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TraumaLok Man Law

Thursday, 30 June Ate with A, an editor who said he’d almost forgotten about Inside the Red Brick Wall, the Hong Kong documentary about the standoff between police and student protesters at Poly U.

The government wants us to forget, to insert their thinking into our heads. Our thoughts are important. They defend our hearts and minds.

Apple Daily is no longer available at the public library. Twenty years of Hong Kong politics, economics, cultural history, all gone. Buried, just like that.

Too many people have left, lost focus, been distracted from their outrage, are unsure what to do.

The Exhibition Centre station will be closed until the afternoon of 2 July, the day after the ceremony for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the handover. So will the roads around Wan Chai, Tsim Sha Tsui and the highspeed rail station.

The observatory will issue the Strong Wind Signal No. 3 from 10 p.m. to midnight tonight.

Two years after the national security law came into effect, 126 people have been charged with endangering national security, eighty-three people have refused release on bail and sixty-three people have been charged with speech crimes.

Friday, 1 July Torrential rain. The city has fallen into another space-time.

Before the downpour, I went for a run in the neighbourhood. The wind was incredibly strong. For several seconds, it was pushing at me from behind, quickening my pace. After a while, though, the wind was coming from all sides. Fortunately, it didn’t pick up any dust or construction site grit. Some steel barricades fell over and are lying next to the road.

Tuesday, 19 July Tomorrow is the annual Hong Kong Book Fair, which has turned away three publishers. Organisers deny any censorship.

Last week, the independent Hongkongers’ Book Fair, a separate event, was cancelled and moved online.

Tuesday, 9 August Feeling a bit down, but somewhat hopeful, too. Grateful for F’s companionship, insight and encouragement. He always makes me see the good in myself.

I’m back to working regular hours without any breaks. I have lost my creative rhythm, feel that what I want is to find an idea and think it through all the way to the end.

Went to the Until the Edge of the World exhibition yesterday. It opened without much fanfare, in an emerging cultural and youth space. Easy to miss if you weren’t keeping an eye open. Participants were asked to quietly seat themselves, put on the headphones and turn on a cassette player to listen to recordings of Hongkongers talking about their experiences of the new, post-2019 reality. Journalists’ taped interviews. One day last year, a news website closed down. Its editor-in-chief was arrested, its board members were wanted or out on bail pending investigation. Lots of people, the interviewers and interviewees included, maybe, probably assumed that these unpublished interviews would never see the light of day. Happily, a few people cared and created this exhibition to share these voices in a different format.

Charis Loke

I listened to a former journalist’s self-introduction. Her news organisation was closed down the same way, her boss and editor-in-chief still behind bars. She said she clearly recalled the day her bosses were arrested, what they were wearing. They all had friends, family, so why were they in jail? She and her colleagues went to the hearing, listened to the judge repeat again and again that they could not be released on bail. There was nothing she and her colleagues could do except be angry.

Now, she doesn’t know what she should do. She said she didn’t want to be a reporter anymore. It felt like her husband had died. Even if she meets the right person, it’s hard to invest in a new relationship.

Afterwards, she found a job as waitstaff in a restaurant, learning a new career. She was nervous at first, made lots of mistakes, was still adapting. She said again and again that she didn’t know what the future would look like.

Another self-introduction was from the administrator of a disbanded community organisation. She’s always asking herself what would have happened if she’d done something a little better at the time, or if she hadn’t made the decisions she did. Would things be different today? She consoled herself, saying that maybe everything would have turned out the same either way.

She’s started doing tarot card readings, feels the cards are telling her it’s time to take a break.

Many small, healing objects brought by ordinary people are also on display in the exhibition—photos, stickers, teddy bears. To me, it seemed like a gaping black hole was made visible there: trauma following destruction. Inside it, countless tiny pulsations, countless struggles are taking place. It doesn’t matter if people are inside the hole or outside it.

In June 2022, news reports observed that fifty-eight Hong Kong NGOs, trade unions and political parties had been disbanded since 2021.

Monday, 5 September Hong Kong compels you to talk about the cost of things. Went to an intro to blues and hip-hop event yesterday. The guest performer gave us a look at a special acoustic guitar, which allows blues musicians to play freely even in a small, noisy bar. One of the hosts made some polite remarks and asked how much the guitar had cost. The performer pointed to another host, also a guitarist. Said, his guitar is more expensive than mine, ha ha.

The most frequently heard question in any conversation between Hongkongers: how much did you pay for it? It’s almost instinct.

Before 2019, not many Hongkongers understood the meaning of ‘at any cost’. The will to give everything you have, to go all out, to get something no matter what the personal price. This is an old story for artists in many places, one that has nothing to do with sales price. Many Hongkongers consider such people foolish, or they think, well, it’s their business.

Since 2019, whether freedom exists for us or not, ‘How much did you pay for it?’ is still in our blood.

There are times when I’m fed up with money. I went to a used book stall a little while ago and saw a set of books by a Hong Kong queer columnist. The queer themes he threw into the mix when he started writing about movies and pop culture in the 1980s are quite rare. I quickly asked for the price, the stall owner said twenty HKD a piece. I immediately bought the whole set. Even though he wasn’t an author at the top of my list, I knew about a group that auctioned off old books and that they often resold books bought for ten or twenty dollars, getting hundreds for them. Even if this set of books didn’t change hands right away, it had a market price. After paying, I lost my mind and said, ‘These have resale value.’

The stall owner was silent for a moment, probably thinking she had sold them too cheaply. I hastily added that I don’t flip books. She said that she had a lot of other books she didn’t want, so I could leave a contact number and make an appointment. I was too embarrassed to give her my name, in case she didn’t believe me.

I found out later that she’s a well-known independent film director. Was she selling her belongings because she’s getting ready to leave Hong Kong?

Thursday, 8 September A high school teacher, who will emigrate alone to the United Kingdom, still has the letters my classmates and I wrote to him when we were young.

He has preserved our youth, but he might not ever understand that some people undergo several reincarnations in one lifetime. We haven’t seen each other for almost ten years, are friends only on social media, yet he went out of his way to contact us. I think he hopes we’ll go seek him out, or that we will at least meet up before he leaves.

But those earlier years when we knew one another are memories, and it seems as if he has remained behind in that beautiful, kind and flawless world. He left a phone number, but I don’t plan to see him. Life says to let go of the past and move forward without turning back.

From this grows a quiet desolation, the impossibility of seeing each other, the inevitable desolation of seeing each other, and so, no. After the ten thousand troubles have become ash, perhaps we can embrace.

Or maybe I just don’t want to see my young, naïve self again.

He said, ‘The letters are full of kindness and good cheer, no dark history in them.’ I felt a small surge of disgust. ☐

Translated from the Chinese by Mary King Bradley Lok Man Law is a poet, editor and the project director of Spicy Fish Cultural Production Limited


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