Monday, 22 February 2016
Sunday, 21 February 2016
既然戲文如此，只好倚仗演員發揮補闕拾遺的功夫，使人物沒那麼惹人反感，或者把一些疏漏的細節綴補起來。這可以怎樣做到呢？沒想到居然在英國National Theatre現場錄影轉播、由當今炙手可熱男演員Benedict Cumberbatch主演的莎翁名劇《王子復仇記》中讓我找到端倪。
他在演出前的專訪中特別引述Hamlet的名言：To be or not to be, that is the question，指出演員必須想清楚為甚麼Hamlet會這樣說，因為演員怎樣理解這句話，就決定了他會塑造一個怎樣的Hamlet。訪問中又剪輯了Cumberbatch到一家中學觀看幾個南亞裔學生表演《王子復仇記》選段的情形－－只見幾個學生一字排開，輪流踏前朗聲說著上述名言，就像Hamlet內心的諸般想法紛至沓來，然後站在中間、飾演Hamlet的男學生頹然倒在地上。這個構思相當新穎，而且誠如Cumberbatch一針見血地指出，最後把張力集中到Hamlet身上，使觀眾深深感受到他的猶豫難決，很是精采。
Friday, 19 February 2016
Sunday, 14 February 2016
Based on what I have read over the years and what has been excavated from historical sites around Hong Kong, particularly the construction site of the Shatin-Central Link in To Kwa Wan, I am more convinced than ever that Hong Kong was not necessarily a barren rock as the British set their feet on the shores of Hong Kong Island. At the dawn of the Song Dynasty in the second half of the tenth century, Hong Kong had been a busy transit of international vessels making their way to China through the roaring waters. In different parts of Hong Kong, there were also considerably developed settlements with people engaged in various occupations.
Pearl collection was one of the long lost businesses of Hong Kong. The other better known one, and official as well, was salt production.
So where were the pearls found? The Kingdom of Southern Han (917-971 AD) founded a pearl collection site called Meichuandou in 963 AD, where residents were forced to collect pearls in the deep waters barehandedly. Up to 8,000 troops were sent to station around the area. Although it was widely believed that Meichuandou was located somewhere near Tai Po today, I never came across any evidence in the primary sources. Some said it was in Yuen Chau Tsai, some others insisted it was Sam Mun Tsai.
I still have no idea whatsoever who is right, but found one more vote for Sam Mun Tsai in a leisure walk there on the third and last holiday of the New Year.
This was my first visit to Sam Mun Tsai, although I have heard about it for many years. Neither did I have any clue whatsoever where it exactly is until arriving at the small private pier looking over to the Tolo Harbour after the 45-minute minibus ride from Tai Po Market station. It is a remote corner at the tip of a small peninsula stretching out from Tai Po, with the opening of the Tolo Harbour right at its south. Facing southward, you can see a suffocating fortress of residential blocks under Ma On Shan on the left, and the densely built slopes of The Chinese University of Hong Kong on the right.
But the area should not be called Sam Mun Tsai, at least before 1965. Its original name should be Yim Tin Tsai, sharing the same name with an abandoned Hakka village on an outlying island in Sai Kung, where most of the indigenous villagers were named Chan and devout Catholics. According to the photo exhibition at the entrance to the Sam Mun Tsai village, what we see now are government-built settlements for fishermen relocated from Sam Mun Tsai near Pak Sha Tau, Sai Kung, when the Plover Cove Reservoir was built. The village, literally known as Sam Mun Tsai Fishermen's New Village, was open in 1965 by then-governor Sir David Trench.
The village was dotted with two-storey, long-stretched residential blocks housing about 20 homes each. At a glance, the flats look pretty small at no more than 300 square feet per unit. It is noteworthy that many homes have a hand-painted red cross above their doors, probably indicating that the dwellers are Christian (not sure if they are Catholics or Protestants though).
The reason of visiting Sam Mun Tsai was not so much about an old resettlement of the fishermen, probably the oldest occupation in Hong Kong, but Ma Shi Chau Special Area of the Hong Kong Geopark. Although I can't recall anything learned from the geography class, the 30-minute walk to Ma Shi Chau was quite refreshing. Along the way you will never lose sight of all the peaks of Pat Sin Leng and the enormous white statue of Avalokiteśvara of Tsz Shan Monastery in the backdrop. The extensive fish farms, fishing boats and nets in the quiet waters beneath Pat Sin Leng only serve to remind us where Hong Kong had originally come from.
But the walk could be somewhat uneasy for some, especially in the Lunar New Year holidays, because the hills were covered with countless graves and tombstones of the deceased villagers. The cemetery stretches from the hillsides surrounding the abandoned village school and radiates along the slopes of Sam Mun Tsai in all directions. You simply can't avoid eye contact with the graves even if you look out to the far.
Walking on a well-built stone path cutting across the grave-filled slopes bring visitors to Ma Shi Chau, a densely vegetated island full of volcanic rocks dating back to 2.5 million to 2.9 million years ago, the second oldest in Hong Kong. Most of those rocks are distinctively red in colour, some as much as the clay courts in the French Open, quite different from what we used to see around Hong Kong. Some of them even look black, covered with substances similar to coal, formed by fossilised plants as a result of biological and geological processes before the first human beings were conceived.
Indeed, Ma Shi Chau was pretty well protected with rugged, undisturbed shores and vibrant marine life, if you pay attention close enough. It feels somewhat surreal to see tiny crabs and lobsters moving around the gaps and holes of the millions-of-years-old rocks under your feet, where artificial evidence of human civilisation are lying around across the waters. But the nature is not always benevolent, as we should always bear in mind. In fact, the tombolo linking Sam Mun Tsai and Ma Shi Chau is littered with dead, rotten fish of all sizes and huge heaps of shattered sea shells, indicating how destructive, and ruthless the forces of nature can possibly be. This is because the tombolo will be flooded by rising tides every day, cutting off access from Sam Mun Tsai to Ma Shi Chau.
After all, humans are but part of the nature. For centuries and millennia we have shamelessly claimed supremacy over other fellow co-habitants, and it is now time to develop a greater sense of responsibility by making this world more sustainable and suitable for habitation. I don't know if extinction is inescapable for all forms of life, as some may believe, but there is little doubt that we, the depleters and destructors of the natural world, should compensate for the damages we have caused. Apparently I have no crystal ball to see for how much longer the current landscape will survive, relatively untouched by human settlements, if destruction. And I can only hope my disappointments and frustrations with many aspects of life here in Hong Kong would vanish in no time. The crepuscular rays, nicknamed Rays from Jesus in Cantonese, from afar when we left Sam Mun Tsai were by all means welcome as a token of hope and encouragement.
We simply need some indication of hope and direction to get out of the darkness.
Never really interested in plants, I have very little knowledge about trees, flowers and other forms of vegetation in the countryside. But I do enjoy the natural, sensual pleasure of seeing beautiful flowers, especially plum blossoms. The romantic connotations nurtured by Chinese literature over the past millennia have become conditioned reflexes of the brain that attach an extra layer of humanistic enjoyment. But it is equally enjoyable to watch blossoms beaming in fine weather.
Driven by the urge for natural beauty, I joined a group of friends to hike to Tai Cham Koi in Sai Kung on the second day of the New Year. Pardon for my ignorance, it was more strenuous than expected, and seems to deserve more than a three-out-of-five-star rating in terms of difficulty. For almost two hours at noon we ascended more than 400 metres by climbing the slippery gravel slopes, almost non-stop, to reach the highest hill in the vicinity. While I must admit that I was terribly out of shape due to the lack of physical exercises over the past two months, the bulky backpack stuffed with a full-framed camera, a telephoto lens, two bottles of water and two jackets was undoubtedly a heavy burden. The weather was surprisingly pleasant, with the sun beaming unreservedly in the blue, cloudless sky. The unexpected heat simply stretched the limits of my physical fitness even further.
Notwithstanding the physical challenges, the hike was quite enjoyable. Looking back at the green peaks, ridges and valleys sprawling across the sea dotted with nameless islands is indeed refreshing and revitalising. We could even see the peaks of Ma On Shan and Pat Sin Leng, as well as the enormous white statue of Avalokiteśvara (usually translated as Goddess of Mercy) of Tsz Shan Monastery.
Indeed, the hike was meant for having a glimpse of the Chinese New Year Flowers, but we were somewhat disappointed as there was only one bush of good-looking blossoms along the way. Altogether we came across three, but the last two were not as good as the first. I only managed to take a few snapshots, trying to give my souring leg muscles a break, before moving on.
Before setting off in the morning, I was greeted with an unwelcomed surprise – news of the riot in Mong Kok at late night on the Lunar New Year Day. Based on the news reports and rumours on the internet, it seems only God knows what the true trigger was. Like the Umbrella Movement two years ago, people are further divided for what they choose to believe, and their refusal to open up the ears and the mind trying to understand those who disagree with them. Most people are too eager to preach their own belief without a second thought – to what extent what they believe is true and justified, given the extremely limited credible information?
Neither the natural beauty of the landscape nor the physical stretch of the hike could spare me from the despair and indignation watching the news of the riot.
Monday, 8 February 2016
For me, the Year of the Goat/Ram/Sheep was full of despair and distress. I can’t even remember what was memorable but positive. Of course I should be grateful that everything seems to have settled by now, but there is still a long way to gather myself together. Indeed, I could barely do so even though I know deep inside the rough tides have yet to be calmed. While it is fully acknowledged that there is no way out to the problem but to sweep it under the carpet and let it rot, the mere thought of having an untreated scar really bothers me.
On this first day of the Year of the Monkey, I didn’t even have any intention whatsoever to climb the Lion Rock. After some pondering I forced myself to have a light hike on Lung Fu Shan and Victoria Peak, starting from the junction of Hatton Road and Kotewall Road. I used to take this trail to Victoria Peak some 20 years ago, but haven’t been there for more than a decade. To my surprise, the 45-minute walk (including a detour to the abandoned battery in the pinewood on Lung Fu Shan) was much more exhausting than I can remember. Perhaps I’m growing old, or just getting seriously out of shape. The burden of a camera and two lenses should have little to blame.
It was an extraordinarily good day with warm sunshine, bright blue sky and a refreshing breeze. The non-stop uphill walk on the slope of about 30-45 degrees was inevitably body-heating, but it became quite chilly on Lugard Road when the winter monsoon wind from the northeast confronted visitors appreciating the spectacular view of Kowloon across Victoria Harbour.
In traditional Chinese literature, climbing the heights for a spectacular view of the far and wide values way more than the breath-taking experience. It also offers an opportunity to think about oneself, and the society in which one lives. Looking down from afar does not spare us from all the problems and questions in reality. Distance just takes us away from the meticulous, trivial daily chores and remind us of the big picture. It calms us down and helps us re-focus on what is truly important. Perhaps this is why many poets said they were ‘afraid’ of climbing the heights, usually a tower but also somewhere up in the hills where the city was visible. Scenery always reminds us of the beauty of our dwelling place, and it also presses us for a solution to the countless problems plaguing it to maintain its beauty.
Staring at the Lion Rock and Tai Mo Shan across the harbour, however, I felt overwhelmed by tides of hopelessness and helplessness never experienced before. Perhaps this also explains why I couldn’t hold my tears watching the Lunar New Year parade on television – the best wishes have become unbearably bitter sarcasm contradicting the harsh reality.
Saturday, 6 February 2016
Since childhood, I have been said to have a good memory. Some said this is why I learn fast, some attributed it to my good grades at school. If my memory is truly good, the only admittible advantage to me is that it helps recite favourite lines in poetry or libretto, or important historical facts, without much pain.
Over time, however, it becomes clearer that having a good memory is not necessarily good.
The biggest problem is that it makes you remember what you don't really want. Unlike what one might expect, it doesn't really need an eidetic memory like that of Lisbeth Salander in Steig Larsson's best-selling trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to do so. For some mysterious reasons, what the eye and heart come across is automatically recorded in the long-term memory, without any prior approval. This means the conscious is not even aware of the recording and storage processes until certain retrieval cues trigger off a red button buried somewhere in the brain, blowing off the Pandora box shutters and replaying something that you may never want to see again.
It would be an unfortunate mistake to assume that only bad memories hurt. In fact, both good and bad memories do, more so for the happy ones. This usually happens when the good old days are long gone. It does not necessarily mean one is dwelling on the irrecoverable past, or indulging in the self-created illusions that it were but a nightmare though. It just means the rift between the past and present is too large to be reconciled, at least for a certain period of time. As a result, the happier one's experience is, the longer it takes to convince one's heart and mind that everything is but the past. In this case, the happy memories are little more than unwelcomed reminders of what one's life used to be, and what it could have been if nothing went wrong.
Unfortunately human life always goes astray and unfolds in an unexpected or even unwanted direction, and there is little we can do about it. Worse still, those with a good memory often find it even harder to swallow, because the highly autonomous memory works on its own and doesn't give a damn to what one feels. It only reacts to any external stimulus brought to its attention, without any reference to timing or situation. On some occasions it doesn't even need any retrieval cue to recall what is buried somewhere in the brain. It just blasts off without notice, leaving one in despair or distress. And it just works that way.
Words of wisdom raging on the internet often advise people to let go, but the question is how, not what, to do. For those being haunted by memories, they need instructions more than directions, which are mostly common sense anyway. What people with a good memory really need is a strong hand to help find the way out of the labyrinth of conflicts between the emotion and reason. In fact, this is a dilemma that seems extremely difficult to get over. Usually the better the memory is, the harder it is to step out of the predicament. Most importantly, unlike computer files, memories cannot be deleted voluntarily. Anything that falls into the long-term memory is deemed to be recalled at any time.
If I may, let me wish for God's mercy of granting me the ability to delete unwanted files in memory as the birthday gift for this year. Alternatively, a less effective recording and storage system in my brain would also be desirable.