pursuit and its afterword

loose ends.

all these threads hanging –

my breath stinks of memories’ stench,

forgot to wash, forsaken but not taken.

lost phones,

familiar faces who grab you by the ears,

how did we get here, i don’t remember you at all.

123456, access code for which door,

you looked straight past me, serving these shots of sin,

that we gulped with fear of missing out.

how old are you, red?

“too old for this shit, but too young for the other shit”

proud moments we hung on the balcony,

airing out my dirty underwear,

i have nothing to hide.

but do i have anything to show?

every time the typhoon sweeps across this harbour,

the innate desire to slap it in the face,

rises in a crescendo of self-doubt, of self-loath.

why is it so lonely, standing on this ledge here?

why is it so lonely, standing on this ledge here?

we sometimes forget. we sometimes want to fuck dirt.

we sometimes urge ourselves to embark, yet we fail.

all the miseries and pisseries, splattered across these galleries.

straddling onto the cardboards,

the streetwalkers held their heads high, hands strewn and ruined.

coins clink while the champagne slides up the skirt,

his fingers fiddling and you don’t say a word.

deep down you want it.

deep down there’s the less than ideal world,

the darkness that permeates the glitz,

the glamour long past her peak,

the privileged wanting to be oppressed.

these steps, imagine all those feet trampling by everyday.

who are they?

do they call you by your name or are you just a digit?

glitches in the system, malfunction once in a while,

you’re caught looking like a deer, roasted lamb,

how about that bottle of 78, red?

78, 79, who cares, ted?

******

drenched. stop raining.

choking on these wet crumbs, puking in disgust.

her face contoured by the lamps, stood staring straight ahead.

the lure of the down and trodden, those who seek solace in dark corners.

goddamnit, it’s tiring to be good.

goddamnit, these kids with their kale spirituality.

goddamnit, why are these biscuits so wet.

why is everything crumbling, when it feels so good.

who am i?

someone pull her hair back, it’s the same stench.

it’s the same goddamn stench. how do we get rid of it?

stop pretending it doesn’t matter. your mind is not free.

your mind is your prison. and you know it.

your ideals are bland. they taste like shit.

your vanilla flavoured sexuality is packaged by society.

you want to be a good woman? sure, go ahead. here’s a taxi for you.

two boys takeaway please.

******

that horrid island, that wonderfully horrible island.

with all its imperfection.

the last thing she said to me, “those who are incapable of loss, are incapable of gain”

let go… let it go.

margarita saves the day.

she blew out the candle.

all flies and goes –

 

A forgotten corner of old Kunming

The following article is one that I wrote for GoKunming.com during my writing internship there in December 2015.

*

Mrs Tang knows her way around her little street. Situated right underneath the large bridge on Yuantong Jie crossing the Panlong River and mimicking the shape of Hong Kong’s Tsing Ma Gate, albeit much smaller, lies a little treasure trove of a bygone time.

The old alleys of Kunming are rare and hard to find these days because of an intense modernization effort that began back in the 1990s. But the Lingguang Jie (灵光街) area near Yuantong Mountain remains much the same as it has for decades. The characters roaming the street appear nonchalant about the hustle and bustle in nearby commercial neighborhoods, finding respite just beside the river. But no one knows how much longer this way of life will continue.

Today, like Mrs Tang, most of the vendors sell clothes, shoes, antiques and various knick-knacks.

Inside the neighborhood’s vividly painted brick buildings, you may find the compressed Pu’er tea cakes so popular in Yunnan — packed tight to conserve freshness, as well as for the convenience of bringing them back to family members in faraway villages. You may also find massive smoking pipes, an assortment of odd Chinese pharmaceutical products, Vietnamese coffee and Buddhist paraphernalia. On one end of the road, there are food stalls that get increasingly busy in the evening selling famous grilled tofus, while on the other end, sit noodle shops serving ersi and mixian.

“The street has at least 300 years of history,” said Mrs. Tang, sitting next to an array of her bargain shoes. Walking down the entirety of Lingguang Jie takes you no more than five minutes, yet one gets the impression of traveling back in time to another era. The surrounding modern area seems like a sexier and swankier older brother who traded his traditional Mao suit for a sleek leather jacket.

Between 2007 and 2011, then Party secretary of Kunming, Qiu He, launched an aggressive campaign to modernize the city. His development policies for the urban core of Kunming were seen as largely successful, particularly in constructing a relatively sophisticated transport infrastructure. But Qiu ended up being mostly remembered for demolishing the dilapidated quarters of the city called Chengzhongcun, which where old and poorly built ‘urban villages’ razed to make way for large-scale real estate projects.

My gaze straying from the cold skyline to the vibrant old alley before me — like a child opening a box of chocolates — I poked around in all the different shops, exploring the various drawers with jade bracelets, old coins from Indochina, Tibetan-style bags, and Maca root powder products.

That was when I stumbled upon a nondescript little shop, into which I could barely see through the steel-barred windows from the outside. It piqued my interest. I stepped inside, and asked the owner numerous questions about the area, but she seemed reluctant to answer, eyeing me with a suspicious look on her face. Then, I asked her about a toothpaste brand that I had never seen before, the box indicating it was made in Kunming and called Sanqi Toothpaste.

“So this is a herbal toothpaste? Do a lot of people use it here?” I inquired. She looked at my camera, with the lens unattached. “Are you a reporter? Get out if you are here to ask me questions and take photos. Get out. You won’t buy anything anyway,” she chided. Not at all trying to mask her growing annoyance, she shuffled me out of the shop.

I could not help but feel bad for her, so I bought the five-yuan toothpaste and thanked her before leaving. She appeared appeased but I could tell that her frustration was resonant with a lot of the other shopkeepers. They see tourists waltz into their neighborhood, take a bunch of photos, but not stop to spend a penny. The disruption is tolerated and life goes on.

“There are tourists who come here, but we depend on old customers who come back here to keep buying the goods we sell,” Mrs Tang confided. Later on I found out the street has been covered extensively in local media, and is admired by many Chinese travelers who visit Kunming. The discussions in online forums point to one conclusion — people do not want Lingguang Jie to disappear.

Having said that, the underlying issue is a double-edged sword, pitting the city’s drive for modernization and desire for preservation simultaneously. It occurred to me that the locals did revamp these old buildings not so long ago, as I could see a veneer of fresh red paint concealing the mud brick walls behind.

But as reflected by the reactions of many locals, this corner of Panlong District is also at risk of becoming an antiquated area. The inhabitants are anxious for a faster pace and rising standard of living. They are concerned with access to clean water, more electricity and high-speed internet, as they realize that keeping the old structures may result in remaining apart from the rest of the city grid. Such concerns are exemplified by the obviously outdated sewage system evident on Lingguang Jie.

These concerns were palpable, but since it was a bright sunny afternoon, everybody was in a merry mood. My stomach began to grumble at this point. But the rumbling noise was muffled by a melodic tune coming from a man fiddling with a mandolin. In a nice coincidence, the shop behind the street musician was serving all sorts of noodles. I hurriedly entered and ordered a bowl of ersi, a kind of chewy rice noodle served in soup with minced meat and vegetables.

“How do you call this instrument in Chinese?” I asked the enigmatic performer, while waiting for my food. “We call it wenziling,” he replied. ‘Wenziling’ literally translates to ‘mosquito bell’ and, come to think of it, the high-pitched tones did remind me of the buzzing sounds mosquitoes make.

“He is always here, can’t kick him out,” the owner said as she brought my bowl of hot noodles over. Another man walked past and commented, “You already played this 70-80 times!” The old musician ignored him and kept playing.

So, the afternoon ended with a bowl of ersi and some cathartic strumming, with the cries of children and growls of zooming motorbikes. Last but not least, there is still a tube of old Kunming herbal toothpaste in my bag as a souvenir.

Read more: https://www.gokunming.com/en/blog/item/3644/around_town_exploring_a_forgotten_corner_of_old_kunming

Grandma Leong will chase the bad luck out of your life

“Good fortune for you! Good fortune for you!”

Surrounded by iconoclasts of the goddess of compassion and god of warrior, Grandma Leong conjured invisible forces and began to hit sheets of paper with a traditional embroidered shoe, attracting curious and awestruck passersby in the middle of the bustling Wanchai neighbourhood. Behind the performance lies a woman who is amongst the hundreds of thousands of people who flock to Hong Kong and struggle to make a living.

The crowds gathered around both the old woman and her customer, a well-dressed young lady from Taiwan, who seemed simultaneously bewildered and impressed at the strength of the 80-year-old. The young Taiwanese woman said she had waited almost half an hour for her turn.

leong3leong

Grandma Leong, as many Hong Kongers call her, runs the business of cleansing “bad spirits” in your life — the so-called “Little Person” in Chinese —, from her perch right underneath the Canal Road Flyover in Wanchai. You may know this “Little Person” in your life or you may not. But you could definitely write down a person’s name on a sheet of burning paper and let Grandma Leong hit it away until only the pulp is left behind. These “Little Persons” could be those who are saying bad things behind your back, such as colleagues at work or even relatives.

This ritual is one-of-a-kind, to the extent that even local media has reported on the “Hitting Little Person Old Woman.” But offering antidotes to “bad omens” in one’s life is a not uncommon business, thriving on the local superstitious culture.

In Hong Kong, there are many “spiritual practitioners” who help their customers dispel negative forces in their lives and encourage them to wear precious stones to bring fortuitous events into their lives. Conveniently, they also sell these precious stones to them.

“Usually people who work in business and finance go to these practitioners to help them get ahead in the game. They really believe in them,” Aston, a young local said.

But in Grandma Leong’s case, she had not always been a spiritual practitioner.

“I came to Hong Kong from Mainland China in 1983 and collected cardboards for a living,” Grandma Leong said during breaks between her flowing queues of customers. “But so many people do that and you don’t even earn enough for a dignified life,” she complained.

Now, at the age of 80, without children, she is still keen to make a living on her own and declared that, “I don’t like to depend on others, even the government. If I can still walk and talk, I will earn my own money”.

A large plate engraved with all the names of Chinese mythology’s protectors sat in the middle of a makeshift shrine-like space, next to pots of candles and dragon fruits. At the beginning of the ritual, one has to write down his or her name on a stack of red papers. Then, one is supposed to write down the Little Person’s name if one wants to, on another stack of green papers. Afterwards, Grandma Leong will give you seven incense sticks, of which you are supposed to put three of them in each pot and give her the last one that she herself will put inside the pot.

And now, show time.

leong2

Grandma Leong begins her ritual by muttering spells and set about to hit the stack of green papers on bricks, with a worn out embroidered shoe.

She continues to mutter incomprehensible words as she smashes the sheets rigorously, ending on the note, “good fortune for you, good fortune for you!”

Finally, she stops hitting, sets the sheets on fire and throws them into the trash, filled with ashes.

But the ritual is not over.

She picks up the previous stack of red sheets with the customer’s name, and waves them around your face and blesses you with more spells. Then, she once again sets them on fire and throws them into the trash.

For the finale, she stands up and scatters some rice around the makeshift shrine-like space and throws two pieces of wood dice that are part of her trolleys of paraphernalia on the ground. If one side is facing up, and the other side faces down, then that means the “Little Person” will stop backstabbing you. If not, she will throw them again until one side faces up and the other side faces down.

Grandma Leong also reiterated the fact that she won’t hit public persons such as Hong Kong’s chief minister, CY Leung or the richest tycoon in Hong Kong, Lee Kah Shing. She said that many people came to her to express their anger at those who are successful but she rebutted with, “What do they have to do with you and me?”

Usually, she charges HKD 50 for each session that lasts 30 minutes. Sometimes, she receives tips and earns more that way.

leong1

“I will go back to Aberdeen (home) around 7pm and come back here early in the morning,” she said, pausing for a moment and shouted, “But it is not easy as I have to push the trolleys back and forth and take the 97 bus. Once, some guy stole my plate and I had to replace it! It was expensive!”

With incense smoke still wafting in the air, her next customer came up to her and sat down on a little plastic stool, waiting for her turn to rid the bad spirits in her life away.

“I will keep hitting ‘Little Person’ until the day I can’t hit anymore,” Grandma Leong said determinedly, with a booming voice of a woman who won’t let life beat her down.

24 hours in Hong Kong: Microlives

 

7.25am: Hong Kee Congee Shop

It’s early. Bowls of hot porridge are being served to its loyal customers, who have been coming to this family-run congee shop unwaveringly for the past 30 years. The shop is tucked away in the middle of a quiet neighbourhood behind the hustle and bustle of Causeway Bay called Tai Hang – where a fire dragon traditionally roams through the streets once a year during the mid-autumn festival.

The owner and his children look after the much-loved eatery, and they are rooted very firmly in the Tai Hang community. They can be seen wearing the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance shirts in its simple red and white colours, days before the festival.

His grandson takes my order.

“A boiling bowl of fish porridge and homemade soymilk, right?” he repeats, mocking the tone of an adult in Cantonese.

The line has started. The daily grind begins and it will not stop until 11pm. On my way back home, whether at 6pm or 6am, I see them laboriously preparing Hong Kong’s real local delicacy, cheung faan, a kind of rice pancake stuffed with either prawns or pork, without any kind of fuss and muss.

This is precisely the stoicism and the ethic of hard work instilled in the older generations that make up the success of Hong Kong since the Second World War. The steamer continues to cook the meat, and the people refuse to lag behind.

 

Noon: Kowloon City

Next to the green lettering of a famous Chinese-Muslim restaurant in what used to be a lawless part of town before the massive cleanup and revamp in the early Nineties, one cannot ignore the flickering pink light on the building.

Beyond the mouldy stairs, an assortment of adult entertainment can be found. The first room to the right displays some posters with Chinese characters, “Long-Legged Beauty”. Another door has “Suck Till You Explode” plastered across it. Every single door on this floor showcases the specialty of each professional prostitute behind the door. The main attraction here is the creativity in their expressions.

I climbed further up, my curiosity pushing me as I noticed the surveillance cameras installed on each floor, pointing in different directions. These one-woman brothels are common in Hong Kong and prostitution in itself is not illegal.

On the second floor, a man with glasses walked out and quickly dodged me on the stairs, as if to avoid an infectious person. The woman was still standing in the corridor and gave me a head-to-toe scan with her tracking eyes, lined at the edges.

“Uh, how’s business today?” I asked, attempting to diffuse the blatant tension.

“Usual,” she replied with an accent in Cantonese, her thick eyelashes curled so far back that they were almost touching the bottom of her fringe that hovered just above her eyebrows.

“So I was just passing by… I think I’ll go now,” I gave her a big smile and bade goodbye.

“Oh, I thought you came for a trial at the job,” she said, fixing her frock and assuming some form of comradeship.

I left before I could reply, but her last words reminded me of the darker side of the city, where the world’s oldest profession will never be out of fashion, no matter how many “cleanups” the government conducts.

 

7pm: The University of Hong Kong, Rooftop Farm of Runme Shaw Building

A big white screen had been set up for an outdoor film screening of “Into the Wild”, an American film that is based on the true story of “Alexander Supertramp” – an Emory graduate who decided to live his life out of the money and status-crazed society, literally in the wilderness.

It was fitting that the screening itself took place on a rooftop farm, where students from the university grow their plots of plants, ranging from Chinese lettuce to rows of carrots. During the film, there were birds that hovered above the projected screen, timed so perfectly that one might even think that it was choreographed.

The programme is part of Asia Art Archive’s “The Third Space: Sai Wan Winter Camp” and the film formed a part of the dialogue the programme wished to include.

Michael Leung, the co-organiser of the camp, gave a refreshing talk at the beginning of the evening where he encouraged everyone to take part in his or her own “rucksack revolution”.

He also stated that, “In relation to Hong Kong, the film confronts the pressures graduate may face from their parents, the effects of consumerism and capitalism on society and one’s access to the commons.”

He paused for a moment, and then said, “It is a hot topic here with regards to highly-governed or privately-owned public space, farming politics in the North East New Territories and the recent lead-tainted water issue.”

Mr. Leung’s words echo and resonate with a lot of the younger generation in Hong Kong as food security and high rents in recent years have become salient and politicised issues that form the agendas of Hong Kong’s politicians. The solutions remain to be seen but the enthusiasm of seeking alternative approaches is growing, especially with these programmes sprouting across university campuses.

 

Midnight: Hollywood Road 

It was not the first time Mr. Zhang Yue-you stood on the curb of the sidewalk, in front of a throng of Western bars that are frequented by those longing to spend some of their disposable income on fancy, handcrafted cocktails with incomprehensible ingredients.

“I moved to Hong Kong almost 20 years ago!” exclaimed Mr. Zhang while he struggled to take his identity card out of this bag.

The reason behind the struggle was not because he was inebriated, like many of the passersby. It was because he did not have any fingers left.

“During the day, I sell toys in North Point, all kinds of toys. Hello Kitty, Santa Claus…” Mr. Zhang said with a proud sense of dignity. “I have many customers, especially before Christmas holidays,“ he asserted while clutching onto his pouch where he collects charity from those who noticed his hands.

“I had nothing to do tonight so I’m here,” he said defiantly, as if to prove that he did not have to be standing here.

Mr. Zhang’s family still lives in Shandong province, where he originates. He claimed to see them every year and that he lived in a social housing in North Point, but he refused to say what happened to his fingers.

When I asked him about the other beggars with twisted legs, asking for money outside of Central MTR station exits, he immediately said, “Some of them came from China on a tourist visa and then they go back!”

The disparity between the rich and poor, the attractive and the invalid, seen on these stretches of steps from the metro station to the antiques street, tugs the strings of hearts.

Tonight, Mr. Zhang will go home alone, while some will inevitably tumble home with flushed faces and empty wallets, leaving taxi drivers flustered.

Discover, Engage, Inspire. Freelance journalist who produce films//On a trek, in search of untold stories.