Goose Pimples

Earth from the Moon

The shine of setting sun proved stronger than the splatter
of rain, still only a distant ticking on a sheep farmer’s
tin-roofed shed. We could believe our eyes.
We did not believe our ears, when, on through the blind glare,
the sound of the downpour edged closer, no longer
a metallic type-written clatter but liquid inciting
the vocal retort of a dam. We knew then
that we had to stay put where we paused, perched
on the renewed awkwardness of stationary bikes.
With the rest of the dry world bathed in glow, the shower
barged helter-skelter in on our makeshift hide,
drenching us lightly through a ramshackle canopy
to give us our first goose bumps, hint of new Autumn
invisible by day in March’s postscript to Summer,
but apparent at once with the outbreak of night, like first stars.

Nameless Creek (Tai Po Kau 大埔滘)

2018-09-20 Carrs Road Clouds 3

Mountain water unclouded as crystal
always stills me in my tracks
and I just have to squat beside the anonymous downflow,
with all my nerve
the nuances of what to the eyes is essentially supremely invisible,
while enjoying the endless soothe
of low motion-voices.
The mid-air blur of dragonflies
depth’s liquid action: where an insect skims,
vision registers the ripple delibly made,
just as it does
the flick of a fish the colour of tan sand
against stone’s sawdust-gravel,
a flicker
human instants at a quarter of thought
barely manage to catch hold of.
It’s like feeling the rush of blood in a jungle butterfly’s veins
just by placing
the pace of the breath of the lungs
in an open, sober altering
at the fringe of attention’s outermost
utmost care.

Giving Oneself to Place • Intimacy and Hong Kong Temples (Part I)

2017-11-17 Little Temple Tsz Tin Tuen Mun II

Temple at Tsz Tin Tsuen, Tuen Mun (2017)


The Shrine of the Earth

Tsz Tin Tsuen 紫田邨 is a small village in the north-western part of Tuen Mun. Its name means “purple fields” in Cantonese. Like virtually everywhere else in Hong Kong’s New Territories, Purple Fields is undergoing intensive “development” and has virtually completely lost its former identity as a farming community. As I made my way up a gentle slope to the entrance, I got a clearer view of new housing estates towering pristine over squat local buildings: the first one I encounter is called Luk Tin Lau 綠田邨 or “Green Fields Estate”, the name a painfully ironic reminder of what once existed where now only a geometrical conglomerate of concrete, glass, and metal stands.

Opposite, overcast in its deep shadow, sits a modest residence probably dating back to the 1950s and bearing the name of Chau Yun 秋園 (Autumn Garden). In this case, however, the name remains true to substance: some of the trees planted around the one-storey dwelling are beginning to shed their leaves, although on this particular day it still feels intensely like Summer. The contrast in design, in scale, in aspiration is simply overwhelming. I had come to Purple Fields primarily to track down a few rough paths (marked on my map with dotted lines) so as to get off the beaten track out to some remoter places, but with all the construction work in progress and the complete transformation of the terrain, finding any of them proved to be impossible.

I bowed my head, partly in resignation to progress, as I passed under the fine formal gate that marks the way in to the village proper, and meandered along the winding main street, lined with unassuming houses and a si do 士多 (“store”) or two which were yet to open for business. Before too long, on a corner block, something caught my eye: a neat, tiled building with couplets engraved in stone on either side of the open ground-floor recess. An altar was just visible through the gloom at the back, and on it were oil-burners, candles, a vase containing the long stems of luxuriant green-leafed lucky bamboo [富貴竹], and dishes piled with cumquats (from the Cantonese gam gat or “golden good luck”). Pink-sticked incense burned in a small bowl of sand just outside the entrance.

I was slightly puzzled by the fact that the temple did not appear to be dedicated to any particular god, but this did not really matter, because the four-character horizontal inscription on the lintel, marked with five pieces of fresh-looking red and gold lucky paper, bore the following remarkable message:

The Divine and the Human, Together in Delight

Without demeaning the supernatural powers, and without at the same time exalting the human beyond the limits of its station, this plain phrase assumes a wonderful intimacy between the two realms. There is undoubtedly reverence implicit in the physical appearance of the shrine — all is spotlessly clean and in perfect order — but there is no trace of the abject piety that so often infects our mortal response to the numinous. I recall to this day my shock and lingering pleasant surprise when I read a passage written by the great modern Chinese translator of Balzac Fu Lei 傅雷 in which he expresses his dislike of the grovelling element in the music of Bach. In this brief Chinese inscription, with its emphasis on mutuality and delight, we are transported to a realm that is so completely unlike that familiar scenario in which a sinful human being kneels in self-abasement before a wrathful deity. There is a hint here at a saner attitude, as well as a much more charming one, in which human pleasure is not necessarily contrary or offensive to the incomprehensible forces that shape this planet.

Continue reading “Giving Oneself to Place • Intimacy and Hong Kong Temples (Part I)”