Afterliving (Simon. And Merlin. And Me)

Vertical Shaft RESIZED

Now I can only know you at all from the depth of the grief
of your dog. Loss is not something
we can ever run simply away from
with the speed ⸺ full pelt ⸺ of our legs,
yet what is a dog ⸺ newly orphaned ⸺ to do
but try. And try. And try. Otherwise,
stranded where standstill is the only possible option,
pain is forever,
never stopping to catch its breath.
From my long remote view, I think you could say
any of us would be proud of a mourning
that ran ⸺
and starved ⸺ for days,
single-mindedly careless of trivial well-being.
In this we sense the magic of both the dead and the living,
calling back and forth in synonymous,
mimicking hello’s
which evoke in the process an enigmatic Third Realm,
a world inhabited by life, and by death,
and by a finely indistinctive common-nonsensical Something Else ⸺
Other-Brother-Sister ⸺
that comes to the fore in peak-moments like this
just to teach us the gist
of page one of its elementary Beginner’s First Grammar
or the opening lines of some life-and-deathless short poem.


Photograph: 香港東涌黃龍坑豎井 Vertical shaft in Wong Lung Hang, Tung Chung, Hong Kong (2016)

Cantonese Podcasts: 陳文灝 Henry Chan Man-hou

Henry Chan 4

陳文灝 Chàhn4 Màhn4-houh6 (Henry) is one of the most beautiful people in Hong Kong ⸺ not for the way he looks but for the way he does. At the time this short video was made, he was the only staff member of the Hong Kong Society of Herpetology Foundation [香港兩栖及爬蟲協會] and utterly devoted to the plight of amphibians and reptiles in the territory. It is an inspiring sight to watch him in action. And, of course, we can also enjoy listening to his Cantonese!


Grammar points:

Henry tends to use the final particles 囉 lō1 and 啦 lāa1 a lot in ways that don’t always match conventional explanations. According to Yip and Matthews, 囉 “gives a suggestion that what is said should be obvious”, and can be used with the word 咪 maih6 = “then” to indicate “an obvious conclusion” (Intermediate Cantonese, Unit 23). The Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary has various definitions, including “[final particle] showing argumentative mood or making emphasis” and “[final particle] expressing a changed condition”. Keep these in mind as you listen to Henry: it would seem that the very general idea of adding emphasis is what he often aims to achieve with this particle.

As for 啦 lāa1, we expect to see it with imperatives, with suggestions introduced by 不如 bāt1 yùh4, and as a marker of the items in a list (but not with the final item [?]). Sheik Cantonese has “livelier version of喇 laa3”, which suggests that its main function is to report changed circumstances and to indicate what grammarians of Mandarin call CRS (current relevant status). The idea of “liveliness” seems to mean that speakers use it to indicate that what they are saying has a bearing on the “matter at hand”, but even as I write these words I can’t help feeling that we are still far from grasping an essential use of this particle!

In the phrase 唔掂得, the word 得 dāk1 = is a verb particle used to express possibility or capability. Importantly, it follows the verb it modifies. So, in the phrase 又或者邊啲位唔掂得呀, 唔掂得 means “cannot be touched”.

順便 seuhn6 bihn6 is a very useful expression with the meaning of “conveniently; in passing”. This word has, I think, a sense of the English “and while you’re at it . . .”. There is also the sense, too, of “since you happen to be doing A, you might as well do B”. When you hear Charlotte say 有時過嚟幫手做義工,就順便可以見佢咁樣囉, she wants to indicate that she comes to do some voluntary work so that, “in the process”, she can get to spend some time with Henry.



義工工作 yih6 gūng1 gūng1 jok3= volunteer work
圍繞 wàih4 yíuh5 = to revolve around; to centre on
對 . . . 有誤解 deui3 yáuh5 ngh6 gáai2 = to misunderstand so. or sth.
專登 jyūn1 dāng1 = on purpose; deliberately
脾性 peih4 sing3 = disposition; temperament
坎坷 hām1 hō1 = ① bumpy; rough, rugged; ② miserable; frustrating; in bad luck
畸士 kēi 6*2 = a loan-word for the English “case”; an instance
充公 chūng1 gūng1 = to confiscate
投放感情 tàuh4 fong3 gám2 chìhng4 = to project one’s feelings (onto sb./sth. else)
使命 si3 mihng6 = a (personal) mission (MW: 份)

This video lasts for 4:56 minutes. Scroll down for the Cantonese transcription, rough English translation and notes. To watch the video, click here.

To check anything in the transcription and for standard jyutping romanization, please refer to the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.

The video also includes quite a number of captions referring to the species of the amphibian or reptile shown, together with a nickname. I have included all these inside square brackets.


我叫 Henry
My name is Henry

At present, I am the only employee of the Hong Kong Society of Herpetology

● 嚟㗎 lèih4 gaa3 is associated with explanations, and adds a hint of what English might cover with the phrase “just in case you were wondering”. We meet a second example later on, in the sentence 噉係我哋其中一位教育大使嚟嘅 = He is one of our educational ambassadors

Most of the time, for the most part, I run activities [connected with] environmental education

● The phrase 我平時主要呢 is literally something like “I usually importantly”, but I have tried to make the English natural. The use of 呢 at the end of a clause (when not an information-question particle) crops up several times in this video and may have to do with continuous states. Keep an eye (an ear) out for other instances in the course of the interview.

In addition, I take care of the amphibians and reptiles in the adoption centre

In my spare time, I like to [會] make art based on the environment

● The modal verb 會 wúih5 is associated with habitual actions. English uses the so-called “present tense” (!) to achieve the same result.
● The character 以 yíh5 in 以生態 functions as a co-verb working together with the main verb 做 = to make (some creative artworks) using/making use of/based on the environment.
● In this case, 啦 lāa1 is being used to signal the items in a list.

And I also like to do a spot of hiking

● Here, 吓 háah5 serves as an aspect marker. Yip and Matthews link it to what they call “the delimitative aspect”, which boils down to doing something “for a little while” (see Intermediate Cantonese, pp.74-75).

同埋都會去其他嘅 NGO 做一啲嘅義工工作囉
And I also go and do volunteer work at other NGOs

Therefore, you could say [可以話], all the time in my week revolves around the environment

● The verb 圍繞 wàih4 yíuh5 means “to revolve around; to centre on”. 住 (or 著) jyuh6 is another aspect marker covered briefly in Unit 19 of Basic Cantonese by Yip and Matthews. They sum up its function as describing “a continuous activity or state without change”. They note too that only certain verbs can take this marker, making it a bit unpredictable.

Revolves around the natural world

Headline: I Am Delighted to Meet Amphibians and Reptiles

Generally, the amphibians and reptiles we refer to in conversation [嚟講]

Here, 嚟講 is not the one we usually meet in phrases such as 對於我嚟講 = as far as I am concerned. Instead, it means something like “come to speak of”.

The ones most people are familiar with

Are frogs or salamanders

● Here is another instance of 啦 lāa1 being used to signal the items in a list.
[Caption: 虎紋蠑螈豆豆 / The Tiger-striped Salamander, “Dau Dau”]

龜啦、蛇啦、蜥蜴、[Caption: 東部箱龜 / Eastern Box Tortoise] 甚至 eh 鰐魚咁樣嘅
Tortoises, snakes, lizards, and even crocodiles and such

[Caption: 血蟒爬妹 / Sumatran short-tailed python, “Little Sister Paa”]

Why initially did I want to pick this job?

Perhaps instead I felt that the amphibians and reptiles picked me

● 又 yauh6 has a special role to play in the Cantonese organization of ideas. I have heard it described as designating “a parallel situation”, so it usually follows some previous statement with further clarification or, in this case, a kind of reversal.
● The full term for “amphibians and reptiles” is 兩栖及爬蟲 léuhng5 chāi1 kahp6 pàah4 chùhng4. Henry sometimes reduces this to 兩栖爬 and sometimes even further to 兩爬!

There are probably few specialist organizations in Hong Kong that do work to protect amphibians and reptiles

[Caption: 星點龜 / Spotted Turtle]

Many people have misunderstandings about them

Or have ignored such animals

[Caption: 北部鑽紋龜 / Northern Diamond Back Terrapin]

[I] hope to be able to do some things

[Caption: 東部箱龜 / Eastern Box Turtle]

Making use of my knowledge to help these animals

This species is called the African Ball Python

His nickname is Little Ball

He is one of our educational ambassadors

[Caption: 非洲球蟒波仔, African Ball Python, “Little Ball”]

Because actually we go and study about the environment and go into the wilderness to look at it

● 野外 yéh5 ngoih6 = the countryside

[When], for instance, we see a snake we won’t go out of our way to annoy it deliberately

● 特登 dahk6 dāng1 = “on purpose; deliberately”. 專登 jyūn1 dāng1 means the same thing.
● 攪 gáau2 = ① disturb; annoy; bother ② stir; mix; blend

So [when] we come here

嘩,要 ah 要拎上手,要照顧佢
Wow, we have to handle it [拎], we have to look after it

● 拎 nīng1 or līng1 = ① carry or hold with a hand; lift up ② to take away/out; bring over ③ to make use of sb./sth.

Actually, there is a psychological barrier one must get over

Having had prolonged contact [with them] . . . [you] discover that actually

好多蛇都 . . . 你只要知道脾性呀
There are many snakes . . . as long as you understand their nature

● 脾性 peih4 sing3 = disposition; temperament

Or which places cannot be touched

● Here is another instance of 又或者, indicating a parallel situation.
● 掂 dim3 = to touch. In the phrase 唔掂得, the final 得 dāk1 = is a verb particle used to express possibility or capability. Importantly, it follows the verb it modifies.

其實佢都會好 friendly
Then they will be friendly

In my experience, “they; them; their” etc. is often expressed by the singular 佢 kéuih5 when it is a matter of non-human beings and inanimate things.

Without any mistrust of you

● 戒心 gaai3 sām1 = be weary of; cautious; vigilant; keep one’s guard up; distrustful
[Caption: 中國水龍單眼仔 / Chinese Water Dragon, “One Eye”]

The animals in our centre have actually had a miserable time of it

● 坎坷 hām1 hō1 = ① bumpy; rough, rugged; ② miserable; frustrating; in bad luck

For instance, the Red-eared Slider ⸺ these

You can get a hold of [買到] one of these for 10 or 20 Hong Kong dollars

● 廿 yaah6 = a colloquial way of saying “twenty”

[Caption: 巴西龜,Red-eared Slider “Ping Ping”]

Few people have any interest in adopting one

[Caption: 盾臂龜,皮蛋 / African Spurred Tortoise, “Preserved Duck Egg”]

Generally, tortoises are rather more popular

陸龜 luhk6 gwai2 = (land) tortoise

[Caption: 凸臂鰐龜,小鋸鰐魚 / Snapping turtle (?), “Little Saw Alligator”]

噉亦都係我覺得,啫, 動物俾咗個 ah 「價值」佢
But then, too, [I] also feel, that is, in the case of animals, [once] they are given a “value”

就變咗 . . . 一啲人俾一啲物種嘅動物會被人忽視或者歧視囉
As so [變咗] . . . some kinds of animals may be overlooked or discriminated against

● 變咗 bin3 jó2 = a word showing consequence, i.e. “so; consequently”
● 物種 maht6 júng2 = species

I have to do the cleaning as well as feed [the animals]

● Here, Henry Chan uses 呀 āa1 (?) to indicate the items in a list. I cannot say whether 啦 lāa1 and 呀 are simply alternatives, or whether some underlying rule determines which one is used . . .

Do some record-keeping

I even help to give the sick ones [有病嘅] their medicine

● Note the use of 嘅 ge3 here. It forms an indefinite noun meaning “the sick ones” or “the ones that are sick”. We have already encountered this use of 嘅 to make indefinite nouns in the phrase 多人熟悉嘅 = The ones most people are familiar with

Minor duties include doing a bit of lifting and carrying [搬搬抬抬] and answering the phone

都 . . . 都需要幫手
I help out doing all these

There was a group of Diamondback Terrapins

The group [佢], as a matter of fact . . . that case [involved] over a hundred tortoises that were first of all confiscated

● 畸士 kēi 6*2 = case. It is sometimes also written as K事.
● 充公 chūng1 gūng1 = to confiscate

But because itself they were probably on the way to be being smuggled somewhere

● 本身 bún2 sān1 = itself. This usually comes after the thing it modifies, but I have the feeling that佢 kéuih5 is implicit here: 但因為佢本身佢可能. It has been omitted to avoid repetition.

They had already been put under a lot of pressure and had many illnesses

Too crowded together, and by the time they came [here] it was too late to save them

● 擠迫 zāi1 bīk1= cramped (?)

[Until] finally there were only nine left just now [而家]

● There is a tone-change in 最尾 jeui3 mēi5*1, meaning “final; last place” according to Sheik Cantonese. Here, “finally” seems more suitable.

When I checked the corpses of the dead tortoises

● 清理 chīng1 léih5 = to clear; to put in order; to check up

I could see that, ah, they were still OK yesterday

But today suddenly they were gone

●  Here, 今日 gām1 yaht6 sounds as if it is being pronounced *gam at.

不過,其實,eh 而家對得耐咗都習慣嘅
However, now, as a matter of fact, having faced [such things] for a long time, I am used to it

● I am not sure about 對得耐咗. My understanding is that 對 deui3 is a verb meaning “to face”, followed by a resultative (?), giving us “to face (something) for a long time”. The aspect marker 咗 jó2 suggests that the speaker has already realized this long-term facing of animal death and has therefore become accustomed to it. Compare this to an earlier comment Henry makes: 接觸耐咗就發現其實 = Having had prolonged contact [with them] . . . [you] discover that actually.

I project my feelings [into the animals] quite a bit, . . . the rebound is big

● 投放 tàuh4 fong3 = to put into circulation; to throw in
● 反彈 fáan2 daahn6 = (to?) rebound; rebound

Henry Chan 3

So after [this], that is, perhaps some new animals will come

就 . . . 可能冇咁擺太多感情落去
Then . . . I don’t think I’ll put so much of my emotions into [them]

● It is unusual to say 可能冇咁擺太多感情落去, but the man is clearly very upset at this point. Normally, one would say可能唔會擺太多感情落去.

Because I worry that [if/when] they die

I’ll be unhappy

Charlotte speaks:

Sometimes [I] come over and help out as a volunteer

And in the process [順便] I can get to see him

● 順便 seuhn6 bihn6 = conveniently; in passing. This word has, I think, a sense of the English “and while you’re at it . . .”.

I know he’s busy, yes

● Here, 都 dōu1 seems to add emphasis, rather than to mean “also”.

So I do everything I can to see if there is anything

I can do to bring us together [夾] using my own methods

● The character 夾 gaap3 has quite a number of meanings. I recently came across 河國榮 Gregory Rivers using it to mean “compatible; on the same wavelength”: 噉啱發覺我身邊啲朋友 / 全部都係香港人 / 啫,我哋,唔知點解我哋好夾嘅. However, in this context, Charlotte seems to use it to mean “to come up with a time or to agree on a time” when both of them are free.

To have some shared time [共同嘅時間] to go out

I mean, our study, the things that we study, our going out to work, and even the things we do in our free time

● In this list, Charlotte uses 呀 āa1 to enumerate the individual items.

Are connected with the natural environment

Henry speaks again:

Eh 有時都會幾攰,但係有滿足感嘅
Sometimes [I] am quite tired, but feel a satisfaction

Having made use of every minute and every second, you could say

Because there is [a sense of] a mission here

For instance, if I weren’t around

There’d be no one to take care of the animals in the centre any more

A reminder [提著] to oneself not to give up this thing

● From the context, 提住(著)seems to mean “to remind” or “keep reminding oneself”. In Unit 19 of Basic Cantonese, Yip and Matthews point out that “verb + jyuh6 can mean something different from the simple verb by itself” (p.101).

“In June, it’s raining last year’s rain” by Woo Sai Nga, translated by Audrey Heijns

67d80235-c332-4c83-a131-5c713d2f0ffb_Woo Sai Nga Drawing_18 MAY 2020

The rain beats down, cultivating flowers that can fly
while waiting for the rain to stop, people look around
their pupils filled with pools of water,
they let themselves waver
more easily by the rain

The umbrellas are in dire straits, hems are about to fly
Tree trunks that got soaked appear deeper
and tougher than human beings

The sun sets, the sun rises
and it still keeps on


〈六月,天空下著去年的雨〉/ 胡世雅





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. She was the leader of the workshop “Literary Convergence ⸺ May Fourth Hong Kong”, Theatre-in-Education Project (Reading and Writing), held at the Hong Kong Literature Research Centre, The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2019/20.

● 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.

Eagles (Ling Kok Shan 菱角山)

2018-09-20 Carrs Road Clouds 3

They are so much wing
the body is merely a regal hinge
equipped with claws.

In their circles they soar
the stillness of a pin-drop
and lift the earthbound
a just fraction off Earth.

(A mountain of granite below
is made light of
and the sea all the way
to the horizon
seems small.)

Above white tombs
built into the steep hill-side
their voices break the science of the shade.

Hearing Voices

2018-11-26 Sai Kung Graffiti

A voice calls your name
three, four times through the (empty)
house. It’s her voice,
you’re sure — the voice

of your sister. You expect
any moment to see
her face worrying
at a window or opening
to you through a door.

There is no one.

You explain it as a sign
of an “audible disorder”
in your head, but maybe
this key to all of us
that has no precise sound
or shape of its own
borrowed one refrain
from insistent thought
to ask you to step outside
your own self-echo.


Photograph: 香港西貢:塗鴉 Graffiti seen in Sai Kung, Hong Kong (2018)


Door at Kam Tin Tin Hau Temple 2016_RESIZED

Ալ հոգնա՜ծ եմ
ըսպասելեն տենչանքներուս մեղրին անույշ
— Միսաք Մեծարենց

I imagined you uncomfortably centre of a swarm
when you said you’d run them over with the mower,
the bees. We marched to our surprise
back to the place, hearing the high-voltage hum
of an unidentified engine, singing of the sting
rather than of coarse honey’s vaguer promise.
Clustered at the mouth of a depression,
they made a house of themselves on shorn grass,
court of a runaway queen restless for fresh pollen
or victims of virus-longing.
Sentries levitated against our curious air-space,
buzzing sun-glassed heads as a check to distance.
My exposed ankles felt for the insects,
with the sun in the west and frogs exhaling damp at dusk
to the threat of frosts. What could they do
deprived of the six angles of the hexagon
bees need to impose minimum shelter on their world?
To know that we would have to return
when fields of frozen-grinning daisies next came back to light.
And we did. They were gone.

Photograph: 香港錦田天后廟 Tin Hau Temple in Kam Tin, Hong Kong (2016)

Cantonese Podcasts: A Postman’s Gaze (1)

Cheung Chau Temple_APR 2016_REDUCED

Journey to the Isle is an innovative WordPress website dedicated to the Hong Kong island of Cheung Chau as experienced by a cross-section of its inhabitants. All of them have their own deeply personal stories to tell. There are numerous written anecdotes transcribed into Cantonese (a good source of information about written Cantonese, but unfortunately not translated into English) and also quite a large number of short videos in which project members talk about their very individual experiences of this place.

In this 3-minute clip, 李達成 Léih5 Daaht6 Sìhng4, one of Cheung Chau’s postmen, talks about his passion for photography which led to a picture he took of “the Doctor” [「博士」bok3 sih6], an old man who seems to come and go as he pleases, without attachments, and who has an unsuspected interest in books and music. Lee talks about how he gradually came to know the man and what he learned about this unusually self-contained character.

In terms of grammar and usage, there are a few points worth noting. Firstly, you’ll hear a couple of examples of the progressive aspect in 做緊嘢 (“doing things”) and 都係我喺轉緊嘅 (“I was turning things over [in my mind]”). Secondly, the postman says 擺啲時間 = to make the time to do sth. Thirdly, at the end, you’ll hear 啦 lā1 to enumerate the items in a list. Finally, and most interestingly, 李達成 also makes use of 開 hōi1 as an aspect marker in the final paragraph, added to verbs to indicate habitual action. In my own limited experience of the language, I have seldom come across this marker.

In recent weeks, I’ve been wondering a bit about the various uses of 呢 nī1/ne1. Like many common bits of Cantonese, 呢 is put to a range of uses. Pronounced as nī1 or lī1 (and sometimes even reduced to yī1), it generally means “here; this” etc.:

呢一個人 = this person

Pronounced as nē1 or lē1, it is routinely encountered as a question particle used especially for information question (for yes/no questions, 呀 aa3 is preferred):

然後呢 = then what happened?
佢係咪一個好窮嘅人呢? = Was he a poor man?

More elusively, it also seems to play a role in marking the topic of a sentence, and is often attached to more than one phrase, perhaps to signal to the listener that we have not yet arrived at the comment part of the sentence.

當時,其實,因爲「博士」呢,佢好多時,大家見面呢,佢就會撩吓我呀。 = Well . . . at that time, actually, because the Doctor, on many occasions, would, when we saw one another, say something to tease me
噉其實呢,啲問題呢,都係我喺轉緊嘅。= So I was actually turning these questions over [in my mind].

It is certainly true, too, that 呢 is regularly attached to what might be called “discourse markers”, that is, short phrases that link parts of the sentence and establish logical relations. Some of these (from sources other than this video) include: 噉所以呢; 嗱,其實呢; 你可以話呢; 同埋呢; 因爲呢 . . . I suspect that there are other, additional uses of 呢 (including one for “continuous states), just to make life interesting!

Needless to say, there is also some very worthwhile vocabulary in the piece: 有型 yáuh5 yìhng4 = smart; stylish (see Current Colloquial Cantonese: p.15); 身水身汗 sān1 séui2 sān1 hohn6 = to be dripping with sweat; to be drenched in sweat; sweating profusely; 可造之才 hó2 jouh6 jī1 chòih4 = a person suitable for training; a promising young person; 第一開始 daih6 yāt hōi1 chí2 = at first; from the outset; from the very beginning; 流浪者 làuh4 lohng6 jé2 = a drifter or wanderer; 疏 sō1 = ① sparse; thin; scattered ② distant; not familiar; and 自由自在 jih6 yàuh4 jih6 joih6 = carefree; free; (to enjoy one’s own company?)

You can watch the video here, as well as see a copy of the photograph Michael Lee took. If you’d like to read the Cantonese transcription together with an English translation, please keep scrolling down.


郵差的眼睛 / A Postman’s Gaze

主持人:呢一個人 . . .  一定有嘅。
Questioner: Such a man . . . certainly exists.

李達成:有啦。頭先你講ah「博士」嗰張相呢。好似頭先你講「博士」嗰張相。噉 . . . 當時,其實,因爲「博士」呢,佢好多時,大家見面呢,佢就會撩吓我呀。我做緊嘢身水身汗咁樣,佢都會撩我傾一兩句計架。

● The common word 好似 hóu2 chíh5 is usually translated as “to be like”, but it sometimes seems to introduce a note of uncertainty or reduced certainty: “I seemed to remember you saying” or “I was under the impression (but I may be wrong)”.
● 撩 lìuh4 = to tease; to tantalize; to provoke. By extension, it may perhaps also refer to the act of saying something in order to strike up a conversation.

Michael Lee: Yes, he does. Just now you spoke about that photo of “the Doctor”. I got the impression [好似] that just now you spoke about that photo of “the Doctor”. Well . . . at that time, actually, because the Doctor, on many occasions, would, when we saw one another, say something to tease me [撩吓我]. Even if I were in the middle of something and dripping with sweat, he would say something and start chatting with me.

Michael Lee_The Doctor_9 MAY 2020


主持人:例如係 . . . ?
Questioner: What did he say to you [literally = for instance]?

李達成:例如,例如 . . . 好尷尬架喎。佢話,「啊你真係最有型嘅郵差嘅」(laughter)。
Michael Lee: Well, for instance, for instance . . . I feel very embarrassed about it! He would say: “Ah, you really are the most handsome postman”.


● As a final particle 啫 jē is generally used to downplay the significance of what was said. The implication here, I think, is “there’s nothing so very embarrassing about that”. But 啫 jē also occurs in this conversation with the meaning of “that is; I mean”, something that is also said as a filler when you are trying to think of what to say next.
● 好眼光 hóu2 ngáahn5 gwōng1 = literally “good vision”, but figuratively “good taste”.

Questioner: Why be embarrassed by a little thing like that? He has good taste, he has good taste! Then what happened?

李達成:噉我就俾佢「溝」到啦(laughs)。噉呀 . . .

● 溝 kāu1/gāu1 = to pick/chat up; to cruise (for sexual partner); (?) to pursue (a potential partner). This seems to introduce a vein of sexual innuendo into the conversation, triggered by the Doctor’s comments on the postman’s good looks and perhaps touched on again in the use of 可造之才 in the next part, but I may be reading too much into the Cantonese . . . My Cantonese informant explains 溝 as follows: 至於「溝」,通常講男女關係,「溝」係比較粗俗,但唔係粗口,亦好常用,意思係「追」,想追佢做女朋友或男朋友。例如:呢個男同事對呢個女同事作出咁多攻勢,又送花,又送人哋返屋企,又成日讚佢叻,攞明就係想溝佢啦。不過個女同事冇咩大反應,好似唔受溝。

Michael Lee: Well, I let him catch me [溝]! And so . . .

Questioner: Yes, you are very handsome!

李達成:噉呀,跟住開始去去飲茶。噉我經過就同佢嗰陣時去邊度飲茶喇,喺 . . . 而家我唔知叫咩,喺海濱隔離嗰度附近飲早茶嘅。噉我有時經過,噉見到佢同另一個叔叔喺度飲茶。噉我可能坐低搭吓枱呀咁樣,大家傾吓,即係 *jē1,傾吓計咁。同埋我覺得佢 eh 係真係一塊可造之才囉,啫喺影相方面。噉我,我都要擺啲時間嘅,我都要擺啲時間同佢混熟啲呀,嗄。噉亦都出真心嘅,啫唔係話咩 . . .

● 搭枱 daap3 tói4*2 = (?) to share a table with (a party of people already seated). I am often asked whether I would like to 搭枱 when trying to get a meal in a crowded cha chaan teng!
● 混 wahn6 = to muddle/drift along; to get along with; 混熟 wahn6 suhk6 = to muddle along with someone to the point of getting to know them well (熟 suhk6 here is a particle that expresses result).

Michael Lee: And so after that we began to go and have a cup of tea [together]. If I happened to be passing by [經過], I would go and have a cup of tea with him at . . . I don’t know what the place was called now, there was [a place] right next to the praya [海濱隔離嗰度附近] where we would drink our tea of a morning. Sometimes I would pass by, and I would see him there having his tea with some other old fellow [另一個叔叔]. And so I might sit down [with them] and we would have a chat, have a bit of a chat. I also felt that he, eh, really was a promising subject [可造之才], I mean [啫] in terms of a photograph. And so I, I would make the time [to see him], I would even make the time to get to know him [混熟] a little better. But I was motivated by a sincere wish, you couldn’t say that there was . . .

Questioner: But was it that that in the first instance you felt that you wanted to take a photograph [of him] and so later became interested in him?

李達成:Eh 都唔係。其實,佢個人我其實已經係對佢都好有興趣。佢究竟係咪,真係一個,啊 . . . 流浪者呢?佢唔似係神經 . . . 啫,唔似係精神病嘅,佢唔似嘅。但係佢係咪真係一個流浪者呢?佢係咪一個好窮嘅人呢?噉其實 er 有冇人可以幫到佢嘅呢?噉其實呢,啲問題呢,都係我喺轉緊嘅。

● 轉 jyun3 = ① to revolve; to rotate, to spin; ② a round trip. In this context, it does seem to mean more or less what English expresses with the idiom “to turn over in one’s mind”.

Michael Lee: No, it wasn’t like that. Actually, I was actually very interested in him as a person. Was he, was he really . . . ah, a homeless wanderer [流浪者]? He didn’t look like he was mad . . . I mean, he didn’t look like a person with a mental problem, not like that. But was he really actually a wanderer without a home? Was he a poor man? Could anyone actually give him any help? So I was actually turning these questions over [in my mind] [轉].

Questioner: Do you have any answers?

李達成:Eh 有嘅。噉其實佢有物業啦、親人就好疏啦、就 . . . 有錢用嘅 . . . 有錢用嘅。噉呀同埋佢好鐘意佢自己一個人,自由自在嘅。啫,後來慢慢識佢傾開計,咁就知道佢多啲嘅嘢喇。同埋佢好鐘意聽音樂啦、音、睇書啦,嗄。 啫,啲文學嗰啲呢,即係名都唔識讀嘅嗰本書嗰啲嚟㗎,嗄。佢《聖經》話,都讀咗成本嘅,佢《聖經》都讀過。

● In a couple of places here, 啦 lā is used to designate the items in a list.
● In Intermediate Cantonese, Matthews and Yip explain 開 hōi1 as having a habitual meaning (see Unit 12 on aspect markers), so 傾開計 suggests, I think, “to get into the habit of talking” or “talking on a regular basis”.
● The use of 音 before 睇書 is just a casual error made by the speaker.
● Two different aspect markers are used in 佢《聖經》話,都讀咗成本嘅,佢《聖經》都讀讀 with the same verb 讀 duhk6 = to read, adding nuances to what is being said, although in English “had read” would be used in both cases. The first marker 咗 jó2 emphasizes realization: the Doctor has already achieved the feat of reading the whole Bible. The second marker 讀 gwo3 stresses past experience: Had he had any experience of reading the Bible? Yes, he had.

Michael Lee: Eh, yes, I do. Actually, he owned property, he didn’t have much in the way of family [好疏], and then [就] . . . he had money at his disposal . . . he had money at his disposal. And another thing [同埋], he really liked to be on his own, and live a free and easy life. So, [when] slowly I got to know him and we’d got into the habit of talking, I then knew more things about him. As well, he very much liked to listen to music, and to read. I mean, those literary [works], that is, those books the title of which [I] do not know have to read. The Bible, he said, he had read from cover to cover [成本]. He had read the Bible.

The Use of One’s Legs (Sha Tin 沙田)


Small Shrine Peng Chau_3 DEC 2018

At least partially paralyzed below the waist,
he is bemused — or cross — in the whole of his face
when baldly I tell him in the best of my bad Cantonese
that I have no interest in tennis at all,
no: mou hingcheui 冇興趣.
“God, what a waste!” I imagine I see him think.
How he wishes he could force my legs
through some quirk or kink
of fate at once to trade places with his!
For solace he lights up a cigarette,
smoking hot air the length of Lek Yuen Street.
When he’s finished lunch we shake able-bodied arms
before he grips calloused wheels with his sugar-cube-crushing palms
and rolls off to a court nearby for a set.
Unsteady as sunstroke as I get to my feet,
I have to duck a dragonfly-volley aimed slap bang right between the eyes,
like guilt.


Photograph: 香港坪洲廟仔 Small shrine on Peng Chau, Hong Kong

Out of Nowhere (Shung Him Tong 崇謙堂)

Sai Kung Sha Kok Mei Bananas_RESIZED TWO_26 NOV 2018


I turn off and follow the road of a trickling stream
of details: a butterfly flat
on an upturned dish
feeds itself on this afternoon’s heat-waved sun;
in a private garden,
purple parasitic orchids
live off serenely their hard host tree;
a red dragonfly
counteracts the rust of a barbed-wire fence;
while banana leaves crackle withered skin across my straining
But where the path ends —
though believe me the stream flows on —
it’s the grass speaks loudest with gentle blades
 over and over
the Christian cemetery’s departed congregation.


香港西貢沙角尾:大蕉 Banana trees, Sha Kok Mei in Sai Kung, Hong Kong