Cantonese Podcasts: A Postman’s Gaze (2)

Here is a second short clip in the “Postman’s Gaze” series from the Journey of the Isle website about Cheung Chau. In this one, 李達成 Léih5 Daaht6 Sìhng4 talks about a photograph of a bicycle he took when lit up by the first, early rays of the dawn. The image is certainly a memorable one, and made all the more poignant, especially in light of the current situation in Hong Kong, by the fact that the bike was parked outside a cemetery.

Grammar points:

A. The use of 咪 maih6 has been puzzling me for ages, especially when there is no accompanying 囉 lō1 at the end of the clause! My informant for this text added the following helpful notes:

Actually, 咪 has several meanings in Cantonese. Below I mentioned a few I could think of, but there might be more possibilities.
Firstly, it means “don’t” e.g. 咪笑我啦 = Don’t laugh at me, 咪走呀! = Don’t/ Stop running away! [Note: This 咪 is pronounced in the low-rising tone, máih5]
Secondly, in this transcription, you are right about the use of 咪 being similar to that of 就, but using 咪 helps you to emphasize more on the fact you are going to say. In 啫係有架單車咪插咗啲花, 咪 is used to emphasize or to state that there are flowers stuck on a bicycle. The situation is similar for 噉佢咪隨意咁樣泊架單車喺路中間囉. 咪 is used to link the subject and his action: 佢(subject) +咪+ 隨意咁樣泊架單車喺路中間囉 (action/fact). [Note: Because the final particle 囉 is added in this case, the use fits the explanation of “obvious conclusion” suggested by Yip and Matthews in Intermediate Cantonese, Unit 23。]
Lastly, it means “is” e.g. 佢咪我隻貓 = She is my cat.

Bear this in mind as you listen to Lee’s voiceover. There are some expressions in English such as “well, if it isn’t (noun)?” that use a kind of negative expression to achieve a sense of emphasis and/or surprise, and perhaps 咪 maih6 works in a similar way.

B. There is a type of verb in Chinese called a “verb-object compound”, made up of a verb and a noun. These verbs often behave in unusual ways. For example, the perfect aspect marker 咗 jó2 is routinely inserted between the verb and the object rather than at the end of the verb as is usual (at the end of the explanation, Lee says 影咗依張相 = photographed this; took this photo). Another kind of modification is found involving the VO compound斷氣 tyuhn5 hei3 = to be short of breath (or, more colloquially, “to run out of puff”). In this case, the object is put before the verb with dōu1 to indicate extreme degree:  氣都斷 = completely out of breath. I believe the rule of thumb is that any verb in which the second element is a noun can be classed in this category.

C. Cantonese uses a number of double final particles with a specific meaning such as 嚟㗎 for explanations (係墳場掃地嘅叔叔嚟㗎 = he’s the old man who goes and sweeps the cemetery grounds) and 吖嘛 for obviousness (this is used by Lee in 冇人㗎嘛, where 㗎嘛 is a contraction of 嘅吖嘛). A less common one is 咁滯 gam3 jaih6, which has the meaning of “almost; nearly”. So, 一路爬坡咁踩到氣都斷咁滯呀 means something like “ I kept on going up the slope until I was almost out of breath”. Sheik Cantonese also lists 飯熟晒咁滯。 = “The rice is almost done” and 佢啲錢差唔多輸晒咁滯。 = “He has almost lost all his money”. It can also be written 咁濟.

D. 零鐘 lèhng4 jūng1 is a colloquial term which usually comes after and modifies a certain time. It means “around” or “-ish” e.g. 8 點零鐘 = around 8 o’clock or eightish.


相冊 sēung1 chaak3 = photo album
朝頭早 jīu1 tàuh4 jóu2 = morning
爬坡 pàah4 bō1 = to climb a slope; to go up a hill
斷氣 tyúhn5 hei3 = ① to stop breathing; to breathe one’s last; to die ② to cut off the gas supply
唔係呀話 is used to express your emotion when you are surprised, often but not always, in a negative way. It can be translated as “What! / What’s going on?” or anything that suits the emotion.
主人 jyú2 yàhn4 = the owner (of a bicycle)
墳場 fàhn4 chèuhng4 = cemetery; graveyard
叔叔 sūk1 sūk1 = respectful term to address an older male
開工 hōi1 gūng1 = to start work
食正 sihk6 jeng3 = the bicycle was right under a ray of dawn light.
曙光 chyúh5 gwōng1 = the light of dawn (Measure word: 道 douh6)
依 yī1 is a common variant of 呢 nī1 = this
干擾 gōn1 yíu2 = to disturb; to interfere; to obstruct; to jam
畫面 wáa6*2 mín6*2 = usually “display; screen (of a monitor/TV)”; here perhaps “the composition” | Note that both characters change their tone in this compound.

You can watch the video here. If you’d like to read the Cantonese transcription together with an English translation, please keep scrolling down.

● 郵差的眼睛(2)

李達成:自己呃係個相冊裏面呢,風景係相對少嘅,嗄。又好似有一張呀,呃,啫係有架單車咪插咗啲花,啱啱有個光缐咁打落嗰張。噉嗰張呢,我朝頭早,就,踩單車練習。噉我就爬坡啦,一路爬坡咁踩到氣都斷咁滯呀 。 噉,啫係我當時,「呃唔係呀話,點解有架單車喺前邊路中心㗎?」咁。噉我睇真啲,「咦, 呢架單車我知道個主人係邊個架喎」咁 。而佢呢,就係一個,係墳場掃地嘅叔叔嚟㗎。噉佢開工呢,就當時你知啦 7 點零鐘,冇人㗎嘛。噉佢咪隨意咁樣泊架單車喺路中間囉。咁橋, 就係食正一道嘅曙光。噉我就落車,影咗依張相。噉佢又啱啱唔喺架車附近個度好喎,啫,冇干擾到個畫面。

Michael Lee: In my own, ah, photo album, there aren’t many images of scenery. But there is, it seems [好似], one picture, of a bicycle with flowers stuck on it, one in which a ray of light just happens to be falling [across] [打落嚟] it. That photo . . . I was out riding my bike in training [練習] one morning. I was climbing up a slope, all the way up a slope, until I was almost out of breath. Well at that moment, I [thought to myself]: “Ah, oh no [唔係呀話]. Why is there a bike in the middle of the road up ahead?”. When I looked a bit more closely, [I thought]: “Huh? I know the man who owns that bicycle!”. Now he, he’s, he’s the old man [叔叔] who goes and sweeps the cemetery grounds. He had started work. You know, it was only around 7 in the morning and there was no one [around]. He had casually parked his bike in the middle of the road. Just by chance, it just happened to be under a ray of dawn light. So, I got off my bike and took this photograph. As it happened, he was nowhere near his bicycle at the time, so didn’t spoil [干擾] the image.

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