The Unexpected Lesson

Yu Jian_Faces_30 APR 2019

At least you know where you are
with stench: stink’s super-immediate climate means
the Divided Mind does not have one single leg to stand on.
You, in its face,
are filled through your nose
to the brim, leaving no time
and no space
for nebulous self-expression to get half a word in
edgewise. Flattened
instantly by the impact of this visceral no-nonsense smell,
all you can do is acknowledge at once
the presence of something powerful ―
unmistakable ― unique ―
and regret, hands up
in the overwhelming air,
all the writing of poems that will never aspire
to this.

Photograph by Yu Jian

Cantonese through News Stories: Heavy Metals in Hong Kong’s Sushi and Sashimi

Capture_Sashimi Story Food Shot_15 APR 2019

Hong Kong’s Consumer Council has been in the news recently with a couple of reports, one on electric fans, and the following on the quality of 刺身 chi sān (sashimi) and 壽司 sauh sī (sushi). Gilly Wong, the Chief Executive of the Council, is always a dynamic speaker on consumer issues, and I have tried to do justice to her speech included here, though (as is customary), the Chinese subtitles provided only a bare indication of what she actually said. On the topic of vocabulary, it must come as a relief to English-speaking learners to discover that, in a culture with a rich fishing tradition, the words for “salmon” and “tuna” are both recognizable borrowings: 三文魚 sān màhn yú and 吞拿魚 tān nàh yú respectively!

You can view the report at the TVB website!

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12 new words:

1. 檢測 gím chāk = to check up; to inspect; to examine
2. 樣本 yeuhng bún = sample; specimen
3. 寄生蟲 gei sāang chùhng = parasite
4. 重金屬 chúhng gām suhk = heavy metals
5. 商戶 sēung wuh = merchant ; trader; business person; firm
6. 入貨 yahp fo = to replenish one’s stock
7. 芥末 gaai muht = mustard; wasabe
8. 即日 jīk yaht = this or that very day
9. 第二日 daih yih yaht = the next day; the following day
10. 湖泊 wùh bohk = lakes
11. 鑑定 gaam dihng = to identify; to examine and determine
12. 欺騙 hei pin = to cheat; to deceive

*For correct jyutping romanization, you can cut and paste any Cantonese vocabulary in this post into the Sheik Cantonese website for checking.

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消委會檢測發現市面兩款三文魚同埋吞拿魚刺身驗出寄生蟲。
A Consumer Council inspection discovered parasites in two items [款] of salmon and tuna sashimi it examined [驗出 yihm chēut].
Note: In these kinds of consumer stories, the items examined by the Council are generally referred to as 款 fún. The meaning in this specific context seems to be “instance of an item under investigation”.

另外亦都發現幾乎全部樣本都有重金屬。
Moreover, nearly all the samples contained heavy metals. Continue reading “Cantonese through News Stories: Heavy Metals in Hong Kong’s Sushi and Sashimi”

Cantonese through News Stories: Contract Workers in Hong Kong’s Public Toilets

Capture_TVB Public Toilets TWO_14 APR 2019

No place to eat his lunch and human waste “flying out all over the place” [嗰啲糞便都飛嗮出嚟] — welcome to the world of contract cleaner Mr Jong! His story is one of many drawing attention to the plight of contract cleaners working in the public toilets of Hong Kong as uncovered recently by the Hong Kong Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs. The following report, nicely put together by TVB news reporter 李梓恩 Léih Jí Yān, highlights the push to include improvement of the working conditions for cleaners in a government initiative to refurbish Hong Kong’s public toilets or, in the words of Ms 羅佩珊 Lòh Pui Sāan, 視線要放遠啲 — that is, to see the bigger picture.

You can view the story at the TVB website!

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12 new words:

1. 外判清潔工人 [ng]oih pun chīng giht gūng yàhn = contact cleaners [lit. “cleaning workers”]
2. 翻新 fāan sān = to renovate; to refurbish
3. 用膳 yuhng sihn = EAT meals (formal) cf. 食飯 sihk faahn
4. 承辦商 sìhng baahn sēung = contractor (someone who organizes contract workers to work for government organizations)
5. 自備膳食 jih beih sihn sihk = to bring along one’s own food
6. 通風 tūng fūng = to ventilate; be well ventilated
7. 欠佳 him gāai = to be less than ideal
8. 糞便 fan bihn = human waste; excrement
9. 黑蚊蚊 hāak mān mān = very dark (or 黑掹掹 / 黑鼆鼆 hāak māng māng)
10. 使用量高 sái yuhng leuhng gōu = high-use
11. 視線要放遠啲 sih sin yiu fong yúhn dī = look at the bigger picture
12. 硬件ngaahng gihn/gín = material conditions

*For the correct jyutping romanization, you can cut and paste any Cantonese vocabulary in this post on the Sheik Cantonese website.

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有關注勞工團體嘅調查發現超過七成受訪食環暑外判清潔工人冇合適嘅食飯地點
An investigation by an organization concerned with labour [matters] has found that more than 70% of the contracted cleaners they spoke with did not have a suitable place in which to eat their meals.
Note: 食環署 sihk wàahn chyúh = Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, an abbreviation for 食物環境衛生署  sihk maht wàahn gíng waih sāng chyúh. Note too that percentages are often expressed in Cantonese by means of 成 sìhng: 七成 = seventy percent.

Continue reading “Cantonese through News Stories: Contract Workers in Hong Kong’s Public Toilets”

Ēostre

800px-Sandro_Botticelli_-_La_nascita_di_Venere_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited

It dawns on us, via You, goddess,
but do we ever directly
dawn on ourselves?

Against grainy monochrome post-night,
all pink is Your emblem:
neither cardinal, nor flame,
nor the anatomical-crimson
of a single drop of king kangaroo blood
pinned to a needlewood thorn.

Petal comes closest,
and the full breast feathers of galahs —
hear the birds now shriek chill chill
the length of the tinged narrow shadow of the valley.

How close You hold our breath
to the underlining of the lungs
in perpetual expectation
of the always-almost-about-to-be.
You: Beginner of rank beginnings
Who has no start; Repurpose
Who wants no shape of Her own accord.

At the peace-awe-ful instant we die
a lifetime’s consolidated dawnings
whisper Your truth in our disable-bodied wake —
not death’s.

Eastern Grey

Eastern Grey Kangaroo

So — here you are at the end of your health,
breathless — between ribs —for the first
last time in your life.
I can see now distinctly
that the sharp, black claws on your long narrow “hands”
would for me in the flesh mean gruesome pain,
or worse, and I wonder at the thick pads of skin
at intervals, like calluses,
on the underside of your massive tail: kangaroos too
have their thousands of secrets
they take with them back
to the Earth. At least
at last you died in the quiet of your own breath,
no victim of engines or the periodic cull.
At least at last
you were never mauled.
On a sheet of shade-cloth folded in two for strength,
we drag you away from the side of the dam
past a row of young trees instantly solemn at attention
out of the glare of relentless fox-
and eagle-eyed daylight. Death
and a radiant natural dignity
viscerally interfuse in the minutes-long lull
after your hastily improvised above-ground burial
when we still feel your weight, solid but fading, in the vivid dull ache
of our arms.

Photograph by Visit Grampians, http://www.visitgrampians.com.au

以鉛筆寫作:杜杜嘅《晚霞》/ Written in Pencil: Toto’s “Sunset Glow”

Evette KWOK_Sunset Three

I first came across the work of Hong Kong writer 杜杜 Toto in 2002, when I bought his collection of mainly short texts entitled 《住家風景》or Domestic Scenery. His touch is very light, almost sketchy, as if he wrote everything in pencil, but there are unexpected depths in his work, inspired to a large degree by his religious orientation. If you can read Chinese, try and find a copy of 《住家風景》. If you don’t, then here’s a brief sample of his writing just to give you some idea of his quiet powers.

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《晚霞》

望出去是海。麻雀在晚霞的金黃裏飛着吱喳着。碼頭前是匆忙的行人。有巴士聲,有電視機聲。妻子和兒子臥在床上。 妻子說着故事哄兒子睡覺。我一下子就感應到一切都和我毫無相干。我只是活在這世界上,無端地在看晚霞消失。

寂寞是唯一永遠存在的事物。我原以為寂寞遠離我去,隨著我逝去的青春歲月。那些枯燥苦悶而無可如何的日子,我以為都成為過去了。我已經忘了。結婚多年,只試過有一次夢見自己走在幽暗的長走廊,碰不着一個朋友,然後一身冷汗地醒來。

如今我望着晚霞消失。我只是活在這世界上。人生不過如此。誰得意了?

我原也是個傷感多情的人。自少如此,到如今。人是不會改變的。人只是裝了個面具,嘻哈地過日子。

寂寞是我最好的朋友。我不在害怕。

寂寞,你好?

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“Sunset Glow”

Looking out, I have a view of the sea. In the gold of the sunset glow, sparrows fly about twittering. People scurry around at the entrance to the ferry pier. The noise of buses, and the noise of television sets. My wife is lying on the bed with our son, telling him a story to make him fall asleep. All of a sudden, my response to all this is that it has nothing whatever to do with me. I live on this Earth and nowhere else, watching for no reason the glow of sunset fade away.

Loneliness is the only thing that lasts forever. I was under the impression that, once the years of my youth were over, loneliness had left me for good. Those dreary, depressing days that I could do nothing to change were now, I thought, behind me. I had already forgotten them. In many years of marriage, only once have I had the experience of dreaming that I was walking down a long, gloomy corridor without bumping into a single friend — after the dream, I woke up in a cold sweat.

And now here I am, watching the sunset glow fade. I live on this Earth and nowhere else. That’s just the way it is. No one’s special!

I used to be someone who lived mainly through their feelings. I was like this when I was young, and I still am. People can’t change. We all just wear masks, fake-laughing our way through our lives.

Loneliness is our best friend. I no longer have anything to fear.

So, how are you, Loneliness?

Photograph by Evette Kwok, 2019

Just a Moment with Malcolm

2018-09-27 Old Shed School's Road

When he flags me down with his broad-brimmed hat,
I am half-arse-sore from my long shopping ride
down to the Little Red Apple.
“Come in, young fella,” he cries across my fifty-seven years,
his one good eye smiling past its lashes through the heat.
We stomp up the improvised bric-a-brac gangway,
embellished and slip-proofed with trimmed metal slats
to his wood-and-corrugated-iron farmer’s den —
he’s got the door propped open at full morning yawn,
as far as the rust on the hinges will go,
but my skin is baked like bread from the first instant I step inside
the hot he inhabits, perfectly unblinking.
“Take a look at this! Best crop in years . . .”
I hunker down on the rough timber floor —
a small part of me drawn to the fingerprint-intricate grain
in the nineteenth-century floorboards —
and admire a whole tall repurposed container
crammed full of larger-than-life potatoes,
on a grander scale than general nature intended.
Out of one corner, suddenly, of the suffocating gloom,
Lucky the Dog (his previous owner, a hard task master,
had threatened to shoot him) bolts over
and plunges his narrow head eagerly between the widely-spaced buttons
of my shirt, like the frenzied-clumsy lover I once was
and will never be again. Malcom growls him off
in his gruffest handler’s manner,
then swings down from a crude spike on the wall
a bag bulging heavily at the bottom
so that the plastic thins to the point of a transparent film, almost.
“There’s two of the buggers in there!” he explains.
I take a peek inside at the Earth-pale Goliath nuggets.
“Reckon this one’s about the size of your heart,” I offer,
impromptu. Quick as a flash he fires back, “Not quite that big”,
(but is he talking about his heart or the spud? —
I’m not quite sure). The bad news is
the prognosis on pumpkins is not looking too flash,
but he promises me a beauty if he can pull a few off.
As we walk the plank back down to his gate,
a mean air-blast blows up out of parched hills.
“No bloody good for the way you’re going,” he observes
drily. The solid shade of the two huge roadside gums
sizzles with the sound of wind as it shoves past the leaves
and the grating rasp of the vocal local cockatoos,
snow-white in the high branches as albino crows
and flaunting with gusto their sulphurous yellow crests.

Reverend Chu Yiu-ming: A Brave Bell Toller, Waking Up Hong Kong’s Sleepy Souls

Reverend Jyu Yiu-ming_10 APR 2019

作為一個終生為上主所用,矢志與弱勢者和窮苦人同行,祈求彰顯上主公義,實踐天國在人間,傳頌愛與和平福音的牧師,垂老之年,滿頭白髮,站在法庭被告欄,以待罪之身作最後的陳辭,看似極其荒謬和諷刺,甚至被視為神職人員的羞辱!
I am a Christian minister committed to the service of God. I have resolved to live a life of friendship with the weak and the poor, praying that God’s justice be manifested on earth as it is in heaven, and that the gospel of love and peace be proclaimed among the people. But today, old and grey, I find myself in the Defendant’s dock, making a final plea as a convict. It looks so absurd, if not outright shameful for a person holding holy office.

然而,此時此刻,在我心中,在法庭的被告欄,是一生牧職最崇高的講壇,死蔭的幽谷成就了靈性的高峯。
And yet, at this very moment, my heart tells me that with this defendant’s dock, I have found the most honourable pulpit of my ministerial career. The valley of the shadow of death leads to spiritual heights.

幾十年來,講道無數,想不到最費時、最用心、受眾最多的講道,正是在被告欄的陳辭,這裏有我童年的故事、牧區的故事、香港的故事、民主的故事、最後一里的故事、雨傘運動的故事、人間和天國的故事。
For decades, I have preached numerous sermons. Little could I anticipate that the one message which preparation took me the longest time and the most heartfelt prayer, and which probably would reach the largest audience, is precisely this one delivered from the defendant’s dock. In this message I tell the story of my childhood, of the Umbrella Movement, a story of heaven and earth.

古時的猶太人,期待救贖主來臨的日子,那裏再沒有痛苦和眼淚,但基督道成肉身,住在人間,經歷人世的艱辛,詮釋了救贖主的真義:「那裏有痛苦和眼淚,那裏就有救贖主!」
In days of old, Jewish people longed for the coming of the Redeemer when there would be no more pain and tears. Then Christ, Incarnate, took on human flesh and lived among us, sharing in our suffering and pain. And the world has since learned that “where there is suffering and tears, there is the Redeemer.”

在乖謬的時代,在專權的國度,在扭曲的社會,我甘願成為一個勇敢的敲鐘者,喚醒人間昏睡的靈魂。
Ours is an age of absurdity. Living in a society on the brink of authoritarianism and of arbitrary rule, let me be a brave bell toller, ringing, waking up sleepy souls.

“The City” by Woo Sai Nga, translated by Audrey Heijns

Woo Si Nga_Tonglau Photo_29 MAR 2019

Please scroll down for the Chinese version!

Old-style Chinese apartment buildings have listened to ten years’ worth
of falling rain, they have
listened to the stories of this city
Love and hate have aged him
sharpened time, made it unbearable
chewing him up, along with his times

On the train tall buildings flash past like on tv
passengers anxiously grab seats
then quietly abandon themselves, or leave themselves
watching how history hollows itself out to drive the train,
to take over the responsibility for playing the part of existence

Who cares about those dozing old-style Chinese apartment buildings
with those faded photos of newlyweds on the wall,
the calendars from which no page will ever be torn,
slippers left behind, or a towel that has been used right to the end of a lifetime?

Who will collect
the missing strokes from the Chinese characters in the neon signs
the mannequin from Rose Studio looks transparent and pale
the factory building is like the shed shell of a caterpillar, desolation in the forgetful city?

The compartment is so crowded that only eyes can move
I am berthed in a sea that does not yet exist
allowing the street lights to dissolve, and to make me ebb away
the new city is waiting for us
to lose our way in it, coming from far away

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〈城〉/胡世雅

唐樓聽了十年雨
聽這個城市的故事
愛與恨使他衰老
使時間尖銳而不可承受
嚼食他與他的時代

車廂播映高樓更迭
乘客急於搶奪位置
靜靜棄置自己,或者離開
看歷史成為渣滓推動列車
負責扮演存在

誰會在意那幢打瞌睡的唐樓
掛著褪色的新婚照
一頁不會被撕下的日曆
遺下的拖鞋,或一條用了終身的毛巾

誰會蒐集
霓虹缺了一劃
玫瑰影樓的女模特透明而蒼白
工廠大廈像毛蟲褪去的殼,荒涼在善忘的城

車廂擠擁得剩下眼睛
我停泊在一片未存在的海
任由街燈溶化,後退
新的城市等待我們
迷路,從遠處走來

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● Woo Sai Nga, born in Hong Kong, is a member of Fannou Poetry Society. She graduated from the Chinese Department, Baptist University of Hong Kong in 2017 and is now teaching at a secondary school. She publishes poems in literary magazines in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and has won the Youth Literary Award (青年文學獎) and the Award for Creative Writing in Chinese (中文文學創作獎) in Hong Kong.

●Audrey Heijns, based in Hong Kong, is working at Shenzhen University. Her translations of Chinese literature have been published in literary magazines, including Het Trage Vuur, Twee Ronde, KortVerhaal, Terras, Renditions, Exchanges and Poetry International.