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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Canton's Number 1 Scholar: Chapter 5 - A Couplet That Shook The Hall

Copyright © 2011 - Jeff Loh. All rights reserved

The Inspector General then asked,

“If you have studied, do you know how to match couplets?”

Ah Chui replied,

“I know a thing or two about them.”

The Inspector General continued,

“Well then This Official shall now pose ye a head couplet… match it well and your crime shall be pardoned else ye shall be brought before the yamen1 for further interrogation!”

Ah Chui proudly answered,

“How can I refuse His Excellency’s command? Please go ahead.”

What a smarty pants this little brat was! The bystanders thought. Obviously this kid is going to get shit on himself. Anyway the Inspector General began,

“Three August Buddhas2, one sitting on a dragon fish3, one sitting on an elephant and one sitting on a lotus blossom.”

Even as the words were spoken, the Inspector General was concerned that Ah Chui may not understand what was recited and almost had ordered a nearby secretary to write out the words for Ah Chui to see. However Ah Chui was not abashful4 at all and he quickly answered without hesitation,

“One poor scholar soon-no-longer-shall-he-be when he hitches5 the dragon, hitches the phoenix and hitches the vermillion Osmanthus Hall6

Everyone was startled into momentary silence when the words were uttered. Then a great roar of hurrah rose. Not only the rules of couplet composition matched in perfect unison, the meaning of Ah Chui’s reply was lofty and ambitious. The Inspector General, Wu Sum clapped his hands furiously in applause and asked,

“Wonderful, wonderful! Who’s your teacher?”

“This little one had lost his father, our family is poor and my mother eked out a living by sewing. We have no money for formal education; just relying upon the kindness of the abbot of the West Zen Temple; teaching me whenever he is available.”

The Inspector General commented,

“Ah so, such a tender age and so diligent in your studies... Today this Official shall bestow a special award on you. Fifty taels of silver for any fright you may have suffered. From now on you must even study harder. As for any expense needed for your studies, go to the accounts department and just ask for it.”

Lun Mun Chui was elated, thanking his Lordship profusely. At the same time the Inspector General heaped praises upon praises to “Universal Illumination” for being such a great teacher. Needless to say, much donation was signed for incense and oils7. With that, the Inspector General returned to his yamen. Need no more elaboration on how the old abbot and Ah Chui respectfully saw the Inspector General off but turning to Ah Chui carrying his fifty taels of silver. Smiling away as he hopped skipped and jumped out of the temple.

Already there was a group of monks gathered blocking his path. These monks bore hated for Ah Chui and were gleeful when they saw Ah Chui was tied up by the guardsmen and dragged to his Lordship. This time Ah Chui will surely become a termite on the beach - even if he survives, shit will be on his face8. But To their horror when they saw Ah Chui was released on the orders of the Inspector General and a couplet match began. They were very curious at the events being unfurled and wanted to go nearer to see what was happening. However, being afraid of the guardsmen, all they could do was to stand at a distance and stare. Finally when the Inspector General praised Ah Chui and awarded him fifty taels of silver, contradiction filled their hearts as envy and admiration mingled and raged against each other. They simply had to stop Ah Chui from walking out of the temple gates and get to the bottom of things. Pulling him aside, they interrogated,

“Warty Lun, just then, why did his Lordship, the Inspector General award you fifty taels of silver?”

Ah Chui sneeringly replied,

“That’s because I matched his couplet. Bad ain’t it? You salivating baldies9!”

The monks asked what kind of couplet it was. Ah Chui replied,

“Three August Buddhas, one sitting on a dragon fish, one sitting on an elephant and one sitting on a lotus blossom.”

The monks continued their questioning,

“How did you match it?”

Ah Chui thought to himself,

“Ought-to-die10-baldies, always bully me at every chance you get. A trick I shall now play on you all!”

“My couplet has a lot to do with you all. If I say it out, every on of you will shit in your pants!”

The monks were greatly startled and asked quickly what it has to do with them. Ah Chui replied,

“Listen carefully! My reply to his Lordship was, ‘Some shaven baldies, steal pigs, steal dogs, steal mustard greens.11

Fear crept into them as they heard the words; so frightened as if their souls had dissipated into thin air. With a great urgency, they continued interrogating,

“Hey Warty Lun, did you really match the couplet like that?”

Thursday, May 10, 2011, 31 May 2011


1. Yamen is the courthouse where people appear before a magistrate. This is where the similarity ends. See

2. Sakyamuni , Manjusri (文殊, Wenshu) and Kuanyin. Others opined that the three Buddhas are manifestations of past present and future.

3. Or a dragon turtle. Purported to be one of the nine sons of the Dragon King.

4. In Chinese custom, one should hesitate for awhile so as not to show one’s haughtiness or pride when showing one’s skills and talents.

5. The original Chinese word means “to climb up the social ladder with help from the powerful etc”. To use the words, “ascend” or “mount” or “to ride” or to “attain” will be considered as treasonous words - aspiring to become the emperor himself since the dragon and phoenix are imperial symbols.

6. An Osmanthus Hall can mean a grand hall, the lunar palace and the homes of the scholarly elite. In this context, the 3rd meaning applies. The line means is that with one’s great scholarship, there will be rich and powerful people help to lift him from obscurity.

7. For convenience, no one carries large sums of money (remember in those days, they carry ingots of silver!). The donor signs for the amount and the monks will go at a later date to collect the money.

8. A Cantonese saying, “Termites on the beach, even if they survived, their entire bodies will be so badly battered [by the waves]”. Termites cannot survive out of their temperature controlled environment. Therefore in the harsh climatic conditions of the beach, the termites will surely die. Even if they survived, they will be in real bad conditions.

9. The original text used was “bald slaves”.

10. Dead is a taboo word for the Cantonese and hence they love to use it as an expletive or an adjective for cussing etc. For example, “死仔!” does not to mean a dead boy but a boy who should have died; almost equivalent to the English slang for “you’re a dead duck now!”

11. Brassica juncea, a Chinese vegetable.

Original Text



“你極努力讀書, 會對對否?”




“本官今日出一句俾你對, 如果對得通, 則恕你無罪, 如果對不通, 必定拿回衙門重辦!”


“大人有命, 敢不依從, 請大人出之.”

門在旁各人, 見亞敘居然咁牙擦1, 心話你兒細路, 攞2嚟賤矣, 巡撫便出一句上聯曰:

“三尊佛, 坐鰲坐象坐蓮花.”

話完, 重慌亞敍唔識, 正想命一個長隨寫起, 以便俾亞敘睇, 不料亞敘不假思索, 立即隨口應曰:

“一介寒儒, 攀龍攀鳳攀丹桂”

語出, 四座皆驚, 大嘆好野, 話不特對得快捷工整, 而且小小年紀, 居然有此豪壯語氣, 咪話唔架勢堂矣. 巡撫大人吳琛, 亦當堂為之拍爛手掌, 大讚好野好野, 即問亞敘老師, 究竟何人? 亞敍曰:

“小子因為自小失怙, 家道貧窮, 母親以女紅度日, 無錢正式供讀, 只靠西禪寺老和尚普照, 閒時教我而已.”


“原來如此, 睇唔出你小小年紀, 竟然如此苦心攻讀, 本官今日特別嘉獎五十兩銀俾你, 以助膏火, 此後該加緊努力, 如有所需, 可去衙門同賬房支取應用也.”

倫文敍歡天喜地, 千多謝萬多謝, 巡撫又嘉樊普照老和尚一番, 謂其授徒有方, 唔再講, 簽其香油亦淋的筆矣. 巡撫大人遂命駕回衙, 普照老和尚及倫文敍恭送而出不提. 且說亞敘拈住五十両銀, 笑口吟吟, 行出西禪寺門口, 早有一班和尚截住, 呢班和尚, 向來都憎亞敘的, 初是見亞敘被眾衛士綁去見巡撫, 遂以為亞敘今次定必白蟮上沙灘, 唔死一身潺, 心涼之至. 但其後忽又見巡撫命觧其縛, 居然同對起對來, 不禁大以為奇, 欲上前觀看究竟, 但又恐怕被巡撫的衛士阻止, 唯有離遠而觀. 最後竟見巡撫大讚亞敘, 又賞以五十両銀, 眾和尚一時妒羨交併, 亞敘出到寺門口, 乃攔住亞敘問曰:

“癩倫, 頃間巡撫大人, 為乜事打賞五十両銀俾你乎?”


“皆因為我對通佢一句對, 你班禿奴, 唔恨(痕)得咁多矣!”

眾和尚問, 究竟乜野對? 阿敘曰:

“三尊寶佛, 坐鰲坐象坐蓮花”



阿敘心想, 你班死禿, 平日時常欺負我, 好! 撚吓你至得! 乃曰:

“我呢句對, 與你地大有關係, 講出便嚇壞你地矣!”

眾和尚愕然, 急問點樣関係法, 阿敍曰:

“聽住! 我對曰:’ 幾個禿奴, 偷猪偷狗偷芥菜.’”

語出, 嚇得眾和尚魂飛魄散, 急曰:

“喂! 癩倫, 你真係噉對法?”

Cantonese Notes

1. Brushing one’s teeth – to brag. The word “to brush” can also mean to polish as in polishing off one’s plate. Therefore “to be able polish” - 擦得” means to be able to eat heartily with great gusto and relish.

2. Cantonese for “to take or to grab”, 給, 拿 etc.

3. 潺 means weak, frail in Cantonese.

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