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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Number One Scholar - Chapter 1 - There's A Big-Headed Ghost in Blessed Earth Lane.

Copyright © 2011 - Jeff Loh. All rights reserved

Chapter 1 – There’s A Big-Headed Ghost1 In Blessed Earth Lane.

My dear friends! Canton’s Lun Mun Chui’s prestige and fame is as thick as people and horses crowding into a city. There is no one who does not know him. You may not have seen a white crane but I am sure you must have seen a pile of shit before [This is how well known Lun Mun Chui is in Canton]. In the old days, somewhere between, ‘First Candidates Selection’ and ‘Blessed Earth’ Lane2 was the official residence of the Lun family. The imperial memorial arch of ‘First Candidates Selection’ is the most famous in all of Canton. Everyone knows the apocryphal stories of Lun Mun Chui, how he sold vegetables in his youth and how he bested Lau Sin Hoi3 at his own games, so Uncle Chen4 shall refrain and spare his tongue from wagging too much. One can hear these stories sung in Dragon Boat Songs5 or you can read them in books. However, they are not detailed and many of these apocryphal stories are lost. When Uncle Chen6 was a kid…

I heard many stories from neighbouring second uncle7 and from foot-bound eighth auntie8. Mostly from unofficial sources. I read many writings of the old describing the life of Lun Mun Chui that not many people know. I shall now recount these events in detail as stories. No more idle talk and let me delve right into the topic.

During his lifetime and after, Lun Mun Chui was known for his uncanny wit. Why was he so demon-witted? You ask. Well, this is because he was the reincarnation of a big-headed ghost9. Before he was born, neighours of Blessed Earth Lane had been seeing a ghost every night – one with a big head with a small body. While walking in the night when people came across it, it would simply open its large mouth and grin at them idiotically. It was not afraid of people10. My friends please don’t say it’s not a frightening scene at all! When one person sees it, two more will come forth and claim that they too had seen it. As all descriptions were very similar even skeptics began to wonder if the stories were true. Very soon everyone was afraid to walk outside at night; all except for Night Watcher Six11 who had not witnessed such apparitions.

Some people reasoned that if there was indeed a big-headed ghost in the vicinity, why wouldn’t Night Watcher Six be afraid?

“I beat my gongs each night, going through Blessed Earth Lane back and forth at least twelve times12 never have I witnessed such a thing before,” claimed Night Watcher Six.

“This proves that those claiming that they saw the apparitition they were merely firing off their big cannons13!. I’ll believe when I see it.”

So Night Watcher Six continued with his job, sounding the times for the night. When he reached Blessed Earth Lane, he would open his golden pupils and fiery eyes14 to look around purposefully and even pause for a while before leaving the area. Still he did not find anything strange.

One night, after having two cups of wine, his eyes became blurry; beating on his bamboo plaque and copper gong15 as he went about his business on the third watch. Just when he came to house number fifteen he saw a black shadow.

“Oi! Who’s out there! This late in the night; must be some thief at work.”

Quickly Night Watcher Six went for a closer look. Wah! What a big-headed ghost it was! Head as big as a keg, a skinny vine-like body and a hideous face to match. It stared at Night Watcher Six and gave its signature idiotic grin when it suddenly dodged into house number thirteen where Old Lun Eight lived. Now Night Watcher Six was really courageous and was not a bit least frightened. Quickly he ran up to house thirteen and banged on the door shouting,

“Old Eight Lun! Wake up! I need to talk to you! I’m Night Watcher Six.”

Mrs. Lun Eight was already walking out of the hall. So ugly she looked in her undergarments with her three delicates bouncing up and down! Hey! Wait a minute! Women have two protrusions. How come there are three on her? Well, that is because Auntie Eight was in her full eighth month of pregnancy. Mrs. Eight said to her husband,

“I was almost frightened to death. I had a dream. In it was this big-headed ghost. I could see its head but not its body. It approached me and with a twist, it pierced into my belly through the trousers leg. At once I struggled and woke myself up. Now the little piggy16 is causing me some pain.”

Oh my! This is getting strange. Night Watcher Six began to wonder about everything he had seen and heard. But before her story ended, Mrs. Lun started experiencing great pains in her stomach.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Edited by the Jimbo

1. In Cantonese a big-headed ghost is slang for a rich man or boss by the virtue of his wealth.

2. At Sea Pearl in Canton, there is still a street named ’First Scholar Selection’. The character ‘擢' means to select or to promote. ’甲' means first. In imperial times, it also meant to be first in the imperial exams. According to one story, there were indeed a few Number One Scholars that came from this innocuous looking lane, including Ming Dynasty’s demon-witted Lun Mun Chui. During the Southern Sung Dynasty, there lived a Mr. Wong, a carpenter who came to Canton for work. He had two sons, the elder named Pun and the younger Hei. However the father worked so hard he died of exhaustion before he could see his sons grow up. As the family was poor, the older brother worked and self-studied. In the meantime, he supported and enrolled the younger brother in a private school studio. A few years later the older brother succeeded in the preliminary examinations and became a scholar and the number one scholar at the finals. The younger brother also passed the exams and became the next number one scholar. With two number one scholars coming from the same family, it had a great impact on Canton. Local officials erected a new residence for them and named the street “First Scholar Selection”.

Another story describes this place where Lun Mun Chui was born. Most importantly not only did this place produce the Number One Scholar (狀元); of his two sons, the elder one became the Number Three Scholar (探花) during the reign of Emperor Cheng Te and nine years later, his younger son became the Number Two Scholar (榜眼). Hence the place was named the “Blessed Earth”.

3. Arch-nemesis of our hero. We shall encounter him later.

4. See preface.

5. A kind of song popular in Canton. It has nothing to do with the Dragon Boat race or the festival. The street singer carries a small “dragon boat” with a gong and drum going through the neighbourhood to sell his vocal talents. For more details see the video explanation at

6. Chinese love to speak in the 3rd person. This is to show one’s humility.

7. In Cantonese slang, the second younger brother of one’s father is a pawnbroker. Because of his profession, he is said to be very experienced and knowledgeable, knowing minutiae that others may not know.

8. Auntie Eight is a derogatory euphemism for a gossipy or fearsome crone. In adding the phrase bound foot (the ancient fetish of Chinese males binding their womenfolk’s feet) implies that she is really old since foot binding was no longer practised during the time of the author (but one could still see such remnants of the old dynasty). The practice was finally stopped by the communist regime. Various reigns of the Ch’ing Dynasty had tried to stamp out this barbaric practice but to no avail since later emperors themselves succumbed to this fetish.

9. In Cantonese slang, a big-headed ghost is a rich person. Because of his wealth he is often the boss or chief.

10. In popular belief, ghosts are supposed to be afraid of the living. This comes from the adage, 人怕鬼三分, 鬼怕人七分. Man is afraid of ghosts by 30% while ghosts are afraid of human being by 70%. Thus an upright person has no fear of them; only guilty ones have.
A nightwatchman.  The character means to patrol

11. A number that is commonly affixed to night watchers. Most probably he is son number six. In illiterate classes, names usually consist of a number or an animal. Cantonese love to affix numbers to nicknames. For example, some came from the design of Chinese dominoes to describe people with certain physical characteristics, ‘tambourine six’ (拎冧六), ‘big-headed six’ (大頭六) or ‘long legged 7’ (高脚七) for the 6th and 7th son.

12. The night is divided into 6 divisions of time. Each division is about 2 hours.
Cantonese slang for exaggerated lies. Reincarnated from the phrase “扯大奅”. “gossiping about great flimsiness”. For detailed explanation see

14. Description for the eyes of the “Monkey King” who had eaten the peaches of immortality gulped the entire stock of divine wine and swallowed the entire batch of Lao Tzu’s pills making his body indestructible. When he was finally caught he was imprisoned in Lao Tzu’s pill-making furnace in hopes of distilling the essence out of his body so that his mortal remains could be burnt to ashes. However Monkey being afraid of fire moved himself into the wind sector of the furnace where there is no fire. However there was smoke that made his pupils glow in gold and caused his eyes to become fiery, enabling him to see things happening at thousands of miles away. Thus the term now means “sharp eyed”.

15. The watchman would clap on the hollow bamboo stick twice before striking the copper gong twice, with sounds of “duk duk chang chang”. The hour is indicated by the number of beats.

16. Cantonese call their sons little piggy 猪仔as a term of affection because pigs are precious commodities in the old days. Also amongst the illiterate classes it was common to give their sons names or nick names like亞狗 (dog), 亞羊 (goat). Girls on the other hand may not even possess a name!

Original Text

一 福地巷有隻大頭鬼

各位老友記, 廣東倫文叙個首架勢1堂人馬, 相信無人不識. 唔2見白鶴都見過篤3屎, 你看擢甲里福地巷, 這兩條街, 舊時就係4倫家的狀元第, 擢甲里哪5個子鼎甲牌坊, 是通廣州最架勢的牌坊, 而倫文敘的軼事, 倫文敘賣菜, 倫文敘扭6絕柳先開, 等等事跡, 龍舟雖有, 書仔7有, 街頭都有得擺, 街尾有得買, 相信個個皆知, ,不須襯叔饒舌, 但是龍舟歌同書仔, 都是畧而不詳, 而倫文敘軼事, 散佚不傳, 襯叔細蚊仔聽過隔籬二叔公8, 和巷尾紮脚八婆9, 講過好多件並無坊本的, 大來了, 又看過好多前人筆記, 述倫文敍的事, 也是人多未知, 所以特地將倫文敘一生事蹟, 當作古講, 一事一事, 細說將來, 閒話休提, 且說倫文敘是時, 人稱為鬼才, 點解說是鬼才呢10? 原來倫文敍是大頭鬼投胎, 倫文敘未曾出世之前, 福地巷坊人, 每晚黑夜見鬼, 隻鬼是個頭大大, 個身細細, 行人夜行, 時常碰着, 是不怕人, 見到人張開個丫扒大口, 向人儍笑, 老友, 都咪11話唔得人驚, 一個說見過, 兩個也說見過, 而且個個所見都是如此形狀, 不由人不信, 于是相信怕有, 人皆不敢夜行, 獨獨打更六是不曾見過, 有人話打更六, 此處有隻大頭鬼, 你重晚上打更, 不怕鬼乎? 我打更六晚晚行福地巷至小來回十二次, 絕無所見, 可知個的見鬼的是車大砲12, 我見過就信了, 果然打更六依然晚晚打更, 行到福地巷, 金精火眼, 四處張望, 而且故意俄廷, 在巷中流連不去, 但終不獲見, 一晚, 打更六飲醉两杯, 醉眼矇矓, 揸住碌更更鎚, 正在打三更, 打到十五號戶門前, 見一團黑影, 喂, 邊13個三更半夜躲在此處, 想偷野14乎? 走15上前一看, 嘩, 乜16真有隻大頭鬼乎? 祇見一個頭大如斗身瘦如藤, 面貌猙獰的大頭鬼, 向打更六笑, 一閃身便向十三號倫老八的住宅閃了入去, 打更六確是够大胆, 他絕不驚心, 走到十三號門口, 砰砰打門, 喂, 倫老八, 起身, 我打更六呀, 有句話同你講, 個首倫八嫂早已走出廳來, 肉酸17呀, 細衫短褲, 三凸玲龍, 喂, 女人皆有兩凸, 點解18有三凸呢? 原有八嫂已經懷孕足八月, 八嫂向老八曰: “一嚇死我了, 我發夢, 夢見一隻大頭鬼, 只見其頭, 不見其身, 一走走到我身傍, 一攢19到, 由褲脚攢到了肚子裡, 當堂紥醒, 如今個猪20小還隱隱作痛也.” 打更六一聽, 咦, 古怪, 因說所見, 誰不知話說未完, 八嫂繼續肚痛.

Cantonese Terms

1. Prestigious, famous, big shot or ‘cool’.

2. Equivalent to 不.

3. Counting word for a pile.

4. Equivalent to 是.

5. Same as 那, just the tones are different.

6. Extending the meaning of ‘to twist’. 扭計 is ‘to twist the plan’ meaning to kick up a fuss or to play a prank. 扭擰 is ‘to twist and turn’ i.e. to be wishy washy or indecisive.

7. same as 子.

8. See Note #6.

9. See Note #7.

10. A final particle,

      a. questioning emphasis: 點知呢? how do you know?!

      b. Reflecting the question back to the questioner: 事情有誰不知呢? for this matter isn’t there anyone who doesn’t know?

      c. To emphasize the accuracy of the statement: 佢地都要求我呢 they must seek my help!

      d. Indicating continuous tense: 現在學習呢 at this moment they are still learning.

      e. Pause indicator functioning like a comma, 現在呢事不同往日 Now, things is not the same as before.

      f. This or that as in, 呢個, this time, that time, 呢陣.

11. Same as 不 don’t.

12. See Note #13.

13. Where 邊處, who 邊個.

14. A thing or an object.

15. The ancient (classical) meaning of走which Cantonese retain means ‘to run’. The meaning in modern standard Chinese is ‘to walk’. Cantonese walk is 行.

16. What. 乜嘢 or乜野 means ‘what things’. 做乜野’ means ‘what are you doing?’

17. So ugly or hideous that one’s flesh turns sour (i.e. to become pickled by frightening to death).

18. Why點解, how點樣, how do you know, 點知 (short for 點樣知道), how do you say點講 (short for 點樣講).

19. Same as 鑽 to piece or drill into.

20. See note #16.

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