Zolima City Mag’s “Alleyway Haircuts”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

而唔係話去到嗰個位就 stop 咗,停咗喺度囉

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

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

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


我叫劉家成,噉我英文名叫阿 Mark啦

理髮師 léih5 faat3 sī1 = barber; hairdresser

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


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

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



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

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


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

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

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


墮落 doh6 lohk6 = to degenerate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

感恩 gám2 yān1 = feel grateful; be thankful

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

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

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

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


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

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

噉我上網睇 YouTube

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

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

工藝 gūng1 ngaih6 = craft


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

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

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

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



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

《新心界》: 第六章

•  「心界」

阿綠約咗陳之一喺上晝十一點見面。東鐵嘅粉嶺站俾人嘅印象係比較平易近人,香港大部份嘅車站都好似迷宮咁,繁忙時間特別容易令人攪錯:蕩失路、喪失方向感、揾唔到想揾嘅出口等等。粉嶺就零捨唔同,上樓梯行到車站大堂,就可以一目瞭然,睇清楚整體佈局。因此,阿綠即刻見到 A1 出口嘅位置,再行近啲就見到一早就喺度等緊佢嘅高瘦外國人。唔識阿一嘅人會以為佢喺度進行緊一次獨白式嘅演講。





















Hong Kong Footpath: Interview in Cantonese with Leung Wing Mo (Part 1)

Cindy Chea-Shuk-mei calls him in her introduction that “Great God of Meteorology” [天氣大神]. Professor 梁榮武 Leung Wing Mo was formerly Assistant Director of the Hong Kong Observatory and Adjunct Professor of Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He now hosts a successful TV program concerned with weather issues, and is a passionate advocate for action on climate change. This edition of Hong Kong Footpath, aired on 5 January 2020, was the first of this year’s programs.

You can listen to the interview on RTHK1 here. Scroll down for a transcription of the Cantonese with vocabulary notes (so far, I’ve only done the opening five minutes).

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

Note that the program proper starts at 1:55.


車淑梅: 新年快樂!今日呢,係2020年呢,【2:00】1月5號,亦都係我哋嘅《舊日的足跡》第一位嘉賓呢。我當然呢,希望我今年會風調雨順,國泰民安,天下太平,所以我請呢一位呢,我一見到成個人唔知點解呢,好似有一種好祥和嘅感覺。佢係我哋第一代嘅天氣先生,係我哋而家嘅天氣大神。阿武哥!梁榮武先生。

● 國泰民安 gwok3 taai3 màhn4 [ng]ōn1 = the country is prosperous and the people live in peace
● 祥和 chèuhng4 wòh4 = (?) 祥 “auspicious” + 和 “affable”

梁榮武:Ah 淑梅!


梁榮武: 早晨,早晨!好榮幸呢,可以非常榮幸2020年第一個節目嘅嘉賓。(車淑梅:真係 . . . 一定要揾你壓場). . . (They both speak together)

● 榮幸 wìhng4 hahng6 = honoured
● 壓場 [ng]aat3 chèuhng4 = (?) “the show time as the key guest speaker”

車淑梅:好重要。嗱,其實,武哥啫係我哋前香港天文臺嘅助理臺長啦、 又香港氣象學家啦,香港氣象會嘅發言人啦、350 香港嘅發言人啦,亦都係呢,《武測天》嘅節目主持人,嗄,我哋嘅男神呢,嗄。有諗過自己會變成明星呢,嗄,啫,退休之後?【3:00】

● Note that with verb-object compounds such as 退休 teui3 yāu1 = “to retire”, the aspect marker jó2 can be placed between the two components, giving the sense of “having retired”.
● 男神 nàahm4 sàhn4 = male idol; prince charming; dream guy

梁榮武:想都冇想過,啫 (車淑梅:Laughs),當時退休都好惆悵(車淑梅:係咩?)因爲我都算係一個鐘意返工、鐘意做嘅人嘅。就好似百無聊賴(車淑梅:Mm mm)。噉但係好快,好快過咗好短時間,噉機會陸續喇。

● The phrase 想都冇想過 is a common pattern, and many other verbs can be substituted for 想 séung. In idiomatic English we could say “it never even occurred to me” or “the thought never occurred to me”.
● 惆悵 chàuh4 cheung3 = disconsolate; melancholy
● 百無聊賴 baak3 mòuh4 lìuh4 laaih6 = be bored stiff


梁榮武:第一個機會係去 . . . 一個 um 做科教育工作機構 ah 四周圍去呢學校演講。

● 四周圍 = sei3 jāu1 wàih4 = on all sides. In the interview with Kwan Chuk-fai, the same expression is used to mean something like “all over the place”: 四周圍去食嘅喎.



● As an aspect marker, 開 hōi1 can be used to indicate habitual action (see Matthews and Yip, Intermediate Cantonese Unit 12). Another example of this use of 開 in the phrase 後來慢慢識佢傾開計 can be found in the podcast A Postman’s Gaze (1).
● To me, Leung Wing Mo seems to pronounce the word for “climate” as 氣候 *hei yau.
● 延續 yìhn4 juhk6 = to continue; to go on; to last

車淑梅:噉而家你就唔同呢,就唔單止係啲,啫,學校呀,社區裏邊呢,講呢,甚至乎呢, 見到你電視上邊,《武測天》咁樣樣,呵 (梁榮武:Mm mm) 呢個呢,真係, 會唔會你自己,啫係都,其實都 OK 喎 (梁榮武:Laughs ) 呢一條路?你一個幕前咁樣?【4:00】

● Here, the word 唔單止 = “not only” is paired up with 甚至乎 = “and even”, giving “you not only talk at schools and out in society [社區裏邊] but [we] even see you know on the TV”.
● According to Matthews and Yip, 呵 hó2 is used to check what is been said in the way English does with “isn’t that right?” (Intermediate Chinese, Unit 23). Sheik Cantonese defines it as “[final particle] huh – often used as a question tag to verify sth. while expecting confirmation”.
● 幕前 mohk6 chìhn4 = host (主持); literally “in front of the curtain”

梁榮武:Ah 呢樣嘢我又,啫,唔係話好「迷」,啫,唔係好嚮往,但係 eh 我自己都覺得可以勝任嘅,同埋其實都係有咁樣嘅機會呢,都係同我原本 ah 退休嘅時候嗰個 . . . 初衷都係 . . . 吻合嘅,就係希望呢,呢個氣候變化訊息上邊(車淑梅:係)播到啲種子,等多啲人關注。噉有一個咁好嘅機會咁,自然唔放過啦,就係傾計啦,學你話齋,哎,咁多主播一齊拍檔咁(unclear)得喇。

● Leung Wing Mo uses 迷 màih4 here with the sense of “be crazy about; be obsessed with”.
● 嚮往 heung3 wóhng5 = to yearn for; to look forward to
● 勝任 sīng1 yahm6 = competent; qualified; equal to (the demands of a job)
● 初衷 chō1 jūng1 = original intention
● 吻合 máhn5 hahp6 = be identical; coincide; tally; be a good fit
● 等 dáng2 here means “to let; to enable; to make (sb. do sth.)” and covers the meaning expressed in standard written Chinese by 讓 yeuhng6.
● 學你話齋 hohk6 neih5 waah6 jāai1 = just like you said. According to Sheik Cantonese, 話齋 means “just as what (sb.) has said/told (indicating that what sb has said is worth noting)”, and also crops up in the phrase 俗語話齋 juhk6 yuh5 waah6 jāai1 = as the saying has it.
● 拍檔 paak3 dong3 = to cooperate; to co-star
● 主播 jyú2 bo3 = anchor; presenter (on TV)

車淑梅:所以正話影相同正武哥,有好大壓力呀!你成日隔離咁靚女咁樣。噉不過同阿武哥,啫,傾計嘅時候呢,發覺你真係充滿活力嘅喎嗱,雖然你已經退咗休,um 你11年退休喇(梁榮武:係) 8,9年咁耐啦 (梁榮武: unclear 幾多嵗 | Laughs)【5:00】實知啦,你,退休你60嵗。噉,嘩,你依然跑步上來喎, 你樂富跑步上來廣播道喎。

● 正話 jing3 waah6 = just now; a moment ago (剛剛)
● 實知 = I thinks this means “(they) definitely know”, with saht6 in this context meaning “definitely; certainly” (Sheik Cantonese). By disclosing when Leung retired, listeners will, the host seems to imply, be able to guess his age.

梁榮武:其實,唔跑嘅,行快啲啦(車淑梅:係咪吖嘛。好健康). . . 我以前返工嘅時候就唔同(車淑梅:係)。我返工嘅時候經常跑步返工放工。最,最主要就係天文臺可以有地方俾我衝涼(Laughter)。噉呢個港臺我估好似冇。

車淑梅:都有嘅,不過你唔識啫。噉,啫話,好,好開心呢,其實,繼續每一日呢,都繼續咁開心就好啦。噉最緊要我哋有好天氣呢。其實 *kei,今年2020嘅天氣呢,啫係,阿武測天,啫,睇嚟 ,啫,會唔會有個好嘅發展,今年?

梁榮武:其實,eh 係悲觀嘅(車淑梅:你擰頭喎)因爲今日1月5號呢,噉,其實,啫,天文臺會喺三月嘅時候呢(車淑梅:Laughs),會做一個,啫係,年度嘅預報。 【6:00】噉,啫,講吓我哋香港落幾多雨呀,啫係,預計落幾多雨呀,打幾多風咁樣(車淑梅:Mm mm)。噉呢個要等臺長三月嘅時候公報呢(車淑梅:係 )。噉但係 . . . 係呀 . . . 啫,講講大啲嘅赤道嘅問題,啫係話,講返氣候變化 eh 我哋舊年年尾西班牙開咗一個氣候峰會呢。噉就好可惜,大家嗰個對呢個氣候變化 . . . 嗰個力度都真係唔夠,睇上嚟我哋嗰個氣候只會係惡化落去。

● 擰頭 lihng6 tàuh4 = to shake one’s head
● 赤道 chek3 douh6 = the equator
● 舊年年尾 gauh6 nín4*2 nìhn4 méih5 = at the end of last year
● 峰會 fūng1 wúi6*2 = a summit (meeting)
● 力度 *lehk douh6 = dynamism; vigour
● 睇上嚟 tái2 seuhng6 làih4 = by the looks of it

車淑梅:真係我哋都 . . . 發覺,香港啲天氣呢,嘩,啲風真係嚟得大呢。忽然間又話俾我哋聽,長洲嗰度會有地震呢 (梁榮武:)。嘩,呢個真係 . . . 啫,以前都 . . . 好少會聽到地震呢個字同我哋香港有關嘅嘛,係咪?

● Here, in the phrase 啫,以前都, Chea-Shuk-mei seems to pronounce the dōu1 as *dyu.


● The opening words of this segment 少就少,不過係有嘅 can be translated as “True, there aren’t many earthquakes, but there are some”.
● 斷層 dyuhn6 chàhng4 = (geological) fault
● 板塊 báan2 faai3 = tectonic plate; continental plate

Cantonese Podcasts: 陳文灝 Henry Chan Man-hou

Henry Chan 4

陳文灝 Chàhn4 Màhn4-houh6 (Henry) is one of the most beautiful people in Hong Kong ⸺ not for the way he looks but for the way he does. At the time this short video was made, he was the only staff member of the Hong Kong Society of Herpetology Foundation [香港兩栖及爬蟲協會] and utterly devoted to the plight of amphibians and reptiles in the territory. It is an inspiring sight to watch him in action. And, of course, we can also enjoy listening to his Cantonese!


Grammar points:

Henry tends to use the final particles 囉 lō1 and 啦 lāa1 a lot in ways that don’t always match conventional explanations. According to Yip and Matthews, 囉 “gives a suggestion that what is said should be obvious”, and can be used with the word 咪 maih6 = “then” to indicate “an obvious conclusion” (Intermediate Cantonese, Unit 23). The Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary has various definitions, including “[final particle] showing argumentative mood or making emphasis” and “[final particle] expressing a changed condition”. Keep these in mind as you listen to Henry: it would seem that the very general idea of adding emphasis is what he often aims to achieve with this particle.

As for 啦 lāa1, we expect to see it with imperatives, with suggestions introduced by 不如 bāt1 yùh4, and as a marker of the items in a list (but not with the final item [?]). Sheik Cantonese has “livelier version of喇 laa3”, which suggests that its main function is to report changed circumstances and to indicate what grammarians of Mandarin call CRS (current relevant status). The idea of “liveliness” seems to mean that speakers use it to indicate that what they are saying has a bearing on the “matter at hand”, but even as I write these words I can’t help feeling that we are still far from grasping an essential use of this particle!

In the phrase 唔掂得, the word 得 dāk1 = is a verb particle used to express possibility or capability. Importantly, it follows the verb it modifies. So, in the phrase 又或者邊啲位唔掂得呀, 唔掂得 means “cannot be touched”.

順便 seuhn6 bihn6 is a very useful expression with the meaning of “conveniently; in passing”. This word has, I think, a sense of the English “and while you’re at it . . .”. There is also the sense, too, of “since you happen to be doing A, you might as well do B”. When you hear Charlotte say 有時過嚟幫手做義工,就順便可以見佢咁樣囉, she wants to indicate that she comes to do some voluntary work so that, “in the process”, she can get to spend some time with Henry.



義工工作 yih6 gūng1 gūng1 jok3= volunteer work
圍繞 wàih4 yíuh5 = to revolve around; to centre on
對 . . . 有誤解 deui3 yáuh5 ngh6 gáai2 = to misunderstand so. or sth.
專登 jyūn1 dāng1 = on purpose; deliberately
脾性 peih4 sing3 = disposition; temperament
坎坷 hām1 hō1 = ① bumpy; rough, rugged; ② miserable; frustrating; in bad luck
畸士 kēi 6*2 = a loan-word for the English “case”; an instance
充公 chūng1 gūng1 = to confiscate
投放感情 tàuh4 fong3 gám2 chìhng4 = to project one’s feelings (onto sb./sth. else)
使命 si3 mihng6 = a (personal) mission (MW: 份)

This video lasts for 4:56 minutes. Scroll down for the Cantonese transcription, rough English translation and notes. To watch the video, click here.

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

The video also includes quite a number of captions referring to the species of the amphibian or reptile shown, together with a nickname. I have included all these inside square brackets.


我叫 Henry
My name is Henry

At present, I am the only employee of the Hong Kong Society of Herpetology

● 嚟㗎 lèih4 gaa3 is associated with explanations, and adds a hint of what English might cover with the phrase “just in case you were wondering”. We meet a second example later on, in the sentence 噉係我哋其中一位教育大使嚟嘅 = He is one of our educational ambassadors

Most of the time, for the most part, I run activities [connected with] environmental education

● The phrase 我平時主要呢 is literally something like “I usually importantly”, but I have tried to make the English natural. The use of 呢 at the end of a clause (when not an information-question particle) crops up several times in this video and may have to do with continuous states. Keep an eye (an ear) out for other instances in the course of the interview.

In addition, I take care of the amphibians and reptiles in the adoption centre

In my spare time, I like to [會] make art based on the environment

● The modal verb 會 wúih5 is associated with habitual actions. English uses the so-called “present tense” (!) to achieve the same result.
● The character 以 yíh5 in 以生態 functions as a co-verb working together with the main verb 做 = to make (some creative artworks) using/making use of/based on the environment.
● In this case, 啦 lāa1 is being used to signal the items in a list.

And I also like to do a spot of hiking

● Here, 吓 háah5 serves as an aspect marker. Yip and Matthews link it to what they call “the delimitative aspect”, which boils down to doing something “for a little while” (see Intermediate Cantonese, pp.74-75).

同埋都會去其他嘅 NGO 做一啲嘅義工工作囉
And I also go and do volunteer work at other NGOs

Therefore, you could say [可以話], all the time in my week revolves around the environment

● The verb 圍繞 wàih4 yíuh5 means “to revolve around; to centre on”. 住 (or 著) jyuh6 is another aspect marker covered briefly in Unit 19 of Basic Cantonese by Yip and Matthews. They sum up its function as describing “a continuous activity or state without change”. They note too that only certain verbs can take this marker, making it a bit unpredictable.

Revolves around the natural world

Headline: I Am Delighted to Meet Amphibians and Reptiles

Generally, the amphibians and reptiles we refer to in conversation [嚟講]

Here, 嚟講 is not the one we usually meet in phrases such as 對於我嚟講 = as far as I am concerned. Instead, it means something like “come to speak of”.

The ones most people are familiar with

Are frogs or salamanders

● Here is another instance of 啦 lāa1 being used to signal the items in a list.
[Caption: 虎紋蠑螈豆豆 / The Tiger-striped Salamander, “Dau Dau”]

龜啦、蛇啦、蜥蜴、[Caption: 東部箱龜 / Eastern Box Tortoise] 甚至 eh 鰐魚咁樣嘅
Tortoises, snakes, lizards, and even crocodiles and such

[Caption: 血蟒爬妹 / Sumatran short-tailed python, “Little Sister Paa”]

Why initially did I want to pick this job?

Perhaps instead I felt that the amphibians and reptiles picked me

● 又 yauh6 has a special role to play in the Cantonese organization of ideas. I have heard it described as designating “a parallel situation”, so it usually follows some previous statement with further clarification or, in this case, a kind of reversal.
● The full term for “amphibians and reptiles” is 兩栖及爬蟲 léuhng5 chāi1 kahp6 pàah4 chùhng4. Henry sometimes reduces this to 兩栖爬 and sometimes even further to 兩爬!

There are probably few specialist organizations in Hong Kong that do work to protect amphibians and reptiles

[Caption: 星點龜 / Spotted Turtle]

Many people have misunderstandings about them

Or have ignored such animals

[Caption: 北部鑽紋龜 / Northern Diamond Back Terrapin]

[I] hope to be able to do some things

[Caption: 東部箱龜 / Eastern Box Turtle]

Making use of my knowledge to help these animals

This species is called the African Ball Python

His nickname is Little Ball

He is one of our educational ambassadors

[Caption: 非洲球蟒波仔, African Ball Python, “Little Ball”]

Because actually we go and study about the environment and go into the wilderness to look at it

● 野外 yéh5 ngoih6 = the countryside

[When], for instance, we see a snake we won’t go out of our way to annoy it deliberately

● 特登 dahk6 dāng1 = “on purpose; deliberately”. 專登 jyūn1 dāng1 means the same thing.
● 攪 gáau2 = ① disturb; annoy; bother ② stir; mix; blend

So [when] we come here

嘩,要 ah 要拎上手,要照顧佢
Wow, we have to handle it [拎], we have to look after it

● 拎 nīng1 or līng1 = ① carry or hold with a hand; lift up ② to take away/out; bring over ③ to make use of sb./sth.

Actually, there is a psychological barrier one must get over

Having had prolonged contact [with them] . . . [you] discover that actually

好多蛇都 . . . 你只要知道脾性呀
There are many snakes . . . as long as you understand their nature

● 脾性 peih4 sing3 = disposition; temperament

Or which places cannot be touched

● Here is another instance of 又或者, indicating a parallel situation.
● 掂 dim3 = to touch. In the phrase 唔掂得, the final 得 dāk1 = is a verb particle used to express possibility or capability. Importantly, it follows the verb it modifies.

其實佢都會好 friendly
Then they will be friendly

In my experience, “they; them; their” etc. is often expressed by the singular 佢 kéuih5 when it is a matter of non-human beings and inanimate things.

Without any mistrust of you

● 戒心 gaai3 sām1 = be weary of; cautious; vigilant; keep one’s guard up; distrustful
[Caption: 中國水龍單眼仔 / Chinese Water Dragon, “One Eye”]

The animals in our centre have actually had a miserable time of it

● 坎坷 hām1 hō1 = ① bumpy; rough, rugged; ② miserable; frustrating; in bad luck

For instance, the Red-eared Slider ⸺ these

You can get a hold of [買到] one of these for 10 or 20 Hong Kong dollars

● 廿 yaah6 = a colloquial way of saying “twenty”

[Caption: 巴西龜,Red-eared Slider “Ping Ping”]

Few people have any interest in adopting one

[Caption: 盾臂龜,皮蛋 / African Spurred Tortoise, “Preserved Duck Egg”]

Generally, tortoises are rather more popular

陸龜 luhk6 gwai2 = (land) tortoise

[Caption: 凸臂鰐龜,小鋸鰐魚 / Snapping turtle (?), “Little Saw Alligator”]

噉亦都係我覺得,啫, 動物俾咗個 ah 「價值」佢
But then, too, [I] also feel, that is, in the case of animals, [once] they are given a “value”

就變咗 . . . 一啲人俾一啲物種嘅動物會被人忽視或者歧視囉
As so [變咗] . . . some kinds of animals may be overlooked or discriminated against

● 變咗 bin3 jó2 = a word showing consequence, i.e. “so; consequently”
● 物種 maht6 júng2 = species

I have to do the cleaning as well as feed [the animals]

● Here, Henry Chan uses 呀 āa1 (?) to indicate the items in a list. I cannot say whether 啦 lāa1 and 呀 are simply alternatives, or whether some underlying rule determines which one is used . . .

Do some record-keeping

I even help to give the sick ones [有病嘅] their medicine

● Note the use of 嘅 ge3 here. It forms an indefinite noun meaning “the sick ones” or “the ones that are sick”. We have already encountered this use of 嘅 to make indefinite nouns in the phrase 多人熟悉嘅 = The ones most people are familiar with

Minor duties include doing a bit of lifting and carrying [搬搬抬抬] and answering the phone

都 . . . 都需要幫手
I help out doing all these

There was a group of Diamondback Terrapins

The group [佢], as a matter of fact . . . that case [involved] over a hundred tortoises that were first of all confiscated

● 畸士 kēi 6*2 = case. It is sometimes also written as K事.
● 充公 chūng1 gūng1 = to confiscate

But because itself they were probably on the way to be being smuggled somewhere

● 本身 bún2 sān1 = itself. This usually comes after the thing it modifies, but I have the feeling that佢 kéuih5 is implicit here: 但因為佢本身佢可能. It has been omitted to avoid repetition.

They had already been put under a lot of pressure and had many illnesses

Too crowded together, and by the time they came [here] it was too late to save them

● 擠迫 zāi1 bīk1= cramped (?)

[Until] finally there were only nine left just now [而家]

● There is a tone-change in 最尾 jeui3 mēi5*1, meaning “final; last place” according to Sheik Cantonese. Here, “finally” seems more suitable.

When I checked the corpses of the dead tortoises

● 清理 chīng1 léih5 = to clear; to put in order; to check up

I could see that, ah, they were still OK yesterday

But today suddenly they were gone

●  Here, 今日 gām1 yaht6 sounds as if it is being pronounced *gam at.

不過,其實,eh 而家對得耐咗都習慣嘅
However, now, as a matter of fact, having faced [such things] for a long time, I am used to it

● I am not sure about 對得耐咗. My understanding is that 對 deui3 is a verb meaning “to face”, followed by a resultative (?), giving us “to face (something) for a long time”. The aspect marker 咗 jó2 suggests that the speaker has already realized this long-term facing of animal death and has therefore become accustomed to it. Compare this to an earlier comment Henry makes: 接觸耐咗就發現其實 = Having had prolonged contact [with them] . . . [you] discover that actually.

I project my feelings [into the animals] quite a bit, . . . the rebound is big

● 投放 tàuh4 fong3 = to put into circulation; to throw in
● 反彈 fáan2 daahn6 = (to?) rebound; rebound

Henry Chan 3

So after [this], that is, perhaps some new animals will come

就 . . . 可能冇咁擺太多感情落去
Then . . . I don’t think I’ll put so much of my emotions into [them]

● It is unusual to say 可能冇咁擺太多感情落去, but the man is clearly very upset at this point. Normally, one would say可能唔會擺太多感情落去.

Because I worry that [if/when] they die

I’ll be unhappy

Charlotte speaks:

Sometimes [I] come over and help out as a volunteer

And in the process [順便] I can get to see him

● 順便 seuhn6 bihn6 = conveniently; in passing. This word has, I think, a sense of the English “and while you’re at it . . .”.

I know he’s busy, yes

● Here, 都 dōu1 seems to add emphasis, rather than to mean “also”.

So I do everything I can to see if there is anything

I can do to bring us together [夾] using my own methods

● The character 夾 gaap3 has quite a number of meanings. I recently came across 河國榮 Gregory Rivers using it to mean “compatible; on the same wavelength”: 噉啱發覺我身邊啲朋友 / 全部都係香港人 / 啫,我哋,唔知點解我哋好夾嘅. However, in this context, Charlotte seems to use it to mean “to come up with a time or to agree on a time” when both of them are free.

To have some shared time [共同嘅時間] to go out

I mean, our study, the things that we study, our going out to work, and even the things we do in our free time

● In this list, Charlotte uses 呀 āa1 to enumerate the individual items.

Are connected with the natural environment

Henry speaks again:

Eh 有時都會幾攰,但係有滿足感嘅
Sometimes [I] am quite tired, but feel a satisfaction

Having made use of every minute and every second, you could say

Because there is [a sense of] a mission here

For instance, if I weren’t around

There’d be no one to take care of the animals in the centre any more

A reminder [提著] to oneself not to give up this thing

● From the context, 提住(著)seems to mean “to remind” or “keep reminding oneself”. In Unit 19 of Basic Cantonese, Yip and Matthews point out that “verb + jyuh6 can mean something different from the simple verb by itself” (p.101).

Cantonese Podcasts: A Postman’s Gaze (1)

Cheung Chau Temple_APR 2016_REDUCED

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

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

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

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

呢一個人 = this person

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


郵差的眼睛 / A Postman’s Gaze

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

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

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

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

Michael Lee_The Doctor_9 MAY 2020


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

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


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

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

李達成:噉我就俾佢「溝」到啦(laughs)。噉呀 . . .

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

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

Questioner: Yes, you are very handsome!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questioner: Do you have any answers?

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

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

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

Gregory Rivers, a Superman Cantonese-learner

Ho Gwok-wing Image 1 CROPPED_6 APR 2020

Gregory Rivers is one of my Superpeople of Cantonese-learning, and not just because he happens to be Australian!

After falling in love with Cantonese pop-music as a medical student at university, he plucked up the courage to buy a one-way ticket to Hong Kong in the 1980s, and since then, he has gone from strength to strength. His story is particularly intriguing because Rivers has nothing of the polyglot about him. His obsession was with Hong Kong, and learning the language was his best way into that world. His story demonstrates the role passion and commitment plays in language-learning, as well as the overpowering attraction a different culture can exert on someone remote from it by birth in so many ways.

The following short clip, a kind of brief question and answer interview, was first aired in 2016, and was produced by Arm Channel. The name “Arm Channel”, so odd at first sight, derives from that special Cantonese word 啱 ngāam, which means different things in different contexts, but generally boils down to “correct; accurate; appropriate”.

Unfortunately, there are no subtitles of any kind provided for this video. But if you like, you can read my rough Cantonese transcription below, together with an English translation. Otherwise plunge in here! The clip runs for just over 2 minutes.

And remember to use the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary for anything in the transcript that you might want to check.


呢度係「啱」Channel ,我係河國榮,一齊睇啦!

This is Arm Channel and I am Gregory Rivers [河國榮 Hòh4 Gwok3 Wìhng4]. Let’s watch this together!

Q: 點解你叫河國榮? / Why is your Chinese name 河國榮 Hoh4 Gwok3 Wihng4?

我以前讀大學嗰陣時呢,er… 我都係,即係啫,我鐘意咗廣東話歌曲之後,我都表演唱歌。噉呀佢每年都會攪一次,er… 國際晚會,就係希望大家都係一啲文化交流。Er… 張國榮啱啱攞到獎呀嘛,就係唱《Monica》。噉呀,嗰年呢,我就諗住,“哎,不如我唱《Monica》啦”。噉呀唱《Monica》之後,我個 friend 對我講,話,“你又鐘意張國榮。 Er…, 佢,佢嘅名又係「國榮」,你個名係 Gregory,不如你叫河國榮呀”。噉咪變咗咪叫河國榮囉。

Back in the days when I was studying at university, I, that is, after I got to like pop songs in Cantonese, I had never done a performance, singing [in public]. Every year they [佢] put on an international party [國際晚會] in the hope that people would get to share their cultures. Ah Leslie Cheung had won a prize with a song called “Monica”, so that year I thought, “Hey, why don’t I sing ‘Monica’?” So, after I had sung “Monica”, a friend of mine said to me, “You’re keen on Leslie Cheung. [Since] his given name is Gwok Wing and yours is ‘Gregory’, why don’t you call yourself Ho Gwok Wing?” And so, as it turned out, [my Chinese name] came to be Ho Gwok Wing.

● 變咗 bin3 jó2 = (?) “as it turned out” | I haven’t found a definition of this term yet, but I have heard it often enough to think that it must be an idiom meaning something like the suggested translation.
● I’m still puzzled by the use of 咪 maih6 in 噉咪變咗咪叫河國榮囉。Sheik Cantonese has a comment in a forum discussion that says: 咪 ~= 不就 in Mandarin, but it also defines it as meaning “(often used with 囉 lō1) then; as a result; might just as well”. For the time being, I am thinking of it as meaning “then”, sometimes with the added idea of “as a result” (especially if 囉 is present at the end).

Continue reading “Gregory Rivers, a Superman Cantonese-learner”

Zolima City Mag’s “Silk Smooth Tofu Pudding” and the Art of 荳腐花

Silky Smooth Tofu 1

On 2 April, Zolima City Mag posted another short video in its Forgotten Hong Kong Icons series. This one is about the 荳腐花 dauh6 fuh6 fāa1, a kind of dessert, made by the 公和 Kung Wo Beancurd Factory. Once again, the combination of spoken word, refined imagery and sensitive music result in an artistically-compelling micro-documentary.

You can watch the video here, with subtitles in English and Standard Written Chinese.

If you are interested in Cantonese, the main interest is in the vocabulary and a few Cantonese-specific verbs, such as 煲 bōu1 and 幫襯 bōng1 chan3. The expression 老中青 lóuh5 jūng1 chīng1 = “the elderly, the middle-aged and the young” was also new to me.

Be sure to use the Sheik Cantonese website to check any item in this text: you can find their on-line Cantonese dictionary here.

The owner of the concern, 蘇崇廉 Sōu1 Sùhng4 Lìhm4 is a bit soft-spoken, so there are a few gaps in the transcription, indicated by “/ ? /”. If you can help fill any of them in (or correct any errors you spot), please leave a comment: I greatly appreciate any contribution to the cause of Cantonese learning!


The term 荳腐花 dauh6 fuh6 fāa1 refers to a “soybean dessert” (Sheik); in this video, the term “silk smooth tofu pudding” is used. The character 荳, written with the grass radical or 草字頭 chóu2 jih6 tàuh4, is a variant of the more commonly used 豆.


There is a change of tone in the pronunciation of 荳 dauh6 in the combination 黃荳 wòhng4 dáu6*2 = soybean; soyabean.

浸 jam3 = to soak; to immerse; to saturate; to steep; to dip

浸佢 ah 六個鐘頭喇

In Cantonese, the verb 擺 báai2 is used with the meaning “to lay; to put; to place; to arrange”. After the verb, 落 lohk6 is added. 落 is similar to 到 dou3 in its expression of “arrival”, but suggests that the movement is vertically downwards rather than horizontal.
石磨 sehk6 mó6*2 = stone mill. When it is used again, 磨 is a verb meaning “to grind; to mill” and is pronounced mòh4.

Continue reading “Zolima City Mag’s “Silk Smooth Tofu Pudding” and the Art of 荳腐花”

A Tea House that Makes Dim Sum with Heart

Zolima City Mag Dim Sum Image 1_13 MAR 2020

Zolima City Mag recently posted a new short video on YouTube.

Called “A Tea House that Makes Dim Sum with Heart”, the clip deals with a small dim sum restaurant called 叁去壹 (“Three Minus One”) in 西營盤 Sai Ying Pun. It’s a finely crafted piece, and is almost as satisfying as a serve of prawn haa gaau dumplings! The camera and editing by Kevin Cheung is superb, and the interviewer Zabrina Lo does a great job in bringing out the rather quietly spoken chef, 王燦枝 Wong Charn-chee. There’s also a very moody soundtrack that complements the urban imagery brilliantly ⸺ the musicians responsible also deserve recognition for their efforts!

There are subtitles in English and Standard Written Chinese, and there are some valuable language points in the Cantonese, including the use of the verb 頂 déng2; an instance of 拍檔 paak3 dong3; and a couple of uses of the colloquial numbers, 卅呀一年 and 卌呀一年.

You can view the video here.

The complete Cantonese transcript is as follows:


● Both 叁 and 壹 are more formal characters representing the much more familiar 三 and 一 respectively.


● 頂 déng2 = to substitute; to replace; to take the place of


● 臨時 làhm4 sìh4 = at the time when sth. happens (compare 到時 dou3 sìh4); (?) at the last minute
● 拍檔 paak3 dong3 = a partner (in a business venture)


● The use of 咪 maih6 here is very colloquial and one that I haven’t seen explained in any textbook on Cantonese. Sheik Cantonese has “(often used with 囉) then; as a result; might just as well”. Here, it goes seem to mean more or less the same as 就 jauh6, “then”.

我 14 歲入行㗎啦,做點心

Zolima City Mag Dim Sum Image 3 CROPPED_15 MAR 2020

Continue reading “A Tea House that Makes Dim Sum with Heart”

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

RTHK Hong Kong Footpath Gwaan Jak-fai Image

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

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

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

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

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

To hear the interview, please click here.



Part 1A【1:42】

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

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

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

Pak Tai, True Soldier of the North

Pak Tai Image 2_1 MAR 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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