Learning Cantonese: Sou Hak, Private Detective of the Self

We all have split or splintered personalities according to 素黑 Sou Hak. To live well, we must acknowledge this essentially fractured state and then learn the art (as she states elsewhere) of becoming “private detectives of our own selves” who — like Jane Marple or Lieutenant Columbo — manage to get a clearer idea of what we actually are by careful observation and fiercely logical deduction.

Sou Hak has explored this process in a recent book of hers provocatively titled 《也許你真的不如你所想那樣》 (Perhaps You Really Aren’t Who You Think You Are). But it’s not anger she want to provoke but clear-sighted recognition. Without self-knowledge, she asserts, 分裂容易令人哋痛苦 | 人有必要辨認出自己 | 其中一個目的係減低痛苦 | 包括自己同埋因爲自己而導致別人嘅痛苦 = “to the self in every present moment, fragmentation easily causes pain, and one of the goals of having to see yourself clearly is to reduce [this] pain, both your own and the pain you cause to others because of what you are”. In other words, the detective work we need to do on ourselves is not just for our own good: others may benefit from it, too.

In the presentation, you’ll come across some small but intriguing grammatical issues, including the use of 透 tau3 after verbs to indicate the result of the action; a couple of instances of that very common double sentence-final particle 嚟㗎 lèih4 gaa3; three uses of 相 sēung1 as the first element in compound verbs, expressing the idea of “each other; one another”; as well as two common aspect markers, 翻 fāan1 and 緊 gán2. You can read all about it after the transcription — if you’re aspiring to Canto-connoisseurship!

Because she reads quite a bit from her book, a lot of the vocabulary is fairly literary, but since there are no hard and fast boundaries in language between formal and informal, why not accept the challenge and make the following items your own: 道德責任 douh6 dāk1 jaak3 yahm6 = a moral responsibility; 軟弱 yúhn5 yeuhk6 = weak; feeble; flabby; 前後一致 chìhn4 hauh6 yāt1 ji3 = roughly, “consistent from start to finish”; 腦結構 nóuh5 git3 kāu1 = roughly, “the structure of the brain”; 混亂不安 wahn6 lyuhn6 bāt1 [ng]ōn1 = roughly, “confused & uneasy”; 重建 chùhng4 gin3 = to rebuild; to re-establish; and 脫離 tyut3 lèih4 = to separate oneself from; to break away from.

Please scroll down for my transcription, 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.

Caption: 人為什麽害怕面對真實的自己?

Caption: 素黑 | 療癒作家 | 《也許你真的不如你所想那樣》作者

人有必要辨認出自己 | 好多人表面上想睇透自己嘅心 | 更加了解自己嘅「本性」| 知道真正想要乜嘢 | 做乜嘢 | 真係走到大門前邊呢 | 偏偏又唔敢舉步行入去喎 | 有啲人又想睇通自己 | 有啲人又好怕睇透 | 人點解咁驚面對真實嘅自己嘅呢?| 其中一個原因 | 係驚睇清楚之後唔能夠再逃避 | 必須面對同埋承擔 | 有道德責任需要改善自己 | 「面對」其實係好沉重嘅擔子嚟㗎 | 有人害怕承擔唔起 | 有人唔願意負責任 | 怕辛苦、怕付出、怕努力 | 軟弱嘅人好難醫治嘅 | 懶惰嘅人係冇得救嘅 | 你都知道㗎

● 辨認 bihn6 yihng6 = to identify; to recognize | ● 本性 bún2 sing3 = natural instincts; nature; inherent quality | ● 舉步 géui2 bouh6 = cf. 舉步維艱 = have difficulty moving forward | ● 逃避 tòuh4 beih6 = to escape; to evade; to shirk | ● 道德責任 douh6 dāk1 jaak3 yahm6 = a moral responsibility | ● 擔子 daam3 jí2 = a load; a burden | ● 軟弱 yúhn5 yeuhk6 = weak; feeble; flabby

Note: The discourse marker 偏偏 pīn1 pīn1 is mainly used in writing. It indicates (according to my trusty A Chinese-English Dictionary) that reality just happens turns out the opposite of what one hoped for or expected [表示事實跟所希望或期待的恰恰相反]. Sou Hak’s meaning here is that just when someone gets to the gateway

Caption: Why Are People Afraid to Face their True Selves?

Caption: Sou Hak | Therapist & Writer| Author of Perhaps You Really Aren’t Who You Think You Are

People have a need to recognize who they are. Superficially, a great many people would like to look clearly into their own minds in order to get a better understanding of their “[essential] nature”. They want to know what they really want, and what they really want to do. But when in truth they get to the main gate [of themselves], they don’t dare step through. Some people would like to know themselves [睇通自己], but at the same time they’re afraid to. Why are people so afraid to face their true selves? One reason is that they are worried they could no longer go on evading themselves if they were they to see themselves clearly — they would have to face up to themselves and bear the responsibility. One has a moral responsibility to improve oneself. “Facing up [to oneself]” is in fact a very heavy burden to bear. Some people are afraid that they won’t be able to bear [such] a burden. Some people just don’t want the responsibility, unwilling [怕] to take the trouble, to make an effort, to strive. Weak people heal with great difficulty. Lazy people are beyond all saving [冇得救]. You too know this.

【1:00】你會問 | 我應該係一個最清楚自己嘅人嚟㗎 | 點解仲會睇唔透自己嘅? | 呢度我想講一個關鍵詞:就係「分裂」| 人好複雜嘅 | 有好多嘅分裂嘅自己合湊而成 | 冇一個前後一致、完整嘅你 | 呢一個你喺度努力 | 嗰個你又喺度退縮 | 另一個你又好善良 | 再又一個你 [又一種] 僞裝 | 分裂其實冇好唔好嘅 | 只係一個正常嘅腦結構現象 | 當人遇到難關 | 或者需要選擇嘅時候 | 嗰啲分裂嘅自己就會蠢蠢出場 | 令到人陷入咗混亂不安嘅狀態 | 當想像、慾望同埋期望相融嘅時候 | 你會對自己感到肯定同埋自滿 | 而當想像、慾望同埋期望相冲嘅時候 | 你會對自己感到陌生 | 你愈係無法自己整合自己嘅分裂

分裂 fān1 liht6 = to split; to divide; to break up | ● 合湊而成 hahp6 chau3 yìh4 sìhng4 = (?) made by combining different parts/pieces | ● 前後一致 chìhn4 hauh6 yāt1 ji3 = roughly, “consistent from start to finish” | ● 退縮 teui3 sūk1 = to shrink back; to flinch; to cower | ● 僞裝 ngaih6 jōng1 = to pretend; to feign | ● 腦結構 nóuh5 git3 kāu1 = roughly, “the structure of the brain” | ● 蠢蠢出場 chéun2 chéun2 chēut1 chèuhng4 = cf. 蠢蠢欲動 = ready and excited to have a go | ● 陷入 haahm6 yahp6 = to sink into; to be caught in | ● 混亂不安 wahn6 lyuhn6 bāt1 [ng]ōn1 = roughly, “confused & uneasy” | ● 自滿 jih6 múhn5 = usu. “complacent; self-satisfied” | ● 相沖/衝 sēung1 chūng1 = (of two or more things) to clash; to collide | ● 愈 yuh6 = to surpass cf. 愈 … 愈 = the more … the more ● 整合 jíng2 hahp6 = to reorganize & consolidate

You may well ask: “Surely I should be the person who knows what I am [better than anyone else]. Why can’t see clearly into myself [睇唔透自己]? At this point, I would like to mention the key-word “fragmentation”. People are very complicated, made up of many fragments of self. There is no overriding consistency [前後一致] in you, or a complete you. This you is striving [to do its best], [while] that you holds back. Another you is very good, while there is another you who pretends [有一種僞裝]. In itself, there is nothing good or bad about [this] fragmentation — it is merely a phenomenon of normal brain structure [正常嘅腦結構現象]. Whenever a person encounters difficulties, or needs to make a choice, these fragmented selves are liable to make trouble [會蠢蠢出場], plunging you into a state of confusion. When imagination, desire and expectations are integrated, you will feel a sense of affirmation and self-satisfaction, but when imagination, desire and expectations conflict with one another [相沖], you feel like a stranger to yourself. The greater your inability to reorganize & consolidate yourself by yourself . . .

【2:00】你愈係混亂 | 每一刻嘅你都係喺度變動嘅自己 | 你唔係要搵翻或者做翻你自己 | 而係去「辨認出」自己 | 每一個當刻嘅自己 | 分裂容易令人哋痛苦 | 人有必要辨認出自己 | 其中一個目的係減低痛苦 | 包括自己同埋因爲自己而導致別人嘅痛苦 | 認出當下呢一個你 | 呢一啲嘅你 | 喺度做緊乜 | 想緊乜 | 怕乜嘢,愛乜嘢 | 嘗試喺分裂嘅自己中平衡情緒、慾望同埋行為 | 呢啲能夠令你同埋別人舒服一啲 | 認清楚自己之後 | 重建一個整合同埋清晰嘅「自己」圖像係非常之重要嘅 | 能夠幫你成長 | 脫離困境 | 搵到喜悅同埋樂活嘅方向

● 變動 bin3 duhng6 = to change | ● 導致 douh6 ji3 = to lead to; to bring about; to result in | ● 平衡 pìhng4 hàhng4 = balance; equilibrium | ● 重建 chùhng4 gin3 = to rebuild; to re-establish | ● 清晰 chīng1 sīk1 = distinct; clear | ● 圖像 tòuh4 jeuhng6 = a picture; an image | ● 脫離 tyut3 lèih4 = to separate oneself from; to break away from | ● 喜悅 héi2 yuht6 = happy; joyous | ● 樂活 lohk6 wuht6 = (?) lifestyles of health & sustainability (LOHAS)

. . . the more confused you become. In every moment, you are a changing self. You are not trying to recover yourself or be yourself; you are evolving a self [變寅出自己]. To the self in every present moment, fragmentation easily causes pain, and one of the goals of having to see yourself clearly is to reduce [this] pain, both your own and the pain you cause to others because of what you are. Recognize the you you are at this moment — these various you’s — and what they are doing, what they are thinking, what they are afraid of, what they are in love with, and try to balance out your moods, desires and actions among these fragmented selves. These [responses] can bring you, and those around you [同埋別人], some relief. After you’ve seen into yourself clearly, rebuilding a reorganized, consolidated and distinct [清晰] self-image [「自己」圖像] is extremely important, enabling you to grow, to break away from difficult situations, and to find a joyous, healthy and sustainable life-direction [搵到喜悅同埋樂活嘅方向].

【3:00】當你有能力睇透自己嘅表裏 | 同眾多嘅分裂嘅自己相處、整合、平衡同埋協調好 | 你先至係你自己 | 你唔係嚟睇我 | 你係睇你自己 | 同自己相認

● 表裏 bíu2 léuih5 = the outside & the inside; one’s outward show & inner thoughts | ● 眾多 jung3 dō1 = multitudinous; numerous | ● 相處 sēung1 chyú2 = to get along with one another | ● 協調 hip3 tìuh4 = to co-ordinate; to harmonize

It is only when you have the ability to see into yourself, inside and out, and [can] live with, consolidate, balance and coordinate all these multifarious fragment-selves that you can be who you are. [Then], you won’t come and see me; you will see into yourself and recognized what you see [同自己相認].

Grammar Notes

A. As Yip and Matthews point out, Cantonese has an extensive repertoire of resultative particles which are added to (usually monosyllabic) verbs to describe the extent or consequence of an action (Basic Cantonese: 89). Examples include 錯 cho3 = “wrongly”; 好 hóu2 = “complete”; 明 mìhng4 = “clear”; and 壞 waaih6 = “bad; broken”. You’ll regularly encounter verbs using these particles such as 攪錯 gáau2 cho3 = “to make the wrong choice” and 做好 jouh6 hóu2 = to finish up (doing)”.

Next time you pay a visit to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple near Sha Tin, watch out for a small Buddhist establishment near a stream about half way up the hill. On it you will see the words: 看破放下自在, very roughly meaning = “See through [this world]. Put down [your burdens]. Be at ease”. Here, 看破 is another example of a verb + resultative particle, in which 看 hon3 = “to see” and 破po3 = “to break (through)”. If your seeing breaks through what you think of as reality, then you’re on your way to Buddhist enlightenment.

In Sou Hak’s presentation, she uses another resultative particle with a similar meaning: 透 tau3. In Cantonese, 透 is encountered all the time in 透過 tau3 gwo3 = “by means of”, but one of its basic meanings is “to penetrate; to pass through”. At 0:06, she uses it for the first time in 好多人表面上想睇透自己嘅心 = “superficially, a great many people would like to look clearly into their own minds”, putting 透 with the common verb 睇 tái2 to express the idea of “seeing into something” or “looking deeply into (oneself)”. She says it again it 0:24 in 有啲人又好怕睇透 = “they are afraid to see into themselves”, and then goes to use it again at 1:06 in a potential construction: 點解仲會睇唔透自己嘅?Since potential constructions express inability or potential to do something, 睇唔透 = “cannot see into (one’s mind)”. To express ability in this case, we would use 睇得透 = “can see into (one’s mind)”. This may seem a little obscure, but although 可以 and 能夠 are the verbs routinely used to mean “to be able” in Cantonese, 得 also has this sense in certain limited situations, reflected in the fact that 得 to this day means “OK” or (as Martin Booth reports) “can do!”.

Just to make life interesting, Sou Hak expresses more or less the same thing with two other different resultative particles. At 0:21 she uses 有啲人又想睇通自己, in which 通 tūng1 = “open; through”. For this reason, the Chinese for “old China hand” is 中國通, suggesting that the person knows China “through and through”. At 0:33 she also declares 係驚睇清楚之後唔能夠再逃避, making use of the common adjective 清楚 chīng1 chó2 = “clear” as the resultative particle (in my experiences, bi-syllabic resultatives are rare). This pops up again at 2:58 with a different verb: 認清楚 = “to recognize clearly”.

B. The double particle 嚟㗎 lèih4 gaa3 can be added to sentences and questions that are based a kind of equation: “A = B” or Does “A = B?”. My impression is that it is used to indicate permanent or defining characteristics (rather than transitory or incidental ones). Sou Hak uses 嚟㗎 in the following situations:

0:44 「面對」其實係好沉重嘅擔子嚟㗎
1:00 你會問 | 我應該係一個最清楚自己嘅人嚟㗎 | 點解仲會睇唔透自己嘅?

In the first example, she basically says “facing up [to oneself] is in fact a very heavy burden”. The double particle is added to indicate that the speaker sees the “burdensomeness” as part and parcel of the act of confrontation. In the second example, too, we also get the feeling that a kind of universal truth is being suggested: “Surely I should be the person who knows what I am [better than anyone else]”. Here are some other examples (including a question) I have collected. Note that they all contain the verb 係 haih6, which functions as a kind of “equal” sign:

呢架係二手車嚟㗎。 = This car is second-hand. (Sheik Cantonese)
點算呀?呢度係邊度嚟㗎?= Now what are we going to do? Where is this place? (Context: the speaker has been forced to get off a minibus in the middle of nowhere.) (Current Colloquial Cantonese)
噉呢一本係佢最新嘅詩集嚟㗎 = Now this book is his latest collection of poems. (《亂世講書》: 字裏光影)
其實受害者唔單止係被欺凌嘅同學呢 | 同時係欺凌者或者係,呃,呢一種,呃,排斥者呢,本身其實都係呢一種恐懼文化或者恐懼情緒嘅受害者嚟㗎 = Actually, the victims [of homophobia] are not only the students who are bullied. At the same time, bullies and those who exclude others [排斥者] are themselves victims of this culture of terror or this terrified mood. (I am ME! 我係許寶強)
= Just next to the Kwun Tong Promenade, a large number of dead fish were [seen] floating on the surface from yesterday evening. Many of them were grey mullet. (TVB)
我諗無論你哋有意定冇意 | 歌都係一個記錄嚟㗎喇 = Whether intentionally or unintentionally, I think songs are a documentation (達明一派 30 年前唱香港的命 黃耀明:我哋需要新嘅香港)

None of these examples is negative, but my search for new examples might turn up a negative eventually.

C. The character 相 sēung1 often combines with a verb to indicate mutuality. Sou Hak uses it three times, and these examples should make its usage clear:

1:44 當想像、慾望同埋期望相融嘅時候 | 你會對自己感到肯定同埋自滿 | 而當想像、慾望同埋期望相衝嘅時候 | 你會對自己感到陌生
3:07 當你有能力睇透自己嘅表裏 | 同眾多嘅分裂嘅自己相處、整合、平衡同埋協調好

In the first case, 相 is added to 融 yùhng4 = “to blend; to fuse” to indicate that imagination, desire and expectations all “blend together” or become integrated. Later in the same sentence, Sou Hak presents the opposite scenario through 相冲 sēung1 chūng1 [also written as 相衝]. Here, 冲 means “to clash”, so the addition of 相 highlights the idea that the three elements are in conflict with one another. In the final example, the verb used is 處 chyú2 = “to get along with” (but remember, 處 can also be pronounced as chyu3 or syu3 with a different set of meanings!). 相處 is one of the most commonly encountered 相 + VERB compounds, with 同眾多嘅分裂嘅自己相處 = “and [can] live with all these multifarious fragment-selves”. As far as I can see, 相 can be used for a mutual relationship involving two subjects only, or it can refer (as is the case here) with the relationship between more than two entities.

D. A few final points. Firstly, there’s a very good example of the 冇得 + VERB structure which seems to add weight to the view that it indicates absolute (“not for love nor money”) and universal (covering all modes of ability, including physical capacity, know-how, permission, the presence of favourable or adverse conditions, etc.) inability. So at 0:58, when Sou Hak says 懶惰嘅人係冇得救嘅 = “lazy people cannot be saved”, she means: NO WAY! NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! NOT BY YOU NOR BY ANYBODY ELSE!

Secondly, there are a couple of noteworthy uses of the aspect marker 翻 fāan1. Basically, this is added to verbs to indicate that the action is repeated. However, it can be extended in other ways, one of which is to indicate “recovery”. At 1:45, Sou Hak makes use of it twice in the phrase 每一刻嘅你都係喺度變動嘅自己 | 你唔係要搵翻或者做翻你自己 = “you are not trying to recover yourself or be yourself”, my sense is that 翻 suggests a going back to some kind of previous state. The second example 做翻你自己 could literally be translated as “do-back your self”. There’s also an illuminating use of the aspect marker 緊 gán2, essentially used to indicate the you are “in the middle” of doing something. In the fragment 認出當下呢一個你 | 呢一啲嘅你 | 喺度做緊乜 | 想緊乜 | 怕乜嘢,愛乜嘢 at 2:32, 緊 is added to the active verbs 做 and 想 to mean “what you are doing” and “what you are thinking”. The essential significance here, consolidated by the addition of 喺度 hái2 douh6 is “what you are doing right at this moment”. What Sou Hak goes on to say after this has more to do with long term states, so she says 怕乜嘢,愛乜嘢 = “what you are afraid of and what you love/are drawn to” without 緊, since states by definition involve duration.

Does Anyone Wonder What You Are?

Photo by Anni Roenkae on Pexels.com

Does anyone wonder what you are?
A silver bullet for shooting stars?
Or the sunlit edge of a crisp white sheet?
A second hand ticking off clock repeats?
Or the only daughter of Deadlocked Laughter?
Ice in the tall glass cloaked with cola?
Or the twang that oms in a still guitar?
Does anyone wonder what you are?

Does anyone wonder what you are?
The twang that oms in a still guitar?
Or a kite cut-throating its own kite-string?
An oar-fish rowing through formalin?
Or the i-dot moon of an asteroid?
The overwhelmed and the underjoyed?
Or a pin-drop quiet that tap-drip jars?
Does anyone wonder what you are?

Does anyone wonder what you are?
The pin-drop quiet that tap-drip jars?
Or a change of key in the human mood?
A dress-rehearsal for blemished nudes?
Or infinity scratched on a toilet wall?
Oxygen trapped in a crystal ball?
Or a missing rung on the monkey bars?
Does anyone wonder what you are?

Silent B (For Those who have to Make Themselves up out of No One)

Nathan Prayre stares inwards from an odd angle
at himself: Who is this stranger
stronger in conscious than me?
He minds
the abrupt unwelcome of all the personality’s lame haberdashery —
is this the desert of forty days
once so faithfully promised in scripture? Awake by night
to a stray patch of phantom glow on his bedroom wall
and the work of laboured breath,
he prays for tears — or sleep — or comfort
in precisely that order, pleading
to the active no one in himself
for the chance of a trace of a truce
with non-human human-being
or even some ever-so-slight side-benefit of the doubt.

Homing (Another Near Life Experience)

Photo by Harrison Haines on Pexels.com

In eight months the new house assimilates the jangled stranger.

But, now and then, random olfactory flashbacks come banging down the doors of second nature’s numb fortress.

Forgotten unforgettable conjunctions of brick-, paint-, timber-, cement-, corrugated-iron-, cloth-, soil-, and garden-smells reanimate those early impressionable days of first acquaintance.

How odd to lose touch — thanks to daily close contact — with intense networks of such visceral-physical fact!

Buried memories surface through gaps in inattention to the fanfare of tingling, dumbfounded nerves.

(Awareness in its high-beam headlights gets so easily lost in a tunnel vision’s on-rushing detail . . . )

Fortunately, unnoticed, something sensitive in us registers out of turn the world’s appeal to the body and takes life-pleasure in disrupting by means of involuntary recollection thought’s endless, teeming, habitually dogged ant-lines.


Photo by Daniel Eliashevsky on Pexels.com

You’re only the spire. You don’t ever touch down
right to the foundations. “Upwards” is a word
you may often happen to take seriously. The vista
seems to shape itself — flawless — all around you,
its beauty one unbroken ring. “Centre”
and “circumference” inevitably creep into your thoughts
as well as values and, on the whole,
you can’t help looking down a little. One day,
when the physical temple starts to rot,
belatedly you will realize
just how much extraordinary emptiness exists
between you and the actual — neglected — textures of the ground,
textures Planet Earth always freely, openly offers.

蔣勳 Chiang Hsün on Covid-19 (Learning How to Be Alone in Togetherness with Oneself)

For Taiwanese writer 蔣勳 Chiang Hsün, covid-19 may just be a warning to get back in touch, not with each other as we are constantly doing, but with our neglected selves — 活得很豐富 | 跟自己對話, to live much more richly in dialogue with ourselves . . .

This video from 天下雜誌 in Taiwan is in Mandarin, so I can’t guarantee the accuracy of the transcription, but Chiang’s ideas, expressed eloquently and incisively, seemed very worthy of translation into English in the hope  of reaching a still wider audience.

Please scroll down for the transcription, English translation and notes. You can see the video here. And if you wish to check anything in the transcription or find the Cantonese pronunciation, please make use of the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.

You can find many videos featuring Chiang Hsün on the internet, and quite a few of them have English subtitles. I recommend this one entitled, 最簡單的生活,就是富足 Chiang Hsun: Being Rich is Having the Simplest Life.


真的人類文明有時好難講 | 就是一個大災難的來臨 | 也許是救贖 | 新冠肺炎發生的時候 | 我反而覺得 | 是不是這個東西在逼我們 | 重新回到一個很純粹的個人 | 就是你不得不保持距離了 | 不能群聚之後 | 你有沒有機會 | 還是活得很豐富 | 跟自己對話

● 群聚 = living in groups; gregarious; social

True human civilization is sometimes difficult to talk about. The arrival of a disaster on a huge scale may be a kind of redemption. When covid-19 [first] happened, I felt that perhaps this thing was trying to force us to return once more to a very pure individual self [個人]. Now you have no choice but to maintain a certain distance. After it is no longer possible to gather socially, might you not then have the opportunity to live much more richly in dialogue with yourself?

Caption: 蔣勳:學會孤獨和自己在一起 | Chiang Hsün: Learning How to Be Alone in Togetherness with Oneself

如果我們從小 | 在比較華人的社會長大 | 然後受到儒家比較強的影響 | 非常非常不容易有孤獨感 | 那麽在漢字當中 | 「獨」跟「獨」 | 都是非常負面的意義 | 可是孤獨這兩個字 | 如果我們從西方的文字的根源來看 | 它是 solitude | 它的字根是 s-o-l | 就「太陽」| 【1:00】我就感覺到 | 兩個文化的差異很大 | 那我覺得當然 | 各有利弊 | 所以我後來對這個孤獨的定義是說 | 跟自己在一起 | 那其實張愛玲也講過 | 因爲我想她也受到西方的教育 | 隱私是不存在的 | 在華人世界 | 她說如果早上起來 | 你不把門打開 | 好像就表示你在家裏做壞事 | 我們不太容易有 | 把自己躲起來 | 跟自己對話的那個部分 | 君君、臣臣、父父、子子 | 你在這個社會裏 | 都是相對的 | 可是有時候真的好希望自己一個人 | 然後覺得一個人的那種豐富 | 對向内探索 | 自己存在的意義 | 或者價值的東西 | 儒家從來沒有探討這個 | 就是我個人要去面對 | 所有生命裏的磨難 | 我怎麽去挑戰這些東西 | 孤獨地去面對它 | 而不是群體面對 | 這個病毒【2:00】是不是一個 | 非常神奇的預告?| 對於人類過度地接觸的頻繁 | 對於人類過度地物質消耗 | 對於人類過度地 | 所有的這種社交 | 或者應酬的一個 | 最大最大的一個警告

● 儒家 = the Confucianists; the Confucian school| ● 根源 = a source; an origin; a root | ● 字根 = literally “word root”, roughly “the root of the word; etymology”| ● 各有利弊 = each one has its advantages and disadvantages (or “its pros & cons””) | ● 隱私 = one’s secrets; private matters one wants to hide | ● 相對 = relative | ● 探討 = to inquire into; to probe into | ● 磨難 = a tribulation; a hardship; suffering | ● 群體 = colony (a biological term); a group | ● 預告 = advance notice; a herald | ● 頻繁 = frequently; often | ● 物質消耗 = roughly, “material consumption” | ● 社交 = social contact | ● 應酬 = to have social intercourse with | ● 警告 = to warn; to caution; to admonish

If, from an early age, you grow up in a fairly Chinese kind of society, and are then subject to a fairly strong influence from Confucian culture, then it is extremely difficult to have a feeling of aloneness [孤獨感]. The two characters 獨 and 獨 that make up the word for “alone” in Chinese both carry an extremely negative meaning. But the word for 孤獨, if we look at it in terms of the etymology of Western writing, is “solitude”, the root of which is “sol”, the Latin word for “sun” [1:00]. In my view, the differences between the two cultures are considerable [很大], and I think that, of course, each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, so later my definition of this [word] “solitude” was “a being together with oneself”. In actual fact, [the writer] Eileen Chang has also spoken about this. The reason being, I think, that she received a Western-style education. Secrets do not exist in the Chinese world. She said that if you get up in the morning and do not open your door, people would get the idea [好像就表示] that you are doing something you shouldn’t be doing inside. To hide ourselves away and to hold a dialogue with ourselves — that part is not so easy for us [as Chinese people]. Rulers, ministers, fathers, sons — in this society your [position] is relative [to those of others]. Sometimes, however, we long to be on your own, and then to feel that richness in being alone. Exploring your inner world, the meaning of your own existence or things like values — these are things that Confucianism has never inquired into. That is, I have to face all these tribulations of human existence on my own. How do I challenge [挑戰] such things, face to face with them on my own and not as part of a group? Is this virus [2:00] an extremely mysterious [kind of] advance notice about the excessive frequency of contact between human beings [接觸的頻繁]? About the excessive material consumption of human beings? Or the greatest possible warning [最大最大的一個警告] about the excessiveness of all types of social contact or social interaction between human beings

Caption: 從倫敦囘台隔離中找到安靜 | The Tranquillity I Found in Quarantine after Coming back to Taiwan from London?

三月十號 | 大概從倫敦逃回來的 | 因爲其實一大堆的計劃 | 倫敦這樣一個城市 | 我住在那個 London Bridge 倫敦橋旁邊 | 門口全部每天聽到 | 意大利遊客講話 | 西班牙遊客講話 | 那個時候那兩個國家 | 已經非常嚴重 | 可是我所有的英國朋友 | 都覺得沒有問題 | 然後我偶然戴口罩 | 就會被他們笑 | 我説三月十號 | 我覺得不對了 | 有點像逃回來一樣 | 那些英國朋友 | 最後跟我吃飯都在笑我說 | 大驚小怪 | 現在他們有時候寫信給你就說 |你真是先知 | 可是我就想說【3:00】| 這個病毒是不是來 | 警告所有人的自大

● 逃 = to run away; to escape; to flee | ● 大驚小怪 = be surprised or alarmed at sth. perfectly normal; make a fuss | ● 先知 = ① a person of foresight ② a prophet | ● 自大 = self-important; arrogant

On the tenth of March, [I] practically [大概] fled back [逃回來] [here] from London. Because actually I had a whole heap of plans. London is such a city. I lived near London Bridge, and everyday all [the voices that I] heard were of tourists speaking Italian or Spanish. At that time, [the covid-19 situation] in those two countries was already extremely serious. However, none of my English friends felt that there was any problem. Afterwards, I would occasionally wear a face-mask and they would laugh at me. As I said [我説] on the tenth of March I thought that things weren’t right — it was a bit like I was escaping. Towards the end [最後], when eating with those English friends of mine, they’d laugh at me and saying I was making an unnecessary fuss. Now, sometimes they write to me and say: Wow! You really are a person of foresight. But the thing I want to say is [3:00]: Has this virus come along to warn all human beings against being [too] self-important?

我反而是三月十號以後 | 回到台灣 | 忽然沉靜下來 | 那,過,過了幾天 | 區公所就打電話來說 | 因為要追溯隔離 | 那,所以那兩個禮拜當中 | 我也覺得很棒就是 | 你被强迫 | 你就是在家裏 | 然後你會發現 | 好久沒有翻的書又翻出來 | 好久沒有聽的音樂又拿出來聽 | 然後好久沒有自己 | 好好去把黃瓜切成細細的絲 | 欸,我就覺得,欸,好有趣 | 好久沒有做這些事了 | 可是 | 為什麽不可以回來 | 回來跟自己在一起 | 我也很想問很多朋友說 | 你有多久沒有跟自己在一起 | 甚至到最後 | 會不會害怕跟自己在一起

● 區公所 = district office | ● 追溯 = to trace back; to date from | ● 隔離 = to keep apart; to isolate; to segregate | ● 强迫 = to force; to compel; to coerce | ● 翻 = ? cf. 翻閲 = to leaf through | ● 絲 = a threadlike thing; a sliver

However, after 10 March, I returned to Taiwan and suddenly clamed right down. Then, after a few days, the district office rang, because they needed to track me down about staying in quarantine [要追溯隔離]. Now during those two weeks, what I thought was really wonderful was that you were forced to stay at home. Suddenly, you discovered books you hadn’t looked at for ages you read through again, and music you hadn’t listened to for a long time, you got out and listened to. Then [然後], you went and cut up a cucumber yourself into very fine slices, something you hadn’t done for a long time. Hey, I thought, this is interesting. It’s been ages since I have done any of these things. But why is it that we can’t go back, go back to being with ourselves? I would really like to go and ask a lot of my friends the question: How long have you been away from yourself? And even perhaps: Could it be that you are afraid to be with yourself?

Caption: 爲什麽要這麽快 | 能不能慢下來反省 How Do Things Have To be So Fast? | Can [We] Slow Down and Reflect?

你就可以有彈性地去思考說 | 我們的文明其實好脆弱 【4:00】| 一切東西 | 是不是應該要 | 踩一下刹車 | 就是什麽要這麽快 | 可不可以更慢一點 | 為什麽是一定跟人的接觸 | 而不能夠自己孤獨地去| 處理自己的這個空間 | 所以那十四天對我好重要 | 好久沒有整理的東西 | 我去整理了 | 然後忽然發現抽屜裏便 | 其實有那種 | 堆了好久的老照片 | 好珍貴 | 我父親二十五歲的一張照片 | 我發現它後面好工整地小字 | 講哪一年他在做什麽做什麽 | 而我在想 | 欸,我都沒有對照片做這樣的注記 | 可是因爲他們東西很少 | 可是你知道 | 現在手機裏的照片 | 簡直不知道怎麽辦 | 我的學生跟我說 | 嘩,簡直濫 | 因為你隨時都在拍 | 本來以爲是記更多的東西 | 記錄更多東西 | 最後很可能是 | 反而變成零 | 我覺得人類 | 在這一次的事件當中 | 其實可以做好多好多的反省 | 好有趣喔 【5:00】| 你如果從料理來講 | 好多東西的消失 | 大概是我們不自覺 | 比如説我們去小火慢慢 | 燉一個菜的燉 | 還有我曾經交了學費 | 去跟天香樓的保師傅學的叫做 | 蔥開煟麵的煟 | 最小最小的火 | 去把所有的湯底煮四十八個小時 | 用這個湯底 | 來下麵的麵叫做煟麵 | 將來當然不會存在 | 因爲誰要去花怎麽多的時間 | 而且你能夠吃得出 | 煟麵跟泡麵不同嗎?| 如果吃不出來 | 它當然就不存在 | 大家都不愿意做 | 比較長久的耐煩的事 |  可是很有趣 | 新冠肺炎 | 我好多朋友跟我 mail | 跟我隔離的時候 | 然後跟我 What’s App | 我才發現 | 欸,他們就開始做菜了 | 而且開始做時間很長的菜 | 我忽然覺得好有趣喔 | 因爲他多久都在外食 | 他根本已經很久沒有在厨房裏【6:00】| 他又開始做 | 自己又重新做這個東西

● 刹車 = to brake | ● 工整 = carefully & neatly done | ● 注記 = (?) to annotate; to add a note| ● 泛濫 = literally “to spread unchecked”; perhaps sth. like “to be out of control” | ● 料理 = ① to cook ② cuisine| ● 不自覺 = unconscious; unaware | ● 燉 = to stew | ● 蔥開煟麵 = (?) slow-stewed noodles with scallions and dried shrimps | ● 煟 = to cook over a slow fire; to stew; to simmer| ● 泡麵 = (?) instant noodles | ● 湯底 = (?) soup base| ● 耐煩 = patient

You can reflect on things flexibly and say that our civilization is actually very fragile [4:00]. Shouldn’t we perhaps put on the brakes as far as everything is concerned. I mean, why does everything have to be so fast? Could things be a little bit slower? Why is it that our contact has to be with other people, and that we can’t go and deal with this space called the self on our own? And so, those fourteen days [I spent in quarantine] were very important to me. Things that I hadn’t put in order for ages I went and put in order. Later, out of the blue [忽然], I discovered all these old photographs stacked away in a draw, very precious [photographs]. There was one of my father at the age of twenty-five and, on the back — in very neat, small handwriting — he had written [講] the year [in which it was taken] and the things he was doing then. I have never made any notes [注記] on the photographs [I have taken]. Perhaps it was because they had so few material possessions [東西很少], but you know, [we] have so many images on our mobile phones that [we] simply wouldn’t know where to start. [One of] my students said: “It’s completely out of control” [簡直泛濫], because you’re always taking snaps”. [We] tend think of it as making a record of more things, of recording more things, but in the end maybe all we wind up with is zero, however. My sense is that, [faced with] the event [of covid-19], [we] human beings can do a whole lot of soul-searching. It’s very interesting [5:00].  Take cooking, for instance [你如果從料理來講]. Many things are disappearing that we aren’t even aware of. For example, to cook food slowly, to dun it, the dun used in “to dun a meal”. I once paid to learn how to wei food, the wei used in the dish called “slow-stewed noodles with scallions and dried shrimps”, with Master Bao, a chef at the Tien Hsiang Lo Restaurant [in Taipei]. Using the lowest possible heat, you cook all [the ingredients] in the soup base [湯底] for forty-eight hours. When you cook the noodles [下麵] in this soup base, this is called wei mian or “slow-stewed noodles”. This [way of cooking] will no longer exist in the future, because who is going to spend that much time? What’s more, could you taste the difference [能夠吃得出] between slow-stewed noodles and instant noodles? If you can’t taste the difference, then naturally it will not survive. No one is willing to do things that a rather time-consuming [比較長久的] and [require] patience. But what is interesting is that [with] covid-19, when friends emailed me or, during quarantine, or later when they got in touch through What’s App, I discovered that they have begun to cook again, making things that require a lot of time. All of sudden I realized how very interesting this was. Because for ages they had eaten takeaways; they hadn’t gone near their own kitchens for a very long time [6:00]. They had begun to do this, they had started over again.

Caption: 做孤獨的自己與自己對話 | A Lone Self in Dialogue with Itself

這一次的流行病 | 也許是一個方法吧 | 就是逼迫你靜下來 | 而且沒完沒了 | 你現在根本不知道什麽時候結束 | 它也許是 | 重新去救人類回來 | 重新去開始發現說 | 我幹嘛要真麽急 | 我在想説 | 每個人回來做孤獨的自己 | 也許是一個起點 | 重新再去建立 | 自己跟這個地球的對話 | 或者跟自己的對話 | 跟時間的對話 | 或者跟 . . . 歷史的對話

● 流行病 = epidemic disease | ● 逼迫 = to force; to compel; to coerce

Perhaps this epidemic is a means: it is forcing you to calm down. What’s more, it goes on and on, now we have no way of knowing of when it will end. Perhaps it will save humanity once again, helping us to start to realize just why we are in such a hurry. What I’d like to say is: let us go back [每個人回來] to being alone with ourselves. This may be a starting point to go an re-establish a dialogue between ourselves and the Planet, or with ourselves, or with time, or history.

I Is the River (Meantiming)

You feel it, of course ⸺ the tension
implicit in attention. What it registers
nowhere fingers begin to get a grip on even for an inch.

And if you were the river
streaming forever with no fixed point through the course
of a liquid lifetime
what would you struggle to try and say to yourself
just so the predicament
was that little bit easier to bear? ⸺

Make no object of the current
and by all means let the torrent of “each moment” flood-light you

Photograph: Evette Kwok (2020)

Ice-white and Shining

Barely dressed above decency’s minimum
in shorts, socks, runners,
he hugs himself hushed in intense conversation
with an eager next-door neighbour ⸺
his late afternoon jog still flushed crimson on his chest.
As I pass by self-compact on the footpath,
I notice tucked behind one ear like a stray afterthought
one shining ice-white frangipani flower:
how they match, whorl to whorl, in that grainy hour of twilight!
There are gestures ⸺ MICRO-GESTURES ⸺
which complicate so much for the better
all our caricature notions of character,
though with age, the uncatalogued repertoire
shrinks substantially to a few odd edges of the infinite
to haunt us absent-mindedly ⸺
God-sent to challenge timid autobiography.
What we know we know for a fact
definitely deters but does not prohibit
spontaneous occasional ventures into “fiction”:
down in the yard at the bottom of the drive,
across a line of wind-lashed sheets, I glimpse
that play-act; those folds; those shadows;
that make-believe . . .

Photograph: 唐人溪流:模糊黃花 Blurred wattle flowers, Chinaman Creek (2020)



Sunflower & Bees LANDSCAPE_21 MAR 2020

I am writing this down, drop by drop, just as it falls from the sky ⸺ a gentle rain, again perhaps the start of a Summer storm.

Faint thunder detonates the distance and growls down mountains, triggering an avalanche of decibels.

Small, unopened sunflowers stare sightless up into the overcast atmosphere, while the heavens’ only sol-bloom shies blind-ed behind dense acres of cloud.

A whole world between words upsets a particle or two here and there of some absolute boundary inscribed in the dust; plummeting water sculpts tear-drop-shaped craters in sand-drifts banked along the road.

Now there is no eagle to stand the sky on end, and no fox to set its dirty orange fire to the gloom.

Suddenly, I am jumped out of my skin: all the fault-lines in my nature are analyzed both with and against the grain by a forked strike of instantaneous X-ray lightning and, almost in the same split-second, thunder deafens (and defines) the length and breadth of my fragile auditory nerves.

Lost in the moment, one large white cockatoo feather twirls ⸺ gloriously ⸺ back to Earth.


Photograph: 澳洲唐人溪:向日葵 Sunflowers, Chinaman Creek, Australia (2020)