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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Number One Scholar - Chapter 2 - A Distinguished Future Must Be In Store For Ah Chui

Copyright © 2011 - Jeff Loh. All rights reserved

Chapter 2 – A Distinguished Future Must Be In Store For Ah Chui1.

Old Lun Eight2 on seeing the current situation knew that his old lady was going to explode any moment and he was getting very antsy.

“Old Eight, let me look after Eighth sister-in-law3. You better go and find a midwife quick!” Night Watcher Six advised.

Old Lun Eight thought to himself,

“Surely you jest! If she explodes right now, won’t you have an eyeful of everything? Sheesh!”

Therefore to Night Watcher Six, he pleaded,

“Sixth younger brother4, if you really want to help, you must send Buddha to the West5. Mind if I trouble you going next door and bang on the door to wake up Bagasse Fifth Aunt6 and then to the opposite corner and call the wife of Ah Chan, the pickled vegetable seller, to come. They had promised help when the moment arrived.”

With those words, Night Watcher Six immediately went a-calling. Not long afterwards Bagasse Fifth Aunt and Mrs. Chan came groggily and asked Eighth Uncle,

“Any movement yet?”

“I don’t have any movement but my wife has!” retorted an antsy Eighth Uncle.

Quickly everyone went about their assigned tasks; to heat some water, to carry and assist Mrs. Eighth. Night Watcher Six went back to his rounds. For a while everyone hustled and bustled. Finally the baby came crying “wah wah” into this world alerting the entire three streets of the neighbourhood. Bagasse Firth Aunt announced as she carried the baby,

“Congratulations to you Eighth Uncle, you got yourself an arrowhead stalk7!”

On hearing the congratulatory words, Eighth Uncle quickly went forth to take a look and was overjoyed upon verification. But then on a second look, he saw the baby had very odd features, a head big as a bucket with little sparkly eyes. The strangest of all was that his entire body covered with marks that looked like fish scales. However the body is strong and healthy. After Bagasse Fifth Aunt finished washing the baby, she wrapped him in a blanket before presenting to Eighth Aunt. When mother gazed upon her son, she gave a big fright and from of her mouth she out came an “Ai yah!”

Eighth Uncle asked what the matter was. Eighth Aunt stuttered,

“Strange, very strange indeed! This baby looks like that thing I was dreaming earlier. I wondered if this omen is good or bad.”

Eighth Uncle consoled her and gave this baby the name of Lun Mun Chui8. When one has something to say, the day is long, and days are short when there is nothing to say. Time passed quickly and Ah Chui was now five years old. Because he was often sickly as a baby, his body size was unusually skinny and diminutive. However his head was especially large in proportion to his body. Eighth Uncle had often heard the adage, ‘A large head is for the great and big-footed is but a beggar’. Looking at his son’s unusual features of a large head and a small body he would recall the strange circumstances in which his son was born. In the end the father was very sure that his son would amount to something great in the future. Because of this reasoning, he was not disheartened. Not only was he not disheartened, he was extremely sure that his son would become an official someday. Of course in order to become one, he would need schooling. Lun Old Eight is a vegetable seller, how could he make enough money to send his son to school? Before Ah Chui was born, the two old biddies barely eked out enough just to have skin on them. Now with an extra Chui, there is one more burden. No matter how one calculated, there was no way they could send their son to school.

Because of this Old Lun Eight worried day and night. Enduring here, struggling there, very soon he reported to his maker9! Poor Ah Chui, losing his father at such a tender age. Luckily for him, his mother had the will of an arrow’s flight and the determination to park the boat10 [she never remarried]. She hoped that her struggles would eventually be able to rear her son up.

How about Ah Chui? Of course he didn’t go to school at all. Everyday he would play with neighbour kids. The only good thing about him was that he was smart and intelligent. Anyone who saw him loved him except for the monks of the West Zen sect. They hated him to the core. Why, you ask? This is because Ah Chui lived at the west gate of “First Candidates Selection” which is not far away from the Temple of Bright Filial Piety. Each day Ah Chui with his gang of screaming imps would enter the West Zen sect temple to play…


25 Apr 2011

Edited by the Jimbo.
1. The prefix Ah (亞 or 阿) is used inconsistently throughout the book. May be there were not enough blocks to go around for the print. This is diminutive naming to produce affection.

2. Another way of adding affection to Ah Chui’s father who was obviously the 8th son in the family.

3. A respectful term for addressing someone’s wife. The exact Chinese term used is wife of one’s younger brother so as not to offend her by implying that she is old (by using the term for one’s older brother’s wife).

4. Another respectful term while adding endearment. Lun’s father is asking for a favour from Night Watcher Six. At the same time, we can infer that Lun’s father is older. When strangers meet, one of the first things they do is to establish their age so that proper terms can be applied. Sometimes even when one is older, a younger term is used for oneself to ingratiate oneself to the other person.

5. Buddha came from the west (India). So therefore to send Buddha back to where he came from means that you really want to help out to the end.

6. Bagasse is the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed for juice extraction. The exact term used here is the wife of one’s father’s younger brother.

7. Arrowhead bulb, Sagittaria sagittifolia. It looks like the private parts of a baby or little boy. Hence Cantonese expression for baby boys. In the original text the character used for stem is 蒂 but in Cantonese 椗 is used instead. During Chinese New Year, especially in a young family, mothers-in-law usually present a pan of growing Arrowroot bulbs as a hint to the young wife to get a grandson for them soon!

8. I really doubt that this illiterate vegetable seller was able to choose such a grand name for the sun. See the Preface on the meaning of our hero’s name.

9. The Cantonese use the word “gourd” or “squash (the vegetable)” to mean death or to die. This is because both words share the same sound. However there is no ‘proper’ word for the word death and the gourd word is used. Therefore one does not serve such food on festive days or happy occasions in Cantonese families. Bitter gourd is the most dreaded dish to serve it sounded like ‘a bitter death’ – fu gua. Some people tried to rename it as 涼瓜leong gua - “cooling gourd” to have a connotation like the English slang “cool cucumber”. However the death-sounding homophone cannot be avoided. Here is an interesting or rather funny story from my Hong Kong friend Simon Hui,

His sister’s mother-in-law was a very superstitious woman. Ordering highly inauspiciously named dishes on special occasions such as her birthday was especially frowned upon and to be avoided at all costs. However her son-in-law loved to eat bitter gourd cooked with beef. He knew of her taboos and instead of ordering bitter gourd, he ordered “cool gourd” instead. The moment he uttered the words, one could see darkest clouds covering the old lady’s face and fire spewing out of her eyes. The stupid - or rather - the careless cavalier attitude of the son-in-law had committed an extreme faux pas. The word “cool” has the exact pronunciation as his mother-in-law’s surname, Leong (梁)! Therefore it meant “May she die on her birthday dinner” He should have abstained from ordering any gourd dishes in the first place.

10. This line came from a poem in one of the 24 stories of filial piety (二十四孝).

矢志柏舟守節貞 With the aim of an arrow in flight, the will to park the boat, I shall be chaste to my widowhood.
家貧紡織以維生 My family is poor and I shall weave (silk) to support them.
奉姑行孝傳遐邇 The fame of my respect and filial piety to my mother-in-law shall spread far and wide
彤管休揚千載名 Need no red brush to record my name.

During the Han Dynasty, a young wife of 16 promised her husband that in case he does not return from the war, she would take care of her mother-in-law and treat her as her own. After 3 years of mourning for her dead husband was over, her mother-in-law tried to force her into remarriage so that they could have a better life. She refused and would rather die than to break the vow to her husband. Her mother-in-law relented and the daughter-in-law continued her filial piety until the old lady died at the age of 80. When Emperor Han Wen Ti heard her tale, she was awarded with 40 pounds of gold and entitled her the name of “Lady of Filial Piety.”

The literall meaning of 彤管 is red brush. A ritual monthly gift (a pair) from Han Dynasty prime ministers. These brushes were used by female secretariats to record the comings and goings of the queens and imperial concubines of the Inner Palace where no uncastrated male is allowed.

Original Text
二 認定亞敘將來必貴

倫老八見此情形, 知道老婆將近爆槳,當堂手忙脚亂, 打更六說:

“老八等我同你看住八嫂先, 你去揾執媽嚟1可矣!”

倫老八個心諗; 揾笨2乎? 萬一真正爆起槳來, 豈不俾你睇3見晒4? 乃叫打更六曰

“六叔, 為人為到底, 送佛送到西, 多煩你同我去隔籬5拍門叫醒蔗渣五嬸, 再去斜對面嗌嗌賣鹹酸阿陳個老婆陳嫂來幫手, 事関佢地早已應承也.”

打更六一聽得, 連忙前去, 未幾, 蔗渣五嬸, 鹹酸陳嫂均已懵懵忪忪趕至, 問八叔,


八叔話我就未作動, 我老婆就作動矣.”

於是大家夾手夾脚俾6個煲水,俾個扶住八嫂, 俾個執定架部, 打更六則仍然去打更, 大家忙了一陣, 蘇蝦仔7已告脫穎而出, 唔呀唔呀, 三條街都聽聞, 蔗渣五嬸抱起蘇蝦仔一睇, 當堂話:

“恭喜咯八叔, 生個茨菇蒂8!”

八叔聞言, 連忙上前, 睇下果然真係, 不禁大喜, 再睇下個仔, 生得形容十分古怪, 頭大如斗, 眼仔晶晶, 最奇怪者, 則全身一片片, 好似魚鱗噉9, 但身体却結實異常, 蔗渣五嬸同佢洗完身之後, 揾張被仔裏住, 就交俾八嫂, 八嫂一睇, 當堂大吃一驚, 哎喲一聲, 脫口已出, 八叔問乜事? 八嫂口震震噉話:

“奇嘞10做乜亞蘇仔, 十足同剛才我發夢所見個野一樣噉嘅11, 唔知是吉是兇也”

八叔仍安慰之, 就同此蘇蝦仔, 改個名叫做倫文敘, 正是有話日長, 無話日短, 不經不覺亞敍已經五歲, 因為亞敘自小病痛多, 所以奀12細異常, 不過亞敘身軀雖然奀細, 個頭則特別宏偉, 八叔聞得俗語有話,頭大君子, 脚大乞兒, 今見亞敘形狀, 頭部特大, 而且出世之時, 又是單咁古怪嘅野, 所以認定個仔將來, 必然有貴, 因此亦不恢心, 不特不恢心, 而且對亞敘希望甚大, 但希望還希望, 家無讀書子, 功名何處來, 想個仔將來做官, 當然非供書教學不可. 無奈倫老八向來家窮只靠賣菜度日, 在亞敘未出世之前, 両老, 亦僅僅有皮, 多了一個敘, 便多一個負担, 自然唔够算, 慢講供個仔讀書乎? 為此之故, 倫老八乃日夜担心, 捱埋捱埋有幾耐, 便宣告瓜! 可憐倫文敍, 自少喪父, 好在母親八嫂矢志柏舟, 希望捱大個仔, 於是便靠織布度日, 亞敘呢? 自然無書讀, 日日同坤群嬉戲, 好在佢聰明伶俐, 所以人見人愛, 但有一件事, 被西禪寺的和尚僧到入骨, 點解呢? 原來亞敘住在西门擢甲里, 此地距光孝寺甚近, 亞敘便日日同地一班嘩鬼, 入去西禪寺頑耍.

1. 來.

2. 揾笨 to be or treated a fool, to be tricked etc. 揾 is Cantonese for 找 or 尋.

3. 看.

4. All in 做晒–all done, 揾晒–find everywhere, 見晒 - seen all.

5. Next door i.e. separated by a fence.

6. 給.

7. Baby. Other forms are 臊孲仔 and 甦孲仔. For a detailed video explanation (in Cantonese) see 粵講粵有癮-臊孲仔.

8. See Note 7.

9. Same as 咁. In this context, it means “like so”. There are many meanings when combined with other words. See

10. 啦.

11. 的. As a final particle, it stresses or emphasizes a situation or strengthen a statement, as in咁嘅–is there all there is, 食得嘅–Can be eaten!

12. As can be seen from the composition of two characters “not big”. So it means puny, weak, skinny. 奀皮 means skinny to the bones, a slang for mischievous children, or being impish.

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