the border

tricycle driver©papa osmubal

tricycle driver©papa osmubal

the border
leung ping-kwan

the border
bus stops for a rest
and goes again
tourists lazily pass through
the narrow gate
stop for a while and gaze at
young girls sat laughing by the stone wall
soft drink bottle
by antique store
a foreigner comes by
picks up a Buddha statue
‘would you like to buy jade?’
the old lady peddles enthusiastically
‘although this is fake jade,
there are others . . .’
can nobody see
a purer jade
behind these things?
the tricycle driver’s finger
points at the row of green trees
eyes gaze
on the empty vehicle
coming from the border
runs over the mud
lines in brown
then turns into another road
on this cloudy day, wind blows
tears the map in the tourist’s hands

August, 1973, revised in January, 1975
trans. Song Zijiang, Debby Sou Vai Keng, and Kit Kelen


at bela vista

macau's old district ©papa osmubal

macau's old district ©papa osmubal

at bela vista

leung ping-kwan

                              translated by martha cheung

I look at the traffic on the bridge, a glass of wine in hand
Next year today, no more parties on the veranda for us
Someone remembers it used to be a refugee camp during the war
providing shelter from catastrophes. Like in a disaster film?
I turn round to look at the elegant colonnades, renovated many times
Let`s not forget the ghosts of history
Who plays the lead in this scene?
The imposing walls of the seventeenth century fortress had crumbled
at the deserted well in the courtyard servants had gathered to wash clothes
Before me now people embrace and applaud in front of a birthday-cake
As always we play walk-ons in historic scenes
Sitting at this long table tonight, we sail
as if on a luxurious liner towards the twenty-first century
Will these stairs vanish? Will the restaurant,
forsaken, sink deep into the ocean of oblivion?
I sit here drinking in silence, listening to
but not hearing any dramatic explosions
Behind the bela vista one sees are the boa vistas
everyone imagines for himself. Candlelight dinners
never match one`s imagination. Beyond the music
one hears, another music plays on
This place had seen the nights of our youth, the time we first explored
tirelessly those narrow alleys, watching people make their humble living
along the streets, and at night we checked in – a mere grotty hotel then
Local wisdom will not easily disapear
Buildings the British and the French had fought to purchase
bear witness to the rise and fall of different masters, and now
on this stretch of land newly reclaimed, pagodas and towers
may rise to attract tourists. Who plays the lead in this scene?
We try Macanese and Cantonese food, which change with time
There are no more waiters in uniforms neatly starched
only new dishes of hotchpotch stews made from old recipes
bean stew Brazilian style, squids Mozambique in coconut juice
In the end it is they that remain. Keeping them company on the table
a simple drink made from sugar cane

(Macao, February 1998)

*from an article My Poetry, Macao and the Cultures of the Sea, on food-scape website

the poet camilo pessanha sleeps curled up on a macau bed

portuguese colonial emblem at a park in macau ©papa osmubal

portuguese colonial emblem at a park in macau ©papa osmubal

the poet camilo pessanha sleeps curled up on a macau bed

leung ping-kwan

                       translated by brian holton  1998

this is your world
stinking red hangings, enclosing
the iron bed on the Persian rug, the coloured blankets
enwrapping you who sleep curled up in layer upon layer
of the exotic scents of joss-sticks and opium
faithful pekinese crawling close to you
licking your beard
your knees below your chin
as though you were mumbling new words
only the parrot repeats what you have said
you have abandoned all the houses on the other shore
and come here far across the oceans
roamed all the earth to find a bed
no matter what turbid river flows outside
or where in the world its confluence
bishops and viceroys constantly changing
your eternity is a bead-roll of roses
tear upon tear wept by an unlucky mother
you said farewell to every treasure in your past home
navigating between these Chinese relics in the mirror
your destination never reached, the scroll’s flowers unwithered too
you leaned on the weathered blue and white porcelain
the Bodhisattva wound with spider webs
escaped the original order and drifted here
forever at rest, a fossil life
the peeling mirror reflects a bed of old blankets
folded into desires, carrying curses
to put someone forever into deep sleep
in this warm, narrow, humid cave
your woman of the East lit your opium pipe
you slept into a womb, you are a pupa
sunk in sleep you saw the demon that overflies reality
oh sleep, sleep well
things in dreams are more real
in those dreams you own
the whole world

(October 1998)


leal senado square, macau ©papa osmubal

leal senado square, macau ©papa osmubal


leung ping-kwan

                        translated by brian holton

The city is always the colour of neon
Secret messages hidden there
The pity is only you’re wearing a mask
No way to know if it’s you that`s speaking
Fruit from many different places
Each with its own tale to tell
In newly dressed shop windows
“Che” rhymes with the latest in shoes
In your little cafes I bump into
Friends I haven’t seen in years
Between pickles and green tea porridge
A cup of tea has drunk away a lifetime
Have you any spare change then?
There are plenty of gods on sale in the market
She cherishes the memory of her last life`s rouge
He likes the celadon green of city dust
So sing me a song then
On the winding midnight street
Yesterday and us, we’ve come face to face
But however we try, we can never recall today

in front of the ma ju temple

honoring the ancestors ©papa osmubal

honoring the ancestors ©papa osmubal

in front of the ma ju temple

leung ping kwan

                  translated by brian holton 

the temple is closed
even Ma Ju has time to rest
we’ll just have to sit by the sea
and run our own maritime matters

drinking, we face the rolling grey waves
on the bottle gold characters celebrate Macau’s return to China
today’s weather is unsettled: cloudy or clear
when dusk comes it’s a little stifling
the beer is cold enough
but can’t slake our thirst

why are the distant hills split in half?
those plants drifting on the water
can they be leaves in self-banishment?
when, through layered clouds,
will break bright starlight?

June 1999

a tapestry, given by the king of portugal to the emperor of china

statue of a portuguese hero in macau ©papa osmubal

statue of a portuguese hero in macau ©papa osmubal

a tapestry, given by the king of portugal to the emperor of china

leung ping kwan

                         translated by brian holton

from the Paço da Ribeira
to the Yonghe Palace from the mighty Don João V
was sent a messenger bearing other gifts
to be given to the Yongzheng Emperor

and a lofty diplomatic mission
to return a favour between the nations
to commemorate the Yongzheng Emperor’s accession
to ease the severity of recent diplomatic policy
to guarantee the safety and the profits of the Portuguese in Macau

it boarded to the exalted sound of trumpets
crossed an endless roaring ocean
red silk backing criss-crossed with gold and silver threads
weaving out heroic deeds of officers of state
to be presented by one palace to another
each a residence protecting a Son of Heaven, from one mighty monarch
to another, on the admiring eye imprinting
heroic achievements, daily affirming eternal glory

everyone knows
in nine pieces
packed in two wooden chests
the tapestry
was stuck in the bottom of the ship’s hold
and first had to wait for the [proper] wind direction
before it could set out on its voyage
then in Rio, in Brazil
it suffered a hard winter
waited till the weather turned warm
then sailed out for Batavia
stayed a month
waiting for provisions
meanwhile Don João V, King of Portugal
ate legs of lamb
drank wine
arrested commoners
erected magnificent buildings
celebrated his birthdays
dispatched armadas
went ashore on all kinds of islands
and gave orders for the weaving of tapestries
waiting for the recording of these things
and at this stage of waiting
the Yongzheng Emperor
also did things
he had people put to death
had people put in prison
carried out a Literary Inquisition
and the people he disliked
he had them dug up from their graves
to make them to die again
he sent armies everywhere on punitive expeditions
and killed a good many people
while he was waiting
he did things like that
what was he waiting for?
no-one knows
but maybe it included
the far-voyaging
narrative of immortal events
the heroic tapestry?

the heroic tapestry
as it was sailing toward him on its long voyage
was it as if it had crossed eternity?
no, it was merely that
a voyage of one year and two months
was nothing
except the sun rising and setting
the weather changing
except for life
and moths
in the wet and the emptiness
coming every day to eat
mouthful by mouthful
for breakfast
afternoon tea
at midnight
bit by bit
enjoying it
so there was nothing
left for
His Majesty

(September 1998)

images of hong kong



pai san (worship) wall ©papa osmubal

pai san (worship) wall ©papa osmubal

images of hong kong

leung ping kwan

                                 translated by michelle yeh, 1990

I am looking for a different angle
to approach the issue of point of view.
This old photograph was
taken at Bright light Studio on Nathan Road.
Who would colour-touch them these days?
looking up, I see the Midlevels on the screen.
She’s from Shanghai, can’t forget her past glory,
White Russian cafes on Jaffe Road, violin
music. What is going on?
A bottle of Twin Sister Cologne smashed to pieces on the floor.
Hawkers throwing jet olives into postmodern highrises.
I agree with her that everyone thinks differently.
He studied anarchism in France, came back
and worked first for Playboy, then for Capital.
We gaze at the moon, from different angles
we gaze at the moon. The clock-tower in Tsimshatsui
Sunset at Aberdeen. They plan
to redecorate this roam. Queen’s Restaurant. China Club.
One press of the button, endless images
too much titillation from trends distracts you,
too many trivial matters, different occasions,
constantly changing identities. When can we – –
He is good at writing reportage, his specialties are
dogs and pornography in capitalist societies.
When can we sit down and talk?
Reproduced images and sounds of singers divert our attention.
Desire is redefined by the expansive screen.
You reach out your hand – what do you touch?
History is a series of images
the material for its making can be foil paper, plastic, fibre,
the push-button of a laser disc … We look up
to gaze at the moon. Is tonight’s moon
at the beginning or the end of time?
She is a novelist from Taiwan, thinks she is
Eileen Chang, writes romances about Hong-Kong, neon light reflection,
Star Ferry spattering waves as it reaches the pier, the old train station,
the endlessly reproduced Repulse Bay Hotel.
Exotica for a faraway audience.
We keep changing our position,
we are looking for a different angle
that neither adds nor subtracts,
forever on the margin, forever in transition.
We write with pens of different colours,
but these things, too, easily become superficial.
Is this how history is constructed?
He is a good writer of spy stories with an Oriental flavour.
Entangled with what others have said
Why is it so hard to tell our own stories?
They plan to redecorate this room,
We look up, searching–