What is the relation of place to personality? In this video, writer 蔣曉薇 Chiang Hiu-mei speaks at length of her feelings for Tuen Mun, a new town “developed” in the 1970s. She argues that the relative isolation from both business and fashion pressures can result in a more independent character, one with a rhythm and speed all of its own.
The best proof of this is in Chiang’s writing. The novel she talks about here, a literary adaption of Kiwi Chow’s film Beyond the Dream, is a finely-paced love story about a young man who falls in love first with a hallucination and then with a psychologist who resembles his imaginary lover. Her most recent book, 《秋鯨擱淺》(roughly, “The Stranding of Autumn Whales”), takes the mass beaching of 400 whales in New Zealand as a metaphor for the current predicament of the people of Hong Kong and sees in the human effort to save these marine mammals a ray of hope for a Hong Kong renaissance.
There are some splendid vocabulary items for, if you’re keen to improve your Cantonese: 氣質 hei3 jāt1 = ① temperament; disposition ② qualities; makings; 餵貓 wai3 māau1 = to feed a cat; 甜蜜 tìhm4 maht6 = sweet; happy; 願景 yuhn6 gíng2 = an aspiration; 零用錢 lìhng4 yuhng6 chín4*2 = pocket money; 養份 yéuhng5 fahn6 = nutrient; and 時尚 sìh4 seuhng6 = ① fashion; fad ② fashionable.
You can watch the video here. If you are interested, you can also look at these two other posts on Chiang Hiu-mei:
● 塑造 sou3 jouh6 = to mould; to model | ● 氣質 hei3 jāt1 = ① temperament; disposition ② qualities; makings | ● 步伐 bouh6 faht6 = a step; a pace| ● 繆思 màuh4 sī1 = a muse | ● 發掘 faat3 gwaht6 = to excavate; to unearth; to explore | ● 投射 tàuh4 seh6 = ① to project (a ray of light) ② to cast | ● 感受 gám2 sauh6 = to experience; to feel | ● 心聲 sām1 sēng1 (or sīng1) = heartfelt wishes; aspiration; thinking
Note: The 中 used in 寫中我嘅心聲 is pronounced in the mid-level tone (jung3). It is added to verbs to express the idea of “hit (a target); fit exactly”. In this example, it is added to the verb 寫 sé2 (to write) = “writing in a way that captures (a person’s heartfelt wishes)”.
Chiang Hiu-mei: Actually, this place really shapes a person’s qualities, yes. You go at your own pace, [with] your own rhythm.
Caption: My Muses | Green Mountains & Blue Seas — the Writer Chiang Hiu-mei
Reporter: The film Beyond the Dream is set in Tuen Mun and uncovers many moving scenes in the local community there. The author of the novel version of the film Chiang Hiu-mei also grew up in Tuen Mun. She has cast many [of her] personal memories and experiences of Tuen Mun into [the novel] she created.
Chiang Hiu-mei: You write about Tuen Mun . . . my most intimate memories [are bound up with this place]. I put a great number of my personal feelings about things [好多自己個人嘅感受] and experiences into [the book]. When people I went to high-school with read the book, they laughed and said: “You have really captured [寫中] my innermost wishes”. Yes, our first chapter [describes] how Ah Lok arranges to meet Yip Lam and waits for her at Tuen Mun Pier. I put my own feelings into [this scene]. In it, there [are certain things] . . .
● 驚訝 gīng1 ngaah6 = surprised; amazed; astonished; astounded | ● 餵貓 wai3 māau1 = to feed a cat | ● 撩 lìuh4 = to tease; to tantalize; to provoke (Sheik) | 挨 āai1 = to lean against | ● 直接嘅反應 jihk6 jip3 ge3 fáan2 ying3 = an immediate reaction | ● 糖水 tòhng4 séui2 = a dessert soup such as red bean soup or almond paste soup | ● 甜蜜 tìhm4 maht6 = sweet; happy | ● 開名 hōi1 méng2 = (?) to mention sth. by name
. . . such as, first of all, the surprise city people feel when they come to Tuen Mun Ferry Terminal — how come boats leave from here to go to Macao? The second thing is that when Ah Lok was waiting for Yip Lam, he fed the cats and tried to make them come to him [撩貓]. Now this is something you see all the time. Because, in the film, Yan Yan is an imaginary person who only exists in Ah Lok’s mind, the time [spent on this] in the film is limited. When you see Ah Lok with Yan Yan, they are leaning against the railing [of a housing estate] — I think it’s like that: as I recall, he leans against the railing and strokes her. They are the main ways the dating scenes are done. Or he goes to meet her at the light rail [station]. So [in the book], what would Ah Lok and Yan Yan do when they were dating? What would they do in downtown Tuen Men? My immediate response was: they would go and have dessert soup [together]. Such things are very sweet. I then thought that the most famous place in Tuen Mun for dessert soup is the shop in the Melody Gardens Estate. In the novel, I didn’t mention the name.
● 屋苑 ūk1 yún2 = housing complex | ● 象徵 jeuhng6 jīng1 = to symbolize; to signify; to stand for | ● 小康 síu2 hōng1 = comparatively well-off; comfortably well-off | ● 寄願 gei3 yuhn6 = (?) to make a wish | ● 新市鎮 sān1 síh5 jan3 = a new town | ● 願景 yuhn6 gíng2 = an aspiration | ● 刮入嚟 gwaat3 yahp6 làih4 = (of wind) to blow in | ● 抹 maat3 = to wipe | ● 小點滴 síu2 dím2 dīk1 = usu. “a tidbit” | ● 清靜 chīng1 jihng6 = peace & quiet
Reporter: Melody Gardens was the first non-public housing complex in the vicinity of the Tuen Mun Ferry Terminal. You could call it a symbol of the comparatively well-off [lifestyle] in this district.
Chiang Hiu-mei: When I was a little girl, I live in the Melody Gardens housing complex. To me, the name [美樂 Mei Lok in Cantonese] is a very pretty one: both “fine” [美好 mei hou] and “happy” [快樂 fai lok]. It is a wish for a new town. There is an aspiration of this kind in this place. Our apartment copped it badly [屋企係最慘嘅] when there was a typhoon. This was because the living room faced the sea. When the wind blew in, the whole living room would be flooded. Now the house . . . Mum and Dad wouldn’t get any sleep, but my little brother and I would be beside ourselves because we could play in the water and wipe down the floor. These are some of the very special and very happy memories. But life in fact is those very simple [but] fortunate bits and pieces [小點滴]. After school, my classmates and I would come down to Butterfly Beach. Here, it was more peaceful and quieter. In addition, there was plenty of wide-open space. For this reason, sometimes on the weekends when I had nothing to do . . .
● 市中心 síh5 jūng1 sām1 = city centre; downtown | ● 零用錢 lìhng4 yuhng6 chín4*2 = pocket money | ● 腳行 geuk3 hàahng4 = (?) to go on foot | ● 養份 yéuhng5 fahn6 = nutrient | ● 連結 lìhn4 git3 = to connect | ● 切割 chit3 got3 = to cut | ● 意象 yi3 jeuhng6 = image | ● 觀察 gūn1 chaat3 = to observe; to watch
. . . and didn’t want to stay at home, I would come here and read, I would. That is, I bring some books here and look at the sea for a while, read for a while. Actually, I didn’t go into town because the light-rail ticket cost four dollars, [which made it] eight dollars to get there and back. I didn’t have the money, back then. I only got thirty dollars’ pocket money a month, if I remember correctly [好似]. So, if I wanted to go out [落街], I would to places nearby that I could walk to. But this district, I mean Tuen Mun, nurtured me in many ways, especially with regard to that connection between human beings and the natural world, because [nature] was just nearby. You could walk to the sea in five minutes. [We] were very close to the sky[, too]. The sky was so wide, so spacious — it wasn’t chopped up by all these tall buildings. I like to write about the sea: it has so many images [meaning unclear]. Perhaps this is because I saw it a lot when I was little and looked at it a lot. Or perhaps it was simply just a matter of going down [to the beach] for some exercise, to jog, or to take a walk or stroll. The thing I really looked at most of all . . .
● 大媽舞 daaih6 māa1 móuh5 = “dancing aunties”, middle-aged women who dance in Tuen Mun Park and “who regularly blast songs through loudspeakers and dance suggestively while skimpily dressed” | ● 污名 wū1 mìhng4 = stigma | ● 污煙瘴氣 wū1 yīn1 jeung3 hei3 = ? cf. 瘴煙毒霧 = clouds of pestilential vapour; miasmal clouds| ● 閒適 haahn6 sīk1 = leisurely & comfortable | ● 自成一體 jih6 sìhng4 yāt1 tái2 = (?) separate; self-contained | ● 老土 lóuh5 tóu2 = old-fashioned; out of date; traditional; unsophisticated; rustic; not hip; uncool + 土tóu2 on its own has the same meaning | ● 潮流 chìuh4 làuh4 = trend; popularity | ● 時尚 sìh4 seuhng6 = ① fashion; fad ② fashionable | ● 鄉下妹hēung1 háa6*2mūi6*1 (?) = roughly, “a country girl” | ● 定位 dihng6 wái6*2 = (指人生追求) niche (one’s position in life) | ● 諗返轉頭 nám2 fāan1 jyun3 tàuh4 = with hindsight
. . . was the sea. In Tuen Mun Park, there are the “dancing aunties”. They have given the place a bad name, made it sleazy and unpleasant [你搞到污煙瘴氣]. However, go a bit further away [再入啲嘅地方] [and you have] places such as Tuen Mun Pier. There’s not much there, but it remains leisurely and comfortable, a tucked away corner [好角落], with a feeling of being a little world in its own right. When I was younger, I was very out of touch with the fashion. Especially when we all went out . . . when you were walking with your university friends in Tsim Sha Tsui or Causeway Bay, [you] felt very with it, wearing the latest fashions, but you were probably still very uncool, an unsophisticated girl from the country. But when you were older and had found your place in the world [自己揾到自己定位], perhaps, with hindsight, this place was somewhere that could really mould a person’s character. Yes, indeed!
And this character is . . . not such a commercialized one. It doesn’t go chasing after trends and there is no need to be at the forefront [of things]. You walk at your own pace and you have a rhythm all of your own.
In six sweet minutes, the Hong Kong poet 廖偉棠 Liu Wai-tong talks poetry, giving you the many benefits of his long years as a writer. One of my favourite moments comes when he asks
我哋（嘅）語言點樣從一個美麗嘅事物 | 慢慢變成咗我哋日常中我哋只係將佢作為種工具嚟使用呢？
which means, roughly, “Why has our language gone from being such a beautiful thing to a mere tool we make use of in our daily lives?” Perhaps that sentence alone will be enough to start you thinking along poetic lines . . .
From the Cantonese perspective, there is plenty of vocabulary to take away from Liu’s video. Items include 覺悟 gok3 ngh6 = ① come to realize ② consciousness; 歸結 gwāi1 git3 = to sum up; to put in a nutshell; 獨一無二 duhk6 yāt1 mòuh4 yih6 = unique; unparalleled; unmatched; 瘋狂 fūng1 kòhng4 = ① insane ② frenzied; unbridled; 打磨 dáa2 mòh4 = to polish; to burnish; to shine; 素材 sou3 chòih4 = source material (of literature & art); 外星人 ngoih6 sīng1 yàhn4 = a person from outer space; an extra-terrestrial being; an alien; and 習以為常 jaahp6 yíh5 wàih4 sèuhng4 = be used to sth.; be accustomed to sth.
You can watch the video here (the subtitles are, for a nice change, in Cantonese!). For my transcription, notes and very unpoetical English translation, please see below.
● 覺悟 gok3 ngh6 = ① come to realize ② consciousness | ● 解答 gáai2 daap3 = to answer | ● 要素 yiu3 sou3 = essential factor; key element | ● 歸結 gwāi1 git3 = to sum up; to put in a nutshell | ● 先驗 sīn1 yihm6 = a priori | ● 超驗 chīu1 yihm6 = transcendental | ● 指向 jí2 heung3 = (?) to point at; to refer to | ● 交織 gāau1 jīk1 = to intertwine; to interweave; to mingle | ● 挖掘 waat3 gwaht6 = to excavate; to unearth
Caption: Liu Wai-tong | Poets on Poetry
Hello, everyone. I am Liu Wai-tong. I am very happy to be able to share with you here today some of the things I have come to realize [覺悟] about poetry. Actually, what I mainly wish to give you answers to are three common questions about poetry.
Caption: What are the elements of a good poem?
The first question is about what the key elements of a poem are. Actually, there are many answers to this question. As far as I am concerned, it can be summed up by three key elements: that which is prior to experience, experience [itself] and that which transcends experience. This makes it sound like a philosophical issue, but actually, for a poet, that which precedes experience refers to feelings. Because the feelings of a poet are interwoven with the many different feelings of the whole of humanity in its development through history, when we write poetry, we are valuing, treasuring and excavating the sources of our own feeling.
By means of this excavation, we can attain to a kind of collective emotion [共情] with our readers, with other poets [同行] and with artists [working in different media]. With regard to experience, this is extremely important. Living here in this world, we might have spent a dozen or so years — or several decades — meeting with both many, many unique [experiences of our own] as well as feelings common to other people in [this] city as a whole, or in this period of time. What we have to do is — from the perspective of reason — to salvage something belonging to our collective wisdom from [all this]. This wisdom can be something extremely minor, or it can be something extremely major, but it has to be able to make our readers — including ourselves — discover when reading the poem something of the “imagination” in it, about how to conduct our future [lives] [or] how to face our destinies.
● 瘋狂 fūng1 kòhng4 = ① insane ② frenzied; unbridled | ● 理喻 léih5 yuh6 = to reason with cf. 不可理喻 bāt1 hó2 léih5 yuh6 = be impervious to reason; won’t listen to reason | ● 打造 dáa2 jouh6 = to make | ● 功利 gūng1 leih6 = utility; material gin | ● 打磨 dáa2 mòh4 = to polish; to burnish; to shine | ● 變形 bin3 yìhng4 = be out of shape; become deformed | ● 組合 jóu2 hahp6 = to make up; to compose; to constitute | ● 構造 kau3 jouh6 = a structure; a construction | ● 嘗試 sèuhng4 si3 = to attempt; to try
[My] third point about that which transcends experience refers to the language of the poem. We all tend to think that the language of poetry is a bit like madness [瘋狂] or something that doesn’t listen to reason. Actually, the language of poetry is just like the making of a work of visual art. By polishing, deforming, reconstituting and structuring everyday language — a language that has become numb, utilitarian, instrumental — [we can let] it lead us to a discovery of the secret of language. Why has our language gone from being such a beautiful thing to a mere tool we make use of in our daily lives? When we have discovered this secret, we can try to create a unique poetic language belonging to us [alone], one that leads our readers — or we ourselves — to come to know the world in a new way. A poem that achieves this third element is an extremely good poem.
● 困惑 kwan3 waahk6 = perplexed; puzzled | ● 素材 sou3 chòih4 = source material (of literature & art) | ● 慨嘆 koi3 taan3 = to sigh with regret | ● 無所不在 mòuh4 só2 bāt1 joih6 = omnipresent; ubiquitous | ● 外星人 ngoih6 sīng1 yàhn4 = a person from outer space; an extra-terrestrial being; an alien | ● 考古學家 háau2 gú2 hohk6 gāa1 = archaeologist | ● 習以為常 jaahp6 yíh5 wàih4 sèuhng4 = be used to sth.; be accustomed to sth.
Caption: Where can we find the material for writing poetry?
About this second point, we feel constantly feel perplexed. How do we go about gathering the material with which to write our poems? We live in this extremely busy and seemingly unpoetic metropolis and we spend our days sighing with regret and wondering whether we should (as the poet 辛棄疾 Xin Qiji once wrote) “for to compose new verses”, feign our “sorrow and woe”. It is not really like this at all. Poetic meaning is everywhere to be found. All we need do is to find material in this city or in this contemporary life equivalent to what was called “poetic meaning” in bygone times. How do we find such material? We must forever maintain our curiosity. And we must be always imagining ourselves to be . . . for instance “I am a person from another planet who has just arrived on Earth” or “I am an archaeologist from the future”. In this way, in the life that we have already grown accustomed to, we will think: “Hey, this . . .
● 共鳴 guhng6 mìhng4 = ① to resonate ② to respond sympathetically | ● 化學反應 faa3 hohk6 fáan2 ying3 = a chemical reaction | ● 調度 diuh6 douh6 = to dispatch | ● 磨練 mòh4 lihn6 = to practise hard; self-discipline | 手藝 sáu2 ngaih6 = craftmanship | ● 工藝人 gūng1 ngaih6 yàhn4 = craftsman
. . . is something special, and that is something special, too. At the same time, we will be extremely open-minded. We will allow many of the elements of this world to enter inside us, including elements of reality and emotional elements. Now these things can strike a chord with us or [create] what we could call a chemical reaction. Because I am extremely sensitive, I maintain this sensitivity of mine and dispatch [調度] this kind of reaction by means of language. This actually is poetry.
Caption: What can we do to improve our writing?
My final point is about something we would all like to know: how to go about improving our writing. The most fundamental thing of all is to read and write widely as well as to read and write attentively, constantly polishing our craft, just like any craftsperson, who constantly works hard at their discipline [手藝]. What things that our fellow poets are doing could we try to do better? What things can we do that others aren’t doing [yet]?
Note: Pound actually said: “Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as the average piano teacher spends on the art of music.”
In the things people do, what other options do I think there might be? All these things are ways to give our poetry the chance to find a break-through. Of course, throughout this process of searching, we must constantly work on our own poetic art. Ezra Pound once said something that was very interesting: “If your knowledge of poetry and your practice of the poetic art are inferior to a high-school music teacher’s knowledge of music, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.” How should we go about this? We should be bear in mind that, when we are writing poetry, we are exercising a profession, even if — in our real lives — we have other professions and other [forms of] living. We should view our creativity with a professional regard. Only then we can make progress, making demands on ourselves with the help of poems that [fly] higher than our own.
【6:00】「我幾時可以追得上佢？」| 咁樣就係一個不斷進步嘅過程 | 多謝大家！
● 追得上 jēui1 dāk1 seuhng6 = to catch up to
“When can we reach the same level as [such poems]?” Such is the process of a constant improvement. Thank you!
Beyond the Dream is a beautiful love-story with a psychological twist. How refreshing to read about a romantic male “hero” who is modest, kind, and forever concerned about the welfare of others — one can only wish that there were more like him out there in the “real world” . . .
The writer 蔣曉薇 Chiang Hiu-mei lives in Tuen Mun, in the western New Territories of Hong Kong. She has written three novels to date, the most recent of which is The Beaching of Autumn Whales 《秋鯨擱淺》published in 2020.
The following is a translation of the opening section (parts 1-6) of her second novel, a literary rendition of the film 《幻愛》. In it, we meet the character Ah Lok, a likeable young primary school teacher who is trying to get his like back on track after the death of his mother.
When I first began to create, it actually felt to me like a wound out of which things came seeping. The wound was due to what I had been through; it also partly originated from changes in society. When you confront the changes, then there are in fact many misgivings, helplessness, powerlessness. However, writing can give you the ability to face up to such things anew. What exactly what is the source of one’s terror? Why does one feel so anxious about certain changes?
This sensitivity to suffering is a hallmark of Chiang’s portrayal of Ah Lok, and one that helps the reader to see the world through her character’s eyes, at the same time hopeful and vulnerable to despair.
Other posts on 蔣曉薇 Chiang Hiu-mei and Beyond the Dream:
Night fell virtually unnoticed, putting the streets to a music quite different from the one heard during daylight hours. The main thoroughfares blazed with light, people moved in jumbled crowds, vehicles shuttled back and forth, and not far off in the distance came the clackety-clack made by the wheels of the light-rail train as its trundled along the tracks. It sounded very much like a musical instrument that had gone out of tune and, if you listened carefully, you might have realized that there was actually some kind of warning in its tone, but the people scurrying this way and that had no time to wonder about what it might be hinting at.
Through this crowd, a middle-aged woman walked with staccato steps, turning over something in her mind, abruptly stopping, then setting off again, only to stop once more not long after. She gazed up into the night sky — a mysterious-looking moonlight shining through a break in the clouds — as if she had glimpsed something ghastly up above, invisible to others. She too no notice of the traffic lights, crossing roads heedless of cars, and would come to a standstill on the footpath as people passed her by. Just as they always did every single day, the shops selling audio-visual equipment blared ear-splitting Mandarin pop songs into the bustling streets. And, as usual, in front of the sparkling neon signs of the foot-massage parlours, there was a prostitute hanging around waiting for a customer. The middle-aged woman passed by the frozen meat stalls, the cha chan teng restaurants, the stores selling mobile phones, looking around this way and that, disoriented, hugging herself tightly with her arms as she went.
She was in great anguish. There were tears on her face and her body twitched uncontrollably. Her dishevelled hair hung down around her shoulders and her lips trembled, as if she were telling herself about some terrible thing that was going to happen to her. All of a sudden, in a great burst of energy, she began to strip off her clothes, but then, just as quickly, she seemed to come to her senses and scrambled to dress herself again. Two opposing forces in her seemed to engaged in a kind of tug of war. After a few moments of further struggle, she could no longer withstand that demon’s promptings — yielding, surrendering, she took off her clothes, one item at a time, then huddled down on the ground in her panties and bra.
When they happened to notice the extraordinary things this middle-aged woman was doing, passers-by cast sidelong glances in her direction. Some of the men stood there boorishly gawping, while mothers shielded their children’s eyes with their hands and hurried them away. When Ah Lok, who was on his way home, saw the large gathering of on-lookers, his curiosity got the better of him. There were just too many people, however, which meant that all he could see was a dense mass of heads — he had no idea what was going on.
Suddenly, he heard a woman’s voice call out in agitation: “What the hell do you think you’re taking pictures of?”
As it turned out, a man in the crowd dressed in a Western-style suit was filming the incident on his mobile phone. Outraged by his behaviour and alert to the injustice it involved, a young woman with long hair ordered him to stop. It was only then that Ah Lok managed to catch a glimpse of the woman in the middle of the crowd squatting on the ground in her underwear. Her eyes had a glazed look in them, as if she had fallen into a trance, and seemed deeply disturbed by something as she stared up at the sky, muttering. When Ah Lok realized it was Ah Ling, he forced a way through the mass of bodies and draped his windcheater over her shoulders.
“Ah Ling, there’s no need to be frightened,” he said.
“Listen! He says he’s going to kill my mother!”
“You’re hearing things. It’s not real!” Ah Lok repeated several times.
When the woman with the long hair noticed that Ah Ling was shivering all over, she took off her shawl and wrapped it around her.
“Is she someone you know?” the long-haired woman asked.
Ah Lok nodded.
Right at that moment, he became aware of a beam of light shining at them — another male passer-by was holding up his phone and filming them. At once, Ah Lok stood up, blocking the lens on the phone with one hand, and said loudly, “Get out of here!”
Ah Ling still looked panic-stricken as if she felt she were under attack from an evil spirit and held on tightly to the hands of the long-haired woman, her body shuddering all the while. She kept her teeth tightly clenched, as if she could see countless malevolent creatures all wanting to hurt her mother, and she could find no way to break through this ring of hostile people. After an interval of pandemonium, an ambulance arrived on the scene. Ah Ling was escorted into the vehicle by a paramedic, with Ah Lok climbing in after them.
As he watched out through the window of the stationary ambulance, Ah Lok saw a police officer questioning the long-haired woman there in the street about what had taken place. Lit up by the street-lights, he finally became aware of the quiet-coloured clothing she had on — an azure-blue denim jacket and a trailing, fine-gauze fabric skirt which accentuated her slender figure. She had an attractive face with very white skin and, beneath a pair of delicate, prettily curved eyebrows, her eyes shone. Ah Lok thought she was extremely beautiful and couldn’t help staring at her in awe.
It was only when the ambulance doors slammed shut that Ah Lok came to his senses. By this time, Ah Ling seemed to have calmed down and had fallen asleep on the stretcher. He suddenly realized that he was still holding the shawl in his hands, left behind by the woman with the long hair, but by this time the ambulance was in motion. He looked out the window but could no longer see any sign of her.
After the ordeals of the evening, it was very late by the time Ah Lok got back home. He carefully pulled open the screen-door before gently closing it behind him, doing his utmost to make sure there was no noise. Yes, that was his nature, conscientious and cautious, concerned that his late return might wake up his neighbours. Even inside his flat, he continued to tread quietly. As he put his backpack down, he still held on to the shawl. He took out a coat-hangar from his wardrobe and hung the shawl up against a window so that it wouldn’t crumple. He looked at the long light-blue garment and thought once again of that woman’s angelic face. That night, things lingered in his mind that were impossible to put into words.
All of a sudden, his phone began to vibrate without ringing. His aunt’s number showed on the screen.
“I’ve been ringing all night! Why haven’t you answered the phone?”
“I turned it off ring mode.”
It occurred to Ah Lok that whenever he watched a match between Manchester United and Chelsea he also kept the sound turned down.
“Your mother’s will has been settled. The people at the public housing association have already transferred the flat so that it’s listed under your name. Don’t forget to go to the Housing Authority to fill out the paperwork.”
“Right. You know, about the banquet my cousin is giving, I think I’d rather give it a miss.”
“Now look, I promised your mother I’d keep an eye on you! That girl in Canton works as a nurse. She knows all about looking after people.”
“I’m quite capable of looking after myself! My mother wouldn’t hold it against you.”
“You listen to me. You need someone to take good care of you for the rest of your life. It’s too good a chance . . .”
His aunt kept on at him with her well-intentioned advice. Ah Lok grunted half-heartedly, more out of politeness than agreement, walking as he did so over to where he kept a photograph of his mother together with the urn that held her ashes. He looked at them both blankly. Beside him was the door to her bedroom — although it was left ajar, he had never once gone inside since her death. He was afraid it would stir up the terror still lurking deep down in his heart and if his mood were triggered it might affect his day-to-day life, something he just couldn’t afford to have happen.
“Ah Lok, are you listening to me?”
“Then that’s settled. I’ll send you over some information I have about her later. She really is a good girl! You mustn’t disappoint your mother’s wishes for you — nor mine for that matter. And don’t forget the paperwork for the flat! It’s getting on, so try and get an early night. You have to go to work tomorrow!”
After his aunt had poured out everything she wanted to say, she hung up. Ah Lok could feel peace and quiet returning to the world.
Ah Lok lived in a two-bedroom flat provided by public housing and had only ever lived there with his mother. The décor was old-fashioned, and completely out of keeping with someone of Ah Lok’s age. In the living room there was a two-seater sofa in front of which was arranged a wooden shelving unit with the television set on it. Next to the unit was the dining table, also made of wood, and if his mother were still alive today there probably would have been a plate of steamed fish laid out on it. His mother had often said that fish was rich in protein and so good for the brain. The flat was very simple and, apart from the wall-calendar and some photographs, there was virtually no decoration of any kind. Not that Ah Lok minded: he was quite happy being on his own and though he would go on living there alone for the rest of his life.
That night, after he’d washed and brushed his teeth, he got into bed. He couldn’t sleep, though — he just lay there looking at the shawl as it rippled in the breeze while his thoughts whirled round and round till he began to feel uneasy. In the end, he got out of bed, removed the shawl, folded it up with great care, and put it back in his backpack. It occurred to him that if a strong wind blew up during the night, it might blow the shawl down into the street; he also thought that if he happened to run into the woman again, he could return it to her. At this point, his phone began to vibrate again. Ah Lok thought it must be his aunt sending through that information about the nurse in Canton, but when he picked it up he saw that it was a video of Ah Ling taking of her clothes sent through by his WhatApp community [群組], with comments on it constantly coming through like stray bullets.
“This is going viral out there!”
“God knows what will happen if Ah Ling sees this!”
“This is just too much!”
“Whatever you do, don’t show this to Ah Ling!”
Ah Lok clicked on the video and saw her stripped of her clothes, shivering there with her bare arms wrapped around her. The more he watched the more his outrage grew, until he jumped out of bed, turned on his laptop and, on a Facebook page with the title “Mental Health Alliance”, typed in the headline “Stop Inflicting a Second Level Pain — Mental Illness is Only an Illness!”. He then proceeded to key in the contents of his post: “Those who suffer from mental illness are just like you and me. It’s just that sometimes something goes wrong with them, and is no different from when ordinary people like you and me catch a cold, become diabetics or contract some form of heart disease. Their sickness is not something they have any control over. The key thing is, as with most other forms of disease, people can recover from mental illness given the right treatment. Perhaps to most of us, the things people do when they have an episode of mental illness can seem pretty weird, but in actual fact only a very small number of sufferers behave in such ways. And even if they do sometimes act a bit differently from the rest of us, such behaviour is only a symptom of their sickness and is totally beyond their control . . .”
His eyes glued to the screen, and with his fingers flying across the keyboard, in no time Ah Lok had written a long post in which he took netizens to task for rubbing salt into the wounds of people suffering from mental illness. The more he wrote, the angrier Ah Lok grew — if there was one thing he couldn’t stand it was criticism of people with a mental illness by outsiders with no experience of the issues, criticism which only added to their pain. In conclusion, he appealed to readers to adopt a positive attitude with regard to people with mental illness to help them make the transition back into social life. If no extra pressures were put on them, their chances of recovery would only be enhanced.
When he was finished, he looked up at the garage-kit figurine of the Incredible Hulk he kept on the windowsill, a film character he was very fond of. He then added his sign-off at the end of the post — Angry Hulk — and then slammed his computer shut in disgust.
That night, he seemed doomed to sleeplessness, a ball of fire blazing angrily in his chest which scorched, it seemed, both his body and his mind.
When he heard the alarm ring on his phone, Ah Lok scrambled upright and switched it off. He rubbed his chest — that searing anger he had felt the previous evening was still smouldering away in his heart, it seemed. He got up and went into the living room, where he poured himself a cup of boiled water from the thermos. After gulping it down, he began to feel a bit better.
Ah Lok was not the kind of person who like lazing around in bed. He set himself high standards and disliked imposing on other people in any way. Although you couldn’t say he was particularly quick off the mark, he was never late for work and always arrived a quarter of an hour before the appointed time. After taking a shower, he looked at his watch and thought that he could probably make the light-rail service that left at forty-eight minutes past. Before heading out, he unzipped his backpack just to make sure the shawl was safely packed inside, then, closing the screen-door quietly, he set off for the station.
Ah Lok worked as a Phys. Ed. teacher in a primary school. He liked his job and, even though most of the children disliked going to class, they were always happy doing P.E. Some ran around, others jumped all over the place, fooling around and having a good time, and from every part of playground you could hear the sound of their laughter, as if that vague wish for “eternal happiness” could actually come true. Of course, if Ah Lok happened to be walking past, he would become a target for their attacks and things would get completely chaotic, with no semblance of order whatsoever.
Ah Lok made a start on his lesson. The subject of today’s class was soccer and he began by demonstrating the skills required to shoot for goal. After the demonstration, he asked the students to copy his movements and to practice kicking the ball at the goal. Unfortunately, a soccer ball was to these kids a lethal weapon and, as soon as they got one between their feet, they would start kicking it left and right as hard as they could, instant warfare breaking out on the playground. Ah Lok stood in front of goal as keeper, while the children tried to score, kicking the ball in all sorts of different ways. Countless soccer balls went flying around the playground and Ah Lok would deftly throw himself on his side saving any number of certain goals. The children, however, were undeterred, and several of them would shoot at goal in unison, kicking as if their feet were fitted with springs. The more they kicked, the more excited they became, and the more frenetic their shots on goal became until Ah Lok could withstand them no more and lay down on the ground, gasping for breath. He gestured to them, indicating that he wanted a ceasefire and pretending to plead for mercy, something that made the children roar with laughter. No one at that moment noticed the pair of eyes watching them intently from above.
When the class came to an end, he dismissed his pupils and, having a short break before his next class, went off and gathered up all the soccer balls, then returned them to the store room. On his way back to the staff room, he passed a male teacher showing another colleague something on his phone, but paid no attention to them. He wanted to give his give his face a wash in preparation for the next session.
As he moved past the pair, however, the man with the phone handed it to Ah Lok and said: “Have you seen this, Mr Lee?”
At once Ah Lok saw that it was clip of Ah Ling taking off her clothes. Then, by chance, a secretary from the school’s admin. office happened to come by and joined their group.
“The number of crazy people in Hong Kong is growing by the day!”
“A mad woman like that shouldn’t be allowed to run around at will!”
“She’s a mature, grown-up woman! That’s a bit rich, isn’t it!”
“She’s not mad. It’s probably a psychosis that gives her hallucinations and makes her hear voices that aren’t really there. She can’t help it.” Ah Lok explained earnestly.
At this moment, a female secretary went by holding a newspaper in her hand. Seeing them talking there together, she walked over and began leafing through the pages. In it there was a story on Ah Ling taking off her clothes. Next to the report was a photograph of her.
“That’s you in the photo. I thought the face looked familiar!” said the female secretary.
“Oh, so you were there, on the spot!”
“Is she a friend of yours?”
“No, she’s not. I just happened to be passing by,” said Ah Lok, denying any connection.
“You’re a saint. If I’d been in your shoes, I would have cleared out as fast as I could.”
“Of course, you would have! Who knows what dreadful things she might have done! It’s all very well to say that a mental illness is only an illness, but it perfectly natural to feel alarmed if you happened to be passing by.”
After completing a circuit of the school, the principal descended from the fourth floor. When he reached the door of the administrative office, he caught sight of the group in animated discussion, and a look of disapproval appeared on his face. He pretended to cough a couple of times, just like the typical stern boss in some television soap opera. When the members of the group caught sight of him, they all went back to work, not daring to continue their discussion.
Suddenly, the headmaster spoke, his tone icy: “Mr Lee, please come and see me after work! I would like you to do a bit of critical reflection on your class-management practices.”
Before he had time to make a response, the principal had already disappeared into the administrative office, the door closing behind him. He had no idea what it was that the principal wanted him to reflect on, but he seemed to remember the man’s brow having the colour and texture of a charred walnut.
Whether coming or going, Ah Lok’s daily travel was all done on the light rail, the largest transport network connecting up all of Tuen Mun, and he couldn’t help thinking that the place must be a rather forsaken corner — otherwise why would they have built a transport system here that the rest of the world regards as a dismal failure? At a time when everyone was talking about creating a “one hour living circle” for the whole Greater Bay Area, it still took a bone-rattling one-hour journey all up to get from Tuen Mun Pier to Fu Tin MTR station — and if you didn’t get on at the terminus, you wouldn’t even dream of finding a vacant seat. At peak hour — going to, or coming from, work — people jammed the carriages like sardines in a tin, and with every breath you breathed in the hot sweat of others. Life being difficult enough already, Ah Lok wanted to spare himself any additional annoyance, and so always chose to avoid the crowds, waiting until the evening rush-hour was over before catching the light rail home. In any case, there was nowhere else he had to be. And in any case, he was on his own.
As he walked at a leisurely pace to the light-rail platform, Ah Lok thought over what the headmaster had said to him, how he wasn’t to join in too freely with the children’s games; how, after long observation, he had noted that the children didn’t stick to the proper discipline during their Phys. Ed. classes; and how this could be dangerous. Ah Lok explained to the headmaster that he joined in with the children to make the classes more enjoyable for them and, as a result, could help them deal with the pressures of study better. The principal, however, did not accept Ah Lok’s explanations, and insisted that a clear boundary be maintained between teachers and students — any transgression of this boundary benefited neither party. Naturally, Ah Lok was reluctant to accept such instructions. To take his mind off the issue took one of Haruki Murakami’s books down from the book-desk in the staff room and started to read — only Murakami seemed to understand the world of the lonely.
With a ding ding of the bell, the light rail pulled in very slowly to the platform. There were two carriages on this service and, when the doors opened, he entered the rear one. There weren’t many passengers on board, and he found a place to stand near the window where he immersed himself in his book. As the light rail slowly pulled out from the station, gliding slowly along the rails, it put all that hubbub and confusion behind it, leaving only the clickety-clack it made to reverberate around the housing estates. After a while, the light rail had to make a turn — happening to look out the window, Ah Lok caught sight of a familiar face in the carriage up in front. Putting his book away, he immediately made his way to the head of the carriage in the hope of getting a clearer view. It was her, the woman with the long hair he had met the previous night, sitting in the front carriage! He felt a rush of excitement and all the smouldering resentment he felt about his interview with the headmaster before leaving work evaporated instantly. He watched her intently, not letting her out of his sight for a moment.
The woman had no idea that Ah Lok was watching her. She leant against the window intently watching the streetscape, her look gentle, refined. It seemed as if, to her, these perfectly ordinary streets and housing estates were a rare sight. Her attire this evening was slightly different to that of the previous night — she wore her hair pulled back in a pony-tail and was dressed in sporting gear, relaxed and yet animated, giving her a certain freshness. Sometimes the two carriages seemed close together, sometimes far apart, stopping and starting in the course of the short journey. When the carriages were in a straight line, the view of where the long-haired woman was sitting would be blocked by other passengers standing in the way and at those moments when he couldn’t see her, Ah Lok’s heart seemed to hang in mid-air, as he moved this way and then in the effort to catch a glimpse. But when the carriages had to make a turn and he caught sight of her through the window, his heart would grow vivid again. To him, the distance between the two carriages was tantalising, somehow both near and yet remote, keeping him at arm’s length. Turbulent waves rose up in his thoughts and, although there were sometimes lulls, those thoughts could never be calmed.
Finally, after the light-rail train had pulled up at the platform, and after a rush of passengers got on and off, the doors slowly closed again, he discovered that the young woman with the long hair was no longer on board. This second encounter, then, concluded abruptly to the clang of the warning bell as the train set off. Any hope — the hope that was so near that you could reach out and touch it — vanished silently in an instant, leaving him anxious and dejected, and at a complete loss as to what to do next.
In the dim lamp-light, the long streets stilled, Ah Lok felt that he had lost out by missing the chance to get to know the girl with the long hair. He trudged on holding a copy of Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, and made his way home in a daze.
Ah Lok lived in a public housing estate built in the well pattern, its four identical sides enclosing an open space in the centre. All you had to do was look up and you could see the sky. The corridors on each floor were like public thoroughfares — lean against the railings and you could see inhabitants of all the various storeys. Back in the old days, neighbours would play mahjong in those corridors, dry cotton-wadded quilts and fruit-peel in the sun, while children would boil wax in the stair-wells or play blind man’s buff. Ever since the introduction of the Marking Scheme for Estate Management Enforcement, however, such features of the human landscape could no longer be seen.
Ah Lok entered the estate and walked across the open sky-well, but when he looked up, all he could see was a thick covering of cloud — neither moonlight not starlight was visible. He thought to himself that in many ways he resembled Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki, not only not having any friends but also shunned by the stars! He plodded over to the elevator were lobby and before long a lift arrived. He pressed the button for the eighteenth floor, then the doors began to close slowly. Just then, Ah Lok heard someone asking him to open the lift doors again and, of course, he did so at once. Once fully opened he came face to face the young woman he had met the previous evening.
He was so stunned he did not know how to react. He just stared as she pressed the button for the nineteenth floor, after which she smiled politely in his direction.
Ah Lok felt tense all over, and his heart thumped in his chest. From time to time, he looked furtively at the girl, but she kept her eyes fixed on the floor display screen, lips pursed with a hint of a smile.
The two of them stood there side by side, neither daring to move, let alone speak. An atmosphere of embarrassment — together with something indefinable — filled the air.
After a protracted silence, the lift arrived at the eighteenth floor and the doors slid apart. Ah Lok finally plucked up the courage to ask: “Do you remember me?”
“I wasn’t sure you’d remember me,” the long-haired young woman said with a smile on her face.
They look at one another, smiling. Ah Lok felt his face flush red and was unable to say another word, so he took a step back out through the elevator doors, waving his goodbyes to her. However, his gaze never left her smiling face until the lift doors closed up again.
Ah Lok stood there dumbfounded, unable to believe what had just happened — it was if the world had regained all the colour it was supposed to have had. He grinned, pleased with himself and walked to the door of his flat humming a song. It was only when he got there that he realized he had forgotten something very important. He ran back to the sky-well corridor and looked up at the next level. There he saw the long-haired young woman walking along.
He called to her in a loud voice: “Hey, there!” At once he realized he was making too much noise and looked around, concerned that he had disturbed the other residents.
The woman looked down and, when she saw that it was Ah Lok calling to her from the sky-well, she looked astonished. Ah Lok then opened his backpack and took out the shawl, giving it a light shake with his hands. When the woman saw what it was, she laughed with delight at the surprise. Without giving the matter a second thought, Ah Lok turned and ran up to the nineteenth floor.
Ah Lok needed no more than a moment to cover the distance to her but, perhaps because of his excitement, this man who could run a long-distance race of three thousand metres without any obvious effort found himself panting a little for breath. He did everything he could, however, to maintain his smiling appearance and handed the shawl over to her. The young woman with the long hair took it from him and thanked him, a sweet expression on her face.
The two of them stood there without saying anything more for a long while, each of them smiling at the smile on the other’s face, as the atmosphere of embarrassment made its presence felt once more.
“You, ah, live in No. 26 on the nineteenth floor while I’m in No. 26 on the eighteenth,” Ah Lok said, pointing at the door plate with his right hand while trying to figure out what to do with his left.
“Really?” she said, laughing again, a faint red tinge suddenly appearing on her pale face.
“Uh-huh,” replied Ah Lok, staring at her blankly. How beautiful she was, he thought, oblivious of the fact that he too was blushing.
“Well, next time we meet, don’t go calling me ‘hey, there’ at the top of your voice. My name is Yan Yan.” As she spoke, she carefully unlocked her metal screen door.
“My name is Lee Chi-lok, the chi character is the one used in chi-hei (meaning “ambition”), while the lok is like the one in chi-lok.”
What Ah Lok meant to say was that the lok was like the one in faai-lok (“happy”), but he was so flustered it came out all wrong.
Yan Yan laughed and blushed out of shyness, then went inside, lightly closing the screen-door behind her. Ah Lok stayed there at the front door watching her go, a sweet smile on his face. Until he fell asleep that night, the sweetness of this smile did not leave the corners of his mouth. In his heart he felt sure he would see Yan Yan again.
Ah Lok sat on the light-rail platform, constantly scanning the entrances and exits, consumed by a whirl of agitated emotions. This time, he did not bring his book with him, having only one aim in mind: to meet with Yan Yan again, and walk with her over the pedestrian overpass and then back along the road to where they both lived.
them intently, muscles taut with anticipation. There were people in the crowd chatting in putonghua laced with snatches of Cantonese; men dressed in perfectly ironed Western-style suits; a woman carrying the children’s school bags on her back and speaking in her own language with an Indonesian husband about some video; there were individuals so tired they appeared to be on the verge of collapse; some scolded their children as they got off the train, their eyes glued to the screen of their mobile phones the whole time; and not a few had shopping trolleys, tottering unsteadily with every step they took. As it happened, there was a sizeable population of old people living alone in the estate, and most of them would rather take the light rail to do their shopping at the San Hui Market than visit the more expensive Link Reit market in the place they lived, feeling it necessary to go to that extra bit of trouble if it meant saving a few cents here or there. When Ah Lok saw the trouble these elderly residents were having with their trolleys, he couldn’t bear it, and would go to their aid, lifting the trolley onto the pedestrian footbridge for them. But as soon as another light-rail train came along, he would dash back to the platform.
As night began to fall, it gradually grew darker and the platform gradually became deserted without Ah Lok have seen any trace of Yan Yan. He sat there thinking to himself that it was no easy thing meeting up with someone — timeliness, location and compatibility all had to be right. It was no wonder some people claimed that you couldn’t go out and find love; you had to bide your time until fate was good and ready. Ah Lok was well aware of this wise adage, but still he was unable to reconcile himself to it. As he made his way over the pedestrian footbridge, he kept turning around to look behind him, in the hope of catching a glimpse of Yan Yan somewhere in the vicinity.
After a walk of over ten minutes, he arrived back at the housing estate. When he reached the open sky-well, he stopped and gazed upwards at flat no. 26 on the nineteenth floor, the place where Yan Yan dwelled and lived out her life. There were still lights on in the flat, he noticed, which meant that Yan Yan had already made it home again — there was little chance of him seeing her tonight, it would seem.
Ah Lok had originally planned to phone his aunt once he got back in to say he wasn’t coming to his cousin’s banquet but suddenly a door above slammed with a tremendous bang, which made Ah Lok hurry back outside into the corridor to see what was going on. When he looked up, he saw that Yan Yan had been driven out of her flat and was leaning against the railing holding an iron bar in both hands. She looked scared out of her wits and at times her face turned a ghastly shade of white.
At that moment, she happened to look down, and when she caught sight of Ah Lok looking up at her, she was overcome with embarrassment since she wasn’t wearing anything on her feet. Ah Lok gestured to her, inviting her to come down to the eighteenth floor. When she came face to face with him on the stairs between floors, she seemed uncomfortable. It was getting late, Ah Lok thought, and it wouldn’t do for a young woman to be seen hanging around in the corridor — she was sure to get a few looks from the other residents. He suggested she come over to his place for a moment, just to calm her nerves.
Ah Lok’s flat was still in darkness, but there was a faint light coming in from outside over the window ledges, and Yan Yan walked around, appraising everything. Suddenly, they heard the loud crash of hard objects being throw around in the flat above.
“My dad gets into a drunken rage every time he drinks,” Yan Yan quietly explained.
Ah Lok was listening carefully to what was going on overhead. He was caught off guard when Yan Yan suddenly turned and fired a question at him: “You don’t drink, do you?”
“No, no way,” Ah Lok replied.
At once she replied, “Whatever you do, don’t drink!”
She walked slowly over to the shelving unit and swept a hand over the pitch-black television screen, murmuring as she did so: “You don’t put the sound up too loud, do you?”
“I can’t stand loud noise.”
“Loud television noise makes people irritable.
Ah Lok nodded in agreement.
Yan Yan squatted down, finding an EP in the shelving unit — a CD with just the one song on it, Faye Wang’s “Eyes on Me”. She picked it up and looked at it carefully, discovering on the back an image taken from the video game Final Fantasy VIII.
“I didn’t know Faye Wong sang in English as well.”
“Oh yes. I really love that song.”
Yan Yan looked at the CD again, then smiled at Ah Lok before putting it back on the shelf. Ah Lok had no idea what that smile meant, although he sensed it had something to do with the words “eyes on me”, a thought that made him feel slightly uncomfortable.
Yan Yan turned her gaze to the white walls. Hanging on them, there were many photographs of Ah Lok together with his mother, taken when he was small. There was one of them drinking Vitasoy together, and one in which he sat on his mother’s lap on a swing, beside himself with glee.
“So you live here with your mother?”
“She died last month,” replied Ah Lok, his voice quavering with a hint of emotion.
Sensing she had said the wrong thing, Yan Yan couldn’t think of anything else to keep the conversation going. She looked at him apologetically and then with a surprising simplicity sat herself down on the floor right next to his bed, patting the ground as an invitation to Ah Lok to come and join her. Out of shyness, he was reluctant at first, but he did as he was told. It was dark in the room, and the street light coming in from outside only sufficient to show the young woman in silhouette — she was bare-footed and sat with her knees bent up. Lost for words, Ah Lok kept his eyes glued to the wall-clock, not daring to look directly at Yan Yan.
“Was your mother very fond of you?”
“She used to say that no one in this world could love me as much as she did.”
When he glimpsed the look of pity in her face, Ah Lok felt a burst of warmth. Sitting there in silence, they again heard a series of loud banging noises coming from the flat above which made Yan Yan cringe involuntarily like a white rabbit cowering in its burrow, terrified that it would be seized. Picking up on her terror, Ah Lok inched a little closer to her but there never any physical contact between them. These two fellow-sufferers huddled up against night’s onslaught, wordlessly keeping one another company. Ah Lok thought to himself that no matter how bad things got, there would be some moments of sweetness, and two people who were originally completely unconnected could bear the burden of each other’s pain through the course of a long night.
Hong Kong writer 蔣曉薇 Chiang Hiu-mei’s new novel 《秋鯨擱淺》has been attracting widespread attention in recent months. The title roughly translates as “the beaching of Autumn whales”, and this image of Hong Kong (as it used to be) as a stranded whale seems to have captured the imagination of a number of commentators. In this video from Ming Pao’s 《文化後浪》 (roughly, “Cultural Successors”) series, she discusses the issues that arise from the novel, the big question being: is there any possibility that some form of intervention could rescue the Hong Kong from its life-threatening predicament?
There are three grammatical points that are worthy of the Cantonese learner’s attention. Firstly, there is a good example of the final particle 囉 lō1. According to Yuen-lam Tsang’s helpful guide Basic Sentence-final Particles in Hong Kong Cantonese (Greenwood Press 2020), the main function of 囉 lō1 is to inform the listener that what is being said is obvious and natural. When it is paired with 咪 maih6, we get what Yip and Matthews call “an obvious conclusion” (Intermediate Cantonese). Thus, 噉我咪執筆去寫囉 means something like “and so I picked up my pen and wrote”.
The second point involves住 jyuh6, a widely used aspect marker that indicates that the effects of a particular (one-off) action persist over an extended period of time. Chiang uses it in 係一個傷口裏面滲透住一啲東西出嚟嘅 = “some things that came seeping out from a wound”; 你面對住變化嘅時候 = “when we face up to changes”; and the classic use of with the wearing of clothing, since once the clothing is put on in a single act, it remains in that state (until another act comes along to change it): 好似披戴住一啲你好喜歡嘅作家佢哋嘅身影 = “it is like wrapping the images of the writers you really like around your shoulders”.
Thirdly, another aspect marker 翻 fāan1 is used on several occasions. Its basic meaning involves repetition or reconnection, but you often come across instances that seem a little counterintuitive! For example, the phrase 我都想寫翻發生喺香港嘅故事 seems to suggest getting stories that happen in real life (back) into writing. There’s also 呢個作品只不過係我想呈現翻當下香港一個離開或者留低擱淺嘅狀態, in which the marker indicates that the writer wants to “re-present” a certain condition affecting Hong Kong in her novel. In both cases here, there is a sense of transfer or translation from one realm to another.
As usual, there is plenty of useful vocabulary to take away from this video: 滲透 sām1 tau3 = to permeate; to seep; 無助 mòuh4 joh6 = helpless; 氛圍 fān1 wàih4 = atmosphere; 命題 mihng6 tàih4 = a proposition; statement; thesis; 手牽手 sáu2 hīn1 sáu2 = hand in hand; 挽救 wáahn5 gau3 = to save; to remedy; to rescue; 出身 chēut1 sān1 = one’s previous experience or occupation; 影視 yíng2 sih6 = film & television; 呢一輩 nī1 yāt1 bui3 = this generation; and 根基 gān1 gēi1 = a foundation; a basis.
Please scroll down for my transcription (again, it’s a bit ragged 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.
● 文學傳承 灌溉我城土壤 作家蔣曉薇 | Literary Inheritance & Continuation Watering the Soil of Our City Author Chiang Hiu-mei
● 灌溉 gun3 koi3 = usu. “to irrigate” | ● 脈絡傳承 mahk6 lok3 chyùhn4 sìhng4 = (?) to carry on in the same vein or tradition
I too would like to write about the streets here. I too would like to write the stories that have happened here in Hong Kong. So, I picked up my pen and wrote them, as if I were carrying on in the same tradition [好似一個脈絡傳承].
Caption: 用寫作留住香港 | To Stay in Hong Kong by Means of Writing
● 滲透 sām1 tau3 = to permeate; to seep | ● 焦慮 jīu1 leuih6 = feel anxious; have worries & misgivings | ● 無助 mòuh4 joh6 = helpless | ● 無力感 mòuh4 lihk6 gám2 = helplessness; perhaps also “powerlessness” | ● 正視 jing3 sih6 = to face up to (a difficult situation; reality)
When I first began to create, it actually felt to me like a wound out of which things came seeping. The wound was due to what I had been through; it also partly originated from changes in society. When you confront the changes, then there are in fact many misgivings, helplessness, powerlessness. However, writing can give [you] the ability to face up to [such things] anew. What exactly what is the source of one’s terror? Why does one feel so anxious about certain [一啲] changes?
● 悲哀 bēi1 ōi1 = grieved; sorrowful | ● 命題 mihng6 tàih4 = a proposition; statement; thesis | ● 源於 yùhn4 yū1 = to originate from; to stem from | ● 掙扎 jāng1 jaat3 = to struggle | ● 背負 bui3 fuh6 = to bear; to carry on the back
(Jeung Hiu-mei reads a passage from her novel) “[In] this world, there are times of sorrow. There are also times of beauty. This was the fine thing they were in the process of doing on the bodies of the whales (?), giving the beached whales sone small hope.” The original proposition was to do with staying, leaving and the state in-between the two. It also had its origins in a very great struggle. Why had so many people close to [me] left? To probe even more deeply into this issue, I asked myself whether I wanted to leave. [Assuming] that it were no easy matter, what are the things one would have to bear if one chose to leave?
● 尊重 jyūn1 juhng6 = to respect; to value; to esteem | ● 呈現 chìhng4 yìhn6 = to present (a certain appearance); to appear; to emerge | ● 當下 dōng1 haah6 = ① instantly; immediately; at once ② that very moment | ● 水漲 séui2 jeung3 = (of water) to rise; to go up | ● 時機 sìh4 gēi1 = an opportunity; an opportune moment | ● 外在 ngoih6 joih6 = external; extrinsic | ● 人為 yàhn4 wàih4 = artificial; human-made | ● 落返 lohk6 fāan1 = (?) to go back (into the sea) | ● 手牽手 sáu2 hīn1 sáu2 = hand in hand | ● 挽救 wáahn5 gau3 = to save; to remedy; to rescue | ● 付出 fuh6 chēut1 = to pay; to expend; in some contexts, it suggests “the effort you put into something” | ● 意願 yi3 yuhn6 = a wish; a desire; an aspiration | ● 無比 mòuh4 béi2 = incomparable; unparalleled; matchless | ● 信念 seun3 nihm6 = faith; belief; conviction
So, I went and asked myself this question in my writing. I respect each individual’s answer. This work is nothing more than my own wish to present that state of being stranded between leaving or staying in Hong Kong at this moment. At times of feeling stranded, [you] have no energy to go on [走落去], nor do [you] know how to go on. I can’t ever see a way forward. For instance, when a whale is beached, what it really needs is for the level of the water to rise [水漲呢個時機], so that it can return to the sea. It also needs some external force, I mean, I human-made effort to enable it to return to the sea. I mean, I think we’re all waiting for such a moment [when the sea-level rises], but who knows whether we can wait long enough for it to happen [等唔等到唔知嘅]. But my feeling is that the human-made effort is very important, that kind of output of energy [付出] where people go hand in hand to try together to save lives. That aspiration [according to which] one feels one can still save some lives at the present moment is of incomparable importance. At a time of being stranded, this belief is of incomparable importance.
Caption: 香港文學建構本土 | Hong Kong Literature Constructs One’s Native Place
● 出身 chēut1 sān1 = one’s previous experience or occupation | ● 影視 yíng2 sih6 = film & television | ● 本土bún2 tóu2 = one’s native land | ● 承傳 sìhng4 chyùhn4 = to inherit and pass on (Note: Subtitles have 傳承) | ● 呢一輩 nī1 yāt1 bui3 = this generation
I started out [出身] as a reader of literature. I read modern literature. Once you begin to read Hong Kong literature, you will find that the things that it writes about are [part of] your life [too]. In reading a large amount [of literature] or in watching some works for film and television, a local identity of a kind [一種本土嘅身份] is established, and gradually you come to discover — when you have read a lot — that one day you [yourself] get the desire to inherit this memory [that is, of Hong Kong] and to hand it on to others. This generation I belong to naturally has its own memories, too. I don’t stop there at the memories of Dung Cheung-kai or Hon Lai-chu or Chan Wai. My generation has its voices, too. I have my memories of the city, I have my experiences, and I too would like to write about the streets here. I too would like to write the stories that have happened here in Hong Kong. So, I picked up my pen and wrote them, as if I were carrying on in one and the same tradition [好似一個脈絡傳承]. It’s not right to break [this tradition] off. If we break off in our memories, our writings, then you have to [UNCLEAR] the voices of their memories of this city . . .
● 肩負 gīn1 fuh6 = to take on; to undertake; to shoulder; to bear | ● 披戴 pēi1 daai3 = (?) to wear draped over (or wrapped around) one’s shoulders | ● 身影 sān1 yíng2 = a person’s silhouette; form; figure | ● 承擔 sìhng4 dāam1 = to bear; to undertake; to assume | ● 擔子 daam3 jí2 = load; burden | ● 根基 gān1 gēi1 = a foundation; a basis
. . . and go and write the stories of this city. The things you have to shoulder are more numerous. It’s like wrapping the forms of your favourite writers around your shoulders, them as well as their [sense of] social responsibility, what they undertook in terms of literature, the literary roles they assumed. It’s as if this load has fallen to you [to shoulder]. You too have the responsibility to go and write, to express [yourself], to take over and pass on the foundation of a Hong Kong literature they took such pains to establish.
Beyond the Dream is a novel by the Hong Kong writer 蔣曉薇 Jéung2 Híu2 Mèih4. The thing that first got me interested in it was the setting: there aren’t too many books in any language set in the new town of 屯門 Tuen Mun! To me the place evokes a discordant mix: the concrete river channel that splits the town geometrically in two, the massive architecture of the MTR stations, both at Siu Hong and the terminus, the incessant traffic streaming down the vast Tuen Mun road, the shuttling, metal clatter of the light-rail trains, and towering over it all in the distance, the jagged green ridge of the Tsing Shan Mountain (Castle Peak).
In this 4-minute video put together by 文化者 The Culturist and 網上閲讀平台 the SHKP Reading Club, Jeung gives us some insight into the themes of the book, its two main characters, the young woman 葉嵐 Yihp6 Làahm4 (嵐 means “haze; vapour; mist”) and 阿樂 Aa3 Lohk6, and its subsequent transformation into a very successful film. The Chinese title 《幻愛》 is much more interesting than the English version: to me it suggests a kind of hallucinated love, the word echoing 幻想 “fantasy” (literally, “an unreal thinking”) and 幻聽 “hearing voices” (“an unreal hearing”). You can see how it might have defeated even the most determined translator . . .
The Cantonese highlight in this video is an example of the verb 㧬 [ng]úng2 = “push forward with both hands or body” — you don’t hear it that often, so every encounter is a treat! My trusty 《香港粵語大詞典》 gives two examples of its use, 㧬開度門 = to push open the door, and 㧬嚟㧬去 = (roughly) to push and shove one another. Other treats include the word 鎅 gaai3, used both as a verb meaning “to cut” and in the compound noun 鎅刀, a kind of small knife, somewhat like a Stanley knife (at least, in some contexts); 抌 dám2, a verb with a number of meanings including “to throw away (rubbish)”; and the very Cantonese 第時 daih6 sìh4 = “in the future, another day”. Jeung also reads a passage from her novel at the 2-minute mark. Learning to understand Standard Written Chinese read aloud in Cantonese is a real challenge, and any opportunity to work on this (uneasily mastered) skill is worth taking.
You can watch the video here (Chinese subtitles only). If you want to take a look at the (rough in places) transcription, notes and English translation, please scroll down.
And if you would like to take a look at the trailer for the film with English subtitles, you can view that here.
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. You might also like to make use the Ekho Text to Speech Converter if you have trouble matching any part of the transcribed Chinese text to the spoken version. Just make sure you select “Cantonese” under the language menu before you paste cut and text into the relevant box.
● 視點 sih6 dím2 = perspective | ● 發揮嘅空間 faat3 fāi1 ge3 hūng1 gāan1 = (?) room to give free play to | ● 代入 doih6 yahp6 = (?) to put oneself into the shoes of another person | ● 連繫lìhn4 haih6 = (?) connection; link | ● 心思 sām1 sī1 = ① thought; idea ② state of mind; mood | ● 構思 kau3 sī1 = (of a writer) work out the plot of a literary work
It is my feeling that the film is in fact mainly [from] the perspective of Ah Lok. To me, as the creator [去到我自己作爲創作嘅時候呢], I think that in the role of Yip Lam there is still plenty of room in the film for development [發揮嘅空間]. Perhaps because I am a woman too, it is very easy for me to insert myself when I write into a female role and perspective. I spent a lot of time thinking about and plotting Yip Lam’s inner world — what her past was like when she was growing up, and what kind of destiny linked her and her mother together.
● 一幕 yāt1 mohk6 = an act (in a play); perhaps here “a scene (in a film)” | ● 屋企樓下 [ng]ūk1 kéi5*2 làuh4 haah6 = lit. “downstairs of one’s home”, but in the case of a housing estate probably “outside the building one lives in” | ● 撞到 johng6 dóu3*2 = to bump into; to encounter | ● 觸發 jūk1 faat3 = to spark; to trigger | ● 不濟 bāt1 jai3 = useless | ● 不堪 bāt1 hām1 = cannot bear; unbearably; cannot stand; “have had it up to here” | ● 好唔配得阿樂嘅愛 hóu2 mh4 pui3 dāk1 Aa3 Lohk6 ge3 [ng]oi3 = not at all worthy of Ah Lok’s love | ● 㧬 úng2 = push forward with both hands or body | ● 扎醒 jaat3 séng2 = wake up suddenly; wake up with a start; startle from sleep | ● 紅繩 hùhng4 síng4*2= a red cord/string | ● 鎅刀 gaai3 dōu1 = a knife blade, a razor blade; a paper cutter | ● 抌 dám2 = ① beat (with fist); bang; pound ② smash; shatter; stamp (a chop) ③ throw; discard; abandon | ● 賦予 fu3 yúh5 = to bestow on; to endow with; to vest with
I remember that there is a scene in the film in which Yip Lam and Ah Lok bump into Uncle Wong outside the building she lives in [屋企樓下], which sets off conflict between the pair. Yip Lam feels that she is quite . . . // in the past she was both useless and fed up [過去好不濟好不堪]. She felt that she was quite unworthy of Ah Lok’s love for her. After that, she pushes Ah Lok out of her house. After that, she suddenly wakes up at midnight and, seeing the red cord on her wrist, picks up a knife, cuts the cord and throws it in the rubbish bin. This scene may be quite brief, lasting around 8 to 10 seconds, but in it I invest her with [a certain] psychological state. Why it is that she wakes up and does this is something I wrote about in the book.
● 任憑 yahm6 pàhng4 = at one’s convenience; at one’s discretion | ● 任由 yahm6 yauh4 = to allow sb. free reign; jumping over; ignoring | ● 摑 gwaak3 = to slap; to smack | ● 暴戾 bouh6 leuih6 = ruthless & tyrannical; cruel & fierce | ● 嫉妒 jaht6 dou3 = to be jealous; to envy | ● 第時 daih6 sìh4 = in the future, another day
“What she found most difficult to forgive was that her mother let her boy-friends come and go as they pleased, and put up with their touching her whenever they felt like it, never appearing in time to protect her. When her mother found out about her and Uncle Wong, she thought she would be saved, but instead her mother slapped her hard. Weeping, Yip Lam kept repeating, no, no, it’s not what you think, but her mother had no time for her explanations, cursing her ancestors, her genes, cursing that fact that she gave birth [to a child] who was destined to become cheap goods. She knelt down on the ground and looked into her mother’s eyes, but all she saw there was cruelty and jealousy. There was no more care, sincerity or love.” She thinks back over her past, and also thinks that she cannot forgive her mother. And so, she takes the knife and cuts the cord on her wrist. Her mother accepts Yip Lam’s (?) promise to pray for her, and for a future in which they can live together happily (I am not sure if I have understood this sentence correctly).
● 影迷 yíng2 màih4 = film fan | ● 緣故 yùhn4 gu3 = cause; reason | ● 著急 jeuhk6 gāp1 = to worry; to feel anxious | ● 導演 douh6 yín2 = ① to direct (a film, a [play, etc.] ② a director | ● 團隊 tyùhn4 déui6*2 = a team; perhaps in this film context, “a crew” | ● 思考 sī1 háau2 = to think deeply; to ponder over; to reflect on | ● 對讀對比deui3 duhk6 deui3 béi2 = (?) to compare and contrast the book with the film
Many film buffs are very fond of the movie Beyond the Dream. Owing to the Covid-19 situation, cinemas are not open. No one can get into a picture theatre to show their support. I know that everyone is very disappointed about this, or worried, and hopes that the cinemas reopen soon so that they can continue to be able to support the director, and support the whole crew of Beyond the Dream. Apart from the film [side of things], I think that the crew for Beyond the Dream also includes the creation of the novel, [so] everyone can spend some time reading the book. My sense is that this reading is also a kind of deep thinking about things. When you’ve finished the novel, you can make a comparison with the film version — another interesting experience.
When we were still getting to know each other, I found it hard to know how to talk to her. Her voice is very loud, and if she shouts from one end of the street, you can hear what she says at the other end. When the people she hangs round with start discussing political issues, she is liable to suddenly go off on a tangent and start talking about a cat on Yau Ma Tei Street or dog kennels in the northern New Territories, about cats and dogs that were fortunate and those who were unlucky, about volunteers who were poor and others who were very wealthy, long and short stories, one after another. But issues such as policies, rights, pressure groups, social activities… these she knows next to nothing about.
Yet once in a while she calls me to have a chat—no not a chat: in her case she would talk “official business” when she spoke of her days looking after cats and dogs out on the street day after day, about feeding them and taking them to the vet. Sometimes in a single night she would catch seven or eight cats from the neighbourhood and call a van the driver of which she knew and she would pay for transport herself. She would take them to the SPCA to be neutered and then return them to where they came from. That was Aunt Ng’s main job for many years, but besides that she had another profession—she was a casual cleaner.
Just like all affairs of the world, along the way there are bound to be obstacles. Aunt Ng said to me:
“Last night when I caught a street cat, a couple of Nepalese asked: ‘Why are you catching those cats? Are you doing something against the law?’ I told them I was taking them to the vet to get neutered. They said ‘Oh,’ and walked away. But there were some local people instead who made some sarcastic comments. For crying out loud!”
That is why I say that she and I live in two different worlds. While I sit at home sipping hot tea in front of my computer writing essays criticizing the policies of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, Aunt Ng is outside on the cold street, hoping to bump into a cat. One winter in the middle of the night, some of the night stores on main street were still open. There was one that had a steaming hotpot on the table where guests were playing the drinking game Chai Mui, they were shouting numbers and drinking. In the dim kerosene lamplight at dawn Aunt Ng transformed into a dark figure at the entrance of the lane. With a cigarette in the corner of her mouth, arms crossed, eyes narrowed, line of vision sneaking off far into the deep lightless alley. The dark figure flew past with a swish, then the cage snapped shut with a click. A sad and shrill cry of a cat was heard. The spark in the dark night that flew mid-air was Aunt Ng’s cigarette stub tossed accurately in the bin nearby. Unhurriedly she walked over, crouched down, tapped the top of the cage with her fingers and laughed saying:
“Dear cat, be good now. You’ll be back in two days.”
That scene is based on my imagination after watching too many martial art movies. In the way I imagined it, there is none of the actual fatigue and frustration. That night, between 12 midnight and four, Aunt Ng caught six cats. Whereas I as the writer, who is good at making things up but hopeless when it comes to taking any real action, was already sleeping like a log.
But Aunt Ng isn’t bothered by that. She only wants to have someone to listen to her. Many of her stories she told me either over the phone or in text messages—she has no idea about the internet. As a result she also doesn’t have any web-friends. She only has real life friends, volunteers, people who listen to her troubles, and in turn she listens to theirs. Everyone feels a bit better after that and returns to the street to continue being busy feeding cats, trapping cats, neutering cats and returning them again … after the torment, cats and humans live on and occasionally bump into some luck and kindness after the fatigue and disappointment. There was a man who would walk his dog every night and he would help Aunt Ng throw dry cat food on top of a high eaves, so that the cats could eat their fill straight away. “He is tall and I am short so when he turns up I don’t need to go looking around for help.”
The other day Aunt Ng received another call for help. “There’s an old lady who keeps a dozen cats. Five of them had feline ringworm (a common type of skin disease) and she didn’t have money to cure them. She said she wanted to commit suicide with the cats in her arms. I said, ‘Don’t even think about it. Ringworm is easy to fix,’ so I went to the pharmacy to buy some ointment, I showed her how to apply it and later all the cats got better. I even had to call her every day just so that she could get a few things off her chest.” I said: “So, Aunt Ng, you care for human beings as well as animals.” It seems that she expected that remark for she chuckled, “Sometimes when you care for cats, you also have to care for their owners.”
Later I finally understood why Aunt Ng would make such a statement: one afternoon many years ago, when she was on her way home, she saw a pregnant mother cat on the side of the road. Only her belly was big—the rest was a bag of bones. Her eyes were closed up because of infection. She was curled up in a ball and shivering in the flowers. When Aunt Ng saw her, it reminded her of something that happened to her many years ago: pregnant, single, no one to take care of her, no money. So then she went out and started to feed stray cats.
That day I arranged to see Aunt Ng, having bought some extra cat medicine and food for her. When I saw her cross the street, she was limping with her left foot, so I asked about her health, and she said that she suffered from joint strain, as a result of all those years lugging the vacuum cleaner back and forth. And staying up late to roam the streets at night to catch cats. I handed over the goods, and she thanked me. Then she told me that she had got three fines from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department—each of them for $1,000. I know it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. Nor is she the only volunteer who gets them. Later I saw her limping into a vet clinic. I know the clinic is kind. It gives 30% discount on the treatment of stray cats. I saw Aunt Ng pull out of her pocket a wad of $500 bills held together with a rubber band.
Officials once proclaimed: “The Trap-Neuter-Return Plan is not ideal.” I wonder what their interpretation of “ideal” is. But I think the view of those honourable senior officials must be very different from that of Aunt Ng’s. Sometimes I run across a mother cat in the street. While next to her a few kids get carried away playing a game, the mother cat looks around carefully and makes sure she protects her kittens. Her demands are voiceless. Yet her dignity is innate. Yes, I see Aunt Ng in every mother cat.
● Cheung Yuen Man likes writing and is concerned with animals. She won the 25th United Daily News Award for fiction debut (short story) in 2011. Her publications include You AreHere 《你在》 (2020), Those were the Cats 《那些貓們》 (2019), Daily of Dust《微塵記》 (2017), Sweeties 《甜蜜蜜》 (2004), and The Pole《極點》 (with Mok Wing Hung). In 2019, Cheung won the Recommendation Award in the Hong Kong Biennial Awards for Chinese Literature, the Hong Kong Bookprize and the Hong Kong Publishing Biennial Award for Daily of Dust. ● 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.
My paternal grandfather was born in autumn and his name was Kwun Ng, literally “viewing the parasol tree”, based on the phrase “After the leaves of the Chinese parasol tree fall, everyone knows that autumn has come.” Because the phoenix rests in the Chinese parasol tree, he changed his name to Sai Luai, literally “fabulous bird”, when he got married. Later, after he came to Hong Kong for work, he called himself Sum, the Chinese character made up of three trees, meaning “luxuriant vegetation”. My grandfather as I know him went by the name of Cheung Sum — a handsome, stubborn old man. It was my grandfather who taught me how to use knife and fork. In my childhood, there were still Hong Kong style “Soy Sauce Western Cafes” that offered affordable, reasonable Western food, similar to today’s cha chaan teng, but slightly more sophisticated. They offered grand dinner meals for Christmas and Easter with half a roast chicken, fruit punch and golden paper hats as gifts for the children. Fok Tin Restaurant in our housing estate was that type of restaurant. Every Sunday grandfather would take my brother, sister and me there for breakfast. He always had his butter bun and hot coffee, and when he saw me pick up my knife and fork he showed me how to use them. My first taste of banana boat and Irish coffee also happened there. For a 7 or 8 year old it was a very fancy place. But I didn’t like grandfather. He was the black sheep of the family. My grandmother used to say he was a fickle husband and an irresponsible father. Grandmother was his legal wife, but later he had two concubines, I never learnt the full names of these two nominal grandmothers and only know their nicknames, one being “Sang Fan Hing” and the other “Ah So”. San Fan Hing — meaning “savage darling” — was, as her name suggests, very bad tempered. In China, grandmother once lived with Ah So for a time, but they couldn’t get along. Meantime my grandfather came to Hong Kong for work—he got out of China as quickly as he could, he wanted to leave before the start of the Cultural Revolution, when all his family property was confiscated and only his life was spared. Grandfather was originally well looked after by his father, and they were very wealthy, owning a shopping street. No wonder he hated the Communist Party all his life. Although the Communist Party had confiscated his family property, they could never deprive him of his bon vivant lifestyle. In his leisure time, he would recall past events, sometimes saying “Once I danced in the dance hall…” Stories like that. I almost never saw him go into the kitchen, and even his tea was poured for him by grandmother. Before his retirement, whenever he returned home, he would ask us to get his slippers and then reward us with a dollar. He bought me a remote-control toy car and a beautiful little red cape. He was liberal with money except in the case of his wives. Not long before I was born, grandfather moved back from Ah So’s place to live with grandmother and my parents, the reason being that he had a falling out with Ah So and the children there. Ah So had left her family in the countryside and came to Hong Kong before grandfather did. Have I seen this grandmother? I don’t know, I’m really not sure. Have I seen her children? I must have seen them once or twice. At grandfather’s funeral, one of my uncles, the one who never showed up during the preparations, came and kowtowed before the stone tablet and left. They said he was Ah So’s son. Even if we happened to meet face to face, I had no way of knowing that the blood of the same person flowed in our veins. When grandfather came back to live with us, grandmother was very happy. I still remember that when grandfather took a nap, she would sit beside the bed, reading the newspaper by the window. Usually it was a quiet sunny afternoon. The bed was a plain, metal one with a chequered sheet that was soft and faded from washing. Grandmother would wear embroidered slippers, black framed spectacles on her emaciated face and grey strands in her hair. Grandfather would sleep on his side with his back to her. Grandmother’s attitude toward grandfather started to change after Ah So’s death. One day, grandfather was sitting on the sofa, tapping his feet, when he said in a casual, relaxed tone “Ah So passed away.” Later I heard that she had died of breast cancer. Later I heard that grandfather never visited her after she got sick. Later I heard mum say: grandmother observed grandfather’s reaction and was very disappointed. In any case, once I was old enough to understand what was going on, I heard all the time how difficult it was for grandmother to raise six children; how father had to discontinue his studies to support the family and how aunt managed the household. All the result of one cause: grandfather had too many wives and children and was unable to take proper care of them. My impression of grandfather up till a couple of years ago changed a little. It was the year that his younger cousin who was eighty something then — by now also deceased — came back from the US and arranged a family reunion dinner with our family in the old district of Sai Wan. In the course of the conversation, he told us that, back then, grandfather actually preferred grandmother’s younger sister, but grandfather’s mother was taken with grandmother and therefore it was grandmother who crossed the threshold. When grandfather took a concubine, he wrote in a letter home saying “Mum, the decision of my legal wife is your business, taking a concubine is mine.” At the time grandmother was already crying her eyes out. Grandmother’s pain was real. Grandfather’s feelings were also real: he didn’t love her. Sometimes love is a luxury, it’s so extravagant that it causes a few generations to hold mutual grudges. At other times love is commonplace, so common that it’s worn away by the little pieces of life. When I came to experience love for myself, at the same time I transcended time and forgave my grandfather for being a rebel. Finally, it dawned on me that besides being a fickle husband and an irresponsible father, he was also after all my doting grandfather.
● Cheung Yuen Man likes writing and is concerned with animals. She won the 25th United Daily News Award for fiction debut (short story) in 2011. Her publications include You AreHere 《你在》 (2020), Those were the Cats 《那些貓們》 (2019), Daily of Dust《微塵記》 (2017), Sweeties 《甜蜜蜜》 (2004), and The Pole《極點》 (with Mok Wing Hung). In 2019, Cheung won the Recommendation Award in the Hong Kong Biennial Awards for Chinese Literature, the Hong Kong Bookprize and the Hong Kong Publishing Biennial Award for Daily of Dust. ● 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.
Interesting material about Cheung Yuen Man (in Cantonese):
The Hong Kong writer 鄧小樺 Tang Siu-wa (Dahng6 Siu2 Waah6) is the author of the poetry collections Unmoved Bottle and The Opposite of Sound, as well as several collections of essays. She also founded the literary magazine Fleurs de Lettres, and was instrumental in the establishment of the House of Hong Kong Literature.
During the anti-extradition treaty protests in 2019, she was arrested and charged with violence, an experience that took her ⸺ mentally, emotionally and spiritually ⸺ right to the heart of the current crisis in Hong Kong.
Earlier this year, she was interviewed by a reporter from Vision Times [看中國]. In the interview, she shares her views on the plight of Hong Kong and presents both an impassioned and a carefully reasonable response. I hope to transcribe and translate the full 22-minute interview on Chinaman Creek some time in the new future, but for now, here is a brief key excerpt in which Tang specifically addresses the role of the international community.
Next time you hear someone say that Hong Kong is an “internal matter” for the People’s Republic of China, please call to mind Tang’s very relevant words: 「一國兩制」係一個國際嘅承諾，嗄 = “One Country, Two Systems” is an international promise.
● 失信 sat1 seun3 = to break one’s promise; to go back on one’s word ● 支援 ji1 wuhn4 = to support ● 制裁 jai3 choih4 = to sanction; to punish
I hope that the international community will be able to make the Chinese people, to 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 in my view (?) 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. And then, next, it is my hope that the international community will support those individuals who need to leave Hong Kong. Some of my friends, actually, are in very serious danger. I hope that the international community will show some concern for their future, for people such as Joshua Wong, for Nathan Law and Agnes Chow. I think they are in grave danger, I do. And then finally I hope that the international community, where there are grounds, including humanitarian grounds, I hope that in the case of instances in which human rights [人道] have been violated, I hope that the international community will consider imposing sanctions [應該制裁], in the hope that the international community will see that the destiny of Hong Kong is in the hands of everyone. So I hope that our friends in the international community will show concern for the destiny of Hong Kong and stand on the side of the protesters of Hong Kong.
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.
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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 . . .
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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 . . .
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)
The weather is changing. Wet floors. People slip. A feeling of stickiness is everywhere. Birds are chirping. Spring has not yet taken shape.
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Moisture on the walls. Something is going mouldy. Hazy mountain tops. Gazing into the distance at a patch of grey. A brightness behind the clouds. Something’s building up in my chest.
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Trivial. Wronged. Misunderstood. Unworthy. The flashing of screens, the flickering of shifting images, someone faraway is talking. Hens clucking. Wet carpets, in the hall of a building. Wood waste. Metal pails. Soft cloths are stretched out in the wind, so far out that they stroke someone on the face.
● 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 Cloudscape (Audrey Heijns, 2020)