Learning Cantonese: Wai Wai, Artist of the Neighbourhood

The artist 慧惠 Wai Wai lived in a flat near the 果欄 “Fruit Lan” or Wholesale Fruit Market in 油麻地 Yau Ma Tei while she was growing up, and this experience seems to set her on her present course as a passionate community-oriented artist. By transforming 鐵閘 tit3 jaahp6 or “iron roll-down shop shutters” into works of art, she hopes to bring colour into the neighbourhood and to record for posterity the fine details of life in older districts in Hong Kong, places so vulnerable to eventual redevelopment.

There is nothing monstrously difficult in this presentation, and I think you will appreciate the clarity with which the Now reporter 周駿易 Chow Chun-yee speaks, but there are a few points worthy of attention. The first concerns the verb 俾 béi2. This commonly means “to give”, but it also doubles up as a colloquial version of 讓 yeuhng6 = “to let; to enable”. And so at 4:30 in 俾一啲苦苦經營嘅店主 | 一個堅持做落去嘅理由 = “to give the shopkeepers who worked so hard managing their stores a reason to keep on going”, 俾 béi2 means “to give”. However, in a phrase like 起碼俾人知道個歷史故事係點樣 at 1:10, the meaning is “at least to let people know what the history (of the shop) was”. Other examples of this second meaning appear in 問佢有冇興趣 | 俾畫家喺佢嘅鐵閘上面創造 (0:50) and 擺喺呢個鐵閘面前俾啲街坊認識一下 (1:58). Obviously, the presence of a second verb after 俾 béi2 is a good indicator that that this second meaning is in play.

There are also numerous instances of two very interesting aspect markers, 嗮 saai3 and 翻 fāan1. 嗮 offers a very neat way of expressing ideas such as “wholly” or “fully”. Listen out for:

2:28: 拉嗮閘嘅時候畫
3:58: 插畫都畫嗮、倒瀉嗮喺度
4: 15: 好俾心機去將自己觀察到嘅 | 鍾意嘅都放嗮入面

As for 翻 fāan1, it is always fascinating to come across new examples of how this works in Cantonese. Yes, sometimes the meaning is a simple “back” or “again”, but sometimes more subtle nuances are at work. In 用個新嘅角度去睇翻自己嘅鋪頭 (4:50), for example, the aspect marker seems to suggest “again, in a new way”. Note that in the case of 剩翻 at 2:45, this is virtually a fixed expression meaning “to be left (over); to remain”, although 剩低 is also heard.

The video is rich in vocabulary, including the four-character expression 碩果僅存 sehk6 gwó2 gán2 chyùhn4 = “a rare survival”, last encountered in the RTHK video with 劉彥芹 Anthony Lau Yin-Kun on Hong Kong newts (以前嗰啲樹林差唔多斬嗮嘅時候呢 | 佢都可以碩果僅存呀). There’s also an instance each of the very Cantonese verbs 鎅 (or 𠝹) gaai3 = “to cut” and 甩色 lāt sīk = to fade (of colour). Other treasures include: 内街 noih6 gāai1 = (?) back streets; 交棒 gāau1 páahng5 = (?) to pass on the baton; to hand sth. on to (a successor); 後輩 hauh6 bui3 = ① the younger generation ② posterity; 間尺 gaan3 chék3*2= a ruler ; 筆直 bāt1 jihk6 = perfectly straight; straight as a ramrod; 草圖 chóu2 tòuh4 = a (rough) sketch; a draft; 漏夜 lauh6 yeh6 = the dead of night; 俾心機 béi2 sām1 gēi1 = to devote oneself to doing; to put energy into doing; 立體空間 lahp6 tái2 hūng1 gāan1 = (?) a three-dimensional space . . . I better stop here. It’s making me giddy!

Please scroll down for my transcription (again, it’s a bit gappy 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.

WordPress for some reason has added a bit of colour to the Chinese text in this post. I’m not sure why this is and, so far, I have been able to fix the problem, but let it be a tribute to 慧惠 Wai Wai, a great believer in colour!

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Caption: 舊區新潮 | An Old District, A New Current

旁白:由嘈雜鬧市轉入内街 | 行入砵蘭街 | 再去到上海街 | 會發現另一種嘅城市風景 | 即使係日頭,呢一度都唔算好熱鬧 | 街道上經營嘅,有唔少 | 係碩果僅存嘅傳統小店 | 好似呢一間玻璃店 | 就有四十年嘅歷史 | 已經交棒去到第二代 | 多年手藝不變 | 除日常嘅營運之外 | 接班人亦都希望 | 對老店嘅保育做多一工作 | 喺幾年前,有人嚟到鋪頭 | 問有冇興趣 | 畫家喺佢嘅鐵閘上面創造 | 佢覺得好新奇,於是就即刻應承咗

● 内街 noih6 gāai1 = (?) back streets | ● 砵蘭街 būt3*1 làahn4 gāai1 = Portland Street | ● 日頭 yaht6 táu4*2 = daytime | ● 碩果僅存 sehk6 gwó2 gán2 chyùhn4 = a rare survival | ● 交棒 gāau1 páahng5 = (?) to pass on the baton; to hand sth. on to (a successor) | ● 營運 yìhng4 wahn6 = to operate | ● 接班人jip3 bāan1 yàhn4 = a successor | ● 應承 yīng1 sìhng4 = to agree to do sth.; to promise; to consent

Voice-over: Turn into the back streets from the noisy commotion of the bustling city, walk into Portland Street and then go on to Shanghai Street and you will discover a different kind of urban landscape. Even though it is daytime, it’s not particularly busy here. What operates on [these] streets are some rare survivals — quite a number of traditional-style small shops. A glazer’s shop like this has been in business for 40 years [有四十年嘅歷史] and the baton has already been handed on to the next generation. In all those years, the craft has not altered. Apart from [continuing] its everyday operations, the people who have taken it over hope to do a bit of work to preserve the store. Several years ago, someone came into the shop and asked if they were interested in having an artist create a painting on their roll-down iron shutter [鐵閘]. His curiosity piqued, he agreed [to the idea] at once.

Caption: 陳永建:同利玻璃負責人 | Chan Wing-kin, Person in Charge of Tong Lee Glass

陳永建:始終我呢啲【1:00】,呃,畫嘅畫 // 都係 // 比較舊式啲嘅鋪頭 | 其實就我諗 | 都會越嚟越少喇 | 畫幅畫 // 紀念一下 | 我哋做嘅嘢咁樣 | 將來起碼都同我哋後輩講我哋做過啲乜嘢咁樣 | 都起碼俾人知道個歷史故事係點樣呀

● 後輩 hauh6 bui3 = ① the younger generation ② posterity

Chan Wing-kin: All along these places that had paintings done were all  relatively older-style shops. In fact, I thought, [shops like this] will become fewer and fewer. Getting a picture painted is a way of commemorating what we do. In the days to come, it will at least speak to the younger generation about the work we did, and at the very least tell people some stories from history.

旁白:鐵閘畫係由畫家慧惠所創作 | 所呈現嘅,係玻璃店 | 兩個老師傅日常嘅工作情況

● 呈現 chìhng4 yihn6 = to present (a certain appearance); to emerge

Voice-over: [The] iron-shutter painting was created by the painter Wai Wai. What it shows is the everyday work [工作情況] of Tong Lee Glass’ two old master-workers.

慧惠:例如一日 [佢係] 喺度鎅玻璃 | 就好似 // 鐵閘見到嘅一幕咁樣 [啦] | 佢哋用一枝火水筆咁再加埋一把間尺 | 用啲最基本簡單嘅工具 | 就可以將一塊睇落去好似,呃,好 . . . 比較硬嘅玻璃 | 咁樣一拉一條,咁一拍 | 咁樣就可以將玻璃好筆直咁樣 | 一分為二 | 我覺得個過程好神奇呀 | 噉所以就希望將呢一個工序 | 擺喺呢個鐵閘面前俾啲街坊【2:00】認識一下

● 幕 mohk6 = an act; a scene | ● 火水筆 fó2 séui2 bāt1 = (?) a tool used to cut glass lit. 火水 = kerosene/paraffin + 筆 = pen | ● 間尺 gaan3 chék3*2= a ruler | ● 筆直 bāt1 jihk6 = perfectly straight; straight as a ramrod | ● 一分為二 yāt1 fān1 wàih4 yih6 = to divide one (thing) into two (pieces) | ● 神奇 sàhn4 kèih4 = magical; mystical; miraculous | ● 工序 guūng1 jeuih6 = a working procedure; a process

Wai Wai: For instance, one day he was cutting glass like the scene [幕] [depicted] on the iron shutter. Using a glass-cutting tool [火水筆] and a ruler — the most rudimentary of tools — they can break a piece of glass in two, perfectly straight, with the drawing of a line and a quick tap [咁一拍], glass that seems really quite hard. To me, the process is really magical. For this reason, [I] hoped that putting this part of [their] work on the iron shutter to let the locals learn something [俾啲街坊認識一下] [about what goes on in the shop].

旁白:老師傅嘅手藝固然值得欣賞 | 而喺藝術家嘅眼中 | 佢哋每一個工序都會成爲咗 | 創作社區藝術嘅靈感 | 不過要將一道陳舊嘅灰色鐵閘 |變成藝術品 | 過程起碼要一個星期 | 畫家要首先構思好草圖 | 獲得商鋪嘅負責人同意之後 | 先至可以漏夜趕工

● 手藝 sáu2 ngaih6 = craftmanship; workmanship | ● 固然 gu3 yìhn4 = of course; admittedly | ● 陳舊 chàhn4 gauh6 = outmoded; obsolete; old-fashioned; out-of-date | ● 構思 kau3 sī1 = to work out the composition of a painting | ● 草圖 chóu2 tòuh4 = a (rough) sketch; a draft | ● 漏夜 lauh6 yeh6 = the dead of night | ● 趕工 gón2 gūng1 = (?) to hurry to finish the work

Voice-over: Of course, the work-skills of old master-workers’ are worthy of admiration and, in the eyes of the artist, every part of their working procedure can become inspiration for the creation of community art [社區藝術]. However, the process of turning a grey, old-fashioned shutter screen into a work of art takes at least a week. First of all, the artist has to work out a sketch of the design [草圖] and, only when the person in charge of the shop has agreed, can she set to work in the dead of night to hurry to finish the work.

慧惠:我哋就要趁鋪頭閂門嘅時候拉閘嘅時候畫 | 噉先唔會阻住 // 生意嘅 | 噉第一晚我就首先用個投影機啦 | 呃,投射落去個鐵閘度 [呢],將個稿 | 噉完成咗線稿之後 | 第二晚就做啲基本嘅嘢 | 噴 [個] 底色呀,呃,上啲基本嘅色呀 | 噉再之後剩翻嘅兩晚就畫啲細節呀 | 寫翻少少嘅文字 | 描述關於個鐵閘呀,咁樣就完成喇

● 投影機 tàuh4 yíng2 gēi1 = (?) projector | ● 投射 tàuh4 sèh4 = to project; to cast | ● 稿 góu2 = a draft; a sketch | ● 線稿 sin3 góu2 = (?) a line drawing; an outline cf. 線 = a line + 稿 = a sketch | ● 噴 pan3 = to spray | ● 底色 dái2 sīk1 = an undercoat | ● 上(色)séuhng5 sīk1 = (?) to add/apply colour

Wai Wai: We paint when the store is closed and when the shutter screen has been pulled right down [拉嗮閘]. It’s only by doing it this way that we [avoid] [UNCLEAR] disrupting business. The first night, we use a projector to project a draft image onto the shutter screen. When the line drawing is finished, on the second we do certain basic things [啲基本嘅嘢], spraying on the undercoat UNCLEAR and applying the basic colours. On the remaining nights after that, we paint in the details, and add in the written words describing something about the screen. After that, it’s completed.

旁白:同一般嘅畫作唔同 | 鐵閘畫要經歷風吹雨打 | 唔經常洗閘【3:00】會封塵 | 洗得多又會甩色 | 所以需要定期修葺 | 先至可以無間斷咁發揮到 | 社區藝術品嘅功能

● 畫作 waahk6 jok3 = painting | ● 經歷 gīng1 lihk6 = to go through; to undergo; to experience | ● 風吹雨打 fūng1 chēui1 yúh5 dáa2 = roughly, “weathered by the wind and the rain” | ● 封塵 fūng1 chàhn4 = (?) to be covered in dust cf. 封 = to seal up + 塵 = dust | ● 甩色 lāt sīk = to fade (of colour) | ● 修葺 sāu1 chāp1 = to repair; to renovate | ● 無間斷 mòuh4 gaan3 dyuhn6 = roughly, “without interruption” | ● 發揮 faat3 fāi1 = to bring into play; to give play to

Voice-over: Unlike ordinary painting, shutter screen painting is subject to the effects of wind and rain [風吹雨打]. Unless it is constantly cleaned, the painting will become covered over in dust. But excessive washing makes the colours fade. For this reason, maintenance [修葺] is necessary at regular intervals. Only then can it exercise its function as community art without any interruption.

慧惠:呢啲老區好多時 | 一間小店,一鐵閘 | 日頭就好,好有生氣啦 | 噉夜晚,噉拉嗮閘起嚟 | 如果有一幅嘅鐵閘畫喺度 | 咁真係會令到成個區呢,色彩都會繽紛咗喇 | 同埋可能有一啲街坊喺夜晚先會喺街道行嘅 | 噉都可以透過個鐵閘嘅畫 | 會了解到個鋪頭做一啲 [工作]

● 生氣 sāang1 hei3 = life; vitality | ● 色彩 sīk1 chói2 = colour; hue | ● 繽紛 bān1 fān1 = in riotous . . .; a profusion of

Wai Wai: Much of the time, these shop owners [老區] have one shop with one shutter screen. During the day, [the shop] is busting with activity. At night, when the shutter is pulled out to its full extent [啦嗮閘起嚟], if it has a painting on it, then it can make the whole district full of colour. In addition, there are probably some local people who only come out into the streets at night. Thanks to [透過] the screen shutter paintings, they can get an idea about what kind of work the shops do.

旁白:自細喺油尖旺長大嘅慧惠 | 大學畢業 [之後] 冇耐 | 就成爲咗全職嘅插畫家 | 佢嘅作品有好多都同呢一個舊區有關 | 甚至出版過一本畫集 | 以油麻地度做主題 | 記錄區内一點一滴嘅變化

● 油尖旺 Yàuh4 Jīm1 Wohng6 = Yau Tsim Mong, a convenient way of referring to the area embracing Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui & Mong Kok | ● 全職 chyùhn4 jīk1 = full-time | ● 插畫家 chaap3 wáa2 gāa1 = an illustrator | ● 畫集 wáa2 jaahp6 = a collection of paintings (presented in book-form)

Voice-over: Wai Wai, who grew up in the area embracing Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui & Mong Kok, became a full-time illustrator not long after. Many of her works have a connection with this old area. She has even published a folio of paintings dealing with Yau Ma Tei, a record of some of the changes [that have taken place] within it.

慧惠:呢本《給油麻地的情書》呢 | 做有關街坊同小店嘅訪問呀 | 插畫都畫嗮、[倒瀉] 嗮喺度喇 【4:00】| 畫嘅時候,冇諗過 | 有一啲地方已經過兩年幾 | 已經冇咗 | 有好多嘢都好似留唔住位呀 | // 要放喺本書入面 | 噉所以都好慶幸自己 | 嗰陣時*gonsi 好俾心機去將自己觀察到嘅 | 鍾意嘅都放嗮入面呀

● 慶幸 hing3 hahng6 = to rejoice; to congratulate oneself | ● 俾心機 béi2 sām1 gēi1 = to devote oneself to doing; to put energy into doing

Wai Wai: [In] this book Love-letter to Yau Ma Tei, I went and talked to locals and the small shops [in the area], then put it all into the illustrations, I poured it (?) all into them. While I was doing the illustrations, it never occurred to me that some of the places [I painted] would disappear within a couple of years or so. There are so many things, it seems, that you just can’t hold on to (?) so you have to put them into a book. For this reason, I rejoice in the fact that at that time I devoted so much energy into putting all the things I had observed and all the things I liked into [the book].

旁白:佢話,用插畫嘅方式 | 嚟到記錄小店嘅經營風貌 | 讀者可以認識到一啲 | 可能會失傳嘅手藝之餘 | 亦都俾一啲苦苦經營嘅店主 | 一個堅持做落去嘅理由 | 最終都希望可以做到社區保育

● 經營 gīng1 yìhng4 = to manage; to run | ● 風貌 fūng1 maauh6 = style & features | ● 失傳 sāt1 chyùhn4 = not be handed down from past generations; be lost | ● 店主 dim3 jyú2 = a shopkeeper | ● 理由 léih5 yàuh4 = a reason; a ground; an argument | ● 保育 bóu2 yuhk6 = to preserve

Voice-over: She said that by using illustrations to record the management style and features of small shops readers would get to learn a little about lost handicrafts. In addition, the shopkeepers who worked so hard to manage their stores would be given a reason to keep on going. Ultimately, [she] also hopes to work for the preservation of the district.

慧惠:多數對老店佢哋就好多時係被人影相多 | 噉用畫畫做一個媒介呢 | [可以] 由一個佢哋每日都面對住嘅立體空間 | 變 [一種] 嘅平面嘅畫嘅時候呢 | 佢哋就好似用個新嘅角度去睇翻自己嘅鋪頭 | 噉然後當佢哋睇翻自己鋪頭嘅時候 | 有時佢哋嘅俾我嘅反應 | 就係「哦,原來我間鋪頭咁靚【5:00】| 因爲我都唔知

● 媒介 mùih4 gaai3 = an intermediary; a medium | ● 立體空間 lahp6 tái2 hūng1 gāan1 = (?) a three-dimensional space | ● 平面 pìhng4 mín6*2 = a plane; a flat surface

Wai Wai: Mostly, the old shops are photographed most of the time. Using the medium of painting, when the three-dimensional space [the shopkeepers] deal with on a daily basis becomes a painted flat surface [一個平面嘅畫], it’s as if they are seeing their own shop from a new angle. Then, when they seen their own store [in this way], sometimes they give me a reaction, saying “Oh, [as it turns out] my shop is so beautiful. I never realized that”.

旁白:透過藝術推動社區保育 | 做法得到好多人嘅認同 | 佢亦都嘗試將創作 | 帶入唔同嘅場景 | 例如喺餐廳度畫粉筆畫 | 仲有呢一幅 | 喺上海街商場嘅大型壁畫

● 推動 tēui1 duhng6 = to push forward; to promote | ● 場景 chèuhng4 gíng2 = a scene; a sight | ● 粉筆畫 fán2 bāt1 wáa2 = roughly, “a chalk picture” | ● 壁畫 bīk1 wáa = a mural; a fresco

Voice-over: Using art to promote the preservation of a district is a way of doing things that many people approve of. She has also attempted to bring creativity into different spaces [場景], an example being a chalk drawing made in a cha chan teng restaurant. Then there is this large-scale mural, painted in the shopping centre on Shanghai Street.

慧惠:幅壁畫裏面呢,有一啲人仔喺度啦 | 有一啲係學生 | 有啲係,係街道流連緊嘅阿叔 | 噉有啲就係個做嘢嘅工作人員咁樣呀 | 就希望透過啲公衆喺個壁畫上面發掘嘅細節呢 | 就可以到當年佢哋啲人係點樣生活 | 噉從而懷緬也好呀 | 呃,分享翻自己嘅故事也好呀 | 噉都希望多啲互動

● 流連 làuh4 lihn6 = usu. “to linger”; perhaps in this context “to hang around” | ● 阿叔 aa3 sūk1 = roughly, “a man of one’s father’s age” | ● 發掘 faat3 gwaht6 = to excavate; to unearth; to explore | ● 懷緬 wàaih4 míhn5 = (?) to cherish the memory of; to recall with fondness (used for past events rather than people or places) | ● 互動wuh6 duhng6 = interactive

Wai Wai: In the mural, there are a few little figures [一啲人仔] — some are students, some are men hanging around in the street, and then some of them are workers. The hope is that, by means of details explored [發掘] in this public mural, one can find how people lived in those years, thereby fondly recalling past events in you like, or [as a prompt to] sharing you own stories. There hope too is for more interaction.

旁白:而家佢已經搬離油尖旺區 | 轉到去屯門居住 | 雖然要重新適應生活圈子 | 但係佢亦都不忘 | 繼續將藝術元素注入社區 | 經常會就地取材咁,利用風景寫生【6:00】 | 又會同學校合作開辦興趣班 | 親自帶學生參與鐵閘畫嘅創作等等 | 佢相信藝術嘅靈感係源自於生活 | 必須鼓勵新一代關心社區嘅細節

● 搬離 būn1 lèih4 = roughly, “to move away (from a place)” | ● 居住 gēui1 jyuh6 = to live; to reside; to dwell | ● 生活圈子 sāng wuht6 hyūn1 jí2 = roughly, “the circles in which one moves” (lit. “life circle”) | ● 藝術元素 ngaih6 seuht6 yùhn4 sou3 = an artistic element | ● 注入 jyu3 yahp6 = to pour into; to empty into | ● 就地 jauh6 deih6 = usu. “on the spot”; perhaps “from the place one happens to be in” | ● 取材 chéui2 chòih4 = to draw materials; to make use of materials (often used in a creative context) | ● 開辦 hōi1 baahn6 = to open; to set up; to start | ● 興趣班 hing3 cheui3 bāan1 = (?) interest class | ● 親自 chān1 jih6 = personally; in person; oneself

Voice-over: She has moved away from the Yau Tsim Mong district, and now lives in Tuen Mun. Although she has to adjust to a new living environment [生活圈子], she has not forgotten about infusing [注入] the district with artistic elements. She is always gathering material from her new home [就地], and sketching the [local] scenery. She also works with schools to organize interest classes, and personally works with students in the creation of shutter-screen paintings. She believes that the inspiration for art comes from life, and that the next generation must be encouraged to be concerned about the details of the place they live in [社區嘅細節].

慧惠:噉我都希望學生由去讀書嘅時候已經開始認識同埋了解 [呢],社區 | 或者喺邊度值得去記錄呀 | 當佢哋有呢一個觸覺,自小有呢一個觸覺嘅時候 | 咁我相信佢哋去到將來決定做邊一個行業 | 就算唔係關於藝術創作嘅行業呢 | 我相信佢哋會帶呢一種對社會嘅關心 | 社區嘅關心 | 去佢哋自己 [嗰個] 工作嘅範疇裏面 | 會令到成個香港都會有多啲愛

● 觸覺 jūk1 gok3 = tactile sensation; sense of touch | ● 行業 hòhng4 yihp6 = a trade; a profession; an industry | ● 範疇 faahn6 chàuh4 = a category; a domain

Wai Wai:I hope then when students are going to school, they are already beginning to get to know and to understand their local community [社區], or which parts of it are worth recording. When they acquire [有] this touch [觸覺], when they have this touch from an early age, then I believe that when in the future they come to choose a profession — even if it is one that has nothing to do with [唔關於] artistic creativity — they will, I believe, bring a concern for society and for their local community into the domain of their own [field of] work, and increase the amount of love in the whole of Hong Kong.

Hilda Carline: Self-Portrait (1923)

Hilda Carline image

After a solo smoke, your instincts feel
a cigarette lighter and match for anyone —
even perhaps yourself.
Before the mathematical anthem of your image in the mirror
you pose yourself smouldering
as primary theme and conundrum.
What is a portrait?
It is a feeling through fire
beyond all skin’s extinguishable borders
into the BIGGER PICTURE.
It is the fit of a formal physical likeness
with hard-won, ungainly insight,
like the dot of a glint you dab
painstakingly into the white of one fixed eye with your brush.
This candid-exorbitant star
blazing against all female modelled shadow
is fiercer than “colour” —
than “décor” — than “form” —
than “painting” —
and is so much more fierce
than that little blunt shock-noun the trite mouths blurt:

“art” —