Learning Cantonese: 蔣曉薇 Jeung Hiu-mei on Hongkongers — Leaving, Staying or Stranded?

「我諗,我哋都係等緊咁樣嘅時刻囉 | 等唔等到唔知嘅 | 但係我覺得人為嘅努力都好緊要 | 啫,人嗰種手牽手 | 去想一同去挽救生命嗰一種付出 | 覺得自己當下仍然可以挽救一啲生命嗰種意願 | 係無比重要 | 喺擱淺嘅時候,呢,呢一個信念係無比重要」

Hong Kong writer 蔣曉薇 Jeung Hiu-mei’s new novel 《秋鯨擱淺》has been attracting widespread attention in recent months. The title roughly translates as “the beaching of Autumn whales”, and this image of Hong Kong (as it used to be) as a stranded whale seems to have captured the imagination of a number of commentators. In this video from Ming Pao’s 《文化後浪》 (roughly, “Cultural Successors”) series, she discusses the issues that arise from the novel, the big question being: is there any possibility that some form of intervention could rescue the Hong Kong from its life-threatening predicament?

There are three grammatical points that are worthy of the Cantonese learner’s attention. Firstly, there is a good example of the final particle 囉 lō1. According to Yuen-lam Tsang’s helpful guide Basic Sentence-final Particles in Hong Kong Cantonese (Greenwood Press 2020), the main function of 囉 lō1 is to inform the listener that what is being said is obvious and natural. When it is paired with 咪 maih6, we get what Yip and Matthews call “an obvious conclusion” (Intermediate Cantonese). Thus, 噉我咪執筆去寫囉 means something like “and so I picked up my pen and wrote”.

The second point involves住 jyuh6, a widely used aspect marker that indicates that the effects of a particular (one-off) action persist over an extended period of time. Jeung uses it in 係一個傷口裏面滲透住一啲東西出嚟嘅 = “some things that came seeping out from a wound”; 你面對住變化嘅時候 = “when we face up to changes”; and the classic use of with the wearing of clothing, since once the clothing is put on in a single act, it remains in that state (until another act comes along to change it): 好似披戴住一啲你好喜歡嘅作家佢哋嘅身影 = “it is like wrapping the images of the writers you really like around your shoulders”.

Thirdly, another aspect marker 翻 fāan1 is used on several occasions. Its basic meaning involves repetition or reconnection, but you often come across instances that seem a little counterintuitive! For example, the phrase 我都想寫翻發生喺香港嘅故事 seems to suggest getting stories that happen in real life (back) into writing. There’s also 呢個作品只不過係我想呈現翻當下香港一個離開或者留低擱淺嘅狀態, in which the marker indicates that the writer wants to “re-present” a certain condition affecting Hong Kong in her novel. In both cases here, there is a sense of transfer or translation from one realm to another.

As usual, there is plenty of useful vocabulary to take away from this video: 滲透 sām1 tau3 = to permeate; to seep; 無助 mòuh4 joh6 = helpless; 氛圍 fān1 wàih4 = atmosphere; 命題 mihng6 tàih4 = a proposition; statement; thesis; 手牽手 sáu2 hīn1 sáu2 = hand in hand; 挽救 wáahn5 gau3 = to save; to remedy; to rescue; 出身 chēut1 sān1 = one’s previous experience or occupation; 影視 yíng2 sih6 = film & television; 呢一輩 nī1 yāt1 bui3 = this generation; and 根基 gān1 gēi1 = a foundation; a basis.

Please scroll down for my transcription (again, it’s a bit ragged in places), 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.

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文學傳承 灌溉我城土壤 作家蔣曉薇 | Literary Inheritance & Continuation Watering the Soil of Our City   Author Jeung Hiu-mei

我都想寫呢度街道 | 我都想寫翻發生香港嘅故事 | 我咪執筆去寫囉 | 就好似一個脈絡承傳 [呢]

● 灌溉 gun3 koi3 = usu. “to irrigate” | ● 脈絡傳承 mahk6 lok3 chyùhn4 sìhng4 = (?) to carry on in the same vein or tradition

I too would like to write about the streets here. I too would like to write the stories that have happened here in Hong Kong. So, I picked up my pen and wrote them, as if I were carrying on in the same tradition [好似一個脈絡傳承].

Caption: 用寫作留住香港 | To Stay in Hong Kong by Means of Writing

起初開始創作嘅時候 | 其實我覺得係,係一個傷口裏面滲透住一東西出嘅 | 噉我傷口係由於自己經歷啦 | 亦都有一部分源自於社會嘅變化啦 | 你面對住變化嘅時候 | 其實係好多焦慮呀、無助呀、無力感呀 | 噉但寫作 // 讓自己可以重新去正視 | 究竟自己嘅恐懼係嚟自啲乜呀?| 點解對於一啲變化咁焦慮呀?

● 滲透 sām1 tau3 = to permeate; to seep | ● 焦慮 jīu1 leuih6 = feel anxious; have worries & misgivings | ● 無助 mòuh4 joh6 = helpless | ● 無力感 mòuh4 lihk6 gám2 = helplessness; perhaps also “powerlessness” | ● 正視 jing3 sih6 = to face up to (a difficult situation; reality)

When I first began to create, it actually felt to me like a wound out of which things came seeping. The wound was due to what I had been through; it also partly originated from changes in society. When you confront the changes, then there are in fact many misgivings, helplessness, powerlessness. However, writing can give [you] the ability to face up to [such things] anew. What exactly what is the source of one’s terror? Why does one feel so anxious about certain [一啲] changes?

【1:00】對抗緊一個好大 // 嘅 . . . 氛圍嘅時候 | 其實可唔可以令到自己嘅内心强大一啲呢?| 噉喺寫作裏面係咁樣嘅操練 [呢]

● 氛圍 fān1 wàih4 = atmosphere, perhaps even “mood” | ● 操練 chōu1 lihn6 = to drill; to practice

Can [you] make you own inner self stronger when opposing a formidable [大] atmosphere? [What happens in] writing is a kind of training for this.

Caption: 香港人的留離與擱淺 Hongkongers: Leaving, Staying or Stranded

世界既有悲哀的時刻 | 也必然有美麗的時刻 | 這正是他們在鯨魚身上做了美好的事情 | 正是給擱淺的鯨魚一點希望 | 最初個命題呢,係關於留同離留離之間嗰種狀態 | 亦都係源於一個好,好大嘅掙扎 | 點解身邊多人走 | 再去問深一個問題 | 問自己,你自己係咪要走?| 如果唔係一件容易嘅事 | 你背負緊啲乜嘢而去選擇離開?

● 悲哀 bēi1 ōi1 = grieved; sorrowful | ● 命題 mihng6 tàih4 = a proposition; statement; thesis | ● 源於 yùhn4 yū1 = to originate from; to stem from | ● 掙扎 jāng1 jaat3 = to struggle | ● 背負 bui3 fuh6 = to bear; to carry on the back

(Jeung Hiu-mei reads a passage from her novel) “[In] this world, there are times of sorrow. There are also times of beauty. This was the fine thing they were in the process of doing on the bodies of the whales (?), giving the beached whales sone small hope.” The original proposition was to do with staying, leaving and the state in-between the two. It also had its origins in a very great struggle. Why had so many people close to [me] left? To probe even more deeply into this issue, I asked myself whether I wanted to leave. [Assuming] that it were no easy matter, what are the things one would have to bear if one chose to leave?

【2:00】噉我就去透過寫作去問呢個問題 | 我尊重每個人嘅答案 | ,呢個作品只不過係我想呈現翻 | 當下香港一個離開或者留低擱淺嘅狀態 | 擱淺嘅時刻就係無力走落去 [喇] | 唔知點樣走落去 [喇] | 我成日睇唔到路 [囉] | 譬如鯨擱淺嘅時候 | 佢好需要嘅就係水漲呢個時機 | 令到佢可以游返去海 | 亦都可以需要外在嘅力量 | 啫係,人嘅努力去讓佢落返海 | 啫,我諗,我哋都係等緊咁樣嘅時刻 [囉] | 等唔等到唔知嘅 | 但係我覺得人為嘅努力都好緊要 | 啫,人嗰種手牽手 | 去想一同去挽救生命嗰一種付出 | 覺得自己當下仍然可以挽救一啲生命嗰種意願 | 係無比重要 | 喺擱淺嘅時候,呢,呢一個信念係無比重要

● 尊重 jyūn1 juhng6 = to respect; to value; to esteem | ● 呈現 chìhng4 yìhn6 = to present (a certain appearance); to appear; to emerge | ● 當下 dōng1 haah6 = ① instantly; immediately; at once ② that very moment | ● 水漲 séui2 jeung3  = (of water) to rise; to go up | ● 時機 sìh4 gēi1 = an opportunity; an opportune moment | ● 外在 ngoih6 joih6 = external; extrinsic | ● 人為 yàhn4 wàih4 = artificial; human-made | ● 落返 lohk6 fāan1 = (?) to go back (into the sea) | ● 手牽手 sáu2 hīn1 sáu2 = hand in hand | ● 挽救 wáahn5 gau3 = to save; to remedy; to rescue | ● 付出 fuh6 chēut1 = to pay; to expend; in some contexts, it suggests “the effort you put into something” | ● 意願 yi3 yuhn6 = a wish; a desire; an aspiration | ● 無比 mòuh4 béi2 = incomparable; unparalleled; matchless | ● 信念 seun3 nihm6 = faith; belief; conviction

So, I went and asked myself this question in my writing. I respect each individual’s answer. This work is nothing more than my own wish to present that state of being stranded between leaving or staying in Hong Kong at this moment. At times of feeling stranded, [you] have no energy to go on [走落去], nor do [you] know how to go on. I can’t ever see a way forward. For instance, when a whale is beached, what it really needs is for the level of the water to rise [水漲呢個時機], so that it can return to the sea. It also needs some external force, I mean, I human-made effort to enable it to return to the sea. I mean, I think we’re all waiting for such a moment [when the sea-level rises], but who knows whether we can wait long enough for it to happen [等唔等到唔知嘅]. But my feeling is that the human-made effort is very important, that kind of output of energy [付出] where people go hand in hand to try together to save lives. That aspiration [according to which] one feels one can still save some lives at the present moment is of incomparable importance. At a time of being stranded, this belief is of incomparable importance.

Caption: 香港文學建構本土 | Hong Kong Literature Constructs One’s Native Place

【3:00】讀文學出身啦。噉我讀現代文學啦 | 一讀到香港文學呢 | 你就會發現佢寫嘅嘢就係你嘅生活 [囉] | 喺大量嘅閲讀裏面或者睇一啲影視嘅作品裏面呢 | 建立咗一種本土嘅身份 | 慢慢你就發現 | 當你閲讀咗咁多嘅時候 | 有 [一] 日你覺得我都好想去承傳呢個記憶 | 我呢一輩都有我嘅記憶吖嘛 | 我唔係,啫,停留喺,呃,董啓章 [啦]、韓麗珠呀、陳慧呀 | 佢哋嘅記憶嗰度咁呀 | 我呢一輩都有我嘅聲音 | 我有我對城市記憶,我有我嘅感受 | 我都想寫呢度嘅街道 | 我都想寫翻發生喺香港嘅故事 | 噉我咪執筆去寫囉 | 就好似一個脈絡承傳 [呢] | 斷咗唔得,我記憶或者我哋書寫斷咗 | 你要 [想去] 記錄呢個城市嘅聲音 . . .

● 出身 chēut1 sān1 = one’s previous experience or occupation | ● 影視 yíng2 sih6 = film & television | ● 本土bún2 tóu2 = one’s native land | ● 承傳 sìhng4 chyùhn4 = to inherit and pass on (Note: Subtitles have 傳承) | ● 呢一輩 nī1 yāt1 bui3 = this generation

I started out [出身] as a reader of literature. I read modern literature. Once you begin to read Hong Kong literature, you will find that the things that it writes about are [part of] your life [too]. In reading a large amount [of literature] or in watching some works for film and television, a local identity of a kind [一種本土嘅身份] is established, and gradually you come to discover — when you have read a lot — that one day you [yourself] get the desire to inherit this memory [that is, of Hong Kong] and to hand it on to others. This generation I belong to naturally has its own memories, too. I don’t stop there at the memories of Dung Cheung-kai or Hon Lai-chu or Chan Wai. My generation has its voices, too. I have my memories of the city, I have my experiences, and I too would like to write about the streets here. I too would like to write the stories that have happened here in Hong Kong. So, I picked up my pen and wrote them, as if I were carrying on in one and the same tradition [好似一個脈絡傳承]. It’s not right to break [this tradition] off. If we break off in our memories, our writings, then you have to [UNCLEAR] the voices of their memories of this city . . .

【4:00】| 去書寫呢度城市嘅故事 | 你要肩負嘅嘢係更加多 | 好似披戴住一啲你好喜歡嘅作家佢哋嘅身影 | 披戴住佢哋嘅社會責任 | 佢哋喺文學上面嘅承擔,佢哋喺文學上面嘅角色 | 好似呢個擔子都落咗喺你身上 | 你都有責任去寫,去發表 | 去傳承佢哋咁辛苦去建立嘅一個香港文學嘅根基

● 肩負 gīn1 fuh6 = to take on; to undertake; to shoulder; to bear | ● 披戴 pēi1 daai3 = (?) to wear draped over (or wrapped around) one’s shoulders | ● 身影 sān1 yíng2 = a person’s silhouette; form; figure | ● 承擔 sìhng4 dāam1 = to bear; to undertake; to assume | ● 擔子 daam3 jí2 = load; burden | ● 根基 gān1 gēi1 = a foundation; a basis

. . . and go and write the stories of this city. The things you have to shoulder are more numerous. It’s like wrapping the forms of your favourite writers around your shoulders, them as well as their [sense of] social responsibility, what they undertook in terms of literature, the literary roles they assumed. It’s as if this load has fallen to you [to shoulder]. You too have the responsibility to go and write, to express [yourself], to take over and pass on the foundation of a Hong Kong literature they took such pains to establish.

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