Needle; Marble; Wall

Photo by Egor Kamelev on

Or like threading a needle behind your back; or like
speaking a whole life’s history into a drinking straw.
Or like walking on both bare hands
across hyper-inter-active ant-hills
without “stepping” with your fingers on a single resident.
Or like ogling the light
through a pristine, playground marble
for a glimpse of crystal oceans
or translucent childhood visions; or like
cluelessly conjuring from the dead-end of your tether
a simple act of kindness for some perfect — utter — stranger
just when you thought
you were the first person on Earth
in desperate need of help; or like
crashing helter-skelter through the glass wall of your self
not to break but to make your one unthinkable mind
somehow suddenly-naturally WORLDWIDE.

Learning Cantonese: Wai Wai, Artist of the Neighbourhood

The artist 慧惠 Wai Wai lived in a flat near the 果欄 “Fruit Lan” or Wholesale Fruit Market in 油麻地 Yau Ma Tei while she was growing up, and this experience seems to set her on her present course as a passionate community-oriented artist. By transforming 鐵閘 tit3 jaahp6 or “iron roll-down shop shutters” into works of art, she hopes to bring colour into the neighbourhood and to record for posterity the fine details of life in older districts in Hong Kong, places so vulnerable to eventual redevelopment.

There is nothing monstrously difficult in this presentation, and I think you will appreciate the clarity with which the Now reporter 周駿易 Chow Chun-yee speaks, but there are a few points worthy of attention. The first concerns the verb 俾 béi2. This commonly means “to give”, but it also doubles up as a colloquial version of 讓 yeuhng6 = “to let; to enable”. And so at 4:30 in 俾一啲苦苦經營嘅店主 | 一個堅持做落去嘅理由 = “to give the shopkeepers who worked so hard managing their stores a reason to keep on going”, 俾 béi2 means “to give”. However, in a phrase like 起碼俾人知道個歷史故事係點樣 at 1:10, the meaning is “at least to let people know what the history (of the shop) was”. Other examples of this second meaning appear in 問佢有冇興趣 | 俾畫家喺佢嘅鐵閘上面創造 (0:50) and 擺喺呢個鐵閘面前俾啲街坊認識一下 (1:58). Obviously, the presence of a second verb after 俾 béi2 is a good indicator that that this second meaning is in play.

There are also numerous instances of two very interesting aspect markers, 嗮 saai3 and 翻 fāan1. 嗮 offers a very neat way of expressing ideas such as “wholly” or “fully”. Listen out for:

2:28: 拉嗮閘嘅時候畫
3:58: 插畫都畫嗮、倒瀉嗮喺度
4: 15: 好俾心機去將自己觀察到嘅 | 鍾意嘅都放嗮入面

As for 翻 fāan1, it is always fascinating to come across new examples of how this works in Cantonese. Yes, sometimes the meaning is a simple “back” or “again”, but sometimes more subtle nuances are at work. In 用個新嘅角度去睇翻自己嘅鋪頭 (4:50), for example, the aspect marker seems to suggest “again, in a new way”. Note that in the case of 剩翻 at 2:45, this is virtually a fixed expression meaning “to be left (over); to remain”, although 剩低 is also heard.

The video is rich in vocabulary, including the four-character expression 碩果僅存 sehk6 gwó2 gán2 chyùhn4 = “a rare survival”, last encountered in the RTHK video with 劉彥芹 Anthony Lau Yin-Kun on Hong Kong newts (以前嗰啲樹林差唔多斬嗮嘅時候呢 | 佢都可以碩果僅存呀). There’s also an instance each of the very Cantonese verbs 鎅 (or 𠝹) gaai3 = “to cut” and 甩色 lāt sīk = to fade (of colour). Other treasures include: 内街 noih6 gāai1 = (?) back streets; 交棒 gāau1 páahng5 = (?) to pass on the baton; to hand sth. on to (a successor); 後輩 hauh6 bui3 = ① the younger generation ② posterity; 間尺 gaan3 chék3*2= a ruler ; 筆直 bāt1 jihk6 = perfectly straight; straight as a ramrod; 草圖 chóu2 tòuh4 = a (rough) sketch; a draft; 漏夜 lauh6 yeh6 = the dead of night; 俾心機 béi2 sām1 gēi1 = to devote oneself to doing; to put energy into doing; 立體空間 lahp6 tái2 hūng1 gāan1 = (?) a three-dimensional space . . . I better stop here. It’s making me giddy!

Please scroll down for my transcription (again, it’s a bit gappy in places), English translation and notes. You can view the video here (subtitles in Standard Written Chinese only). Since it is a YouTube video, you can slow down the playback speed if you wish: at 0.75 and 0.5, the sound quality is still good. And remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.

WordPress for some reason has added a bit of colour to the Chinese text in this post. I’m not sure why this is and, so far, I have been able to fix the problem, but let it be a tribute to 慧惠 Wai Wai, a great believer in colour!


Caption: 舊區新潮 | An Old District, A New Current

旁白:由嘈雜鬧市轉入内街 | 行入砵蘭街 | 再去到上海街 | 會發現另一種嘅城市風景 | 即使係日頭,呢一度都唔算好熱鬧 | 街道上經營嘅,有唔少 | 係碩果僅存嘅傳統小店 | 好似呢一間玻璃店 | 就有四十年嘅歷史 | 已經交棒去到第二代 | 多年手藝不變 | 除日常嘅營運之外 | 接班人亦都希望 | 對老店嘅保育做多一工作 | 喺幾年前,有人嚟到鋪頭 | 問有冇興趣 | 畫家喺佢嘅鐵閘上面創造 | 佢覺得好新奇,於是就即刻應承咗

● 内街 noih6 gāai1 = (?) back streets | ● 砵蘭街 būt3*1 làahn4 gāai1 = Portland Street | ● 日頭 yaht6 táu4*2 = daytime | ● 碩果僅存 sehk6 gwó2 gán2 chyùhn4 = a rare survival | ● 交棒 gāau1 páahng5 = (?) to pass on the baton; to hand sth. on to (a successor) | ● 營運 yìhng4 wahn6 = to operate | ● 接班人jip3 bāan1 yàhn4 = a successor | ● 應承 yīng1 sìhng4 = to agree to do sth.; to promise; to consent

Voice-over: Turn into the back streets from the noisy commotion of the bustling city, walk into Portland Street and then go on to Shanghai Street and you will discover a different kind of urban landscape. Even though it is daytime, it’s not particularly busy here. What operates on [these] streets are some rare survivals — quite a number of traditional-style small shops. A glazer’s shop like this has been in business for 40 years [有四十年嘅歷史] and the baton has already been handed on to the next generation. In all those years, the craft has not altered. Apart from [continuing] its everyday operations, the people who have taken it over hope to do a bit of work to preserve the store. Several years ago, someone came into the shop and asked if they were interested in having an artist create a painting on their roll-down iron shutter [鐵閘]. His curiosity piqued, he agreed [to the idea] at once.

Caption: 陳永建:同利玻璃負責人 | Chan Wing-kin, Person in Charge of Tong Lee Glass

陳永建:始終我呢啲【1:00】,呃,畫嘅畫 // 都係 // 比較舊式啲嘅鋪頭 | 其實就我諗 | 都會越嚟越少喇 | 畫幅畫 // 紀念一下 | 我哋做嘅嘢咁樣 | 將來起碼都同我哋後輩講我哋做過啲乜嘢咁樣 | 都起碼俾人知道個歷史故事係點樣呀

● 後輩 hauh6 bui3 = ① the younger generation ② posterity

Chan Wing-kin: All along these places that had paintings done were all  relatively older-style shops. In fact, I thought, [shops like this] will become fewer and fewer. Getting a picture painted is a way of commemorating what we do. In the days to come, it will at least speak to the younger generation about the work we did, and at the very least tell people some stories from history.

旁白:鐵閘畫係由畫家慧惠所創作 | 所呈現嘅,係玻璃店 | 兩個老師傅日常嘅工作情況

● 呈現 chìhng4 yihn6 = to present (a certain appearance); to emerge

Voice-over: [The] iron-shutter painting was created by the painter Wai Wai. What it shows is the everyday work [工作情況] of Tong Lee Glass’ two old master-workers.

慧惠:例如一日 [佢係] 喺度鎅玻璃 | 就好似 // 鐵閘見到嘅一幕咁樣 [啦] | 佢哋用一枝火水筆咁再加埋一把間尺 | 用啲最基本簡單嘅工具 | 就可以將一塊睇落去好似,呃,好 . . . 比較硬嘅玻璃 | 咁樣一拉一條,咁一拍 | 咁樣就可以將玻璃好筆直咁樣 | 一分為二 | 我覺得個過程好神奇呀 | 噉所以就希望將呢一個工序 | 擺喺呢個鐵閘面前俾啲街坊【2:00】認識一下

● 幕 mohk6 = an act; a scene | ● 火水筆 fó2 séui2 bāt1 = (?) a tool used to cut glass lit. 火水 = kerosene/paraffin + 筆 = pen | ● 間尺 gaan3 chék3*2= a ruler | ● 筆直 bāt1 jihk6 = perfectly straight; straight as a ramrod | ● 一分為二 yāt1 fān1 wàih4 yih6 = to divide one (thing) into two (pieces) | ● 神奇 sàhn4 kèih4 = magical; mystical; miraculous | ● 工序 guūng1 jeuih6 = a working procedure; a process

Wai Wai: For instance, one day he was cutting glass like the scene [幕] [depicted] on the iron shutter. Using a glass-cutting tool [火水筆] and a ruler — the most rudimentary of tools — they can break a piece of glass in two, perfectly straight, with the drawing of a line and a quick tap [咁一拍], glass that seems really quite hard. To me, the process is really magical. For this reason, [I] hoped that putting this part of [their] work on the iron shutter to let the locals learn something [俾啲街坊認識一下] [about what goes on in the shop].

旁白:老師傅嘅手藝固然值得欣賞 | 而喺藝術家嘅眼中 | 佢哋每一個工序都會成爲咗 | 創作社區藝術嘅靈感 | 不過要將一道陳舊嘅灰色鐵閘 |變成藝術品 | 過程起碼要一個星期 | 畫家要首先構思好草圖 | 獲得商鋪嘅負責人同意之後 | 先至可以漏夜趕工

● 手藝 sáu2 ngaih6 = craftmanship; workmanship | ● 固然 gu3 yìhn4 = of course; admittedly | ● 陳舊 chàhn4 gauh6 = outmoded; obsolete; old-fashioned; out-of-date | ● 構思 kau3 sī1 = to work out the composition of a painting | ● 草圖 chóu2 tòuh4 = a (rough) sketch; a draft | ● 漏夜 lauh6 yeh6 = the dead of night | ● 趕工 gón2 gūng1 = (?) to hurry to finish the work

Voice-over: Of course, the work-skills of old master-workers’ are worthy of admiration and, in the eyes of the artist, every part of their working procedure can become inspiration for the creation of community art [社區藝術]. However, the process of turning a grey, old-fashioned shutter screen into a work of art takes at least a week. First of all, the artist has to work out a sketch of the design [草圖] and, only when the person in charge of the shop has agreed, can she set to work in the dead of night to hurry to finish the work.

慧惠:我哋就要趁鋪頭閂門嘅時候拉閘嘅時候畫 | 噉先唔會阻住 // 生意嘅 | 噉第一晚我就首先用個投影機啦 | 呃,投射落去個鐵閘度 [呢],將個稿 | 噉完成咗線稿之後 | 第二晚就做啲基本嘅嘢 | 噴 [個] 底色呀,呃,上啲基本嘅色呀 | 噉再之後剩翻嘅兩晚就畫啲細節呀 | 寫翻少少嘅文字 | 描述關於個鐵閘呀,咁樣就完成喇

● 投影機 tàuh4 yíng2 gēi1 = (?) projector | ● 投射 tàuh4 sèh4 = to project; to cast | ● 稿 góu2 = a draft; a sketch | ● 線稿 sin3 góu2 = (?) a line drawing; an outline cf. 線 = a line + 稿 = a sketch | ● 噴 pan3 = to spray | ● 底色 dái2 sīk1 = an undercoat | ● 上(色)séuhng5 sīk1 = (?) to add/apply colour

Wai Wai: We paint when the store is closed and when the shutter screen has been pulled right down [拉嗮閘]. It’s only by doing it this way that we [avoid] [UNCLEAR] disrupting business. The first night, we use a projector to project a draft image onto the shutter screen. When the line drawing is finished, on the second we do certain basic things [啲基本嘅嘢], spraying on the undercoat UNCLEAR and applying the basic colours. On the remaining nights after that, we paint in the details, and add in the written words describing something about the screen. After that, it’s completed.

旁白:同一般嘅畫作唔同 | 鐵閘畫要經歷風吹雨打 | 唔經常洗閘【3:00】會封塵 | 洗得多又會甩色 | 所以需要定期修葺 | 先至可以無間斷咁發揮到 | 社區藝術品嘅功能

● 畫作 waahk6 jok3 = painting | ● 經歷 gīng1 lihk6 = to go through; to undergo; to experience | ● 風吹雨打 fūng1 chēui1 yúh5 dáa2 = roughly, “weathered by the wind and the rain” | ● 封塵 fūng1 chàhn4 = (?) to be covered in dust cf. 封 = to seal up + 塵 = dust | ● 甩色 lāt sīk = to fade (of colour) | ● 修葺 sāu1 chāp1 = to repair; to renovate | ● 無間斷 mòuh4 gaan3 dyuhn6 = roughly, “without interruption” | ● 發揮 faat3 fāi1 = to bring into play; to give play to

Voice-over: Unlike ordinary painting, shutter screen painting is subject to the effects of wind and rain [風吹雨打]. Unless it is constantly cleaned, the painting will become covered over in dust. But excessive washing makes the colours fade. For this reason, maintenance [修葺] is necessary at regular intervals. Only then can it exercise its function as community art without any interruption.

慧惠:呢啲老區好多時 | 一間小店,一鐵閘 | 日頭就好,好有生氣啦 | 噉夜晚,噉拉嗮閘起嚟 | 如果有一幅嘅鐵閘畫喺度 | 咁真係會令到成個區呢,色彩都會繽紛咗喇 | 同埋可能有一啲街坊喺夜晚先會喺街道行嘅 | 噉都可以透過個鐵閘嘅畫 | 會了解到個鋪頭做一啲 [工作]

● 生氣 sāang1 hei3 = life; vitality | ● 色彩 sīk1 chói2 = colour; hue | ● 繽紛 bān1 fān1 = in riotous . . .; a profusion of

Wai Wai: Much of the time, these shop owners [老區] have one shop with one shutter screen. During the day, [the shop] is busting with activity. At night, when the shutter is pulled out to its full extent [啦嗮閘起嚟], if it has a painting on it, then it can make the whole district full of colour. In addition, there are probably some local people who only come out into the streets at night. Thanks to [透過] the screen shutter paintings, they can get an idea about what kind of work the shops do.

旁白:自細喺油尖旺長大嘅慧惠 | 大學畢業 [之後] 冇耐 | 就成爲咗全職嘅插畫家 | 佢嘅作品有好多都同呢一個舊區有關 | 甚至出版過一本畫集 | 以油麻地度做主題 | 記錄區内一點一滴嘅變化

● 油尖旺 Yàuh4 Jīm1 Wohng6 = Yau Tsim Mong, a convenient way of referring to the area embracing Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui & Mong Kok | ● 全職 chyùhn4 jīk1 = full-time | ● 插畫家 chaap3 wáa2 gāa1 = an illustrator | ● 畫集 wáa2 jaahp6 = a collection of paintings (presented in book-form)

Voice-over: Wai Wai, who grew up in the area embracing Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui & Mong Kok, became a full-time illustrator not long after. Many of her works have a connection with this old area. She has even published a folio of paintings dealing with Yau Ma Tei, a record of some of the changes [that have taken place] within it.

慧惠:呢本《給油麻地的情書》呢 | 做有關街坊同小店嘅訪問呀 | 插畫都畫嗮、[倒瀉] 嗮喺度喇 【4:00】| 畫嘅時候,冇諗過 | 有一啲地方已經過兩年幾 | 已經冇咗 | 有好多嘢都好似留唔住位呀 | // 要放喺本書入面 | 噉所以都好慶幸自己 | 嗰陣時*gonsi 好俾心機去將自己觀察到嘅 | 鍾意嘅都放嗮入面呀

● 慶幸 hing3 hahng6 = to rejoice; to congratulate oneself | ● 俾心機 béi2 sām1 gēi1 = to devote oneself to doing; to put energy into doing

Wai Wai: [In] this book Love-letter to Yau Ma Tei, I went and talked to locals and the small shops [in the area], then put it all into the illustrations, I poured it (?) all into them. While I was doing the illustrations, it never occurred to me that some of the places [I painted] would disappear within a couple of years or so. There are so many things, it seems, that you just can’t hold on to (?) so you have to put them into a book. For this reason, I rejoice in the fact that at that time I devoted so much energy into putting all the things I had observed and all the things I liked into [the book].

旁白:佢話,用插畫嘅方式 | 嚟到記錄小店嘅經營風貌 | 讀者可以認識到一啲 | 可能會失傳嘅手藝之餘 | 亦都俾一啲苦苦經營嘅店主 | 一個堅持做落去嘅理由 | 最終都希望可以做到社區保育

● 經營 gīng1 yìhng4 = to manage; to run | ● 風貌 fūng1 maauh6 = style & features | ● 失傳 sāt1 chyùhn4 = not be handed down from past generations; be lost | ● 店主 dim3 jyú2 = a shopkeeper | ● 理由 léih5 yàuh4 = a reason; a ground; an argument | ● 保育 bóu2 yuhk6 = to preserve

Voice-over: She said that by using illustrations to record the management style and features of small shops readers would get to learn a little about lost handicrafts. In addition, the shopkeepers who worked so hard to manage their stores would be given a reason to keep on going. Ultimately, [she] also hopes to work for the preservation of the district.

慧惠:多數對老店佢哋就好多時係被人影相多 | 噉用畫畫做一個媒介呢 | [可以] 由一個佢哋每日都面對住嘅立體空間 | 變 [一種] 嘅平面嘅畫嘅時候呢 | 佢哋就好似用個新嘅角度去睇翻自己嘅鋪頭 | 噉然後當佢哋睇翻自己鋪頭嘅時候 | 有時佢哋嘅俾我嘅反應 | 就係「哦,原來我間鋪頭咁靚【5:00】| 因爲我都唔知

● 媒介 mùih4 gaai3 = an intermediary; a medium | ● 立體空間 lahp6 tái2 hūng1 gāan1 = (?) a three-dimensional space | ● 平面 pìhng4 mín6*2 = a plane; a flat surface

Wai Wai: Mostly, the old shops are photographed most of the time. Using the medium of painting, when the three-dimensional space [the shopkeepers] deal with on a daily basis becomes a painted flat surface [一個平面嘅畫], it’s as if they are seeing their own shop from a new angle. Then, when they seen their own store [in this way], sometimes they give me a reaction, saying “Oh, [as it turns out] my shop is so beautiful. I never realized that”.

旁白:透過藝術推動社區保育 | 做法得到好多人嘅認同 | 佢亦都嘗試將創作 | 帶入唔同嘅場景 | 例如喺餐廳度畫粉筆畫 | 仲有呢一幅 | 喺上海街商場嘅大型壁畫

● 推動 tēui1 duhng6 = to push forward; to promote | ● 場景 chèuhng4 gíng2 = a scene; a sight | ● 粉筆畫 fán2 bāt1 wáa2 = roughly, “a chalk picture” | ● 壁畫 bīk1 wáa = a mural; a fresco

Voice-over: Using art to promote the preservation of a district is a way of doing things that many people approve of. She has also attempted to bring creativity into different spaces [場景], an example being a chalk drawing made in a cha chan teng restaurant. Then there is this large-scale mural, painted in the shopping centre on Shanghai Street.

慧惠:幅壁畫裏面呢,有一啲人仔喺度啦 | 有一啲係學生 | 有啲係,係街道流連緊嘅阿叔 | 噉有啲就係個做嘢嘅工作人員咁樣呀 | 就希望透過啲公衆喺個壁畫上面發掘嘅細節呢 | 就可以到當年佢哋啲人係點樣生活 | 噉從而懷緬也好呀 | 呃,分享翻自己嘅故事也好呀 | 噉都希望多啲互動

● 流連 làuh4 lihn6 = usu. “to linger”; perhaps in this context “to hang around” | ● 阿叔 aa3 sūk1 = roughly, “a man of one’s father’s age” | ● 發掘 faat3 gwaht6 = to excavate; to unearth; to explore | ● 懷緬 wàaih4 míhn5 = (?) to cherish the memory of; to recall with fondness (used for past events rather than people or places) | ● 互動wuh6 duhng6 = interactive

Wai Wai: In the mural, there are a few little figures [一啲人仔] — some are students, some are men hanging around in the street, and then some of them are workers. The hope is that, by means of details explored [發掘] in this public mural, one can find how people lived in those years, thereby fondly recalling past events in you like, or [as a prompt to] sharing you own stories. There hope too is for more interaction.

旁白:而家佢已經搬離油尖旺區 | 轉到去屯門居住 | 雖然要重新適應生活圈子 | 但係佢亦都不忘 | 繼續將藝術元素注入社區 | 經常會就地取材咁,利用風景寫生【6:00】 | 又會同學校合作開辦興趣班 | 親自帶學生參與鐵閘畫嘅創作等等 | 佢相信藝術嘅靈感係源自於生活 | 必須鼓勵新一代關心社區嘅細節

● 搬離 būn1 lèih4 = roughly, “to move away (from a place)” | ● 居住 gēui1 jyuh6 = to live; to reside; to dwell | ● 生活圈子 sāng wuht6 hyūn1 jí2 = roughly, “the circles in which one moves” (lit. “life circle”) | ● 藝術元素 ngaih6 seuht6 yùhn4 sou3 = an artistic element | ● 注入 jyu3 yahp6 = to pour into; to empty into | ● 就地 jauh6 deih6 = usu. “on the spot”; perhaps “from the place one happens to be in” | ● 取材 chéui2 chòih4 = to draw materials; to make use of materials (often used in a creative context) | ● 開辦 hōi1 baahn6 = to open; to set up; to start | ● 興趣班 hing3 cheui3 bāan1 = (?) interest class | ● 親自 chān1 jih6 = personally; in person; oneself

Voice-over: She has moved away from the Yau Tsim Mong district, and now lives in Tuen Mun. Although she has to adjust to a new living environment [生活圈子], she has not forgotten about infusing [注入] the district with artistic elements. She is always gathering material from her new home [就地], and sketching the [local] scenery. She also works with schools to organize interest classes, and personally works with students in the creation of shutter-screen paintings. She believes that the inspiration for art comes from life, and that the next generation must be encouraged to be concerned about the details of the place they live in [社區嘅細節].

慧惠:噉我都希望學生由去讀書嘅時候已經開始認識同埋了解 [呢],社區 | 或者喺邊度值得去記錄呀 | 當佢哋有呢一個觸覺,自小有呢一個觸覺嘅時候 | 咁我相信佢哋去到將來決定做邊一個行業 | 就算唔係關於藝術創作嘅行業呢 | 我相信佢哋會帶呢一種對社會嘅關心 | 社區嘅關心 | 去佢哋自己 [嗰個] 工作嘅範疇裏面 | 會令到成個香港都會有多啲愛

● 觸覺 jūk1 gok3 = tactile sensation; sense of touch | ● 行業 hòhng4 yihp6 = a trade; a profession; an industry | ● 範疇 faahn6 chàuh4 = a category; a domain

Wai Wai:I hope then when students are going to school, they are already beginning to get to know and to understand their local community [社區], or which parts of it are worth recording. When they acquire [有] this touch [觸覺], when they have this touch from an early age, then I believe that when in the future they come to choose a profession — even if it is one that has nothing to do with [唔關於] artistic creativity — they will, I believe, bring a concern for society and for their local community into the domain of their own [field of] work, and increase the amount of love in the whole of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong: Once in a Million Years

For the past two years, Hong Kong has been repeatedly in the international spotlight. A decisive clash between civilizations is the main reason for such world interest, the Chinese desperate to make good the wrongs done to it by the British Empire in the nineteenth century, while Western nations strive to preserve a remnant of threatened democracy. But I think something else ― and potentially far more important ― is ultimately at stake.

In February this year, Hong Kong’s Stand News produced a video entitled “If Today is the Last Day of Freedom” [假如這是自由的最後一天], about a number of dangerous “criminals” facing a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. It begins with 24-year-old 鄒家成 Owen Chow, who uses his last free day to see a movie and get a new tattoo ― “If I’m put away, maybe sometimes I won’t be in control of my feelings, . . . Perhaps seeing this [tattoo] will calm me down a bit”. There’s 岑子傑 Jimmy Shum, who rolls his own cigarettes and wears rainbow shoelaces in his boots. There’s 袁嘉蔚 Tiffany Yuen, shown hugging her life-size Buzz Lightyear doll in anticipation of the loss of such comforts should she be taken into custody immediately. And then there’s 呂智恆 Hendrick Lui, one of the few individuals to be granted bail. Ironically, we see him at work on the street, encouraging passers-by to write letters to other Hong Kong democracy activists already behind bars.

These individuals are just a few of the 53 people arrested on 6 January for allegedly “conspiring to commit subversion”, a grave violation of the new National Security Law. Of these, some were released, while 47 were granted bail and told to report to their local police station on 8 April. However, at the end of February, they were contacted to report to police five weeks earlier than originally scheduled. They then appeared in court on the same day and, after a protracted hearing, most of them were denied bail and were taken into custody. At the time of writing, they are still in detention awaiting trial, scheduled now for November.

What was their offence? They had all taken part in peaceful and perfectly legal primary elections in July 2020 in an attempt to identify the strongest candidates for the Legislative Council elections planned for later in the year.

When Hong Kong reverted to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, it was written into the Basic Law of the Territory that gradual progress would be made towards granting Hongkongers the right to elect their own law-makers and even eventually their Chief Executive. However, a counterfeit system was put in place that meant most members of the legislative council were not directly elected, and that made it virtually impossible for pan-democrats to gain a majority anyway. Nevertheless, after the Million-people Protest March of 9 June 2019 and the months of demonstrations that followed, supporters of Hong Kong democracy scored a massive victory in the November 2019 district elections, and at that point a pro-democratic majority in the Legislative Council became practically thinkable. For this reason, not long after, the National Security Law was enacted and democracy was effectively criminalized. The promise of universal suffrage ― so long flouted and frustrated ― was finally openly broken.

The response from supporters of Hong Kong democracy was summed up by the writer 鄧小樺 Tang Siu Wa ― currently Chief Curator of the House of Hong Kong Literature ― who said in a video interview with Vision Times:

I hope that the international community will be able to make the Chinese people ― and make China as a whole ― regain some respect for what it means to make a promise. “One Country, Two Systems” is an international promise. Supposedly, it is a solemn promise. If a promise is being ripped to shreds, this can’t happen without any consequences, there ought to be consequences. Then all of us, [working] together, should make the people who broke their promise face up to the consequences. That’s how it ought to be.

Have you ever wondered what Hong Kong truly is? On my first trip there in 1998, my head was already filled with the usual misconceptions. The glossy Baedeker I bought to guide me on my journey only helped to cement the stereotypes: Victoria Harbour with its sky-scraping corporate architecture, and the shops of Kowloon, crowded ― just as Ainslie Meares once described it ― with groups of “jabbering tourists on their world cruise bent on buying junk”. Nothing could have been further from the truth. My small flat in the village of Cheung Shue Tan was just down the road from the pristine mountain streams and abundant wildlife of the Tai Po Kau nature reserve, and within easily travelling distance of the Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple in Sha Tin, where the gold-coated “diamond body” of its founder, Reverend Yuet-kai, can be seen in its glass case on the altar. Without realizing what was happening, I gradually came under the spell of the “Hong Kong Effect”.

I’ve spent the last ten years trying to clarify this phenomenon as it affects people from English-speaking countries. In a book called Hong Kong: A Moment in Time (1997), there’s a collection of one-line explanations gathered from many sources. For some people, the appeal is primarily energetic, and expressed in formulae such as “Hong Kong is all about living life to the full ― work hard, play hard, make money, spend money, nothing in moderation”. This view is often supported with evidence from fung shui, according to which the flows of ch’i concentrated in the Territory infuse this little corner with energy and vitality to a degree which perhaps nowhere else in China possesses, as Richard Gee puts it.

Other explanations build on this, suggesting the laissez-faire business attitude of the Chinese colony leads to a high degree of social autonomy which is remarkably enabling: “A unique, multi-national pin prick on the map which gives everybody a chance in life”. In some cases, Hong Kong even manages to transform people entirely, leading them to an identity they could have never have imagined for themselves back home. Take Gregory Rivers from Gympie in Queensland, who fell in love with Cantonese pop music while studying at the University of New South Wales. Eventually, he abandoned his medical degree and came to Hong Kong on a one-way ticket in 1987. He remains there to this day, having reinvented himself as 河國榮 Ho Kwok-wing, actor, singer and fluent Cantonese-speaker.

However, I think the most promising answer to the riddle is the following cryptic statement: “Hong Kong is a privilege of the twentieth century”. Privilege? Light is shed on this by 莫華德 Barbara Ward, another individual miraculously transmuted by Hong Kong. In Chinese Festivals, a book she worked on with the photographer 羅美娜Joan Law Mee Nar, she points out that contemporary, industrialised Hong Kong is also a centre of flourishing Chinese traditionalism, where the spectacular festival activities forbidden in mainland China ― including celebrations of the birthdays of the Sea Goddess Tin Hau and the Buddhist goddess of Mercy, Goon Yam ― unexpectedly live on. It may be that the profound stability of the Chinese ritual cycle facilitates Hong Kong’s high-degree of creativity, innovation and resilience, providing an optimal channel for social, environmental and technological change to happen without excessive turmoil or dislocation.

But there’s more to it than this conjunction of authentic tradition and sophisticated modernity. Another facet of Hong Kong’s privilege is that it has managed to fuse ― over more than 150 years of continuous effort ― two great but vastly different cultures. An enormous price has been paid for this in terms of human suffering, social injustice, and great divisions of wealth, opportunity and wellbeing, but the resulting hybrid is a priceless treasure, something both Eastern and Western, and at the same time neither Chinese nor Anglo-European ― an entity unique in the history of the world. To me, it is an attempt to imagine what the future could look like, beyond the self-enclosed, nation-obsessed, toxically “patriotic” states that most of us find ourselves caught up in today.

As Jan Morris reminded us in her 1998 book Hong Kong/Xiangang, China’s loss of territory to England as a result of the Opium Wars was utterly devastating. The then emperor Dao Guang, she writes, “was seen by courtiers, incredulously wandering his palace in the night, murmuring ‘impossible, impossible’, and repeatedly sighing”. Dao Guang’s lament continues to resonate loudly in the Chinese psyche, and is perfectly audible now in the People’s Republic of China. Yet, reasonable as they might seem, such claims to lost territory are questionable. The Hong Kong journalist 陳寳珣 Chan Bou-seun puts them into perspective in his novel Love Song for a Sinking Island [沒島戀曲] (2015):

Some said that Ah Cho had left Hong Kong and gone to Europe somewhere, and that he had changed his field of research to the sovereignty of nations and the constitution. He was writing a thesis on the subject of the creation and break-up of ancient Rome, with the purpose of looking into the legal principles behind why Italy did not announce that much of Europe and the Middle East was its own innate territory on the basis of the fact that these places had once been part of the Roman Empire. Over the course of history, in Europe, the Middle East and in Turkey, a succession of empires had emerged straddling a number of regions, and they had all ruled for many centuries. Why didn’t they go on carrying the historical burden of a unified nation and insist on revitalizing the territory of a Greece, a Rome, or an Ottoman Empire, instead of choosing the way of break-up and self-rule?

Here Chan suggests that the move towards “revitalization” is both imperialistic and anachronistic, for history has already shown that the time for empires is over. What 鄒家成 Owen Chow had tattooed on his right inner forearm on his last free day was the mantra Om mani padme hum in Tibetan script, a prayer for enlightenment and the cultivation of a new way of being. Rather than yearn for the past, let us continue to pray forwards for Hong Kong, neither “country” nor “system”, just an inspiring social possibility for the future that perhaps only comes to us once in a million years.


It’s the answer to all our questions,
to all our deep, dearest swerves.
The annihilations we called
duty, pleasure were — in the long run —
only annihilations.
All along, all along,
we were locked from the best of our cells.
We practised book-keeping
when we should have been breath-taking;
when there was time to take stock;
damming and dreaming
when all we were asked to perform
was a dance from that part of ourselves
awake in uncancellable rhythms.

From Unlight to Sunlight

Photo by Bella White on

You never stay long in the same moment.
Anything — remotely — you have ever once been
finds a way back through memory, briefly re-
joined. Time — seamless and without fixture —
somehow sediments itself into graver-denser mixtures
the richness of which becomes easily beyond bearing.
You seafare to the Sun and the Moon’s GLOWMOTION
towards the shifting heart of this exponentially widening ocean
(trackless unharbour of a sum total absence of harbours)
and what keeps you sane at the end of the day
at the end of sanity’s bare edge
is the simplest of prayers whispered all along the full length
of your each and every out-breath,
unpious and without demands:
Thank you.

Learning Cantonese: Chu Man on the Death of Socrates & the Unexamined Life

I transcribed 豬文 Chu Man’s lively “On Hating and Despising Philosophy” back in April, and have been working on other videos by him since then, including his 2019 TEDx talk on Socrates’ maxim 「未經反省嘅人生,係不值得活嘅」 [“An unexamined life is not worth living”]. At a time in which individual freedoms in Hong Kong are under unprecedented threat, it is wonderful to be reminded that, without critical reflection on the life you lead, there is a danger that you will end up leading not your own but someone else’s idea of what your life should be.

The great difficulty with this piece is the absence of any subtitles. I have done my best, but have been unable to fill in all the gaps. Fortunately, for the most part, the context makes it pretty clear what Chu Man is driving at.

Actually, Chu Man is the nickname of 鄺雋文 K[w]ong3 Jeun3 Màhn4 or Chun Man Kwong, a doctoral student at Oxford University who is committed to bringing philosophy to the people. It occurred to me that you might think of him as “Piglitt” in English, since 豬 jyū1 = pig and 文 màhn4 = “literature; writing” . . . As for the character 雋 jeun3 in his real name, that means “unusually talented”.

There are no real gems of Cantonese grammar in the extract I have chosen, but there are a couple of uses of the 咪 . . . 囉 structure to indicate an obvious conclusion (Yip and Matthews in Intermediate Cantonese, Unit 23). So, at 7:20 you’ll hear 開開心心咪得囉 = “it’s ok to be happy”, while at 8:37 the speaker says 就算你要反對呢個哲學反省,你反對嘅時候,咪就係做緊哲學反省囉 = that is being engaged in philosophical reflection.

There is plenty of good vocabulary in the extract, including: 保持警覺 bóu2 chìh4 gíng2 gok3 = to stay/remain alert; 順勢 seuhn6 sai3 = take advantage of an opportunity; 預設 yuh6 chit3 = (?) to presuppose; 自主性 jih6 jyú2 sing3 = roughly, “the quality of deciding for oneself” or “initiative”; 嚴格嚟講 yìhm4 gaak3 lèih4 góng2 = strictly speaking; 打個譬如 dáa2 go3 pei3 yùh4 = to give an example; 高薪厚職 gōu1 sān1 háuh5 jīk1 = a high salary & a substantial position | ● 成世人 sèhng4 sai3 yàhn4 = one’s whole life; an entire lifetime; ● 雙向 sēung1 heung3 = two-way.

Please scroll down for my transcription, English translation and notes. You can view the video here (remember: there are no subtitles). Since it is a YouTube video, you can slow down the playback speed if you wish: at 0.75 and 0.5, the sound quality is still good. And remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.


【4:11】噉其實蘇格拉底呢,係有機會唔使死嘅 | 噉只要佢認罪呢,嗰個雅典嗰啲法官呀,或者嗰啲權力人士就「哦,哦放逐你得㗎喇。唔使驚,唔使死呀。」| 但蘇格拉底講咩呢?佢就話「如果你哋呢班人,啫,按公義去審判嘅,唔單止我唔使死同埋放逐,你哋更加應該請我食飯 ,佢係咁講 | 點解呢? | 因為蘇格拉底自比呢,自己係一隻牛虻 | 一隻牛身上嘅小昆蟲 | 不斷叮住雅典呢隻牛 | 睇落好似又煩又乞人憎又無用咁,但其實佢有一個功能 | 佢令到呢隻牛不斷保持警覺 | 所以因為佢呢種追問同埋批評嘅精神其實係服務緊【5:00】個社會呀 | 所以雅典政府應該請請佢食飯

● 放逐 fong3 juhk6 = to send into exile; to exile; to banish | ● 牛虻 [ng]àuh4 mòhng4 (?) = gadfly | ● 叮dēng1 = to sting; to bite | ● 保持警覺 bóu2 chìh4 gíng2 gok3 = to stay/remain alert

In actual fact, Socrates was given a chance [which meant] he didn’t have to die. Had he accepted the charges made against him, those Athenian judges or those in power [would have said]: “Oh, banishing you is enough. You have nothing to fear. You don’t have to die”. What did Socrates say to that? He said: “If you lot had tried [me] according to justice, there would have been no need for me to die or to go into exile — in fact, you would have treated me to a meal”. That’s what he said. Why? Because Socrates compared himself to a gadfly, a small insect [found] on the body of a cow, constantly biting the Cow that was Athens. By the looks of it irritating, hateful and of no practical use [無用], he nevertheless had a function: he forced [令到] the cow to stay constantly alert. For this reason, because of this questioning and critical spirit of his, he was actually serving his society. And so the Athenian government should have treated him to a meal.

噉我做一個讀哲學嘅人,其實蘇格拉底好多哲學理論或者立場我都唔係好認同,但係淨係呢點呢,我係一路都好認同嘅 | 所以 *so 一路都等緊呢個政府出翻糧俾我或者請我食飯,俾錢我去讀哲學嘅 | 噉蘇格拉底認爲呢,呢種批判嘅精神呢,唔單止係對個社會有用 | 佢覺得呢,更加係人人都應該做嘅嘢 | 佢嘅名言嘅係一個自辯入便,啫,佢審判嘅時候為咗辯護有個名言嘅,就係呢句 | 佢話「未經反省嘅人生呢,係不值得活嘅」| 噉呢個係佢自辯一個名言,亦都係影響[到] 後世最多嘅説話 | 噉正如蘇格拉底自己呢,佢都唔會因為嗰啲專家嘅身份就亂信仰 | 我哋都唔應該因為蘇格拉底係一個偉大嘅哲學家就順勢講嘢㗎嘛 | 噉所以 *so 我哋都應該問清楚,究竟未經反省嘅人生,係咪真係不值得活嘅呢?【6:00】| 「係」嘅話,理由又喺邊度呢?

● 出糧 chēut1 lèuhng4 = to pay a salary | ● 名言 mìhng4 yìhn4 = a well-known saying; a celebrated dictum; a famous remark | ● 自辯 jih6 bihn6 = (?) to argue in self-defence | ● 後世 hauh6 sai3 = ① later ages ② later generations | ● 順勢 seuhn6 sai3 = take advantage of an opportunity | ● 理由 léih5 yàuh4 = a reason; a ground; an argument

As a student of philosophy, in actual fact I don’t really approve of [我都唔係好認同] many of Socrates’ philosophical theories or standpoints, but I have always approved of this one point. For this reason, I am waiting for this government to pay me a wage or treat me to a meal, and to pay me to study philosophy. Now, Socrates believed that this critical spirit is not only useful to society but that it was something each and every individual should do. In his self-defence, [he said something that has become] a well-known saying, a well-known saying that he used while defending himself during the trial: “An unexamined life is not worth living”. This celebrated dictum used by Socrates in self-defence and the remark has had the most influence on later ages. Now like Socrates himself, who stated that he wouldn’t rashly believe in [亂信仰] something just because of the status of those experts, we too ought not simply take his words at face-value [順勢講嘢] just because the man was a great philosopher. And so we have to be clear about whether the unexamined life really is not worth living, and if it is, what [邊度] the reason for it is.

噉嚟緊厘短短嘅幾分鐘,我哋就嘗試一齊扮吓蘇格拉底,質問翻蘇格拉底自己 | 係咪真嘅呢?| 噉啊我曾經喺課堂上邊都同啲學生討論過呢個故仔或者討論過呢個諗法嘅 | 噉啊不如大家估吓,我嘅學生係支持厘個説話多定係 *dei 反對嘅多?. . .

● 嚟緊 lèih4 gán2 = coming | ● 課堂 fo3 tòhng4 = classroom

In the coming few short minutes, we will try together to play the part of Socrates, and to question Socrates himself about [whether what he said] is true. I have discussed this story in the classroom with students or discussed this way of thinking. How about you try and guess whether more students supported [Socrates’] remark or disagreed with it?  . . .

【7:05】噉啲有認同嘅同反對嘅各佔一半呀 | 噉我覺得反對嘅同學呢,講嘅講法都幾 make sense 嘅,幾合附我哋嘅直覺 | 佢講啲咩呢?| 佢話,人點解要諗嘢?點解要反省呢?開開心心咪得囉 | 呢啲主觀嘅嘢喎 | 噉如果佢揀咗好似 TVB 咁樣《愛回家》咁樣好開心過一世 | 你憑咩話佢唔值得活 [啫]?咁樣 | 佢係咁講 | 噉我估呢個講法可能大家都某個意義上係 share 厘個講法嘅 | 但係我當時係點樣回應佢呀?| 我當時就係話,冇錯呀,人生係有好多好多種,千千萬萬咁多種 | 就好似呢個 hall 入便,百零二百人 | 我哋都 [過] 得好唔同嘅人生 | 有人係攝影師,有人係建築師,我係讀哲學嘅人 | 唔一定個個都讀哲學嘅,但個問題係,你要揀㗎嘛?【8:00】| 要揀㗎嘛?| 究竟係做隻所謂快樂嘅豬定係 *dei 痛苦嘅蘇格拉底,呢個係要揀㗎嘛?| 呢個問題本身就預設咗我哋要做抉擇,而做抉擇我哋就要去諗嘢 | 所以 *so 個問題係,無論如何,我哋都要用蘇格拉底式嘅哲學反省去選擇 | 所以其實呢種哲學反省係必須嘅 | 即使你揀做 [咗一隻快樂嘅豬] 或者開心嘅人生 [你都] 要揀咗先呀,你都要經過一種所謂 self-examination 嘅洗禮,你嘅選擇先係有意,你嘅人生先至值得活嘅 | 所以 *so 個講法就係,就算你要反對呢個哲學反省,你反對嘅時候,咪就係做緊哲學反省囉 | 所以呢種哲學反省係不能迴避

各佔一半 gok3 jim3 yāt1 bun3 = roughly, “each one occupied a half”, in otherwise, the class was divided “fifty-fifty” between those who agreed and those who did not | ● 合附 hahp6 fuh6 = (?) to accord with | ● 憑 pàhng4 = to rely on; to depend on | ● 預設 yuh6 chit3 = (?) to presuppose | ● 抉擇 kyut3 jaahk6 = to choose | ● 洗禮 sái2 láih5 = a baptism | ● 迴避 wùih4 beih6 = to evade; to dodge; to avoid

Half the students agreed with the idea, and half disagreed. Now I thought that what the students who disagreed said did make a lot of sense, according with one’s intuitions. What did she say? She said, “Why should people have to think about everything? Why should [we] have to reflect? It’s OK just be happy [with (?)] these subjective things. Now if [you] have chosen to live your life very happily in the manner of TVB’s Love Comes Home, what right have you to say [你憑咩話] that the life of such a person is not worth living?” That’s how she put it. Now I suppose that all of you here [大家] probably share this view in one sense or another. But at the time, how did I respond to her? At the time I said, “True, there many, many different ways to lead a human life, hundreds and thousands of different ways just like here in this hall of somewhere between one and two hundred people [百零二百人]. We all of us live our different lives — some are photographers, some are architects, and I study philosophy. Not everyone is necessarily a student of philosophy, but the question/problem is: Did you choose [your life]? Did you choose it? Whether you lead the life of a happy pig or a suffering Socrates, the thing is [呢個], did you choose it [係要揀嘅嗎]? This issue itself presupposes that we have to make a choice, and that to make a choice we have to think. And so the thing [所以個問題係] is, no matter [what the situation], we all have to make use of a Socratic-style philosophical reflection in order to choose. For this reason, such philosophical reflection is necessary. Even if you decide to be a happy pig or live a happy, carefree life [開心嘅], you have to make a choice, you have to undergo a baptism self-examination. Only then will your choice be meaningful and will your life be worth living. And so one could say that [Socrates’ remark about the unexamined life means that], even if you are opposed to philosophical reflection, your opposition to it is still [a way of] engaging in [做緊] philosophical reflection. For this reason, you can’t escape this kind of philosophical reflection.

噉究竟點解用哲學反省去令到我哋嘅人生變得值得活或者有意義呢?噉呢度有好多唔同嘅講法嘅,唔同嘅哲學家有唔同嘅詮釋。噉我或者分享吓我自己嘅比較簡單嘅理解 【9:00】。我理解係,呢種講法背後顯示咗一種對人嗰種自主性嘅重視。我哋要安排自己人生,為自己人生負責,咁呢,我哋 [成爲] 自己人生嘅主人。你諗吓,如果你唔反省,你嘅好多諗法或者你做緊嘅嘢係咪真係你自己嘅呢?定係 *dei 你屋企人、你朋友、你嘅社會俾你嘅呢?如果你冇反省過,其實你冇揀過。你冇揀過,嚴格嚟講,你連自己人生都承唔上,你冇 [過緊個] 自己嘅人生。

● 詮釋 chyùhn4 sīk1 = to explain; to interpret | ● 顯示 hín2 sih6 = to show; to display; to manifest | ● 自主性 jih6 jyú2 sing3 = roughly, “the quality of deciding for oneself” or “initiative” | ● 嚴格嚟講 yìhm4 gaak3 lèih4 góng2 = strictly speaking | ● 承唔上 sìhng4 mh4 seuhng6 = roughly, “to be able to undertake/take on/assume”

Now why does the use of philosophical reflection make our lives worth living or meaningful? Many explanations [講法] are given to this, and different philosophers have different interpretations. I’d like perhaps to share my rather simple understanding [of the matter] with you. My understanding is that behind [Socrates’ comment about the unexamined life] there is a laying of importance on an individual’s initiative. We have to arrange our own lives and take responsibility for ourselves, and by doing so we become the masters of our own lives. Think about it. If you don’t [engage in] reflection, are what you think about and what you do truly your own? Or are they something you have been given by your family, your friends or your society? If you haven’t examined [your life], then you actually haven’t made any choices. And if you haven’t chosen, then — strictly speaking — you cannot even undertake your own life, and you’ve never lived the life that is yours.

打個譬如 [啦]。如果有個人自細受到屋企嘅教育話,我哋仔要努力搵錢、結婚、買樓,於是乎佢大學就揀咗搵錢嘅課,後尾揀咗高薪厚職,然之後就做一個幸福嘅家庭。如果佢成世人都冇曾經 一刻,跳後一步,望翻呢個人,望翻呢條命,諗吓究竟咩值得做咩唔值得做嘅話,究竟佢過緊一個自己嘅人生呢,定係佢只不過係沿緊一個嘅社會俾佢嘅角色呢?【10:00】如果佢連自己人生都承唔上嘅時候,佢人生又仲有咩所謂值得唔值得活呢?可能佢反省完,揀翻一樣嘅嘢,但重點唔係佢揀啲咩,係佢要揀,佢先能夠成爲佢人生嘅主人。所以 *so 我哋會 [相信],揀咗,嗰條命先係你自己,而揀,[就係] 你要反省。所以 *so 無論如何,我哋都需要一個哲學嘅反省去幫助我哋 . . . 重新獲得自己嘅人生。

● 打個譬如 dáa2 go3 pei3 yùh4 = to give an example | ● 搵錢 wán2 chín4*2 = to make money | ● 高薪厚職 gōu1 sān1 háuh5 jīk1 = a high salary & a substantial position | ● 成世人 sèhng4 sai3 yàhn4 = one’s whole life; an entire lifetime cf. 一生人 yāt1 sāng1 yàhn4 = one’s whole life (used in the next section) | ● 沿 yùhn4 = to follow (a tradition, a pattern, etc.) | ● 角色 gok3 sīk1 = a role; a part

Let me give you an example. Imagine a man who has been instructed [in the following manner] by his family: our son must do all he can to get a job, to marry, and to buy a place to live. Then, when he goes to university, he chooses a course that means he can earn [good] money and, in the end, he lands a substantial position with a high salary. After that, he makes a happy family [for himself]. If he has never in the whole course of his life jumped back for a moment and looked [back (?)] at this person [he has become] and at this life of his, and wondered about what is worth doing and what is not, then is he living his own life, or has he merely accepted a role [沿緊一個 . . . 角色] given to him by his society? If he is unable to undertake even his own life, then what in his life can be said to worth the living? Perhaps he did reflect on his life and, after doing so, chose to live [exactly] the same [way], but the main thing is not what he chose but that he did chose [佢要揀], enabling him to become the master of his life. For this reason, we can believe [我哋會相信] that, only when we have chosen can that life be yours — and to choose requires you to reflect. And so, no matter what, we all of us need philosophical reflection to help us . . . to regain for ourselves our own lives.

噉呢種對人嘅自主性嘅重視,其實都體現咗蘇格拉底對教育或者學習嘅理解。蘇格拉底雖然係一個好偉大嘅哲學家,但好有趣地,佢連一生人都冇寫過書。噉係唔係因為佢唔識字呀?噉當然就唔係啦。噉好多關於佢嘅記載都只能夠憑其他人嘅描寫去獲知呀,例如派拉圖嘅著作咁樣。噉蘇格拉底點解唔寫書呀?係因為佢認爲追求知識同埋學習必然係一個即時同埋雙向嘅活動【11:00】,而書呢,係死 [㗎]。書寫低咗就擺咗喺度呢,你冇即時同本書辯論嘅。噉所以只能夠透過佢嗰種我哋叫做 Socratic dialogue 去同其他人辯論嗰種即時性先能夠獲得知識嘅。噉所以大家聽到呢度就發現,原來追求知識唔一定睇書可能大家就好開心 [喇],而家。哈哈,都唔係我問題啫,我唔睇書都唔代表我唔追求知識嘅,咁樣。[哎],但係大家都唔使開心得咁早喎。嗱,大家呢,嚟呢個TEDx啊,好開心啦,呃,覺得,[哎],有啲做啲文化活動,幾高級嘅,應該追求知識嘅,咁樣。[哎],噉啊坐喺度聽咗咁多「專家」嘅演講 [呀],包括我呢啲所謂「專家」演講,應該學到好多嘢,返到屋企就應該自命得意,就可以喺IG 呀、Facebook 就 share,啊,[咁樣] 好 inspiring 囉,咁樣,係啦。啫,// 咁樣。// 我估大家都有類此嘅心態嘅,但係我,我sorry 呀,我,我代蘇格拉底同大家講聲 sorry 先。唔係呀。你冇學過嘢呀。點解呀?你哋全部都只係坐喺度【12:00】聽我講。你冇真正發問。你冇真正提出自己意見。只能夠喺你真正提出自己嘅意見、發問、甚至挑戰我哋呢啲所謂專家嘅諗法嘅時候,你先真係 engage 緊嗰啲思想、嗰啲知識,而到你就係 engage 嗰刻,你先真係搭上追求知識嘅路。所以呢,一陣 lunchbreak,記得啦,把握機會,問吓啲專家,係呀。多啲討論。噉 [呢],[就係非常大] 嘅嘢,你先就係學到嘢,OK。

● 體現 tái2 yihn6 = to embody; to incarnate; to give expression to | ● 一生人 yāt1 sāng1 yàhn4 = one’s whole life | ● 記載 gei3 joi3 = a record; an account | ● 派拉圖 paai3 lāai1 tòuh4 = Plato | ● 即時 jīk1 sìh4 = usu. “immediate; forthwith”; here perhaps “on the spot” | ● 雙向 sēung1 heung3 = two-way| ● 自命得意 jih6 mihng6 dāk1 yi3 = cf. 自命 = to consider oneself; to regard oneself + 得意 = (?) interesting | ● 挑戰 tīu1 jin3 = to challenge

This valuing of individual initiative is an expression of Socrates understanding of education and of study. Socrates was a great philosopher, but one interesting fact is that he never wrote a book in the whole course of his life. Was that because he was illiterate? No, of course not! For accounts of him, [we] can only rely on descriptions written by other people, works by Plato, for example. Why didn’t Socrates write books, then? Because he believed that the pursuit of knowledge as well as learning required on-the-spot-ness and a two-way exchange. Books, on the other hand, are dead: once they are written they just sit there [擺咗喺度] — you can’t have a two-way argument with them. And so the only way you can obtain knowledge is by means of what we call the Socratic dialogue, having an immediate interchange with other people. Now, you might be happy to hear that you don’t have to read any books to acquire knowledge. “Ha, there’s nothing wrong with me! Just because I don’t read doesn’t mean I’m not engaged in the pursuit of learning.” But please don’t celebrate too soon [但係大家都唔使開心得咁早喎]! Here you are, happy to be at this TEDx talk, thinking that at these cultural events, really quite high-class, you can pursue knowledge. You sit here listening to talks by all these experts — including so-called experts like myself — thinking that you ought to learn something, and when you get back home you’d consider yourself someone with something to say [自命得意], something you can share on Instagram and Facebook, how inspiring! Something like that. I guess most of you here might have an attitude like that, but I’m sorry: on behalf of Socrates, I have to tell you that I’m sorry. No, actually, you didn’t learn anything. Why not? [Because] the lot of you sat here listening to me speak. You didn’t ask questions. You didn’t get to express your own ideas. It’s only when you have really put forward your own ideas — even [daring to go so far as] to challenge the views of us, the so-called experts — that you are truly engaging with those ideas, with that knowledge and at the time when you are engaging, you can truly be said to have embarked on the road to knowledge. So for this reason, on your next lunchbreak, remember to take advantage of the opportunity to asks the experts questions. Discuss more. Only then UNCLEAR will you learn things. OK.

A New Weather

Paul Strand: Young Boy, Gondeville, 1951

I buried the noun; I planted
the verb. What on Earth could I harvest
from the hard word?
I wondered.
Winter — the year’s chill hinterland —
makes no promise to anyone, even
to green thumbs. Spring —
season of profuse adjectives
unfurls everywhere its exuberant-convoluted foliage
in contrast to my fr-agile, tender rhythms,
to all my seedling grammar.

Learning Cantonese: Capturing the Sky

This is a very short video again featuring the Hong Kong landscape painter 黃進曦 Stephen Wong Chun Hei. The moral is simple yet profound, and is summed up in the final sentence: 或者喺你觀察到其他人去畫天空呢一啲作品之後|可能令到你產生咗一種 | 「原來唔係咁單一」嘅觀察嘅方法嘅,咁一樣嘅 (you can find my rough English translation below).

The Cantonese titles of the video differ in interesting ways.  The words 自在風景 literally mean “free and easy landscape”, but are rendered in English as “the breath of landscape”, while 凝聚天空, which makes use of the verb 凝聚 yìhng4 jeuih6 = “(of vapour) to condense”, becomes “capture the sky”. In other words, we are dealing here with different versions rather than direct translations.

For a Cantonese learner, the joy of this video is Wong’s one use of 埲 buhng6, a classifier (or “measure word”) specifically for walls. I don’t come across it very often; generally 幅 fūk1 seems to be preferred. Actually, within the span of his 1-minute presentation, you’ll hear Wong use both, one more reason to fall in love with Cantonese all over again!

There is also a very nifty item of vocabulary: 順住時序 seuhn6 jyuh6 sìh4 jeuih6 = in chronological order. Combined with the verb 排列 pàaih4 liht6, you get one way of saying “to arrange in chronological order”.

Please scroll down for my transcription, English translation and notes. You can view the video here (subtitles in English and Standard Written Chinese). Since it is a YouTube video, you can slow down the playback speed if you wish: at 0.75 and 0.5, the sound quality is still good. And remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.


Caption: 自在風景 | The Breath of Landscape

Caption: 凝聚天空 | Capture the Sky

黃進曦:其實我由5月份開始呢 | 其實就去唔同地區啦 | 二十間中小學就去做一 workshop 嘅|主要呢,就係同佢哋去畫當日個天空 呀|其實呢一埲牆呢,主要就係嗰二十間中學嘅作品|噉我排列個方法呢,就其實係順住時序嘅 | 另外呢一幅牆呢 | 其實就係藝術館呢一個位呢 | 現場我再一啲唔同嘅朋友過一齊 | 去畫天空嘅一個作品嘅 | 透過呢個workshop 之後 | 或者喺你觀察到其他人去畫天空嘅呢一啲作品之後|可能令到你產生咗一種 | 「原來唔係咁單一」嘅觀察嘅方法嘅,咁一樣

● 中小學 jūng1 síu2 hohk6 = primary and secondary schools | ● 埲 buhng6 = a classifier for walls | ● 排列 pàaih4 liht6 = to arrange; to put in order | ● 順住時序 seuhn6 jyuh6 sìh4 jeuih6 = in chronological order cf.  時序 = sequential timing | ● 觀察 gūn1 chaat3 = to observe; to watch | ● 單一 dāan1 yāt1 = single; unitary; perhaps even “homogenous”

Stephen Wong Chun Hei: In actual fact, beginning in May, I went to various different districts, doing workshops in twenty primary and secondary schools. What we did mainly was to paint the sky on that [particular] day. The paintings on this wall here are mostly those by students at these twenty schools. My way of arranging them was according to chronological order. On this other wall over here, here in this part of the [Hong Kong] Museum of Art, I got a number of my friends together here together, each one of them painting a picture of the sky on this spot. By means of these workshops, and after looking at the skies painted by other people, perhaps it might make you think to yourself [產生咗一種] “Well, there’s no single way of doing it” when it comes to how one looks [at the world].

Sure Fire

It burns the hands and fingers certainly;
the slightly blistered skin soon after starts to heal;
scars fade; but all conviction born of heat
cannot go cold — in fact,
against the grain of things — it grows.
Where sensibility happens to have to brave
random intensity’s flare,
insight and hexafoils may spark up out of nowhere,
utterly more powerful
than power, prestige, peace or unanimous fortress
comfort, till we can never turn back to that uninflammable kind of being
we once thought we were —
shallow second-hand desires like so much sheet thin asbestos —
and oblivious to wild human nature’s gorgeous pyrotechnical flair.


I was in aftershock: the roof had boomed with galvanized thunder directly overhead. Do eagles at night sometimes, I thought, crash-land heavily? I saw no tell-tale outstretched feather silhouette by the satellite dish. My mind was tempted (the tug was forceful) to make believe in the same old nothing, but a something — a second thought — intervened: is this how a shift deep in the Earth’s crust throws its seismic voice out into space? Vis non terra sed deo est.