Zolima City Mag’s “Alleyway Haircuts”

“Alleyway Haircuts” is another short documentary video in Zolima City Mag’s wonderful “Forgotten Icons” series.

After seeing Wong Kar-wai’s film Fallen Angels as part of a film course, Mark Lau abandoned cinema studies and instead took over his father’s barber shop in Wan Chai. This is his story.

For the grammatically-minded, the video contains several exciting moments. Two terms that are often translated as “even” in English get used. The first of these, 甚至乎 sahm6 ji3 fuh4 = “even; go so far as to” is used in the line 甚至乎引申到係一個知己囉 and indicates a sense of surprise on the speaker’s part, or that what one is saying might fall beyond the usual range of the listener’s expectations.

The other “even” is expressed by the structure 連 lìhn4 . . . 都 dōu1 and is also concerned with expectations (in comparisons it has to do with reaching an expected standard). It appears in the phrase 傳統嘅理髮師連乞兒都不如 = a traditional barber is not even as good as a beggar.

The second item of interest is the aspect marker 返 fāan1. 返 fāan1 in its own right means “to return”, and this hints at the fact that it functions somewhat like this re– in English, suggesting return, repetition and perhaps even resumption in the case of an action that has been broken off. In the three examples found in Mark Lau’s presentation, the first means “to take a second look”, the second means “to see again (after a certain interval of time)”, while the third ⸺ “to take on” ⸺ implies a kind of resumption, since Lau had been actively discouraged from taking over his father’s business:


There may be cases where 返 fāan1 as an aspect marker creates an idiomatic meaning, in the same way as 住 jyuh6 sometimes does.

Finally, the mystery final particle 囉 lō1 is used quite frequently by the speaker. Consider the following instances:

而唔係話去到嗰個位就 stop 咗,停咗喺度囉

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”. Certainly, in all the examples quoted from this video, the speaker is making claims that might invite disagreement. My working hypothesis here is that it is used “to soften the force” (?) of strongly asserted arguments: look, I really think this is the case, but you may wish to disagree . . . However, I need to do a lot more work on this question.

This video lasts for 2:45 minutes. Scroll down for the Cantonese transcription and notes. To watch the video (with English and Standard Chinese subtitles), click here

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


我叫劉家成,噉我英文名叫阿 Mark啦

理髮師 léih5 faat3 sī1 = barber; hairdresser

● One striking habit of the speaker is to use phrases such as 我父親佢 = lit. “my father he” in which the pronoun seems redundant. It might help to think of it as a form of apposition, roughly equivalent to the English “he, the man who is my father”. Watch out for the other examples in this video, including阿王導演佢 and 香港人佢.
● 創立 chong3 laahp6 = to establish; to found; to set up | I guess in this situation we could also say “he opened the Oi Kwan barbershop in 1962”.


● 有型 yáuh5 yìhng4 = handsome | You can also hear this expression in the podcast “A Postman’s Gaze (1)”: 主持人:你都係好有型呀!

電剪 dihn6 jín2 = electric clippers
Note that 同 tùhng4 in this context does not mean “with”. The meaning here is “for; on behalf of”.



The syntax of this sentence is clearly unusual. The main part appears to be 可以變咗個朋友咁嘅 = “can become friends, like”, to which is added the afterthought “interacting, [they] can be”. By the looks of it, this afterthought also employs dislocation. For details on this, see “Afterthoughts and dislocations” in Unit 24 of Intermediate Cantonese by Yip and Matthews.

傳統嘅 barbershop 嚟講就有一個「家」嘅感覺
Here, the structure 對[於] . . . 嚟講 = “with regard to; as far as . . . is concerned”, but the 對[於] has been dropped.


甚至乎 sahm6 ji3 fuh4 = even; go so far as to. This is a very useful expression in Cantonese, frequently used to add further information to a topic that might be considered unexpected. Here, for instance, Mark Lau suggests that customers become like family members, perhaps friends, and then finally even “bosom buddies”. Often, the乎 fuh4 at the end of this term is dropped.
引申 yáhn5 sān1 = to extend (the meaning of a word)
知己 jī1 géi2 = an intimate friend | The literal meaning suggests someone who knows [知] you nearly as well as you know yourself [己].

心事 sām1 sih6 = sth. weighing on one’s mind; a load on one’s mind; worry
The expression 有啲咩is often heard in questions. In a statement, it creates a general expression: “Whatever people have on their minds, they will talk about”.

當初 dōng1 chō1 = at first, originally | Here, perhaps “back [in the days] when I was studying . . . ”


墮落 doh6 lohk6 = to degenerate

熟口面 suhk6 háu2 mihn6 = a familiar face; a familiar person. Also expressed by the phrase 熟口熟面.

細查 sai3 chàah4 = (?) to examine closely/carefully

衝擊 chūng1 gīk1 = charge; assault; attack | Here, perhaps “impact” is what an English speaker would use here.
震撼 jan3 hahm6 = to shake; to vibrate; to shock; to rock | Or something more colloquial like “blew me away” or “left me reeling with the shock”.

親切 chān1 chit3 = (adj) amiable; friendly; cordial; kind; warm; sincere; gracious; intimate; dear; familiar (adv) heartily; warmly; graciously; kindly; (n) friendliness; hospitality cf. 親切感 = sense of cordiality / warmth

場景 chèuhng4 gíng2 = scenario; scene
背後意義 bui3 hauh6 yi3 yih6 = (?) the meaning behind sth.; the hidden meaning

從而 chùhng4 yìh4 = thus; thereby. I would have thought that this expression is something characteristic of written rather than spoken Cantonese, but here it is!
引發 yáhn5 faat3 = initiation | In this context, it must be the verb (?) “to initiate”.

接手 jip3 sáu2 = to take over (duties, etc.)

感恩 gám2 yān1 = feel grateful; be thankful

嚟㗎 leih4 gaa3 is added to create an “explanatory tone”:

噉而家係香港兩栖及爬蟲協會現時唯一嘅員工嚟㗎 = At present, I am the only employee of the Hong Kong Society of Herpetology (Henry Chan Man-hou)
噉所以呢,就後來我好鐘意我個名,因爲我覺得,即係,係一個好嘅開始呢,都係一件好嘅事嚟㗎。(Hong Kong Foothpath, Chan Siu-chi)

動力 duhng6 lihk6 = motive; motivation | Perhaps in this context “impetus” might be possible

師傅 sī1 6*2 = master worker; | Here, the addition of 老 lóuh5 suggests a highly experienced “veteran” of the barbering industry


乞兒 hāt1 4*1 = beggar
The structure 連 lìhn4 . . . 都 dōu1 is a useful one and expresses the idea of “even” in English ⸺ here, “not even as good as a beggar”. Also note that 不如 bāt1 yùh4 here, used at the end of the sentence, means “not as good as”; compare the 不如 used at the start of a clause to make a suggestion.

忿氣 fahn6 hei3 = accept failure; willing to concede/admit defeat

噉我上網睇 YouTube

噉仲有啲朋友介紹,去咗其他 barbershop 呀,salon 嗰度去到實習
The second character 仲 juhng6 commonly means “still”, but in this situation, it means “furthermore”. 仲 juhng6 can also be written 重 juhng6.
I first encountered 實習 saht6 jaahp in the sense of “work experience”. It can also refer to doing field work. Here, however, “to practise” or “to get more practice” is what is meant.

The literal meaning is “Don’t say the word “master”, but the implication is something like “Don’t even mention the word ‘master’” or “Never mind thinking about becoming a ‘master’”. | Note the routine use of 啦 lāa1 to soften the force of the imperative.

工藝 gūng1 ngaih6 = craft


Here, 追求好 jēui1 kàuh4 hóu2 seems to imply “the pursuit of excellence” or “to pursue excellence”.

This is a curious example of code switching, since Mark Lau gives the Chinese version straight after the English “stop”!

遺忘 wàih4 mohng6 = to forget | I don’t hear this very often. My feeling is that 唔記得 mh4 gei3 dāk1 is the usual expression for “to forget”.
留落嚟 is made up of 留 làuh4 = to leave and a directional complement 落嚟 lohk6 làih4, which suggests downward movement, but approximates the English “to leave behind” or even “to pass on (to posterity)”. I once read an explanation of the Chinese sense of time which likened it to a climb down a sheer mountain with one’s back to where one was going. In other words, one “falls” into the future facing the past! Time expressions such as 上星期; 下星期; 前天;後天 provide some support for this interpretation.

隔籬街 gaak3 leih4 gaai1 = the next street | Note that 隔籬 is pronounced in exactly the same way as the 隔離heard a lot at the moment because it means “isolation; quarantine”.



屬於 suhk6 yū1 = “belong to; be part of”. I get the impression that this is used a lot in Cantonese, so is definitely worth adding it to your repertoire of grammatical structures.
The syntax is curious in this sentence, and may be an example of an odd kind of dislocation! In 呢一點係咪屬於自己嘅文化呢個就, the last three characters 呢個就 = “this is [then]” may restate the earlier 呢一點係咪 = “is this [point]?”. Translated literally, we have “whether this [point] is a part of one’s own culture or not, this [then]”. However, it may just be a fairly vague afterthought, similar to 其實呢個都好感恩啦,呢個.

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