Learning Cantonese: Yvette Wong Lok Yee & Resistance through Song

The Hong Kong lyric-writer 王樂儀 Yvette Lok Yee Wong says some beautiful things in this Ming Pao video about staying strong in difficult times, and finds in songs a way of dealing with trauma. In the end, she says, [我哋] 長期好似受苦難咁樣 | 其實我哋係要慢慢重建翻自己應有嘅一個生活 — that is, “We can’t go on suffering endlessly. Actually, we must slowly rebuild the lives each of us ought to have.”

One feature of Wong’s speech is her code-switching. She often inserts an English word into her Cantonese, words such as “vague”, “term”, “mindset”, “career” and “build up”. Most unusual is her fondness for the adverb “exactly”. Perhaps this adds emphasis, because at 4:12, in the phrase 我嘅意思其實係佢唔exactly係完全輕盈嘅姿態 = “what I meant in fact wasn’t exactly a completely graceful attitude”, we see both the Cantonese word 完全 yùhn4 chyùhn4 = “completely” employed in tandem with “exactly”.

Another feature is the use of the aspect marker 翻 fāan1. It crops up in the following places:

1:05: 佢 [係] trigger你去搵翻你本身有嘅一啲 | 反叛嘅元素、慾望、渴求
3:38: 我而家開始提自己 | 係咪可以遠離翻嗰一堆嘅情緒
4:03: 其實我哋係要慢慢重建翻自己應有嘅一個生活

The first example, used with the verb 搵 wán2 = “to look for” makes perfect sense. Perhaps in contrast to 搵到 = “to find”, 搵翻 suggests that you find something that you once had. In other words, the aspect marker implies a kind of recovery, perhaps like “to re-find” or “to find all over again” in English.

This sense is always fairly obvious in the third example, where the verb is 重建 chuhng4 gin3 = “to rebuild”. Again, 翻 supports the idea of recovery. The second instance may seem a little less obvious: 係咪可以遠離翻嗰一堆嘅情緒 = “whether I can move away again from that jumble of moods”. As an English speaker, my initial feeling was that the aspect maker seemed unnecessary in this case, but I guess it underlines the fact that it is possible to achieve a healthy distance between our general mental state and the negative emotions that can threaten to overwhelm it.

Finally, Wong uses some interesting structural words in her presentation. Firstly, there is 唔淨止 for “not only” at 3:30, instead of the more commonly seen 唔單止; and then at 4:25 there is 未至於, used in the phrase 原來佢未至於破壞你嘅生活嘅 = “as it turns out, it has not yet gone so far as to ruin your life”. These are the kinds of structures that are worth committing to memory.

Just a note about the captions. Throughout the video, there are captions quoting relevant phrases from Wong’s lyrics. I haven’t translated these, mainly because of the difficulty: they are all short poems in their own right.

Please scroll down for my transcription (my apologies, it’s very patchy 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.


王樂儀:我梗係鍾意香港啦 | 我喺呢個地方可以俾到嘅嘢 | 係會多好多 | 噉因此我去荷蘭嘅時候 | 啲同學問我之後會唔會留喺嗰度 | 我已經話唔會 | 特別就係呢兩年嘅事 | 我點都一定會留喺度嘅

Caption: 傳承 | 創新

Caption: 王樂儀 | 填詞人 | 作品《我心中尚未崩壞的部分》《地球來的人》《美麗新世界》等

王樂儀:我係真係幸運嘅 | 因為一開頭第一個機會 | 就已經係個詞人俾我 | 啫係已經係,耀輝好好咁樣 | 去邀請我 | 所以我會好珍惜而家有嘅一啲機會嘅 | 《我變成我》嗰首歌 | 佢寫俾林二汶 | 覺得嗰首歌 | exactly 就係 我對佢嘅嗰個感覺囉 | 唔係教你做人 | 係教你變成你自己 | 覺得自己係一個好vague(虛無)嘅term(字詞)啦

● 傳承 chyùhn4 sìhng4 = to inherit & pass on | ● 填詞人 tìhn4 chìh4 yàhn4 = (?) lyric writer; a lyricist (lit. “a person who fills in the words to fit a given tune”) | ● 崩壞 bāng1 waaih6 = roughly, “to fall apart”

Yvette Lok Yee Wong: Of course, I’m fond of Hong Kong! I have so much more to give in this place. It’s for this reason that, when I went to Holland, other students studying with me asked if I would stay on afterwards. [I’d] already said that there was no way I would. Especially because of what has happened over the past two years. Whatever happens I will definitely remain here.

Caption: Inheritance of the Old, Creation of the New

Caption: Yvette Wong Lok Yee | Lyric Writer | Works [include] “The Part of My Heart that Has Not Fallen Apart”, “People from the Earth”, “Beautiful New World”

Yvette Lok Yee Wong: I really am very fortunate, because I got my opportunity right at the beginning, given to me by pop lyric writer. Chow Yiu-fai was very good to me. He invited me. And so I will treasure the opportunities that I have now. He wrote the song “People Like Us” for Eman Lam and those feelings are exactly what I feel about him. [He] doesn’t teach you how to become a person. He teaches you how to become yourself. Although “self” is a vague term . . .

【1:00】但係係講緊原來佢教你無論你變成點都好 | 你 feel 到嗰個係你自己| 同埋 (inaudible) trigger你去搵翻你本身有嘅一啲 | 反叛嘅因素、慾望、渴求 | 啫,教你去認識或者開始行到 . . . 去一個你想行嘅路呀 | 啫,我覺得呢個係一個重大嘅影響 | 同埋點樣去識得溫暖其他人 | 啫,我,我覺得我係一個比較唔係好識得同人溝通嘅人呀 | 啫,大人唔係好鼓勵你去講自己嘅心事或者情感嘅東西㗎 | 噉但係佢就每次都會好相信你呢啲嘢 | 係有價值 | 啫,我哋成日都話,啊,你要開一個肉麻嘅群組 | 要講一啲好肉麻嘅嘢 | 啫,肉麻係有價值嘅 | 其實我頭嗰幾年呢,我係 | 有啲,呃,開始質疑自己叫唔叫做一個詞人嘅 | 因為冇嗰個 mindset(想法)| 噉係去到後期約咗一個前輩

● 反叛 fáan2 buhn6 = to rebel; to revolt | ● 渴求 hot3 kàuh4 = to yearn for; to crave | ● 溫暖 wān1 nyúhn5 = (adj.) warm | ● 肉麻 yuhk6 màah4 = ugly; disgusting; corny; annoying | ● 群組 kwàhn4 jóu2 = the groups of contacts in your email account; groups of members in a forum or a community | ● 後期 hauh6 kèih4 = later stage; later period | ● 前輩 chìhn4 bui3 = senior (person); elder; to older generation

. . . as it turns out [原來], what he taught me that, regardless of what you become, you feel that whatever that is is yourself. He triggers you to find things that are part of you [你本身有] — rebellious elements, desires, yearnings. That is, [he] teaches you to go and recognize and to begin to walk a path you yourself would want to take. I think this is a major influence. Another thing is how to know how to give warmth to other people. I don’t think I am a very good communicator. Adults don’t encourage you to talk about what was on your mind or what you were feeling, but on every occasion he believed that the things you did had value. We are always saying that you have to set up a community for the corny/disgusting [肉麻嘅群組] to say corny/disgusting things. Corny/disgusting things can have a value. In the years when I was starting out, I had my suspicions about whether I could be called a lyric writer, because I didn’t have that mindset. It was not until later on, when I arranged to meet a person from the older generation . . .

【2:00】. . . 出嚟 | 食個 tea,跟住佢就話,啊,香港好少女詞人 | 你要加油呀咁樣 | 嗰下嗰個鼓勵突然間令我覺得:啊,係喎 | 我係一個詞人喎,咁樣 | 都係喺嗰個位先至突然間好似有啲責任咁樣

Caption: 學習輕盈面對 | 沉重日常

我梗係鍾意香港啦 | 我覺得我喺呢個地方可以做嘅嘢 | 或者可以俾到嘅嘢 | 係會多好多 | 噉因此我去荷蘭嘅時候 | 啲同學問我之後會唔會留喺嗰度| 我已經話唔會 | 其實佢哋都覺得我好傻㗎喇咁樣 | 啫,因為嗰個career可能會明顯啲或者會好啲呀咁 | 噉但係我好早已經話我會返嚟 | 啫,噉特別就係呢兩年嘅事 | 我點都一定會留喺度嘅 | 就算撇除呢啲嘢 | 我都係,呃,對於身邊嘅人嘅一啲陪伴 | 啫,譬如有時會諗,呃,入面嘅朋友

● 詞人 chìh4 yàhn4 = cf. 填詞人 tìhn4 chìh4 yàhn4 | ● 沉重 chàhm4 chúhng5 (?) = serious; critical | ● 撇除 pit3 chèuih4 = to eliminate; to remove; minus | ● 陪伴 pùih4 buhn6 = to accompany; to keep sb. company

. . . [UNCLEAR] he said, “Hong Kong has very few female lyric-writers, so you must go for it [你要加油]. In that moment of encouragement suddenly made me think “Oh, that’s right. I am a lyric writer. And with that position there seem to be, all of a sudden, some responsibilities [that go with it].

Caption: Learning to Face the Serious Everyday with Grace

Yvette Lok Yee Wong: Of course, I’m fond of Hong Kong! I have some much more to give in this place. It’s for this reason that, when I went to Holland, other students studying with me asked if I would stay on afterwards. Because [I’d] already said that there was no way I would, they thought I was foolish. That’s because any career would clearly be better. But a long time back I had said that I would come back [to Hong Kong]. Especially because of what has happened over the past two years. Whatever happens I will definitely remain here. And apart from these considerations [呢啲嘢], I am company for the people nearest me. For instance, I sometimes think, about friends inside.

【3:00】佢哋出咗嚟會見到邊個呢? | 上年更加嚴重嘅 | 寫乜都會關連啫係自己嗰一啲情緒或者壓力事㗎啦 | 就算寫愛情都係啲好唔簡單嘅嘢 | 但係呢,我今年開始多咗個自覺 | 就係其實,呃,我哋嘅生活 | 唔淨止要將自己變成受難者囉 | 啫,我 . . . 我哋嘅生活應該都仲可以有好多樂趣嘅咁 | 所以我 . . . 我而家開始提自己 | 係咪可以遠離返嗰一堆嘅情緒 | 啫,當然有佢嘅作用啦,啲作品 | 啫,譬如C AllStar佢《集合吧地球保衛隊》| 跟住,呃,《留下來的人》| 噉可能你每日咁樣聽 | 你容易去抵抗而家,啫,我哋每個人喺個時代裏面嘅處境嘅

● 自覺 jih6 gok3 = a conscious(ness); an awareness | ● 受難者 sauh6 naahn6 jé2 = a victim (of a calamity) | ● 集合 jaahp6 hahp6 = to gather; to assemble; to call together | ● 保衛隊 bóu2 waih6 déui6*2 = roughly, “a team that defends/safeguards (sth.)

When they get out, who will they be able to see? Last year was more serious. The things that I wrote were all connected with moods of mine or pressures. Even if [I] wrote about love, there was nothing simple about it. This year, however, I am starting to have a new awareness about how, in fact, our lives are not just about turning into victims. My . . . our lives should still be able to have a lot of joy in them. And so for this reason I . . . I have now started to remind myself whether I can move away again [遠離翻] from that jumble of moods. Of course, these songs [作品] have their effects. For example, C All Star’s “Come Together, Defenders of the World” and then “The Man who Stayed”. Perhaps if you listened to them every day, you [could] easily resist the plight that every one of us is facing at this time.

【4:00】就係我哋唔可以長期好似受苦難咁樣 | 其實我哋係要慢慢重建返自己應有嘅一個生活 | 啫,譬如你頭先提起《輕盈》| 我嘅意思其實係佢唔 exactly 係完全輕盈嘅姿態 | 而係你點樣去做一啲好沉重嘅事嘅時候 | 將佢變成日常 | 你其實會容易啲去堅持囉 | 原來佢未至於破壞你嘅生活嘅 | 其實係你點樣慢慢 build up 自己嘅意志力 | 你 . . . 當你越 . . . 有越強大嘅意志嘅時候 | 呢啲嘢其實係可以好輕可咁樣去面對

● 苦難 fú2 naahn6 = suffering; misery; distress | ● 重建 chùhng4 gin3 = to rebuild; to re-establish | ● 姿態 jī1 taai3 = an attitude; a stance | ● 未至於 meih6 ji3 yū1 = roughly, “has not yet gone so far as to” | ● 意志力 yi3 ji3 lihk6 = will-power

We can’t go on suffering endlessly [長期]. Actually, we must slowly rebuild the lives each of us ought to have. For instance, in the song “Grace” I mentioned before, what I meant in fact wasn’t exactly a completely graceful attitude but how to transform the doing of certain very serious things into something commonplace. In fact, you will [then be able] to persevere more easily. As it turns out, it [that is, one of the “very serious things”] has not yet gone so far as to ruin your life.  It’s actually about how to build up your will-power. When you . . . you have a stronger will, then these things can in fact be faced with a great lightness.

Liisa Immonen’s Speed of Life

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I recently watched the Finnish film Mestari Cheng, about a chef from Shanghai who goes looking for an old friend in the north of Finland. It’s special when two of one’s interest come together in such an unexpected yet satisfying way, and there is much to enjoy in this trilingual film (English is used as the bridging language) — linguistically, culturally and spiritually. The whole of the film resonates with a translator’s sensibility . . .

One thing that struck me powerfully was the landscape with its vast stretches of rock and water, and the special light at twilight in Summer. I have never been to Finland, but I have been to Finnish, and I sensed, very vaguely, that I was seeing in the natural environment something that I had very faintly once perceived in the rhythms, sounds and grammatical twinings of that language. Eager for more, I took out a small book of poems by Liisa Immonen entitled Synnyin maailmaan (I was born into the world, 1982) and found in it a very short poem that has something of that same quality in it, reminiscent of that hymn Cat Stevens used to sing (“Morning has broken / Like the first morning”), but tougher, more prehistoric, elemental.

I am no expert in the language, but I was helped and guided by the absence of verbs and the strong contrasts in the poem. Firstly, there is the very palpable contrast between the “hot springs” and the “chill zones”, the idea of “zone” expressed by the noun vyöhyke. Then comes a second contrast, boosted by a strong parallelism, between muinainen = “ancient” and äsken luotu, which I think means “just now created” but am not entirely sure about (please feel free to correct me!). Finally, there is an imagistic contrast, in which the smoothness and quick movement of the sisiliskot (“lizards”) is the diametric opposite of the rough and immobile rantakivikko or “the stony soil of the shore”. With simple means, Immonen evokes that double quality of time as both vast temporal continuum and a reptile-fleet instant. And to me it’s wonderful the way the rhythms instantly quicken at the end when — amongst all that inert matter — darting Life suddenly appears on the scene.


Aamut nousevat, kummat lähteet
kylmillä vyöhykkeillä.

Ja kaikki on muinaista,
Ja kaikki on äsken luotua,
sisiliskot rantakivikossa.

Dawn after dawn. Hot springs
in frigid zones.

And everything so ancient
and so now freshly created:
lizards darting in amongst the pebbles of the shore.

Needle; Marble; Wall

Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

Or like threading a needle behind your back; or like
speaking a whole life’s history into a drinking straw.
Or like walking on both bare hands
across hyper-inter-active ant-hills
without “stepping” with your fingers on a single resident.
Or like ogling the light
through a pristine, playground marble
for a glimpse of crystal oceans
or translucent childhood visions; or like
cluelessly conjuring from the dead-end of your tether
a simple act of kindness for some perfect — utter — stranger
just when you thought
you were the first person on Earth
in desperate need of help; or like
crashing helter-skelter through the glass wall of your self
not to break but to make your one unthinkable mind
somehow suddenly-naturally WORLDWIDE.

Learning Cantonese: Wai Wai, Artist of the Neighbourhood

The artist 慧惠 Wai Wai lived in a flat near the 果欄 “Fruit Lan” or Wholesale Fruit Market in 油麻地 Yau Ma Tei while she was growing up, and this experience seems to set her on her present course as a passionate community-oriented artist. By transforming 鐵閘 tit3 jaahp6 or “iron roll-down shop shutters” into works of art, she hopes to bring colour into the neighbourhood and to record for posterity the fine details of life in older districts in Hong Kong, places so vulnerable to eventual redevelopment.

There is nothing monstrously difficult in this presentation, and I think you will appreciate the clarity with which the Now reporter 周駿易 Chow Chun-yee speaks, but there are a few points worthy of attention. The first concerns the verb 俾 béi2. This commonly means “to give”, but it also doubles up as a colloquial version of 讓 yeuhng6 = “to let; to enable”. And so at 4:30 in 俾一啲苦苦經營嘅店主 | 一個堅持做落去嘅理由 = “to give the shopkeepers who worked so hard managing their stores a reason to keep on going”, 俾 béi2 means “to give”. However, in a phrase like 起碼俾人知道個歷史故事係點樣 at 1:10, the meaning is “at least to let people know what the history (of the shop) was”. Other examples of this second meaning appear in 問佢有冇興趣 | 俾畫家喺佢嘅鐵閘上面創造 (0:50) and 擺喺呢個鐵閘面前俾啲街坊認識一下 (1:58). Obviously, the presence of a second verb after 俾 béi2 is a good indicator that that this second meaning is in play.

There are also numerous instances of two very interesting aspect markers, 嗮 saai3 and 翻 fāan1. 嗮 offers a very neat way of expressing ideas such as “wholly” or “fully”. Listen out for:

2:28: 拉嗮閘嘅時候畫
3:58: 插畫都畫嗮、倒瀉嗮喺度
4: 15: 好俾心機去將自己觀察到嘅 | 鍾意嘅都放嗮入面

As for 翻 fāan1, it is always fascinating to come across new examples of how this works in Cantonese. Yes, sometimes the meaning is a simple “back” or “again”, but sometimes more subtle nuances are at work. In 用個新嘅角度去睇翻自己嘅鋪頭 (4:50), for example, the aspect marker seems to suggest “again, in a new way”. Note that in the case of 剩翻 at 2:45, this is virtually a fixed expression meaning “to be left (over); to remain”, although 剩低 is also heard.

The video is rich in vocabulary, including the four-character expression 碩果僅存 sehk6 gwó2 gán2 chyùhn4 = “a rare survival”, last encountered in the RTHK video with 劉彥芹 Anthony Lau Yin-Kun on Hong Kong newts (以前嗰啲樹林差唔多斬嗮嘅時候呢 | 佢都可以碩果僅存呀). There’s also an instance each of the very Cantonese verbs 鎅 (or 𠝹) gaai3 = “to cut” and 甩色 lāt sīk = to fade (of colour). Other treasures include: 内街 noih6 gāai1 = (?) back streets; 交棒 gāau1 páahng5 = (?) to pass on the baton; to hand sth. on to (a successor); 後輩 hauh6 bui3 = ① the younger generation ② posterity; 間尺 gaan3 chék3*2= a ruler ; 筆直 bāt1 jihk6 = perfectly straight; straight as a ramrod; 草圖 chóu2 tòuh4 = a (rough) sketch; a draft; 漏夜 lauh6 yeh6 = the dead of night; 俾心機 béi2 sām1 gēi1 = to devote oneself to doing; to put energy into doing; 立體空間 lahp6 tái2 hūng1 gāan1 = (?) a three-dimensional space . . . I better stop here. It’s making me giddy!

Please scroll down for my transcription (again, it’s a bit gappy 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.

WordPress for some reason has added a bit of colour to the Chinese text in this post. I’m not sure why this is and, so far, I have been able to fix the problem, but let it be a tribute to 慧惠 Wai Wai, a great believer in colour!


Caption: 舊區新潮 | An Old District, A New Current

旁白:由嘈雜鬧市轉入内街 | 行入砵蘭街 | 再去到上海街 | 會發現另一種嘅城市風景 | 即使係日頭,呢一度都唔算好熱鬧 | 街道上經營嘅,有唔少 | 係碩果僅存嘅傳統小店 | 好似呢一間玻璃店 | 就有四十年嘅歷史 | 已經交棒去到第二代 | 多年手藝不變 | 除日常嘅營運之外 | 接班人亦都希望 | 對老店嘅保育做多一工作 | 喺幾年前,有人嚟到鋪頭 | 問有冇興趣 | 畫家喺佢嘅鐵閘上面創造 | 佢覺得好新奇,於是就即刻應承咗

● 内街 noih6 gāai1 = (?) back streets | ● 砵蘭街 būt3*1 làahn4 gāai1 = Portland Street | ● 日頭 yaht6 táu4*2 = daytime | ● 碩果僅存 sehk6 gwó2 gán2 chyùhn4 = a rare survival | ● 交棒 gāau1 páahng5 = (?) to pass on the baton; to hand sth. on to (a successor) | ● 營運 yìhng4 wahn6 = to operate | ● 接班人jip3 bāan1 yàhn4 = a successor | ● 應承 yīng1 sìhng4 = to agree to do sth.; to promise; to consent

Voice-over: Turn into the back streets from the noisy commotion of the bustling city, walk into Portland Street and then go on to Shanghai Street and you will discover a different kind of urban landscape. Even though it is daytime, it’s not particularly busy here. What operates on [these] streets are some rare survivals — quite a number of traditional-style small shops. A glazer’s shop like this has been in business for 40 years [有四十年嘅歷史] and the baton has already been handed on to the next generation. In all those years, the craft has not altered. Apart from [continuing] its everyday operations, the people who have taken it over hope to do a bit of work to preserve the store. Several years ago, someone came into the shop and asked if they were interested in having an artist create a painting on their roll-down iron shutter [鐵閘]. His curiosity piqued, he agreed [to the idea] at once.

Caption: 陳永建:同利玻璃負責人 | Chan Wing-kin, Person in Charge of Tong Lee Glass

陳永建:始終我呢啲【1:00】,呃,畫嘅畫 // 都係 // 比較舊式啲嘅鋪頭 | 其實就我諗 | 都會越嚟越少喇 | 畫幅畫 // 紀念一下 | 我哋做嘅嘢咁樣 | 將來起碼都同我哋後輩講我哋做過啲乜嘢咁樣 | 都起碼俾人知道個歷史故事係點樣呀

● 後輩 hauh6 bui3 = ① the younger generation ② posterity

Chan Wing-kin: All along these places that had paintings done were all  relatively older-style shops. In fact, I thought, [shops like this] will become fewer and fewer. Getting a picture painted is a way of commemorating what we do. In the days to come, it will at least speak to the younger generation about the work we did, and at the very least tell people some stories from history.

旁白:鐵閘畫係由畫家慧惠所創作 | 所呈現嘅,係玻璃店 | 兩個老師傅日常嘅工作情況

● 呈現 chìhng4 yihn6 = to present (a certain appearance); to emerge

Voice-over: [The] iron-shutter painting was created by the painter Wai Wai. What it shows is the everyday work [工作情況] of Tong Lee Glass’ two old master-workers.

慧惠:例如一日 [佢係] 喺度鎅玻璃 | 就好似 // 鐵閘見到嘅一幕咁樣 [啦] | 佢哋用一枝火水筆咁再加埋一把間尺 | 用啲最基本簡單嘅工具 | 就可以將一塊睇落去好似,呃,好 . . . 比較硬嘅玻璃 | 咁樣一拉一條,咁一拍 | 咁樣就可以將玻璃好筆直咁樣 | 一分為二 | 我覺得個過程好神奇呀 | 噉所以就希望將呢一個工序 | 擺喺呢個鐵閘面前俾啲街坊【2:00】認識一下

● 幕 mohk6 = an act; a scene | ● 火水筆 fó2 séui2 bāt1 = (?) a tool used to cut glass lit. 火水 = kerosene/paraffin + 筆 = pen | ● 間尺 gaan3 chék3*2= a ruler | ● 筆直 bāt1 jihk6 = perfectly straight; straight as a ramrod | ● 一分為二 yāt1 fān1 wàih4 yih6 = to divide one (thing) into two (pieces) | ● 神奇 sàhn4 kèih4 = magical; mystical; miraculous | ● 工序 guūng1 jeuih6 = a working procedure; a process

Wai Wai: For instance, one day he was cutting glass like the scene [幕] [depicted] on the iron shutter. Using a glass-cutting tool [火水筆] and a ruler — the most rudimentary of tools — they can break a piece of glass in two, perfectly straight, with the drawing of a line and a quick tap [咁一拍], glass that seems really quite hard. To me, the process is really magical. For this reason, [I] hoped that putting this part of [their] work on the iron shutter to let the locals learn something [俾啲街坊認識一下] [about what goes on in the shop].

旁白:老師傅嘅手藝固然值得欣賞 | 而喺藝術家嘅眼中 | 佢哋每一個工序都會成爲咗 | 創作社區藝術嘅靈感 | 不過要將一道陳舊嘅灰色鐵閘 |變成藝術品 | 過程起碼要一個星期 | 畫家要首先構思好草圖 | 獲得商鋪嘅負責人同意之後 | 先至可以漏夜趕工

● 手藝 sáu2 ngaih6 = craftmanship; workmanship | ● 固然 gu3 yìhn4 = of course; admittedly | ● 陳舊 chàhn4 gauh6 = outmoded; obsolete; old-fashioned; out-of-date | ● 構思 kau3 sī1 = to work out the composition of a painting | ● 草圖 chóu2 tòuh4 = a (rough) sketch; a draft | ● 漏夜 lauh6 yeh6 = the dead of night | ● 趕工 gón2 gūng1 = (?) to hurry to finish the work

Voice-over: Of course, the work-skills of old master-workers’ are worthy of admiration and, in the eyes of the artist, every part of their working procedure can become inspiration for the creation of community art [社區藝術]. However, the process of turning a grey, old-fashioned shutter screen into a work of art takes at least a week. First of all, the artist has to work out a sketch of the design [草圖] and, only when the person in charge of the shop has agreed, can she set to work in the dead of night to hurry to finish the work.

慧惠:我哋就要趁鋪頭閂門嘅時候拉閘嘅時候畫 | 噉先唔會阻住 // 生意嘅 | 噉第一晚我就首先用個投影機啦 | 呃,投射落去個鐵閘度 [呢],將個稿 | 噉完成咗線稿之後 | 第二晚就做啲基本嘅嘢 | 噴 [個] 底色呀,呃,上啲基本嘅色呀 | 噉再之後剩翻嘅兩晚就畫啲細節呀 | 寫翻少少嘅文字 | 描述關於個鐵閘呀,咁樣就完成喇

● 投影機 tàuh4 yíng2 gēi1 = (?) projector | ● 投射 tàuh4 sèh4 = to project; to cast | ● 稿 góu2 = a draft; a sketch | ● 線稿 sin3 góu2 = (?) a line drawing; an outline cf. 線 = a line + 稿 = a sketch | ● 噴 pan3 = to spray | ● 底色 dái2 sīk1 = an undercoat | ● 上(色)séuhng5 sīk1 = (?) to add/apply colour

Wai Wai: We paint when the store is closed and when the shutter screen has been pulled right down [拉嗮閘]. It’s only by doing it this way that we [avoid] [UNCLEAR] disrupting business. The first night, we use a projector to project a draft image onto the shutter screen. When the line drawing is finished, on the second we do certain basic things [啲基本嘅嘢], spraying on the undercoat UNCLEAR and applying the basic colours. On the remaining nights after that, we paint in the details, and add in the written words describing something about the screen. After that, it’s completed.

旁白:同一般嘅畫作唔同 | 鐵閘畫要經歷風吹雨打 | 唔經常洗閘【3:00】會封塵 | 洗得多又會甩色 | 所以需要定期修葺 | 先至可以無間斷咁發揮到 | 社區藝術品嘅功能

● 畫作 waahk6 jok3 = painting | ● 經歷 gīng1 lihk6 = to go through; to undergo; to experience | ● 風吹雨打 fūng1 chēui1 yúh5 dáa2 = roughly, “weathered by the wind and the rain” | ● 封塵 fūng1 chàhn4 = (?) to be covered in dust cf. 封 = to seal up + 塵 = dust | ● 甩色 lāt sīk = to fade (of colour) | ● 修葺 sāu1 chāp1 = to repair; to renovate | ● 無間斷 mòuh4 gaan3 dyuhn6 = roughly, “without interruption” | ● 發揮 faat3 fāi1 = to bring into play; to give play to

Voice-over: Unlike ordinary painting, shutter screen painting is subject to the effects of wind and rain [風吹雨打]. Unless it is constantly cleaned, the painting will become covered over in dust. But excessive washing makes the colours fade. For this reason, maintenance [修葺] is necessary at regular intervals. Only then can it exercise its function as community art without any interruption.

慧惠:呢啲老區好多時 | 一間小店,一鐵閘 | 日頭就好,好有生氣啦 | 噉夜晚,噉拉嗮閘起嚟 | 如果有一幅嘅鐵閘畫喺度 | 咁真係會令到成個區呢,色彩都會繽紛咗喇 | 同埋可能有一啲街坊喺夜晚先會喺街道行嘅 | 噉都可以透過個鐵閘嘅畫 | 會了解到個鋪頭做一啲 [工作]

● 生氣 sāang1 hei3 = life; vitality | ● 色彩 sīk1 chói2 = colour; hue | ● 繽紛 bān1 fān1 = in riotous . . .; a profusion of

Wai Wai: Much of the time, these shop owners [老區] have one shop with one shutter screen. During the day, [the shop] is busting with activity. At night, when the shutter is pulled out to its full extent [啦嗮閘起嚟], if it has a painting on it, then it can make the whole district full of colour. In addition, there are probably some local people who only come out into the streets at night. Thanks to [透過] the screen shutter paintings, they can get an idea about what kind of work the shops do.

旁白:自細喺油尖旺長大嘅慧惠 | 大學畢業 [之後] 冇耐 | 就成爲咗全職嘅插畫家 | 佢嘅作品有好多都同呢一個舊區有關 | 甚至出版過一本畫集 | 以油麻地度做主題 | 記錄區内一點一滴嘅變化

● 油尖旺 Yàuh4 Jīm1 Wohng6 = Yau Tsim Mong, a convenient way of referring to the area embracing Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui & Mong Kok | ● 全職 chyùhn4 jīk1 = full-time | ● 插畫家 chaap3 wáa2 gāa1 = an illustrator | ● 畫集 wáa2 jaahp6 = a collection of paintings (presented in book-form)

Voice-over: Wai Wai, who grew up in the area embracing Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui & Mong Kok, became a full-time illustrator not long after. Many of her works have a connection with this old area. She has even published a folio of paintings dealing with Yau Ma Tei, a record of some of the changes [that have taken place] within it.

慧惠:呢本《給油麻地的情書》呢 | 做有關街坊同小店嘅訪問呀 | 插畫都畫嗮、[倒瀉] 嗮喺度喇 【4:00】| 畫嘅時候,冇諗過 | 有一啲地方已經過兩年幾 | 已經冇咗 | 有好多嘢都好似留唔住位呀 | // 要放喺本書入面 | 噉所以都好慶幸自己 | 嗰陣時*gonsi 好俾心機去將自己觀察到嘅 | 鍾意嘅都放嗮入面呀

● 慶幸 hing3 hahng6 = to rejoice; to congratulate oneself | ● 俾心機 béi2 sām1 gēi1 = to devote oneself to doing; to put energy into doing

Wai Wai: [In] this book Love-letter to Yau Ma Tei, I went and talked to locals and the small shops [in the area], then put it all into the illustrations, I poured it (?) all into them. While I was doing the illustrations, it never occurred to me that some of the places [I painted] would disappear within a couple of years or so. There are so many things, it seems, that you just can’t hold on to (?) so you have to put them into a book. For this reason, I rejoice in the fact that at that time I devoted so much energy into putting all the things I had observed and all the things I liked into [the book].

旁白:佢話,用插畫嘅方式 | 嚟到記錄小店嘅經營風貌 | 讀者可以認識到一啲 | 可能會失傳嘅手藝之餘 | 亦都俾一啲苦苦經營嘅店主 | 一個堅持做落去嘅理由 | 最終都希望可以做到社區保育

● 經營 gīng1 yìhng4 = to manage; to run | ● 風貌 fūng1 maauh6 = style & features | ● 失傳 sāt1 chyùhn4 = not be handed down from past generations; be lost | ● 店主 dim3 jyú2 = a shopkeeper | ● 理由 léih5 yàuh4 = a reason; a ground; an argument | ● 保育 bóu2 yuhk6 = to preserve

Voice-over: She said that by using illustrations to record the management style and features of small shops readers would get to learn a little about lost handicrafts. In addition, the shopkeepers who worked so hard to manage their stores would be given a reason to keep on going. Ultimately, [she] also hopes to work for the preservation of the district.

慧惠:多數對老店佢哋就好多時係被人影相多 | 噉用畫畫做一個媒介呢 | [可以] 由一個佢哋每日都面對住嘅立體空間 | 變 [一種] 嘅平面嘅畫嘅時候呢 | 佢哋就好似用個新嘅角度去睇翻自己嘅鋪頭 | 噉然後當佢哋睇翻自己鋪頭嘅時候 | 有時佢哋嘅俾我嘅反應 | 就係「哦,原來我間鋪頭咁靚【5:00】| 因爲我都唔知

● 媒介 mùih4 gaai3 = an intermediary; a medium | ● 立體空間 lahp6 tái2 hūng1 gāan1 = (?) a three-dimensional space | ● 平面 pìhng4 mín6*2 = a plane; a flat surface

Wai Wai: Mostly, the old shops are photographed most of the time. Using the medium of painting, when the three-dimensional space [the shopkeepers] deal with on a daily basis becomes a painted flat surface [一個平面嘅畫], it’s as if they are seeing their own shop from a new angle. Then, when they seen their own store [in this way], sometimes they give me a reaction, saying “Oh, [as it turns out] my shop is so beautiful. I never realized that”.

旁白:透過藝術推動社區保育 | 做法得到好多人嘅認同 | 佢亦都嘗試將創作 | 帶入唔同嘅場景 | 例如喺餐廳度畫粉筆畫 | 仲有呢一幅 | 喺上海街商場嘅大型壁畫

● 推動 tēui1 duhng6 = to push forward; to promote | ● 場景 chèuhng4 gíng2 = a scene; a sight | ● 粉筆畫 fán2 bāt1 wáa2 = roughly, “a chalk picture” | ● 壁畫 bīk1 wáa = a mural; a fresco

Voice-over: Using art to promote the preservation of a district is a way of doing things that many people approve of. She has also attempted to bring creativity into different spaces [場景], an example being a chalk drawing made in a cha chan teng restaurant. Then there is this large-scale mural, painted in the shopping centre on Shanghai Street.

慧惠:幅壁畫裏面呢,有一啲人仔喺度啦 | 有一啲係學生 | 有啲係,係街道流連緊嘅阿叔 | 噉有啲就係個做嘢嘅工作人員咁樣呀 | 就希望透過啲公衆喺個壁畫上面發掘嘅細節呢 | 就可以到當年佢哋啲人係點樣生活 | 噉從而懷緬也好呀 | 呃,分享翻自己嘅故事也好呀 | 噉都希望多啲互動

● 流連 làuh4 lihn6 = usu. “to linger”; perhaps in this context “to hang around” | ● 阿叔 aa3 sūk1 = roughly, “a man of one’s father’s age” | ● 發掘 faat3 gwaht6 = to excavate; to unearth; to explore | ● 懷緬 wàaih4 míhn5 = (?) to cherish the memory of; to recall with fondness (used for past events rather than people or places) | ● 互動wuh6 duhng6 = interactive

Wai Wai: In the mural, there are a few little figures [一啲人仔] — some are students, some are men hanging around in the street, and then some of them are workers. The hope is that, by means of details explored [發掘] in this public mural, one can find how people lived in those years, thereby fondly recalling past events in you like, or [as a prompt to] sharing you own stories. There hope too is for more interaction.

旁白:而家佢已經搬離油尖旺區 | 轉到去屯門居住 | 雖然要重新適應生活圈子 | 但係佢亦都不忘 | 繼續將藝術元素注入社區 | 經常會就地取材咁,利用風景寫生【6:00】 | 又會同學校合作開辦興趣班 | 親自帶學生參與鐵閘畫嘅創作等等 | 佢相信藝術嘅靈感係源自於生活 | 必須鼓勵新一代關心社區嘅細節

● 搬離 būn1 lèih4 = roughly, “to move away (from a place)” | ● 居住 gēui1 jyuh6 = to live; to reside; to dwell | ● 生活圈子 sāng wuht6 hyūn1 jí2 = roughly, “the circles in which one moves” (lit. “life circle”) | ● 藝術元素 ngaih6 seuht6 yùhn4 sou3 = an artistic element | ● 注入 jyu3 yahp6 = to pour into; to empty into | ● 就地 jauh6 deih6 = usu. “on the spot”; perhaps “from the place one happens to be in” | ● 取材 chéui2 chòih4 = to draw materials; to make use of materials (often used in a creative context) | ● 開辦 hōi1 baahn6 = to open; to set up; to start | ● 興趣班 hing3 cheui3 bāan1 = (?) interest class | ● 親自 chān1 jih6 = personally; in person; oneself

Voice-over: She has moved away from the Yau Tsim Mong district, and now lives in Tuen Mun. Although she has to adjust to a new living environment [生活圈子], she has not forgotten about infusing [注入] the district with artistic elements. She is always gathering material from her new home [就地], and sketching the [local] scenery. She also works with schools to organize interest classes, and personally works with students in the creation of shutter-screen paintings. She believes that the inspiration for art comes from life, and that the next generation must be encouraged to be concerned about the details of the place they live in [社區嘅細節].

慧惠:噉我都希望學生由去讀書嘅時候已經開始認識同埋了解 [呢],社區 | 或者喺邊度值得去記錄呀 | 當佢哋有呢一個觸覺,自小有呢一個觸覺嘅時候 | 咁我相信佢哋去到將來決定做邊一個行業 | 就算唔係關於藝術創作嘅行業呢 | 我相信佢哋會帶呢一種對社會嘅關心 | 社區嘅關心 | 去佢哋自己 [嗰個] 工作嘅範疇裏面 | 會令到成個香港都會有多啲愛

● 觸覺 jūk1 gok3 = tactile sensation; sense of touch | ● 行業 hòhng4 yihp6 = a trade; a profession; an industry | ● 範疇 faahn6 chàuh4 = a category; a domain

Wai Wai:I hope then when students are going to school, they are already beginning to get to know and to understand their local community [社區], or which parts of it are worth recording. When they acquire [有] this touch [觸覺], when they have this touch from an early age, then I believe that when in the future they come to choose a profession — even if it is one that has nothing to do with [唔關於] artistic creativity — they will, I believe, bring a concern for society and for their local community into the domain of their own [field of] work, and increase the amount of love in the whole of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong: Once in a Million Years

For the past two years, Hong Kong has been repeatedly in the international spotlight. A decisive clash between civilizations is the main reason for such world interest, the Chinese desperate to make good the wrongs done to it by the British Empire in the nineteenth century, while Western nations strive to preserve a remnant of threatened democracy. But I think something else ― and potentially far more important ― is ultimately at stake.

In February this year, Hong Kong’s Stand News produced a video entitled “If Today is the Last Day of Freedom” [假如這是自由的最後一天], about a number of dangerous “criminals” facing a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. It begins with 24-year-old 鄒家成 Owen Chow, who uses his last free day to see a movie and get a new tattoo ― “If I’m put away, maybe sometimes I won’t be in control of my feelings, . . . Perhaps seeing this [tattoo] will calm me down a bit”. There’s 岑子傑 Jimmy Shum, who rolls his own cigarettes and wears rainbow shoelaces in his boots. There’s 袁嘉蔚 Tiffany Yuen, shown hugging her life-size Buzz Lightyear doll in anticipation of the loss of such comforts should she be taken into custody immediately. And then there’s 呂智恆 Hendrick Lui, one of the few individuals to be granted bail. Ironically, we see him at work on the street, encouraging passers-by to write letters to other Hong Kong democracy activists already behind bars.

These individuals are just a few of the 53 people arrested on 6 January for allegedly “conspiring to commit subversion”, a grave violation of the new National Security Law. Of these, some were released, while 47 were granted bail and told to report to their local police station on 8 April. However, at the end of February, they were contacted to report to police five weeks earlier than originally scheduled. They then appeared in court on the same day and, after a protracted hearing, most of them were denied bail and were taken into custody. At the time of writing, they are still in detention awaiting trial, scheduled now for November.

What was their offence? They had all taken part in peaceful and perfectly legal primary elections in July 2020 in an attempt to identify the strongest candidates for the Legislative Council elections planned for later in the year.

When Hong Kong reverted to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, it was written into the Basic Law of the Territory that gradual progress would be made towards granting Hongkongers the right to elect their own law-makers and even eventually their Chief Executive. However, a counterfeit system was put in place that meant most members of the legislative council were not directly elected, and that made it virtually impossible for pan-democrats to gain a majority anyway. Nevertheless, after the Million-people Protest March of 9 June 2019 and the months of demonstrations that followed, supporters of Hong Kong democracy scored a massive victory in the November 2019 district elections, and at that point a pro-democratic majority in the Legislative Council became practically thinkable. For this reason, not long after, the National Security Law was enacted and democracy was effectively criminalized. The promise of universal suffrage ― so long flouted and frustrated ― was finally openly broken.

The response from supporters of Hong Kong democracy was summed up by the writer 鄧小樺 Tang Siu Wa ― currently Chief Curator of the House of Hong Kong Literature ― who said in a video interview with Vision Times:

I hope that the international community will be able to make the Chinese people ― and make China as a whole ― regain some respect for what it means to make a promise. “One Country, Two Systems” is an international promise. Supposedly, it is a solemn promise. If a promise is being ripped to shreds, this can’t happen without any consequences, there ought to be consequences. Then all of us, [working] together, should make the people who broke their promise face up to the consequences. That’s how it ought to be.

Have you ever wondered what Hong Kong truly is? On my first trip there in 1998, my head was already filled with the usual misconceptions. The glossy Baedeker I bought to guide me on my journey only helped to cement the stereotypes: Victoria Harbour with its sky-scraping corporate architecture, and the shops of Kowloon, crowded ― just as Ainslie Meares once described it ― with groups of “jabbering tourists on their world cruise bent on buying junk”. Nothing could have been further from the truth. My small flat in the village of Cheung Shue Tan was just down the road from the pristine mountain streams and abundant wildlife of the Tai Po Kau nature reserve, and within easily travelling distance of the Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple in Sha Tin, where the gold-coated “diamond body” of its founder, Reverend Yuet-kai, can be seen in its glass case on the altar. Without realizing what was happening, I gradually came under the spell of the “Hong Kong Effect”.

I’ve spent the last ten years trying to clarify this phenomenon as it affects people from English-speaking countries. In a book called Hong Kong: A Moment in Time (1997), there’s a collection of one-line explanations gathered from many sources. For some people, the appeal is primarily energetic, and expressed in formulae such as “Hong Kong is all about living life to the full ― work hard, play hard, make money, spend money, nothing in moderation”. This view is often supported with evidence from fung shui, according to which the flows of ch’i concentrated in the Territory infuse this little corner with energy and vitality to a degree which perhaps nowhere else in China possesses, as Richard Gee puts it.

Other explanations build on this, suggesting the laissez-faire business attitude of the Chinese colony leads to a high degree of social autonomy which is remarkably enabling: “A unique, multi-national pin prick on the map which gives everybody a chance in life”. In some cases, Hong Kong even manages to transform people entirely, leading them to an identity they could have never have imagined for themselves back home. Take Gregory Rivers from Gympie in Queensland, who fell in love with Cantonese pop music while studying at the University of New South Wales. Eventually, he abandoned his medical degree and came to Hong Kong on a one-way ticket in 1987. He remains there to this day, having reinvented himself as 河國榮 Ho Kwok-wing, actor, singer and fluent Cantonese-speaker.

However, I think the most promising answer to the riddle is the following cryptic statement: “Hong Kong is a privilege of the twentieth century”. Privilege? Light is shed on this by 莫華德 Barbara Ward, another individual miraculously transmuted by Hong Kong. In Chinese Festivals, a book she worked on with the photographer 羅美娜Joan Law Mee Nar, she points out that contemporary, industrialised Hong Kong is also a centre of flourishing Chinese traditionalism, where the spectacular festival activities forbidden in mainland China ― including celebrations of the birthdays of the Sea Goddess Tin Hau and the Buddhist goddess of Mercy, Goon Yam ― unexpectedly live on. It may be that the profound stability of the Chinese ritual cycle facilitates Hong Kong’s high-degree of creativity, innovation and resilience, providing an optimal channel for social, environmental and technological change to happen without excessive turmoil or dislocation.

But there’s more to it than this conjunction of authentic tradition and sophisticated modernity. Another facet of Hong Kong’s privilege is that it has managed to fuse ― over more than 150 years of continuous effort ― two great but vastly different cultures. An enormous price has been paid for this in terms of human suffering, social injustice, and great divisions of wealth, opportunity and wellbeing, but the resulting hybrid is a priceless treasure, something both Eastern and Western, and at the same time neither Chinese nor Anglo-European ― an entity unique in the history of the world. To me, it is an attempt to imagine what the future could look like, beyond the self-enclosed, nation-obsessed, toxically “patriotic” states that most of us find ourselves caught up in today.

As Jan Morris reminded us in her 1998 book Hong Kong/Xiangang, China’s loss of territory to England as a result of the Opium Wars was utterly devastating. The then emperor Dao Guang, she writes, “was seen by courtiers, incredulously wandering his palace in the night, murmuring ‘impossible, impossible’, and repeatedly sighing”. Dao Guang’s lament continues to resonate loudly in the Chinese psyche, and is perfectly audible now in the People’s Republic of China. Yet, reasonable as they might seem, such claims to lost territory are questionable. The Hong Kong journalist 陳寳珣 Chan Bou-seun puts them into perspective in his novel Love Song for a Sinking Island [沒島戀曲] (2015):

Some said that Ah Cho had left Hong Kong and gone to Europe somewhere, and that he had changed his field of research to the sovereignty of nations and the constitution. He was writing a thesis on the subject of the creation and break-up of ancient Rome, with the purpose of looking into the legal principles behind why Italy did not announce that much of Europe and the Middle East was its own innate territory on the basis of the fact that these places had once been part of the Roman Empire. Over the course of history, in Europe, the Middle East and in Turkey, a succession of empires had emerged straddling a number of regions, and they had all ruled for many centuries. Why didn’t they go on carrying the historical burden of a unified nation and insist on revitalizing the territory of a Greece, a Rome, or an Ottoman Empire, instead of choosing the way of break-up and self-rule?

Here Chan suggests that the move towards “revitalization” is both imperialistic and anachronistic, for history has already shown that the time for empires is over. What 鄒家成 Owen Chow had tattooed on his right inner forearm on his last free day was the mantra Om mani padme hum in Tibetan script, a prayer for enlightenment and the cultivation of a new way of being. Rather than yearn for the past, let us continue to pray forwards for Hong Kong, neither “country” nor “system”, just an inspiring social possibility for the future that perhaps only comes to us once in a million years.


It’s the answer to all our questions,
to all our deep, dearest swerves.
The annihilations we called
duty, pleasure were — in the long run —
only annihilations.
All along, all along,
we were locked from the best of our cells.
We practised book-keeping
when we should have been breath-taking;
when there was time to take stock;
damming and dreaming
when all we were asked to perform
was a dance from that part of ourselves
awake in uncancellable rhythms.

From Unlight to Sunlight

Photo by Bella White on Pexels.com

You never stay long in the same moment.
Anything — remotely — you have ever once been
finds a way back through memory, briefly re-
joined. Time — seamless and without fixture —
somehow sediments itself into graver-denser mixtures
the richness of which becomes easily beyond bearing.
You seafare to the Sun and the Moon’s GLOWMOTION
towards the shifting heart of this exponentially widening ocean
(trackless unharbour of a sum total absence of harbours)
and what keeps you sane at the end of the day
at the end of sanity’s bare edge
is the simplest of prayers whispered all along the full length
of your each and every out-breath,
unpious and without demands:
Thank you.

Learning Cantonese: Chu Man on the Death of Socrates & the Unexamined Life

I transcribed 豬文 Chu Man’s lively “On Hating and Despising Philosophy” back in April, and have been working on other videos by him since then, including his 2019 TEDx talk on Socrates’ maxim 「未經反省嘅人生,係不值得活嘅」 [“An unexamined life is not worth living”]. At a time in which individual freedoms in Hong Kong are under unprecedented threat, it is wonderful to be reminded that, without critical reflection on the life you lead, there is a danger that you will end up leading not your own but someone else’s idea of what your life should be.

The great difficulty with this piece is the absence of any subtitles. I have done my best, but have been unable to fill in all the gaps. Fortunately, for the most part, the context makes it pretty clear what Chu Man is driving at.

Actually, Chu Man is the nickname of 鄺雋文 K[w]ong3 Jeun3 Màhn4 or Chun Man Kwong, a doctoral student at Oxford University who is committed to bringing philosophy to the people. It occurred to me that you might think of him as “Piglitt” in English, since 豬 jyū1 = pig and 文 màhn4 = “literature; writing” . . . As for the character 雋 jeun3 in his real name, that means “unusually talented”.

There are no real gems of Cantonese grammar in the extract I have chosen, but there are a couple of uses of the 咪 . . . 囉 structure to indicate an obvious conclusion (Yip and Matthews in Intermediate Cantonese, Unit 23). So, at 7:20 you’ll hear 開開心心咪得囉 = “it’s ok to be happy”, while at 8:37 the speaker says 就算你要反對呢個哲學反省,你反對嘅時候,咪就係做緊哲學反省囉 = that is being engaged in philosophical reflection.

There is plenty of good vocabulary in the extract, including: 保持警覺 bóu2 chìh4 gíng2 gok3 = to stay/remain alert; 順勢 seuhn6 sai3 = take advantage of an opportunity; 預設 yuh6 chit3 = (?) to presuppose; 自主性 jih6 jyú2 sing3 = roughly, “the quality of deciding for oneself” or “initiative”; 嚴格嚟講 yìhm4 gaak3 lèih4 góng2 = strictly speaking; 打個譬如 dáa2 go3 pei3 yùh4 = to give an example; 高薪厚職 gōu1 sān1 háuh5 jīk1 = a high salary & a substantial position | ● 成世人 sèhng4 sai3 yàhn4 = one’s whole life; an entire lifetime; ● 雙向 sēung1 heung3 = two-way.

Please scroll down for my transcription, English translation and notes. You can view the video here (remember: there are no subtitles). 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.


【4:11】噉其實蘇格拉底呢,係有機會唔使死嘅 | 噉只要佢認罪呢,嗰個雅典嗰啲法官呀,或者嗰啲權力人士就「哦,哦放逐你得㗎喇。唔使驚,唔使死呀。」| 但蘇格拉底講咩呢?佢就話「如果你哋呢班人,啫,按公義去審判嘅,唔單止我唔使死同埋放逐,你哋更加應該請我食飯 ,佢係咁講 | 點解呢? | 因為蘇格拉底自比呢,自己係一隻牛虻 | 一隻牛身上嘅小昆蟲 | 不斷叮住雅典呢隻牛 | 睇落好似又煩又乞人憎又無用咁,但其實佢有一個功能 | 佢令到呢隻牛不斷保持警覺 | 所以因為佢呢種追問同埋批評嘅精神其實係服務緊【5:00】個社會呀 | 所以雅典政府應該請請佢食飯

● 放逐 fong3 juhk6 = to send into exile; to exile; to banish | ● 牛虻 [ng]àuh4 mòhng4 (?) = gadfly | ● 叮dēng1 = to sting; to bite | ● 保持警覺 bóu2 chìh4 gíng2 gok3 = to stay/remain alert

In actual fact, Socrates was given a chance [which meant] he didn’t have to die. Had he accepted the charges made against him, those Athenian judges or those in power [would have said]: “Oh, banishing you is enough. You have nothing to fear. You don’t have to die”. What did Socrates say to that? He said: “If you lot had tried [me] according to justice, there would have been no need for me to die or to go into exile — in fact, you would have treated me to a meal”. That’s what he said. Why? Because Socrates compared himself to a gadfly, a small insect [found] on the body of a cow, constantly biting the Cow that was Athens. By the looks of it irritating, hateful and of no practical use [無用], he nevertheless had a function: he forced [令到] the cow to stay constantly alert. For this reason, because of this questioning and critical spirit of his, he was actually serving his society. And so the Athenian government should have treated him to a meal.

噉我做一個讀哲學嘅人,其實蘇格拉底好多哲學理論或者立場我都唔係好認同,但係淨係呢點呢,我係一路都好認同嘅 | 所以 *so 一路都等緊呢個政府出翻糧俾我或者請我食飯,俾錢我去讀哲學嘅 | 噉蘇格拉底認爲呢,呢種批判嘅精神呢,唔單止係對個社會有用 | 佢覺得呢,更加係人人都應該做嘅嘢 | 佢嘅名言嘅係一個自辯入便,啫,佢審判嘅時候為咗辯護有個名言嘅,就係呢句 | 佢話「未經反省嘅人生呢,係不值得活嘅」| 噉呢個係佢自辯一個名言,亦都係影響[到] 後世最多嘅説話 | 噉正如蘇格拉底自己呢,佢都唔會因為嗰啲專家嘅身份就亂信仰 | 我哋都唔應該因為蘇格拉底係一個偉大嘅哲學家就順勢講嘢㗎嘛 | 噉所以 *so 我哋都應該問清楚,究竟未經反省嘅人生,係咪真係不值得活嘅呢?【6:00】| 「係」嘅話,理由又喺邊度呢?

● 出糧 chēut1 lèuhng4 = to pay a salary | ● 名言 mìhng4 yìhn4 = a well-known saying; a celebrated dictum; a famous remark | ● 自辯 jih6 bihn6 = (?) to argue in self-defence | ● 後世 hauh6 sai3 = ① later ages ② later generations | ● 順勢 seuhn6 sai3 = take advantage of an opportunity | ● 理由 léih5 yàuh4 = a reason; a ground; an argument

As a student of philosophy, in actual fact I don’t really approve of [我都唔係好認同] many of Socrates’ philosophical theories or standpoints, but I have always approved of this one point. For this reason, I am waiting for this government to pay me a wage or treat me to a meal, and to pay me to study philosophy. Now, Socrates believed that this critical spirit is not only useful to society but that it was something each and every individual should do. In his self-defence, [he said something that has become] a well-known saying, a well-known saying that he used while defending himself during the trial: “An unexamined life is not worth living”. This celebrated dictum used by Socrates in self-defence and the remark has had the most influence on later ages. Now like Socrates himself, who stated that he wouldn’t rashly believe in [亂信仰] something just because of the status of those experts, we too ought not simply take his words at face-value [順勢講嘢] just because the man was a great philosopher. And so we have to be clear about whether the unexamined life really is not worth living, and if it is, what [邊度] the reason for it is.

噉嚟緊厘短短嘅幾分鐘,我哋就嘗試一齊扮吓蘇格拉底,質問翻蘇格拉底自己 | 係咪真嘅呢?| 噉啊我曾經喺課堂上邊都同啲學生討論過呢個故仔或者討論過呢個諗法嘅 | 噉啊不如大家估吓,我嘅學生係支持厘個説話多定係 *dei 反對嘅多?. . .

● 嚟緊 lèih4 gán2 = coming | ● 課堂 fo3 tòhng4 = classroom

In the coming few short minutes, we will try together to play the part of Socrates, and to question Socrates himself about [whether what he said] is true. I have discussed this story in the classroom with students or discussed this way of thinking. How about you try and guess whether more students supported [Socrates’] remark or disagreed with it?  . . .

【7:05】噉啲有認同嘅同反對嘅各佔一半呀 | 噉我覺得反對嘅同學呢,講嘅講法都幾 make sense 嘅,幾合附我哋嘅直覺 | 佢講啲咩呢?| 佢話,人點解要諗嘢?點解要反省呢?開開心心咪得囉 | 呢啲主觀嘅嘢喎 | 噉如果佢揀咗好似 TVB 咁樣《愛回家》咁樣好開心過一世 | 你憑咩話佢唔值得活 [啫]?咁樣 | 佢係咁講 | 噉我估呢個講法可能大家都某個意義上係 share 厘個講法嘅 | 但係我當時係點樣回應佢呀?| 我當時就係話,冇錯呀,人生係有好多好多種,千千萬萬咁多種 | 就好似呢個 hall 入便,百零二百人 | 我哋都 [過] 得好唔同嘅人生 | 有人係攝影師,有人係建築師,我係讀哲學嘅人 | 唔一定個個都讀哲學嘅,但個問題係,你要揀㗎嘛?【8:00】| 要揀㗎嘛?| 究竟係做隻所謂快樂嘅豬定係 *dei 痛苦嘅蘇格拉底,呢個係要揀㗎嘛?| 呢個問題本身就預設咗我哋要做抉擇,而做抉擇我哋就要去諗嘢 | 所以 *so 個問題係,無論如何,我哋都要用蘇格拉底式嘅哲學反省去選擇 | 所以其實呢種哲學反省係必須嘅 | 即使你揀做 [咗一隻快樂嘅豬] 或者開心嘅人生 [你都] 要揀咗先呀,你都要經過一種所謂 self-examination 嘅洗禮,你嘅選擇先係有意,你嘅人生先至值得活嘅 | 所以 *so 個講法就係,就算你要反對呢個哲學反省,你反對嘅時候,咪就係做緊哲學反省囉 | 所以呢種哲學反省係不能迴避

各佔一半 gok3 jim3 yāt1 bun3 = roughly, “each one occupied a half”, in otherwise, the class was divided “fifty-fifty” between those who agreed and those who did not | ● 合附 hahp6 fuh6 = (?) to accord with | ● 憑 pàhng4 = to rely on; to depend on | ● 預設 yuh6 chit3 = (?) to presuppose | ● 抉擇 kyut3 jaahk6 = to choose | ● 洗禮 sái2 láih5 = a baptism | ● 迴避 wùih4 beih6 = to evade; to dodge; to avoid

Half the students agreed with the idea, and half disagreed. Now I thought that what the students who disagreed said did make a lot of sense, according with one’s intuitions. What did she say? She said, “Why should people have to think about everything? Why should [we] have to reflect? It’s OK just be happy [with (?)] these subjective things. Now if [you] have chosen to live your life very happily in the manner of TVB’s Love Comes Home, what right have you to say [你憑咩話] that the life of such a person is not worth living?” That’s how she put it. Now I suppose that all of you here [大家] probably share this view in one sense or another. But at the time, how did I respond to her? At the time I said, “True, there many, many different ways to lead a human life, hundreds and thousands of different ways just like here in this hall of somewhere between one and two hundred people [百零二百人]. We all of us live our different lives — some are photographers, some are architects, and I study philosophy. Not everyone is necessarily a student of philosophy, but the question/problem is: Did you choose [your life]? Did you choose it? Whether you lead the life of a happy pig or a suffering Socrates, the thing is [呢個], did you choose it [係要揀嘅嗎]? This issue itself presupposes that we have to make a choice, and that to make a choice we have to think. And so the thing [所以個問題係] is, no matter [what the situation], we all have to make use of a Socratic-style philosophical reflection in order to choose. For this reason, such philosophical reflection is necessary. Even if you decide to be a happy pig or live a happy, carefree life [開心嘅], you have to make a choice, you have to undergo a baptism self-examination. Only then will your choice be meaningful and will your life be worth living. And so one could say that [Socrates’ remark about the unexamined life means that], even if you are opposed to philosophical reflection, your opposition to it is still [a way of] engaging in [做緊] philosophical reflection. For this reason, you can’t escape this kind of philosophical reflection.

噉究竟點解用哲學反省去令到我哋嘅人生變得值得活或者有意義呢?噉呢度有好多唔同嘅講法嘅,唔同嘅哲學家有唔同嘅詮釋。噉我或者分享吓我自己嘅比較簡單嘅理解 【9:00】。我理解係,呢種講法背後顯示咗一種對人嗰種自主性嘅重視。我哋要安排自己人生,為自己人生負責,咁呢,我哋 [成爲] 自己人生嘅主人。你諗吓,如果你唔反省,你嘅好多諗法或者你做緊嘅嘢係咪真係你自己嘅呢?定係 *dei 你屋企人、你朋友、你嘅社會俾你嘅呢?如果你冇反省過,其實你冇揀過。你冇揀過,嚴格嚟講,你連自己人生都承唔上,你冇 [過緊個] 自己嘅人生。

● 詮釋 chyùhn4 sīk1 = to explain; to interpret | ● 顯示 hín2 sih6 = to show; to display; to manifest | ● 自主性 jih6 jyú2 sing3 = roughly, “the quality of deciding for oneself” or “initiative” | ● 嚴格嚟講 yìhm4 gaak3 lèih4 góng2 = strictly speaking | ● 承唔上 sìhng4 mh4 seuhng6 = roughly, “to be able to undertake/take on/assume”

Now why does the use of philosophical reflection make our lives worth living or meaningful? Many explanations [講法] are given to this, and different philosophers have different interpretations. I’d like perhaps to share my rather simple understanding [of the matter] with you. My understanding is that behind [Socrates’ comment about the unexamined life] there is a laying of importance on an individual’s initiative. We have to arrange our own lives and take responsibility for ourselves, and by doing so we become the masters of our own lives. Think about it. If you don’t [engage in] reflection, are what you think about and what you do truly your own? Or are they something you have been given by your family, your friends or your society? If you haven’t examined [your life], then you actually haven’t made any choices. And if you haven’t chosen, then — strictly speaking — you cannot even undertake your own life, and you’ve never lived the life that is yours.

打個譬如 [啦]。如果有個人自細受到屋企嘅教育話,我哋仔要努力搵錢、結婚、買樓,於是乎佢大學就揀咗搵錢嘅課,後尾揀咗高薪厚職,然之後就做一個幸福嘅家庭。如果佢成世人都冇曾經 一刻,跳後一步,望翻呢個人,望翻呢條命,諗吓究竟咩值得做咩唔值得做嘅話,究竟佢過緊一個自己嘅人生呢,定係佢只不過係沿緊一個嘅社會俾佢嘅角色呢?【10:00】如果佢連自己人生都承唔上嘅時候,佢人生又仲有咩所謂值得唔值得活呢?可能佢反省完,揀翻一樣嘅嘢,但重點唔係佢揀啲咩,係佢要揀,佢先能夠成爲佢人生嘅主人。所以 *so 我哋會 [相信],揀咗,嗰條命先係你自己,而揀,[就係] 你要反省。所以 *so 無論如何,我哋都需要一個哲學嘅反省去幫助我哋 . . . 重新獲得自己嘅人生。

● 打個譬如 dáa2 go3 pei3 yùh4 = to give an example | ● 搵錢 wán2 chín4*2 = to make money | ● 高薪厚職 gōu1 sān1 háuh5 jīk1 = a high salary & a substantial position | ● 成世人 sèhng4 sai3 yàhn4 = one’s whole life; an entire lifetime cf. 一生人 yāt1 sāng1 yàhn4 = one’s whole life (used in the next section) | ● 沿 yùhn4 = to follow (a tradition, a pattern, etc.) | ● 角色 gok3 sīk1 = a role; a part

Let me give you an example. Imagine a man who has been instructed [in the following manner] by his family: our son must do all he can to get a job, to marry, and to buy a place to live. Then, when he goes to university, he chooses a course that means he can earn [good] money and, in the end, he lands a substantial position with a high salary. After that, he makes a happy family [for himself]. If he has never in the whole course of his life jumped back for a moment and looked [back (?)] at this person [he has become] and at this life of his, and wondered about what is worth doing and what is not, then is he living his own life, or has he merely accepted a role [沿緊一個 . . . 角色] given to him by his society? If he is unable to undertake even his own life, then what in his life can be said to worth the living? Perhaps he did reflect on his life and, after doing so, chose to live [exactly] the same [way], but the main thing is not what he chose but that he did chose [佢要揀], enabling him to become the master of his life. For this reason, we can believe [我哋會相信] that, only when we have chosen can that life be yours — and to choose requires you to reflect. And so, no matter what, we all of us need philosophical reflection to help us . . . to regain for ourselves our own lives.

噉呢種對人嘅自主性嘅重視,其實都體現咗蘇格拉底對教育或者學習嘅理解。蘇格拉底雖然係一個好偉大嘅哲學家,但好有趣地,佢連一生人都冇寫過書。噉係唔係因為佢唔識字呀?噉當然就唔係啦。噉好多關於佢嘅記載都只能夠憑其他人嘅描寫去獲知呀,例如派拉圖嘅著作咁樣。噉蘇格拉底點解唔寫書呀?係因為佢認爲追求知識同埋學習必然係一個即時同埋雙向嘅活動【11:00】,而書呢,係死 [㗎]。書寫低咗就擺咗喺度呢,你冇即時同本書辯論嘅。噉所以只能夠透過佢嗰種我哋叫做 Socratic dialogue 去同其他人辯論嗰種即時性先能夠獲得知識嘅。噉所以大家聽到呢度就發現,原來追求知識唔一定睇書可能大家就好開心 [喇],而家。哈哈,都唔係我問題啫,我唔睇書都唔代表我唔追求知識嘅,咁樣。[哎],但係大家都唔使開心得咁早喎。嗱,大家呢,嚟呢個TEDx啊,好開心啦,呃,覺得,[哎],有啲做啲文化活動,幾高級嘅,應該追求知識嘅,咁樣。[哎],噉啊坐喺度聽咗咁多「專家」嘅演講 [呀],包括我呢啲所謂「專家」演講,應該學到好多嘢,返到屋企就應該自命得意,就可以喺IG 呀、Facebook 就 share,啊,[咁樣] 好 inspiring 囉,咁樣,係啦。啫,// 咁樣。// 我估大家都有類此嘅心態嘅,但係我,我sorry 呀,我,我代蘇格拉底同大家講聲 sorry 先。唔係呀。你冇學過嘢呀。點解呀?你哋全部都只係坐喺度【12:00】聽我講。你冇真正發問。你冇真正提出自己意見。只能夠喺你真正提出自己嘅意見、發問、甚至挑戰我哋呢啲所謂專家嘅諗法嘅時候,你先真係 engage 緊嗰啲思想、嗰啲知識,而到你就係 engage 嗰刻,你先真係搭上追求知識嘅路。所以呢,一陣 lunchbreak,記得啦,把握機會,問吓啲專家,係呀。多啲討論。噉 [呢],[就係非常大] 嘅嘢,你先就係學到嘢,OK。

● 體現 tái2 yihn6 = to embody; to incarnate; to give expression to | ● 一生人 yāt1 sāng1 yàhn4 = one’s whole life | ● 記載 gei3 joi3 = a record; an account | ● 派拉圖 paai3 lāai1 tòuh4 = Plato | ● 即時 jīk1 sìh4 = usu. “immediate; forthwith”; here perhaps “on the spot” | ● 雙向 sēung1 heung3 = two-way| ● 自命得意 jih6 mihng6 dāk1 yi3 = cf. 自命 = to consider oneself; to regard oneself + 得意 = (?) interesting | ● 挑戰 tīu1 jin3 = to challenge

This valuing of individual initiative is an expression of Socrates understanding of education and of study. Socrates was a great philosopher, but one interesting fact is that he never wrote a book in the whole course of his life. Was that because he was illiterate? No, of course not! For accounts of him, [we] can only rely on descriptions written by other people, works by Plato, for example. Why didn’t Socrates write books, then? Because he believed that the pursuit of knowledge as well as learning required on-the-spot-ness and a two-way exchange. Books, on the other hand, are dead: once they are written they just sit there [擺咗喺度] — you can’t have a two-way argument with them. And so the only way you can obtain knowledge is by means of what we call the Socratic dialogue, having an immediate interchange with other people. Now, you might be happy to hear that you don’t have to read any books to acquire knowledge. “Ha, there’s nothing wrong with me! Just because I don’t read doesn’t mean I’m not engaged in the pursuit of learning.” But please don’t celebrate too soon [但係大家都唔使開心得咁早喎]! Here you are, happy to be at this TEDx talk, thinking that at these cultural events, really quite high-class, you can pursue knowledge. You sit here listening to talks by all these experts — including so-called experts like myself — thinking that you ought to learn something, and when you get back home you’d consider yourself someone with something to say [自命得意], something you can share on Instagram and Facebook, how inspiring! Something like that. I guess most of you here might have an attitude like that, but I’m sorry: on behalf of Socrates, I have to tell you that I’m sorry. No, actually, you didn’t learn anything. Why not? [Because] the lot of you sat here listening to me speak. You didn’t ask questions. You didn’t get to express your own ideas. It’s only when you have really put forward your own ideas — even [daring to go so far as] to challenge the views of us, the so-called experts — that you are truly engaging with those ideas, with that knowledge and at the time when you are engaging, you can truly be said to have embarked on the road to knowledge. So for this reason, on your next lunchbreak, remember to take advantage of the opportunity to asks the experts questions. Discuss more. Only then UNCLEAR will you learn things. OK.