mm) 呢個呢,真係, 會唔會你自己,啫係都,其實都 OK 喎 (梁榮武:Laughs ) 呢一條路?你一個幕前咁樣?【4:00】

● Here, the word 唔單止 = “not only” is paired up with 甚至乎 = “and even”, giving “you not only talk at schools and out in society [社區裏邊] but [we] even see you know on the TV”.
● According to Matthews and Yip, 呵 hó2 is used to check what is been said in the way English does with “isn’t that right?” (Intermediate Chinese, Unit 23). Sheik Cantonese defines it as “[final particle] huh – often used as a question tag to verify sth. while expecting confirmation”.
● 幕前 mohk6 chìhn4 = host (主持); literally “in front of the curtain”

梁榮武:Ah 呢樣嘢我又,啫,唔係話好「迷」,啫,唔係好嚮往,但係 eh 我自己都覺得可以勝任嘅,同埋其實都係有咁樣嘅機會呢,都係同我原本 ah 退休嘅時候嗰個 . . . 初衷都係 . . . 吻合嘅,就係希望呢,呢個氣候變化訊息上邊(車淑梅:係)播到啲種子,等多啲人關注。噉有一個咁好嘅機會咁,自然唔放過啦,就係傾計啦,學你話齋,哎,咁多主播一齊拍檔咁(unclear)得喇。

● Leung Wing Mo uses 迷 màih4 here with the sense of “be crazy about; be obsessed with”.
● 嚮往 heung3 wóhng5 = to yearn for; to look forward to
● 勝任 sīng1 yahm6 = competent; qualified; equal to (the demands of a job)
● 初衷 chō1 jūng1 = original intention
● 吻合 máhn5 hahp6 = be identical; coincide; tally; be a good fit
● 等 dáng2 here means “to let; to enable; to make (sb. do sth.)” and covers the meaning expressed in standard written Chinese by 讓 yeuhng6.
● 學你話齋 hohk6 neih5 waah6 jāai1 = just like you said. According to Sheik Cantonese, 話齋 means “just as what (sb.) has said/told (indicating that what sb has said is worth noting)”, and also crops up in the phrase 俗語話齋 juhk6 yuh5 waah6 jāai1 = as the saying has it.
● 拍檔 paak3 dong3 = to cooperate; to co-star
● 主播 jyú2 bo3 = anchor; presenter (on TV)

車淑梅:所以正話影相同正武哥,有好大壓力呀!你成日隔離咁靚女咁樣。噉不過同阿武哥,啫,傾計嘅時候呢,發覺你真係充滿活力嘅喎嗱,雖然你已經退咗休,um 你11年退休喇(梁榮武:係) 8,9年咁耐啦 (梁榮武: unclear 幾多嵗 | Laughs)【5:00】實知啦,你,退休你60嵗。噉,嘩,你依然跑步上來喎, 你樂富跑步上來廣播道喎。

● 正話 jing3 waah6 = just now; a moment ago (剛剛)
● 實知 = I thinks this means “(they) definitely know”, with saht6 in this context meaning “definitely; certainly” (Sheik Cantonese). By disclosing when Leung retired, listeners will, the host seems to imply, be able to guess his age.

梁榮武:其實,唔跑嘅,行快啲啦(車淑梅:係咪吖嘛。好健康). . . 我以前返工嘅時候就唔同(車淑梅:係)。我返工嘅時候經常跑步返工放工。最,最主要就係天文臺可以有地方俾我衝涼(Laughter)。噉呢個港臺我估好似冇。

車淑梅:都有嘅,不過你唔識啫。噉,啫話,好,好開心呢,其實,繼續每一日呢,都繼續咁開心就好啦。噉最緊要我哋有好天氣呢。其實 *kei,今年2020嘅天氣呢,啫係,阿武測天,啫,睇嚟 ,啫,會唔會有個好嘅發展,今年?

梁榮武:其實,eh 係悲觀嘅(車淑梅:你擰頭喎)因爲今日1月5號呢,噉,其實,啫,天文臺會喺三月嘅時候呢(車淑梅:Laughs),會做一個,啫係,年度嘅預報。 【6:00】噉,啫,講吓我哋香港落幾多雨呀,啫係,預計落幾多雨呀,打幾多風咁樣(車淑梅:Mm mm)。噉呢個要等臺長三月嘅時候公報呢(車淑梅:係 )。噉但係 . . . 係呀 . . . 啫,講講大啲嘅赤道嘅問題,啫係話,講返氣候變化 eh 我哋舊年年尾西班牙開咗一個氣候峰會呢。噉就好可惜,大家嗰個對呢個氣候變化 . . . 嗰個力度都真係唔夠,睇上嚟我哋嗰個氣候只會係惡化落去。

● 擰頭 lihng6 tàuh4 = to shake one’s head
● 赤道 chek3 douh6 = the equator
● 舊年年尾 gauh6 nín4*2 nìhn4 méih5 = at the end of last year
● 峰會 fūng1 wúi6*2 = a summit (meeting)
● 力度 *lehk douh6 = dynamism; vigour
● 睇上嚟 tái2 seuhng6 làih4 = by the looks of it

車淑梅:真係我哋都 . . . 發覺,香港啲天氣呢,嘩,啲風真係嚟得大呢。忽然間又話俾我哋聽,長洲嗰度會有地震呢 (梁榮武:)。嘩,呢個真係 . . . 啫,以前都 . . . 好少會聽到地震呢個字同我哋香港有關嘅嘛,係咪?

● Here, in the phrase 啫,以前都, Chea-Shuk-mei seems to pronounce the dōu1 as *dyu.


● The opening words of this segment 少就少,不過係有嘅 can be translated as “True, there aren’t many earthquakes, but there are some”.
● 斷層 dyuhn6 chàhng4 = (geological) fault
● 板塊 báan2 faai3 = tectonic plate; continental plate

Cantonese Shamanism by Jack M. Potter (1974)

Lovers of Hong Kong may be familiar with the Heritage Trail at Ping Shan. You can wander down from the Tin Shui Wai MTR station to the three-storey Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda, move on to the charming Earth God shrine which, unusually, features a special flourish of shrine-building architecture known  as 鑊耳 or “wok ears”, take in the glowing red sandstone lintel at the main entrance to the walled village of Sheung Cheung Wai, before proceeding to the grander buildings, the Yu Kiu Ancestral Hall, the Tang Ancestral Hall and the fine study halls of Ching Shu, Kun Ting and Shut Hing. In the 1960s, an annual group seance was held somewhere nearby this cultural-ritual precinct for all local inhabitants. Potter sets the scene in the following vivid manner:

“Hong Kong” and “shamanism” are probably two ideas not many people put together, but Jack Potter does so beautifully in his long essay “Cantonese Shamanism”, published in the book Religion and Ritual in Chinese Society. Potter is probably best known for his book Capitalism and the Chinese Peasant, but mainly to a sober academic audience. Fortunately for me (I have a strong, almost physical, aversion to most scholarly writing), I first encountered Potter’s essay in a wonderful second-hand bookstore in Brisbane by the name of Bent Books. Having dropped in one afternoon looking for magic, I found it, in this mind-bending piece which is ⸺ literally ⸺ spell-binding.

In 1962, at the time of the Moon Cake Festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, the three spirit mediums of Ping Shan held their annual free group seance open to all the villagers. At dusk the villagers, young and old, men and women, gathered on the cement rice-threshing floor in the open area west of Ping Shan’s central ancestral halls. As darkness fell and the full moon filled the sky with light almost as bright as day, the most accomplished shaman of the three, known as the Fat One, took her place on a low stool before a small, improvised altar table. As the incense sticks on the altar burned down, the Fat One, her head covered with a cloth, went into a trance. She jerked spasmodically and mumbled incoherent phrases. Then she started to sing a stylized, rhythmic chant, as her familiar spirits possessed her and led her soul upward, away from the phenomenal world into the heavens. Their destination was the Heavenly Flower Gardens.

Many of the villagers were less interested in the Fat One’s destination than in the ghosts (鬼 kwei) she met along the way. These were the souls of their deceased relatives and neighbours, who took advantage of this opportunity to communicate with the living. They asked for news, gave advice, and sometimes voiced complaints.

The first ghost the medium encountered spoke as follows: “It was not time for me to die. My head was severed by a Japanese sword. I am angry and lost because my bones are mixed with those of other people.” (p.208)

I find it interesting that all three of the Ping Shan shamans were women. Potter makes no mention at all of male shamans. As to the question of why these women became mediums, he provides a very surprising answer. According to the villagers, the ability to go into trances and to be possessed by spirits requires the possession of 仙骨sin kwat (“fairy bones”, although perhaps “occult” might be better in this context) and a 仙路 sin lou (“a fairy road”). Apparently, all of us have sin kwat, but they are supposed to be severed when a child is born. However, if individuals grow up with one bone left intact, their spirits retain a capacity to roam the heavens, a talent that makes them vulnerable to illness and attack from malevolent ghosts (the Chinese believe in benevolent ghosts, as well).

However, there is second, quite tragic aspect to this shamanic gift: women who become shamans do so because they have had children die young. The spirits of these children then haunt their mother, often making her extremely unwell unless she consents to becoming a spirit medium or healer:

The Fat One [ . . . ] had five daughter and two sons, all of whom died very young. Soon after the death of her last child, her husband also died. Her losses left her grief-stricken, depressed, and continually ill. Every night she dreamed of visits from her dead children’s souls. They taught her to “sing” in the rhythmic fashion characteristic of all professional shamans during conversations with the spirits, and then they asked her to become a spirit medium so she could help others and also earn extra money for herself. They knew that she had fairy bones because they had seen her call up spirits during the eighth month. They told her they had connections with other spirits and deities and would use their influence to help her deal with the supernatural world. (pp.226-227)

The experience of Kao Paak-neung, the second shaman of Ping Shan, was similar. As a young woman she had three daughters and one son, but they all died while very young. A year after her third daughter died, the daughter’s soul entered Kao Paak-neung’s body and asked her to become a spirit medium. But her dead son possessed her simultaneously, insisting that she become a curing specialist under the guidance of 華佗 Wa Dho. The struggle between the two spirits made her continually ill and almost drove her mad. She wandered around the countryside worshipping at all kinds of temples and altars in an attempt to free herself from their demands. Neither she nor her husband wanted her to become a spirit medium and curer.

After a time the spirits of her daughter and son compromised, deciding that she should become both a spirit medium and a curing specialist following Wa Dho. Her husband continued his opposition to the spirits’ demands until one day her daughter’s spirit entered Kao Paak-neung’s body and took he soul up to the heavens, making her appear to die several times during one long evening. Finally, at two in the morning, the husband relented and said she could become a shaman. Kao Paak-neung went wild with joy, jumping on tables and chairs, eating silver paper, incense and candles, and singing loudly.

And so these shamans who have lost children are, in a sense, reunited with them, thereby producing a most unexpected psychic healing in the women who have suffered more than any fair share of life’s misfortunes.

Another important aspect of Cantonese shamanism explored by Potter concerns the Four Heavenly Flower Gardens, a supernatural realm “where every living person is represented by a potted flowering plant”. The is one garden for each of the main compass points: the North and West Gardens are small, containing the plants of children who have recently been conceived. The East and South Gardens are large, for it is here that the plants of all people are transplanted between the ages of twelve and sixteen. At this time too, the Hong Kong Chinese believe, people are paired with their future life’s partner, their plants being placed alongside one another. Two deities preside over the Gardens, namely 李伯 Lee Paak and 十二奶娘 Zap Yih Nae Neung, a title which roughly translates as “the woman with twelve breasts”.

Shamans seem to base their fortune-telling abilities on the ability to travel to the Four Heavenly Flower Gardens. It is the final destination reached by the Fat One at the end of the group seance. Potter describes the shaman’s procedure in some detail:

The medium journeys to the Heavenly Flower Gardens in order to inspect the villagers’ flowers. This “inspection of the flowers”, or 診花 chan fa, is a form of fortune-telling. The medium examines the condition of a person’s flower: are there yellowed leaves or spider webs on the plant, does the flower seem in poor condition? The medium examines the flower to see how many red flowers (representing daughters) or white flowers (representing sons) are in bloom; unopened buds on the plant represent future offspring. If the pot contains bamboo, a woman will be barren; if it holds tangerines, she will have many children. The condition of a villager’s flower tells the medium important things about that person’s future. (p. 214)

Potter also reveals that traditionally, a few weeks after a child was born, a fortune-teller was generally consulted by the mother at the nearest market town. These fortune-tellers could tell her the names of the child’s “flower mother” and “flower father” ⸺ parents in its previous existence ⸺ as well as which of the Heavenly Flower Gardens it had come from. Shamans also made the journey to the Gardens to recover the souls of young children that had been kidnapped for ransom by malicious ghosts in order to obtain offerings of food and gifts of paper money.

“Cantonese Shamanism” is filled with the kind of details that could only come from personal attendance at seances and extensive interviews with these extraordinary women and Potter is careful not to intrude any scepticism with regard to the supernatural practices he relates. Nevertheless, he tactfully offers some interesting conjectures about the “structural” role shamans may play in village life. The idea of 契 khay or “fictive kinship” is important here. Shamans were often engaged by villagers to provide occult protection to sickly children, a condition associated with a loss of soul; parents who had a history of losing children early would also make fictive kinship bonds with subsequent children in the hope that it would ensure their survival. More vitally, the ghosts of young unmarried women were a real anomaly for village society: they did not belong to their father’s family, and had no husband to perform the proper rituals for them. Moreover, people were reluctant to keep commemorative tablets for such women in their own homes for fear of their being haunted. For this reason, villagers often used to engage a medium to take care of the souls of such women. For example, beside the altar belonging to Kao Paak-neung, five dresses were hung for the spirits of the girls in her charge.

Although the usual word for “shaman” in Cantonese is probably 巫婆 mòuh4 pòh4, two quite unusual terms are used by Potter. The first is 問醒婆 maan seng phox, that is “old ladies who speak to spirits”, although the character 醒 séng2 can mean “to wake up” and “to give guidance”. The other term is 問米婆 maan mae phox, “ask-rice woman”, the origin of which he explains as follows:

The rice is essential for a medium’s contact with the supernatural. After the medium has gone into a trance with her head covered by a cloth, the spirit that possesses her tosses handfuls of rice around the room at any of its relatives that are present, thus helping to identify itself. (p.219)

(Incidentally, Potter also makes the intriguing point that the villagers considered incense to be “the spiritual equivalent of rice”, a kind of supernatural food.)

The appeal Potter’s essay is firstly that it transports the reader into a world where disbelief is temporarily suspended and secondly that the writer demonstrates the kind of fundamental courage Rainer Maria Rilke once called for: “to be brave in the face of the strangest, most singular and most inexplicable things that can befall us”. And as the poet goes on to say, the fact that human beings have been cowardly in this sense has done endless harm to life. Perhaps Potter can help us let go of some of this modern defensiveness and even make us a little bit bolder in accommodating the full range of human experience.

A sense of the milieu inhabited by these women is conveyed in the following short video about a Hakka-speaking female shaman.

Photograph: 香港錦田:刻有「喃嘸阿彌托」嘅石碑Stone inscribed with “Namo ⸺ Blessed Be, Glory to Amitabha” in Kam Tin, Hong Kong