Chinese couplet (left-hand side)
A crude translation of the left-hand couplet is: "A brocaded chamber into which a Venus enters; and a fragrant platform where over lovers pass". These words are, however, rich in meaning and literary allusion. This couplet is drawn from a long poem by Tang dynasty poet 杜甫 (pronounced Dù Fǔ in Mandarin and Douh Fú or Douh Póu in Cantonese), of which it forms the first two lines.
The first character 錦 means brocade (a type of fabric richly embellished with raised designs). The second character has different meanings depending on its pronunciation. When pronounced jiàn (in Mandarin), or laahm (in Cantonese), it means a panel in a fence or barrier. It is in this sense that it appears in both the couplet and the poem. In the poem the 錦檻 “brocaded barrier” refers to sheets of brocaded fabric enclosing a pavilion. In the couplet it is used in reference to the highly-decorated enclosure of the bed.
The third and fourth characters 芙蓉 are a single word - lotus flower(s), which is used of dazzlingly beautiful women. It can also be used to describe a beautiful couple, as in the phrase 並蒂芙蓉 “a pair of lotus flowers on the same stem = a beautiful/loving couple”.
The fifth character 入 is a verb that means “enter”. In the poem, the “lotuses” that enter the brocaded pavilion are the Chinese equivalent of geisha, which, during the Tang dynasty, it was the custom of some wealthy individuals in southern China to invite to gatherings held within shaded pavilions during the summer heat. In the couplet, the “lotus” is the married woman or the couple who will enter the decorated chamber of the bed.
It should also be explained that the word 錦 “brocade or brocaded” has the extended sense of “splendid”, as in 錦繡前程 “splendid prospects” (although the base association in it is with both brightness and colourfulness, while the association in the English word “splendid” is more with brightness alone).
The first line of the couplet might thus be translated as “A brocaded chamber into which a Venus enters”, but again, as with the lines in first couplet, much is lost in translation. The “brocaded screen or chamber” of the first line contrasts with the 香臺 “fragrant platform or bed” at the start of the second line. In the poem, the second character 臺 refers to the platform of a pavilion, and in the couplet, to the bed. It should also be pointed out that the word 香 “fragrant” has an extended association in Chinese with virtuousness.
The third and fourth characters of the second line 翡翠 mean the male and female kingfisher, and this expression is commonly used of beautiful couples. The last character of the couplet 過 is a verb that means “pass”. The second line is therefore crudely translated as “and a fragrant platform where over lovers pass”.
Thanks to Ely Finch for his translation and explanation of these bed couplets.