14-Welcome Back

Porcelain Wall Hanging Swallow


If it hadn’t been for a wrong turn, I would have never noticed the swallow nest under a ledge nearby. A parent had just returned, we watched as its glossy-blue back perched in the nest. We spoke of swallows.



你說,日本一家 LAWSON 便利店因為有燕子在招牌燈箱壞掉的「L」字母上築巢,店長後來索性不維修該字,好讓燕子不受打擾,店名從此長期變成「AWSON」。我想,如果可以一直這樣,真的太好了,相信附近的鄰舍也樂得看見這個風景。

I said, remember when bird’s nests used to dot the balconies and verandahs of shophouses? They all seem to have disappeared, have you noticed?

You said, there was a family of swallows who had conveniently nested themselves on an extinguished ‘L’ sign outside a Lawson branch in Japan. In response, the store never fixed its sign, for fear of disturbing its residents. I hoped they kept the store as ‘AWSON’ forever – the neighbours would love it, too.


Swallows in Hong Kong are much less fortunate, as their nest substrate gives way to redevelopment and light pollution. In addition to swallows, you can also find swifts nesting inside the city’s old buildings, distinguished by their tail which is slightly forked, but not as much as a swallow’s. Swifts have very short legs which they can barely walk with. They never settle voluntarily on the ground except to breed; they even drink on the wing. Hence the Latin word apus for a swift, derived from the Ancient Greek: a, “without”, and pous, “foot” – based on the belief that these birds were a kind of swallow that lacked feet. It is, therefore, a stroke of luck to see one perch on its nest.


不就是一個燕子窩嗎?在我們眼中的一個普通鳥巢,可是燕子們用小嘴叼著泥巴、乾草、羽毛往返一千次才能建成的自然奇蹟。當絕大多數的野外動物選擇遠離文明而非依附,燕子的行為似乎非常不智。是燕子對人類文明不夠了解嗎?認為文明和自然是對立的我們可能會這樣想。不過這反而突顯了另一面 ── 是我們對自然不夠了解。我們已離開自然,走得太遠,再難以感知季節轉移,日夜更迭。無知單純的小鳥,越過壯闊海洋,隨風作息,該不會羨慕凡間那些慧黠的人。

All we see is but a nest. To the swallows, though, it’s a remarkable workmanship: nice neat cups of woven grasses and small twigs, camouflaged with moss and lined with mud. Whilst most of the wildlife chooses to stay away from civilisation, these little builders could seem counterintuitive. We may attribute to them a lack of understanding of civilisation, but that goes to show the bias of our own dichotomous understanding of civilisation and nature; we are impartial to the changing seasons, untethered from the circadian rhythm. Weathered and guileless, swallows have nothing to envy about us.