Mr. Lee of the Eight Directions

Today’s Apple Daily adds a devilish bit of gossip that I missed at yesterday’s protest event (scroll below) It seems that when Alan Leong arrived at the LSD demo, dear Mr. Long Hair offered the fellow a choice between riding in the wheelchair or riding on a bike. Poor Leong gamely chose the bicycle of course, even though he hadn’t been on one in “eight or ten” years. As I suspected.

I got that tidbit where I almost always do, from the spicy, prolific and quintessentially Cantonese writings of Apple’s Daily’s political columnist Leih Baat Fong, Mr. Lee Eight Directions.

“Eight Directions”, or baat fong in Cantonese, is a pen name…I guess I’d translate it into something like “Four Corners” in English, the idea being that Mr. Lee picks up on what people are chattering about in the air, all around. Or it could also imply that Mr. Lee is everywere, listening in, which he certainly seems to be. 

Now, I’m assuming Mr. Lee is a he, and also that he is an actual person–I haven’t met Eight Directions yet, and for all I know (and for the quantity of Baat Fong items that fill up the pages of Apple Daily day after day) “he” could be a team of underpaid and overworked HK reporters.

Anyway, I usually start my mornings by diving into Leih Baat Fong with a vengeance and strong coffee, because his writing compresses everything that I love and fear about Cantonese into dense but manageable petit fours of 200 Chinese characters or less. Lee’s journalistic style jumps, without warning,  from what people here call “good Chinese” (a formal, standardized writing that any Chinese speaker can read), to vernacular Cantonese, which is sometimes phonetic (you have to know Cantonese and be able to pronounce the character out loud to understand the meaning). His pen also dips into the near-archaic set of Cantonese characters, which are ancient in origin and only used in Hong Kong.

What I’m trying to say here is that even if you’re fluent in Mandarin, like a lot of foreign journos in HK are, you’re still going to get lost around Eight Directions. 

Oh, and did I mention that Mr. Lee loves those little proverbs that use four Chinese characters, and seem to be on the tip of of the tongue of every Hong Konger over 45–but not in any dictionary? (Except, sometimes, in the indispensible and wonderful Canto dictionary website run by an English-Pakistani in the UK who calls himself Sheik...)

Negotiating my way through the Cantonese wordplay of Leih Baat Fong is kind of like riding a linguistic bicycle….

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