Mouthful of Earth (A Brief Dream of Edward Thomas)

Thoughtful Edward Thomas

I was sure of the name of one of the ghosts;
instantly I knew it, in a dream without names
although, for a ghost, he was more like the ghost of a ghost
with his white unsunned skin and wrongly faintly red hair.
Choose to approach him? But all choice was numb:
the chill in his eyes was the spitting image of Antarctic-blue ice
or invincible reserve, not to be distributed. I willed my face
to disturb my dreaming mouth and quote his own lines back at him by heart —
Whatever happens it must befall, / A mouthful of earth
to remedy all /
Regrets and wishes shall freely be given . . . —

but my hoarse will by then could make no more noise
and when I forced a meeting through my haphazard orbitings
he half-looked at me only to look right through me, like paper,
as if I were the ghost and not worth his greeting,
as if transparent eagerness were the one precise flaw
that made my sighting so simply insubstantial. Yet unmistakably
he was there, even without a voice,
warding me off, watchful, difficult, uneasy, calling me gracefully
into question — or focus — or being — or something
beyond any dream, with a clarity that wasp-stings
even dead-weight sleepers bolt upright from torpor.

From A Sip of Tea by Ye Si, translated by Audrey Heijns (1)

Audrey Heijns_Rainy Mong Kok

21, Cold after the rain

There’s a glass pane in the restaurant facing the street. The people sitting inside can see a middle-aged man walking past slowly. He turns his head to one side, and casts a slanting glance inside. From the outside one can see a man sitting in a compartment seat staring out the window.

*   *   *

Outside the delivery van is unloading soft drink. Women, who bought groceries, carry baskets passing by. A Pakistani with a turban also walks by. It’s busy in the street, and crowded, the road is wet after the rain. The humid feeling indoors is the lamp light reflected in the glass of water that is half-empty.

*   *   *

People outside can’t hear the gentle music inside. People inside can’t feel the cold after the rain.


21 雨後的寒意





● 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: Rainy Mong Kok (Audrey Heijns)

Hong Kong Footpath: Interview in Cantonese with Kwan Chuk-fai (Part 1)

RTHK Hong Kong Footpath Gwaan Jak-fai Image

Among his many roles, 關則輝 Mr. Kwan Chuk-fai is currently Chairman of the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund (Labour and Welfare Bureau), a position which indicates something of his concern for social justice. In this interview with Candy 車淑梅 Chea Shuk Mui, he says some interesting things about the shape of a human life, and the need in one’s later years “to build for significance” rather than to stay rigidly focused on personal success. He even talks about the meaning of life:

噉中間叫乜嘢呢,係叫做 build for significance ,啫話有啲咩重要呢,有啲咩係我認為人生嘅, 咦,佢意義喺邊度呢?咩叫快樂呢?會問多好多呢啲嘅。噉你會諗吓,我點樣回饋社會呢?點樣去幫身邊嘅人呢?Ah 有啲咩我應該多做呢?咁樣。好啦,七十五歲以後呢,其實基本上你係留低一個人生嘅軌跡啦,嗄。 啲人諗起,呀呢個人,拜拜咗之後,其實我印象對佢係咩嘅呢咁樣。呢個係一個,啫你留低啲乜嘢精神面貌呀,嗄。噉我覺得呢, 人生係,都係約略咁樣嘅 . . .

So what is the middle stage called? It is called “build for significance”, which involves what I think is important, in what I think the meaning of human life resides. What is that thing called “happiness”? Lots of questions like this tend to get asked. And so you will begin to wonder about what you can do to give something back to society. About how you can help the people close to you. About what should do more of. Things like that. So that, OK, when you reach the age of 75, you have left a kind of track in life. When you’ve said bye-bye and shuffled off, people will think back and say to themselves, this is the impression I had of him. It’s a question of what kind of “spiritual appearance” you will leave behind you. And this is roughly what I think human existence is about.

There is plenty here for the learner of Cantonese. There are a couple of uses of that versatile aspect maker 住 jyuh6, as well as the final particle 噃 bo3. In terms of the vocabulary, you will hear the verb 湊 chau3 used in two different ways, as well as an unusual expression based on the English word “level”, 升「呢」sīng1 lē1. Other items of interest include 涉獵 sip3 lihp6 = (?) to dabble in, 司儀 sī1 yìh4 = master of ceremonies, 祖屋 jóu2 ngūk1 = ancestral home, and 均真 gwān1 jān1 = fair and just, as well as the four-character phrases 成家立室 sìhng4 gāa1 laahp6 sāt1 = to get married and establish a home, and 洗滌心靈 sái2 dihk6 sām1 lìhng4 = to cleanse one’s soul

Be sure to use the Sheik Cantonese website to check any item in this text: you can find their on-line Cantonese dictionary here. I will try to add more to the transcription in the coming weeks. In the meantime, any corrections or suggestions are welcome! This material is invaluable for learners of Cantonese, and it would be terrific if we could make it absolutely perfect.

To hear the interview, please click here.



Part 1A【1:42】

車淑梅:一個人,又或者一個嘅機構,甚至乎一個政府是否成功呢,我相信公關嗰個嘅能力是否夠強係非常非常之重要嘅。噉今日呢,呢位嘉賓,嗄 . . .【2:00】好犀利呀,嗄 . . . 噉多年嚟,大家都睇住佢,海陸空三軍,佢都係曾經涉獵過嘅,可以話呢,海陸空嘅大公關。而家呢,就係社會投資共享基金委員會嘅主席啦 , 咁 ,佢亦都係香港公共關係專業人員協會嘅會員喎, 仲係呢,就喺恆隆地產集團傳訊及投 . . . 記者關係嘅董事嚟㗎。我想大家已經知道佢係邊位喇。冇錯,係我哋嘅大公關關則輝先生,早晨!

●  公關 gūng1 gwāan1 = public relations
● 海陸空三軍 hói2 luhk6 hūng1 sāam1 gwān1 = the navy, the army and the air force; it seems that 陸海空三軍 is also used. I am not sure what the phrase means in this context; perhaps it goes with the verb 涉獵 sip3 lihp6 to suggest that he has tried a lot of different kinds of work.
● 涉獵 sip3 lihp6 = (?) to dabble in; to dip into (not always with a negative connotation)
● 踏腳石 daahp6 geuk3 sehk6 = stepping stone

Continue reading “Hong Kong Footpath: Interview in Cantonese with Kwan Chuk-fai (Part 1)”

Six Letters, Starting with “A”

Evette KWOK_2 SEP 2019

A short word against the run of play
thirteen billion years long;

ETERNITY’s unassuming twin, first voice
of that tall-tale Big Bang;

its effortless forever bears just the right weight
of each thing;

inconspicuous amen, fresh whenever
whoever we are wakes

snug in the palm of its deft left hand
to plant the teaspoon-span of our only lives

down with the dust, dust —
slow-down diamonds of dirt and dust —

daily with the brief human galaxies.
(Solution: always . . . )


Photograph: 香港西貢赤徑 Chek Keng, Sai Kung, Hong Kong (Evette Kwok 2019)

Ocean and Notion

Tai Po Man-Mou Temple Cat TWO_3 MAR 2020

Ocean and Notion
Had little in common;
A freak of English
Enforced their union.

They took their honeymoon
Down by the sea
And talked all day
Of philosophy.

Notion went swimming —
A lover of quirks —
While Ocean kept watch
In case of sharks.

Sunburnt but happy
They drove back to town
To start new lives
As Proper Nouns.


Photograph: 香港大埔文武廟 Man Mo Temple, Tai Po, Hong Kong (Evette Kwok, 2020)

Pak Tai, True Soldier of the North

Pak Tai Image 2_1 MAR 2020

I came across this excellent short video in Cantonese made by Hong Kong Taoist TV on the god 北帝 Pak Tai when searching for material about the island of 長洲 Cheung Chau. Pak Tai is an important figure in connection with the festivities that take place there every year in the Fourth Lunar Month. Unlike Gwun Yam and Tin Hau, however, he seems to be a very remote and forbidding divinity. Yet perhaps he has a more carefree side: the bare feet and long-flowing hair perhaps hint at such a possibility . . .

Grammar points to look out for include the following. Firstly, there is a good example of tone-changing involving the character 廟. The pronunciation given for this character in dictionaries is mìuh4: hence 廟宇 mìuh4 yúh5 = temple. However, as the last element in the name of an actual temple (e.g.北帝廟), it is pronounced in the high-rising tone míu4*2.

There is one sentence in which 廟 appears on its own ⸺ 喺廟入面有一座鑄於萬曆三十二年; to me this sounds as if it is pronounced HR (because it is an abbreviated form of the name of the temple?), but I may be wrong.

Secondly, there is a special Cantonese use of 落 lohk6 in the sentence 從山水流落灣仔再出大海. Here 落 is similar to 到 dou3 in its expression of “arrival”, but suggests that the movement is vertically downwards rather than horizontal.

Finally, there are some good examples of some of the less common tone combinations to listen for:

HL + ML: 北帝 bāk1 dai3; 披髮 pēi1 faat3
LF + ML: 神將 sàhn jeung3
LF + HL: 全稱 chyùhn4 chīng1; 玄天 yùhn4 tīn1; 群魔 kwàhn4 mō1; 留低 làuh4 dāi1; 民間 màhn4 gāan1; 平安 pìhng4 ōn1; 長洲 chèuhng4 jāu1
LL + ML: 上帝 seuhng6 dai3; 道教 douh6 gaau3; 護法 wuh6 faat3; 備至 beih6 ji3; 大帝 daaih6 dai3 (this also offers a good contrast between the vowel sounds aai and ai!)

Throughout the transcript, I have used brackets to show where the Cantonese voice-over differs from the subtitles in Standard Written Chinese,

Click here to watch the video. But you might like to read through the transcript first, just to get a handle on the language!

Continue reading “Pak Tai, True Soldier of the North”