Practice IS Perfect

Dam Flotsam Twigs RESIZED_13 AUG 2019

It’s no easy thing learning another language, perhaps especially when that “other language” happens to be Cantonese! Patience is really important.

On my last trip to Hong Kong, I went to see a language teacher one of whose textbooks I found (and am still finding) very useful. She told me about a student of hers who picked up the rudiments of Cantonese in two weeks! We all love a success story with talent winning out against the odds, but this particular anecdote was pretty deflating for me, I confess. In my case, Cantonese is a matter of years. Actually, I’m into my second decade already . . .

I have no great gift for languages: to me, language is the great gift, one that can never be exhausted. If you’ve ever read the Moomintroll books by Tove Jansson, you’ll recall there’s a character called Hemul who is a very conscientious kind of creature. For a time, his big passion is stamp-collecting, but then one day he is thrown into utter crisis when he manages to acquire the last remaining stamp his collection needs to be complete! What will he do now? Suddenly a huge emptiness gapes open in his life.

I’m sure in my case there will never ever be a Hemul moment! No matter how much I learn, there is always more to be learnt. As Thomas Sterner points out in The Practising Mind, practice itself has to be the focal point for any dedicated language-learner:

I understood that there was no point I could reach where I would feel that I had finally done it, that I was as good as I needed to be, and that there was no need to improve because I had arrived at my goal.

However, rather than sadden ourselves with goals we never seem to reach, we need to learn to enjoy the process itself, to find optimum joy in that and, as Sterner recommends, to experiment with ways “to build the stamina necessary to continue in an infinite study”.

When I first got my puppy, he was only eight weeks old and could fit inside a shoe-box. Six months later, he is nearly full-grown and takes all my energy to lift off the ground! The strange thing is, I could never see that growth from day to day: I guess it happens too close up to be appreciated. Maybe learning a language is like that, too: invisible to the naked eye. But trust in the pleasures of regular, heart-felt practice and perhaps the result will (more or less) take care of itself, a natural progression.


Photograph: Rocks & Flotsam down by the Dam

Phantom Memory

Moss, Quartz & Kangaroo Dung_RESIZED_AUG 2019

He was a sales rep,
he’d hit the road for weeks at a time
trying his best to flog carpets gadgets LP records —
god-knows-what! Once, he brought home for us
a sample volume full of the start
of a 100 illustrated stories
but not an ending in sight
despite my endless re-readings.
(I’m still waiting.) And then
there were the ukuleles, perhaps a swap
with some other travelling mate, their thin strings
strung as taut as the highest high-wire;
our fingers, however, they were
no tight-rope walkers.
Perhaps his head dreamed incessantly of Hawai’i
from our twanging Melbourne gloom.
You can’t blame him for trying, can you?
Now look at him, old salesman,
shadow of his former sell,
but after a lifetime, the story,
Hawai’i, these — undeniable —
stay true past us all.


Photograph: Moss, Quartz & Kangaroo Dung

Escalator Revery

Door at Kam Tin Tin Hau Temple 2016_RESIZED

Step out onto that silent grooved plate,
lay absent-minded fingers on the sleek handrail,
and wait for that memorable uplifting shift
to platform slats of flat metal
out into magical stairs.
As wide awareness of the world
drops away from attention, sink
as you stand motionless
in movement back into personal dream.
What goes on from this point
you have little idea, and when the everyday-conscious
re-asserts its lapsed claim,
there you are, red-faced,
hard-pressed to recall
where exactly you were all that time in between
this and that — spot-lit — mirror-blank —
shopping-centred — floor.


Photograph: 香港錦田天后廟 Kam Tin Tin Hau Temple, Hong Kong

Cantonese through News Stories: Simon Cheng Man-kit Held in Detention

Geng Shuang Mainland foreign Ministry_22 AUG 2019

If you were unsure why the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance has provoked such outrage in Hong Kong, the recent case of 鄭文傑 Simon Cheng Man-kit is a perfect instance of what is at stake. Cheng, trade and investment officer at the British consulate in Hong Kong, disappeared on the evening of the 8 August on his way back to Hong Kong from Shenzhen. Finally, on 22 August, 耿爽Gáng2 Sóng2 (Mandarin: Geng Shuang) informed the world that Cheng had been placed under “disciplinary detention” [行政拘留] by Shenzhen police for fifteen days and warned the British not to go on “fanning flames and lighting fires”, a reference to the 2019 Summer of Protest. To date, no one has been informed of Cheng’s whereabouts.

On 22 August, the Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times reported that Cheng was being held for a violation of article 66:

The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed Wednesday that Cheng was under administrative detention in Shenzhen. On Thursday, police in Shenzhen’s Luohu district told Global Times that he was detained for violating article 66 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Penalties for Administration of Public Security. The article includes solicitation of prostitutes. 


12 new words:

外交部 ngoih6 gāau1 bouh6 = Ministry of Foreign Affairs (PRC)
證實 jing3 saht6 = to confirm, to verify
行政拘留 hàhng4 jing3 kēui1 làuh4 = disciplinary detention
治安管理處罰法 jih6 ōn1 gwún2 léih5 chyu3 faht6 faat3 = public security administration punishment law
處罰 chyú2 faht6 = to punish; to penalize
僱員 gu3 yùhn4 = employee
香港公民 Hēung1 Góng2 gūng1 màhn4 = Hong Kong citizen
敦促 dēun1 chūk1 = to urge; to press
發表錯誤言論 faat3 bíu2 cho3 ngh6 yìhn4 leuhn6 = to air/express incorrection opinions/views
指手畫脚 jí2 sáu2 waahk6 geuk3 = to make indiscreet remarks or criticisms
煽風點火 sin3 fūng1 dím2 fó2 = to inflame and agitate people; to stir up trouble; to incite discord
失去聯絡 sāt1 heui3 lyùhn4 lok3 = to lose contact with sb.



The mainland Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed that a Hong Kong employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong is being held in “disciplinary detention” by Shenzhen police.

(Main story)

  • 耿爽 Gáng2 Sóng2, spokesperson for the mainland Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Mandarin)

The person you are referring to has been punished by Shenzhen police with disciplinary detention for 15 days for breaking the public security administration punishment law of the People’s Republic of China.

This employee is a Hong Kong citizen

He is not a British citizen.

Which is to say, he is Chinese.

For this reason, this is in all respects [完全] China’s own internal matter.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the British has expressed incorrect opinions on the matter of the Hong Kong question, and urged Britain to refrain [唔好再 mh4 hóu joi3] from “making indiscreet remarks or criticisms” and from “inflaming and agitating people”.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office had earlier said that there was a high degree of concern for the detention of this male employee of the British consulate, detained by Shenzhen police on his way back to Hong Kong.

Close friends lost all contact with that male employee on 8 August while he was travelling on the Express Rail Link from Shenzhen to Hong Kong.


Related reports:

+ Hong Kong Free Press (in English)

+ BBC (in Chinese)

+ Update published in the Hong Kong Free Press on 21 November 2019
UK gov’t summons China ambassador over ‘torture’ of former consulate staffer

Thinking through Sand Fields (Sha Tin 沙田)

DSCN0567_Tuen Mun Playground RESIZED_4 APR 2016

To stand in a black and white skirt stock-still against peak-hour’s
turbulent backdrop ―
oblivious of gold shoe-buckles,
of the weight of a bag
slung across the collar-bone dip in one dropped shoulder ―
and to wonder down the whole length of the station platform
further than you can possibly go
because no one else in the world will assist you with this train.
Sometimes ― hectic out of nowhere ―
thought is that hyper-animated insect buzzing at the top of its noise
inside your unfathomable head,
as if insight desperately despite you
demanded prompt payment from attention
even here in public broad daylight,
opposite carriage-loads of cattle-car commuters,
hell-bent too in their worldly mental chatter
on the next ― quite outwardly ― new idea.

My Thor

2018-11-27 Sou Kwun Wat TH RESIZED

I can’t help wanting to give a voice to the thunder —
there is so much more to it than meets the ear —
an authority at odds with “lightning discharge”
and “a large over-pressure of the air”.
It has its own poetry —
thunder’s actual meaning is always on the underside
and overside
of everything it says —
with too much happening at once
for the narrow literal sense
to maintain its dominant sway for long.
Such resonance. Such conviction. Imagine
a human being talking like that, not an atom
of vocal energy suppressed
in the direct act of utterance:
total candour commandingly declared!
The skin tingles in the presence of such force.
Bones rattle vibrantly in their skeleton.
And what about the heart?
From the sludge of exaggerated swamps it is shocked
and, like the rainbow-eyed frog
freshly opened to the storm,
jumps rudely aliver all of a sudden out of its dank and improper element.


Photograph: 香港掃管笏天后古廟 Tin Hau Temple, So Kwun Wat, Hong Kong


Jennifer Creery_Occupation of Sha Tin New Town Plaza_Monday 5 AUG 2019



攝影:Jennifer Creery