Cantonese through News Stories: The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees

TVB Tai Po Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree Story_25 JAN 2020

In Hong Kong, it is still common practice to visit a temple to ask for help from nature spirits that dwell in a particular place, a place often indicated by an exceptionally beautiful-looking tree. The power of such spirits covers a number of aspects, including curing illness, divining future events, and helping people to make their wishes come true. Needless to say, many temples in Hong Kong are located in sites where powerful natural forces are concentrated.

The Wishing Trees of Lam Tsuen are located in a village called 放馬莆 Fong Ma Po, near the local Tin Hau Temple there. People have been going there for centuries at the time of the Lunar New Year to ask the trees to make their wishes come true, and a variety of ritual practices have arisen to cater for the needs of people seeking to bolster their fortune for the New Year.

There’s a lovely description of this tradition by Barbara Ward in Chinese Festivals:

Many traditionally minded people also make New Year expeditions to one of the several sites at which so-called “nature spirits” are believed to reside. A good example is in the Lam Tsuen Valley in the New Territories where a huge banyan tree is visited at this time by scores of black-clad Boat Women from Aberdeen, more than twenty miles away on the far side of Hong Kong island. In the evening when they have left, the banyan tree looks like a strangely off-centre Christmas tree festooned with paper gifts. (p.28)

Apart from a good deal of specific New Year vocabulary (all of it useful in its own way), the report also makes use of some other very handy items, including the idiom 再接再厲 joi3 jip3 joi3 laih6 and the often heard 人情味 yàhn4 chìhng4 meih6 = human interest.

Continue reading “Cantonese through News Stories: The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees”

Muzak at the White Lion, Aldeburgh

Big White Stone_Tung Ping Chau

The muzak, like thick carpet,
soothes the attention — silence,
magnet to all thought’s
discomfort, provokes

only aggravation. Yet for no good reason,
I am jolted out of numbness
by one odd track to the full
sound of music. Suddenly,

from the backdrop, airwaves
submerge my indifference.
I can no longer concentrate
on food, on conversation.

Something fundamental
is rounded up and counted.
Like a beam of shadow
revealed in incense-smoke,

this sketch of melody
is a forgotten note
I can just make out
to myself from birth.

In an accident of fine-tuning,
I am roused and composed
to the life of my sonic twin:
NO-BODY-NEXT-TO-NO-ONE.

 

Photograph: 香港東平洲 Tung Ping Chau, Hong Kong (2016)

Wide World of Steam (Noodle Shop, Sheung Shui 上水)

Faa Paau Tuen Tsz Wai Tuen Mun

In their perspex hutch cooks rustle up
a galaxy of dumplings and noodles.
A waitress in gumboots
gives me the stern-eye test — she softens
when I stammer out my order comprehensibly
(Sai leih 犀利, she mutters to her customer-
theatre). There’s a great big board up there on the wall
in place of a menu, badly amended
with the usual afterthoughts,
and a squeeze of round stools round thin, plywood tables
which people are forced — amicably —
to share. I get my cold cup of soy-milk
and a bowl of hot broth snaked with white hoh 河 (river) noodles;
beneath them, submerged, tight knuckles of pork
and prawn-meat wantonly glisten.
It is then I sit back at my wide rim of steam
lost in sub-animal comfort.

 

Photograph: 香港屯門屯子圍 Tuen Tsz Wai, Tuen Mun, Hong Kong (2016)

Gunslinger

Bell Lung Yeuk Tau Tin Hau Temple_7 APR 2016

At this point in time
a finger on the trigger is the only fact you can possibly make headroom for
while your opponent ⸺
if there is such an assailant ⸺
manages to snaffle every hiding-place on offer
in this weather-boarded weather-beaten ghost-town.
TIME AT THIS POINT PASSES YOU BY:
needles on the cacti spike out an extra inch of their substance;
TIME AT THIS POINT PASSES YOU BY:
a whole small mountain
removes itself in equal measures of fine dust and sand
to relocate
in horse winds galloping the prairie or in long lung-linings
elastic with howl in a grey wolf;
TIME AT THIS POINT PASSES YOU BY:
you feel the rougher molecules
in particles, then atoms densely packed
in discrete motes of steel, as texture ⸺
out of thin air ⸺ overtakes by stealth
all those sources of distraction in your porous cowboy head.
You don’t exactly lose yourself
in this quest for concentration,
but, in blinding sunset’s molten yellow glare,
as your man-shadow lengthens past the point of no return
it is you who go off ⸺
not that figment of a firearm you once held in your hand
and when you turn for home
puzzling in this dark adaptation
and navigating by new stars in your personal undergalaxy,
there is no time to spare even one last thought
for any Wild Western smoking gun’s linger . . .

 

Photograph: 香港龍躍頭天后宮 Tin Hau Temple, Lung Yeuk Tau, Hong Kong

To the Man in the Bank (After Adam Zagajewski)

Tung Ping Chau_Tree in Cliff RESIZED

He turns to the woman behind him in the queue and says:
Life is like a bicycle when you stop pedalling, it stops.
She disagrees, instinctively,

and so do I from further down the line (but
do I really, deep down?)
I think that
sometimes there is beauty that can take my breath away,
but mainly there’s just breath,
a slow and steady intake
of whatever’s taking place in time.
What he really meant to say was that our lives have become machine-like
and full of desperation, that work
is a rat-race destructive of any genuine sense of achievement
(but it could be so much more),
and that any thought of change is crushed by the constant threat of failure,
but by the time I managed to think of all this
it was too late to tell him ⸺
out loud.

 

Photograph: 香港東平洲 Tung Ping Chau, Hong Kong (2016)

Lightly, Politely, Indirectly

Sweeper's Hat Sha Tin_NOV 2017

In the long run it seemed taller ⸺
failure ⸺
as if it were only “fortune” spelt backwards in a new word
too high for high school. Certainly,
it made dreams of all that was opposite richer;
without it, aspiration would have seemed uneventfully flatter.
And then, for the time being,
there was everything you could wish for in air,
in water,
in trees that still storeyed straight up out of the yard
into their skyward beams.
And the sun rose and settled, in one sense
out of this world,
yet infinitely at the same time
in it, with its warmth, its light,
its infallible solar-solidarity. And the moon too
more changeable than any sun could be
and so much closer to disaster in its proximity to darkness
continued to spin
with ritual total surrender to the dictates of gloom
through each slow stage of a broad blemished radiance.
The universe in its essential cycles
went on deliberately overriding ⸺
and undermining ⸺ Grand Human Design,
till finally for precisely that reason I decided to take my own life
back from AMBITION,
one day
dividing attention instead with everything transient, flawed,
and trustworthy only in the immediate sense,
in that unique scheme of a blink-of-the-eye instant
and, in the process, learning ⸺
if you could even call it “learning” ⸺
over and over ⸺ what so-called “damage” had to tell me⸺ the hard way.

 

Photograph: 香港沙田城門河 Shing Mun River, Sha Tin, Hong Kong (2017)

香港帶上面罩 / Hong Kong Face Masks

29750B75-E32F-4248-913E-AAEBBC41E229_White Moth_11 FEB 2020

其實最近我出街時都有諗,而家香港人一出街就帶口罩,將我哋嘅面部表情都遮住曬,唔知會唔會對我哋嘅文化、表情動作帶嚟影響,真係人人都帶住口罩做人,好奇怪嘅,你明知自己嘅表情,對方未必睇到,咁你使唔使表現出嚟,定會選擇別無表情。同時,我哋又好難睇到對方嘅反應,總覺得怪怪… 人與人之間嘅關係好似有小小影響咁…(不過可能係我諗多咗啦。)

Actually, just recently, whenever I’ve gone out, I’ve had the feeling that because we people in Hong Kong have to put on a face mask whenever we leave our homes, thereby completely hiding the expressions on our faces, there might be some effect on our culture, our facial expressions, on the gestures we use. Imagine if we all wore these masks: of course, you know what your own expression means, but the weird thing is, the person you might be talking to can’t necessarily see it. That being the case, is there any need to try and express something on your face, or should you choose to remain absolutely expressionless? By the same token, we cannot see the reactions on the face of the person we are talking to and that’s a strange thing, too . . . It seems as if it must have a small impact on our interpersonal relations . . . (Or perhaps I am just over-thinking things!)

EK