These poems about places were originally posted on the AsianVoices Website (1997-2004), a site I ran featuring poetry and fiction by young Asian writers. As the AsianVoices website started in 1997, the year during which China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong, several of the poems deal with this historic event.
Black oceans of people, bandaged in suits and ties
Rise, flock together, foam
The sidewalks, buses, and trains.
Every day, they are leaving their homes
At the same hour. A unity somewhere.
The droning noise of vehicles and machines
Accelerate, and continue, like mumbling prayers.
Across the horizon, smog is thickening:
The city is stirring to life.
The slick surfaces of glazed windows
Like fire, like thick oil.
Huge walls and mirrors:
One building casts back the reflection of another.
The people at office desks have bowed down their heads.
They have run ahead of their stories
Rushing to meet more and more deadlines.
At a distance, dim smoke rises
From the incineration of refuse.
Perhaps it is a blessing that no one sees.
Secretly, a religion is brewing in the stewing air.
On the other side of the city,
The bronze Buddha upon the green mountain
Has closed his eyes. Since long ago. Nobody knows.
Sunset in the city. Together, at the Peak, we spoke
Of the snakelike pattern skyscrapers, mansions, and small villas weaved
Over the green mountains—like a mesh.
You said at night they would turn into bright, glittering jewels.
Cityscape—the lure of height you shared
Along with the ocean of six million people below
The Peak. I looked down, and saw instead
If I live too high above,
Money-deep, I would drown.
29 September 2000, Hong Kong
~ Jennifer Wong (Hong Kong)
Hundreds of Stone Giants
Located on a mysterious island
If you want to know its story
Imagination is necessary
~Kwok Sze-Nga, Leung Chi-yin, Wong Yi-Ling and Yeung Ying-tsim of Shung Tak Secondary School (Hong Kong)
This poem was written as part of the Cloth Puzzle poem writing activity organised by university students on behalf of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival).
People’s eyes are voracious and small
Men wear suits wherever and whenever
Children sit on the road in their beggar identity
Little bellies of young ladies walk down the streets
With cyprian smiles
Debauchery is the form of their life?
Money is me that can buy a smile
I can see and smell the air?
Grey in light and orange in night and smelling of petrol
~ Kama Tsoi (Hong Kong)
On the Mountaintop
On the mountaintop
I saw a stone still wait for
her conscript husband
~ Connie Lau Wai-ming (Hong Kong). This poem describes a famous rock formation in Hong Kong that is shaped like a woman carrying a small child on her back. The poem refers to the legend in which a wife waits the hillside for her husband to return from sea. He has died, however, and never returns. The woman and her child are turned to stone, which is either adding cruelty to tragedy or a blessed reunion of husband and wife depending on your point of view.
Land does come from greens
Greens come from mangroves
And mangroves surround granite stone
The Orang Laut could cruise towards
Chek Jawa that comes from
The frog that became stone.
Chek Jawa is not formed
From those frogs that croak;
One of the long hordes of
Sang Nila Utama’s troops
Explored Tumasik, named Singapura
And named the eastern shore of
Granite Stone, Chek Java.
Migrants go and bow
Chek Java their bode
Mengkudus are their souls
Plovers sing to flapping doves
As the Javanese built tombstones to be sold
Until rubber transformed their roofs
Under the Tudor walls.
The Chinese rubbed shoulders with the Javanese
There was harmony until drought
The first to leave was the Orang Laut.
The second was the Javanese
The third and last were the English and the Chinese.
The stone frog feels the rising warmth
Octopuses surface, sand dollars follow
The seagrass transforms Chek Java
Into the long seashore
The starfish basks and smiles at us
Chek Jawa and we are reformed.
~ Kucinta Setia (Singapore). Note: Mengkudus= Plural noun of mengkudu, an ugly-looking fruit that is reputed to be an aphrodisiac of the Javanese and the Orang Laut.
The souls of the Hong Kong dead, of sad families
of the lost who left for the golden west,
they throng in once-upon-a-time Western Market
in vanished godowns, on old quays buried by new streets
and yearn still for the slap of oily waves
and sit calmly here in salt sea air
of haunts unseen, unheeded by the new.
Some remember the Russian ship carrying Chekov,
a doctor wanting to see it all,
the progress, the trade,
a museum and new roads,
a railway up to the peak.
In the miracle woked by the English far from tidy suburbs
and by Chinese fleeing chaos, repeated rape of the motherland,
to build something new in so few generations,
some remember the hearding of beaten prisoners
of the arrogant taking of woman to be used
and the goading of men chained through the hands for spitting.
Ghosts throng and thrash in the nets of memory,
trawled again and again.
Ghosts are thrown back into the waves of the dying sea
of the living who ride the here and now.
Those who grow rich will build houses,
with gardens and moon gates
where ghosts will dance when the stars hide behind clouds
where ghosts will walk on a line a ferryman throws ashore.
(despite the farce of empire’s end
the greed filled transition of power
and smug new-rich and self satisfied foreigners
from an adolescent world)
while city and habour and islands
gleam in the bright tide-race of thought.
~ Andrew Parkin (Hong Kong)
This poem is from the collection entitled Hong Kong Poems and appeared on the AsianVoices site with permission from the publisher (Ronsdale Press)
The sound of pouring rain.
Rain. The sound of night.
The way ahead is dark,
clouded with our fear, with our love.
unable to express their feelings.
reaching out to touch the night,
struggling, to feel the warmth.
to see beauty,
in the night of the city
Wishing they were laughing.
Wishing they were crying.
They dance themselves into oblivion,
to the beat of each raindrop.
That night, they dream a fairy tale.
And it goes like this:
seeds of love
between the arranged marriage
of two strange hearts bloom over night.
Happily ever after they live.
Waking up the next morning, beside
the unfamiliar sound of breathing,
they embrace with new desire
what they love and know best:
~ Nicole Bai (USA)
“This poem expresses some of my feelings about the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China (or my feelings during ‘the last night’ and those inspired by Anthony Wong’s rendition of the song, ‘Last Night’).”
a child named hong kong
Stand up, Child,
Your Mum and Dad divorced.
The man you relied upon,
Now has shut his doors;
The woman you once feared,
Now supposed to be adored.
Your existence a disgrace,
The bitter fruit of rape;
From Mum Dad took you away,
No doubt he’s the one she hates.
You thrive and shine,
You’re Mum and Dad’s pride.
Dad says it’s the way you’re brought up,
Mum says her genes can’t hide.
You do things in Dad’s way,
Mum cries that way’s no good
Though many thought that you’d grown-up,
You’re Mum’s child still, it’s understood.
~ Zita Yu (Hong Kong)
After the Handover
To the British, it was a handover,
a gracious act to remake history.
To the Chinese, a century and half over,
it is hui gui, two words for return.
The resentful call it a takeover –
China buying stocks and property.
Others rename it a changeover,
hoping for better, not for worse.
However felt, the ceremony’s over,
without diplomatic incidents
or terrorist attacks as rumoured,
no riots, street fires or blood shed,
but dragons dancing at East Tamar,
concerts playing in the Coliseum,
legend floats in music round the harbour,
fireworks, lasers a rain-hung sky to light
the end of British administration,
the birth of Special Administration,
transition above imagination.
the questions would now stop –
but they have not.
They used to say –
Why do you stay?
Why didn’t you go
like others I know?
Now they’re asking –
So what’s happening?
How does it feel –
two systems for real?
Here is an answer –
would it but last.
Whatever the time,
wherever the place,
I’m not afraid.
This is my city.
This is my home.
God is still here.
I’m not alone.
I own so little
in any case.
What’s there to fear
for me to stay?
So little to give.
So much to live.
A job or two
I ought to do.
~ Agnes Lam (Hong Kong)
we all get wet in the rain
To the South of the red,
On a verdant bed,
Lies a city of ivory towers.
Where dragon and ghost,
Rule hillside and coast,
And heeded are magical powers.
To the South of the red,
The traveller is led,
By sirens of fortune and fame.
But first you must give,
The life that you live,
And surrender to them your name.
To the South of the red,
I’ve heard it said,
That wealth is the outright winner.
From the corporate sage,
To the man in the cage,
One of these the outright sinner.
To the South of the red,
Division is bred,
As a result of capital gain.
At the end of the day,
Parity would say,
We all get wet in the rain.
~ Alan Elder (Hong Kong, Scotland)
Riding high on the limpid waves
Rising high on the shimmering presence
Blue waters of white marbled chequers
For the eternal hymns of wayward heart
The golden domes invoking a saffron path.
Novices of thoughts and sunshine abiding
The golden swarms of vibratory atoms
The hush of pilgrims on the circular pitch
Tearing apart structures of egoed ditch.
Give vent to destinations of beauty & liberty
The concerns of soul now past its restrictions
Illuminate a glance bereft of the inner tumult
Saluting the Guru’s presence in a silent rebirth.
~ Durlabh Singh (England)
Farewell British Hong Kong
Thick layers of clouds were floating in the sky. Not even a single beam of light could penetrate them. Together with the stifling air, a strange atmosphere was clogging the territory on that day.
Turning on the television, I saw a number of advertisements giving their congratulations and blessings to Hong Kong on its return to its mother’s embrace. Pictures of fireworks and congratulatory slogans were shown on the screen: “Congratulations on the Establishment of The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.” “Embracing A New Era, Working Hand in Hand For The Future.” “Celebrating History in the making”. Let’s Create A Brighter Future For Hong Kong” etc. Though the slogans were different and though we didn’t have any special food, it was just like the days during Lunar New Year, a festival which is unimportant to me except for the pocket money and a few days of holiday.
News reporters appeared on the screen unusually frequently throughout the day. They reported the latest progress of the preparations for the change of sovereignty ceremony at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, the arrival of the Chinese and British government representatives and various public celebrations. Whenever the news stories of the Pattern family were mentioned, I paid all my attention to them. I feared that I would miss something important.
Walking along the street, I saw all the passers-by wearing different faces. Happy, sad, ignorant or…? I couldn’t tell. I didn’t even know how I felt. All I could feel was the high temperature. Sweat kept flowing down my cheeks. My head was damp as little drops of rain fell on me. However, they didn’t cool me down during my journey.
People travelling on the M’TR were reading the special reports in the newspapers. Big and colourful pictures of Prince Charles, ex-Governor Chris Patten and the ex-Government House were below the headlines of the newspapers. ‘People were so engrossed in reading the details of the stories. On their faces was a mysterious look showing their uncertainty about how different things would be several hours later.
Stepping out of the train and reaching the exit of the Causeway Bay station, my destination was closer. A crowd of people was gathering at the centre of Pacific Place. Flashbulbs popped vigorously. The people were screaming and shouting all around. The beat of my heart became faster and faster as I caught sight of the two men in suits—Mr. Chris Patten and Mr. Tony Blair. They smiled and waved to the crowd. They stirred up an excited mood among the people. The scene was very confused. Mr. Patten shook hands with the people around him and others shouted to him “Mr. Patten, we’ll miss you!” “We love you, Fai Pang”, I lost my senses in the crowd.
On my way home, my mind was as confused as the situation in the shopping centre had been. I didn’t know what pushed me to go there, and what made me lose myself. I just knew that on that day, I had to go. Before the handover ceremony, television stations broadcast the farewell ceremony at East Tamar. At the beginning, there was fine misty rain. As the ceremony proceeded, drizzle became a downpour. Prince Charles and the ex-Governor gave their speeches under the torrential rain. After his rain-soaked speech, Mr. Patten lowered his head and choked back the tears.
Stepping onto the drenched parade ground, the British Forces marched and saluted to the Prince and the dignitaries. The combined forces also displayed a choreographed parade that ended with a volley of rifle-fire. At the same time, the military bands performed the traditional military music solemnly with pipes and drums. Under the downpour, the British pomp was strangely solemn and calm. The music coming from the bagpipes sounded forlorn and lost when mixed with the scene. It was supposed to be a sunset ceremony, but the sky was so dark that no one could tell exactly when the sun did set on the British Empire.
The handover ceremony at the Convention and Exhibition Centre was a grand and dignified one, and also, the most unforgettable one. After the speeches of the Chinese and British highest government officials, the historic moment at last came—The British Union Jack was hauled down by a British guard just before midnight and it was replaced by the red flag with yellow stars of the People’s Republic at the stroke of midnight by a mainland guard. My heart suffocated at that moment. With the folding of the Union Jack, the history of Hong Kong as a British colony was covered by a veil.
After all these events in one day, I crawled to bed as my family was still watching the rest of the ceremony on television. The sad and tearful expression of the ex-Governor had left a mark on my heart.
~ Helen Lee (Hong Kong). This article was written in 1997, when sovereignty over Hong Kong was returned to China
Kai Tak Airport
When I heard that the airport had finally moved to Lantau on 5 July 98, I was depressed. Although I do not live in Kowloon City, I could understand the feelings of the people living there. Some people had compained about the disturbing noise as the flights passed overhead; however, the airport had created business in the district and brought tourists to Kowloon City. Now that the airport has moved, the situation has changed.
The news on television on Sunday showed scenes of the airport. People had come from all over to stay for the day. They took photos and watched the flights take-off and land. I think they will never forget this day. The airport is 73 years old and is located in the heart of the city. Serious accidents never happened. It must have been luck. But everything passes. I will miss the airport. And someday I will tell my kids about it.
~Text by Moment Wong (Hong Kong). Photos by longzijun: I took the above photographs of Kai Tak airport from my living room window. The first picture was taken in June 98 and the second one taken shortly after the opening of the new airport at Chep Lap Kok. The nights became much quieter, but I missed watching the buzz of activity (especially on rainy evenings when the lights reflect off the tarmac).
Photographs of a Night City
Glimmering reflections. Matte silver kitchen cabinets hung in the air; a dim halo of light teased the alpine grey painting; the wooden panels and plain white walls illuminated by the solitary spotlight at the corner of the room – reflections on a window of street lights and restaurant signs and gray seven-story buildings below. The thin silhouette leaned onto the glass. The headlights of an occasional stray car projected its distorted silhouette on the ceiling; it rushed across and faded and disappeared. He looked out. Silent pedestrians in bands of two or three followed the sidewalk like noiseless drones. Some would stop to wait, as if expecting something to happen; some would keep walking oblivious to their halted companions. The fluorescent sign across the street, Yong Gei Best Duck Restaurant, stained its surroundings with a luminous red glow. The D blinked and went out. The night for him was a reel of black and white film – full of mute actors and wordless dialogue. He turned from the window. The left side of his face shone with neon blue and purple from Cheung Kee Karaoke directly above.
“Dreary night. Nobody on the streets tonight.” He turned back to face the window.
Arms dangling from the armrests, the larger one slouched in a stocky reclining couch near the dining table. He held a glass bottle between his index and middle fingers, wagging its bubbling content. Eyes closed, he stretched his legs, crossed them, uncrossed them, and finally crossed them again at the ankles. The bottle quivered between his fingers as he stretched and yawned and leaned his head back onto the overstuffed headrest.
“Out?” He opened his eyes.
“You mean, go out now? Where?” There was a slight stutter in the voice. A shorter silhouette stood next to the taller one by the window. He looked out. Shirts, underwear, silk pajamas that hung outside a window across the street, flapped in the midnight air. An unsightly grey bra was caught on a TV antenna protruding from the floor below. The stout figure had a hand upon the window and the other in his pocket. He took his hand out of the pocket and glanced at his watch.
“Okay. Where to?” The stout one’s left eye twitched.
The larger one slowly placed the glass bottle onto the marble table. The clink of the glass shattered the deafening silence.
“Out,” they said.
The downtown streets were now devoid of people, except maybe for the odd drunkard or the various beggars and street sleepers that wandered the midnight alleyways waiting for something to happen. The street lamps glowed yellow-orange, shimmering droplets of yellow-orange light showered from trees onto the dark, swaying shadows that they cast. Shop windows blared: ON SALE! or 30% OFF! to the empty crowds in front of the shops. Parking lot signs beckoned imaginary cars to park in their empty spaces. Four traffic lights stood moronically ready to conduct heavy traffic, each one staring at a now completely unoccupied road. The three stood at the junction, one slouched over the handrail, the other leaned against it and the last stood erect admiring absolutely nothing.
A solitary laughter, hysterical, tormented reverberated in the distance. A swaying figure, a shadow against the bleach-white painted walls of a department store, bent over erratically and flipped its stomach. It then hobbled and staggered into an alley; blackness engulfed it. The roads were empty again; the sidewalks, bare. They jaywalked across the junction.
“I just want to say that I drink, but I drink only for leisure,” declared the larger one. He heaved his chest; rolled up his creased shirtsleeve, and for a moment indeed, he seemed to have gained several ounces of muscle, until of course he relaxed and the rotundity returned to his waist.
Noiselessly, save the rhythmic shuffling, a limping black rag crossed the street ahead of them. The figure was clad in a brown sack, sewn and patched and re-patched, it undoubtedly attracted flies and other parasites. Its face was enclosed in a hood that shadowed all but a sleek and bony nose. Like the drunkard, it hobbled but with makeshift crutches of broken shards of bamboo scaffolding, plastic bags and used rope. A trash can over-stuffed with empty beer bottles and orange plastic bags from Wanchai or Causeway Bay market stood in front of the rag. Cigarette butts and solidified grey lumps of ash clung to its so-called ashtray. A pool of yellow-brown stained the side of the trashcan and the concrete pavement next to it; rubble of plastic cups, plates, McDonald wrappers, used Kleenex piled along the side of the road. The rag shambled towards the trash and snorted into and through the ash and cigarettes. The rag picked up a small cigarette butt, meticulously examined it and then threw it back into the ashtray. Sensing that there was nothing more of value in it, the rag bent down on all fours and dug into the plastic bags and bottles. The three watched intently from a distance, none of them dared to go any closer.
“Let’s go. Nothing else to see here,” said the taller one.
They sat on the sidewalk. In the distance a car cruised along and disappeared into the silence where it came from. No one spoke until the chirping and warbling of morning broke the silence. The rag, finally finished with a nights worth of rummaging, limped and staggered along the road to where it first appeared; then it too, disappeared into the black alley. Cars, vans, trucks have started to enter the no longer beckoning parking lots. And the traffic lights at the junction now have cars and vans and trucks to conduct. Shops were opening; the owner of Yong Gei Best Duck Restaurant rolled up his gate; he stretched, yawned and slapped his stomach and then, in his white singlet and blue plastic slippers, he went back in to prepare for the first few customers.
“Let’s go. We’ve seen it all,” said the taller one.
Pedestrians appear again; some enter the restaurants for breakfast, some arrive for work by rusting minibuses, and there are still some that follow the sidewalk like bustling drones.
The trees though, have lost their showers of yellow-orange droplets and their dark swaying shadows – until the night.
~ Jason Cheng (Hong Kong).
AsianVoices Archives: These poems and articles were originally posted on the now-defunct AsianVoices website (1997-2004), which featured poetry and fiction by young Asian writers. Copyright belongs to the original authors. If you are the writer and would like to remove, add or edit this work, please contact me at email@example.com and I will promptly carry out your request.
- Bloodlines: Family
- Passions: Love & heartbreak
- Edible Words: Food
- Life’s Journey: Innocence & experience
- Scenes: Everyday life
- Requiem: Death & remembrance
- Reflections: Self-discovery & spirituality
- In Class: School life & education
- In Transit: Travel & transportation
- Destinations: Places
- Nature: Animals & the environment
- Muses: The creative process
- Conflict: War and its effects
- Kids’ Corner: For younger readers
- Pets: About, for and by pets
- Friendship: Cherished bonds
- Emotions: Emotional states
- Haiku: Concise poems
- Brushstrokes: Chinese-language works