“Hong Kong’s defeat had brought Liusu victory. But in this unreasonable world, who can distinguish cause from effect? Who knows which is which? Did a great city fall so that she could be vindicated? Countless thousands of people dead, countless thousands of people suffering … Liusu didn’t feel there was anything subtle about her place in history. She stood up, smiling, and kicked the pan of mosquito-repellant incense under the table.
Those legendary beauties who felled cities and kingdoms were probably all like that.”
Love in a Fallen City, Eileen Chang
Two pages into the first novella, Aloeswood Incense, I was reminded of the Original Feminists panel at the Penguin Classics pop-up in London last spring. Paraphrasing rather poorly, but: it really is a special kind of heartache to love so fiercely books that don’t love you back. Did that make sense? Stay with me.
Moving on to the titular story (and my personal favourite), Love in a Fallen City, my heart was so full it was near bursting. Revealing my address on the Internet is perhaps not the wisest course of action; nevertheless, it was so incredibly surreal to see a Penguin Modern Classic take place just a street over from where I live, and celebrating my home city with such palpable, understated lucidity. 🇭🇰
Going back to that paraphrase, younger me was besotted with Austen, Orinda and Gaskell, but in each author was always confronted with a Single Story disconnect (see: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). I wish she had found this collection sooner.
Thank you, Penguin Books and Karen S. Kingsbury, for this translation. I can’t wait to see our canon continue to broaden.
As Chinese New Year approaches (the best holiday, really, with the optimum permutation of food, family festivities and money), it is inevitable that I would contemplate how much more concrete the ‘Hong Kong’ facet of my identity has become since spending two years abroad. And enclosed within that facet, as the city is plastered with more and more fai chun (auspicious characters and couplets calligraphed onto bright red paper), is the problem of my mother tongue.
Against my own (and my family and friends’) expectations, I enrolled in a Hong Kong university four months ago. Since my early childhood, initially for no other reason than a romanticised Great Britain constructed from The Five Find-Outers and Harry Potter, I had always envisioned myself studying in the halls of some centuries-old English institution for my university career. It was only when I reached the wholly surprising conclusion that yes, I do want to be a doctor, and yes, I want to be a doctor in Hong Kong, that I grudgingly admitted Hong Kong is the most practical choice. Continue reading “What My Mother Speaks”→
How often had I aspired
To sit beside a crackling fire
In obnoxiously festive lounge attire,
As carols sung by distant choirs
Float o’er the Isles to me.
How fervidly had I admired
Literature so oft inspired
By such fantasies as heavy snow,
Love requited under mistletoe,
Or an authentic Christmas tree.
How earnestly did I conspire
For mulled wine (or if you so desire,
Hot cocoa) with friends and family
And an altruistic shopping spree
In remembrance of Nativity.
How often do I still conceive
The quintessential Christmas Eve.
Yet the heavens cruelly disagree –
Instead, this year it gifts to me
A frigid twenty two degrees.
It was actually 22°C though. 😒 Nevertheless, have a very Merry (last five minutes of, if you live in Hong Kong like me) Christmas with late-night rom coms and Mariah Carey! 🎄 In the spirit of this poem, a fun fact: the original lyrics of White Christmas actually included an opening verse describing the disappointingly warm weather in Los Angeles. Most recordings omit it, but you can still find it in Barbra Streisand’s 1967 album!