O Melbourne . . .

2019-09-13 Brick Building Chinatown RESIZED

Black plastic linings shiver in public rubbish bins.
Dust, dust
is swept off its feet by traffic.
Out of nowhere one semi-trailer steals world peace for a second.
The phone booth confesses:
I say what I’m told to say
for the few coins they force down my throat
In Clayton, an old Vietnamese man,
nose running in the wind,
hobbles on a crutch tattooed in purple ink
with a mobile phone number.
By the platform, crows play at their own kind of fare evasion.
A taxi smuggles Punjabi pop music
down a dead, echoey side-street.
Brickwork mesmerizes sunlight.
Clouds snail across the sky leaving no paths of silver.
Shrubs hold up green gloss leaves, mimicking glass,
waving surrender.
A dirty flag flutters itself ragged on an empty house.
A pizza box claps its jaws shut in the gutter.
Sparrows rain down from a tree
before — magically — raining back into it.
Illegible rainbow graffiti
dissolves miles of grateful wall
the length of the unswerving railway.


Photograph: Brick warehouse, Little Bourke Street, Melbourne


Unidentified Shrine Lantau Island_27 NOV 2017


How does she go
putting herself into words written in water
on a slab-sheet of smooth park-paving
with a monster
brush thick as her unbangled
ten-year-old arms?
Goodness gracious.
To bring out a better
best in herself,
she is wearing Sunday’s finest gear —
ribbons and glitter even in her hair —
and, while she watches
her lifesize
last character fade and erase
naturally by slow evaporation in the sun,
she dips
the thirsty furring of her brush
back in a spotless, lifeblood-red bucket neat as a hospital corner.
from her each and every tremor,
down to the fine print of her fingers —
and completely without outlines —
she is braced for the tug of writing’s next irresistible surge
and for signing herself
by calligraphy’s deftest ligature
onto our unread Earth.


Photograph: 香港大嶼山 Unidentified Shrine, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Special Books on Hong Kong: Economic Man in Sha Tin by Göran Aijmer (1980)

Peter Varney_Paddy Fields East of Yuen Long_1 JAN 1958


The ritualization of the lineage ideology and the ritualization of the rice cultivation are inseparable in that both are focused on dead forefathers. Giving up rice production will for traditionalist villagers mean a break-up from a social situation dominated by traditional lineage aspirations and goals. The cultivation of rice has formed, to a very great extent, the essence and rhythm of life in the villages. The intimate connexion between the calendar, the cycle of festivals, and the process of rice cultivation gives a meaning to the rhythm of life which reaches far beyond what can be measured in terms of production and other economic categories. The transplantation of the first crop cannot be done before the Qingming festival; Duanwu precedes the first rice harvest and the sowing of the second crop. Chongyang precedes the second harvest. These important festivals are entirely isolated from the context of vegetable gardening which does not in the same way provide a fixed, seasonally repetitive pattern of activities. Through the use of many different species of vegetables, which can, in accordance with their ecological requirements, be introduced into a year-round production, the market gardener lives in a uniform and constant progression of acts concerned with his land. There is no peak season and no off season. There is nothing particular to look forward to, nor anything to talk about in retrospect on dry and cool winter days with fallow fields. (p. 89)


Photograph: Paddy Fields East of Yuen Long by Peter Varney, 1958

Cantonese through News Stories: Joshua Wong Disqualified from November Elections

Joshua Wong Speech_29 OCT 2019


District council elections are (at the time of writing) still expected to go ahead in Hong Kong this Sunday, on 24 November. Joshua Wong Chi-fung, the young politician who has played an important role in the advocacy of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in America has, not surprisingly, been prevented from contesting. The reason for his exclusion? Perhaps the Orwellian word 思想警察 sī1 séung2 gíng2 chaat3 is a hint to us all . . .


13 new words:

裁定 chòih4 dihng6  = to rule (in a legal sense); ruling
曲解 kūk1 gáai2 = to misinterpret
政治理念 jing3 jih6 léih5 nihm6 = political belief(s)
審查 sám2 chàah4 = to investigate; to examine
政治篩選 jing3 jih6 sāi1 syún2 = political screening
理據 léih5 geui3 = argument
摒棄 bing3 hei3 = to discard; to reject; to abandon
綱領 gōng1líhng5 = programme
提倡 tàih4 chēung1 = to advocate; to promote
迫不得已 bīk1 bāt1 dāk1 yíh5 = have no other choice; have no alternative
詮釋 chyùhn4 sīk1 = to elucidate
擁護 yúng2 wuh6 = to endorse; to support

效忠 haauh6 jūng1 = to devote oneself heart & soul to; to pledge oneself to

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



Joshua Wong, a candidate in the district council elections for South Horizons West has had his nomination ruled as invalid by the returning officer. He is the only person running in this round of elections to have had his nomination ruled as being invalid on account of [his] political position.
Note: 屆 gaai3 is a measure word used with activities that occur on a regular basis. It is reminiscent of the English word “round”. In Cantonese 今屆 gām1 gaai3 = “this round”. It is also used in the sense of “this year’s . . .”, as in 今屆嘅香港小姐 = “this year’s Miss Hong Kong” and 今屆「狀元」 = “this year’s [crop of] ‘number one scholars’”.

Wong said he suspected it was political examination (? = witch-hunt), and was of the opinion that the returning officer had misinterpreted his political beliefs.
Continue reading “Cantonese through News Stories: Joshua Wong Disqualified from November Elections”

In Darra

Evette KWOK_Lam Tsuen_NOV 2019

There’s space, a place for every-
thing, a place for you,
in Darra.
With more sky in the street
and a quiet that doesn’t take to heart
the ka-chunk-a-chunk of trains,
you can spend time unwisely
on conversation, with a cup
of chai and a cool breeze
sweeping gardens sound asleep
on birdsong bedrock.
Forget what you meant
to do in Darra: you can put your feet up
on the kitchen table,
take Satoshi Kitamura’s UFO Diary
down from its hook on the wall,
and get agreeably lost
in life’s fine details, nothing to clutter
whatever you wish to make
of them. In Darra,
things remind you
with quirks and gentle colour
that seriousness and solemnity
are never exactly the same thing — ever,
as the sun, Great Photon Beachball,
laughs long yellow light-years
“endlessly” down the hall.

Photograph: Evette Kwok, Lam Tsuen (2019)

Hong Kong Footpath: Interview in Cantonese with Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee (Part 1)

Professor Chan Siu Chee IMAGE RESIZED

“Hong Kong Footpath” or 舊日的足跡 Gauh6 Yaht6 Dīk1 Jūk1 Jīk1 is a weekly interview program broadcast on Sunday mornings on RTHK Radio 1. Featuring outstanding people from all walks of life, the interviews are a fabulous source for spoken Cantonese: spontaneous, lively, and often dealing with those crucial make-or-break points in an individual’s pursuit of a chosen career. The downside is that they also feature all those typical difficulties encountered by learners of the language: rapid speech, difficult accents, and unfamiliar vocabulary as well as hesitations, interruptions, two or more people speaking at once and a slurring of words (I believe the technical term favoured by linguistics is “apocopation”).

For this reason, I have begun to transcribe some of the interviews with the help of a native speaker. The first interview is with 陳肇始 Chàhn4 Siuh6 Chí2 Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee, current Secretary [局長 gūk1 jéung2] for Food and Health, and was aired on 10 March 2019 to celebrate International Women’s Day. She speaks fairly clearly for most of the interview, but is very fond of sentence particles: so far, I have counted 43 uses of 噉 and 79 uses of 呢!

Here, I present approximately a quarter of Part 1, but will continue to add further instalments as we complete them (as well as correct any mistakes or gaps!). Note that the podcast version of the interview begins with part of the news broadcast, followed by some ads as well as interview highlights; the interview proper doesn’t get underway till just after the three-minute mark. The interviews are also broken up with songs: you’ll be overjoyed to learn that the transcript omits these.

For the podcast of this interview, please visit Hong Kong Footpath.




Part 1a【3:12】


婦女節  fuh6 léuih5 jit3 = International Women’s Day

嘉賓 gāa1 bān1 = distinguished guest; special guest


Note: Adding 姐 jē1 after a woman’s name, as Betty Hung points out in Speak to Me in Cantonese, is to show respect. For a man, the title 哥 gō1 is used (p.116).




陳肇始:重視,當然重視呢,作為即係一個婦女呢。我諗每一年三 • 八呢,大家都有好多唔同嘅活動嘅。噉,都係尤其是係一啲嘅女性團體呀、組織呀咁。噉,都係興祝翻即係女性,我諗,對嗰個社會嘅貢獻。噉呢都係好重要嘅,亦都係令大家去即係記得呢個日子呢。噉但係呢我諗即係每一次三 • 八呢,都會諗一諗【4:00】一啲即係女性嘅問題㗎。我諗喺香港呢,我哋自己婦女人口呢,同男士都係差唔多吓,咁呀多少少咁一樣。噉有時候會衍生帶嚟啲乜問題呢咁?噉都係諗嚟諗去又諗翻啲工作, 例如我哋好多時而家醫生,女醫生嘅數目有開始多喇咁樣,好好呢,我哋而家讀大學喇,其實呢,女性學生呢,都係多過男仔嘅 . . .

三 • 八 is the date 8 March, on which International Women’s Day is celebrated

Note: 興祝 hīng1 jūk1 means “to celebrate (a particular occasion”). In Lesson 1 of Current Cantonese Colloquialisms, it crops up in 母親節嗰日,你哋點同阿媽興祝呀? = On Mother’s day, how will you celebrate with your mum? (p.11). The adding of the aspect marker 翻 fāan1 suggests that something is brought back or recalled on that day (for example, the contribution women have made to society).

衍生 hín2 sāng1 = to derive; to come out; to flow from

Note: In 諗嚟諗去又諗翻啲工作, the aspect marker 翻 fāan1 suggests a kind of return: roughly, “I think about this and I think about that and I link things back to work in my thoughts”.



配套 pui3 tou3 = package; support (I often hear government officials using this term. Perhaps “support” is the closest translation here. Something less definite than concrete “arrangements” [安排] seems to be the main implication).

兼顧 gīm1 gu3 = to give consideration to two or more things. Perhaps the implication here is that most doctors in future will only work part-time.

母乳餵哺 móuh5 yúh5 wai3 bouh6 = breast-feeding



車淑梅:好呀。咁呀即係唔怪得呢我哋香港呢係一個真係非常之咁令人羡慕城市呀,譬如話呢,就喺醫療服務方面呢,就係全世界最平最靚最正架吓,即係各方面都係細心去照顧到。唔怪得喇, 我哋成爲全球最長壽嘅嗰個地方咁樣。咁既然女嘅即係醫生越來越多呢,但唔知點解局長就即係嗱啱啱上任局長嘅時間 2017年 7月1號呢,你當時嘅全個班子裏邊,得一個女士嘅啫。你當時嘅心情係點樣樣呀?

全球最長壽嘅嗰個地方 = that place with the longest life-spans on earth. The noun 長壽 chèuhng4 sauh6 = longevity

班子 bāan1 jí2 = “organized group”, according to Sheik Cantonese. Here, it seems to refer to what Carrie Lam now calls her 問責團隊 mahn6 jaak3 tyùhn4 déui6*2 or “accountability team”, a group comprising senior officials in charge of a whole department.

陳肇始:其實,當時嘅心情【6:00】,亦都冇乜好特別嘅,因爲呢,我都習慣咗,即係過去我做副局長嘅時候呢,就多啲即係女性嘅副局長啦 咁。噉但係其實有好多同事都係男男女女都有嘅,所以我又冇一個好特別嘅話,呀作爲女性,咁又有冇咩特別呢咁。噉當然而家就我特別呢,多一啲婦女嘅團體呀、組織呀咁,都係好希望呢,我哋去支持佢哋。噉所以呢,我亦都即係特別呢,係因爲我係第一個女性嘅局長呢,我都覺得呢,佢哋嘅工作呢,係可以俾多啲支持、多啲鼓勵佢哋囉。

車淑梅:係。有冇諗過自己係一個政府嘅架構裏邊係做得咁高層呢,即係 細個嘅時候會唔會諗呢啲呀?

架構 gaa3 kau3 = ① infrastructure, framework; ② architecture (Sheik Cantonese). In this context, perhaps “within a government structure” or even “within the make-up of a (particular) government” (?).

陳肇始:細個嗰陣時冇嘅,其實真係冇,我其實喺我嘅 . . . 即係 . . . 一路人生嘅每一個部分呢吓,我嘅工作呢,尤其是其實都冇特別安排嘅 【7:00】。基本上都係我非常之努力去做。噉亦都係 . . . 有一啲唔同嘅機會就出現咗。噉於是乎,噉我又去嘗試。噉,呢個又亦都係 . . . 盡 . . . 我覺得係 . . . 即係 . . . 最緊要係盡力呀,出盡我嘅全力吓,一百嘅 percent,二百嘅 percent 咁去應對,吓,我每一日嘅工作。噉我覺得呢個係最緊要。 其實嗰個做咗出嚟呢,嗰個效果呀、結果呀,嗰啲呢,其實呀 . . . 當然我哋都有個目標嘅,噉但係呢,我覺得唔係咁 . . . 唔係最重要嘅。對我嚟講呢,盡全力,吓,去做呢,係最重要呢。

Note: Chan Siu-chee at first uses 盡 jeuhn6 on its own (which sounds a bit incomplete), before going on to use the expressions 盡力 jeuhn6 lihk6 and 出盡我嘅全力 chēut1 jeuhn6 ngóh5 ge3 chyùhn4 lihk6, both of which mean something “to give one’s all; to do one’s best”.


Note: The question 少年志願係乜嘢嚟架呢 is basically equivalent to “What did you want to be when you grew up?” The key word in Cantonese 志願 ji3 yuhn6 = aspiration; goal; ideal; desire. I get the impression that the host Chē1 Suhk6 Mùih4 likes to ask her guests this question!

陳肇始:少年志願?其實呢,我諗唔同嘅時間都有啲唔同嘅志願嘅。好奇怪嘅,即係 . . . 好細嗰陣時候【8:00】我媽咪係醫生呢,噉我都就係想做醫生嘅。噉細個屋企有好多聽筒嗰啲咁呀都係同我妹妹玩嗰啲嘢。噉就亦都 . . .

聽筒 tēng1 túng4*2 usually means “earphones, headset, headphones”, but in this medical context, “stethoscope” is clearly indicated.

車淑梅:. . . 爸爸呢?



陳肇始:係呀,係呀。噉但係呢,亦都係有一個階段好鐘意做先生嘅,因爲呢,就開始返學嘅時候呢,我覺得呀,先生改簿嗰啲都好得意嘅。噉呀係 成日自己係攞啲公仔書呀嗰啲嚟度改呀嘗試咁樣。噉所以即係唔同嘅時間都會想做唔同嘅嘢咁樣囉。

Note: 改簿 gói2 bóu6*2 literally means “to mark a notebook”. In this context of teachers [先生] and schoolwork, I am guessing that Chan is referring to the marking of student work written out in exercise books.


醉心 jeui3 sām1 = to be engrossed in; to be infatuated with



Note: 麻麻哋 màah4 máa4*2 déi6*2 is commonly used as an adjective meaning “so-so”, indicating a less-than-enthusiastic response to something. Here, intriguingly, it is used as a verb meaning “to regard something as being so-so”. What Chē1 Suhk6 Mùih4 says can therefore be translated as “Actually, someone told me that you regarded your own name ‘Chan Siu-chee’ as only being so-so”. She then goes on to ask: “How is it that you could say ‘so-so’ (about your personal name)?”

陳肇始:其實 . . . 又 . . . 都唔係麻麻哋,只不過細個陣時候呢,讀小學呢,噉我哋讀小學嘅時候呢,小學中學都係,我哋用英文名嘅。噉所以呢,大家都其實基本上唔係咁知道大家啲同學嘅中文名。噉先生呢,就 尤其是小學嘅時候呢,就耐唔時呢,會叫每一個同學企起身,就講你嘅中文名俾大家聽吓啦咁。噉但係每一次當我講嗰陣時候呢,噉我先生呢,一定「吓?」咁「吓」我一次。噉,我就覺得,咦,係咪有好怪,係唔係有乜問題呢?【10:00】其他同學都冇「吓」,但係呢,我講完又吓, 我要再講多一次。噉呢個感覺呢,就好似覺得我個名點解咁嘅,點解先生好似有啲懷疑嘅咁。噉點解我又唔好似其他同學改嗰啲名。點解我媽媽又改呢個名嘅。噉其實有少少呢個咁樣嘅感覺嘅。

耐唔時 noih6 mh4 4*2 = now and then; from time to time

Note: 吓 háa2 is equivalent to “huh?” in English and is used to express the sense of being puzzled by something. Here, with creativity, Chan Siu-chee turns it into a verb, with the approximate meaning of “to respond to something by saying ‘huh?’”!

Note: Don’t forget that 改嗰啲名 just means “the names given to (other students)”. 改名 gói2 méng2 means “to name (a child); to give (a child) a name”.

(To be continued . . .)


Luen On Tin Hau Temple 2018


What the shoulder in its hearing borrows from the ears:
that distinct listening curve
as it makes its descent ever so gently down
to the armed socket. Against
the eyes of the edifice of the face —
self-conscious into the light — these shoulders attend
attuned in concentration to a rich global symphony
just outside the range of human hearing.
We are seconded to the task
by the boulder beauty of their shape;
we too wish
to hear what our ears openly deny us
beyond the broad beach of all auditory nerve:
something greater than the sense-attentive greatness of our own bodies, even:

a universe setting itself to itself through all its “parts”
to rights.


Photograph: 香港小欖聯安天后廟 Luen On Tin Hou Temple, Siu Lam, Hong Kong