In the previous post I posted the audio podcast and the script/notes that I had prepared ahead of time. Now, I’m posting a transcription of it. It was done automatically with otter.ai, an excellent automatic transcription service. Though I had to edit extensively still, to edit out the ums and ahs and the you knows and I means. It’s not a verbatim transcript, as I’ve edited out the stuff that I thought was not relevant too, but it wasn’t a rewrite into a new thing, but something in between.
I was invited by Thomas Girard of uniqueways.ca as a guest on his new audio podcast channel. The format is the same for all guests to his podcasts: they answer 20 preset questions. I emailed my responses to Thomas ahead of the recording session. I then printed it out, annotated it with additional things that I thought I might talk about (this document was referred to when answering question nine). Although I somewhat loosely followed the script during recording, I mostly ad-libbed throughout, and you’d find that I talked about a lot of things that aren’t written in the script prepared. Here are the scans of my notes.
I rarely prepare speeches verbatim. Have always believed that speeches should be somewhat spontaneous, and I’m mostly happy to just ad-lib away. Reading a speech prepared verbatim beforehand usually makes it far too formal and contrived. Though I do find that holding a piece of paper calms my nerves. For this degree show address, I started writing short reminders for what I was going to say, but it turned out more like written prose than speech. In the end, the script became a crutch that disrupted the natural flow of my speech. Should have just memorised it.
There are a lot ongoing discussions about what makes Hong Kong Hong Kong, perhaps since the handover in 1997. A symptom of decolonisation. Yet at the same time there are a lot of discussions about cultural preservation, about keeping aspects of ‘The Real Hong Kong’ for prosperity, in case things change. Colonisation was a process; so too is decolonisation. Preserving and studying the past is certainly important at this juncture, but indulging in or consuming nostalgia is something else. There are no such things as ‘The Real Hong Kong’ or ‘The Real Hongkonger’. In fact one should be cautious of this way of thinking. Change is inevitable, and whether for better or worse is a matter of perspective. Whether one likes it or not, Hong Kong as a concept is continuously evolving. Waxing nostalgic does not get us anywhere. If I had to name one quality that has been eroding in Hong Kong since 1997, it would be its open-mindedness: its capacity to embrace different ideas, whether global, regional or from the Mainland. That pragmatic, flexible and versatile mindset placed us uniquely on the global stage. A global outlook opens us up to infinite possibilities as well as opportunities. An island mentality is stifling. This means considering Hong Kong in context of the rest of China, Asia and the world. The fact that we were brought up in colonial Hong Kong without a sense of nationality should be used to our advantage. We were once not afraid to not define ourselves. We grew up in a third culture: not exactly Chinese, not exactly British, but somewhere in between. This is manifested in our language, food, temperament, outlook and way of life. Rather than rushing to define ourselves, we could leverage this ambiguity to look into the future. What I have just written does not preclude the political reality of Hong Kong at the moment, and what happened here in 2014 and 2019. However challenging it might be, we need to face forward and step into the future with optimism.
(Woke up in the middle of the night and wrote this in Byword. The events of 2014 and 2019 have made Hongkongers either very heated or deepy lethargic towards conversations of this kind. I’ve probably not considered these ideas too carefully or from every possible angle. I’ll simply park my thoughts here, and let them percolate and evolve.)
Hong Kong-born and bred student Eric Yip made the news a few weeks ago with his poem Fricatives winning first prize in the 2021 National Poetry Competition in the UK. I find this poem very complex, and I do resonate deeply.
Submission is the running theme in this poem. Submission to our coloniser through the experience of learning to speak ‘proper’ English, and through seeking a ‘better education’ (and implied better future) in the UK. Fricatives can be a challenge for many Cantonese speakers. Yip uses it as a clever device to convey ambiguity and ambivalence about cultural imprialism, the current political climate and displacement. While the Cantonese restaurant can be a place of consolation for many who have emigrated, it is also a place where the forced fallatio from a stranger occurs. As overt as the symbolism is, it aptly echos the poem’s title, how movements of the mouth and tongue are of the essence. I read it as submission to imperialism, of language, culture, politics, governance, etc.
‘Fresh yellow grains beaten till their seeds spill’, ‘escaped from Alcatraz in a rubber raft and drowned on their way to Angel Island’, ‘bruised bodies’, ‘force the pen past batons and blood’ are all vivid symbolisms that relate to events of the recent past, and are indeed ‘fresh material for writing’ and get attention. Freedom of speech is explored, with the pen not being mightier than the batons, and ‘[y]ou must be given a voice before you can speak’. A lot of complexity there. I don’t see these symbolisms simply as political commentary, so much as they give a sense of time and place, and of ambivalence.
The mother seems pragmatic towards language learning and sending her son abroad to study, but oblivious towards the hardship that his son has to endure. Her son’s ultimate transformation into ‘steamed, perfect, white’ rice from the once yellow grains that subjected to threshing is perhaps not seen as a cost so much as it is a desired outcome for those who are privileged: ’lucky enough to care about how the tongue moves’. This is the cost of being a third culture kid: leaving behind one’s cultural origins as one is physically and culturally displaced. This is both about him as an individual and collectively as the colonised. I was once that ‘spectacled boy with a Hong Kong accent’.
Not an easy poem to fathom.