令我成為創作人嘅天花板 (Martin Booth)


當我哋行入銀行轉彎上樓梯嗰陣,阿媽就話俾我知:「其實呢個先至係後門。正門,即係呢間銀行用嘅正式地址,係喺位於對面嘅。」

呢句說話聽起嚟好荒謬,於是我就話我唔明白。

阿媽跟住答:「呢件事同風水有關。正門一定要面對山,背向大海,咁樣可以確保海龍入唔到嚟,又可以防止啲錢往海洋嘅方向流出去。」

佢呢個解釋更加令我一頭霧水。

銀行大堂嘅空間非常之廣闊,連人談話嘅聲音都會被佢壓低。一排排巨大嘅深啡色正方形大理石柱支撐住個天花板,真係何其壯觀!天花板係筒形穹頂式嘅,上面嵌有一大片馬賽克。馬賽克中央有一個精美嘅金黃星形圖像,而周圍係一片蔚藍色作為星形圖像嘅背景,起到襯托嘅效果。穹頂四圍嘅馬賽克塑造咗唔同嘅人物,佢哋代表各種事業——工藝也好,其他行業也好,無論係東方定係西方都有,樣樣俱全。我每次見到呢個天花板,都會被深深震撼。由頂纜車落去天星碼頭返屋企嘅時候,我通常會刻意兜一段路,經過呢間銀行,目的就係為咗可以享受到滙豐馬賽克所散發嘅微光。

有一次同阿爸一齊去銀行,我語氣隆重咁話俾佢知,我已經定下決心成為創作人。

「你呢個咁荒謬嘅念頭究竟喺邊度嚟㗎?」佢驚叫一聲,同時繼續喺櫃面搬弄本支票簿。

我望住天花板上面嘅馬賽克話:「嗰樣嘢。」

佢冇𩓥高個頭。

「噉你死咗條心啦!做藝術家肯定發唔達㗎。」

我反駁一句:「生活嘅富足唔單止同金錢有關嘅。」

交咗張支票俾銀行職員之後,佢就另轉身,好簡明扼要咁話:「緊係唔係啦!咁樣諗嘅人一定好鬼死蠢!」

我話:「其實係媽咪話我聽㗎!」

佢即刻答話:「係呀——不過佢冇必要成日返工去賺錢囉。」

等到佢將攞到嘅紙幣放咗入銀包,我就勸佢:「你望吓頭頂啦!」

佢毫不在意咁向上瞄咗一下,之後好冷淡咁補充:「犀利喎」。

出咗銀行,行返去泊咗喺皇后像廣場架車嗰陣,我一路沈思緊,突然間靈機一觸:「創造穹頂馬賽克嘅嗰個藝術家一定賺咗好多錢。」

我爸爸話:「係呀,跟住用嗮全部錢嚟飲酒,之後成世人再冇創造過任何其他作品。」

我深知爸爸係一個經驗豐富嘅紅杜松子酒飲者,所以聽到呢段説話,我覺得實在太荒唐喇!不過,嗰刻我仲忍得住冇俾反應——我已經差唔多學識幾時可以講嘢,幾時應該合埋把口。正如爸爸成日鍾意講,我已經掌握到「收皮」嘅技能。

原文:Martin Booth, Gweilo (2004)

Belief in the Power of Books: The Totally Unmythological Mythology Books by Charis Hung

This essay by Hong Kong writer 洪麗芳 Charis Hung Lai-fong celebrates a wonderful and forward-thinking independent bookshop run by Stephanie Chung in Sai Kung. It is called 神話書店 in Chinese, or Mythology Books, but its official English name is Dionysus Books. You can find it at G/F, 17 Sai Kung Tai Street [西貢大街17號地下]. You can visit their Instagram site here.

This essay as first published in the fourteenth issue of Cantonese-language magazine, 《迴響》 Resonate, in August 2021. You can visit their website here, and their Facebook page here for more information about writing in Cantonese.

You can find more writing by Charis Hung on Medium.


When I’d made the long-drawn out journey (this is no joke — I live in the remote north-western New Territories and the round trip takes me more than four hours) to Mythology Books in Sai Kung, I found myself standing in front of a rather unobtrusive door-way no bigger than a large window-frame which I could have easily missed and walked on past. I was momentarily assailed by a feeling of uneasiness: don’t tell I was going to leave here with nothing but disappointment? After I’d plucked up the courage to slide open the door, the Chinese expression 別有洞天 (bit yau dung tin, meaning “a hidden but beautiful spot”) written in large characters flashed through my mind. As it turned out, it was actually really roomy inside, and the décor was very stylish. The store taught me two things: that you cannot judge a book by its cover and that you can’t appraise a bookstore from its external appearance!

A “Mythology” Suited to Hong Kong

According to Stephanie, the owner of the store, it was the English name for her shop — Dionysus Books — that she thought of first (Dionysus is the God of Wine in Greek mythology). It was only later that she decided on the Chinese name San Wa (san wa means “mythology” in Cantonese). When, out of curiosity, I asked her if she was a keen on mythology, she told me that she felt that the God of Wine was very applicable to Hong Kong in its current state. This God of Wine was of mixed parentage — half human, half divine — which made it a spirit at the same time both orthodox and sacrilegious. Sometime, he would bring happiness to humanity, while at other times, misery. Nevertheless, under the influence of the God of Wine, people could break free from reality and enter a frenzied realm in which they could finally overcome their fears. On the subject of myths, Stephanie believes that they are a timely reminder: “Owing to the advances in science and technology, we tend to forget that we can’t necessarily explain everything. But does that mean that something is non-existent, just because it lies beyond our understanding? My sense is that science and technology have reached the point where they have become overly dominant.” It is for this reason that Mythology Books has opted not to have a Facebook page. Instead, it uses MeWe in order to resist a state of affairs in which one person alone has all the say. Myths can remind us of just how insignificant we are, and so make us humbler. Stephanie also mentioned another aspect of myths: they can be exploited by governments as tools for the building of nationalisms, taking historical myths and turning them into elements to justify their rule over the people as well as the establishment of collective values. “It’s just like a certain country we know, always going on about how many thousands of years of history it has . . .” It is Stephanie’s hope that the existence of Mythology Books will serve both as encouragement and as an awakening.


From Hong Kong Girl to Bookstore Boss

Stephanie does not have a background in the cultural circles. Nor does she have any connection with the publishing industry. Before she opened her bookstore, she had never previously had anything to do with this line of work. So why did she finally decide to go down the path of the book trade? It was all because of her deep sense of the power of books. At a leisurely pace, she began telling me her own story. “Ever since I was a little girl, I have always loved to read, but when it came to choosing which subjects to study at high school, I abandoned what I was interested in and choose Business out of practical considerations. During my time at university, I devoted even less time general reading. After graduation, I worked 9 to 5 for several years at a desk job, but felt very unhappy the whole time. There was such a lot of pressure. As a result, when it came to holidays, I would go on a spending-spree as a way of getting my own back, dressing up and buying things by the truckload — your typical Hong Kong girl. One day, I suddenly had this urge to start reading again, and so began re-reading a book I had once enjoyed so much, Dream of the Red Chamber. I realized that Jia Baoyu’s not wanting to sit the exams for the sake of wealth and glory was a rebellion against the establishment, and so I really got a lot out of the story. I read one book after another, and every day when I went to work all I really wanted to do was get back to my reading. Finally, I made up my mind to quit my job and have a go at doing something I really wanted to do.” After undergoing the “baptism” of 2019, Stephanie saw with even greater clarity just how important books can be. In her view, books can help people to think, containing an unlimited number of solutions and so can provide us with outlooks as well as guidance.

“When we read a history book, we can remove ourselves a little bit, and not get so completely wrapped up in what happens to be going on at that particular moment. Our moods are no longer so grey and disheartened, and our horizons can broaden out.” Having been thus enlightened by books, Stephanie finally became the boss of a bookstore in 2021, a store which offers — based on the above-mentioned reasons — mainly books in the areas of history, literature and the social sciences.


When, out of curiosity, I asked her if she was a keen on mythology, she told me that she felt that the God of Wine was very applicable to Hong Kong in its current state. This God of Wine was of mixed parentage — half human, half divine — which made it a spirit at the same time both orthodox and sacrilegious. Sometime, he would bring happiness to humanity, while at other times, misery. Nevertheless, under the influence of the God of Wine, people could break free from reality and enter a frenzied realm in which they could finally overcome their fears.


A Bookstore Imbued to the Full with Environmental Thinking

The book-shelves and décor items found in Mythology Books are things that they have brought from home or that other people have given to them, making it quite unconventional in comparison to many other places where the furnishings are all brand-new. Stephanie told me that she once helped a Sai Kung district councillor run for election and so got to know many friends who shared her views and aspirations. In addition, when she opened the shop, quite a number of local people in the neighbourhood came and gave her a hand. The clock and the sewing machine (it now serves as a reading desk) in the corner to the right of the main entrance are over a hundred years old. And before it became a bookshop, this was a general store run by the grandmother of Stephanie’s husband on his father’s side. The store’s old sign-board still hangs on the wall — 金利源 Kam Lee Yuen (meaning “Source of Fortune and Advantage”) — giving a real sense of carrying on a family tradition. A certain amount of seating has been set aside in the shop for readers to take a rest and browse, making it extremely cosy. Stephanie comments that things don’t have to be new for them to be good, it being so very easy to find second-hand furniture in Hong Kong. Looking after the environment is actually not as hard as you might imagine it to be.



The Diversity of Independent Bookstores

Stephanie shared with me something of her experiences involving making the bookstore available to various local organizations as a venue for events every now and then. It is her hope that — given its lack of available venues — Mythology Books can provide a space in which people with similar values can come together and coalesce. Such people may also have links with other small business operating in Sai Kung, so they can give one another mutual support, possibly leading to further co-operation. Laughing, Stephanie said to me: “Actually, before 2019, we weren’t at all like this. For many Sai Kung people back then, Sai Kung was just the place where you slept, and we were not really very interested about what was going on in the district. From Monday to Friday, we would all go off to work, while on our days off we would either head out very early in the morning and return late at night, or we would spend the whole time tucked up at home just to avoid all the visitors from elsewhere. But nowadays, people have really integrated into their district and, almost without realizing it, now have another very close connection in their lives.” This is probably true for many people in Hong Kong. It is hoped that in future, bookstores will go on organizing reading groups and, if this remains possible, they could also arrange film screenings or invite writers to come and give a talk, with bookshops functioning as a collective space. As Stephanie mentioned, one advantage independent bookstores have over traditional ones is that their operations can be more diverse, not just selling books but also engaging in a range of other activities, bringing out more — and more precious — voices and creating different kinds of influences.


The Book Trade Will Not Decline

Stephanie remarked that when she first decided to open a bookstore, a lot of people weren’t too keen on the idea — only her husband supported her. She herself, however, was quite optimistic: “I wasn’t too worried. I always thought that as the situation grew worse in Hong Kong, more people would want to read. It really is the case that more young people are going to bookshops, hoping to find answers in a book.” Stephanie went on to add that, although there is plenty of information on the internet, it tends to be too fragmentary, giving books a reason to exist, a reason now even more important than ever. I asked her about whether she had any concerns regarding a political investigation (as I was writing this piece, the police had just arrested five people from the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists for publishing the “Sheep Village” series of illustrated children’s books). Stephanie replied that she couldn’t think that far ahead, and that the books in her shop would remain on the shelves — they hadn’t been banned, so why would there be any problem? “I don’t want to carry out my own self-investigation,” she said, and throughout our conversation you could sense her passionate conviction, not the fiery kind but a sort of ardour that still believes that it is possible to change some things in the world. At the same time — just like many other bookstore owners I have interviewed in the past — Stephanie believes that working in the book trade is something permeated with love rather than competitiveness. “We all give publicity to one another, and we all help each other out. Quite a number of bookstore owners were willing to give me a lot of practical advice — me, a complete beginner. Even the distributors were more than willing to spend time with me, answering my questions.”

Lungs Full of the Hard Smoke of Hong Kong

西貢蠔涌車公古廟

A storm-warning here gives weather
sudden celebrity: like the old days
the elements become something to reckon with
once more, briefly. Concrete covers most of the earth,
and half the indoor plants are forged
from plastic. Beneath umbrellas,
beneath artful perspex walkways,
beneath a film that shrink-wraps each thought,
we manage mostly to avoid all touch
of the rain, but can’t quite help breathing it into
deserted cells.

One-minute Wonderful Short Cantonese Videos: Kasen Tsui’s Hong Kong

Sometimes, you have to lose yourself to find yourself. In this one-minute wonder, 徐嘉蒓 Kasen Tsui tells her story of being a child of Hong Kong, profoundly shaped by the city and yet in danger of becoming engulfed by all its darkness, a darkness she experienced at close range in her work as a journalist. And yet, through creativity — an activity that involves a sifting through of all that contradictory influence Hong Kong subjects you to — she has managed to find a way through, finding not only a path for herself but a source of positive energy and cautious optimism, something she shares with us here, in the hope that, through adversity, we can all become “real flesh and blood people”.

For more on Kasen Tsui in Chinese, you can visit her Facebook page here. You can also see her images on Instagram here.


Caption: 徐嘉蒓

我之所以係我 | 係因為呢個城市 . . .

Caption: 城市

. . . 賦予我出生、成長、學習 | 我嘅生命軌跡 | 同呢個城市密不可分 | 感受呢個空間

Caption: 空間

帶俾我嘅一切好與壞 | 可愛之處、可憎之處 | 梳理、沉澱、回饋 | 佢會令你成爲更圓滿嘅人 | 有血有肉嘅人 | 我曾經係一個記者 | 書寫過呢個城市好多故事 | 但亦因此而痛苦 | 因為我失去咗自己

Caption: 痛苦

劇場係一個出口 | 我可以自由自在咁做自己 | 不論對錯 | 真誠咁做自己

Caption: 自由

自由自在咁創造 | 用身體同文字創作 | 立足每一個當下 | 我係徐嘉蒓 | 一個正喺表演創作路上探尋嘅人

Caption: 尋道 | 探尋

● 賦予 fu3 yúh5 = bestow on; endow with; vest with | ● 軌跡 gwái2 jīk1 = ① locus ② orbit ③ course ④ trajectory| ● 密不可分 maht6 bāt1 hó2 fān1 = (?) cannot be separated from; inseparable | ● 感受 gám2 sauh6 = ① to be affected by ② to experience; to feel | ● 可憎 hó2 jāng1 = roughly, “hateful” | ● 梳理 sō1 léih5 = to organize (perhaps here “to sort through”) | ● 回饋 wùih4 gwaih6 = ① to repay ② feedback | ● 圓滿 yùhn4 múhn5 = usu. satisfactory; perhaps here “fulfilled” | ● 有血有肉 yáuh5 hyut3 yáuh5 yuhk6 = usu. lifelike; vivid? | ● 書寫 syū1 sé2 = to write | ● 劇場 kehk6 chèuhng4 = theatre | ● 自由自在 jih6 yàuh4 jih6 joih6 = leisurely & carefree; free & unrestrained | ● 對錯 deui3 cho3 = roughly, “correct or incorrect” | ● 立足 laahp6 jūk1 = ① to have a foothold somewhere ② to base oneself upon | ● 當下 dōng1 haah6 = the present instant | ● 表演創作 bíu2 yín2 chong3 jok3 = lit. “performance creativity” | ● 探尋 taam3 chàhm4 = to search for | ● 尋道 chàhm4 douh6 = (?) to seek (a way/path)

Caption: Kasen Tsui

The reason I am who I am is because this city . . .

Caption: City

. . . bestowed on me [my] birth, growing up and learning [學習]. The [whole] trajectory of my life is inextricably bound up with this city. I have been affected by this space . . .

Caption: Space

. . . all the good and the bad it has brought me, parts that are loveable, and parts that are hateful. Sorting through, taking stock [沉澱], feeding back [回饋]. The city [佢] will make you more fulfilled as a person, a real flesh and blood person. I was once a journalist, and wrote many of the stories about this city. But for this reason I suffered [痛苦], because I lost [all sense of] myself.

Caption: Suffering

The theatre offered me a way out, allowing me to be myself, free and unrestrained, unconcerned [不論] with “correct” and “incorrect”, [and just] sincerely being who I was.

Caption: Freedom

Free and unrestrained, I create, creating with both my body and my words. I take my stand in every present instant. I am Kasen Tsui, a person searching on the path of performance creativity.

Caption: Seeking a Way | Searching

One-minute Wonderful Short Cantonese Videos: Tommy’s Halfway Coffee


For one minute, take time out to listen to Tommy talk about his Halfway Coffee shop, where aromatic coffee is served in exquisite traditional Chinese tea-cups. That astonishing fusion between East and West at the heart of Hong Kong is the world’s most incredible and precious cultural heritage, reminding us of Elizabeth Chow’s provocative, thought-provoking words:

Look at us, and envy us, you poor, one-world people, riveted to your limitations. We are the future of the world!

And while you’re enjoying your imaginary drink, boost your stock of Cantonese vocabulary with a few new items: 巷 hohng6 = a lane; 隱約 yán2 yeuk3 = indistinct; 情懷 chìhng4 wàaih4 = feelings; 收藏 sāu1 chòhng4 = to collect; 沖茶 chūng1 chàah4 = to make tea; and of course that all-important 中西融合 Jūng1-Sāi1 yùhng4 hahp6 = roughly, “a fusion of Chinese & Western (elements)”. You can also pick-up some phrases to impress colleagues and friends, including 隱約充滿咗舊香港嘅情懷 = “filled with a faint feel of the old Hong Kong”, 成間咖啡店,我最鍾意厘個位 = “this is my favourite spot in the entire café” and, last but not least, 假如有人經過,我哋就會同佢微笑 = “if someone happens to be passing by, we smile at them” . . .

You can watch the video here.


摩羅街行落幾步呢 | 就會搵到我哋呢間咖啡店㗎喇 | 間鋪呢,成條巷咁樣嘅 ,前後都打通| 隱約充滿咗舊香港嘅情懷 | 我哋呢度收藏咗大約三百隻中式嘅茶杯 | 魚鱗紋呢,可以話係我最鍾意嘅一隻杯 | 唔好以爲依啲杯只係沖茶喎 | 其實我哋係可以攞嚟做咖啡架喎 | 中西融合沖起嚟嘅咖啡 | 飲落去都有香港嘅情懷 | 成間咖啡店,我最鍾意厘個位 | 喺度沖咖啡嘅時候,可以望到唔同嘅客人 | 假如有人經過,我哋就會同佢微笑 | 邀請佢哋入嚟飲杯咖啡、傾吓偈 | 感受吓舊香港嘅情懷 | 我叫 Tommy | 係一間咖啡店嘅隊長

● 摩羅街 mō1 lòh4 gāai1 = (?) Lascar Row | ● 巷 hohng6 = a lane; an alley | ● 打通 dáa2 tūng1 = to get through; to open up | ● 隱約 yán2 yeuk3 = indistinct; faint | ● 情懷 chìhng4 wàaih4 = feelings | ● 收藏 sāu1 chòhng4 = to collect; to store up | ● 魚鱗紋 4*2 lèuhn4 màhn4 = (?) a fish-scale pattern | ● 沖茶 chūng1 chàah4 = to make tea cf. 沖咖啡 | ● 中西融合 Jūng1-Sāi1 yùhng4 hahp6 = (?) a fusion of Chinese & Western (elements] | ● 假如 gáa2 yùh4 = if; supposing; in case | ● 邀請 yīu1 chíng2 = to invite | ● 感受 gám2 sauh6 = to experience; to feel | ● 隊長 deuih6 jéung2 = team leader

Just take a few steps along Lascar Row and you will find this coffee shop of ours. Now this shop is on a lane way — you can come in through the front and walk out through the back [前後都打通] and it is filled with a faint feel of the old Hong Kong. Here we have collected around three hundred Chinese-style tea-cups. The cup with the fish-scale pattern on it is probably my favourite. Don’t imagine [唔好以爲] that these cups are only used for tea; actually, we can use them to make coffee in, too. Fusing Chinese and Western elements, this way of drinking coffee has a Hong Kong feel [to it]. This is my favourite spot in the entire café: when I’m making coffee here, I can look at the various customers and, if someone happens to be passing by, we smile at them and invite them in for a cup of coffee and a chat, [so that, in the process, they can] experience something of the old Hong Kong. My name is Tommy, team leader of a coffee shop.

《新心界》: 第八章 「藍地」

● 陳之一 Chan Chi-yat walks from Siu Hong Western Rail Station all the way to 藍地 Lam Tei, day-dreaming about various kinds of nonsense as he goes. Later, apart from enjoying the bustling ambiance of Lam Tei Main Street, he also witnesses a scuffle between two traders with stores on opposite sides of the road, which makes him think of the English writer F. D. Ommaney, who described just such a scene in his book Fragrant Harbour (1962). After his walk, he meets up with 阿綠 Ah Luk at the Cesto coffee shop, and finds out exactly what happened that day back in April she was called away unexpectedly during their meal at Tim Chai Ha Kau in Fanling.

Soundtrack: 喜歡美學,喜歡風格更多


陳之一每次喺西鐵兆康站落車,腦海總會出浮現一個諗法:如果將來有朝一日唔想再用「陳之一」呢個名嘅話,就會將自己叫做「頓兆康」,期望為生活帶嚟更多吉兆同埋康樂。換句講,佢同兆康二字之間一定程度上存在住某種關係。其實,唔止同名字本身有聯係——屯門以北都納入為外國男人隨便散步時嘅目的地

就算呢排體力格外虛弱,佢仍然鍾意一個人自由漫步,最唔捨得散步時為佢帶嚟嘅樂趣。一步出車站大堂,必須落樓梯回到地面,然後佢就沿住屯門公路往藍地方向漫步。男人唔知世界上究竟有多少車站係興建喺河流上面?兆康站就正正屬於呢類相當罕見嘅鐵路工程。因為當時潮漲,屯門河道水量比平時多,近處、遠處都有啲企定定嘅小白鷺,喺度覓食,佢哋耐心等候游經過嘅魚仔。成功覓到食物嘅白鷺,一般嚟講,都會突然間用鳥喙往水中拮一下,將我哋人類肉眼見唔到嘅水中淡水魚,迅速拮出嚟,魚嘅身體轉眼間變成一小團不斷躍動嘅閃光。遠離車站之後,剛才男人所見嘅耀眼亮光,一直喺佢嘅視網膜上留下印象。當合上雙眼一會兒,仍然可以見得到,就好似螢光蟲,逐漸消失於内心黑麻麻嘅夜空中。

夾喺公路同河道之間,竟然設有一處草叢實實上只不過係一條十分狹窄嘅無人地帶。因為長期缺乏管理,所以被茂盛嘅野草佔據。加上由市中心沿住公路吹過嚟廢紙、膠袋、廣告傳單等等隨處可見,令到呢片小型「花園」人欣賞。不過,陳之一反而零舍鐘鍾意呢由野草構成嘅市内荒地,覺得可以同麻笏河度嗰一片「雜草王國」媲美,情感上甚至引起一份共鳴感小型草叢裏面雖然缺乏人人讚美嘅花卉,但係一啲小巧玲瓏嘅野花,仍然能夠吸引周圍罕有嘅蝴蝶。當男人行近藍地交匯處之際,就睇到一隻青鳳蝶飛到一朵野花上吸食花蜜。喺呢種滿佈高速公路、充斥交通噪音嘅環境,令十分在意兆頭嘅陳之一,覺得遇到鳳蝶就係奇跡:至少喺西方人眼目中,鳳凰寓意再生,而自廣東話演講比賽以嚟,佢一直期望能夠獲得重生嘅機會。

經過藍地輕鐵站,男人步上天橋,橫過交通繁忙嘅青山公路,喺「季季紅風味酒店」停低步。因為時間尚早,陳之一決定先四圍逛逛,然後返到約好嘅 Cesto 咖啡室等阿綠。所謂嘅“藍地大街”只不過一條又窄又長嘅街道,因為咁,經過嘅車輛通常唔多,車速又慢,方便途人享受漫步嘅樂趣同埋安全感。大街兩邊塞滿林林總總嘅舊式店鋪,包括士多舖、糧油雜貨店同埋茶餐廳,充滿濃厚嘅古樸鄉村風味,令到陳之一諗返西貢德隆前後嘅兩條街,同埋坪洲嘅永安街。宇宙中嘅所有運行嘅引擎聲,暫時被一種人世間嘅寧靜鎮壓。

喺屯門新村對面,距離「綠怡居」唔遠嘅一段路,鋪頭陸續稀少,四圍嘅氣氛變得相當靜穆,環境甚得愛發白日夢嘅男人所喜愛。冇耐之前,呢個地方流行叫做「爛地」,暗示天賦嘅實際地理情況,同人類理想差落好大。不過,吸引澳洲摺友並唔係呢種真假難辨嘅人間願景——佢清楚知道,達到福亨村路,繞過藍地石礦場,過橋跨過洪水坑灌溉水塘,就可以步入一條東北向西南伸延、斷裂而成嘅大欖涌河谷。

喺回程途中,忽然間傳略帶威脅性嗌交聲。有兩個男人喺藍地大街,一人企一邊,互相指罵。爭拗越嚟越激烈,佢哋兩人越行越前,去到大街嘅中央,跟住就你撞我推,吸引唔少途人駐足觀看呢次非電視性嘅暴力「節目」。當陳之一知道到眼前發生緊咩事時,佢便增加腳步,嗱嗱臨以箭步向前走。啱走開嗰一刻,背後就突然聽到「嘭」一聲——好似其中一人已被對手推倒,令到觀衆興奮程度升級。呢一刻,陳之一諗起英國作者奧曼尼一段説話,佢喺《香港》一本書中有一段描寫:

「當華人聚集成群時,尤其如警察都在場,每個人面孔上都毫無表情,佢哋都唔肯出頭上前幫忙。大家都袖手旁觀,無動於衷,拒絕援助。人人都扮作聽不見、睇唔到。佢哋認爲事情係命運注定嘅,千萬不可干預命運不可思議嘅安排,尤其是涉及其他人遭受嘅不幸,因為今次嘅不幸可能係命運嘅報復。如果我哋去干預呢類事,試圖影響到命運嘅安排,衆神一定會憤嬲,甚至會向我哋發脾氣。」

唔想激嬲衆神及群人嘅陳之一行到咖啡室,啱啱見到阿綠由青山公路以緩慢嘅步伐行緊嚟。睇見阿綠當時嘅步姿,外國人敢估計,頭髮染嗮綠色嘅朋友一定係陷入沉思,完全冇注意周圍嘅環境。

阿綠行到陳之一面前,男人忍唔住脫口而出:「我有一件事想同妳講」。不過,與此同時,阿綠講出同一句說話,令到外國人一覺得好怪異,唔通佢哋兩個近排都有出人意表嘅事情發生?!

喺咖啡室一坐低,連嘢飲都未嗌,阿綠就急不及待將母親包裹嘅事情話俾陳之一聽。其實,綠色頭髮嘅女人真係好識講故仔:幾時講詳細啲、幾時講籠統啲,佢好似早有安排,令到男人聽得津津樂道。由發現母親自畫像裏面隱藏嘅文件,到佢阿媽用鉛筆寫嘅兩個「甴」字,之後匡老闆點樣集中精神去鎅開畫後面嘅紙層,同埋自己超乎想像嘅緊張,都一一同阿一講清楚。跟住,佢描述埋,見到「廢紙團」時感到極度失望,打開包裹見到信封同筆記本又感到極度興奮。佢怕陳之一唔明自己刻嘅激動,於是用「坐緊過山車」嚟形容今次一生中最難忘嘅經驗。最後,最後,阿綠忍唔住描述當日返到屋企後,點樣一次、又一次、再一次咁閲讀母親寫俾佢封信,並且一次、又一次、再一次咁仔細觀察張黑白相,拼命嘗試由莊梓臉上出一啲熟悉嘅地方。坐喺佢對面嘅澳洲瘦骨仙越聽越驚訝,驚訝程度可以使用《當代廣東話口語》第三章其中一句話嚟形容,即「浄係識擘大個口得個窿㗎咋」。最後,阿綠仲同佢講筆記本裏面嘅内容,包括《獨行詩》中耐人尋味嘅詩句。

兩人沉默咗好一陣子。企喺櫃位後嘅咖啡室老細深明唔好打擾,知道如果佢哋想叫嘢就會招手揖佢過嚟。

首先開口講話嘅陳之一:「真係好奇妙!原來妳同我一樣係屬於“敞開家庭”嘅人喇 . . . 」

「咩嘢係 “敞開家庭”呢?」阿綠摸不著頭腦問。

「“敞開家庭”就係指被主流社會排斥嘅可憐人,嗰啲唔外向、唔潮爆、唔富有、唔成功、冇權力、唔敢照鏡、唔受歡迎、左㕭者 . . . 」

「哦,我知喇!包括埋發暗家。其實,都係屬於社會嘅另一面,畢竟不可少嘅一班人!」

「噉 . . . 」陳之一開口講嘢,阿綠好似由夢中驚醒:「我而家真係需要一杯咖啡!你想唔想食埋蛋糕呀? 」話音剛落,老闆就好似幽靈般顯現佢哋身旁。其實,呢個老闆根本唔使問外國熟客想嗌乜:因為西人每次都係嗌一樣嘅嘢。真係好奇怪,老細諗緊點解呢個男人生活可以咁單調?不過,今次陪澳洲男人嘅女友啱啱相反,一定係土生土長嘅香港人,佢反而指住菜單,問咗一大堆問題。

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.

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.

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.