Zolima City Mag’s “Alleyway Haircuts”

“Alleyway Haircuts” is another short documentary video in Zolima City Mag’s wonderful “Forgotten Icons” series.

After seeing Wong Kar-wai’s film Fallen Angels as part of a film course, Mark Lau abandoned cinema studies and instead took over his father’s barber shop in Wan Chai. This is his story.

For the grammatically-minded, the video contains several exciting moments. Two terms that are often translated as “even” in English get used. The first of these, 甚至乎 sahm6 ji3 fuh4 = “even; go so far as to” is used in the line 甚至乎引申到係一個知己囉 and indicates a sense of surprise on the speaker’s part, or that what one is saying might fall beyond the usual range of the listener’s expectations.

The other “even” is expressed by the structure 連 lìhn4 . . . 都 dōu1 and is also concerned with expectations (in comparisons it has to do with reaching an expected standard). It appears in the phrase 傳統嘅理髮師連乞兒都不如 = a traditional barber is not even as good as a beggar.

The second item of interest is the aspect marker 返 fāan1. 返 fāan1 in its own right means “to return”, and this hints at the fact that it functions somewhat like this re– in English, suggesting return, repetition and perhaps even resumption in the case of an action that has been broken off. In the three examples found in Mark Lau’s presentation, the first means “to take a second look”, the second means “to see again (after a certain interval of time)”, while the third ⸺ “to take on” ⸺ implies a kind of resumption, since Lau had been actively discouraged from taking over his father’s business:


There may be cases where 返 fāan1 as an aspect marker creates an idiomatic meaning, in the same way as 住 jyuh6 sometimes does.

Finally, the mystery final particle 囉 lō1 is used quite frequently by the speaker. Consider the following instances:

而唔係話去到嗰個位就 stop 咗,停咗喺度囉

According to Yip and Matthews, 囉 “gives a suggestion that what is said should be obvious”, and can be used with the word 咪 maih6 = “then” to indicate “an obvious conclusion” (Intermediate Cantonese, Unit 23). The Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary has various definitions, including “[final particle] showing argumentative mood or making emphasis” and “[final particle] expressing a changed condition”. Certainly, in all the examples quoted from this video, the speaker is making claims that might invite disagreement. My working hypothesis here is that it is used “to soften the force” (?) of strongly asserted arguments: look, I really think this is the case, but you may wish to disagree . . . However, I need to do a lot more work on this question.

This video lasts for 2:45 minutes. Scroll down for the Cantonese transcription and notes. To watch the video (with English and Standard Chinese subtitles), click here

To check anything in the transcription and for standard jyutping romanization, please refer to the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.


我叫劉家成,噉我英文名叫阿 Mark啦

理髮師 léih5 faat3 sī1 = barber; hairdresser

● One striking habit of the speaker is to use phrases such as 我父親佢 = lit. “my father he” in which the pronoun seems redundant. It might help to think of it as a form of apposition, roughly equivalent to the English “he, the man who is my father”. Watch out for the other examples in this video, including阿王導演佢 and 香港人佢.
● 創立 chong3 laahp6 = to establish; to found; to set up | I guess in this situation we could also say “he opened the Oi Kwan barbershop in 1962”.


● 有型 yáuh5 yìhng4 = handsome | You can also hear this expression in the podcast “A Postman’s Gaze (1)”: 主持人:你都係好有型呀!

電剪 dihn6 jín2 = electric clippers
Note that 同 tùhng4 in this context does not mean “with”. The meaning here is “for; on behalf of”.



The syntax of this sentence is clearly unusual. The main part appears to be 可以變咗個朋友咁嘅 = “can become friends, like”, to which is added the afterthought “interacting, [they] can be”. By the looks of it, this afterthought also employs dislocation. For details on this, see “Afterthoughts and dislocations” in Unit 24 of Intermediate Cantonese by Yip and Matthews.

傳統嘅 barbershop 嚟講就有一個「家」嘅感覺
Here, the structure 對[於] . . . 嚟講 = “with regard to; as far as . . . is concerned”, but the 對[於] has been dropped.


甚至乎 sahm6 ji3 fuh4 = even; go so far as to. This is a very useful expression in Cantonese, frequently used to add further information to a topic that might be considered unexpected. Here, for instance, Mark Lau suggests that customers become like family members, perhaps friends, and then finally even “bosom buddies”. Often, the乎 fuh4 at the end of this term is dropped.
引申 yáhn5 sān1 = to extend (the meaning of a word)
知己 jī1 géi2 = an intimate friend | The literal meaning suggests someone who knows [知] you nearly as well as you know yourself [己].

心事 sām1 sih6 = sth. weighing on one’s mind; a load on one’s mind; worry
The expression 有啲咩is often heard in questions. In a statement, it creates a general expression: “Whatever people have on their minds, they will talk about”.

當初 dōng1 chō1 = at first, originally | Here, perhaps “back [in the days] when I was studying . . . ”


墮落 doh6 lohk6 = to degenerate

熟口面 suhk6 háu2 mihn6 = a familiar face; a familiar person. Also expressed by the phrase 熟口熟面.

細查 sai3 chàah4 = (?) to examine closely/carefully

衝擊 chūng1 gīk1 = charge; assault; attack | Here, perhaps “impact” is what an English speaker would use here.
震撼 jan3 hahm6 = to shake; to vibrate; to shock; to rock | Or something more colloquial like “blew me away” or “left me reeling with the shock”.

親切 chān1 chit3 = (adj) amiable; friendly; cordial; kind; warm; sincere; gracious; intimate; dear; familiar (adv) heartily; warmly; graciously; kindly; (n) friendliness; hospitality cf. 親切感 = sense of cordiality / warmth

場景 chèuhng4 gíng2 = scenario; scene
背後意義 bui3 hauh6 yi3 yih6 = (?) the meaning behind sth.; the hidden meaning

從而 chùhng4 yìh4 = thus; thereby. I would have thought that this expression is something characteristic of written rather than spoken Cantonese, but here it is!
引發 yáhn5 faat3 = initiation | In this context, it must be the verb (?) “to initiate”.

接手 jip3 sáu2 = to take over (duties, etc.)

感恩 gám2 yān1 = feel grateful; be thankful

嚟㗎 leih4 gaa3 is added to create an “explanatory tone”:

噉而家係香港兩栖及爬蟲協會現時唯一嘅員工嚟㗎 = At present, I am the only employee of the Hong Kong Society of Herpetology (Henry Chan Man-hou)
噉所以呢,就後來我好鐘意我個名,因爲我覺得,即係,係一個好嘅開始呢,都係一件好嘅事嚟㗎。(Hong Kong Foothpath, Chan Siu-chi)

動力 duhng6 lihk6 = motive; motivation | Perhaps in this context “impetus” might be possible

師傅 sī1 6*2 = master worker; | Here, the addition of 老 lóuh5 suggests a highly experienced “veteran” of the barbering industry


乞兒 hāt1 4*1 = beggar
The structure 連 lìhn4 . . . 都 dōu1 is a useful one and expresses the idea of “even” in English ⸺ here, “not even as good as a beggar”. Also note that 不如 bāt1 yùh4 here, used at the end of the sentence, means “not as good as”; compare the 不如 used at the start of a clause to make a suggestion.

忿氣 fahn6 hei3 = accept failure; willing to concede/admit defeat

噉我上網睇 YouTube

噉仲有啲朋友介紹,去咗其他 barbershop 呀,salon 嗰度去到實習
The second character 仲 juhng6 commonly means “still”, but in this situation, it means “furthermore”. 仲 juhng6 can also be written 重 juhng6.
I first encountered 實習 saht6 jaahp in the sense of “work experience”. It can also refer to doing field work. Here, however, “to practise” or “to get more practice” is what is meant.

The literal meaning is “Don’t say the word “master”, but the implication is something like “Don’t even mention the word ‘master’” or “Never mind thinking about becoming a ‘master’”. | Note the routine use of 啦 lāa1 to soften the force of the imperative.

工藝 gūng1 ngaih6 = craft


Here, 追求好 jēui1 kàuh4 hóu2 seems to imply “the pursuit of excellence” or “to pursue excellence”.

This is a curious example of code switching, since Mark Lau gives the Chinese version straight after the English “stop”!

遺忘 wàih4 mohng6 = to forget | I don’t hear this very often. My feeling is that 唔記得 mh4 gei3 dāk1 is the usual expression for “to forget”.
留落嚟 is made up of 留 làuh4 = to leave and a directional complement 落嚟 lohk6 làih4, which suggests downward movement, but approximates the English “to leave behind” or even “to pass on (to posterity)”. I once read an explanation of the Chinese sense of time which likened it to a climb down a sheer mountain with one’s back to where one was going. In other words, one “falls” into the future facing the past! Time expressions such as 上星期; 下星期; 前天;後天 provide some support for this interpretation.

隔籬街 gaak3 leih4 gaai1 = the next street | Note that 隔籬 is pronounced in exactly the same way as the 隔離heard a lot at the moment because it means “isolation; quarantine”.



屬於 suhk6 yū1 = “belong to; be part of”. I get the impression that this is used a lot in Cantonese, so is definitely worth adding it to your repertoire of grammatical structures.
The syntax is curious in this sentence, and may be an example of an odd kind of dislocation! In 呢一點係咪屬於自己嘅文化呢個就, the last three characters 呢個就 = “this is [then]” may restate the earlier 呢一點係咪 = “is this [point]?”. Translated literally, we have “whether this [point] is a part of one’s own culture or not, this [then]”. However, it may just be a fairly vague afterthought, similar to 其實呢個都好感恩啦,呢個.

Lovers, Dogs, Etc. (Cheung Shue Tan Village 樟樹灘鄉)

● If you’ve ever liked any of the poetry I’ve posted on this site, you have Hong Kong to thank. It was my first trip there in 1998 that really got me writing again after a bit of a lull. What do I remember about Cheung Shue Tan? There was an old woman who made wonderful scarecrows out of modern-looking dolls with very Western faces: well, they certainly scared me! And there was the crab that stayed up one night to greet me in the moonlight after another hard day at the office at nearby CUHK. It had one big, white-tipped claw that shone at me through the dark. And of course there was Mr Yeung’s sandalwood incense, burnt at dawn and dusk to appease the ancestors and, in the process, bringing a hint of true fragrance into my life . . .

Oh, and before I forget, there was the huge python that crossed the road as a file of us were making our down from the bus stop. You know that feeling: human beings standing very still, hardly daring to move, while waiting for danger to take our breath away.


Love walks the lovers down the hill with practised elegance until —
aaai! it looks like an insect got her right in the eye
(they’ve got me too this way and no doubt you as well . . .).
There’s, she’s fixed. They walk off again down the asphalt road,
the dark patch there banana trees actually by daylight
still busy with small fruit this time of year (autumn).
I say hello to “my” dogs like signposts along the way:
the timid one that lies in front of careless traffic —
canine death-wish (I think to myself) — home-life must be bad,
and the wicky black one with the black tongue to match
his friendly bad manners.
I’m always moved by the endurance of these creatures, their doggedness
(sorry . . .),
patient through endless rounds of gates, locks and fences,
all the human words for NO! banging in dog-ears.
(Oh, the lovers have just turned off. Why do I always
take my eyes off the lovers?)
Here’s the giant grape-fruit tree (the tree itself largish)
on the corner that smells of shit worse somehow after dark.
I say a few soothing words to the mutt in the Plexiglas kennel,
the one that gives me that gitouttahere growl every time
(I’d give me that growl too cooped up in such “space”)
and there looms home unlit on the first floor
above Mr Yeung’s flat with the two glaring door-gods
pasted squarely before me on his glass sliding-doors
to ward off evil.

Photograph: Tai Po Cheung Shue Tan Heung

The Hiker’s List by Teddy Law

● 《山友的路線名單》 / 羅榮輝著

Nearly every one of my fellow mountaineers has their own wish-list of hiking destinations. This wish-list may be long or short. It may be highly detailed or little more than a sketchy outline.

Recently, a friend of mine shared her wish-list with me. It was roughly divided into long journeys, short trips, and routes for clear and cloudy weather. I myself have a similar list of destinations, simply drawn up in terms of the different areas of Hong Kong: Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, Sai Kung, the New Territories and Lantau Island. From this list, I choose a suitable route in order to fit in with the season, geographical position and the availability of people to accompany me. If the weather is fine, I select a location with exceptional scenery. If the weather is not particularly good, I pick a route for its history and its culture. As I complete my objectives, I tick them off my wish-list one by one, constantly crossing off and adding things as I go.

Given their hectic lifestyles, the people of this city tend to be very adept at calculation and, in everything they do, weigh up pros and cons, as well as consider outlays and gains. Since our time in general ⸺ as well as holiday time ⸺ is limited, we tend to explore new vistas, even where feasible making our way to the top of several mountains, never going to the same place twice, to ensure that our effectiveness improves. Such behaviour cannot really be criticized but, at the same time, this individual thirst for achieving goals reveals more than a hint of utilitarian self-seeking.

The footprints we make walking over mountains amount to little more than a split-second in their long-drawn-out formation. With a wish-list of routes in one hand with its individual destinations rather arbitrarily divided into any number of grades, one can’t help wondering: how can we ever hope to understand a mountain in our rushed ascents and abbreviated excursions? Any list, no matter how explicit the objectives, is at the same time a set of invisible shackles. Any true personal insight into a mountain is inevitably limited by a wish-list, restricted by specific locations, confounded by numbers. But for all that, many people are still bent on walking to the top of all Hong Kong’s mountains, ascending all the well-known ranges of Taiwan and challenging tall peaks throughout the rest of the world.

To take delight in mountains and rivers is not difficult. With the increase in individual physical strength and skill, an enhancement of mental calibre, improvement of hiking gear, the perfection of pathways together with the coordination of resources, many people have eventually managed to reach their objectives. Undoubtedly, reaching your goals one after another enriches your experience, and might even make you into a superb mountaineer, but in my view, the true lover of mountains should be something more than a Perfect Executor of Plans. Such a person is not defined by a dazzling curriculum vitae but realized through true insight into the Earth. What such a person displays are resoluteness and spirit, vision and a broad mind, cultivation and attitude, with an emphasis on responsibility over rights, and the common good over any personal loss or gain.

People like this can understand the language of mountains, and so are able to converse with them, and have the ability to discover fresh new feelings in familiar surroundings, delight in mundane scenery, as well as experience mighty mountains and rivers on narrow trails. They walk where their own nature happens to lead them, and their paths grow wider along with their own hearts.

At any rate, my feeling is that the most difficult mountain to overcome is not written down on any list but can only be found in our own minds.

Photograph: 香港西貢蚺蛇尖 Sharp Peak in Sai Kung, Hong Kong (www.oasistrek.com)

The Chinese version of this essay first appeared on Hiking Windfire.

“In June, it’s raining last year’s rain” by Woo Sai Nga, translated by Audrey Heijns

67d80235-c332-4c83-a131-5c713d2f0ffb_Woo Sai Nga Drawing_18 MAY 2020

The rain beats down, cultivating flowers that can fly
while waiting for the rain to stop, people look around
their pupils filled with pools of water,
they let themselves waver
more easily by the rain

The umbrellas are in dire straits, hems are about to fly
Tree trunks that got soaked appear deeper
and tougher than human beings

The sun sets, the sun rises
and it still keeps on


〈六月,天空下著去年的雨〉/ 胡世雅





Woo Sai Nga, born in Hong Kong, is a member of Fannou Poetry Society. She graduated from the Chinese Department, Baptist University of Hong Kong in 2017 and is now teaching at a secondary school. She publishes poems in literary magazines in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and has won the Youth Literary Award (青年文學獎) and the Award for Creative Writing in Chinese (中文文學創作獎) in Hong Kong. She was the leader of the workshop “Literary Convergence ⸺ May Fourth Hong Kong”, Theatre-in-Education Project (Reading and Writing), held at the Hong Kong Literature Research Centre, The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2019/20.

● Audrey Heijns, based in Hong Kong, is working at Shenzhen University. Her translations of Chinese literature have been published in literary magazines, including Het Trage Vuur, Twee Ronde, KortVerhaal, Terras, Renditions, Exchanges and Poetry International.

Cantonese Podcasts: A Postman’s Gaze (1)

Cheung Chau Temple_APR 2016_REDUCED

Journey to the Isle is an innovative WordPress website dedicated to the Hong Kong island of Cheung Chau as experienced by a cross-section of its inhabitants. All of them have their own deeply personal stories to tell. There are numerous written anecdotes transcribed into Cantonese (a good source of information about written Cantonese, but unfortunately not translated into English) and also quite a large number of short videos in which project members talk about their very individual experiences of this place.

In this 3-minute clip, 李達成 Léih5 Daaht6 Sìhng4, one of Cheung Chau’s postmen, talks about his passion for photography which led to a picture he took of “the Doctor” [「博士」bok3 sih6], an old man who seems to come and go as he pleases, without attachments, and who has an unsuspected interest in books and music. Lee talks about how he gradually came to know the man and what he learned about this unusually self-contained character.

In terms of grammar and usage, there are a few points worth noting. Firstly, you’ll hear a couple of examples of the progressive aspect in 做緊嘢 (“doing things”) and 都係我喺轉緊嘅 (“I was turning things over [in my mind]”). Secondly, the postman says 擺啲時間 = to make the time to do sth. Thirdly, at the end, you’ll hear 啦 lā1 to enumerate the items in a list. Finally, and most interestingly, 李達成 also makes use of 開 hōi1 as an aspect marker in the final paragraph, added to verbs to indicate habitual action. In my own limited experience of the language, I have seldom come across this marker.

In recent weeks, I’ve been wondering a bit about the various uses of 呢 nī1/ne1. Like many common bits of Cantonese, 呢 is put to a range of uses. Pronounced as nī1 or lī1 (and sometimes even reduced to yī1), it generally means “here; this” etc.:

呢一個人 = this person

Pronounced as nē1 or lē1, it is routinely encountered as a question particle used especially for information question (for yes/no questions, 呀 aa3 is preferred):

然後呢 = then what happened?
佢係咪一個好窮嘅人呢? = Was he a poor man?

More elusively, it also seems to play a role in marking the topic of a sentence, and is often attached to more than one phrase, perhaps to signal to the listener that we have not yet arrived at the comment part of the sentence.

當時,其實,因爲「博士」呢,佢好多時,大家見面呢,佢就會撩吓我呀。 = Well . . . at that time, actually, because the Doctor, on many occasions, would, when we saw one another, say something to tease me
噉其實呢,啲問題呢,都係我喺轉緊嘅。= So I was actually turning these questions over [in my mind].

It is certainly true, too, that 呢 is regularly attached to what might be called “discourse markers”, that is, short phrases that link parts of the sentence and establish logical relations. Some of these (from sources other than this video) include: 噉所以呢; 嗱,其實呢; 你可以話呢; 同埋呢; 因爲呢 . . . I suspect that there are other, additional uses of 呢 (including one for “continuous states), just to make life interesting!

Needless to say, there is also some very worthwhile vocabulary in the piece: 有型 yáuh5 yìhng4 = smart; stylish (see Current Colloquial Cantonese: p.15); 身水身汗 sān1 séui2 sān1 hohn6 = to be dripping with sweat; to be drenched in sweat; sweating profusely; 可造之才 hó2 jouh6 jī1 chòih4 = a person suitable for training; a promising young person; 第一開始 daih6 yāt hōi1 chí2 = at first; from the outset; from the very beginning; 流浪者 làuh4 lohng6 jé2 = a drifter or wanderer; 疏 sō1 = ① sparse; thin; scattered ② distant; not familiar; and 自由自在 jih6 yàuh4 jih6 joih6 = carefree; free; (to enjoy one’s own company?)

You can watch the video here, as well as see a copy of the photograph Michael Lee took. If you’d like to read the Cantonese transcription together with an English translation, please keep scrolling down.


郵差的眼睛 / A Postman’s Gaze

主持人:呢一個人 . . .  一定有嘅。
Questioner: Such a man . . . certainly exists.

李達成:有啦。頭先你講ah「博士」嗰張相呢。好似頭先你講「博士」嗰張相。噉 . . . 當時,其實,因爲「博士」呢,佢好多時,大家見面呢,佢就會撩吓我呀。我做緊嘢身水身汗咁樣,佢都會撩我傾一兩句計架。

● The common word 好似 hóu2 chíh5 is usually translated as “to be like”, but it sometimes seems to introduce a note of uncertainty or reduced certainty: “I seemed to remember you saying” or “I was under the impression (but I may be wrong)”.
● 撩 lìuh4 = to tease; to tantalize; to provoke. By extension, it may perhaps also refer to the act of saying something in order to strike up a conversation.

Michael Lee: Yes, he does. Just now you spoke about that photo of “the Doctor”. I got the impression [好似] that just now you spoke about that photo of “the Doctor”. Well . . . at that time, actually, because the Doctor, on many occasions, would, when we saw one another, say something to tease me [撩吓我]. Even if I were in the middle of something and dripping with sweat, he would say something and start chatting with me.

Michael Lee_The Doctor_9 MAY 2020


主持人:例如係 . . . ?
Questioner: What did he say to you [literally = for instance]?

李達成:例如,例如 . . . 好尷尬架喎。佢話,「啊你真係最有型嘅郵差嘅」(laughter)。
Michael Lee: Well, for instance, for instance . . . I feel very embarrassed about it! He would say: “Ah, you really are the most handsome postman”.


● As a final particle 啫 jē is generally used to downplay the significance of what was said. The implication here, I think, is “there’s nothing so very embarrassing about that”. But 啫 jē also occurs in this conversation with the meaning of “that is; I mean”, something that is also said as a filler when you are trying to think of what to say next.
● 好眼光 hóu2 ngáahn5 gwōng1 = literally “good vision”, but figuratively “good taste”.

Questioner: Why be embarrassed by a little thing like that? He has good taste, he has good taste! Then what happened?

李達成:噉我就俾佢「溝」到啦(laughs)。噉呀 . . .

● 溝 kāu1/gāu1 = to pick/chat up; to cruise (for sexual partner); (?) to pursue (a potential partner). This seems to introduce a vein of sexual innuendo into the conversation, triggered by the Doctor’s comments on the postman’s good looks and perhaps touched on again in the use of 可造之才 in the next part, but I may be reading too much into the Cantonese . . . My Cantonese informant explains 溝 as follows: 至於「溝」,通常講男女關係,「溝」係比較粗俗,但唔係粗口,亦好常用,意思係「追」,想追佢做女朋友或男朋友。例如:呢個男同事對呢個女同事作出咁多攻勢,又送花,又送人哋返屋企,又成日讚佢叻,攞明就係想溝佢啦。不過個女同事冇咩大反應,好似唔受溝。

Michael Lee: Well, I let him catch me [溝]! And so . . .

Questioner: Yes, you are very handsome!

李達成:噉呀,跟住開始去去飲茶。噉我經過就同佢嗰陣時去邊度飲茶喇,喺 . . . 而家我唔知叫咩,喺海濱隔離嗰度附近飲早茶嘅。噉我有時經過,噉見到佢同另一個叔叔喺度飲茶。噉我可能坐低搭吓枱呀咁樣,大家傾吓,即係 *jē1,傾吓計咁。同埋我覺得佢 eh 係真係一塊可造之才囉,啫喺影相方面。噉我,我都要擺啲時間嘅,我都要擺啲時間同佢混熟啲呀,嗄。噉亦都出真心嘅,啫唔係話咩 . . .

● 搭枱 daap3 tói4*2 = (?) to share a table with (a party of people already seated). I am often asked whether I would like to 搭枱 when trying to get a meal in a crowded cha chaan teng!
● 混 wahn6 = to muddle/drift along; to get along with; 混熟 wahn6 suhk6 = to muddle along with someone to the point of getting to know them well (熟 suhk6 here is a particle that expresses result).

Michael Lee: And so after that we began to go and have a cup of tea [together]. If I happened to be passing by [經過], I would go and have a cup of tea with him at . . . I don’t know what the place was called now, there was [a place] right next to the praya [海濱隔離嗰度附近] where we would drink our tea of a morning. Sometimes I would pass by, and I would see him there having his tea with some other old fellow [另一個叔叔]. And so I might sit down [with them] and we would have a chat, have a bit of a chat. I also felt that he, eh, really was a promising subject [可造之才], I mean [啫] in terms of a photograph. And so I, I would make the time [to see him], I would even make the time to get to know him [混熟] a little better. But I was motivated by a sincere wish, you couldn’t say that there was . . .

Questioner: But was it that that in the first instance you felt that you wanted to take a photograph [of him] and so later became interested in him?

李達成:Eh 都唔係。其實,佢個人我其實已經係對佢都好有興趣。佢究竟係咪,真係一個,啊 . . . 流浪者呢?佢唔似係神經 . . . 啫,唔似係精神病嘅,佢唔似嘅。但係佢係咪真係一個流浪者呢?佢係咪一個好窮嘅人呢?噉其實 er 有冇人可以幫到佢嘅呢?噉其實呢,啲問題呢,都係我喺轉緊嘅。

● 轉 jyun3 = ① to revolve; to rotate, to spin; ② a round trip. In this context, it does seem to mean more or less what English expresses with the idiom “to turn over in one’s mind”.

Michael Lee: No, it wasn’t like that. Actually, I was actually very interested in him as a person. Was he, was he really . . . ah, a homeless wanderer [流浪者]? He didn’t look like he was mad . . . I mean, he didn’t look like a person with a mental problem, not like that. But was he really actually a wanderer without a home? Was he a poor man? Could anyone actually give him any help? So I was actually turning these questions over [in my mind] [轉].

Questioner: Do you have any answers?

李達成:Eh 有嘅。噉其實佢有物業啦、親人就好疏啦、就 . . . 有錢用嘅 . . . 有錢用嘅。噉呀同埋佢好鐘意佢自己一個人,自由自在嘅。啫,後來慢慢識佢傾開計,咁就知道佢多啲嘅嘢喇。同埋佢好鐘意聽音樂啦、音、睇書啦,嗄。 啫,啲文學嗰啲呢,即係名都唔識讀嘅嗰本書嗰啲嚟㗎,嗄。佢《聖經》話,都讀咗成本嘅,佢《聖經》都讀過。

● In a couple of places here, 啦 lā is used to designate the items in a list.
● In Intermediate Cantonese, Matthews and Yip explain 開 hōi1 as having a habitual meaning (see Unit 12 on aspect markers), so 傾開計 suggests, I think, “to get into the habit of talking” or “talking on a regular basis”.
● The use of 音 before 睇書 is just a casual error made by the speaker.
● Two different aspect markers are used in 佢《聖經》話,都讀咗成本嘅,佢《聖經》都讀讀 with the same verb 讀 duhk6 = to read, adding nuances to what is being said, although in English “had read” would be used in both cases. The first marker 咗 jó2 emphasizes realization: the Doctor has already achieved the feat of reading the whole Bible. The second marker 讀 gwo3 stresses past experience: Had he had any experience of reading the Bible? Yes, he had.

Michael Lee: Eh, yes, I do. Actually, he owned property, he didn’t have much in the way of family [好疏], and then [就] . . . he had money at his disposal . . . he had money at his disposal. And another thing [同埋], he really liked to be on his own, and live a free and easy life. So, [when] slowly I got to know him and we’d got into the habit of talking, I then knew more things about him. As well, he very much liked to listen to music, and to read. I mean, those literary [works], that is, those books the title of which [I] do not know have to read. The Bible, he said, he had read from cover to cover [成本]. He had read the Bible.

Out of Nowhere (Shung Him Tong 崇謙堂)

Sai Kung Sha Kok Mei Bananas_RESIZED TWO_26 NOV 2018


I turn off and follow the road of a trickling stream
of details: a butterfly flat
on an upturned dish
feeds itself on this afternoon’s heat-waved sun;
in a private garden,
purple parasitic orchids
live off serenely their hard host tree;
a red dragonfly
counteracts the rust of a barbed-wire fence;
while banana leaves crackle withered skin across my straining
But where the path ends —
though believe me the stream flows on —
it’s the grass speaks loudest with gentle blades
 over and over
the Christian cemetery’s departed congregation.


香港西貢沙角尾:大蕉 Banana trees, Sha Kok Mei in Sai Kung, Hong Kong

Cantonese Podcasts: Hong Kong Newts

Thomas Browne_Hong Kong Newt Tai Po Kau

When I was living in the village of Cheung Shue Tan back in the late 1990s, I would often walk up to 大埔滘 Tai Po Kau just to unwind a bit. If you sit down beside one of the mountain streams up towards the picnic area and watch the crystal-clear water patiently, eventually you will catch a glimpse of the schools of small fish strong enough to hold their own against the current. Once or twice, to my surprise, I also saw small creatures with legs like lizards moving through the water in slow-motion like space-walking astronauts. What I saw, perhaps, was the Hong Kong newt.

This newt (or 香港瘰螈 Hēung1 Góng2 ló2 yùhn4 in Cantonese) was once thought to be unique to Hong Kong and so for a time served as an animal-totem or mascot of the Region. In her book Hong Kong (1988), Jan Morris includes it in her list of “esoteric wildlife” to be found in the Colony: “there were also crab-eating mongooses, an unusual variety of newt, 200 kinds of butterfly and thirty-two kinds of snake” (18).

Although specimens of Paramesotriton hongkongensis have been since discovered in coastal areas in Guangdong province, concerned individuals such as 陳文灝 Henry Chàhn4 Màhn4-houh6 and the self-effacing Ah Sam continue to make efforts on behalf of this threatened animal in Hong Kong. In this short video, made in 2016, the problem of catchwaters is outlined, as well as the impact these have on the newts, which prefer the waters of mountain streams in which there are large rocks to soften the force of the flow.

There is plenty of useful vocabulary here for eager students of Cantonese, including 陷阱 haahm6 jehng6 = trap; 生猛 sāang1 máahng5 = full of life; lively; 栖息 chāi1 sīk1 = to inhabit; and 耗費 hou3 fai3 = to expend (energy). As for grammar, there are some noteworthy uses of classifiers or measure words, 條 tìuh4 being the measure word for “newt”. In addition, we are treated to a couple of instances of 嗮 saai, a “particle of quantification” (see Intermediate Cantonese by Yip and Matthews) ; several uses of 啫 jē1 (“merely; only”), that very handy downplaying final particle; and one example of 冇得, a verbal structure that seems to indicate a general inability to do something.

You can watch the video here, but if you would like to see the Cantonese transcription with a rather patchy (my apologies!) English translation, then please read on.

To check anything you’re not sure about, please refer to the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary for further help.

Finally, there’s a very moving and heart-lifting video about 陳文灝 Henry Chan Man-hou in Cantonese here. Unfortunately, it has no English subtitles, but the man’s passion for animal protection comes through pretty clearly, nonetheless!

Photograph:香港大埔滘:香港瘰螈 Hong Kong Newt, Tai Po Kau, Hong Kong (Thomas Brown on Flickr, 2011)


Headline: 引水道變奪命深淵:近危動物死路一條

● 引水道 yáhn5 séui2 douh6 = a catchwater ● 奪命 dyuht6 mihng6 = a life plucked away; a life taken away by force ● 深淵 sām1 yūn1 = abyss ● 近危動物 káhn5 ngàih4 duhng6 maht6 = (?) endangered animal

Catchwaters Become Deadly Abysses: A Death Road for an Endangered Animal


A year ago, we ran a report

(About how) the walls of catchwaters in non-urban areas

● Note: The noun 郊區 gāau1 kēui1 is a bit of an interesting problem. Dictionaries such as Sheik Cantonese give the meaning as “suburban district; suburbs; outskirts”, but since country parks in Hong Kong are known as 郊野公園, the meaning in this context virtually equates with “non-urban areas”, that is, areas where wildlife is still able to flourish.

Continue reading “Cantonese Podcasts: Hong Kong Newts”

From A Sip of Tea by Ye Si, translated by Audrey Heijns (6)

Tung Ping Chau Beach View_APR 2016

327, Tung Ping Chau

I read in the newspaper that Tung Ping Chau has become severely polluted, and this makes me sad. Tung Ping Chau used to be such a beautiful place, now some of the large rocks have been moved to Ocean Park and tourists have make a mess of it.

*   *   *

Is it better for a place to remain unknown? In the past, Tung Ping Chau was a quiet and clean place. Recently, we visited it again and there were mahjong tables everywhere, radios blaring, chicken bones and soft drink cans strewn all over the place, as well as scraps of paper and plastic bags . . .

*   *   *

The government has done a good job of cleaning up the beaches this year. Could it be that they have begun to pay some attention to cleaning up the outlying islands? Otherwise their beautiful scenery . . .


327 東平洲





Other poems from this series:

21, Cold after the rain
46, Taste
83, Winter
183, Weather
186, Hong Kong


Ye Si, pen name of Leung Ping Kwan (1949-2013), is a celebrated Hong Kong poet, essayist, fiction writer and photographer. He has published many volumes of poetry, essays and stories, including: Paper Cuts (1982), City at the End of Time (1992), Foodscape (1997), Travelling with a Bitter Melon (2002), Postcards from Prague (2000) and Postcolonial Affairs of Food and the Heart (2009). He was Chair Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Centre for Humanities Research at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

Audrey Heijns, based in Hong Kong, is working at Shenzhen University. Her translations of Chinese literature have been published in literary magazines, including Het Trage Vuur, Twee Ronde, KortVerhaal, Terras, Renditions, Exchanges and Poetry International.


Photograph: 香港東平洲:沙灘 Beach on Tung Ping Chau, Hong Kong (2016)

From A Sip of Tea by Ye Si, translated by Audrey Heijns (5)

Audrey HEIJNS_Hong Kong_9 APR 2020

186, Hong Kong

A German woman, who had lived in Paris for ten years, said: ‘I spent the best ten years of my life there.’ Then she came to Hong Kong and said: ‘This looks like a very lively place, so many people!’

*   *   *

There’s a foreigner who has lived in Hong Kong for more than ten years. He can order dishes in a restaurant, but the only words in Chinese he can say are: ‘I’ve got an upset stomach.’

*   *   *

A foreigner in Hong Kong once said that the existence of a colony is an absurd reality. He wants a writer from abroad to suggest a method to change that. This type of person always wants someone else to come up with a solution. Thereby forgetting that there are people who live here. And forgetting that he too exists in this absurd reality, that he’s a part of it.


186 香港





Other poems from this series:

21, Cold after the rain
46, Taste
83, Winter
183, Weather


● Ye Si, pen name of Leung Ping Kwan (1949-2013), is a celebrated Hong Kong poet, essayist, fiction writer and photographer. He has published many volumes of poetry, essays and stories, including: Paper Cuts (1982), City at the End of Time (1992), Foodscape (1997), Travelling with a Bitter Melon (2002), Postcards from Prague (2000) and Postcolonial Affairs of Food and the Heart (2009). He was Chair Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Centre for Humanities Research at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

Audrey Heijns, based in Hong Kong, is working at Shenzhen University. Her translations of Chinese literature have been published in literary magazines, including Het Trage Vuur, Twee Ronde, KortVerhaal, Terras, Renditions, Exchanges and Poetry International.

Photograph: Hong Kong in Darkness and Light (Audrey Heijns)