Hong Kong Contest / December 2015 (Issue 30)


Advice

by Piera Chen

Love, I don't mind that you
resort to English when distressed.
After all, it is the tongue
of indignance. Grumble in Cantonese,
complain in English, is always prudent.
I don’t even mind that
your English is wet with the saliva
of Confucius and bureaucrats.
“Poor manners reflect
a lack of self-respect”
“I target the issue
not the individual” —
phrases like the branches of a tree
from which your speech swings
forward like a monkey.
These things embarrass me.
But I’ll blame colonialism,
I'll go on about how our education system
is meant to churn out cogs
for the civil service
and thinking out of the lunch-box
is never encouraged.

But love, to get upset because
a stranger from Jiangsu
made loud music slurping
noodles is too much, don't you think,
when two weeks ago you were eagerly
doing the same next to drunken salarymen
in Kyoto?


 This is a finalist in Cha's "Hong Kong" Poetry Contest. Piera Chen on "Advice": I wrote "Advice" on a three-hour train journey to Tainan. I’ve always been fascinated by how swimmingly the paranoias and obsessions of bureaucratic English mingle with popular interpretations of classical Chinese teachings. When I’m in Hong Kong, however, I tend to view the issue and a whole lot of other issues, for example, the city’s attitude to its neighbours portrayed in the second stanza, more negatively than I’d like. Being in Taiwan gave me emotional distance, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write a poem about these things. Before boarding, I had to use the lavatory in the train station. When it was her turn, the Hong Kong lady in front of me stuck her face into the cubicle, sprinted up to the Taiwanese woman who’d just finished her business, and proclaimed, first in tentative Mandarin, then confidently in English: 'Excuse me, you did not flush properly.’ That sealed the deal. [Read Jason Eng Hun Lee's commentary on "Advice"] [Back to "Hong Kong Contest"]
 
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