White Dew: Swallows leave

March 15th, 2012
by Jo Law

On sunny days I take the laundry out to dry. Tiny skink hatchings dart about on the wooden decking. On rainy nights we sleep with the ceiling fans spinning silently above. In the mornings, the sun rises a minute later each day and its light faintly filters through the cracks between the blinds and the window frames. I notice that the waratah at the front is already forming flower buds and the camellia is set to flower. Change is in the air.

Like most countries in the northern hemisphere, schools in Hong Kong begin in autumn. In the first year of secondary school, the Chinese syllabus introduces classical Chinese (文言). This archaic form of writing fucntions with a different set of grammatical rules, an unfamiliar lexicon and no punctuation. Memorising seemed to have been the main learning technique. As a consequence, phrases from these ancient works have stayed with me. These are the lines I remember from the Swallow poem by the Tang poet, Bai Juyi:

燕燕爾勿悲 爾當返自思
思爾為雛日 高飛背母時
當時父母念 今日爾應知

translated below by Frank, a reader of the Classical Chinese Poems in English blog, run by a well-known former member of the Hong Kong Legistlative Council (least not, the last president of that Council under British rule), Andrew W F Wong:

Swallow, Swallow, grieve not like so,
Just remember your days of old,
When you were young you turn’d your back
To your parents and off you tack’d!
Your Mom and Dad were worried so —
Today, the same griefs you should know.

Though not quite leaving the nest, Hollis has taken his first steps towards independence this autumn. Two days a week, Hollis and I go off to university together. He goes to Kids’ Uni while I carry out my teaching duties. On Thursday mornings, after parking the car in carpark 5a, we walk from building 25 to building 10 at the other end of the campus. In the afternoon, we trek back together in the reverse direction. Hollis points out things of interests along the way. ‘Stairs! Stairs! Stairs!’ he declares. Sometimes we are delighted by the workings of the automatic doors; other times a passing service vehicle catches our attention.

One afternoon we varied our walking course to follow the artificial stream only to find that there was no way across the water. We found a bridge further upstream and from there Hollis searched in vain for fish in the water. We walked beneath a stand of young white cedar to return to building 25

One Response to “White Dew: Swallows leave”

  1. […] early sunset means that Hollis and I now hardly ever encounter his favourite Grey teal ducks on our late afternoon campus ramble. The large group of ducklings hatched in early autumn, whose mother Hollis so angered by following […]