Poetry / December 2017 (Issue 38)

Skin Deep

by Karen Cheung

Let's not talk about the skyscrapers,
The bamboo scaffolding cradling acrobatic construction workers,
Sweat meandering down their backs as you watch
From your air-conditioned Central office window in fascination;

Let us write about the bright red crates of Coca Cola
Sitting outside a disappearing s-tore
Where a child bends over to stroke a cat sleeping in the sun;
Let us celebrate the cha chaan teng ah jeh
Who always remembers how you like your milk tea and still
Calls you leng nui even though you've run out of concealer
to hide your overtime eyebags;

Let us forget about the neon lights
That fall in puddles splattered
Across the cigarette-littered, tofu-scented streets of Mong Kok;
Let us speak no more of Lan Kwai debauchery;
Let's talk about Tin Shui Wai's night and fog.
Let's talk about industrial buildings.
Let's talk about gentrification.

Let's not wax lyrical about the traders barbecuing sausages,
the feng shui masters, the photogenic blue-and-orange tents,
Let's stop romanticising the qi pao uniform-clad,
Homework wielding students
Who rushed over once the last bell sounded;
And let us weep for the kids teargassed for a future
You could walk away from anytime.

Let's stop taking pictures at Choi Hung Estate,
Let's shut up about the 'exoticness' of Sham Shui Po
And the spray-painted art across walls of century-old fabric stores
As families breathe in the fumes from their shoebox-sized apartment
Knowing they're one rent increase away from the streets
Crawling with pink-haired blue-blooded teenagers
Scrambling to get a seat at the new cafe next door.

A city does not divide itself up into parts,
Zone them as authentic, real;
It is you who choose to have it served
Skin-deep, or otherwise.

That is our fate: writing between colonisation
And re-colonisation—
We will take the language back
Only to lose it once again.
One day, when we become just another city
I want you to remember
That I am a Hong Kong writer

Not a writer based in Hong Kong.
Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.