I had my hair cut last week right here on the stone veranda.
a diligent wattlebird
strand by strand
extracts the scattered silver filaments
I find it heartening to think
that this soft
most dispensable part of myself
could help Spring’s best, next brood
a fraction less harshly out into this world.
One day you will wash your hands
of their grip — no more grasping,
clenching, holding on
and on for dear life.
Smooth out your palms in that otherworldly water
“And so, where did they go to,
my fists?” In Winter,
rinse them under the bathroom’s warm tap,
while in Summer dip them if you can in some cool pool
or in the salt marine green
of a sea.
A brand-nude world will meet you at your fingertips —
feel your hands heal;
feel them hale,
whole; and remember the colossal
agile whale, she whose heart is neither here nor there
and who hoards to the end
not one drop in her giant fins.
In this magical one-minute deleted scene from周冠威 Kiwi Chow’s 2019 film 《幻愛》(literally “hallucinated love”, but officially rendered into English as “Beyond the Dream”), the two main characters try to get to know one another. 阿樂 Ah Lok, who has suffered from a mental breakdown that causes him to have hallucinations, is all sweetness and circumspection, while the psychologist 葉嵐 Yip Lam (the character 嵐 is pronounced làahm4 and means “haze; vapour; mist”) is the prickly one — having been damaged herself as a child, she strives to find security in her professional persona . . .
The Cantonese word for “porcupine” is 箭豬 jin3 jyū1 or “arrow pig”. And it is true that the spines can really stab (㓤 gāt1 in Cantonese). Martin Booth describes his encounter with one in Chapter 7 of his Hong Kong memoir, Gweilo:
The porcupine stopped at the roadside and faced me. Now that I could see it clearly, it was huge, three feet long and bulky. Its nose was blunt, like a beaver’s, its quills black and white. It shivered. The quills rattled. Then it was off, running clumsily down Harlech Road and into the twilight. It was only later that a Chinese friend of my mother’s told me that porcupines could kill a leopard cat with their quills.
Needless to add that, in the end, Yip Lam’s expert armour is no match for Ah Lok’s sincerity or for the purity of his affection.
You can watch the video here
阿樂：你輔導嘅時候呢 | 好似變咗另一個人咁喎
葉嵐：我其實鍾意輔導時嘅我多啲 | 幫人分析問題 | 我可以好清晰 | 但係冇咗呢個身份 | 有時我都唔知自己 *je 想點 | 我鍾意見 client 嘅感覺 | 多過見朋友
阿樂：你好鍾意幫人 | 但係你會怕同人太親密
葉嵐：好似隻箭豬咁 | 行得太近會㓤嚫對方
● 輔導 fuh6 douh6 = to give guidance in study or coaching; to coach; to counsel | ● 清晰 chīng1 sīk1 = distinct; clear | ● 親密chān1 maht6 = close; intimate | ● 箭豬 jin3 jyū1 = a porcupine | ● 㓤 gāt1 (or 拮) = to stab; to pierce; to prick
Note: Yip and Matthews refer to 嚫 chān1 as an adversative particle. It is added to verbs and means “to one’s misfortune, whether physical or psychological” (Intermediate Cantonese: 79). Yip Lan adds it to the verb 㓤 gāt1 to give the sense of “stabbing” or “jabbing”, with the clear implication that hurt is inflicted.
Ah Lok: When you are counselling, it’s as if you become a different person.
Yip Lam: I prefer the me [I am] when I am counselling. I can be very clear when analyzing [other] people’s problems, when I am not in that role [呢個身份 = lit. “this status”], sometimes I don’t know what is going on in my head [想點]. I like the feeling I have [when] seeing a client more than the feeling I have [when] seeing friends.
Ah Lok: You like to help people, but you’re afraid of getting to close to them.
Yip Lam: [I’m] just like a porcupine: if I get too close I can jab the other person [對方].
Ah Lok: But aren’t you afraid being with me?
What is the relation of place to personality? In this video, writer 蔣曉薇 Chiang Hiu-mei speaks at length of her feelings for Tuen Mun, a new town “developed” in the 1970s. She argues that the relative isolation from both business and fashion pressures can result in a more independent character, one with a rhythm and speed all of its own.
The best proof of this is in Chiang’s writing. The novel she talks about here, a literary adaption of Kiwi Chow’s film Beyond the Dream, is a finely-paced love story about a young man who falls in love first with a hallucination and then with a psychologist who resembles his imaginary lover. Her most recent book, 《秋鯨擱淺》(roughly, “The Stranding of Autumn Whales”), takes the mass beaching of 400 whales in New Zealand as a metaphor for the current predicament of the people of Hong Kong and sees in the human effort to save these marine mammals a ray of hope for a Hong Kong renaissance.
There are some splendid vocabulary items for, if you’re keen to improve your Cantonese: 氣質 hei3 jāt1 = ① temperament; disposition ② qualities; makings; 餵貓 wai3 māau1 = to feed a cat; 甜蜜 tìhm4 maht6 = sweet; happy; 願景 yuhn6 gíng2 = an aspiration; 零用錢 lìhng4 yuhng6 chín4*2 = pocket money; 養份 yéuhng5 fahn6 = nutrient; and 時尚 sìh4 seuhng6 = ① fashion; fad ② fashionable.
You can watch the video here. If you are interested, you can also look at these two other posts on Chiang Hiu-mei:
● Learning Cantonese: 蔣曉薇 Chiang Hiu-mei on Hongkongers — Leaving, Staying or Stranded?
● Learning Cantonese: A Tuen Mun Love Story . . .
● Beyond the Dream by Chiang Hiu-mei (Part 1 Ah Lok: 1-6)
蔣曉薇：其實呢度都係好，好塑造到一個人嘅氣質嘅，係啦！ | 你有你自己步伐嘅，有自己節奏嘅
Caption: 我的繆思 | 青山碧海 —— 作家蔣曉薇
記者：電影《幻愛》以屯門做背景 | 發掘咗呢個社區好多動人嘅畫面 | 而小説版嘅作者蔣曉薇本身 | 都係喺屯門長大嘅 | 佢喺創作裏面 | 投射咗好多個人喺屯門嘅回憶同埋感受
蔣曉薇：你寫屯門就係我最親切嘅回憶囉 | 擺咗好多自己個人嘅感受呀 | 經驗呀，落去嘅 | 有啲中學同學睇完我本書呢 | 喺度笑呀， 喂，你真係寫中我嘅心聲呀，咁樣 | 係，我們嘅第一章呢，就寫 | 阿樂呢，就約阿葉嵐呢，就喺屯門碼頭嗰度等 | 我將我自己嘅感情擺咗落去 | 噉啊裏面講到 . . .
● 塑造 sou3 jouh6 = to mould; to model | ● 氣質 hei3 jāt1 = ① temperament; disposition ② qualities; makings | ● 步伐 bouh6 faht6 = a step; a pace| ● 繆思 màuh4 sī1 = a muse | ● 發掘 faat3 gwaht6 = to excavate; to unearth; to explore | ● 投射 tàuh4 seh6 = ① to project (a ray of light) ② to cast | ● 感受 gám2 sauh6 = to experience; to feel | ● 心聲 sām1 sēng1 (or sīng1) = heartfelt wishes; aspiration; thinking
Note: The 中 used in 寫中我嘅心聲 is pronounced in the mid-level tone (jung3). It is added to verbs to express the idea of “hit (a target); fit exactly”. In this example, it is added to the verb 寫 sé2 (to write) = “writing in a way that captures (a person’s heartfelt wishes)”.
Chiang Hiu-mei: Actually, this place really shapes a person’s qualities, yes. You go at your own pace, [with] your own rhythm.
Caption: My Muses | Green Mountains & Blue Seas — the Writer Chiang Hiu-mei
Reporter: The film Beyond the Dream is set in Tuen Mun and uncovers many moving scenes in the local community there. The author of the novel version of the film Chiang Hiu-mei also grew up in Tuen Mun. She has cast many [of her] personal memories and experiences of Tuen Mun into [the novel] she created.
Chiang Hiu-mei: You write about Tuen Mun . . . my most intimate memories [are bound up with this place]. I put a great number of my personal feelings about things [好多自己個人嘅感受] and experiences into [the book]. When people I went to high-school with read the book, they laughed and said: “You have really captured [寫中] my innermost wishes”. Yes, our first chapter [describes] how Ah Lok arranges to meet Yip Lam and waits for her at Tuen Mun Pier. I put my own feelings into [this scene]. In it, there [are certain things] . . .
【1:00】有一啲就係，欸，一個城市人嚟到屯門碼頭嘅時候 | 佢覺得好驚訝啦 | 點解呢度會有船去出澳門嘅呢，咁樣？| 第二就係，欸，阿樂喺度等葉嵐嘅時候呢 | 佢就喺度餵貓、撩貓啦 | 噉呢個係好常見嘅一個畫面嚟嘅 | 噉因為喺電影裏面呢，欣欣係阿樂嘅幻想出嚟㗎嘛 | 噉電影嘅時間好有限嘅 | 噉所以呢，佢，你見到呢，佢同欣欣拍拖嘅畫面呢，啫，挨住欄杆啦 | 好似就係 . . . 我記得就係挨住欄杆啦 | 摸吓佢啦，咁樣嘅拍拖畫面主要都係咁樣 | 或者喺輕鐵嗰度接佢 | 啫，阿樂同欣欣拍拖嘅時候，係會做啲乜嘅呢 | 噉佢喺屯門區會做啲乜嘅呢 | 噉我第一個最直接嘅反應就係 | 嗯，佢哋一定會去食糖水咁樣囉 | 啫，好甜蜜㗎嘛，呢啲嘢 | 噉我就諗啦，屯門區最著名食糖水嘅地方就喺美樂嗰度有個糖水店咁 | 噉我喺小説嗰度冇開名嘅
● 驚訝 gīng1 ngaah6 = surprised; amazed; astonished; astounded | ● 餵貓 wai3 māau1 = to feed a cat | ● 撩 lìuh4 = to tease; to tantalize; to provoke (Sheik) | 挨 āai1 = to lean against | ● 直接嘅反應 jihk6 jip3 ge3 fáan2 ying3 = an immediate reaction | ● 糖水 tòhng4 séui2 = a dessert soup such as red bean soup or almond paste soup | ● 甜蜜 tìhm4 maht6 = sweet; happy | ● 開名 hōi1 méng2 = (?) to mention sth. by name
. . . such as, first of all, the surprise city people feel when they come to Tuen Mun Ferry Terminal — how come boats leave from here to go to Macao? The second thing is that when Ah Lok was waiting for Yip Lam, he fed the cats and tried to make them come to him [撩貓]. Now this is something you see all the time. Because, in the film, Yan Yan is an imaginary person who only exists in Ah Lok’s mind, the time [spent on this] in the film is limited. When you see Ah Lok with Yan Yan, they are leaning against the railing [of a housing estate] — I think it’s like that: as I recall, he leans against the railing and strokes her. They are the main ways the dating scenes are done. Or he goes to meet her at the light rail [station]. So [in the book], what would Ah Lok and Yan Yan do when they were dating? What would they do in downtown Tuen Men? My immediate response was: they would go and have dessert soup [together]. Such things are very sweet. I then thought that the most famous place in Tuen Mun for dessert soup is the shop in the Melody Gardens Estate. In the novel, I didn’t mention the name.
【2:00】記者：美樂花園係屯門碼頭一帶第一個非公屋屋苑 | 可以話係象徵咗呢個社區小康嘅一面
蔣曉薇：我細個係住，呃，美樂嘅 | 我覺得，呃，美樂花園個名改得好靚嘅 | 美好又快樂 | 啫，佢一個寄願就係一個新市鎮 | 有個咁嘅願景喺度 | 打風呢，其實屋企係最慘嘅 | 因為個廳就係望住個海嘛 | 噉啲風刮入嚟嘅時候呢，係成個廳係水浸嘅 | 噉屋 . . . 我爸爸媽媽就冇得瞓啦，但係我同我細佬就好開心囉 | 因爲有水玩吖嘛，又可以抹地吖嘛，咁樣 | 噉呢啲係一啲好，好特別、好快樂嘅回憶 | 但係其實生活係一啲好簡單幸福嘅小點滴呀 | 放學就會同啲同學嚟到蝴蝶灣囉 | 噉主要喺，啫，呢度比較清靜啲啦 | 同埋，呃，個空間好廣好闊吖嘛 | 噉所以就會，呃， 有陣時周末呢，咁冇嘢做呢 . . .
● 屋苑 ūk1 yún2 = housing complex | ● 象徵 jeuhng6 jīng1 = to symbolize; to signify; to stand for | ● 小康 síu2 hōng1 = comparatively well-off; comfortably well-off | ● 寄願 gei3 yuhn6 = (?) to make a wish | ● 新市鎮 sān1 síh5 jan3 = a new town | ● 願景 yuhn6 gíng2 = an aspiration | ● 刮入嚟 gwaat3 yahp6 làih4 = (of wind) to blow in | ● 抹 maat3 = to wipe | ● 小點滴 síu2 dím2 dīk1 = usu. “a tidbit” | ● 清靜 chīng1 jihng6 = peace & quiet
Reporter: Melody Gardens was the first non-public housing complex in the vicinity of the Tuen Mun Ferry Terminal. You could call it a symbol of the comparatively well-off [lifestyle] in this district.
Chiang Hiu-mei: When I was a little girl, I live in the Melody Gardens housing complex. To me, the name [美樂 Mei Lok in Cantonese] is a very pretty one: both “fine” [美好 mei hou] and “happy” [快樂 fai lok]. It is a wish for a new town. There is an aspiration of this kind in this place. Our apartment copped it badly [屋企係最慘嘅] when there was a typhoon. This was because the living room faced the sea. When the wind blew in, the whole living room would be flooded. Now the house . . . Mum and Dad wouldn’t get any sleep, but my little brother and I would be beside ourselves because we could play in the water and wipe down the floor. These are some of the very special and very happy memories. But life in fact is those very simple [but] fortunate bits and pieces [小點滴]. After school, my classmates and I would come down to Butterfly Beach. Here, it was more peaceful and quieter. In addition, there was plenty of wide-open space. For this reason, sometimes on the weekends when I had nothing to do . . .
【3:00】. . . 唔想留喺屋企咁，噉啊會嚟呢度睇書囉，係呀 | 啫，攞幾本書咁樣喺度，喺度睇吓海咁樣，睇吓書呀，咁樣 | 其實唔去市中心㗎 | 因為去市中心要俾四蚊輕鐵費㗎 | 來回八蚊㗎 | 噉，嗯，冇錢㗎，以前 | 即係一個月好似得三十蚊零用錢咁樣呢 | 噉所以如果要落街 | 就近近哋腳行到嘅地方囉 | 但係喺呢個社區，啫，喺屯門區裏面當然有好多養份俾咗我啦 | 我諗特別係嗰個人同大自然嗰個連結呀 | 因為真係好近呢 | 行五分鐘就可以去到海邊 | 係好近個天 | 個天係好廣闊嘅 | 佢唔會有好多高樓切割開咁樣 | 鍾意寫海囉 | 會好多意象可能係鍾意寫海 | 可能就係 *jai 因為細個見得多啦、望得多啦 | 或者其實就係好簡單咁你落嚟做個運動、跑個步 | 呃，行吓散吓步 | 對個海嘅觀察 . . .
● 市中心 síh5 jūng1 sām1 = city centre; downtown | ● 零用錢 lìhng4 yuhng6 chín4*2 = pocket money | ● 腳行 geuk3 hàahng4 = (?) to go on foot | ● 養份 yéuhng5 fahn6 = nutrient | ● 連結 lìhn4 git3 = to connect | ● 切割 chit3 got3 = to cut | ● 意象 yi3 jeuhng6 = image | ● 觀察 gūn1 chaat3 = to observe; to watch
. . . and didn’t want to stay at home, I would come here and read, I would. That is, I bring some books here and look at the sea for a while, read for a while. Actually, I didn’t go into town because the light-rail ticket cost four dollars, [which made it] eight dollars to get there and back. I didn’t have the money, back then. I only got thirty dollars’ pocket money a month, if I remember correctly [好似]. So, if I wanted to go out [落街], I would to places nearby that I could walk to. But this district, I mean Tuen Mun, nurtured me in many ways, especially with regard to that connection between human beings and the natural world, because [nature] was just nearby. You could walk to the sea in five minutes. [We] were very close to the sky[, too]. The sky was so wide, so spacious — it wasn’t chopped up by all these tall buildings. I like to write about the sea: it has so many images [meaning unclear]. Perhaps this is because I saw it a lot when I was little and looked at it a lot. Or perhaps it was simply just a matter of going down [to the beach] for some exercise, to jog, or to take a walk or stroll. The thing I really looked at most of all . . .
【4:00】. . . 係真係最多嘅 | 呃，喺屯門公園嗰度就有啲大媽舞呀 | 落下一啲污名呀 | 啫係你搞到污煙瘴氣 | 噉但係嚟到再遠啲喇 ，再入啲嘅地方，譬如屯門碼頭 | 噉，呃，其實呢邊又冇乜，係啦 | 呢邊都仲係保留到係好閒適㗎 | 好， 好角落呀| 好自成一體嗰一種感覺嘅 | 以前細個就覺得，呃，自己好老土嘅 （哈哈）| 特別係，啫，大家可能係行 . . . 當你啲大學同學係行尖沙咀呀、行銅鑼灣呀 | 好，好潮流呀，打扮得好時尚 | 但係自己可能係仲係好土呀 | 好鄉下妹咁樣囉| 噉但係再大啲，自己揾到自己定位 | 或者係 . . . 你諗返轉頭 | 其實呢度都係好，好塑造到一個人嘅氣質嘅（哈哈），係啦！
● 大媽舞 daaih6 māa1 móuh5 = “dancing aunties”, middle-aged women who dance in Tuen Mun Park and “who regularly blast songs through loudspeakers and dance suggestively while skimpily dressed” | ● 污名 wū1 mìhng4 = stigma | ● 污煙瘴氣 wū1 yīn1 jeung3 hei3 = ? cf. 瘴煙毒霧 = clouds of pestilential vapour; miasmal clouds| ● 閒適 haahn6 sīk1 = leisurely & comfortable | ● 自成一體 jih6 sìhng4 yāt1 tái2 = (?) separate; self-contained | ● 老土 lóuh5 tóu2 = old-fashioned; out of date; traditional; unsophisticated; rustic; not hip; uncool + 土tóu2 on its own has the same meaning | ● 潮流 chìuh4 làuh4 = trend; popularity | ● 時尚 sìh4 seuhng6 = ① fashion; fad ② fashionable | ● 鄉下妹hēung1 háa6*2 mūi6*1 (?) = roughly, “a country girl” | ● 定位 dihng6 wái6*2 = (指人生追求) niche (one’s position in life) | ● 諗返轉頭 nám2 fāan1 jyun3 tàuh4 = with hindsight
. . . was the sea. In Tuen Mun Park, there are the “dancing aunties”. They have given the place a bad name, made it sleazy and unpleasant [你搞到污煙瘴氣]. However, go a bit further away [再入啲嘅地方] [and you have] places such as Tuen Mun Pier. There’s not much there, but it remains leisurely and comfortable, a tucked away corner [好角落], with a feeling of being a little world in its own right. When I was younger, I was very out of touch with the fashion. Especially when we all went out . . . when you were walking with your university friends in Tsim Sha Tsui or Causeway Bay, [you] felt very with it, wearing the latest fashions, but you were probably still very uncool, an unsophisticated girl from the country. But when you were older and had found your place in the world [自己揾到自己定位], perhaps, with hindsight, this place was somewhere that could really mould a person’s character. Yes, indeed!
【5:00】而嗰個氣質就係 . . . 唔係咁商業化嘅 | 唔係咁追隨潮流嘅唔使行到好前嘅 | 你有你自己嘅步伐、有自己節奏嘅
And this character is . . . not such a commercialized one. It doesn’t go chasing after trends and there is no need to be at the forefront [of things]. You walk at your own pace and you have a rhythm all of your own.
I’m enamoured of a contour made by the mind
when it comes to an understanding. A woman with query
in her voice is gratefully enlightened
by an answer from her friend. O, she says,
and her O riddles its way through extravagant intonation,
rising steeply — in imitation of strong doubts —
then falling buoyant with relief
back to clarity’s sand floor.
I thought: She might have been standing in ocean
up to her armpits, first elevated by a transit wave
against gravity, before allowing herself to be dropped —
thrilled and informed — back in a fresh calm’s certified wake.