Friday, 30 December 2005

給Anita的信

Dearest Anita,

你好嗎?

一晃眼,已經兩年沒見你了。

過去這一年來,我的心情總算平復了,身體的小毛病也復元了。然而,不知怎地,有事沒事,總是想起你。

也許你知道了我的心事,所以早前特地到夢中來看我,對嗎?可惜具體的細節已記不起了──我這腦袋真不中用,大概真的患上老人癡呆症了──只記得你像個大姊姊一樣,帶我重溫小時候的美麗時光。二十年的快樂時代斗然間重現眼前,怎不教我目眩神馳,說不出的快活?

好夢由來容易醒,咱姊妹倆還沒來得及說「再見」,我已經要掙扎著起床,上班去了。你知道那天我的心情是多麼的惆悵?好容易盼到你來看我,居然「沒有一聲再見」便分手了。

當然,這世上等著你去探望的歌迷朋友數之不盡,要是讓個個也盡興而歸,恐怕你早給累壞了。無論如何,我仍得感謝你百忙中抽空來看我。我真的很高興。

正因如此,後來我在《西樓錯夢》的場刊裡看到「沉醉不願醒」五個字,為台上的女主角悲喜交集之餘,不禁又想起你──我不知道應該怎麼謝謝你給我的美夢,然而這出自肺腑的五個字,何嘗不是我的心情寫照?

儘管見不著你,你的聲音也從來沒有離開過我。無論在熙來攘往的大街上,還是在山高水長、言語不通的異鄉裡,耳畔只要響起你的聲音,一切頓然變得詩情畫意、沉靜安謐,猶如換了一個世界。

也許是小時候少不更事,居然沒有聽出你聲音裡的深遽、跌宕、圓融、空靈……(層次太豐富了,請恕我一枝枯筆未能盡錄,下刪九千字),只知道除了形象之外,你的聲音也是「百變」的。《似水流年》的蒼茫、《親密愛人》的溫柔、《IQ博士》的活潑,分野太明顯,只要不是聾子,任誰也聽得出來。但《似水流年》、《胭脂扣》和《女兒紅》的蒼涼與茫然,似乎各有不同;《似是故人來》、《抱緊眼前人》、《床前明月光》的意境,更非筆墨可以形容於萬一。

蘇東坡曾以「詩中有畫,畫中有詩」讚譽唐代的王維詩畫俱佳,而你何嘗不是「歌中有詩、歌中有畫」?何況你兼擅天下各路門派的絕技,只要你丹唇輕啟、丁香微捲,哪一首歌不是煥然一新、渾然天成?縱然珠玉在前,你總有另闢蹊徑、錦上添花的本領,教大家瞠目結舌。

說起來,《床前明月光》是我最喜愛的一張專輯,水準之高,近年罕見,而且每一首歌也是上乘佳作,更是難得,可惜在香港不怎麼流行。我不想諉過於語言障礙,畢竟一些比較淺易通俗的國語歌也盛極一時;只能說你再一次超越了時代,叫我等凡夫俗子無法追上。

說不出多麼喜歡《床前明月光》那份穿越古今的縹緲和空靈,縱然未能直追屈原大夫的《天問》,至少也可以告慰太白先生,沒墮了他老人家的威名。「來吟一首老詩,喝一杯老酒,明月啊,讓我擁抱,帶我翱翔」,多麼像他老人家《月下獨酌》的口吻?要是太白先生知道了,一定引你為知己,要你跟他「會須一飲三百杯」。不過,如果你真的在哪裡碰上他了,可別要喝得太多喔。酒喝多了,還是傷身的。

最近,MP3機裡一遍又一遍地重複著你的《花月佳期》,還有神通廣大的歌迷不知從哪兒找到的《等》完整版。無論聽了多少遍,總是不厭。

朋友取笑我不停地聽《花月佳期》是別有用心──相信你也知道了吧?莉娜在美國結婚了,明年二月中補辦婚禮呢──但當然不止於此。要是我真的這樣,怎麼對得起你?怎麼能厚著臉皮自稱是你的fans?

何況你應該知道,我最想親自為她唱《花月佳期》的那個人是誰。既然這個願望無法達成,只好一直叨唸著,就算是一種延綿不斷的祝福吧。

是了,還記得當日聽過你的演唱會後,我費了一番功夫才找到《花月佳期》的出處嗎?聽了兩三遍,便把這張唱片束之高閣了。沒法子,誰叫原唱者唱來欠韻味?編曲半中不西,在那個珠玉紛陳、琳瑯滿目的年代,已非一流佳作;何況經你金口一開,更是黯然失色。還是喜歡上海交響樂團的演繹──那清脆的銀鐘、莊嚴的風琴、柔和中帶點俏皮的小提琴,再加上你纏綿悱惻、意在神外的聲音,叫我夫復何言?

真想知道你的嗓子是怎麼構造的,生病的時候居然還可以這麼動聽。所以呢,當天你只使出三成功力,便把那些不自量力、爭先恐後地要跟你同台演出的傢伙,全打個落花流水,毫無招架之力,不禁拊掌暗笑。呵呵,你真頑皮,莫非真的要我們給你頂禮膜拜,佩服個五體投地才罷休?

還有《等》呢。相信你也知道,這些年來我極喜歡《等》的原版;但聽到你翻唱的版本後,我只能再次無言了。

天哪,我真擔心Danny會嫉妒你呢,快請他去喝杯咖啡陪陪罪吧──「功高震主」呀你。

好了,先說到這兒吧。新的一年快到了,祝你和Ann姊、各位好友前輩新年快樂。有空的時候別忘了來看我喔。

Forever yours,

Saturday, 17 December 2005

陰陽怪氣,空洞無物--《無極》觀後

看完《無極》,無語良久。

心底的疑問太多了。

然後,我無奈地哈哈大笑,響徹戲院,連其他觀眾也為之側目。

疑問一:不知甚麼時候開始,電影裡的中國男人變得陰陽怪氣,不是像被逼閹割、奴顏事主的太監,便是雌雄難辨、妖氣沖天的鬼魅魍魎。

《無極》再一次把這個中國特色發揚光大,真叫人無言以對。

製片邀請張東健、真田廣之參演《無極》,明顯是為了迎合韓國和日本市場。在今天全球化的電影市場中,實在無可厚非。

問題是,為甚麼戲裡瀟灑不羈、仁勇兼備、豪邁英偉的鐵漢,全派給張東健和真田廣之了?我不是憤青,也不是要追究為甚麼中國演員都是反派這麼膚淺的問題;而是想簡單的問一句:為甚麼戲裡連個像樣的中國男人也沒有?不論王侯將相,還是走狗奴才,一律陰陽怪氣,不是哭哭啼啼,就是貪生怕死,再不就是耍帥裝酷,叫人不寒而慄。

為甚麼要這樣?是為了表示中國人的「好客之道」,把好角兒都讓給遠渡而來的朋友,還是二話不說先來一次自我閹割,討好那些對中國文化戴著有色眼鏡的外國人?

疑問二:為甚麼內地、韓國和日本的演員陣容也算上乘之選,來到香港卻相中了聲色藝俱無的張柏芝和謝霆鋒?論名氣、論演技,兩人對於奪獎和賣座也毫無保證,除了在華語傳媒可以炒作一下兩人的戀愛八卦權作宣傳之外,一無是處。身為香港觀眾,我不禁為之汗顏無地。難道香港演員凋零如此?除這兩人以外,真的別無他選?

疑問三:到底故事想表達些甚麼?為甚麼劇情如此犯駁不通?

請恕秋盈魯鈍,除了滿眼眩目絢麗的電腦動畫之外,實在看不明白《無極》的故事。其實情節很簡單,就是一個叫做「傾城」的小女孩,衣衫襤褸,窮得沒飯吃,要在戰場的死人堆裡找吃的。後來她遇上一個叫「滿神」的仙女,問她是否願意過著錦衣玉食的生活,條件是她永遠得不到真愛;即使得到了,也會馬上消失。小女孩說「願意」,從此衣食無憂,二十年後更當上了王妃。後來她先後遇上一個戰無不勝的「花冠戰神」光明、名叫「昆崙」的奴隸,還有一個叫「無歡」的公爵。簡單來說,《無極》就是這三男一女的糾纏。

我當然明白這些天馬行空的神話故事,本來毋須理會甚麼來龍去脈,但總得自圓其說才行。問題是,戲裡的人物個個破空而來,實在叫人摸不著頭腦。例如:

一、「傾城」為甚麼叫「傾城」?這明顯是她爹娘給取的名字,不是成為顛倒眾生的尤物之後膾炙人口的稱呼。一個朝不保夕的叫化女孩居然叫「傾城」,實在匪夷所思。最要命的是,這名字有意無意間提高了觀眾的合理期望,於是在張柏芝出場的一剎那,也造就了戲裡最強烈的反高潮。眾人翹首期待的熱情,在一秒間直墮冰窖,全場鴉雀無聲,除了滿地垃圾外,並沒有發生不愉快的事情。我不禁佩服香港觀眾的修養。

二、「滿神」為甚麼叫「滿神」?「滿神」跟「無極」有甚麼關係?她向傾城和光明發表了預言,令人不禁想起莎士比亞原著Macbeth裡的女巫。但是,為甚麼她只向傾城和光明透露玄機?昆崙明明牽涉其中,為甚麼「滿神」從來沒有在他面前出現?「滿神」預言光明必死之後,也沒有再現身,為甚麼?

三、「無極」到底是甚麼?「滿神」初遇光明時,曾給他看「無極」裡預示國王之死的情景。那麼,「無極」是可以預見未來的水晶球嗎?好像不是。除了「滿神」的預言外,戲裡並沒有再提起「無極」這個概念。據說陳凱歌曾在一次訪問中提到,每個人心裡都有一個「無極」,那又是甚麼?跟戲裡的故事有甚麼關係?英文片名不是直譯「無極」,而是「承諾」(Promise);那麼,「無極」就等於「承諾」嗎?為甚麼?

四、無歡公爵(先抓一個破綻:中國古代的爵位,自周朝起,分為公、侯、伯、子、男五等,慣例上只稱呼「某某公」、「某某伯」之類,卻無「公爵」、「伯爵」連稱。戲裡不知根據何經何典,居然連稱「公爵」,想是陳凱歌讀翻譯小說讀昏了頭,把這個混到中國神話裡來了。)應該是全劇最莫名其妙的人物--傾城還算不上,因為她連個完整的人物也不是。無歡不但與光明為敵,更攻滅雪國,濫殺無辜,又是為了甚麼?他說自從小時候被傾城欺騙後,便不再相信任何人,連自己也不相信,跟他草菅人命有甚麼關係?他欲得傾城而後快,更不惜公開要脅國王,我都能懂;但當時光明和傾城尚未走在一起,他憑甚麼與光明作對?

疑問四:戲裡的道具、造型和場景,看得出是經過一番心思設計,但細想之下卻絕無用處,不知其所以然。例如無歡公爵用一個金絲鳥籠囚禁傾城,為甚麼呢?金絲鳥籠有甚麼象徵意義嗎?昆崙第一次不費吹灰之力從籠頂救出傾城,第二次卻無能為力,為甚麼?

再舉一個例子,戲裡的王城,築在一個四邊是懸崖的平台上,東南西北各有城門和橋樑連接懸崖的另一端,城內卻是一圈又一圈蚊香似的飛簷厚牆,唯恐觀眾看不到全貌,更來一個全景wide shot。為甚麼?更別說為甚麼天下無敵的將軍要穿上嵌滿鮮紅玫瑰、招蜂引蝶的盔甲;公爵的奴才鬼狼(為甚麼叫鬼狼?)要把燒傷了的臉塗得又銀又灰。

疑問五:故事到了後半部,觀眾才發現「承諾」似乎是故事的主題。當年傾城答應了滿神的條件,所以享盡榮華富貴,但也失去了得到真愛的機會。然而,穿上了不死黑袍的昆崙,說要帶傾城回到過去,讓她重新選擇。那麼,是讓她選擇「真愛」嗎?「滿神」會答應嗎?如果承諾可以推倒重來,還能算是「承諾」嗎?

既然如此,昆崙大哥,不如請你把我也帶去,好讓我拿回票錢和時間,可以嗎?

也許有人會說,你沒注意嗎?《無極》的宣傳語是「三億四千萬瑰麗特技鉅製」,特技動畫才是賣點,不是演員,更不是劇情和演技。誰叫你一廂情願為了陳凱歌而買票進場呢?掏錢之前沒帶眼睛,受騙了也是活該。嘿。

如此亂七八糟、故弄玄虛的《無極》,居然成為「金球獎」最佳外語片的入圍作品,真叫人啼笑皆非。這再一次彰顯了外國人的愚昧無知,又助長了中國電影界崇洋媚外的心理。

唉。我們已經折損了一個張藝謀,難道還要再賠上一個陳凱歌嗎?

Friday, 16 December 2005

Hopeless Devotion

Never has a bride on earth been able to stir up such a complicated mix of emotions inside me.

Words can hardly describe precisely what they are. Be it "bitter happiness", or "joyful sadness".

Thanks to a friend who always teases me for my passion for Rina, I managed to see some pictures of my favourite Korean actress in her wedding gown with her fiance. Although I was told that there was a programme in Korea showing how the couple took their wedding photos in late November, (DARN - I should have visited Korea four weeks later than I did so that I could try my luck to see if my dream of running into Rina on the busy streets of Seoul might come true...) I never thought that I would be able to see those lovely pictures with my own eyes. While the television programme was out of my reach, it is already good enough to have a glimpse of Rina wearing a warm, happy and contented smile in the arms of her beloved one.

Having said that, a strong wave of mixed feelings swept through inside me when Rina's shy but warm smiles, especially those when she was holding her fiance, came into my eyesight. Of course I was overwhelmed with joy for she has found someone she loves and, more importantly, someone who loves her and is committed to be with her in the years to come, I couldn't help thinking of all the hardships Rina has gone through all these years before this unforgettable moment arrived.

I really don't know why I couldn't feel happier than I did without having a strong sadness at the same time. To tell the truth, Rina's wedding photos almost drove me to the brink of tears.

As the old saying goes, "No pain, no gain." However, there is essentially no association in every possible sense between Rina's preceding hardships in life and her current happiness of love and marriage. And I hate myself when the idea that her happiness appears to be a reward of inevitable suffering emerges in my mind. The question is - why does it take so long for Rina to meet her Mr Right? Why is she chosen to be the one who has to suffer that much, even risking her life at work but not the others, when so many people out there enjoy a successful acting career in terms of popularity and take it for granted?

On the rational side, of course I know it is life. Everyone has his/her own life and it is something that we can do nothing about. To cite my favourite analogy, life is like a pre-programmed role-play game in which each one of us is Indiana Jones or Lara Croft, although most of us are not consciously aware of. We have to meet challenges and take rewards every day without knowing the full picture and when the game is going to be over. Someone we don't know is actually controlling the game. All the choices and decisions we have made based on "rational" or "impulsive" assumptions are eventually proven to be no more than pre-programmed options we are bound to take. Someone who is convinced that people can change their lives often fail to realise that they succeed because they are chosen to be successful.

On the emotional side, however, I can't help grumbling from time to time for what Rina has endured over the years, and most recently, the hostile and unfair criticisms Rina has received from most of the audience, among others, despite her superb performance in Dae Jang-geum, the Korean drama that has stirred up unprecedented popularity in Hong Kong and many other countries around the world. I can't help wondering why Rina was chosen to go through all these but not others, who I am not affectionate for, if such things are supposed to happen at all. Some may argue that such undesirable happenings may serve to arouse sympathy from her supporters that will further strengthen their passion for her, but to me, Rina's distinctive performance as an actress alone is suffice to justify her admirers' loyalty and appreciation. Attributes other than her irresistible charm, dedication and hard work that make her outperform her peers will by no means do her any good. She deserves a formal recognition of her achievements in acting but not anything that may arouse sympathy from the audience - as if she would become an inferior object of generosity and benevolence. This violently denies her as a respectable actress. And as a loyal fan of hers, this is the least thing I would like to see ever in my life.

That is also why when the media and the general public received the leading cast with sizzling frenzy earlier this year, I couldn't help feeling extremely sad and sorry for Rina - she played one of the four leading roles highlighted in the drama but was the only one left out in the visits to Hong Kong. Even though I learnt later that she was having a wonderful time with her fiance in the United States, where they first met only in February this year, I still think the fact that she has found her loved one is not good enough to compensate her loss for missing the opportunity of being formally recognised for a difficult job, if the most significant in her career, that couldn't have been done better.

Before I go further, I must admit that this is where the "Fans Syndrome" sets in and demonstrates the prowess of being the devoted supporter of someone else he/she does not necessarily know in person. As a matter of personal experience of myself and some close friends, the struggle between rationality and emotional fantasies or fallacies dominates a significant part of the mental activities of fans. Those who have transcended the boundary between sense and sensibility may either become insane creatures as portrayed in The Fan or be transformed into an immortal like Laozi.

In common sense we are used to identify affection under the categories of "family", "friendship" and "romance" etc, as if these are the only classifications of emotions that any human being can have. I think it makes perfect sense to add a new category "fans", as one of my best friends suggested. Yet there are still numerous sub-branches that can be analysed and developed under this category. Ten supporters of the same actor/singer can have a slightly different feeling about the one they look up to and yet express their affection in ways that are different from each other. Meanwhile, the same person who admires more than one person or an object at the same time may also be able to tell how delicately different his/her feelings towards one person from another.

The "Fans Syndrome" is something that we are so used to and yet we know so little of. As a loyal fan of someone for more than 20 years I didn't come to realise the magnitude of such kind of emotions until very recently and was extremely shocked by myself. I have seen books and articles that discuss the "Fans Syndrome" or "Fans Phenomenon" of a particular TV series or a person, but have yet to see a meaningful discourse on "fans" as a group of everyday life encounters from a holistic approach. Perhaps it is the complicity and extremely individualistic characteristics of fans that prevent social observers from inappropriately generalise the phenomenon with a highly condensed theoretical framework.

Saturday, 5 November 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 12 - End)

This was my last full day in Korea and I had no plans for sightseeing except that Hwa-joo would take me for a walk in the afternoon along Hangang (Han River) and Itaewon, the area where most foreigners in Seoul get together. For most of the morning I was reading until I saw the re-run of Dae Jang-geum on MBC. Interestingly, it was the first two episodes that I have missed in its premiere in Hong Kong, and I could not help being distracted from my book to the television set. Although I could not fully understand the lines in Korean, the plot seems so familiar that language is no longer a problem. Now that I have seen Park Myeong-i, Jang-geum's mother, Choe Seong-geum and Han Baek-yeong in their "nae in" costumes, I just think that Kim Hye-seon who played the role of Myeong-i was the most attractive before Rina's appearance. For some reason she just looked so charming in a humble make-up. I have also seen her appearing in one of the latest dramas on television here in Korea, but she looked so different in heavy make-up and the charm was just gone.

At about 1 pm I left the hostel and walked along the main streets to Myeongdong through Jongro, Euljiro and Chungmuro. I forgot to bring along the map but I am now so familiar with this area that there was no difficulty in telling the directions. I was trying to look for some nice restaurants along the way, before I met Hwa-joo at Dongjak station, but to no avail. It was almost two o'clock when I arrived at Myeongdong and decided to have a quick lunch in a pork cutlet fast food shop. It was cheap but the food was quite good.

After joining Hwa-joo at the subway station, we walked along the riverside path to the east. Unlike previous days, the weather was quite hazy and cool. Then we came to a bike-hiring shop and rented two bicycles to have a ride to the west to reach the tallest building of Seoul. It was a very good exercise, although some ups and downs along the cycling way were somewhat challenging for me, having not cycled for years. We took a break in a food kiosk next to the building before we returned along the same path.

Then Hwa-joo took me to Itaewon but it was a bit disappointing - just like the rugged streets of Tsim Sha Tsui around Chungking Mansion 20 years ago. But that was easily compensated with a delicious dinner of "samgapsol" (three-layered barbeque pork), "bibimbap" (rice with mixed vegetables in a pot) and "naengmyeon", cold noodles.

Afterwards Hwa-joo took me to a nice, cosy coffee shop for a mouth-watering dessert of waffle with ice creams, where we had a long chat of two hours until about 11:30 pm. She told me about her concerns at work and I shared my experience in managing stress, among other subjects. It was a bit long-winded but definitely rewarding and relaxing. It was a pity that Sun-mi was unable to join us for a friend's wedding.

I will fly back home tomorrow evening but Hwa-joo was very kind to invite me to lunch again before I leave her country. This concludes my wonderful and first trip to Korea and I am definitely going to miss my friends and the nice food and scenery there.

Friday, 4 November 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 11)

After 12 months of preparation, the National Museum of Korea was opened at the new site in Ichon on 28 October afternoon. Unfortunately I missed it because I went on the morning and the official opening ceremony had yet to launch. After my return from Gyeongju, it remained the last must-see destination.

Arriving at the breath-taking museum before 11 am, I began a tiring but informative visit that took about six hours, excluding lunch and a tea break. What was even more encouraging was that as part of the celebration, admission is free until the end of this year, which is the 60th anniversary of the museum. There are three storeys in the museum, each divided into two main exhibition halls with distinctive themes. Exhibition halls on the ground floor specialise in Korean history from pre-historic to modern times. Those on the second and third floors are dedicated to all forms of art artefacts, collections from Korean and Japanese donors and an introduction to other Asian cultures.

What interested me most was the choice of Asian cultures presented on the third floor. Chinese and Japanese cultures apparently cannot afford to be neglected, but the others are Southeast and Central Asian cultures. Interestingly enough, India was not included in the list of Southeast Asian countries although it is common knowledge that India was the home of Buddhism, which also enjoys remarkable popularity in Korea. Really I could not help wondering if the museum has any problem liaising with their Indian counterparts on leasing or borrowing artefacts for display.

In terms of design and user-friendliness, the new museum probably provides visitors with one of the best experience around the world. The exhibition halls are spacious and pleasant to stroll along. Signs and directions are adequate and easy to read. Visitors are guided to walk through all the exhibition halls in one direction but they can easily drop out at certain points. There are also plenty of benches and lounges for a break. Food courts, washrooms and drinking water kiosks are ready to refresh the exhausted visitors. Three souvenir shops on the first and third floors also offer slightly different types of books and gifts that visitors find it difficult to hold back their wallets.

More importantly, information about the artefacts and exhibitions are eloquently explained in extraordinarily high quality of English and Chinese - and actually this has been one of the most impressive observations during my first visit to Korea.

As the "national central museum" of Korea, as its name in Korean actually depicts, it focuses on presenting visitors an informative overview of the history of Korea. While there are several extraordinary national treasures of more than 1,000 years but are extremely well preserved, the displayed collection of Silla seems a bit less attractive than that of Gyeongju. However, this is perfectly understandable because Gyeongju was the capital of Silla for a millennium.

It was already 5:30 pm when I left the museum. Then I took the subway to Dongdaemun (East Great Gate) market for a short visit. It looked very similar to the area around Tung Choi Street in Mong Kok, where food stalls and kiosks of hawkers scatter around. Prices of food and clothing seemed quite cheap at Dongdaemun, but it was so crowded that I decided to return to Jongro area where I can spend some time at the mega bookstores before dinner.

Again, I was lucky enough to have found a book about customs in Joseon palaces by Kim Yeong-suk, called A Study of Palace Customs of Joseon Dynasty. It was written in Korean but with a large number of references in Chinese characters. By that time I was trying to find the official Chinese name of "sura", which specifically means "the king's meal"; and "suragan", the royal kitchen that prepared the Joseon kings' dishes. Having seen the wood tablet at the National Palace Museum, I was really confused because the Chinese words on the tablet could never suggest a pronunciation similar to "sura". Flipping through books at different bookstores I have come across two versions of the Chinese characters. Unfortunately Kim Yeong-suk's book did not provide any Chinese translation but only Hangeul. Perhaps I should refer to the official records of Joseon kings when in Hong Kong.

Hwa-joo called me at about six o'clock today that we will meet at the southern bank of Han River tomorrow. I'd better start packing to make sure that the latest additions to my library can arrive safely at home.

To conclude the day and to celebrate the latest additions to my home library, I had another excellent meal of "galbitang" (beef ribs in soup) in a traditional Korean restaurant on Samilro near my hostel. Their "galbitang" and pickled side dishes are among the best I have ever had in Seoul.

Thursday, 3 November 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 10)

Now that I have visited most of the destinations on my priority list - the Joseon palaces and historical sites - in Seoul, it is time to wander around and enjoy the city.

When I was having breakfast at the hostel this morning, I met a Japanese student who is here to participate in an international English debate competition at Yonsei University. He seemed quite concerned about going around in Seoul without any knowledge of Korean. I shared with him some of my experience and taught him how to say "Thank you" in Korean. How ironic it was! I never thought that my Korean is good enough to teach someone else. In return, he left me his email address so that he could offer me some help when I visit Japan later.

I was running late for a meeting with Seong-a in Apgujeong, so I decided to jump on a taxi - yes, it was expensive but possibly the quickest way to get to the destination. Seong-a's workplace was a bit difficult to find, as it is located on the fifth floor of a small commercial building in one of the alleys in Apgujeong, away from the main road.

With a few conversations between Seong-a and the taxi driver, I finally managed to get there. She was so kind to treat me a coffee and showed me around the small but hi-tech, nicely decorated beauty salon where she is working. I was happy seeing her, but she seemed even more excited instead, which was really heart-warming.

Apparently I have chosen the wrong clothing - it was getting so warm that I began sweating again. After meeting with Seong-a, I decided to go back to the hostel and get changed instead of going straight to the National Museum in Ichon. On my way back, I took a brief visit to Unhyeonggung, just five minutes away from my hostel on the main road, which was the residence of Gojong's father, Heungseon Daewongeun. It was a small but cosy residence to the north of downtown.

It was almost one o'clock when I left the hostel again and given the size of the newly opened National Museum, I decided to go tomorrow morning and just strolled along Yulgokro to the west and visited Seoul Selection Bookstore on Samcheongro and the National Palace Museum next to Gyeongbokgung. I missed it during my last visit to Gyeongbokgung simply because I was exhausted and overwhelmed with information.

Seoul Selection Bookstore was recommended as one of the best bookstores in Seoul with a good collection of English books on Korea. But I was so disappointed at the fact that they have only two titles on the shelf. Fortunately I managed to find a book giving details of royal life in Joseon Dynasty and bought an extra copy for Chang Te in Taiwan.

Tourists interested in the history of Joseon Dynasty, especially those who have watched Dae Jang-geum or Road to Kingship, can never afford to miss the National Palace Museum located just at the southwestern corner of Gyeongbokgung. The current exhibition contains a eye-opening, extraordinarily well-preserved collection of documents, clothing, utensils and furniture of the Joseon imperial court. Presented in a neat and orderly way, this collection represents an excellent introduction to the imperial life of Joseon Dynasty. And it was a wise decision for me to skip lunch to buy a splendid book that contains great photos of the museum's collection, which are loads more than those in the exhibition halls. It was expensive, but it was definitely good value for money.

Later I walked along Sejongro to the south, passing by the Sejong Cultural Centre, the statue of the invincible General Yi Sun-sin, and the former sites of "uijeongbu" and "uigeumbu", the royal cabinet and imperial police of Joseon Dynasty frequently mentioned in Dae Jang-geum. For some reason I missed the large bookstore Bandi & Luni's near Jonggak subway station, which is on the northeast corner of the intersection of Ujeonggungro and Jongro. There I found the "dream book" that I have been looking for so long - a translated copy of Hyegyeonggung Madame Hong's Hanjungrok, or The Records in Anguish in English! I could hardly believe my eyes when I read the title, so much so that I wanted to shout in joy in front of the bookshelf. The book was published nine years ago and the English romanisation of Korean followed the old system, but it was no problem at all as long as I could find a legible version. I thought I was extremely lucky to have found this book, which was, surprisingly, written in Hangeul but not Chinese in its original form. This means that it is highly unlikely that I can find a copy of this book in the university library in Hong Kong.

In the late afternoon, I walked back north into Insadong again, relaxing in a teahouse with my books and MP3 player. I spent almost two hours there, enjoying the green tea although the rice cakes were not as good as those sold at the food stalls on the streets.

In the evening, Sun-mi and Hwa-joo took me to a mouth-watering dinner of "kimchi bokkeumbap", fried rice with kimchi, and a minced beef platter with sliced rice cakes, "tteok", in Samcheongdong, northeast of Gyeongbokgung. There are lots of small but delicate restaurants and artistic shops along the densely-planted street, similar to Nanshan Road in Hangzhou. The fried rice was absolutely gorgeous and likely to be the best fried rice I have ever had. I was tempted to go there again tomorrow simply for the fried rice. YUMMY!

Wednesday, 2 November 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 9)

Just returned from a disco at Hilton Hotel at Namsan (the Southern Mountain) of Seoul, after returning from a four-day trip to Gyeongju. Sun-mi called me shortly before 9 pm, saying that Bill has arrived in Seoul and they were hosting a dinner and some entertainment for him. She also invited me to join. Why not?

I didn't know that Sun-mi has told all her colleagues about my research on Korea, which made me a bit embarrassed when they praised my courage and knowledge. It was good though to have met the colleagues in Seoul, and I was astonished at how good their singing is! None of the incumbent Canto pop singers can be their match.

The morning was mostly spent in walking to the historical sites in west Gyeongju, the tombs of General Kim Yu-sin and King Muyeol of Silla, both honoured as heroes contributing to Silla's successful unification of the Korean peninsula in the seventh century AD. General Kim was granted the most senior title of "Taedaegukgan" and after his death, "King Heungmu". He seemed to be a legendary figure who had led many victorious battles against Baekje and Goguryeo but little has been written about him in my Chinese history book of Korea.

The tomb of King Muyeol was about 2.8 kilometres to the south of General Kim's, and it took less than 45 minutes to walk along the straight road from north to south. Fortunately I didn't come across hundreds of school children like I did at General Kim's tomb. On appearance, King Muyeol's tomb was no different from those scattering around downtown Gyeongju, but some sharp ends of the foundation stones creeping outside the green grass revealed that at least the foundation was built by stones but not covered by soil like the famous Cheonmachong. His second son, Kim In-mun, who had spent most of his early and last years in Tang China, was buried to the east of his father's tomb across the road. Some other unknown close relatives were buried to the west of the king who laid the foundation of Silla's unprecedented unification.

It was a pity that I didn't have time to visit Namsan in Gyeongju, where most Silla historical sites, notably Buddhist sculptures and temples, are located. Neither did I have the opportunity to visit the underwater tomb of King Munmu of Silla, who not only formally unified the Korean peninsula and drove off the Tang forces afterwards, but also willed that he should be cremated and buried under the sea to guard his country against invaders from the east. While it is said that this underwater tomb is the only of its kind in the world, I am very much interested to find out how King Munmu's will could be carried out given the dangerous tides that have been separating the isles, where the tomb is supposed to be located, from the shores that are more than 100 metres away.

After returning to downtown Gyeongju I had a magnificent lunch of "kagulsu" (hand-made noodles like linguine but slightly thicker) and fried pork ribs with vegetables and eight side dishes. Back in Seoul, I had fried "udong" for dinner. Actually Sun-mi was right - the food in Gyeongju was not as good as other places in Korea, and notably Seoul. I hope I will have the chance to try the food in Jeolla provinces in southwest, where Baekje was based. Sun-mi said it is generally recognised as the best in Korea.

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 8)

My last full day in Gyeongju was marked by a sharp contrast between the hundreds of primary school students who packed the National Museum of Gyeongju and the loneliness in history at the site of the former Hwangyongsa, which was meant to be a palace of Silla kingdom in the first place.

About 9:30 am I arrived at the National Museum of Gyeongju after a 10-minute ride on a No. 600 bus. Surprised to see a dozen of jumbo tourist buses at the car park, I didn't realise they were carriers of hundreds of primary school students for official visits led by teachers. The children just yelled and laughed and chased after each other in almost every single corner in the vast courtyard of the National Museum, and even inside the exhibition halls. They really drove me mad and I couldn't help taking a break in the video room with the hope that some of the long queues could be gone soon.

When I went into the first exhibition hall about the magnificent Silla kingdom, I met the Swiss couple who were also staying in my hostel. All of us were very pissed off at the "little monsters" who made the National Museum no less than a wet market where hawkers were yelling at the top of their voices. From another perspective, however, it would be good to see so many youngsters were visiting museums as part of their school programmes. Although Hong Kong has also introduced similar requirements over the last couple of years, it has never been so enthusiastically received as it should have been.

After browsing through the exhibition galleries, I had a quick lunch at the canteen before setting off for the site of Hwangyongsa and Bunhwangsa. Before that I had a quick walk in the Anapji, which was a resort of Silla kings and part of the residence of the crown prince. It was also recorded in Samguk Sagi that the founder of Goryeo Dynasty had been invited to a feast at Anapji, then known as Wolji, by the last king of unified Silla. The buildings were destroyed long ago and only three have been restored so far. The site looked a bit empty but still deserved a visit for history buffs.

Following the instructions of my Lonely Planet, it took about 30 minutes from Anapji to the site of Hwangyongsa, which is just to the opposite of Bunhwangsa. Now surrounded by a couple of paddy and vegetable fields, the site of the former palace-turned-temple was incredibly huge. Only foundations and pillar stones of some of the main buildings were left after the devastation by the Mongolian invaders during the reign of Gojong of Goryeo Dynasty. Despite the blinding sunshine in the south, chilly winds were blowing hard from the northwest. Standing in the middle of a path and looking around in all directions, I couldn't help giving a sigh of regret to what could have been one of the most magnificent structures in the world. Remoteness in time and proximity in geography again stirred up some sort of interesting retrospective inside me.

I was told that Bunhwangsa has been closed for renovation at ticket purchase, but on my way back to the road that divides the site of Hwangyongsa and Bunhwangsa, the free English guide came to me and initiated to take me tour around inside Bunhwangsa. Regrettably her English was incomparable to those in Andong, Suwon and Seoul and I could barely understand her. In any case, it was also good to see the three-storey pagoda built during the reign of Queen Seondeok of Silla shortly after the unification of the Korean peninsula. The square-based pagoda was guarded by two lions facing the east and two seals facing the west, reportedly guarding against the invaders from China and Japan. While it is understandable to have lions as guardians, it was the first time I have come across seals as seen in the Ocean Park as guardians that were comparable to ferocious animals such as lions and tigers. My speculation runs that there might be some sort of implications in terms of Silla's perception towards China and Japan...

The English guide invited me for a cup of tea in her small kiosk before I took a taxi to go back to Banwolseong, literally "the half moon city". It was the site of Silla palaces, and was re-built as a fortress during Joseon Dynasty. A stone ice storage was built during the reign of Yeongjo at the southern tip of Banwolseong. A 15-minute walk along the densely vegetated fortress brings visitors to the entrance of the park, near where Gyerim, the legendary birthplace of the founder of the Kim clan of Silla kings; as well as Cheomseongdae, the oldest surviving observatory in East Asia built during the reign of Queen Seondeok of Silla. Admissions are required to these two historical sites despite its small size and one can always have a view from outside the fences.

To the northwest of Banwolseong across the road is the so-called Tumuli Park, now renamed Daereungwon. This is where more than 30 imperial tombs of Silla kings, including a dual tomb of a king and a queen, as easily noticeable by the dual peaks covered with grass. Another one excavated and opened for public visits is Cheonmachong, located near the north exit of the park. The unique shape of a gold crown, characterised by strips of gold that looked like the Chinese character "shan" (hills or mountains) or deer horns at the front and both sides, was one of the most astonishing artefacts unearthed at the site.

After visiting the landmark historical sites, I strolled along the quiet streets and alleys to the north with the hope to find Silla Department Store, but unfortunately to no avail. It seems that Gyeongju has lost its grandeur to the cities in the north that the residential areas are disappointingly rugged. Shops are closed and abandoned. Houses are worn and torn. I wonder if the municipal government has some sort of redevelopment plan in place to revitalise the past glory of its magnificent capital of the best times in Korea's history.

Monday, 31 October 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 7)

The sky was a bit gloomy when I left the hostel at about 8:15 am to catch a bus to Andong, a strategic military stronghold since the Three Kingdoms period. When I got on the bus right before 9 am, however, the refreshing sunshine was creeping out from layers of thick gray clouds that were covering the sky like a suffocating blanket.

The journey to Andong, which was more than 100 kilometres to the northwest of Gyeongju, took about three hours including a handful of stopovers in small towns like Uiseong. The bus terminal operator and the bus driver were very curious about a foreign woman travelling alone - yes, and that's me. The bus driver was so kind that he offered me a drink of coffee when taking a break at Uiseong.

It was noon when I arrived at downtown Andong. I obtained a map from the tourist information centre and bought a return train ticket to Gyeongju, which would leave Andong two minutes before 5 pm. Then I decided to have a quick lunch at Lavender, a nicely decorated Western restaurant that serves excellent set meals of pasta, before I took a No. 67 bus to Dosan Seowon, a Confucian private academy that barely escaped the devastation of Mongolian and Japanese invasions.

Actually I was struggling in my mind whether I should go to the Andong Folk Museum first or to Dosan Seowan first, given the tight schedule. And it later proved that my decision based on time was a wise one.

The bus ride to Dosan Seowan, which was 40 km to the north of Andong downtown, took about 45 minutes. It was built by Yi Toegye, a renowned Confucian scholar during the reign of Jungjong of Joseon Dynasty, who enjoyed a reputation of being the "Zhuzi (Zhu Xi) of East Sea". I didn't recall this until I met another information officer, Ms Kwon Hyeon-mi, who again spoke perfect Mandarin. She told me that she majored Chinese Literature at university and I was more than happy to have her showing me around the intact and yet aesthetically constructed private college.

We had a good exchange about the history of Korea from the Three Kingdoms period to the last dynasty of Joseon, although Ms Kwon was unable to tell me more about Jeongjo's mother, Hyegyeonggung Madame Hong. Sun-mi told me on Saturday that Madame Hong was involved in the political struggle of factions at that time, one of which was led by her father Hong Bong-han. Her book Hanjungrok, or literally The Records in Anguish, was meant to be a defence of what she and her father had done in betrayal of Crown Prince Sado, who was committed to wipe out political factions among the senior officials. That is why I am now even more eager to read this book, but the chance seems slim, if any at all, to obtain a copy in its original form in Korea.

Ms Kwon also told me that she was very happy to have received me, someone from Hong Kong, given her poor experience with Mainland Chinese tourists, who are seen as arrogant, ill-mannered and ignorant. Sadly, Dosan Seowan is hardly an attraction for Hong Kong tourists. I only found out about this private college upon arrival at Andong, and more precisely, having read the map taken from the tourist information centre.

Interestingly, Ms Kwon asked me about what a short paragraph handwritten by Jeongjo, which was on display in an exhibition hall to the west of the college, means. It was written in classical Chinese text and I tried my best to explain to her. She seemed very happy and I was glad that I could be of any help.

Having spent only about an hour at the college, I had to catch the bus at 3:20 pm for downtown to catch the train by 5 pm. Ms Kwon was so kind that she accompanied me to the bus stop and saw me off before she returned to her office. I was tempted to write her a letter when I am home.

Just 15 minutes before returning to Gyeongju, Patricia called me on the mobile, telling me how much she enjoyed Beijing over the last week, so much so that she wanted to extend her stay there and change the flight back to Hong Kong. Fortunately she didn't, otherwise I would have missed her when I'm back home. I must meet her on Monday, 7 November, to give her everything I have bought for her before I set off for a business trip to Manila.

Sunday, 30 October 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 6)

After an exhausting day on Bukhansan with Sun-mi and a refreshing call from Seong-a to confirm our meeting next Wednesday instead of Thursday, I dragged myself into a taxi in the chilly morning to catch the third KTX train to Daegu East, where I transferred to another small train to Gyeongju.

Gyeongju does not look like Kyoto, although I have never been to the latter. Gyeongju feels like Luoyang, both ancient capitals of splendid kingdoms with a long history of a millennium and yet have now lost their grandeur to the fast-growing modern cities like Seoul and Beijing in the north. Strolling on the quiet streets, however, enables visitors to give a second thought to the past glamour of these cities that is still lingering in the air.

Having arrived at the hostel in Gyeongju around noon, at the recommendation of the hostel owner I had a quick lunch of "galbitang", which means a set meal of beef soup, steamed rice and side dishes, and caught a No. 10 bus to Bulguksa. The journey took about 45 minutes and the colourful slopes decorated with maple leaves were already packed with visitors.

Bulguksa was first built after Silla kingdom in the southeast unified the Korean Peninsula for the first time in history. However, it was destroyed during Mongolian invasions and was not completely restored until 1973, when former dictator Park Chung-hee was in power. I was told that Gyeongju has been largely restored during Mr Park's reign, who was said to have risen to power from Gyeongju or somewhere nearby in Gyeongsangbuk-do. Whatever the case may be, and despite his dictatorship that might have caused many people to suffer, Mr Park deserves a credit in the restoration of historical sites in this ancient capital of Silla kingdom for more than 1,000 years. As I told Sun-mi yesterday during our walk on the Yonsei University campus, it was unforgivable for someone to destroy his/her own country's heritage out of ignorance and political complications.

After visiting all the halls in Bulguksa within an hour, I jumped onto another No. 10 bus to return to Gyeongju Station, where I bought a return ticket to Seoul on Wednesday. Then I walked along the main road and visited a number of Silla royal tombs before returning to the hostel. It took about 30 minutes to walk from the east, where Gyeongju Station is located, and to the west, where my hostel is. And this is about the size of downtown Gyeongju. Most shops were closed, perhaps because it was Sunday. In the outskirts, for example, on the way to Bulguksa, there were large paddy fields glittering under the golden sunshine, awaiting to be harvested. In addition to a strong sense of relaxation and quietness, Gyeongju just reminded me of what Luoyang looked like in the frosty winter more than 10 years ago.

Saturday, 29 October 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 5)

After a gloomy day on Friday, it was such a bright cool day that I couldn't help giggling to myself seeing the blue sky outside the window. As scheduled, I took the subway to Suyu to meet Sun-mi before we set off for Bukhansan.

Sun-mi sent me a message saying that she would be late, but it just didn't matter. Suyu was in the northern part of the city where the buildings are apparently not as tall as those in the downtown. So the chilly winds of early winter were sweeping through. Fortunately I have put on an extra T-shirt inside my wind-breaker. I waited for Sun-mi in a Starbucks nearby with a nice hot mocha and a cheese cake, along with a copy of the International Herald Tribune. At about 10:30 am, Sun-mi arrived but she didn't have enough time for breakfast. She had a quick coffee when I told her about my futile efforts to find books about the history of Korea. Then we headed off to Bukhansan on a taxi. It was a pity that Hwa-joo was unable to join us as she had to work overtime on an important business pitch presentation that is due on Monday. Most probably she will have to work tomorrow too. Poor girl!

This track to the peak of Bukhansan, Baekundae, was much more difficult than I have thought. Although I have never been to Mountain Hua in Shaanxi province myself, it was the first thing I could think that was comparable. The marble rocks were so rugged that hikers really have to be careful and watch their steps. And Sun-mi was right, we were actually not hiking, we were climbing or even conquering the mountain with both hands and feet!

We took a few short breaks before we almost reached the peak, after all the strenuous climbing over the cliffs and rocks among the colourful foliage of maple trees. Honestly, I was so impressed and surprised to see that Korean people of all ages, mostly middle-aged and elderly as a matter of fact, climbed with incredible speed along the way to the peak. And - believe it or not - there was a long queue of at least 100 people lining up to the peak along the narrow strip of steps on the rocky cliffs to the top point!

It took us about two hours to get to the peak, which was 1.6 kilometres from the ticketing office, but we spent only half an hour to return along the same route. While I enjoyed the climbing and the beautiful scenery and landscape, I couldn't help thinking of poor Rina when she fell from a cliff of 30 to 40 metres in the summer eight years ago. Now that I was on the mountain, I could better understand how scared and helpless she felt at that time. I have no idea where exactly the terrible accident happened, but it could have claimed her life so easily, given the rough landscape and rugged rocks all over the place. A sharp end of the rocks could have torn her apart. Again, my best wishes always go with her and her fiance in the years to come.

After the challenging climb Sun-mi took me to Sinchon where Yonsei University, the alma matar of Hwa-joo, and Ewha Women's University, Sun-mi's alma matar, are located. We had a good break of beer and fried chicken during which we chatted about a couple of things, including my poems for Rina and Miri, before we strolled along the busy streets to Yonsei University. Then we had another beer at a quiet bar on the ninth floor, with a good view of the neighbourhood, before we went home by subway.

Again, I'm most grateful to Sun-mi for her hospitality. She made the hike to Bukhansan much more enjoyable than it would have been should I be hiking alone. I hope I could buy her and Hwa-joo something from Gyeongju.

Friday, 28 October 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 4)

The temperature dropped significantly today with cold winds from all directions following a heavy rain early in the morning. I put on a sweater and wind-breaker before setting off for the National Museum of Korea scheduled to be opened today.

A 45-minute ride on the subway and train took me to Inchon station, where the National Museum is located. However, the museum was not opened until the official ceremony at 2 pm. Having briefly looked around I decided to go elsewhere instead of wandering around in the neighbourhood, which looked nothing more than a well developed residential area.

Another 45-minute ride on the subway took me to Seolleung, where the royal tombs of Seongjong and his son Jungjong, the king portrayed by Im Ho in Dae Jang-geum, are located. Most tour guides do not feature these royal tombs but, fortunately, my Lonely Planet does. And having spent about an hour strolling along the paths in the quiet and colourful graveyard, it was certainly worth a visit for Dae Jang-geum fans or those who are interested in the history of Korea.

The tombs were built on massive load of soil covered with grass, which roughly measure 10 metres in height. They just looked like a green hill sitting quietly by the side of a busy road. Visitors have to climb up the hill before the actual tombs where the kings were buried become visible. The tombs were extremely simple in design, again in the shape of a hemisphere, guarded by a pair of stone-crafted generals, civil servants and some animals. Surprisingly, even the tombs of senior officials in China looked more grandeur than the Joseon kings.

After visiting the royal tombs I walked along the busy road and turned east into Bongeunsaro towards to COEX Mall, a huge underground shopping centre with the largest bookstore I have ever seen. Sadly, I still couldn't find any original text of Goryeo history and could only find a copy of the collection of all references to Korea in Chinese official histories compiled during the imperial times. I then tried the leading bookstores on Euljiro and Jonggak and still to no avail - let alone books about the imperial wives and concubines as well as ancient costumes. Perhaps I should try my luck at Seoul Selection near Gyeongbokgung later.

Before I set off this morning, Seong-a called me on the mobile, saying that our meeting has to be postponed. She suggested next Monday and Tuesday but unfortunately I won't be back from Gyeongju until Wednesday evening. Tentatively we have confirmed our meeting on Thursday but she would ring me again nearer the time. I do hope we can meet as scheduled next Thursday.

Poor Hwa-joo has to work overtime tomorrow and I'm still not sure if she could join me and Sun-mi for hiking to Bukhansan. Perhaps we should take an easy course and return to the downtown earlier so that Hwa-joo can join us for afternoon tea or dinner.

The real challenges are yet to emerge - Make sure I can catch the 8:15 am train to Daegu East where I have to transfer to Gyeongju on Sunday. Again, Andong seems to be farther away from Gyeongju as I have imagined and it could be equally challenging to make it a day trip. Let's see what happens...

Thursday, 27 October 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 3)

My exploration of the history of Korea continued today with a visit to Deoksugung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung and Jongmyo. It was exhausting but informative and insightful. While it is no surprise to see the Koreans are even more Confucian than we are in China, it is still surprising to see how strictly they follow the rules of authority and filial piety as vividly demonstrated in the setup and construction of Jongmyo, literally meaning the ancestral shrine of the royal family. It was certainly an eye-opener because I have never seen any imperial ancestral shrine in China, although I have read so many times about it.

In the palaces, it was equally informative to know that what had happened in the individual halls, such as the birth and death of kings and queens, the coronation of kings, the meetings with foreign envoys and the hosting of civil service examinations. Although it might seem no different from what we have in China, the feeling that you're seeing something similar in a yet so unfamiliar domain of culture is awesome.

On my way back to the hostel, I came across Ms Park Yeon-ok at the entrance of Jongmyo where I tried to obtain a copy of the information leaflet about the UNESCO World Heritage site - I visited Changgyeonggung first and went to Jongmyo by a footbridge, which meant no tourist information was available except a map guide at the end of the footbridge.

Having learned Chinese in Tianjin, Ms Park spoke perfect Mandarin and, surprisingly, she seemed very interested in me, knowing that I have learnt about the history of Korea before I came to visit her country to the extent that I could tell who the good and bad kings were. We had a good chat of 15 minutes about history of Korea, about her Chinese learning in Tianjin and the development of China before we bid farewell. Actually I came across another information officer at Changgyeonggung who took an initiative to brief me on the route to visit the surviving halls of the palace. But in terms of eloquency of Mandarin, she was no match of Ms Park.

Between my visits to the palaces, I had a great lunch in traditional Korean style with Hwa-joo, who just returned from a business trip to Manchester. She looked more mature than we first met in late March 2004, when she was wearing short hair. I was pleased to know that she was engaged and will be getting married next April. She told me about something in the morning that drove her to the brink of tears. But I managed to tell her a joke and try to distract her attention from what has upset her so badly. And it was interesting to know that she is a fan of Jeon Gwang-yeol! How funny!

In the evening, I went to Insadong again for a delicious dinner of "soigogi sundubu", a hotpot of beef and bean curd with steamed rice in a stone pot, plus many side dishes. It was a little bit spicy, but it tasted really good.

Wednesday, 26 October 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 2)

To my surprise, the weather of Seoul was extremely well, with sunshine and occasionally a cool light breeze. My day was started with an informative and interesting visit to the Gyeongbokgung, the Forbidden City of Joseon Dynasty in a moderate scale.

Although Sun-mi told me that the size of Gyeongbokgung is no match to the Forbidden City in Beijing, I was still very impressed with the way it was planned and constructed. Undoubtedly the floor plan was a miniature of Joseon's Chinese protector, but the architecture was distinctively Korean. While the existing Gyeongbokgung is nothing but a restored and rebuilt version that still hardly matches its original form at its apex hundreds of years ago, I was amazed at how much effort and dedication has been devoted to this project that represents the independence and dignity of Koreans.

Now that construction works are in progress to restore the northern chambers built during the reign of Joseon's second last king, Gojong, it was a pity that I was unable to visit the site where Gojong's queen, the well known Queen Myeongseong, was murdered by a Japanese assassin a few years before the collapse of Joseon Dynasty. Having explored all the opening halls in almost two hours, I turned to northeast corner of Gyeongbokgung to the National Folk Museum. With an English audio guide rented at only 1,000 Won, I spent more than two hours wandering around the halls and examining in close details the exhibits that provided an excellent introduction to the lives of Korean people from cradle to grave.

On my way back to downtown, thinking what I should have for lunch, I came across the fully costumed guard changing ceremony right in front of Gwanghwamun, the front gate of Gyeongbokgung. It took no more than 15 minutes but the colourful costumes, unique music and solemn atmosphere made the ceremony an enjoyable one.

For lunch, I had another set meal of "mandu", the equivalent of Chinese dumplings, in Insadong. Afterwards I took the subway to Seoul Station to buy a train ticket to Gyeongju on Sunday morning. While a transit at Dongdaegu (Daegu East) is required, the arrival time will be earlier than expected. Again, the ticket officer didn't speak much English, but she was very helpful and I finally had my questions all answered.

Then I tried to look for Chinese or English books on the ancient history of Korea, be it the Three Kingdoms, Goryeo or Joseon. At the huge Libro Books at Euljiro, I finally got the last copy of the original text of Samguk Yusa, literally meaning "Legacy of the Three Kingdoms", that was written in classical Chinese text.

Before I went to the cashier, Hwa-joo who has just returned from a business trip to the United Kingdom called me on the mobile, and asked me if I could join her for lunch tomorrow. Of course I am more than happy to do so. She asked me to take a taxi or walk to the City Hall of Seoul, but as an all-time fan of subway, I'd rather take the subway anyway.

What was quite disappointing was that I could not find any new titles of Korean TV dramas starring Rina and some other actresses. I couldn't help wondering if the TV stations still believe in the fallacy that only young and good looking idols are able to attract a meaningful pool of fans that justify the astronomical amount of resources being invested.

Leaving Euljiro I took the subway to Myeongdong to buy another T-shirt and some thick socks. Then I had a wonderful dinner of "seolleongtang", beef ribs soup with rice, at only 7,000 Won. Looking at the milky soup with slices of beef, I couldn't help thinking of the first dish for which Geum-yeong took over Jang-geum in the competition of the royal cuisine.

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 1)

This was my first full day in Korea. I spent most of the day in Suwon, the provincial capital of Gyeonggi, which literally means "the capital area". During the rush hour, I joined thousands of "Seoulers" on the underground system to travel to Suwon, which took about an hour.

It was a bright sunny day - much warmer than I expected and I was sweating in my long-sleeve T-shirt. I bought a ticket to the Korean Folk Village - sadly, the coupon printed out from www.tour2korea.com was not accepted - from the Suwon Tourist Information Centre and jumped on to the free shuttle bus in the carpark next to the office.

The ride took about 30 minutes and I was brought to the entrance of the Folk Village a few minutes past 11 am. Then I spent less than three hours wandering around the Folk Village, as if I was brought back to the countryside of Joseon Dynasty. It was interesting and informative.

Just a few minutes after I started the walk, Sun-mi called me on the mobile to see if I'm doing fine. I'm most grateful to Sun-mi for her help and hospitality. On the first day of my arrival in Seoul, she treated me to a delicious dinner of "bulgogi", which means beef hotpot with vegetables, in Insadong, and showed me around downtown to Cheonggyecheon, the newly restored river in the middle of downtown, and Myeongdong, the shopping hub like Causeway Bay. We had a good chat about work, about culture, about films and stars, before we went home at about 10 pm on Monday.

Although Sun-mi was very impressed about how much I know about Hangeul and the Korean pronunciation of names of places, as well as history of Korea, she couldn't help worrying that someone who doesn't speak Korean would do well. I told her so far I was doing good. Speaking English does not seem to be a problem, although a bit patience is needed if you come across someone who doesn't understand English and he/she would ask friends and colleagues for help. Other than that it was perfectly fine.

Obviously it was a good day for school picnics and there were hundreds of primary students, led by teachers, scattering around screaming and laughing in the Folk Village. To my own surprise, I was by no means annoyed or upset seeing them, which normally happens in Hong Kong. Again, I found myself much more tolerant and considerate when away from home, perhaps due to a conscious perception of distance.

After visiting the Folk Village, I caught a No. 37 bus back to Suwon Station. I didn't bother to wait for the free shuttle bus, which wouldn't operate until 2 pm. Then I went to the Tourist Information Centre again for transport information to Hwaseong Haenggung. There I met Mr Kim Si-uk, who speaks good English and a bit Cantonese and Mandarin. He showed me in great detail not only how to get to Hwaseong Haenggung but also Hwaseong Fortress, which has been enlisted as an UNESCO World Heritage. He also gave me a book on Hwaseong as a gift, and taught me a Korean phrase, "Cheon neun Hong Kong saram imnida", which literally means "I am a Hong Konger". He said I look no different from any other Korean on the streets and would most likely come across someone who would like me to show him/her the direction. And he was right. On my way uphill to Hwaseong Fortress, I came across a middle-age woman who asked me something that I didn't understand. I replied, "Mianhamnida, Hong Kong saram imnida," and she showed understanding. Actually another woman on my way from the Folk Village to Suwon also asked me something, but I didn't know the phrase to reply.

A 15-minute bus ride took me to Hwaseong Haenggung, first built by King Jeongjo of Joseon but only lately restored. He was born to Hyegyeonggung Madame Hong, the poor lady whose husband Crown Prince Sado was starved to death at the age of 28, leaving behind him a beautiful and kind-hearted wife and at least five children. I couldn't help getting a bit excited knowing this when I recalled that Rina has played the role of Madame Hong in Road to Kingship in 1998.

During my 40-minute visit to Hwaseong Haenggung, it came to my knowledge that this was also one of the major sets of Dae Jang-geum! How surprising! After that I walked up the hill behind Hwaseong Haenggung and started the two-hour walk along Hwaseong Fortress. I finished only half of the 5.7-kilometre fortress wall in slightly less than two hours but have covered the most important part of it. Surprisingly, I was not hungry at all and missed lunch. Before I set off I only took a chocolate bar that enabled me to carry on with the strenuous walk.

When I came down from the Hwaseong Fortress at Hwahongmun, it was already 6 pm. Then I walked 20 minutes to reach Paldalmun before I caught a No. 11 bus to go back to Suwon Station. I managed to buy a copy of Dae Jang-geum Highlights and Mapado, the hilarious comedy starred by "Madame Jang" Yeo Un-ge and four other old ladies. I had a great dinner of pasta at a fusion restaurant before taking the subway back to Seoul. It was a pity that I have missed "galbi", roast beef ribs that was the landmark dish of Suwon, but I simply couldn't find a decent restaurant selling "galbi" near Suwon Station. It was kind of weird...

It was such a rewarding and yet tiring day that I decided not to drive myself too hard tomorrow. Sun-mi showed me some decent tea houses and coffee shops in Insadong and I should try to relax myself with a cup of tea or coffee and a book some time.

Sunday, 18 September 2005

選角失敗,味同嚼蠟--《外出》觀後

這陣子公私兩忙,終於趕得及在中秋節假期前完成一些關鍵的工作,又重開了「只聚今迷」論壇,於是趁著天色稍晴,溜出去看裴勇俊和孫藝珍主演的《外出》。

我不是裴勇俊迷,孫藝珍也一直只聞其名,未觀其技,因此對《外出》並沒有太大的期望。唯一的期望,是對近年韓國文藝片寫情細膩的一點信心,以及導演許秦豪的欣賞。他的舊作《春逝》,初看不覺怎樣,關機後卻是餘音裊裊,令人再三回味。

不知是否時間太早(早上十一點五十分),戲院裡只有我一個觀眾。一個人坐在偌大的戲院裡看電影,還是破題兒第一遭。

裴勇俊在香港的受歡迎程度,自然無法與日本相提並論,但認識他的觀眾應該不少。孫藝珍也演過好幾部著名的愛情電影,加上傳媒連日炒作,《外出》的票房即使未必很突出,也不應該如此慘淡。時值假期,在尖沙咀某戲院的中午場次只有一個觀眾,未免教人失望。

看來香港電影公司對本地觀眾的口味和欣賞習慣還是掌握得不夠準確,可惜他們一直不肯承認,自顧自的掩耳盜鈴。多少資深影視從業員自以為充分理解市場的趨向,在傳媒面前侃侃而談,說到底也不過是一廂情願而已。諉過於盜版猖獗根本無濟於事。例如近年所謂的「韓流」,若不是盜版影碟充斥、傳媒推波助瀾,哪裡颳得起來?你看《蘋果日報》每天介紹的外地劇集,有多少是經過正式授權在香港出版了的?也許代理公司取得正版影碟版權的手續太繁複,等到影碟正式出版,恐怕那些追求新鮮感的觀眾早已看完,而且也未必有興趣購買正版影碟作珍藏。此外,很多比一般偶像劇不知高明多少倍的滄海遺珠,例如《蘋果日報》也介紹過的《愛情共感》,我輩望穿秋水仍未見正版的蹤影,只好抱著「平民版」一看再看、三看四看,這又怪得了誰?

談回《外出》,儘管對裴勇俊和孫藝珍沒有期望,仍然覺得意難平。為甚麼本來一個動人心魄的故事,竟然演得如此淡然無味,如同嚼蠟?

也許有人不同意,但《外出》事先張揚的故事大綱,總教我想起王家衛的《花樣年華》--兩個本來互不相干的人,因為自己的另一半和對方的配偶發生婚外情,東窗事發之後,才無可奈何地走在一起。《花樣年華》裡周慕雲和蘇麗娟在被背叛的失落中互相扶持、相濡以沫,繼而眉來眼去、春心暗動,嘴裡卻硬說「我們不可以學他們那樣」,強自壓抑的感情無處發洩,只能以食物和衣飾來表達,難怪房東太太和老傭人竊竊私語:「去買碗餛飩麵也穿得格漂亮?」

大概因為珠玉在前,引起了我對《外出》一點不切實際的期望,總以為能看到男女主角如何面對被背叛的感情、如何在療傷的過程中沉淪,或者重生。劇本不是沒有寫,而是我看不到。其實劇本已經把兩人的感情和緣分舖排有致,從醫院手術室外的邂逅、在警察面前一同認領傷者的財物、先後因為失眠到藥房買安眠藥、住在同一間賓館、一起參加另一個死者的喪禮等。兩人從萍水相逢,得知對方身分後的尷尬和疑惑,進而互相試探,然後因為同病相憐而衍生相濡以沫的感情,根本就是水到渠成、順理成章,可惜我始終感受不到男女主角半點欲拒還迎的掙扎和糾纏。例如孫藝珍在餐廳聽裴勇俊說想報復,便打趣說:「不如咱們也來一段婚外情,如何?」我看到的只有娛樂版上裴勇俊招牌式的笑容,卻不是無意間被點破心事那種不知所措、心虛的強笑。又例如兩人在海邊散步之後,裴勇俊問孫藝珍想到哪兒去,卻被孫藝珍反問一句:「你想到哪兒去?」裴勇俊一言不發,便帶她到酒店去。彼此固然沒有把甚麼都豁出去、一晌貪歡的激情,就連猶豫不決、既害怕又想大膽試一次的矛盾心情,也嫌不夠明顯。偏偏手指在對方裸露的上身游移,居然沒有半點陌生人的感覺,倒讓我不禁想問,眼前這兩個被背叛的人,是不是根本早就心野,只是一直苦無機會,被另一半捷足先登,結果讓他們抓到一個冠冕堂皇的理由,來成就這一次看似意料之外的偷戀?

孫藝珍的眼神迷茫但缺乏層次,無法清楚表達女主角心裡到底想些甚麼,甚至連六神無主的感覺也欠奉。她和裴勇俊到鄉間參加交通意外另一個死者的喪禮,回程時要裴勇俊停車,她走到對面馬路蹲下來大哭。我能理解她的確是憋得很辛苦,但因為她在前戲的情緒舖排不夠,總覺得前文後理銜接不上;而她那殺豬似的哭聲,也未免太煞風景了。

寫到這裡,好朋友們大概又要取笑我的癡病發作了--因為我一邊看,一邊不停地想,如果由莉娜來演孫藝珍的角色,會是怎樣光景。看到女主角一些無法置信、傷心難受、茫然不知所以的情景,腦海裡總浮起莉娜的模樣兒來。相比孫藝珍平淡乏味的演繹,莉娜顯然比她高明太多。不過,我猜莉娜應該不會答應演那幕床上戲;要是她真的演了,我想我看到的時候,極有可能會心臟病發。

那麼,裴勇俊呢?坦白說,我對男演員向來比較挑剔,也沒有欣賞男人的慧根。這樣說也許對他不公平,但我真的覺得他在耍帥多於在演戲。除了上文說過的招牌式笑容,便是他的髮型。本來他留著一頭細碎的短髮,居然永遠一層一層貼貼服服的黏在頭皮上,即使在地板上和衣睡了一夜仍是紋絲不動,層次分明,相比孫藝珍那一頭永遠梳不整齊的長髮,實在教人佩服得五體投地。臨近尾聲,平白無故來一段眼淚鼻涕齊發,看得我頭皮發麻,還是覺得勇哥脫掉眼鏡、瞇起眼睛扮風流才子順眼得多。

愛情電影向來易學難精,煽情橋段多的是,但要更上一層樓,自然不能再賣弄那些庸俗靡爛的點子。導演許秦豪在運鏡、說故事的節奏方面,保持一貫水準,只可惜因為市場利益的考慮,所託非人,浪費了一個委婉動人的故事。

Wednesday, 14 September 2005

香港之珍珠--尤敏

香港迪士尼樂園開幕,將對本地文化帶來甚麼衝擊,仍是未知之數。但自從二十世紀八十年代以來,咱們扛著「資本主義」這塊沉重的招魂幡,葬送了多少本地獨有的建築和文化?古老建築清拆殆盡,傳統美食日漸失傳,這些年來香港喪失了多少珍寶?余生也晚,無法確知,只知最少一種獨有的女性品種,不知甚麼時候也開始消聲匿跡,再不復見──她們的名字,叫做「玉女」。

不要告訴我演藝圈裡誰誰誰還是「玉女」,沒的玷辱了這塊金漆招牌。玉女自有一股恬淡溫婉、纖巧柔和的氣質,見之忘俗,恰如美玉的晶瑩溫潤;而不是教人想起像豪宅、汽車、珠寶和名牌服飾一樣,掛滿天文數字標籤的貨物。

在香港的「玉女」這個稀有品種之中,最有名氣的一位,叫做「尤敏」。

尤敏不姓尤,「尤敏」只是她自己取的藝名,據說是從一堆紙團裡隨手撿來的。想起這段掌故,總不得不讚嘆造物主的神奇──「尤」是「尤物世間稀,艷色天下重」的美人,不必紅唇乳溝露人前,即使是粗服亂頭,一顰一笑自能傾倒眾生,吹灰不費。而「敏」呢,讀過《紅樓夢》的朋友都知道,曹公筆下唯一只褒不貶的賈府人物,閨名便是一個「敏」字;爽朗俊逸的探春也曾博得曹公以「敏」字稱讚。我想,再也沒有兩個方塊字,可以如此精確地表達尤敏的美態和魅力。

尤敏之美,不但傾倒了太平山下的芸芸眾生,也令海外多少影迷神為之奪。說起來,尤敏應該是第一位真正成功開拓海外市場的香港明星,影響力也許比不上後來的李小龍,說到底也是古往今來第一人。

早在五、六十年代,香港的電影公司與日本、韓國合作甚多,尤敏便參演了東寶映畫出品的四部電影,包括最有名的「香港三部曲」和喜劇《三紳士艷遇》。早在一九五八年,尤敏也演過一部《異國情鴛》,說的是母女倆與韓國情郎的悲歡離合。事隔數十年,香港觀眾對日本和韓國演員趨之若鶩,本港的片商也不惜以重金邀請韓國演員來港演出;但如要像當年一樣以合作形式製片,恐怕香港已經高攀不起了。

因此,在這股日潮、韓流席捲香江之時,重溫尤敏在「香港三部曲」的丰采,別是一般滋味在心頭。「香港三部曲」的台前幕後絕大部分是日本東寶映畫的人員,香港的主要演員只有尤敏、王引和馬力,到了《香港之星》和《香港.東京.夏威夷》才陸續加入有「千面女星」之譽的王萊、林沖、張慧嫻等。然而戲演下去,便發覺尤敏自然而然的控制了大局,舉手投足之間,充滿自信;一口流利的國語、英語和日語,把其他演員的鋒芒完全掩蓋,與尤敏一貫獨挑大樑的本地製作如出一轍,甚至猶有過之。難怪當年《香港之夜》在日本上映時,刷新了當地的票房紀錄,盛況歷時三月不衰;尤敏也因此獲得日本傳媒譽為「香港之珍珠」,並當選為「最受歡迎外國女明星」,在一九六二年的「十大明星選舉」中更高踞榜首。爭相邀請尤敏接受訪問和擔任封面人物的報章雜誌更是不計其數。

想當年嬌小玲瓏的尤敏,不必在人前搔首弄姿,也沒有賣弄甚麼體態身段,只憑演技和自信,便能得到海外觀眾的認同,至今餘威猶在;如今再看多少人在外國觀眾面前竭力獻媚,不知尊嚴為何物,能不汗顏?

Wednesday, 31 August 2005

《念奴嬌》--感時

西風颯颯,殘花飛日暮,又逢秋節。亂世每多非與是,萬緒從頭分說。猶記當年,皇城睥睨,稱一時豪傑。呼雲喚雨,四方黎庶腰折。 幾許定鼎中原,恩披寰宇,留得聲名徹?遙想開元興盛日,轉眼山河啼血。億兆斯民,年年仰首,盼得冤仇雪。龍圖安在?溺沉黃土銅屑。

後記:十年前為紀念抗戰勝利五十周年而作。轉眼十年,情景如昨,能不感慨?

Monday, 29 August 2005

An Intimate Confession About Emotions

To the surprise of myself, a short article in the showbiz section of Apple Daily, the notorious Chinese-language tabloid in Hong Kong launched 10 years ago, has stirred up my emotions to an unexpected extent – so much so that I was driven to the brink of tears upon reading it, and am still feeling upset after a couple of hours.

While it may not seem surprising to a few close friends, I find it somewhat difficult to believe how much my emotions have been attached and "manipulated" over the last couple of months. I find it equally difficult to believe that I can be so indifferent to some of the social injustice extensively reported in the local media, such as the recent cold-blooded stabbing of a seven-year-old boy in Kwai Chung, while I have been so overwhelmed by someone I do not personally know and has been so far away from me, both physically and culturally.

Over all these years, I have seen myself and been seen as a discreet, rational and cool-headed person, who can always maintain a certain degree of sense no matter how excited or emotional I am. But I am increasingly convinced that such a belief or public image is no more than an illusion founded on thin air. Emotions are getting more and more difficult to manage, and their impact a more and more intricate challenge to overcome that will certainly take longer and harder efforts.

When I declared victory over my struggle against anguish over my father's death in 1988, which took about 10 years, I thought I would be strong enough to meet any emotional challenge ahead. I am no longer afraid of showing my emotions, provided that the setting is appropriate and allows me to do so, and I am convinced that only by vent can I manage the impact of emotions effectively. Throughout these years, this strategy has worked out well. I have enjoyed all sorts of emotional moments with friends or alone, and yet without being dragged into the abyss of getting lost and helpless.

Perhaps I have become excessively confident, and it is time to teach me a lesson.

Emotional disturbance has never been a problem for me until about two years ago, when I found myself so vulnerable faced with depression and frustration in various contexts – about work, about life, and about someone I adore and admire to an extent that I wasn't consciously aware of. I have been trying extremely hard to identify the root causes, and yet to no avail. While the darkest hour has passed and everything seems nothing more than remote memories, I am still tempted to think the core mystery buried deep inside the labyrinth remains to be deciphered. Occasional reminders like the Apple Daily article today remind me from time to time some weaknesses in the bottom of my heart that still require conscious attention.

Emotions are just like crises. You can't prevent them from happening, and the best scenario is to manage them properly so that they won't to do too much harm to oneself and the people around. Of course, emotions can be positive, but in most cases it is negative emotions, be they depression, frustration, hopelessness and even loneliness, that can easily inflate and exaggerate to unmanageable and even devastating levels. The most challenging and yet the most important thing is to let the emotions come and go, and keep them in control rather than let them take over. It just seems that it now takes much longer for me to take control over emotions and keep them in check. What a daunting task...

Close friends have told me that I have too much of a burden, which I have not been aware of, or subconsciously failed to recognise, until last year. Speaking in terms of my beloved ones, I was told that I share similar traits with them here and there that at least explain some of the reasons why I have found them so irresistibly charming and adorable.

I am most grateful to my friends' insights and kind words, and can't help scratching my head again and again to see if there has been anything wrong with my regular self reviews, during which I failed to realise these subtle issues. There is still a long way to go to figure out how these issues should be tackled, but at least I have been shown to the seemingly right direction. While I don't think I will have the wisdom of abandoning all emotions and holding to the primitive simplicity that my favourite philosopher Laozi advocated, his teachings are by all means a useful reference for emotionally disturbed people of this hybrid post-modern world.

Well, perhaps it's time to pick up Laozi again to see if there is any clue to resolve the core mystery.

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

《卜算子》--乙酉七月十七《紫釵記》觀後

風月種情芽,繾綣梅梢下。欲拒還迎醉眼斜,低訴衷情話。 錦幄戲鴛鴦,柳浪辭司馬。拚教酸風折玉顏,終不悔,招郎嫁。

Sunday, 21 August 2005

《少年遊》二首(並序)

月前初觀甄美里新作《愛情共感》,始知佳人演技細膩凝鍊,技壓群英,十倍刮目於《大長今》時。數月來得網友「牡丹亭」、「香水」之助,屢聞佳人逸事,頗有親炙之意。現試為長短句二以詠,兼贈「牡丹亭」、「香水」,以踐月前之諾。

漫言春去盡飄篷,何必怨東風?艷質天成,瓊姿渾就,風月為誰濃? 輕塵不染明心鏡,玉貌少愁容。鬢亂釵橫,梨花欲墜,鎮日樂融融。

朱門孝女盡宮娥,殿閣葬絲蘿。參差一念,縈懷半世,深苑暗蹉跎。 爭鋒莫問非和是,氣燄奪閻羅。玉碎珠沉,始終無悔,烈魄映婆娑。

Monday, 15 August 2005

《人月圓》--遙賀莉娜于歸

曉來忽報天孫嫁,方寸喜如狂。瑞雲縹緲,流光泛彩,共賀鸞凰。 朔風如許,驚雷幾度,彈指都忘。寶猊薰暖,簾櫳印月,笑倚檀郎。

Wednesday, 3 August 2005

Congratulations, Rina!

Words can hardly express my excitement upon learning the good news that you're getting married by the end of this year, Rina dear! My colleague showed me the newspapers when I stepped into the office 15 minutes ago, and my heart couldn't help filled with overwhelming excitement and happiness, so much so that I really wanted to give a shout of joy! This piece of good news is a perfect start that really brightens up my day!

I'm so glad that you have found someone you love and, more importantly, someone who loves you, will share with you happiness and sadness of life, and support you through the good and challenging times ahead. May I extend my warmest regards and best wishes to you and Mr Bae. May God bless you two.

Again, congratulations!

One of your Hong Kong fans

Monday, 1 August 2005

對「香港人」身分的一些隨想

今天《明報》論壇版刊登了馬傑偉和梁啟智合寫的《保維港、重建灣仔、反西九塑造港人身分》(下稱《保》文),從「城市空間」的角度出發,探討應該如何重構香港人的身分,以回應全球化和國族化的挑戰。

香港人的身分問題,一直是文化研究學者所關心的課題;尤其是九七前後,政治、社會環境的變化和不確定因素,為學者帶來了無窮想像和演繹的空間。如今回歸已近十年,重塑香港人身分已是刻不容緩的事,偏偏香港這些年來的社會變化甚巨,族群之間的對立愈來愈明顯,為重塑身分構成了不少阻力,至少在凝聚共識方面更費功夫。個人意見認為,馬傑偉、梁啟智這篇文章的觀點未免太樂觀了些。

當然,我希望他們是對的,而我提出的問題只是杞人憂天。

他們認為,「那麼香港人又是如何自覺地選擇當上香港人?面對全球化和國族化的挑戰,香港人其實從來不是被動的受害者。相反,香港人一直主動參與和促進兩者的成長。……既然香港其實是全球化和國族化的主要力量,香港身分認同則不應限於對兩者的認受,也在於對兩者的創造和更新。也就是說,香港人在塑造未來的全球化和國族化的同時,也在塑造港人本土認同的未來。」

我首先要提出的問題是:香港人真的有一份共同的認知去塑造未來的全球化和國族化,以及港人對本土的認同嗎?

香港開埠至今已逾一百六十年,土生土長的居民不計其數,若論真正對香港有歸屬感的,又有多少?二十世紀七、八十年代以來,多少人以香港人的身分為榮,是因為當時的香港人與內地、與台灣、與世界各地的華裔人士有著明顯的差異。我們為香港的經濟繁榮和獨特而混雜的流行文化感到無比自豪,也許這就是《保》文中提到的「我至叻」(我最有本事)式的自我膨脹。然而,這份歸屬感和優越感(姑且將之等同「身分認同」的一部分)並不是香港人有意識地創造的,而是由經濟和文化差異所帶動的。經濟成就本來就是一份虛榮,也不是一方水土的人勤勤懇懇地苦拚一輩子就能創造的。我們必須承認,香港數十年來的經濟繁榮主要還是得力於中國獨特的政治環境;但在七、八十年代,我們卻迷信於自己開天闢地的能力。由於我們看到自己和別人的差距,所以才形成「我至叻」的自我形象。一旦喪失了經濟和文化的領導地位,「香港人」隨即自貶為「港燦」。如果香港人有充分而紮實的自信、有不亢不卑的態度,怎會如此?

何況,純粹建立在經濟成就上的身分認同,又經得起甚麼考驗呢?自一九六七年香港暴動以來一波又一波的移民潮,某程度上早說明了這個身分認同是多麼的脆弱。大夥兒不信,可以走在街上問問看,有誰願意賺夠了錢仍待在香港退休,而不是到物價較低的內地,或者到山明水秀的外國去?有多少人願意為打造香港更美好的未來付出一輩子的熱誠和努力?還談甚麼以「城市空間」來塑造香港人的身分認同呢?

我有幸在香港最早開發的地段長大,對區內的建築物和一草一木有很深厚的感情。所以看到中環半山那幽靜的「師姑街」變成了夜夜笙歌的蘇豪區;尖沙咀彌敦道的百年老榕樹成為了聖誕燈飾的布景;旺角的「雀仔街」、砵蘭街、上海街一帶的「吊腳樓」成為了玻璃幕牆、冷氣逼人的朗豪坊;幾根吊腳樓的石柱給搬到赤柱海傍,活像孤魂野鬼一樣佇立在一個跟自己毫不相干的地方……總有一股莫名的悲涼。香港人的錢賺得再多,也無法贖回那個充滿本土風情的靈魂。

也許有人會說,既然身分是需要不斷地再創造,這些新的發展項目也可以成為嶄新的本土風情呀!說得沒錯,但是本土之所以是本土,其中一項指標是要對居民有關連(relevance)。請恕我愚昧地問一句,蘇豪區駁雜不純的外國風情,跟住在那些舊唐樓上的老伯伯、老婆婆有甚麼關係?朗豪坊人來人往,跟周圍舊樓林立的旺角又有甚麼關係?與蘇豪區一街之隔的大牌檔民園麵家、泰昌餅店先後被逼光榮結業,不是別的,正是以經濟利益、「中環價值」(龍應台語)凌駕本土歷史;割裂本地文化承傳的最新例子。

《保》文又說,「香港的內在特質,無論是勤勞儉樸或是巨型天幕,都不可能是世界獨有。人與人之間如何在香港的城市空間實在地相連,才是香港認同的基礎。」「實在地相連」五字,可圈可點。

我認為「實在」兩字,至少有兩個層次。第一,是地理上的。「香港人」就是指生活在香港這丁方土地上的人,管你是華人、西方人、南亞人也好,咱們都應該將彼此視作「香港人」。然而,有多少華裔香港人會認同濃髮虯髯的南亞大漢、在香港打了二十年工的菲籍女傭是「自己人」?他們儘管和你我一樣土生土長,或者早已在香港落地生根,說得一口流利的港式粵語,卻始終和主流社會格格不入。「差仔」、「賓妹」之類帶有貶義的稱呼無日無之,我們在指責人家種族歧視之餘,又如何面對這些不同膚色的「自己人」?

第二,是文化上的。我認為這一點最重要,但對於不同的族群,對文化的認知也有差異。我相信,住在天水圍的內地移民家庭主婦、在中環甲級商廈上班的專業人士、在灣仔春園街擺賣的小販,甚至在尖沙咀重慶大廈、清真寺門前聚集的南亞裔人士,對「香港人」身分的定義也有所不同。但是,如果要重塑「香港人」的身分,我們至少要取得一種共識,即「香港人」包含哪些特質,而這些特質是可以透過《保》文所提到的城市空間落實。然而,即使是土生土長的華裔居民,也由於社會急劇轉變,社區歷史、流行文化的斷層愈來愈嚴重,建築物、玩具、電視劇、流行曲等所謂集體回憶的符號,其實只適用於某個世代土生土長的香港人。打個比方,對於來自內地、來自外國的香港人,甚至二十歲以下的青少年,你怎能期望他們會唱《兩個夠晒數》的廣告歌、會記得阿燦狂啃三十個漢堡包、會知道是誰發明「係咁先,唔係咩呀」這些口頭禪?即使知道這些,又是否代表他們能認同這是與他們有關、香港人身分的象徵符號?香港又有多少個會唱《愛情陷阱》的喬寶寶?

「香港人」三字,到底有甚麼內涵?《保》文中並沒有清晰的答案。我也相信,面對全球化所帶來的競爭,例如內地經濟急速增長,造就城市和地區的崛起、韓國流行文化大行其道等,身分定位也是香港人亟需認真思考的課題。現在連內地遊客也批評香港沒有特色,只有購物商場的時候,我們再也沒有藉口不去重新審視甚麼才是香港人獨一無二的身分特質,而這正是再造香港文化的基礎。但願保護維港、重建灣仔、反對西九龍文娛藝術區這些運動,能夠引起香港市民的思考,就回歸後、二十一世紀香港人的身分進行認真的討論,而不是被某些傢伙藉以撈取政治本錢的一場真人騷。

Saturday, 30 July 2005

懺情記之洪莉娜篇

我自小喜歡看戲,早在牙牙學語的時候,便已懂得站在嬰兒床上看無線的《民間傳奇》,播下了日後對小說、戲曲產生濃厚興趣的種子。童年時更是標準的電視迷,不但把七、八十年代的電視劇主題曲和插曲背得滾瓜爛熟,對角色、演員更是如數家珍,而且連一些毫不起眼的道友、包租婆、茶樓夥計等配角的姓名、樣貌也記得一清二楚。

經過三十年的鍛鍊,眼光難免愈來愈敏銳,任何蛛絲馬跡也無法逃過自己的法眼,也因此對戲劇愈來愈感到意興闌珊。不但對每下愈況的港產劇集和電影徹底失望,就連早些年日劇、韓劇大行其道的時候,也提不起興趣去湊熱鬧。早在二十世紀五、六十年代,無論是《寒夜》還是《不了情》,已經把絕症和癡情兩大煽情元素發揮得淋漓盡致,後來者若不是東施效顰,最多也只是與前輩分庭抗禮罷了。

所以當日看《大長今》前,沒有絲毫的期望,甚至抱著「就看你有甚麼本事」的心態。然而,在沒有任何心理戒備的情況下,遇上突襲便無法招架,《大長今》再次印證了這個說法,竟然把我殺了一個措手不及。

更沒想到的是,到了這個年紀,仍會為演員著迷,而且迷得一發不可收拾。

這些年來,欣賞的演員著實不少,但就是沒幾位教我魂牽夢縈,可以厚著臉皮打起fans的旗號招搖過市。僅有的兩位,也已經不在人世了。我一直以為梅艷芳離去之後,再也不會為誰顛倒了,誰知卻遇上了她--洪莉娜。

最初,我以為自己是純粹被技術擊倒的,只因莉娜的演技實在太厲害。我自問也算得上吹毛求疵的觀眾了,要挑莉娜的骨頭也居然無從挑起。崔今英是《大長今》劇中最難演得好的人物,不單因為她的心理轉折異常複雜,更重要的是她的說白極少,演員只能靠眼神和一張臉來演繹。戲曲中人有云:「無傘無扇,神仙難變」,演員手中沒有道具尚且如此慌張,何況連對白也欠奉?崔今英這個角色需要內斂、深沉的演技,而這正是我最欣賞的一種演繹風格。獨孤求敗之所以天下無敵,就是因為已臻「無劍勝有劍」的境界;演技何嘗不是?「假作真時真亦假,無為有處有還無」,其實不是甚麼太虛幻境,而是演技上「無劍勝有劍」的層次。不過,如果分寸拿捏不準,演出效果不是呆若木雞,便是表情太誇張,這樣就無法表達崔今英在那倨傲和冷漠的臉容之下,藏著三分溫婉和優雅的氣質。莉娜只憑一雙會流露七情六欲的眼睛,便演活了寂寞、無助、精神極度困擾的崔今英,不禁教我佩服得五體投地。

如今,仔細想去,如果純粹是欣賞莉娜的演技,又似乎無法令我達至如此瘋狂的地步--為她填詞、寫文章;鍥而不捨、千方百計地搜羅她的作品和消息;重複又重複地以顯微鏡般的銳利眼光逐格欣賞她的演技,而且還要被她在戲裡的一顰一笑弄得牽腸掛肚,一會兒是嚇得心膽俱裂,一會兒又是氣得臉紅脖子粗,更別提那些「你快樂,所以我快樂」式的傻笑。

憑著水瓶座理智分析的本能,我曾經嘗試探討自己這樣不可理喻地迷戀莉娜的原因。除了上述最基本的技術因素,接下來便是一些虛無飄渺的感性緣由。首先,可能是出於一種鋤強扶弱的心態。《大長今》熱潮席捲全港的時候,很多演員也應邀來港宣傳,或者越洋接受香港傳媒的訪問。在四位領銜主演的主角中,只有莉娜音訊杳然,不但沒有機會來港宣傳,就連接受訪問的機會也沒有。除了「冠蓋滿京華,斯人獨憔悴」十字,沒有更精鍊獨到的文字來描述這種情何以堪的處境。更令人意難平的是,似乎絕大部分的香港觀眾也無法擺脫「以貌取人」的陋習,不斷以惡言攻擊莉娜的容貌,完全忽略莉娜精湛的演技和她在劇中的重要地位--沒有令人切齒痛恨的崔今英,如何反襯徐長今擇善固執的可敬可貴?我一直很同情劇中崔今英沒有勇氣堅持己見的窘迫,更為現實中莉娜備受香港觀眾和傳媒的冷落而氣憤難平。也許我是不自量力地以為,可以用自己最強烈的熱情來彌補莉娜某方面的失落。

其次,曾看過一些有關莉娜個人際遇的報道,深深敬佩她那堅持進修的毅力、意外受傷後面對現實的勇氣,還有傷癒後積極生活的樂天知命。我承認,在這份敬佩之情裡,也許有意無意之間糝進了同情--一種隱藏著「我強你弱」不平等關係、政治不正確的情感--但我絕對沒有半點小看莉娜的意思。相反地,莉娜的勇氣和堅毅,也像冬日的和煦陽光一樣,燃亮過生命中某些風雪侵逼的日子。既然受過她的恩惠,自當湧泉相報,不敢稍忘。

最後,我不得不承認,莉娜的出現,某程度上是安撫了內心深處一個永遠無法癒合的傷口。因為失落過、傷痛過,所以更希望以最大的力氣,維護一份得來不易的情感寄託。也許有人會問,你這不是把莉娜當替身嗎?當然不是。相伴二十年、一起成長的恩情,永遠無法取代;否定每個人也是獨立、有尊嚴的生命,妄圖以自己的情感和意願強加於人,也是我所不屑為之的事。但人始終是感情的動物,在我亟需仰仗某種精神寄託的時候,遇上了莉娜,確實是難得的好運氣。

Thursday, 28 July 2005

My First Trip to Korea

In late October, I will have my first trip to Korea - a country I have heard of so much and yet know so little.

I'm now reading a Chinese textbook on Korean history for an overview - by Chien Chiang-tso from Taiwan - arguably the only Chinese-written history of Korea from pre-historic times to post-Second World War, available in Hong Kong.

However, the book is unexpectedly disappointing. It fails to provide beginners a comprehensible and insightful perspective to understand this long-time neighbour of China. Many key concepts and terminologies are not adequately explained. References to ancient information sources by Chinese and Korean historians are loosely associated with the author's viewpoints and brief accounts (though essentially not a bad thing), as if these are being included merely to show that the book is no fiction. Worse still, there is an incredible abundance of typos, which is not only annoying and confusing but also irritating to literate readers.

Perhaps checking out the informative English account on the official web site of KBS would have been a better alternative. Interestingly, KBS is one of the three broadcast corporations in Korea but it seems to be strongly committed to promoting Korean culture to non-Korean speaking people around the world.

Saturday, 2 July 2005

《踏莎行》--思念

細雨如梭,蒸雲似浪,階前點滴思惆悵。流波逐影寄浮萍,心隨天遠夢魂蕩。 曲徑徘徊,高樓佇望,夜來誰識清月朗?千金願擲換深顰,閒愁莫向佳人往。

Friday, 17 June 2005

《憶餘杭》

晴碧微涼,點點疏星明復滅。西風莫問劫餘花,馨意寄誰家。 恨無青鳥傳心柬,午夜夢迴對空盞。望甘霖澤遍天涯,麗質煥光華。

Saturday, 4 June 2005

《浣溪沙》--詠崔今英

燕去鶯來報曉暉,溢紅艷翠競春釐,香風不到舊東籬。 曲徑森森人跡杳,門庭寂寂馬蹄稀,隔簾猶看雨斜飛。