Learning Cantonese: Ho Ngok, Champion Stone-skimmer

Here’s a wonderful new addition to your Cantonese vocabulary: 片石仔 pín2 sehk6 jái2, which means “to skim stones”. Actually, if you watch to the end, you will realize that there is a difference between “stone skimming” and “stone skipping”, something that I have been blissfully ignorant of my entire life . . .

The speaker 何岳 Ho Ngok laughs at himself for taking stone-skimming so seriously, but I guess there is an abiding fascination with the simple magic of making a stone glide across water without (immediately) sinking. Hence the fascination with the angle at which the stone hits the water, and the way it spins over liquid surfaces. And, as Ah Ngok makes clear, even the selection of the stones used in the sport goes a long way to determining success.

Ah Ngok skims his Cantonese with equal facility, his passion for the subject leading him to some rather colourful turns of phrase, including 屎窟痕 sí2 fāt1 hàhn4 (literally, “[with] an “itchy arsehole”), which means something like “not able to sit still”! Listen out too for 達人 daaht6 yàhn4 = expert; 心得 sām1 dāk1 = what one has learned from work, study, etc.; 講究 góng2 gau3 = be particular about; pay attention to (perhaps even “be fussy about”); 有朝一日 yáuh5 jīu1 yāt1 yaht6 = one day; some day (indicating a hope for the future); 消耗 sīu1 hou3 = to complete; to use up; to deplete; to expend; and 得心應手 dāk1 sām1 ying3 sáu2 = for one’s hands to work in perfect coordination with what one wishes to do. Oh, and the 岳 ngohk6 in the speaker’s name means “high mountain” and is sometimes written as 嶽.

You can watch the video here (it has very partial subtitles in Chinese only). My transcription, vocabulary notes and translation follow below.

Caption: 片石仔 | 奧義非一般 | 港達人盼能辦本土比賽

旁白:片石仔可能每個人都玩過 | 但係原來世界上有好多高手都會認真練習同埋參加比賽 | 香港就有一位達人曾經到日本參加比賽 | 亦都會常常喺唔同嘅節目出現 | 分享片石仔心得

Caption: 片石達人 | 阿岳

何岳:我叫阿岳啦 | 噉我就其實係,呃,19年4月就有一次我做嘢嘅時候,噉我影結婚相嘅 | 噉我去到泥涌嘅海邊嗰度呢,噉我同我老闆呢,見到啲石仔好得意,咁呃 | 啊抌落海,咁樣樣 | 其實嗰陣時都係片石仔囉 | 啫係,唔係齋抌,咁樣囉,試吓片咁 | 一片完之後呢,就屎忽痕呢,就諗住睇吓有冇啲,呃,世界上有冇啲其他人玩得好勁呀咁 | 跟住就上YouTube搵囉

● 奧義 ou3 yih6 = roughly, “inner meaning” | ● 高手 gōu1 sáu2 = past master; master-hand; ace | ● 達人 daaht6 yàhn4 = expert [Sheik = 專家,佼佼者,精通於某樣事物的人 = expert; someone who is above the average or outstanding; a person with a good command of something] | ● 心得 sām1 dāk1 = what one has learned from work, study, etc. | ● 抌 dám = ① to beat (with fist); to bang; to pound ② to smash; to shatter; to stamp (a chop) ③ to throw; to discard; to abandon | ● 屎窟痕 sí2 fāt1 hàhn4 = not able to sit still (lit. “itchy arsehole”)

Note: 齋 jāai1 is frequently used in Cantonese with verbs to indicate that the action is done in a plain or unadorned manner. The last time we came across it was in the Kongstories video on the musician Grace Yu: 但係有幾多個學上唔係浄係齋彈冇靈魂 | 而係尋找到屬於佢獨特嘅聲音同埋生命力嘅呢?= “But how many of these students are looking for a voice that belongs to them alone and a vitality, rather than merely going through the motions devoid of soul”. Here, 齋 jāai1 is added to 彈 tàahn4 (to play a stringed musical instrument) to suggest a superficial playing or a going through the motions. I’ve also heard 齋聽 jāai1 tēng1 = “to listen (to a conversation) without contributing to it in any way”.

Caption: Skipping Stones | The Inner Complexities [奧義] Are Beyond the Average | A Hong Kong Adept Hopes To Be Able To Organize Local Competitions

Voice-over: Probably everyone has had a go at skipping stones. It turns out that there are many elite performers [高手] who practice conscientiously and take part in competitions. Hong Kong has one outstanding exponent [達人] who has competed in Japan and who often pops up on various programs sharing what he has learnt about skimming stones.

Caption: An Outstanding Exponent of Stone-skimming | Ah Ngok

Ho Ngok: My name is Ho Ngok. In April 2019, in the course of my work (I work as a wedding photographer), I went down to the sea at Nai Chung. Both my boss and I noticed some interesting-looking stones there so we [started] throwing them into the sea. Actually, at that time, we were skimming stones. We weren’t just chucking them into the water [齋抌] but trying to make them skip. After this one [time] of skipping stones, I couldn’t sit still and wanted to see whether there were people in other parts of the world who could really do this well. And so I looked on YouTube.

【1:00】旁白:何岳每星期大約會花一整日嘅時間去練習 | 由選取地理環境、石頭、以及一整套嘅動作都十分講究

何岳:我可能我就係因為覺得佢唔係無聊事所以先認真做㗎 | 如果係無聊事我真係會HEA 做,哈哈 | 因為我見到佢,呃,有得練嘅地方囉 | 啫,我見到佢有得練習同埋有得進步嘅地方 | 尤其是你睇完外國嗰啲人呢 | 你會 . . . 你好有興趣知道佢點樣做到嘅咁樣樣囉

Caption: 釐定 | 成功

旁白:噉又點樣去釐定片石仔嘅成功?| 原來姿勢並唔係準則之一

何岳:所以片石仔你見佢哋好少討論姿勢嘅 | 因為個個人姿勢唔同你冇得討論 | 噉所以所謂嘅成功呢 | 反而係你粒石嗰個入水嘅角度 | 啫係,呢個就係,呃,最,呃,最 critical 要講嗰樣嘢,最關鍵嘅 | 因為你粒石如果呢,落水嘅時候唔靚個角度 | 我當啦,你旋轉好勁都好 | 你個水面喺度嘅時候呢 | 如果你落水嘅時候過於平坦呀

● 一整日 yāt1 jíng2 yaht6 = one whole day | ● 講究 góng2 gau3 = be particular about; pay attention to (perhaps even “be fussy about”) | ● 無聊 mòuh4 lìuh4 = ① bored ② senseless; silly; stupid | ● 釐定 lèih4 dihng6 = (?) to rectify; to formulate (rules, etc.) | ● 準則 jéun2 jāk1 = a norm; standard; criterion

Voice-over: Every week, Ho Ngok spends roughly one whole day on practising. He is very particular about everything, from choosing the right geographical location [地理環境], to the stones [he uses] and all the movements [involved].

Ho Ngok: Probably I am very conscientious about [skimming stones] because I don’t think of it as being a frivolous activity. If it were frivolous, then I would go about it in a very laid-back way. This reason is that I could see where there was room to practise, room to practise and room to make improvements. Especially when you have watched people overseas — then you . . . you will interested to figure out how they manage to do it.

Caption: Formulating Rules for Success

Voice-over: How do you go about formulating the rules [釐定] for success in stone skipping? As it turns out, the posture [you use to throw the stone] is not one of the criteria.

Ho Ngok: There’s not much discussion at all about posture in stone-skimming. There’s nothing to say, because everyone’s posture is different. For that reason, when it comes to so-called “success”, it is the angle at which your stone hits [入] the water [which matters]. That is, it is the most critical thing that needs to be talked about. If the angle at which the stone hits the water is not good [唔靚], [even if] your stone is rotating wonderfully well [好勁], if it is too flat when it touches the water . . .

【2:00】啫係,你唔得,有少少斜嘅角度 | 通常斜呢, 我哋都係以10度至20度做為標準,咁樣樣喇 | 噉你咁樣落水呢,佢先可以前進到 | 如果你太平嘅話呢,佢會頭嗰兩下就已經沉咗落水


Caption: 距離或彈跳

佢自己就比較鍾情距離賽 | 因為彈跳嘅話容易有人手失誤 | 佢曾經到日本比賽 | 認為日本比香港更加普及 | 會有全國性嘅比賽 | 希望疫情之後可以到唔同國家吸取更多經驗 | 有朝一日喺香港舉辦比賽 | 但係提到片石仔係難以做到全民參與嘅

何岳:啫,我提醒自己兼提醒人 | 其實呢,首先呢,片石仔唔係一種 . . . 而家你即時話參與,就 . . . 啫 . . . 全 . . . 全民參與呢 | 就呢樣嘢就可以興起一種運動嚟嘅 | 因為佢本身係好受環境因素影響 | 呃,唔同運動界別嘅人嚟 join 嚟玩

● 以 . . . 計分 yíh5 . . . gai3 fān1 = roughly, “to calculate points according to” | ● 彈跳次數 daahn6 tiu3 chi3 sou3 = the number of skips | ● 失誤 sāt1 ngh6 = a fault; muff | ● 吸取 kāp1 chéui2 = to absorb; to draw | ● 有朝一日 yáuh5 jīu1 yāt1 yaht6 = one day; some day (indicating a hope for the future)

. . . then you are not doing it right. [The stone] has to be inclined at a bit of an angle. Usually, the standard for the angle of inclination is between 10 and 20 degrees. It is only when you [throw the stone] onto the water like this that it is able to more advance. If [your angle] is too flat, it will skip a couple of times and then sink.

Voice-over: Ho Ngok also mentioned [the fact] that scoring for stone-skimming is based either on distance or on the number of skips.

Caption: Distance or Skips

He himself prefers distance competitions. The reason is that it is easy to make a mistake if you try to make the stone skip (rather than skim along the surface) [有人手失誤]. He has been to Japan to compete, and thinks that [the sport] is more widespread in Japan than in Hong Kong, [since] there are competitions there involving people from all over the nation. When the covid pandemic is over, he hopes to visit various different countries to get more experience and to organize [舉辦] a competition in Hong Kong. However, [on this subject] he mentioned that it is difficult to get everyone involved.

Ho Ngok: I am saying this to remind myself as well as others. Actually, first of all, stone-skimming is not something that you can immediately join in. It’s is not something for everyone (?). It can [not?] be made into a sport, because the environment has a big influence on it. People involved in other sports come and join in.

【3:00】噉佢為咗興趣嚟玩係可以 | 因為每一次佢都會睇到我哋執,甚至佢會參與我哋執咁樣樣咁囉 | 但係如果你話一大棚人咁樣湧過嚟玩呢 | 其實就會有個問題就係佢哋唔了解呢個生態環境嘅 | 佢 . . . 甚至佢哋可能,呃,抌咗好多其他冇篩選過嘅石頭落水 | 噉就會真係做到過分消耗喇 ,咁樣樣囉

旁白:佢提到唔同浪潮下 | 所需要嘅石頭唔同 | 但係主要都會以扁身嘅石頭為佳 | 或者我哋下次玩片石仔嘅時候 | 可以先上網查好資料 | 自然可以更加得心應手

● 棚 pàahng4 = usu. “shed; shack; hut” | ● 湧 yúng2 = to gush; to surge | ● 篩選 sāi1 syún2 = to screen | ● 消耗 sīu1 hou3 = to complete; to use up; to deplete; to expend | ● 扁身 bín2 sān1 = (?) flat[-bodied] | ● 浪潮 lohng6 chìuh4 = wave, tide, trend | ● 得心應手 dāk1 sām1 ying3 sáu2 = for one’s hands to work in perfect coordination with what one wishes to do

Note: The word 身 sān1 = “body” is sometimes added after adjectives. We came across this in Alfred Chan’s video on fried food, in which both 乾身 gōn1 sān1 = “dry” (?) and 厚身 háuh5 sān1 = “thick” (?) are used. Here, the reporter makes use of 扁身 bín2 sān1 = “flat[-bodied]”. This use of 身 sān1 only seems to occur in colloquial, spoken Cantonese.

Ho Ngok: They can come and skim stones for interest’s sake, that’s fine. Because every time they watch us picking up [stones], they might even join in this with us. But if you talk about a whole bunch of people coming down in droves [湧] to skim stones, the problem is that they don’t understand the natural environment. They might even throw heaps of other kinds of stones [into the water], stones that haven’t been [properly] selected and this can really do a lot of damage.

Voice-over: He said that you need different stones for different [kinds of] tides [浪潮], but the main thing is that flat[-bodied] stones are best. When next we do some stone-skimming, we should go on-line and have a good look at the information there [so that] as a matter of course [our stone-skipping skills] will improve.

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