At least partially paralyzed below the waist,
he is bemused — or cross — in the whole of his face
when baldly I tell him in the best of my bad Cantonese
that I have no interest in tennis at all,
no: mou hingcheui 冇興趣.
“God, what a waste!” I imagine I see him think.
How he wishes he could force my legs
through some quirk or kink
of fate at once to trade places with his!
For solace he lights up a cigarette,
smoking hot air the length of Lek Yuen Street.
When he’s finished lunch we shake able-bodied arms
before he grips calloused wheels with his sugar-cube-crushing palms
and rolls off to a court nearby for a set.
Unsteady as sunstroke as I get to my feet,
I have to duck a dragonfly-volley aimed slap bang right between the eyes,
Photograph: 香港坪洲廟仔 Small shrine on Peng Chau, Hong Kong
The ritualization of the lineage ideology and the ritualization of the rice cultivation are inseparable in that both are focused on dead forefathers. Giving up rice production will for traditionalist villagers mean a break-up from a social situation dominated by traditional lineage aspirations and goals. The cultivation of rice has formed, to a very great extent, the essence and rhythm of life in the villages. The intimate connexion between the calendar, the cycle of festivals, and the process of rice cultivation gives a meaning to the rhythm of life which reaches far beyond what can be measured in terms of production and other economic categories. The transplantation of the first crop cannot be done before the Qingming festival; Duanwu precedes the first rice harvest and the sowing of the second crop. Chongyang precedes the second harvest. These important festivals are entirely isolated from the context of vegetable gardening which does not in the same way provide a fixed, seasonally repetitive pattern of activities. Through the use of many different species of vegetables, which can, in accordance with their ecological requirements, be introduced into a year-round production, the market gardener lives in a uniform and constant progression of acts concerned with his land. There is no peak season and no off season. There is nothing particular to look forward to, nor anything to talk about in retrospect on dry and cool winter days with fallow fields. (p. 89)
Photograph: Paddy Fields East of Yuen Long by Peter Varney, 1958
To stand in a black and white skirt stock-still against peak-hour’s
turbulent backdrop ―
oblivious of gold shoe-buckles,
of the weight of a bag
slung across the collar-bone dip in one dropped shoulder ―
and to wonder down the whole length of the station platform
further than you can possibly go
because no one else in the world will assist you with this train.
Sometimes ― hectic out of nowhere ―
thought is that hyper-animated insect buzzing at the top of its noise
inside your unfathomable head,
as if insight desperately despite you
demanded prompt payment from attention
even here in public broad daylight,
opposite carriage-loads of cattle-car commuters,
hell-bent too in their worldly mental chatter
on the next ― quite outwardly ― new idea.
Above the satellite city
crawling with vertical architecture, mountain monkeys
defy the knock-out blow.
The emerald valley,
with Summer’s profligate monsoon storms
second by second the awesome inaudible sound of this world’s growth
through the flawless organic drone
of chanting monks.
over rusted drainpipes
and crystalloid streams of rock-filtered rain
perfect their glint
against a hundred hundred hundred million years
while, in a thin courtyard,
a wife and husband in training —
the two of them sporting
boxing gloves polished to a winner’s champion sheen —
trade amorous, well-aimed punches
through the air.