Poetry / December 2017 (Issue 38)

Hong Kong Howl

by Michael O'Sullivan


The Observer

Dung Lai Cha
Cold Milk Tea
First words that connect me now again to the old woman
Who runs the corner shop,
Her tight perm and love of paisley and purple,
Okay, okay, okay
The dismissive warmth of her comprehension.

The flood came halfway into our meal of
Steamed fish, pork ribs and choi sum,
A steady trickle of water from the kitchen
Spanning out across the regions
Of the floor like poverty
Or figures for half the median monthly income;
No household was safe.
The food analogies recall
Leung Ping Kwan,
The terse condemnation through English,
Louise Ho,
City metaphors for soul
Eddie Tay.
Even a construction worker
Kept his new sneakers on the bar of the table
While surfing his Huawei.
A middle-aged couple beside us
Jumped ship and abandoned
Our side for the pan-democrats
Rifling down mouthfuls like likes
For new uploaded bus schedules implemented
In border villages.

"There is a flood"
"There are no dry seats in the house"
But the shouts of the kitchen staff were in vain.
Punters eager for access seeing others inside
Feared they were missing out on democratic rights
"We'll occupy our seats even in floods."
With the waters rising they
Waded in down the aisle
To the tune of grinding minibus breaks
Oiled on 10,000 a month
Plus or minus Jockey Club takings,
And TVB chat show spunk on frying pork.

Away from the floods
And the cries of the garoupa and
Unsteamed fish flipping back to life
In the kitchen’s rising waters,
Nelson and Paige addled
Their Filippino helper Joy
Into buying them Megas
In 7 11 out of her "we pay her well above the
minimum wage" dollars
She was saving for the education
Of her anak on the run
From Duterte and the Bonnet Gang of Pateros.
The construction references
Recall Bei Dao,
The flood images
The rant on poverty,
Socialist realism.
Paige haemorrhaged twenty thousand a month
For her hockey training
And Sai Kung Shark membership.
Nelson was a "little monster,"
But "don't ye jes luv 'im,"
Asking Joy to go down on him
In Sai Kung mid-levels after rugby
Coz he'd seen it online
And threatened to share it.

The flood seeped out of the corner shop
Onto Nelson's white new Nukes
And he literally lost it
Thrashing out at Joy
Like she was the recalcitrant
Gini Coefficient figure itself
And he a government statistician.

Luk-Ying, a professor passing, pondering a new funding proposal
On Dopamine discharge in rat neurons
At the Hong Kong HSBC Portfolio College,
Number 7 in Asia for Student Recreation Feedback,
Aware of the need for higher impact in the community service box of his annual appraisals,
Instinctively slammed the closing door of the corner shop
On Nelson's column or Joy's rod of iron,
And you wouldn’t believe the commotion Nelson caused.

The flood waters suffered the fury
Of the wrath of the expat's progeny.
Cheap plastic chopsticks became gougers
And stainless steel cutlery WWI rapiers.
Luk-Ying made for the narrow alley
between Raipee Living
And Fuk Man Road
Only to hear Nelson's screams in American English,
As a stab to the heart of his idealized professional idiolect.

When Chan Tak-Leung arrived in his police car,
Pak Yuen was restraining Nelson with one arm
As he munched on Pak Choi with the other.
The flood waters had risen to waist high
And he could barely keep his notebook
And fresh-pressed shirt from the floating offal.
"Ngoi sai is aggressive social immobility at the root of this la?"
He asked a sopping Pak Yuen
As Nelson finally gave in to
Floods of tears
That turned the waters blood-red,
In a sign of things to come
When his expat father's legal team would trawl the murky waters
Of operation-Nuke.


Barbara Whitehorse

Barbara Whitehorse kept 3 Indonesian gu yong,
One for linens, one for household, one for progeny,
She did it because their veils meant she had less of their faces to see each day
As she barked gweilish,
-Better than the Catholic Filippinos or the Mainland mercenaries-
When Jacob Widodo came like voodoo
Saying he'd repatriate them all
Barbara cosied up to Jess in the Blacksmith coffee shop
On Nan Man Road and
-Wos a workin' mum s'posed to do in dis developing city anways?-
Developing an appetite for Jaspa's Whites
She sipped afternoons away flirting with John Rey
The Jaspa's service guy with the toothy grin
And the washboard abdomen
And the tempur memory foam cheeks
And the Company of Wolves eyebrows
Until, egged on by Jess, she'd pinched his shanks
And got a Riesling-full all down her Armani halter.

Luk Ching lucked out finding the Whitehorse's annual deposit of cardboard at the bins,
A cardboard orgy she had down by the Sha Kok Mei dumpsters and wheelie-bins.
She climbed up on top and spread-eagled her ninety-year-old limbs
Across the pyre, guarding her stock, eyeing up the hungry dogs sniffing the soggy cardboard entrails,
Waiting until sundown and the return of her minibus driving grandson,
Her toothless gums working as she totted up the imaginary dollars
In gum and spit,
Believing she had already passed into Hell where
All burnt offerings go, the paper money and the paper cars,
The paper paper and the paper cardboard,
And even the paper ghosts of the ancient dead
Who had never had anything but banana leaves burnt for them.

Lin-yat Tsang hardballed gweilos all day outside the village shop,
Where Babs Whitehorse found she couldn't flirt no more,
-Mr. Chu want know when you pay

-Oh yes I’m terribly sorry, we had a vacation, then a school-run, then Nelson's...
-Well, of course, I’ll pop in next week but then there's Nelson's...
-Next WEEK

-Dieu puk gai

Clarissa Yat-Ying Ho

Clarissa Yat-Ying Ho of Lek Yuen competed in her own mind with
Paige and Nelson.
Her whole family might live in the toilet space
Accorded Joy for Nelson's visits,
But Clarissa was going to Harvard.
She'd heard the name from her uncle
And it was hers.
Each morning she sucked her dung lai cha laced with tong
with a bowl of macaroni and spam for breakfast
While Nelson had Vitamin B 6-9-12 supplements,
Multivitamins, Calcium and Iron supplements,
1 Organic Australian Corn Fed Sirloin Steaklet
Between 2 Organic American Sourdough buns,
1 Organic Pulp-enfueled, vitamin enriched, Florida Orange Juice
2 Organic Free Range Corn-Fed Danish sunny side up eggs.
Clarissa bought a bun at 7 11 on the way to school
And usually had nothing else until home at 3
When it was fish balls and noodles
Giving her 7% of her daily protein requirement.
Nelson took 2 Organic Israeli Pitta Bread Pockets
With Organic Tunisian Hummus and Avocado Jordanian,
2 Organic Fyffes Bananas, I Vitamin enriched Fruit and Veg Smoothie,
3 Frieze-Dried Organic Trail Bars enriched with Macadamia and Ginseng
And it was pretty much this until home at 3 when he had
2 Organic Welsh Lamb cutlets,
3 Scoops of Protein enriched French Loire Valley Sweet Potato Mash,
½ an Organic Australian Carrot, ½ an Organic Japanese Broccoli Floret,
2 Glasses ½ pint-size of Organic Fruit and Veg Vitamin enriched Smoothie,
Finished off with Italian Gelato infused with Maca and Essence of Cockroach Milk
Giving Nelson by lunch 324% of his daily recommended protein requirement.

But Clarissa was GOING to Harvard
Because her uncle had mentioned it.
In class it was too much Mr. Yuen in Cantonese on multiplication tables
So she watched extra English TV when she got home on PEARL.
Nelson’s first period at the Zimbabwean International School was a guest lecture by Howard Zinn
And he brought with him from Ivy League Universities
Reps and Talent Spotting Grad Students to take down the names
Of interested parties so that Deposits or Contributions could already
Be negotiated philanthropically-speaking for reserving limited places.

But Clarissa WAS GOING to Harvard.
When she got home feeling peckish she went straight without refueling to the local library
And found in the complete set of Colliers Encyclopedias—
Since the Internet was down at home because the bill wasn't paid—
Pictures of the finest campuses all over the world.
She stared at the photos of Harvard,
The tall white spire of the Church in the centre
Reminding her of something from a horror movie she saw once,
The shiny white and black faces and Asianesque faces of the men and women
In colourful hoodies with the name HARVARD across their chests.
She read up about the University and its history and the famous people
Who had studied there.
She WAS GOING to Havard.

Meanwhile Nelson had been on a summer exchange to Harvard
Taking teaser courses in Law and Bioinformatics
As a representative of the international community
Making connections with grad students and even professors
Who promised to "keep in touch" and "look out for"
Your application when you email it to Admissions
Along with the hefty application fee well before the "official deadline."
But Nelson was non-plussed by the whole trip and came back
To Sai Kung mid-levels complaining about the "shitty" canteen food and the "way-slow" Internet.


Joy met Grace and Jesus in Sai Kung Park to sing hymns
Every Sunday when the Whitehorses kicked Joy out of her windowless cupboard
And even Nelson couldn't make Barbara make Joy stay.
—Do ye good lovey. Get some sunshine on that dark south-east Asian skin of yours. Don't come back before 10 now y'hear—
Joy, Grace and Jesus formed circles with other ba mui
Under the King Bonsai of Sai Kung near the Sai Kung bakery
Where they still made egg tarts the traditional way.
Alvin Pang, the baker in his off-whites,
Brought burning trays of freshly baked bolobao
From the ovens across to the shop next door,
Roaring N'goi Sai N'goi Sai at queues of public holiday sun-seekers blocking the entrance,
The oven hot trays of freshly baked bolobau burnt the baker's rags.

At sundown crowds of Filippino women dressed in red
Hung red lanterns from the railings of the Land and Cultural Division Public running track
And danced to stereos perched under the Cotton Trees,
Their red flowers lined the paving stones beneath their heels,
Their red fleshy petals open to the balmy air and the laughter of women
Embracing freedom like it's never seen in Hong Kong.
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance
How can we know the dancer from the dance,
But Yeats had never seen 100 Filippino women
Dancing beneath Cotton Trees and red lanterns in the heat of an Asian sundown,
Women in company sharing subjugation's down time, releasing pent-up freedoms
And expressions locked up in broom cupboards, baby grottos, store rooms, on balconies out of view of Mam
     6 days a week,
Bodily gestures released for a few hours each month from the second-class stares, the second-class
embraces, the second-class tolerance,
Expressions and gestures released for a few hours
From the physical routines of car washing at dawn
Or child carrying all day
Or laundry folding or grocery carrying at noon.
     —There morning's all a-gleaming and noon's a polishing-glow and evening's full of
     the mosquito's wings—
Released from being someone for someone else to keep all day at arm's reach
Except for the miss's moan or the mam's tongue
Or the master's hand or Nelson's 'where d'ya belong?'

One evening Joy gave in to the love that dare not speak its name
And invited her sweetheart back when baby was sleeping
And Barbara had gone out for a pedicure to Nuru Feeling
And Nelson was at rugby and Paige at hockey
And Master on a business trip to Bangkok,
So she rolled out her air mattress in baby's room
And told Grace to lie back and just relax while she turned on the natural oils burner
Only to have Nelson scrummage her into his bedroom
Where he saw naked Grace moaning in pleasure at the breakdown to the delights of an air mattress,
Her back to the truant rugby tackler as she swayed to the Tagalog hymns on her headphones.
Nelson thought it was all for him and he launched himself on Grace from behind
Only to have the Le Creuset 28-inch wrought iron skillet
Brought down on his crown like it was Waterloo in reverse
And the premonition of blood-red waters washing over him
Came to a head and he was knocked out stone cold with a gash the size
Of a rugby lock's triceps smiling right across the back of his head.
Joy panicked and prayed real hard to Jesus but the blood of sacrifice just kept coming
So she grabbed Grace’s hand as Grace grabbed her dress and leggings
And dressed herself descending the stairwell like it was any old work day
And they made for the taxi rank and the border with the tourist visas their
Masters had got them in case they ever needed cheap unregulated medicines and those famously hard-
to-get blue-tipped aphrodisiacs.


Professor MacSwinney

—What's the Cantonese for domestic helper love?—
—No, I hate telling you these things. You put them in your papers and pretend you know about local culture—
—But what’s the Cantonese for domestic helper? Why won’t you tell me?—
—No, I hate it. I won’t tell you—
—Why not? I've never known a people so unwilling to share their language—
—Learn it yourself—
—I will, I've a lesson today in Starbucks with Queenie—
MacSwinney's Hong Konger wife sulked into the bedroom and went back to sleep.
The myna birds mocked him from the TV antennae,
The smooth whistle of the oriental magpie lured him from the air conditioners,
The playful screeches of the black-collared Starlings calmed him
As they danced open-beaked, thrusting their necks forwards, on the lampposts
Where the King of Kowloon's graffiti was covered over in protective Acrylic
Saving another march to LegCo to shout slogans to a Chief Executive in absentia.

At lunch over Guoza or gao zi in Koffee Korner in the student canteen
Profs. LickLustre, Rota and MacSwinney were confabulating on lives that got away
—A friend of mine set up a brothel in Pattaya. It did quite well
—Well, not a brothel, but a girlie bar really. Better say that. Then after 2 years
—Some local guys turn up with machetes and tell the manager to turn over
—All the money or they'll kill him.
—My friend can’t even go back now.'
Prof. Rota felt his academic credentials being challenged—
—My schoolmate got food poisoning eating the same dish as me last week.
—He's selling sixty condos in Cambodia and a trailer park.
—They met the Cambodian housing minister and she said
—There's twenty tenders. Why yours? What will I get?
—His wife works as editor for a big Taiwanese publishing house.'
His eyes sought approval from them
For a friend long-gone but recalled.
Prof. MacSwinney mused on how even middle-aged men need idols
To slake their thirst over Cokes and coffees.

MacSwinney couldn't handle characters or tones,
He had reams of phonetic Cantonese swirling in his head.
He recalled when, as a teenager, he thought
A Cantonese was a follower of Eric Cantona,
Then how a Cantonese was a person from a small region or canton.
Ngau 'm sai gong 'ngoi
I do not need to say thank you
Lei jung 'm jungyi yam dung lai cha?
Lei yam 'm yam dung lai cha?
Do you like or not like cold milk tea?
Do you drink or not drink cold milk tea?

The interrogative statement in Cantonese always repeats itself,
The interrogative negative following the interrogative affirmative,
Two-tone life choices,
A bifocal world of possibility,
One country, but two systems,
Do you or do you not?
Do you or do you not?
In Irish English a raised eyebrow, an expletive, and a flick of intonation at the end—
"Will ye have a feckin cup o' tea?"
No choice necessary on the face of it,
Unless you replied in national stereotype,
"For feck sake, would ye have anything stronger?"

MacSwinney couldn’t recall ever being asked
"Will ye feckin have or feckin not have a feckin cup of cold feckin milk tea?"
No such medley of choice ever escaped his Irish English interlocutors.
Was it all the tones getting in his way,
Hiding his natural irony,
Tones he carried with him into all languages,
Tones he couldn’t carry in to Cantonese
If he wanted to be understood?
But without tonal irony he was speechless,
A shadow or shade of his early Corkonian self.

"I will yeah"
in everyday Cork,
What literally meant—
"There is no feckin' hope in hell of me ever doing that thing you request"—
With its rising peak at the start of the "will,"
And its rapidly falling away on the "yeah,"
Was a tone too far for him in Cantonese,
So he decided to add expletives and gestures
To make up for his lost tones.
—If it worked in Irish English
—It may just work in gweilo Cantonese.
—So I could say—
Lei jung 'm jungyi yam a feckin' dung lai cha?"
Keeping his left eyebrow raised the whole time
In a gesture of aloof mockery.
He'd try it the next time in the corner shop with the old woman.
Who knows, maybe the Cantonese only spoke Shakespearian?
"To be or not to be that is the question"

The KMB buses are being overhauled and repainted Communist Red,
Or is it British Postbox Red?
They've lowered the last piece of Macau-Zhuhai-Hong Kong Bridge into position,
The underwater tunnel link bedecked with PRC bunting disappeared,
Drowned forever, with its 76 billion HK taxpayer price tag, in the roiling, overfished South China Seas.
Empires do red pageantry in Palaces and construction sites,
Each playing off the other as the reason for its natural born rights.
'Those double-deckers will have the city's skyline painted on their rooves'
The city's altar to business free-to-view for all Hong Kong's black vultures
As they circle the ever-diminishing returns of Hong Kong’s fishing boat fleets.

'Only groun' coffee?'
The McDonalds attendant tells me
As she stares at my order on her screen in disbelief—
—15 dollars he spend here and nothing more—
—Turning his nose up at the breakfast of champions—
—We'll show him—
—I'll give him the reg'lar coffee for 14 dollars—
—Every time he asks until he learn Cantonese for 'ground'—
Ground coffee. Gerrouunnnd. G-R-O-U-N-D-
Watching his dirty yellow teeth and hairy gweilo nose
Scrunch out the long, dull monotone sounds.
—Ho ho. Groun' coffee. Ho ho—
Is she laughing at me or agreeing with me?
Ground alright. I'll grind him so deep into the despair of his own voice
Repeated back to him in slow motion he'll hate it and have to learn
Some Cantonese, C-A-N-T-O-N-E-S-E-.

Ground Stuff—Ground Stuff—
Professor MacSwinney got sent back to the time
He was grading essays from Japanese students in Osaka,
And the essay that started "My Ideal Job is Ground Stuff.
I want to be ground Stuff."
He simply couldn't counter the feelings
Of self-abnegation in the students.
Had the education system produced
A whole generation of young people
Eager to see themselves as nothing more than waste?
Then a colleague told him that airline ground staff
Was a popular job for young women in Japan.

There is a life that goes on in conversation
In English-Cantonese,
English, broken, sometimes barely bristling,
Bruised and embellished,
But English still,
And this life has its limited Cantonese included,
Cantonese crucified, cut-down, barely inchoate,
But still a gesture towards Cantonese in the conversation in broken English-Cantonese.
Both sides willing to foster it, endure it, sometimes suffer it,
Only so that one of you leaves with the impression of having gone out of yourself,
Of having communicated in a tongue that is usually a sign of failure or inadequacy,
Like the taxi man I say first thing to—
—You go Tokyo—
Every time we meet,
Knowing all his answers already,
Him knowing all my questions,
Knowing what English-Cantonese we can produce
To get talking about his 4 times Tokyo this year for 25 minutes,
Or the taxi driver who tells me for the 20th time
As I act surprised for the 20th time
—Swim Sai Kung good!
In one journey
So we get every possible meaning out of 3 English words
—SWIM very GOOD!
—SWIM good!
—Good VERY Good!
—Very SAI KUNG Haiya haiya
And I give in return my play
On my 6 Cantonese words
—Sai Kung ho lan, ho HO lan,
—Ngo lei giu Sai Kung ho LAN, HO LAN
And both of us say bye knowing
Hong Kong still reflects on a good day
when the light glances in off the sea a certain way,
A tale once told about a world city.


Eunice Tse

Eunice Tse made cupcakes as a cottage industry in Fo Tan;
Cupcake videos and cupcake events,
Cupcake websites and cupcake workshops,
Cupcake mailing lists and cupcake smoothies,
Cupcake photo ops and cupcake salads
Cupcake competitions and cupcake essay-writing tutorials [using her MA in English];
In the end there was so much to do
She kept forgetting the recipe for the actual cupcakes and preserves,
So she decided to host a cupcakes nostalgia event
Like on snapchat and facebook live,
Where people could come and share stories
About what cupcakes meant to them in their lives.
Eunice was so moved by the three posts she decided
To go back to making cupcakes with fresh vigour.

She imported cheap gelatin from Denmark in bulk,
Brown sugar from Morocco and figs from the Holy Land.
She deliberated for hours over whether to go for
Cage-free, free roaming, or free range eggs for her photo opp scones,
She looked up online the relative states of happiness
Of the three kinds of hen in experiments done
By young researchers in Hong Kong HSBC College,
Researchers who had never seen hens in their lives
And who based all their results on the careful data drop
Of their devious manipulation of data mining software
Without telling any of their peer-reviewers or open access readers.

Eunice made organic cupcakes and preserves;
She spat at the suggestion that her cupcakes were anything else;
She sourced organic strawberries from Kerry
And organic butter from Charleville in Cork,
Smuggling it back through security in Tupperware containers
Wrapped in towels along with handmade butter dishes
From Stephen Pearce in Shanagarry for the photos;
She sourced organic cotton from Bangalore for to
Dry the crockery once washed in filtered water,
Filtered by an English filter made from Aberdeen granite.

She worked up a sweat hand-mixing in the Shanagarry pottery
Her cupcakes mix only to develop tendonitis in both wrists.
Doctor Wai Ming called it RSI and he wondered about the cause;
Do you do any repetitive motion back and forth with your hands?
Feeling a little embarrassed for some reason asking the question,
Wai Ming blushed and Eunice read the intent:
—I'm a single woman living with my parents,
—It's all the cleaning and scrubbing I do,
Feeling too embarrassed to mention her high calorie cupcakes and preserves
To Wai Ming her doctor since she was knee-high. The only solution was to buy different sizes of hand blenders From Shenzhen where she knew electrical goods were cheaper; Whenever she tried describing what she wanted in her half-arse Mandarin on the phone to the telesales operatives
They kept directing her discreetly to the vibrator pages of the website;
—No, it's not that kind of thing at all, it’s for cupcakes and scones,
Then she was directed to the relatively new site dealing with bespoke porn.
In the end there was nothing doing,
She would have to take the road to Lo Wu
And bring the hand blenders back to Fo Tan herself.
Clarissa Yat-Ying Ho

Clarissa stared longingly at the King Tutor faces on the side of the 89K,
—If only I could get one of those to tutor me
—We have no money for it but I'm learning nothing with Mr. Ho,
—His English is like dog bark and won't get me a 7.
—I'll never have any Bringlish bling,
—Or Canglish kerching waiting on Mr. Ho.
—I'll wait outside Work Harder Cram School and Dr. Con Sir,
—He's the one for me
—Teach me English like those gweilo kids I see at the track
—With their blonde hair rolling off their necks like waves of sunshine
—And their bright blue eyes shining like the sea that day grandad took
—Us to the Wu Kai Sha beach when Dad was sick.
—Yes, I'll meet Dr. Con Sir outside No. 1 Oxfordia Centre in Ma On Shan,
—He'll help me.
—My friends tell me you can make these men do anything
—Using something like compenso or PTGF.

Dr. Con Sir lectured to groups of 500 students on Saturdays
In Ma On Shan No. 1 Oxfordia Centre.
—English is Power. English is Money—
—Say it after me—
Clarissa, in her snow-white school uniform waited for her academic
Prince Charming Dr. Con Sir to appear through the mirror of the cram school iron door.
The poisoned apple of ambition in an unequal town clutched close to her chest,
The dwarves of academic industry Inc. HK streamed past her like hordes of infidels
To the promise of Harvrad that was hers and hers alone.
Under the yellow haze of a humid evening
Stampedes of uniformed spectacled teenagers flowed onto Ma On Shan Bazaar overpass,
She had not thought cram school had undone so many.
Glued to phone screens they navigated blind,
judging tempo and distance sonically
By footfall, shuffle, escalator ditty, chatter, coin jangle, breath.

In silence, hunched over in exhaustion, his KMB photoshoot bow-tie hanging from his neck collar,
A Porsche rucksack streaming papers,
His Bally briefcase strung low from his shoulder,
A Prada satchel-cum-appendage surgically attached to his lower knee since his summer school visit to Oxford quad,
Dr. Con Sir emerged like Galahad, Potter, Thor,
Academic Man, The hero of his era,
holding the keys to time's academic portal
In his bloated late-night KFC, pasty, fried chicken complexion,
In his glazed over, porn-immune, confessed bachelor eyes,
In his stooped, lethargic, muscularly depleted frame.
Clarissa was smitten,
Shivering with hunger and dehydration she approached the oracle,
"Sir Professor Dr. Con Sir, please sir, I am Going to Harvard,
Can you help me?"

"Dieu, Dieu, Puk Gai!"
Dr. Con Sir had an instinctive turrets reaction to the word because of his sworn allegiance to Oxford,
Clarissa, in her stupor, took it for some archaic tongue,
—Yes, I need Latin and mathematics and English lessons too—
—only I have no money—
—my friends told me you might take compensortion- The word had a peculiar ring for Con Sir,
Hadn't he tried it on the MTR only to lose coverage at the vital moment.


Father De La Cuenta

—It's a dog's life indeed
Not even the dog looks too enamored this morning at having to go over to sniff that piece of scrub
Beside the sacristy wall for the umpteenth time.
Bit of a forlorn look about him,
Maybe his bitch left him for another vixen?
Animals not immune either to all the intermarrying that goes on here,
Asians marrying Euros, Euros marrying Filipinos, Americans marrying everyone,
I never know which gospel to pitch to them,
The zealous evangelism, the stoic protestant evangelism, the gloomy introverted decolonized Irish
catholic evangelism?
Drives me batty,
And then they come up and tell me
—Oh no Father we're Rapture Christians—
Only thing to do at that stage I'm telling you is declare myself the Messiah—.

Father Rodriguez de la Cuenta had been in Lai Chi Kok Church for 27 years,
He fell in with a gang of Italian mafia priests who came over in the eighties and never looked back,
If only to look over his head since the Communists started cracking down on Catholic bishops.
He took his afternoon walks in Sai Kung,
It's moist intensity and edgy business charge
Reminding him of the streets of his
Childhood Sicily.

In the dark Sai Kung steets, wet from government water hoses, street lights glaring in the
     wet, every moment is charged with the expectation of illicit event,
Behind this slivers the emptiness of my life tied to no responsibility I can acknowledge as responsibility,
No children to feed, no wife to perform for, no friends to entertain,
No vote to uphold, no citizenship to honour, no occupation to fear,
No social network to feed, no self-help group to prop up, no reputation to ruin, no ambition to
curtail, no libido to chide, no employees to scold, no employer breathing down my neck,
When into this strides the obduracy of my self-serving drive for activity and permanent occupation,
      I am happy, I must work harder and better with no end in mind.

The stolid grunt of labouring endlessly for the sake of never asking why,
I am the character in a Dostoevsky novel released from rank and caste,
Set free in a steppe of sublime indifference to fear.
The character in Austen unaware of even the hint of marriage,
Strolling over the Hampshire downs to a lake where a woman waits bathing
In utter oblivion of normative attraction narratives.
The character of Leopold in a Joyce novel,
Dwelling on the adultery of his wife with a man called Blazes
And finding in it nothing more than a dull sense of longing.
In the dark, wet Sai Kung streets
I am Moreau without an elder woman to resist,
Without a profession to ignore,
I am Mersault without an Arab to kill,
Without a death sentence to commute,
I am Marcel with amnesia,
Without a novel to write,
I am Everyman in a world of diversity,
The Common Reader speaking for uncommon people,
With the same need to have people listen,
You out there, the unsuspecting honour-killing reader,
You, the terrorist extraordinaire with your bombs of enquiry
And your callous conjuring diffidence for my existence.


Tony Hui

Tony Hui owned a wedding photography company in Wan Chai.
He sourced haute couture furnishings and knick-knacks on Taobao
To adorn his studio; wooden tennis racquets, coffee grinders,
Wooden exclamation marks, books of tissues,
All neatly arranged beside photos of couples in Milan, Paris, Seoul, Tokyo, Hokkaido
In Asian skinny suits and regulation white wedding dresses,
Caught mid-pose, hands trailing behind on a Bridge of Sighs,
Stares lingering over gorgoyles en route to Notre Dame,
Kisses caught frieze-dried or vacuum-packed over Hokkaido grasses,
Embraces more liked than any they would ever share again,
Caught for the cameras caught up in the spell of being observed,
Young, elegant and well-heeled for one weekend only
On a 4-day wedding package in a centre of culture
They would never have the time to enjoy or explore
Before they were back home in their industrial building in Kwun Tong
Saving rent by not cooking so the cockroaches were kept at bay
Having their images photoshopped to the point of celebrity
Or airbrushed to the point where they would sometimes look
At the framed photos, when they had a moment to themselves,
And think do I really look like that?

Tony Hui wasn't going anywhere, he was staying put,
For Hong Kong was his world and he didn’t need no other.
He adored walking to his favourite dai pai dong in Fo Tan from Sha Tin
Down by the tracks as the sun speared the hills over Ma On Shan Park,
Or taking his schnauzer Albrecht for a walk along the river,
The high rises of Ma On Shan and Shatin bordering its banks
Like loyal sentries or canyon walls sweeping out to Lion Rock
And beyond to the glorious expanse of Victoria Harbour.
His world was enriching and diverse and it had its refueling pit stops
And family dinners and old friends’ gatherings only a few stops away,
He took life slow and with a smile and his forty-something belly
Was proof that he was here to stay and he was proud of it,
Each day he sang in musical Cantonese tones and with a glint in his eye
The song of his body electric and of the city he loved so well.

His partner Charlene slept late and wore shabby chic or pants
With crotches that hung low to the knees
Or short playful jackets with bits of chrome or coloured glass
Glittering in their stitching alongside embroidered flowers and trees.
She dyed her hair grey and wore red contacts and had strictly no tattoos.
She bided her time between make-up shifts and community courses
In crocheting and free-ish community courses at the beach in kayaking
Or snorkeling where she’d pay 30 dollars and bring a packed lunch along.
They were their family and that was all they needed
Thinking any bigger only took the glint from the eye
And got them thinking should they upgrade from their Fo Tan dai pai dong
But then they loved its chicken feet soup and pork ribs too much.
Tony Hui wasn't going anywhere; he was here to stay.

Rick Feather

—"Good" "GOOD" "GOOOOOD"
Pointed Chen Waiming
On KLM Flight F6765 Amsterdam to Hong Kong
At Rick Feather's New Zealand Organic butter cartridge,
Trying to get conversation going with the only
English word he knew.
Feather eventually worked out the intent
And dutifully peeled back the foil cover of the cartridge,
Dug his cheap plastic fork in,
And lathered butter on the disemboweled bun
For the entire economy carriage to see.
Smiling back at Waiming with a, "Ho sic, Ho sic."

Waiming almost fell backwards through his economy seat,
Hearing Cantonese from the lips of a gweilo,
Rub it in, don't give in now
'moisi ngoi dee guandonghua 'm ho
Waiming fell backwards again
Gesticulating at his good wife
Like a man drowning and flailing for his life,
Fell backward into his 4 extra inches of economy legroom,
Inches he had worked long hours of overtime for,
Cutting miles of sheet metal
On the site of Dongguan's former sex havens,
Converting former massage parlours
Into reinforced concrete mausoleums for the nouveau riches
Or 雅皮士 Yǎpíshì,
Or what they call in Hong Kong, locusts.
Smiling manically at his wife beside him,
He finally found language again,
That word of English that had won him
Such favour from incomprehensible gweilos,
"Good" "GOOD" "GOOOOOD".

Rick tried a new place for breakfast
The morning after he landed—
—Dan, dosti, Gafe
—Dan, dosti, gafe
What is the feckin Cantonese for scrambled?
I'm feckin' scrambled meself

—Dan mixie, mixie-uppy!
—Sandwichy, together.
—Hai, hai
Just give in,
Take the feckin' togethery sanwichy,
—Okay, sanwichy togethery!

The Hong Kong road trip movie is waiting to happen.
Rick Feather must make it happen.
He can picture it like it's already out of
Circles of infinite regress
And burning heat,
A steering wheel like a curled hot poker
Too hot to handle.
The endless road movie down the Sai Sha Road,
Taking in the infinitesimal, incremental differences
Of villages along the Sap Sze Heung,
The gradations of colour and custom
Taking us from rural Hong Kong to Mainland China,
The subtle interstitial points on the politometer
From relative freedom to serfdom.

On the Luk Chung Weung Road,
First stop on the tour
From Sai Kung side,
Rick Feather hiked
High to the summit near the mobile towers,
Crickets chirping like an insect orchestra
For the start of day on June 10th, 2017.
He makes for a path off the main fork
Where two roads lead to separate
Paths of the Maclehose Trail.
The tessellated grey concrete of the road comes to
An end at a clearing of mud and new shoots
Of grass spearing out of the still moist
Soil like antenna or new hair.

Beyond the clearing another narrow dirt track
Leads off into the undergrowth,
But the track looks continuous and the soil
Is flattened hard and orange.
He wades through,
The ferns still wet with the morning dew,
Brushing against his legs,
His runners now soaked with the moisture.
Crickets or baby dragonflies hovering on the soil
rise delicately from the earth
As he rises on each step.
The trail leads on, away from the towers,
And is slowly descending again
With no sudden falling away in view.

The trail is dark and moist and the sun
Seldom spears through a break in the foliage,
Until he feels the full force of the sun
A blast of heat on his sweat-sodden shirt,
And it rises him to take it off and stand a moment
With the full of the eight o' clock Hong Kong June sunshine
Warming his torso.
It feels right and he forgets his past as he admires
His own body,
Looking down on it,
Pale with the hairs greying in his forty-third year.
He is mindful of a stirring of desire
But he tries not to focus too much on it
And to take his place in nature
About him for its own fecundity and not his own.
Even his mental fecundity is an obstacle
To him taking in nature as he has always been told he should.

—This is where I'll mark my spot at the beginning of the tour
—The damp foliage and fern of Luk Chung Weung Road
—Neath the spreading arms of the PCCW Mobile Towers
—A Fitting tribute to communication
—Across the islands and peaks of Sai Kung —Inlets and golf island greenways spreading out
—Over pristine lands like garish scars or the limbs
—Of a lover or the spreading loins
—Of a manspreading gigantus
—Rising from the locks of the harbor
—Wet with passion and industry
—An early-morning workaholic
—From a Community of hawkers and elderly vegetable sellers
—Camped out with their sprigs of Pak Choi and Chinese spinach
—Near the doors of Jaspa's
—With its cheap whites and lush prices
—Or the intermixing of Ali Oli
—And its after-hike inter-racial harmony
—With the finest of breads and scones and cakes for the
—White man's death.
Rick Feather chants it out to the breeze
In his green hideaway
And he feels he is on his way.


Dr. Con Sir

Dr. Con Sir wobbled to a stop on the concrete Ma On Shan overpass,
Seeing the uniform of slavery before him,
The white dress and subscription glasses,
The orderly admiration for authority and English,
Already the light of creativity and originality barely
Flickering in her eyes,
Her Cantonese given up for barter and exchange,
Her English for dream and admiration.
All of a sudden he flinched inside for
The generations of pain and denigration
His own language had suffered at the hands of English,
The cold, atonal, mechanical arrogance of English,
Its Northern European isolation and parochialism
Transformed into a drug of choice even here in proud Canton.

He would prove that even this left-behind Cantonese girl
Could speak the Queen's English.
He would make a promise to the Gods of Academia,
Messrs. Sir Run Run Shaw and Li Ka Shing
Messrs. Shaw and Li Dak Sum
Messrs. Fung King Hey and Yasumoto
For the fortitude and courage to get Clarrissa to Harvard,
For the veritas and sophia to get her to Harvard
For the quidditas and claritas to get her to Harvard
For the integritas and consonontia to get her to Harvard
For the gravitas and hubris to get her to Harvard.

Barbara Whitehorse

Leaving 'Down To Earth' early
Where she'd had Chardonnay mousse
And Merlot Chocolate Roulet Truffle
Talking facial and pedicure entrepreneurialism primer
With Loretta ScrewTape,
Baptist Theological Research Assistant
At the Good Hope Centre Evangelical Mission,
Housed on the 10th floor of Industrial Building 25 Kwun Tong,
Barbara Whitehorse made for De Yucca Heights
On Sai Kung Mid-Levels and their 2100 square foot
Village House where the dogs ranged and scowled
On balconies, down alleys, in dustbins, in doorways,
Where wild cattle with cloths of flies in their faces
Chewed the cud near recycling bins overlooking man-made
Concrete riverbanks where myna birds shrieked
And whelped and gargled like hyenas
But she noticed none of this as she turned the key
In the lock of their mahogany entrance door.

Climbing to the first floor she was surprised to hear silence,
Something she was always suspicious of,
Its cheap odour of insidious intent,
its thief in the night eau de perfume,
Its devil may care eau de cologne,
Always ready to devour any hard-fought conversation with the
Dullness and darkness of hesitation and awkwardness
When her motto was "I don't do disappointment or deliberation; I want to change the world."
But as she entered Joy's cupboard to demand why there was silence
She was smitten by the slumped body of her firstborn,
His head blossoming with carnations and roses
As he still smiled vacantly in a glare of deathly ecstasy at the only woman he'd loved.

Barbara Whitehorse swooned and swayed, swore and swiped
At the air itself asking it to bring her son back.
She hoisted him up in her arms like the firstborn he was,
Brushing the matted hair from his forehead,
Seeing the look of excited surprise still in his
Still-warm face.
She wailed and shrieked like nothing ever heard in Sai Kung,
Even village dogs and myna birds froze in disbelief and angst
At the new cry of anger and loss rising from the foothills of Ma On Shan
Like sheets of lightning in driving rain,
Or claps of thunder when the typhoon roars.
She bundled him, her firstborn, down the steps of her home,
A home bought for her children,
Only to give them what their friends had back home.
Deep down she thought she was only keeping up, treading water, and never soaring the heights.

When the ambulance crept up the narrow village tracks,
Its sirens heard for the last 10 minutes snaking through the one-way paths,
She knew it was already too late and the spirit of the fruits of their loins
Was rising like the mists up the rock face of the sheltering mountains.
Roger Whitehorse wept too from his Bangkok massage bed,
Weeping into his Martini soaked towels and his oil-sopping hands,
Weeping into the memory of his son and their days in the CyberPark,
Or the Stalls and lanes of Stanley or the pebble beach of Repulse Bay,
In their kayaks and yachts, their blonde hairs buffeted by the winds,
He wept into the oil-sopping hands and forearms wondering was he cursed,
Where did it all go wrong?
If he'd never moved to Hong Kong?
But then he never would've met Babs
But wasn’t that what he really wanted?
To be free like his days in Law School in Sydney?
To be free like his days in Aus?
But then Nelson came along and it was like a portcullis came down
At the same time as he found his best mate, his best pal,
And he wept into his oil-sopped hands and forearms
And he wanted up off the massage table like it was a rack
That tortured him softly, softly,
As if the torture had been his own idea all along.

Rick Feather

Whitewashing was the new black in Hong Kong,
Whitewashing was on tram sidecar posters,
On MTR property posters of Legendria Pavilion,
Where a white man and a white woman and a white child
Prowled separately in market combat poses,
In some digitally manipulated interior floorspace
On some imagined 57th floor of real estate heaven,
Towering above the furnaces of congested living in Choi Hung,
Where Rick liked to wade during the humid rainy seasons
Of June and July
Cloaked in an LLBEAN windsheeter once stolen from an American girlfriend
That covered nearly all his white flesh.
He liked walking up real close behind queues of the public housing commuters
Squelching home through the puddles off the buses at Choi Hung
Into their public housing estates and cheap eats,
Smelling their sweat and nicotine fumes, inhaling their Cantonese,
The indistinct incomprehensible babble he told himself
Became more comprehensible day by day,
Eating their minced pork and their chickens' feet soup,
Trying to prove to himself that if caught by the powers that be
The people would at last see that here was one whitey who ain't doin'
No whitewashing y'hear in this here fine establishment sir. No siree.

Rick's second stop on his grand tour of Hong Kong,
His road trip of Hong Kong,
Followed the route of the fleeing Sung Dynasty in 1277 to what became the Kai Tak Airport,
A region that became known as Sung Wong Toi or the Sung Emperor's Terrace,
Ancient shady spot of the penultimate Sung Emperor Duanzong,
Where from the 11th moon of 1277 Kowloon and the "uninspiring island to the south"
Were part of a united China under Kublai Khan ruled from Beijing.
The 11 year-old Sung Emperor taking his rest under the giant rock
that later had his characters carved into it,
The young boy staring up into the care-worn faces of his guardians, dreaming,
—There truly are eight mountains here under which eight dragons must sleep—
Only for the one sycophantic guardian to reply,
—No your majesty, there are 9; you are the ninth—
—Gau Lung, 9 dragons, Kowloon—
Tall tales to humour a boy emperor passed on as lore to silence a people.

Duanzong, lazing in the fields and bamboo groves of Kwun Foo Cheung,
Dreamed of his former home in Hang zhou
With his brothers round him and the lakes leaning towards the South China Sea glistening at sundown,
Unaware of the dying Empire hanging round his neck,
Daily being hunted by Kublai Khan and his bloodthirsty Mongols,
Imagining how one day the mountains about him might rise with the flames of dragons,
How the mountains surrounding the rock under which he sat might one day,
Be criss-crossed by the wings of flaming dragons,
With the air lit up by the flashes of their fury rising like shimmering towers,
Never knowing how to imagine his dream being populated
By the dragon-jets and towering-skyscrapers of Heung Geung the flagrant harbour
Into whose water he would fall as he made his last escape for Lantau Island on the royal barge.
His last inglorious steps off the land of Kowloon one rainy November day in 1277
Marking the last steps of a Sung Emperor on the Mainland of the Middle Kingdom.

Rick Feather read the lines of the collapse of his own family
In the characters on the stone lintel preserved from the Emperor's Resting Place,
Crammed in under towers of hospital wards and wire netting,
This stone lintel carried here from the Sung Emperor's Palace in Kwun Foo Cheung,
To this little resting place with the bonsai, the park seats, and the wire fencing,
Keeping the sacred ground separate from the grounds of the Christian Hospital,
A hospital known in local Cantonese as Fa Gok Yi Yuen or "French Hospital."
Rick Feather knew what it was like to lose a family, to lose a father, to lose children.
A 50-something US expat who had done the rounds in Asia as a sundown cowboy
After his wife of twenty years had left him back in Berkeley mid-levels,
He had put family behind him to discover how to live independently
As a part of the problem, as part of the whitewash or shitewash,
In an Asia the West just couldn’t put down, or get, or imitate,
Or molly-coddle, or fool, or cheat, or bomb, or fear any longer.
He was going to travel the lengths of this patch of Asia,
Bathe in its nature, it’s sweat-inducing nature, and bring out for himself,
Not for no one else but himself, its enduring, mind-ensnaring tenacity and order.
He wanted to get it for himself if it was the last thing he did,
So help me God!
Far from the sex workers and the bars and the go-go bars and the massage parlours,
And the betting halls, and the casino wheels, and the dancing girls, and the drugs,
Far from the ladyboy beaches and the lazysusan banquet halls,
And the sharksfin soup and the ivory chopsticks,
And the rhino horn heels and the wild-pig tusk mobile phone covers,
And the bespectacled nation of machine-like kids
With their indolence and innocence being shoe-horned into channels
Of learning like the MTR tracks taking so many of their young lives.


Prof. MacSwinney

Prof. MacSwinney agreed to meet his wife in the corner shop.
Arriving early he had the traditional Chinese character menu to tackle.
His wife was blue in the face pointing out the characters for
Chicken 雞, pork 豬肉, beef 牛肉, fish 魚, and egg 蛋
So he had now progressed to adjectives assigned to the different cooked beasts.
There was steamed 蒸 with the four small flames at the bottom
And scrambled 炒 which necessitated putting the chicken back in the egg 炒雞蛋.
MacSwinney felt he was making it in the world of characters
He would not starve if handed an all Chinese menu board,
So when the waitress came over to him and he said "two", "two people"
And she looked at him dumbfounded and started speaking in Cantonese
And he could not understand it he tried to say two people—
Liang goi yan
but he knew it was a bastardisation,
So he waited and when she came again he said
—B Chan
Because he knew it was fish and when she looked stunned
At him knowing what was on the board she proceeded to list out all
The dishes in perfect English and he wondered why she understood none of
His English when he was taken as the gweilo with no Cantonese
But none of his Cantonese when he came out as the gweilo reading some of the Chinese characters.

Prof. MacSwinney wrote sonnets in his spare time,
One was about sex and it had an acrostic spelling out
P R O C U S T E A N      B E D,
Another tried to tie Freud up in Gordian Knots,
When he was invited to contribute something to a local Poetry Activist Group,
He went along in shorts to the Foreign Correspondents Club
And was stopped at the door,
"Sorry sir, are you registered? We have a dress code. No shorts allowed.
We can give you a pair of trousers,"
He wanted to enjoy the irony of the moment—
"I'm not wearing another man's trousers at my first poetry reading!"
"I'd rather read in a dress, sackcloth or in the pink"

A woman on the stage was spreading the word about Culture Nights,
—If you're interested in joining Culture Nights leave your name card with the stand—
How many of the hawkers I’ve just passed in the street outside are in shorts and have name cards?
Another well-scrubbed independent school graduate said,
—in Hong Kong you are never more than 30 mins away from greenery—
All he could think of was being stuck in the car in a tunnel under Victoria harbour for an hour—
—We did not learn about the Governors cruel laws against Chinese but we learned so much about bound feet and Chinese cruelties—
  —we had internalised the colonial education—
Prof. Mac Swinney thought of the writers of the colonial master he taught,
Blake, Shelley, Byron, Keats, Wordsworth.
He eased the guilt by telling himself he taught only their revolutionary poems;
Why did the students never really feel it?

He knew that Hennessy from Cork had said eight terrible things about the Chinese,
And that May—no blood only a party relation to Theresa—
had banned Chinese from living on the Peak
Before he set up the first University,
And that a curfew had been set up by Robinson
To get Chinese off the streets or they were locked up
Or given a public flogging.
Another Asian woman spoke up in Cantonese and British English;
—In 1997 on the eve of Handover they gave out free bottles of British wine in restaurants which is Cantonese for 'clear off you British!—
—Young teenagers were wearing red Chinese t-shirts!—
She was scribbling notes in a black notebook,
—I sometimes think we're like that small bit of Gaul in Asterix and Obelix, We haven't yet been taken over by the Roman world—
But the Roman World was sacked by hordes of barbarians from the north,
Where are the barbarians from the north to save us today?

Prof. Macswinney was writing a long prose-poem on Hong Kong—
I’ve seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, competition,
Dragging themselves semi-naked through the loopholes
And nooses of competition highs, monetary quick fixes, misty-eyed pollution fuelled dogfights,
Who rising at dawn quell hangover dreams in the parks and piersides and public baths
Of the State-sanctioned togetherness junkie community services buildings,
Who towelling their naked brown bones and bowels down in the basements of communal swimming pools
Bathed with gweilos and Filippino gringos and half-cast sprogs and immigrant hipsters and
     second generation Xi-ists,
Who showering their sweat-riven and chlorine-intoxicated fleshy highs in the public facility alleys,
Showered and bathed with the slack-jawed, dream-hijacked swimming pool attendants in their sun-faded blue Prescription outfits,
Who leered at the slow-tanned freckled flesh of the misses and masters of Sai Kung mid-levels,
And gazed at them disappearing into the cubicles of mildewed solitude and whisky-forget
     with self-harm on their minds,
Imagined them with their zhyzym-fuelled and come-undone gyrations of the
Blow-in, blowed hard, blowed-dry, up their own arses dreams,
Expats with their sexperts and sixpacks and sick pervs and slack jaws,
And their misses with their oily quims and their masters with their raging rims,
Mouthing performance prayers and methylated monologues to their foreign trading gods
     and investment securities saints,
Who driving hard bargains, grinding their hipsterish hips and their sun-burned flanks and their lap-tanked hides,
Fled bone dreams and connubial blues and concupiscent cravings
Fueled by money drives and PURE combat zones and PHYSICAL gym-soaked all-nighters,
Cracked speed sticks and expresso-shakes and capsicum multiseed morning runs,
Ferried zombie-parent sprog runs through gear-screeching, lane-drifting amnesiac routines
Of disconsolate kindergarten interview-schedules while reprinting grandparent CVs
And parental gene charts,
Who talked continuously eighty hours from Mog Kok to Tin Kok and from Sai Kung to Tung Chung,
Yaketayakking, surfing, voiding, venting, freewheeling Chinese dreams, weibo creams,
Alibaba football fantasy teams,
Yaketayakking, soapboxing, intellectual patronising, university course cleptomania-ising,
Lifelong learning classroom night-course-hoarding,
In lecture theatres, learning gardens, campus gazebos, educational pools of infinity and eternal return,
Watching the fumes of their parental piety 1 million dollar babies’ education funds rise high
Above the Hong Kong skyline like fireworks exploding into tiny burning fragments that flare
     and flash and burn and fade out.

I've seen the best Hong Kong minds of the younger generation destroyed by madness and
     competition and emotional vacuity,
Lying disconsolate prostrate before laptops and lattes and dung lai chas and shojis and
     sushis in dai pai dungs and cha chan tens and starbucks
After cheap fucks in tents or feral cattle dens on sun-drenched hiking trails up Ma On Shan
     and Tai Mo Shan,
Who panting guardedly through tent canvas fear overheard passions will call down the thunder of social
     media snipers and weibo warriors
To disembowel their precious hours of wifi-free existence high above the PCCW mobile
     towers and the Henderson MTR Jockey Club Corporation spores,
Who in the Paradise of their tents high above the grids and surveillance paths and social media
     Panopticons and Correctional Institution platforms
Express love and desire in bated breath in the sultry solitude of a canvas tent and feel togetherness fleetingly
Before they have time to feel it, or grasp it, or make it their own, before they’re called back to the herd
And the smoking and sniggering, chuckling and chugging, and the new guy is disparaged,
     ridiculed, castigated, castrated
In the way Cantonese humour does so effortlessly like the wind among the reeds of the
     grasses swaying free high above the dreaming cities.

I've seen the worst minds of my generation celebrated and championed through celebrity
     photo-opps and meme-gorging and tweet-orgies,
Who drove up cable charges and white supremacist coverage and drove down net neutrality and hospital care,
Baring their media-savvy meritocratic souls and their testocratic terrorist holes for more
     square foot for their Hong Kong buck,
As their legions of domestic helpers and Part Time Girl Friends and personal secretaries and
     monomaniac-loving mistresses,
Carried rebuke and rudeness, oppression and personal slight into the hearts of all women
     they met and confided in,
Who drove wedges the size of small nuclear arsenals between the sexes and couldn't build bridges
     the size of their fingers between peoples,
Who used men like mah-jong pieces and women like back-scratchers and men like dogs and
     women like dogs,
For a few dollars more for their rich list credentials and their Forbes list monumentals so
     they could sprawl their names
Across new elite university buildings or new hospital wards with waiting list times longer
     than their marriages,
Who spoke of the true, the good and the beautiful like they were currency and morality like
     it was made from university credits in innovation and incubation.

I've seen the best minds of my beautiful young student generation mired in panic and false motivation,
24/7 test preparation junkies raised on cramming in cold-water flats and sopping tropical hot-air bedsits,
Who cowered in hungry sub-divided bunk-beds too weak to rise for another day in their snow white uniforms,
With their Kafka high cheekbones and their concentration camp rib cages being made to brain power their way
Through unequal 24/7 competition highways in university classes and test centres
For graduate jobs as transcendent as Elijah or Mohammed, Lucre or Mammon,
Who suffered like Christ with their crosses and self-harm stigmata but without miracles and Fathers to listen
Or Mothers to bathe them in tears when their blood flowed on the public concourse
     concrete after they climbed their 44-storey Calvaries
Built from the skulls of their fathers and their fathers before them and their fathers before them,
Who kept writing on Blake's chimney sweeps more than ever on Austen's heroines because
     they related to the suffering
With their coffins of black being MTR carriages and their milk of human kindness being
     semi-skimmed, powdered, tinned or condensed.


Clarissa Yat-Ying Ho

Clarissa Yat-Ying Ho WAS going to Havard!
So she met Dr. Con Sir of Tutorama Ex Tutor Grad Ex Oxfordia Academy
Under Ma On Shan Flyover for cramming, help and tuition
It made sense to her their cramming should take place in cramped isolation,
She imagined something smaller than her 200 square-foot family bed-sit,
Something that was a hive of industry, learning, and English Lit,
With walls crammed with posters of reading and writing
Maybe with no windows but with blasts of air conditioning
And maybe one of those things university students called a desk,
Not so much a room of one's own, but a space, a surface, an armrest;
She’d walked past one day on that day-trip to IKEA
Where herself and her mother shared Swedish Meatballs sitting on a seat called a Lekrea.

Con Sir was late so she idled away the time watching cockroaches stalling,
Street dogs mauling and hawkers bedding down with their awning.
Then from behind the glimmering streetlights
And the traffic lights gleaming on the wet concrete nights
Appeared Con Sir in blazer and Cool Living bow tie,
Like a Knight in shining armour or a Korean pop sensation who was bi,
—Clarissa my dear, sorry I'm late but the classes were a real drain,
—Come with me my dear and we'll get on the cramming train
—Sure PTGF is all the rage now you must’ve heard of this game?
—Don't pay me in cash but in favours and some
—Sure we'll get you all ready for the Ivy league run.

So they came to an industrial building and Con Sir
Asked Clarissa to don a Havrad Baseball team cap
As they passed the security hut and the cameras on site.
—You'll be warmer inside and there's a vending machine for a bite.
—Have you brought some copy books for sketching and doodles
—Sure you need to take notes and then we'll catch some late noodles.
The room was quite bare but Clarissa didn't care,
The lighting was dim but Clarissa could still see him.
There wasn't a desk in sight but there was some kind of bed,
She was used to this anyways so she lay down to work with the books at her head.

Con Sir lay down beside her and started talking about payment
About giving her special treatment and asking for no rent,
All he wanted were some favours and some relaxation
Sure wasn't his job killing him, this job in education.
So he asked her to massage him cause he needed to think,
Didn't she know there was out back a toilet and sink,
Would she mind loosening the buttons on the top of his collar
Sure his hands were too tired even for this endeavor
That's a word she could soon add to her English vocab
If she'd only show him some respect for all of this confab.

So after an hour or two Con Sir was about ready to start
As Clarissa's help to relax was only right off the chart,
The only cramming she’d done was in rebuttoning his waist,
Sure, wasn't there more education in that as it was all about taste,
So he tried to rise up and get back to the tuition
—How about leaving it til' next time when there's less complication?
—Sure, you know where to come now we've marked out our spot
—Why don't we do it again Saturday, they say it won't be so hot?
—Bring along the notebooks, the pencils and markers
—It'll be all e-texting and digital work anyhow when you're surfing in Yonkers.

Rick Feather

Rick Feather continued his cultural road trip of Hong Kong
By navigating Boundary Street all the way from Prince Edward Road East to Tung Chau Street Park.
A junk took him from Cheung Sha Wan Fish Market pier, it’s red sails casting crimson shadows on the waves,
All the way to the Shenzhen River and the new Boundary with China;
He wanted to understand how the border kept shifting in Hong Kong,
From 1842 it was the fragrant waters of Victoria Harbour,
From 1860 it was Boundary Street and Stonecutter’s Island,
From 1898 the border fell back to the Shenzhen River and over 200 outlying islands.
Now, the border itself was under question as PRC immigration officials
Moved to Hung Hom for the bullet train inspections
And the 'one country, two systems' mantra changed a sovereign border to an administrative red line.

Feather trekked Boundary Street to Hotung Road where the British once kept a brigade
To keep brigands at bay.
He travelled to Lion Rock, right up into its imposing tunnel mouth,
Where the eucalyptus and banyan trees scrambled for soil up its rocky slopes.
He ran through the old tunnel with reflectors flashing on his windsheeter,
Beating early morning traffic back with his mad flailing.
They told him the land around Lion Rock was only
Rezoned as New Kowloon in the 1930s;
Nothing was stable, everything was shifting,
When he came out panting with red taxis screaming behind him the Tai Wai hills
Were like the Red Seas parting and the monkeys jabbering in the trees behind
Were like the cries of British for their lost tax haven;
He had crossed through two of the borders and only one remained.

He took the MTR from Tai Wai to Lo Wu
Pressed up against pregnant mainland shoppers with
The corners of their designer shopping bags digging in to his sides
And the blare of Huawei games consoles jingling through the carriage
Like menacing laughter or harsh rebukes for ever setting his gweilo feet
On this ancient land of the Che people.
At Lo Wu he was jostled and thrown like a piece of oversized luggage for moving too slow.
He walked through the oncoming crowds with his elbows cocked like crobars
And his stare loaded full of spite and despair and disconsolate resignation;
Walked through the border tunnel from Lo Wu on the Hong Kong side
To Luohu on the China side,
The green zone and the Shenzhen river glaring back at him
Through the large tunnel windows as if 1842 or 1997 or 2047 had never happened.
The Shenzhen river may well have been Wordsworth's Wye or Dove
Or Joyce’s Anna Livia or the Sweet Thames flowing softly
And the steady stream of borderland dwellers gave off their own
music of socialist nature like the Volga River boat men.

He wanted to dive in to the Shenzhen river there and then,
To show the lines and lines of migrating shoppers that there was no difference,
That the waters ran the same on both sides,
That the waters were equally wet on both sides,
That still waters ran at the same depth on both sides
And that if one stepped in the river upstream
In Shenzhen and then Lamborghini'd it down across the border
It might be possible to step in the same river twice
Thereby outdoing Heraclitus and the Classical authors
And all their Western claptrap with a Chinese-made, Western-stamped modern convenience.


Tony Hui

Tony Hui wasn't going anywhere; he was staying put.
Sometimes before sleep he got to thinking of the changes coming,
He never liked using the C word as it only got him angry,
But it slipped in there sometimes and his body grew rigid with hate,
The glint was gone and his mood was rotten for the evening.
Those locusts were like some alien machine race he could never
Even try to begin to contemplate fathoming before he felt queasy
And started losing track of the blown-up flesh-coloured pixels on the bride's face
On his Photoshop Pro, seeing each pixel as a Konger being erased by the click
Of a mouse and then he got through the hate and he felt
Unspeakable sadness at them daily destroying the
Only way of life he knew, the most refined, ancient, culinaryv Culture he knew and hadn't he been to them all
And sat on their stinking toilets and passed their homeless.

Sometimes in 7 11 with his daughter Phoebe in front of him at the till
Buying a bottle of Vitasoy, she'd start off in a language he didn't understand.
Then he’d recognize the tones and see it as his Master’s voice
And the rage would come again like nausea but it was directed at his own blood!
He shuddered to himself in fear and self-loathing and hoped Phoebe
Saw nothing of the hate in his eye when she proudly turned with her xie xie.
Walking back by the tracks with the weekend cyclists crowding the
Cycle paths up to Shatin park it had all changed utterly,
He started hearing Putonghua everywhere and for a moment
He was on another wedding run in a foreign city
And the strains of the familiar were like tree limbs being shorn off aggressively
By the Agriculture and Fisheries Department,
And they cried out to him for the life that was still warm in them,
They cried to him in Cantonese for the still everliving life that was in them,
And he listened and he heard mah sei lohk deih haahng being carried on the winds;
They would just carry on, they would make it through their own way,
Tony Hui was staying put; he wasn't going anywhere.

For wasn't there a fighting spirit there after all?
Not for them the needless death after all
Or the grandstanding or the victory marches,
Or the mass rallies that only rooted out the infidels in our midst,
Or the eagles or statues when they had umbrellas and Red-White-Blue,
Or the terrorist bombings with the blood of the innocent entwined,
Or the sycophantic selling out to gain small mercies,
No, they were a proud people and they would go on living the way they did,
‘Til the floodwaters trickled up around their chins and their limbs grew numb,
“Til the fires crept higher and the smoke gathered round them like pride,
“Til the hills and campsites on beaches rang out with the last of
The Cantonese songs sung by the last of the Cantonese high kings
Set sail on the South China Seas seeking new land like their fathers before them
And their fathers before them way back to the Che people of Sap Sze Heung,
A proud people who fished and dived for pearls and warmed themselves in the sun
Long before there were words for systems and nations;
Tony Hui was staying put; he wasn’t going anywhere.

Prof. Conrad Highayres

Prof. MacSwinney met Prof. Conrad Highayres at Global University Network (GUN) 2017,
Highayres brokered agreements between values initiatives
At elite humanities divisions in high-end, boutique departments
Offering values planning, ethics restructuring, and vision speculation
At intercultural, cross-cultural and meta-cultural options.
Sponsored by a local philanthropic think tank spawned from
Vulture capitalist fund CEOs and creative off-shore investment.
The Human Ethics Research Division or THERD,
Engaged local scholars and committed public humanists,
Liaised with sister and brother initiatives internationally,
And supported freedom of expression and liberal values at all HK private clubs.

It really went down a treat with well-heeled dignitaries and tycoons
Eager to be seen to be spotted by local media at culture nights
Or Chinese Communist Party cadres sourcing local operatives
For PHD-writing, Grant-Applications and Village Outfit Window dressing.
Highayres only drank bottled San Pelegrino during his 15 years in Hong Kong,
He wore blazers to student canteens with gold buttons glittering at the brim,
And fine tailored suits in 37-degrees while complaining the AC was too cold.
He kept busts of his famous literary relations, Austen and Milton,
And when he spoke it was as if the flags of the old Empire had fluttered once again.

—And is your country doing well MacSwinney?—
And before he can answer there is an accompanying grimace from Highayres
As he munches on the Cocktail Bar crisps and peanuts,
And complimentary still-warm, mini-steak sandwiches,
Washing them down with some Bombay Sapphire over the humid shores
Of Victoria Harbour as the truly very final glimmering red embers of this colonial South East Asian
sunset light up the squares of his glasses,
A sunset that had well and truly set and some on what was once the ghost of
An Empire extending from Nottingham's downs
And Ireland's fields and loughs to the hill forts
Of Indian tribesmen, all for the gold digging glory of empire.
—Yes, she's fine. Very much the same he says,
But then he thinks to himself that nothing stays the same
From one minute to the next, not even his thought
On this truth that nothing stays the same.

Highayres commandeered another index-finger full
Of top-end peanuts into his barely audible munching molars
And, dignified and calm, returned a compassionate face,
One filled with the anguished, yet careworn gaze of sympathy,
A sympathy borne of the most elite fraternizing with text and person,
Top-ended by high-end analysis on the finest drafts of character and spirit
Where Shakespeare's personas floated before his all-consuming glare
More real than any of their ghostly native doubles engaged in the dirty business of real life;
Where is my Malvolio? You are my Edgar! And here comes my Fool!
You are there for me to see my Shakespearian theories lived out.
Are there really more things in heaven or earth than are dreamt of in his philosophy?

Clarissa Yat-Ying Ho

Clarissa Yat-Ying Ho in the 87K passed a weeping Barbara Whitehorse
In a police car on her way to the Prince of Wales Morgue to identify her firstborn.
On the 87K she snuggled in to survival grammar for her next meeting with Dr. Con Sir
At Ma On Shan Oxfordia Learning Centre in Ma On Shan Bazaar.
She thought of her upbringing in Kwun Tong
In subdivided apartments in a building that curved like a crescent moon above rows
Of ladybird minibuses with their green and blue shells,
Of the fishball sellers on the streets with their curried lollipop sticks of fishpaste,
Of the Chinese medicine shops swelling with the sharp smell of dried plant and animal,
Of the Mr. Softie van with the old man creaming dry wafers all day on the street corner,
His electronic lullaby air all twisted like a theme from some cheap Asian horror.
And she felt something like sadness for what she was leaving
For her grandmother who tied
A hen every New Year to the toilet room plumbing
And kept a big fish going in the bath doing laps before the big feed.

When going to the toilet as a young girl required various tai chi moves
And somewhere deep inside she enjoyed the company of animal stares
As she relieved herself and thought to herself it was like living on a farm
In one of those old British TV shows she had seen.
This was who she was;
This was what she came from.
In a moment of lucidity she asked herself where the dream of Harvard had come from,
Why the unquestioned passion for being different from her family had risen up
Inside like an infection or an inflammation of the brain?
Didn't I always hate the way those gweilos looked at me anyways
When I met them in cha chaan tengs
Or dai pai dongs with their mouths like open sores
And their noses like chicken intestines
And their smells like pork roasting in the open pot?

Why did I want to be near them in Harvard?
With their proposition this and "I feel that" and "but you know this"
As if everything ever done or everything that ever moved
Needed a debate or a qualification for its existence,
As if going on about things was what counted not what was said,
As if carving and forking your dead meats every day made you more dignified
When we just balanced and carried morsels to our mouths,
Or used our hands to chew and grind and extricate
From bowls of soup noodles and bowls of rice buds.
As if every instant and every word chosen was a preparation for attack,
Not a gentle shifting of substance for the sustenance of life.

The thoughts came like floods as she went over her Nelson's English Grammar
And felt the sleep coming heavy and strong in the warm July heat,
With the driver changing the gear lever like it was a drumstick he couldn't budge
And the bus of locals basking in the hum of its understood but unspoken
Togetherness against whoever tried to shift them or represent them,
On a minibus republic where you only needed to shout to the driver and he let you out,
Where there were no bells and whistles of any kind, no red lines or emergency exits,
No safety belts, or cordon sanitaires; no passport checks or tickets.
You simply got on the bus and shouted your exit and it stopped,
And when you got off you might say a 'ngoi sai back if you wanted
Not because it was polite and being polite was a way to dignify disdain
But because there was free movement of people on this bus
And your freedom to shout out your destination marked
A daily expression of intent built on practice and getting by, not rules.

Clarissa closed Nelson's Grammar and took out the Harvard Prospectus
She had cherished since she saw the movie about Facebook.
It was dog-eared and begrimed with the juices of Pho noodles.
She grabbed her capsule of PhD tablets she'd saved for all month
And looked again at the picture on the cover of the clear-skinned
Yellow hoodied, grass-hugging, white-toothed, broad-smiling, blonde hair-streaming,
Gold skin-running, Freckled skin-shining, Blue-eyed-blazing,
Blue jean-wearing, Adidas sneaker-sneaking, blue-sky dazzling,
Tall-white-spire-on-church-campus building-wielding, thick-grey-Romanesque-neo-classical-column-brandishing,
Funky looking old professorial-type walking,
Slow-brooding on ideas of pain she knew would make her feel lost,
And the aromas and fumes and spores of unhappiness began hitting her full on
And she felt a gnawing tightening grabbing at her heart,
So she casually slid open the window of the 87K as it rounded the bend on the Ma On Shan flyover,
And she flung the Prospectus with all her Havrad inspired competitive energy
Deep into the stagnant sewage waters of the Shatin Sewage treatment tanks.

Barbara Whitehorse

Meanwhile Babs Whitehorse was leaving the morgue
With her friend Abiline Patmore who liked to be called Abby,
Who wore flip flops everywhere, even to morgues,
And she was shuddering with sorrow and shaking with devastation
And jerking with consternation and dry retching with grief.
Abby was disconcerted by these shows of emotion and she wanted
To cry out in her Australian accent "git a grip now hun, y'hear"
But she didn’t because she told herself at just the right moment
That she had never experienced grief first-hand and that this should
Probably count for something so she would hold back and just grimace and bear it.

Abiline Patmore was on the caveman's diet and the starvation diet at the same time,
She did 7-hour endurance runs twice a week
With her boyfriend in New Territories all weathers.
Sometimes they sat down and talked together about why they did it
And then shared their deliberations with work colleagues
—Yunno we sat down and talked about it and we
Just agreed that we're that stubborn—
She wanted to tell Babs to get her mind off the grief,
She wanted to pass on some of her endurance wisdom,
Thinking Babs might even find something useful in it,
Eyes glowing with the word "stubborn" quivering on her lips,
raging inside about her endurance pitch but only getting a kind of dry retching from Babs.

—Thiss iss it—he's done fo' me—goo' riddance to him—
That BASTAAAARD. Business trips my ARSE and him fuckin' all them whores
Of Bangkok and Babylon and Brisbane and Baghdad.
I'm out o' it.
Poor Nelson lying cold in that morgue
And him still basking in the heat o' some whore's bed
And his own flesh and blood lying cold in a bag in a bleedin' Hong Kong morgue.
I'm leavin'. Goin' back to Oz. To my folks. Should never a' left 'em—
Abby couldn’t believe this was the kind of endurance she had hoped for
And she grabbed Babs real close like she would a girl who had just been jilted
—Niaow, don' talk like that Babs. Why not try out this diet?—
Only for Babs to stare back with eyes glaring like jade crystal
—And Abby you too. I know yes were fuckin' so you can shove yer
bloody endurance up yer own arse and his—

Ronny Tang

Ronny Tang, property tycoon, lunched Fridays at the Peninsula
And dined Mondays at the Intercontinental Skybar,
And massaged only at the Conrad Spa
Schooled his kids only at Columbia and Yale,
Wanked only out of economic necessity,
Shoehorned only at Giuseppe Zanotti,
Shampooed only at The Mandarin Barber,
Loved only at Spark Fight Fitness,
His wife facialed only at Facesss,
His son sailed only at Repulse Raiders,
His daughter pole-danced only at Polite Polers,
Tang, himself, only laundered at Mahjong Mojo
And only invested with Cayman Schooners,
His son only escorted at Five Star Escorts,
His daughter only propositioned at Intercontinental Conference Bar,
His wife only wept on Hendricks Gin
And only two-timed out of sheer spite at Mandarin Oriental,
Tang, himself, only received counselling at Schisters & Sons,
And his wife only filed divorce papers at Screwsters & Horns,
His son only rehabbed at Betty Ford Inc.,
His daughter only ratted on social media,
His wife only sold photos on Hello Hong Kong,
Tang, himself, only embezzled in Shenzhen Vultures,
And only bankrupted himself high-end in Beijing,
Tang, himself, only thought about ending it all in Seven Star Sky bars.


The Observer

Everyone, then, was heading for the border—
Clarissa, to find the roots of a family she had never researched
Despite all her yearning for learning,
Rick, to find the last real border and to know what it felt like to pass through,
Ronny, to save some kind of face by going up to face the music,
Eunice, to buy some cheap electronic goods to spark up her business,
Mac Swinney, to remind himself of why the Mainland academic jobs he heard about
Were not for him eventhough he couldn’t take the high-end
Treatment of colonial gold-diggers and whitewashers that still went on down below,
Highayres, to see if the new satellites in Shenzhen would buy into his virtue ethics,
Con Sir, to find some cheap massage since Clarissa had left him,
Joy and Hope to flee crimes committed in the name of love,
Roger Whitehorse to drown his sorrows in cheap martinis away from home.
Only Babs Whitehorse had no interest in the border,
Back home now in the arms of her mother in Perth,
And Tony Hui wasn't going anywhere; he was staying put.

To borderlands and the promise of change even when
The landscape never changes and the faces stay the same;
To borderlands and the excitement of new legal grounds
And business drops even when the border is more a lost and found;
To borderlands, ghost estates for the aspirations of migrants;
To borderlands, no man's lands for nomads—no, nor woman neither—
En route to transfers and checkpoints and visa runs;
To borderlands where citizenship is as murky as the mists on the Shenzhen river;
To borderlands where we can't even dawdle in contemplation
When the ground passing beneath our feet creates all that we are,
All that we despise, and all that we long for;
To borderlands and the coming together of two systems,
Two systems that are nether neutralized nor cumulated in the coming together,
Two systems as awe-struck and goggle-eyed when they meet as the rural migrants up for the day,
As jostled and opinionated as the gweilo gangsters high on expectation for release,
As stony jawed as the puritans tolerating the clammy commotion,
As loose-limbed as the kids diving under legs to get ahead.

To borderlands where the marked domain in which we live and breathe
And have our border being is as clear as Swarovksi crystal imports,
But where we can’t stop a minute to experience how it's lived;
To borderlands where a strip of land and water changes everything,
A strip of land as ill-defined as the suits the teenage Chinese border officials sail in,
As ill-defined as the bags the teenage girls hold longingly to their breasts,
A strip of land as ill-defined as the changing political forces on either side;
The border for an English colonialist can never be the border for a colonized Hong Konger,
The border for a decolonized Hong Konger can never be border for a recolonized Hong Konger,
The border drawn up between Chinese Imperial officials and British Imperialist officials
Can never be the border maintained by Communist Imperialists or Hong Kong Legco yesmen,
The border reiterated in 1997 can never be the same border from one day to the next, 1997’s hard
border must become soft, then supple, then malleable, then amorphous, then diaphanous, then
translucent, then invisible, until finally the two systems are one,
And the border becomes a thing of the past, like Boundary Road or the Victoria Harbour,
Commemorated as nothing more than a place-name or retired tourist attraction.
But who is to keep guard from one day to the next for what is being lost to the border?
Who is keeping watch from one day to the next for what the border is losing each minute?
Rick Feather was going to listen and learn and keep notes on the eternal demise and deconstruction of the border,
It was the least he could do for the Cantonese community who had accepted him when even his own
family had thrown him out.

To borderlands and a rite of passage to more of the same,
A hinterland suggesting difference for the duration of the crossing,
A line on the horizon for those with limited means of escape,
A wasteland between over-crowding and over-crowding with rural getaways,
A Lewis and Clark trail for Chinese explorers and gold-diggers,
The end of the Silk Route or the beginning of the belt and the road;
Even with the waves of Hap Mun Bay crashing in against us
And our bodies all wrinkled from the freedom of the sea,
And our tongues and eyes burning from the sting of the salt water,
And our skin red raw from the sharp ends of shells and rocks
Invisible to us underfoot as we clamber for some kind of solid ground,
We still cannot imagine the submerged populations of the borderlands.
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.