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.

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