Learning Cantonese: Max To’s Indigo Workshop on Lantau Island

Source: http://www.facebook.com/lantaublue/

If you’ve ever wondered why the Chinese character 藍 làahm4 meaning “blue” is written with the “grass” element, then now you know: it all goes back to indigo!

Actually, in the useful book Analysis of Chinese Characters (1934), the authors point out that the other part of the character is 監 gāam, “to watch” and that it is used purely to indicate the pronunciation (?), so “consequently has no logical explanation”. But after you’ve watched this video from Apple Daily, you’ll understand that it takes three days to dye garments properly with indigo, and that watchfulness is vital — 仲不時要 check 住染液嘅活躍程度, that is “you also have to check the dyeing liquid often for its degree of activeness”.

I first came across Indigo 11.50 in a story in the Zolima City Mag. This is how Christopher Dewolf introduces its founder:

“Five years ago, Max To was working as a cameraman when he began suffering from lower back pain. He took a long break in Taiwan, where he came across a traditional indigo dyeing workshop. That inspired him to return to Hong Kong, where he and three friends turned his family’s abandoned ancestral home into something similar.”

You can see beautiful examples of indigo-dyed clothing and accessories on Indigo 11.50’s Facebook page here.

There are no terribly difficult grammatical issues in the voice-over. There’s one instance of the fairly uncommon final particle 噃 bō1, which is similar, if not identical to 喎 wō1, but tends to indicate a slight level of surprise (contrary to expectations). You’ll also come across an example of a common particle of quantification, 嗮 saai3, placed after verbs. It neatly conveys the meaning of “all” in 只會啲人就會搬嗮出去 = then [everyone] will all move out.

As for the vocabulary, here’s just a brief sample: 質感 jāt1 gám2 = ① texture ② (of works of art) a feeling of reality; 祖屋 jóu2 ūk1 = ancestral home; 橡筋 jeuhng6 gān1 = rubber band; 溝成 kāu1 sìhng4 = roughly, “to mix (so as to form)”; and 節省 jit3 sáang2 = to economize; to save; to use sparingly.

Please scroll down for my transcription, English translation and notes. You can view the video here (subtitles in Standard Written Chinese only). Since it is a YouTube video, you can slow down the playback speed if you wish: at 0.75 and 0.5, the sound quality is still good. And remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.


記者:大嶼山石壁監獄旁邊 | 有個隱世小村落,大浪灣村

● 隱世 yán2 sai3 = (?) hidden away from the world; secluded

Reporter: Next to the Shek Pik Prison on Lantau Island, there is a small village tucked away from the world, Tai Long Wan.

杜學知: 我覺得手工染布喺呢個數碼年代 | 係帶一個人平時喺電腦度唔到嘅質感

● 數碼 sou3 máah5 = digital | ● 質感 jāt1 gám2 = ① texture ② (of works of art) a feeling of reality

Max To: In this digital age [of ours], I think, hand-dyed fabrics brings [with them] a feeling of reality [質感] that people usually don’t get from a computer.

Caption:80後,染出隱世一片藍 | Heading: Born in the 80s and Dyeing a Secluded World Indigo Blue

記者:舊年一次台灣行,令阿Max 接觸到藍染 | 佢發現原來喺當地 | 藍染係小學生嘅手作玩意 | 之後仲發現媽媽祖屋嘅所在地 | 四周圍嘅天然環境好適合發展藍染啊 | 就決心將呢樣帶返香港 | 星期二到日都有 workshop | 佢教大家整手巾仔或者門簾 | 而染嘅過程其實唔算複雜

杜學知 Max To, http://www.facebook.com/lantaublue/

● 手作玩意 sáu2 jok3 wuhn6 yi3  = roughly “handicraft” Note: the term 玩意 means “thing; plaything” | ● 祖屋 jóu2 ūk1 = ancestral home | ● 藍染物 làahm4 yíhm5 maht6 = (?) indigo plants (lit. “blue dyeing crops”) | ● 四周圍 sei3 jāu1 wàih4 = all around | ● 門簾 mùhn4 lím4*2 = (?) door-curtain

Reporter: A trip to Taiwan last year brought Max into contact with indigo-dyeing. There, he discovered, indigo-dyeing was a simple handicraft [手作玩意] for primary school students. Later, he discovered that the natural environment all around his mother’s ancestral home was very suited to (?) the development of indigo. And so, he decided to bring this thing [that is, the art of indigo dyeing] back to Hong Kong, holding workshops from Tuesday to Sunday. He teaches people how to do [整] [small] handkerchiefs and door curtains. Actually, the dyeing process is not that complicated.

李嘉敏(設計師): 我哋只要用手指啦,整起塊布啦,造成呢個,一個角位啦 | 手捉住一個位呢 | 就係你想要嘅圓形嘅嗰個闊啦 | 然後就用橡筋【1:00】開始紥  | 紥嗰個位呢,就將會係一個留白嘅位啦,染液就唔會滲透到入便 | 其他嘅部分呢,就會將會變成藍色喇

● 橡筋 jeuhng6 gān1 = rubber band | ● 滲透 sām1 tàuh4 = to permeate; to seep | ● 紥 jaat3 = to tie; to bind

Lee Ka-man (designer): All we have to do is use our fingers to get a piece of  fabric ready [整起]. To make this, a sort of horn-shaped part [角位], you grab hold of one part [of the cloth] — this is the width you want for [your] circles. Then, [you] use a rubber band to begin to tie up that part [嗰個位], a part that will say undyed [留白]. The liquid dye will not seep inside.  The other parts will turn blue.

Caption: 洗布 | Washing the Fabric

李嘉敏: 呢個嘅紥出嚟嘅圓形呢,就比較大啦,呢個就細緻啲啦 | 原因就係在於呢,呢個呢,就係用橡筋紥出嚟嘅 | 啊如果想呢,紥出一啲細緻啲嘅圖案呢, 你就,我會需要用到針去做呢一個步驟囉

● 細緻 sai3 ji3 = delicate; fine | ● 步驟 bouh6 jaauh6 = a step; a move; a measure

Lee Ka-man: The circle-pattern made by this [kind of] tying is rather large, [while] this one is finer. The reason lies in this: that this [was done] using a rubber band to do the tying up. Now if you want to make [紥出] a finer design, then you might like to choose sewing [the part with] thread to do this step.

記者:要製作無毒天然藍嘅衫或者產品 | 事前其實要花好多準備功夫 | 藍泥係染液嘅原材料之一 | 係用藍草嘅色素同石灰粉溝成 | 現階段,阿 Max 就由台灣訂返嚟 | 但係佢就善用呢度嘅好山好水 | 喺度種唔同種類嘅藍草 | 佢嘅目標,係種一千樖 | 希望三年之後可以生產自家嘅天然染啊

● 無毒 mòuh4 duhk6 = (?) non-poisonous | ● 事前 sih6 chìhn4 = before the event; in advance; beforehand | ● 準備功夫 jéun2 beih6 gūng1 fū1 = roughly, “preparatory work” | ● 藍泥 làahm4 nàih4 = roughly, “indigo-plant mush” cf. 泥 = mashed vegetable or fruit | ● 原材料 yùhn4 chòih4 líu6*2 = raw & processed materials | ● 色素 sīk1 sou3 = pigment | ● 石灰 sehk6 fūi1 = lime | ● 溝成 kāu1 sìhng4 = roughly, “to mix (so as to form)” | ● 現階段 yihn6 gāai1 dyuhn6 = roughly, “the current stage/phase” | ● 善用 sihn6 yuhng6 = be good at using something

Reporter: If one wishes to make non-poisonous natural indigo clothing or other products, actually a lot of preparatory work is necessary beforehand. Indigo-mush is one of the materials used in the dyeing liquid [染液] and is composed of pigment from the indigo plant mixed with powdered lime. In [this] current phase, Max orders it from Taiwan, but he is good at using the excellent natural environment [好山好水] here, and has planted different kinds of indigo. His objective is to plant a thousand plants in the hope that, after three years, [he] will be able to produce his own home-made natural dyes.

記者: 至於染液,就由呢啲材料組成喇 | 溝到酸鹼度【2:00】去到11.5 要用3日時間去開㗎噃 | 仲不時要 check 住染液嘅活躍程度呀 | 而啲布要洗嗮化學劑| 熒光劑等等先可以染得 | 另每一方面,佢又提提大家喇

● 酸鹼 syūn1 gáan2 = ? Note: 鹼 is alkali or soda |● 不時 bāt1 sìh4 = frequently; often | ● 活躍程度 wuht6 yeuhk6 douh6 = roughly, “degree of activeness” | ● 化學劑 faa3 hohk6 jāi1 = roughly, “chemical agent” | ● 熒光劑 yìhng4 gwōng1 jāi1 = ? cf. 熒光 = fluorescent +  劑 = a preparation; an agent

Reporter: With regard to the dyeing liquid, it is made up of these materials. When the alkali/soda [酸鹼度] you mix in [reaches] 11.5 degrees, [you] then have to [boil the material] for three days, and [you] also have to check the dyeing liquid often for its degree of activeness. As for the fabric, this must be first washed in water [to get rid of] chemical agents and fluorescent agents before it can be dyed. He tells everyone about all the other steps in the process [每一方面].

Caption: 藍泥、木灰水、米酒、蔗糖 | Indigo-plant Mush, Wood-ash in Water [木灰水], Rice Wine, Cane Sugar

杜學知: 如果你新買嘅衫,洗最好洗兩次呀,我建議你

Max To: If [you are dyeing] new-bought clothes, it is best, I suggest, to wash them twice.

記者:用柴火煲水比石油氣更加節省能源之外 | 木灰仲可以 *hoi 做染液嘅原材料,取之自然啊 | 阿 Max 歸隱田園,最初屋企人都反對 | 朋友亦唔知佢做乜 | 但係 *dai 佢就覺得好充實喇

● 柴火chàaih4 fó2 = firewood | ● 節省 jit3 sáang2 = to economize; to save; to use sparingly | ● 能源 nàhng4 yùhn4 = the sources of energy; energy resources | ● 歸隱 gwāi1 yán2 = to return to one’s hometown & live in seclusion | ● 田園 tìhn4 yùhn4 = fields & gardens; countryside | ● 充實 chūng1 saht6 = substantial; rich

Reporter: Apart from saving on gas, by using firewood to boil the liquid, one can naturally obtain [取之自然] wood-ash, another ingredient of the dyeing liquid. [When] Max returned to his home village in seclusion from the world, his family was at first opposed [to the idea] and friends had no idea what he was up to, but he [himself] felt that [such a way of life] was very rewarding [好充實].

杜學知: 如果一條村被人遺忘咗呢 | 越嚟越耐呢,只會啲人就會搬出去 | 噉最後條村就會荒廢。噉呢個唔係我想見到我自己條村發生嘅事 | 噉所以我先會咁努力去,去做呢啲嘢 | 我想令到大家開始知道呢條村有啲嘢係好寶貴嘅

● 遺忘 wàih4 mòhng4 = to forget | ● 荒廢 fōng1 fai3 = to leave uncultivated; to lie waste

Max To: If a village is forgotten, the longer it goes on, then [everyone] will all move out. In the end, the village will lie waste, abandoned [荒廢]. This is something I don’t want to see happen to my own village. It is only for this reason that I am working so hard at such things. I want the world to know [令到大家開始知道] what things of value this village possesses.

A Bull’s Eye for the Bullets, but Mind’s Eye for Beauty

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A cold wind. Standing ovation
in the trees — Autumn’s moon-dry rustle of leaf
on leaf on leaf. Thunder
in the chill brick bridge when trains pass
larger than life
overhead, white-hot catenary sparks
sizzling fresh air
with the stink of electric scorch. Then
pin-drop quiet, plump as moss, and moss
universally shock-absorbing all than could never be green
back into greenest
tactile patch-working clumps.

Learning Cantonese: 冠南華 Koon Nam Wah’s Traditional-style Wedding Gowns

The incredible fusion of Chinese and Western culture in Hong Kong leads to some unexpected consequences. “What woman doesn’t want to wear a pure white Western-style wedding dress when she gets married?”, declares Winnie Lam of 冠南華 Koon Nam Wah, a company devoted to the creation of bridal wear. But as Barbara Ward points out in her book on Chinese festivals: “white is the traditional mourning colour in China and no Hong Kong bride would risk wearing anything so unlucky all the time. So at the wedding feast in the evening, when bride and groom circulate among the many round tables to toast and be toasted by their guests, she wears traditional red.”

Partly for this reason, and partly owing to tradition, the Chinese 裙褂 kwàhn4 gwáa3*2 outfit, which is made up of a long skirt and a jacket, continues to be very popular to this day. The intricate embroidery featured on the garment is also richly symbolic and so meant to bring blessings and good fortune to the newlyweds who, by the way, are referred to in this Kongstories video as 新人 sān1 yàhn4 or “new people”.

Since they voice-over is scripted, there is a conspicuous absence of initial and final particles. In addition, some of the vocabulary is quite literary. The main point of grammatical interest is the various uses of the aspect marker 咗 jó2. In Complete Cantonese, Hugh Baker notes that its basic function is “to show that the action has been completed” but, needless to say, the situation is a bit more complex in practice. Although I am still regularly bamboozled by 咗 jó2, it can help if you can also think of it as the realization of a certain action (has it actually taken place?). Something of the meaning is present in the English past perfect tense as opposed to the simple past tense: “Have you seen him?” is primarily asking about realization, I think, rather than completion.

In one example from the voice-over, 咗 jó2 is used in a purely hypothetical context: 只要改動一吋,都會破壞咗裙褂上面嘅圖案 = “to change an inch would ruin the design on the kwan gwa”. Here, the aspect marker suggests that the “ruin” [破壞], once realized, cannot be undone. I also get the impression that certain verbs tend to attract 咗 jó2. One example is 忽略 fāt1 leuhk6 = “to neglect; to overlook”, a verb not readily associated with the idea of completion.

As usual, there’s plenty of wonderful vocabulary. In the names of the two people featured in the video, the 臻 jēun1 in Tommy To’s Chinese name means “to attain to a high level”, while the 卓 cheuk3 in Winnie Lam’s name means “prominent; outstanding”. Oh, for a deeply meaningful Chinese name!

Other vocabulary includes 出嫁 chēut1 gaa3 = (of a woman) to get married (but watch out for 出家 chēut1 gāa1, which means “to become a monk or nun”!); 湮沒 yān1 muht6 = to fall into oblivion; 樞紐 syū1 náu2/láu2= a pivot; a hub; 輝煌 fāi1 wòhng4 = brilliant; splendid; glorious; 老土 lóuh5 tóu2 = old-fashioned; out of date; 睇小 tái2 síu2 = to underestimate; 排擠 pàaih4 jāi1 = to push aside; to ostracize; 任意 yahm6 yi3 = arbitrarily; 尺吋 chek3 chyun3 = measurement; 獨一無二 duhk6 yāt1 mòuh4 yih6 = unique; one of a kind.

Please scroll down for my transcription, English translation and notes. You can view the video here (you are offered subtitles in both English and Standard Written Chinese). Since it is a YouTube video, you can slow down the playback speed if you wish: at 0.75 and 0.5, the sound quality is still good. And remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.


Caption: 冠南華 Koon Nam Wah

陶衍臻:女仔出嫁,最開心係著婚紗 | 講到裙褂,多數都係由長輩決定 | 畢竟,裙褂好似係滿足老一輩舊時代產物 | 六、七十年代因爲文革 | 曾經流行中國一時嘅龍鳳裙褂 | 被封建制度湮沒喺歷史洪流之中 . . .

● 出嫁 chēut1 gaa3 = (of a woman) to get married; to marry | ● 婚紗 fān1 sāa1 = a wedding dress | ● 裙褂 kwàhn4 gwáa3*2 = wedding dress | ● 產物 cháan2 maht6 = an outcome; a result; a product | ● 文革 Màhn4 Gaak3 = the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) | ● 一時 yāt1 sìh4 = a period of time | ● 湮沒 yān1 muht6 = to fall into oblivion; to be neglected | ● 洪流 hùhng4 làuh4 = mighty torrent; powerful current

Tommy To: When a girl gets married, wearing a [Western-style, white] wedding dress is the happiest part of it [最開心]. When it comes to the traditional Chinese kwan gwa wedding gowns, mostly this is a decision taken by the older generation. When all is said and done [畢竟], traditional Chinese kwan gwa wedding gowns seem to be the product of an earlier era there to satisfy elder family members [老一輩]. Due to the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s, the Dragon and Phoenix kwan gwa popular in China fell into to oblivion [with?] the feudal system in [that] mighty torrent of history . . .

【1:00】. . . 令當時國内嘅人對裙褂變得陌生 | 香港成為咗唯一個樞紐 | 後世知道中國嫁娶文化裏邊曾經有過呢一段輝煌嘅一頁 | 始於廣州,存留於香港

● 樞紐 syū1 náu2/láu2= a pivot; a hub; a centre | ● 後世hauh6 sai3 = ① later ages ② later generations | ● 嫁娶 gaa3 chéui2 = marriage | ● 輝煌 fāi1 wòhng4 = brilliant; splendid; glorious | ● 始於 chí2 yū1 = roughly, “to come into being” | ● 存留 chyùhn4 làuh4 = to persist

. . . making the people of mainland China strangers to kwan gwa wedding gowns. Hong Kong has become the one and only centre enabling [俾] later generations to know that there was once this glorious page in the wedding culture of China. It started off in Guangzhou, and persists [存留] [here] in Hong Kong.

林卓怡:1997年,我結束咗自己嘅個人事業 | 金融風暴之下,我家族嘅裙褂生意都大受影響 | 加上父母年 [歲] 已高,佢哋希望我可以返去幫手 | 我從來諗過,要接手家族生意嘅 | 裙褂?一聽落去就覺得老土 | 女仔出嫁,邊個唔希望著純白色嘅婚紗呢?| 但係屋企需要我 | 我就硬住頭皮行入連自己都覺得過時嘅生意 | 由當初乜都唔識,被夥計睇小、排擠 | 到漸漸被肯定

● 金融風暴 gām1 yùhng4 fūng1 bō1 = financial crisis | ● 大受影響 daaih6 sauh6 yíng2 héung2 = to be greatly influenced by | ● 老土 lóuh5 tóu2 = old-fashioned; out of date; traditional; unsophisticated; rustic; not hip; uncool | ● 當初 dōng1 chō1 = originally; at the outset; at that time | ● 睇小 tái2 síu2 = to underestimate; to look down on | ● 排擠 pàaih4 jāi1 = to push aside; to ostracize

Winnie Lam: In 1997, I wound up my own personal business. During the financial crisis, my family’s kwan gwa wedding gown business was greatly affected. [Because of this, and because] my father and mother were both getting on, that year they expressed the hope [佢哋希望] that I would go back and give them a hand. It had never occurred to me to take over the family business. Kwan gwa? The very word sounded terribly old-fashioned. What woman doesn’t want to wear a pure white Western-style wedding dress when she gets married? But my family needed me, so I steeled myself and went into a line of business that even I thought was well past its use-by date [過時]. At the outset, from knowing nothing and being looked down and excluded by the other employees, I gradually came to win approval [被肯定] .

林卓怡:好多人係睇到婚紗嘅美 | 但係忽略咗裙褂背後嘅祝福寓意 | 佢唔似婚紗可以任意修改尺吋 | 只要改動一吋,都會破壞咗裙褂上面嘅圖案 | 每件成品都係獨一無二嘅,係一對新人最大嘅賀禮 | 做裙褂生意,開心嘅唔止係做成一單生意 | 而係得到一對新人誠心嘅道謝 | 我希望我嘅下一代會繼續傳承

● 忽略 fāt1 leuhk6 = to neglect; to overlook; to lose sight of | ● 祝福 jūk1 fūk1 = blessings; best wishes | ● 寓意 yuh6 yi3 = implied meaning; implication | ● 任意 yahm6 yi3 = arbitrarily; wilfully | ● 尺吋 chek3 chyun3 = measurement; dimension; size | ● 成品 sìhng4 bán2 = end product; finished product | ● 獨一無二 duhk6 yāt1 mòuh4 yih6 = unique; one of a kind | ● 新人 sān1 yàhn4 = newlywed (esp. a new bride) | ● 賀禮 hoh6 láih5 = a gift (as a token of congratulations) | ● 單 dāan1 = classifier for “a case” or “a matter” cf. 宗 jūng1 in Standard Written Chinese | ● 誠心 sìhng4 sām1  = sincere desire; wholeheartedness | ● 道謝 douh6 jeh6 = to express one’s thanks; to thank | ● 傳承 chyùhn4 sìhng4 = to inherit & pass on; to pass down

Many people only see the beauty of Western wedding gowns, overlooking the meaning of blessing behind the traditional Chinese kwan gwa.  They don’t realize that the dimensions cannot be changed at will as with Western-style gowns: to change an inch would ruin the design. Every finished product is unique, and is the greatest gift of congratulations one can give to the bride. What makes [me] happy about the kwan gwa business is not just doing a job [for a customer] [做成一單生意] but also the sincere thanks [I get] from the newlyweds. I hope the generation after me will inherit and pass on [this tradition]. 

我叫林卓怡,我叫陶衍臻:香港土生土長 | 七百萬嘅故仔成就一個香 | 港故仔

My name is Winnie Lam Cheuk-yi, and I am Tommy To Hin-chun. We are both born and bred in Hong Kong. Seven million stories go to make up [成就] one [of the] Hong . . . Kong Stories.

The Blind Self-Interview

I filled my pockets with the weight of a day’s long pain
and trudged to the edge of a barnacled pier —
not to throw myself off
but to kill myself
thought by thought by thought to the end of time.
I failed in the freeze,
as the chill sun set,
hopelessly unable to see what I meant,
and marooned in that zone between iced
and unthawed, where all I could do
was to find in myself one thought at a time —
and thought by thought to the dead-end
of time — a single good reason
to come back to life
once more. I failed,
but in the freeze of twilit sea air
and in the canvas quiet of so much intricate natural noise
I realized, with my hands,
that pockets could never be filled by that sort of emptiness,
and that dusk in a way can be another kind of dawn —
if you’re lucky —
and that home, if you want one, must be built
out of nothing with hard-heart-felt questions
and barn-nail thinking,
thought by thought
to the end.

Learning Cantonese: 盡力彰顯真實民意 or “Make the True Will of the People Clearly Manifest”

● 奮力 fáhn5 lihk6 = do all one can; spare no effort | ● 抵抗 dái2 kong3 = to resist; to stand up to | ● 社會民主連線 (or 社民連) Séh5 Wúi6*2  Màhn4 Jyú2 Lìhn4 Sin3 = The League of Social Democrats  | ● 回應 wùih4 ying3 = to respond | ● 決議文 kyut3 yíh5 màhn4 = resolution | ● 提名權 tàih4 mìhng4 kyùhn4 = roughly, “the right to nominate (oneself as an election candidate)” | ● 剝奪 mōk1 dyuht6 = to deprive; to expropriate; to strip | ● 變相 bin3 seung3 = in a disguised form; covert  | ● 廢除 fai3 chèuih4 = to abolish; to annul; to repeal | ● 公平公正 gūng1 pìhng4 gūng1 jing3 = roughly “fair & impartial” | ● 壓制 [ng]aat3 jai3 = to suppress; to stifle; to inhibit | ● 憑良心 pàhng4 lèuhng4 sām1 = roughly, “relying on the goodness of one’s heart” or perhaps “in good faith” | ● 彰顯 jēung1 hín2 = to bring out conspicuously; to manifest; to make evident

Do All You Can to Resist | Up Until [the Day of] Victory

— Resolution of the League of Social Democrats in Response to Changes
in the Hong Kong Political Situation in 2021 —

Under the present circumstances, in which the right of citizens to nominate themselves as candidates in elections has been seriously stripped away and, to all extents and purposes, abolished, and in which Hong Kong has lost a fair and just electoral system, the League of Social Democrats will not take part in the 2021 elections either for the Election Committee or for the Legislative Council. Moreover, given that the right to vote has not been completely suppressed, the League of Social Democrats would like to call on members of the general public to actively express their views in good faith by means of these various elections and to do all they can to make the true will of the people clearly manifest.

The League of Social Democrats