All posts filed under: Essays

Libraries

I’ve always been irked by the reputation libraries have been stamped with in England. Many of my friends view libraries as merely functional spaces, monopolised by grandmas, children, and those ‘stuck-in-the-past’ folk (a.k.a those who reject shelling out for books and postage on Amazon). They see their local library in the same way they see a toilet — just useful, and for one thing only (or two, if you’re being hilarious). This viewpoint is alien in Hong Kong. I should’ve known. After all, bookshops in Hong Kong are places of excitement, activity, even revelry, if you can believe it. All sorts of people pass through their doors, instead of the doors of the many other exciting venues Hong Kong has to offer. This cross-section of customers reflects Hong Kong’s diverse population; from young couples to middle-aged business men, local millennials to 30-something Westerners you’d normally find littering the streets, intoxicated, on Friday nights. This ragtag collective browse the spines at all and any times of the day, from screen-free lunch breaks to post-dinner aisle-strolls, seeking some kind …

Search For My Tongue

I’m in year 10 poetry class, and we’re discussing Sujata Bhatt’s Search For My Tongue. In it, she details her fear of losing the ability to speak in her native language, and struggles to see how the two languages she knows can co-exist in her brain. Just as we reach the part about the poet dreaming in her mother tongue, our teacher, Mrs Garcia, looks up from her book and asks if any of us can speak a second language. A group of hands make swift draughts in the air. She zigzags between them, smiling and nodding enthusiastically as they answer. German, Punjabi, French. I do not raise my hand, because I can only speak English. She calls my name anyway. “Don’t you speak another language?” She asks, the question more a declaration than an interrogative. I shake my head. “Where are your parents from?” She tries. I tell her my dad is from Hong Kong. She nods in relief, her question now justified. “But you don’t speak another language?” She pushes, her thin wire-framed …

Election

On the evening the 2016 American presidential election results were announced, I went for pizza. The verdict had shocked most of us, and, in a stunned stupor, I enlisted autopilot to make the choices that I suddenly had no conscious interest in. Pizza for dinner was one of them. Like many others around the world, earlier that day I’d watched a virtual red bar on my friend’s computer screen inch towards a finish line. I’d developed an irrational theory — borne out of fear, as irrationality usually is — that if myfingers typed in the URL and I waited for my screen to load, the results would affect me more than they would behind the shield of my friend’s shoulder. Alas, I was still devastated. It was said many times leading up to results day that, despite his ‘successful’ campaign, when it came down to it, the notion of Trump becoming the president lacked any kind of weight. It was one big joke that had been taken too far, because, he couldn’t really win it guys, could he? I’d …

When Culture Is Appropriated

It’s 2010, and I’m looking through an old friend’s gap year photos on Facebook. I stop at a photo of him and three friends, all of them wearing conical bamboo hats on a busy street in South East Asia, grinning jokingly at the camera, their faces shiny from the humidity. It makes me feel uneasy. The many times I see a version of this same image over the next few years, whether it’s at the airport or a fancy dress party, I am still bothered. But I don’t know what to call it, what it means, what it is — until now. Last week, two accusations of cultural appropriation were brought to the media. The first was a black student arguing with a white student who had dreadlocks. The second was Justin Bieber, sporting cornrows and saying he looked like a douchebag. Celebrities, particularly musicians, getting interrogated over their choice of props, outfits, music videos etc, is nothing new. Gwen Stefani raised eyebrows in the ‘90s when she wore a bindi, but nobody knew how to have …

On The New Age

It’s a weekday afternoon and I’m participating in my generation’s favourite activity: scrolling. I see a tweet I want to read. ‘YOU Can Get Your Dream Body – Here’s How’. As I click on it, a potent mixture of sadness, disgust and confusion stirs in my gut. I’m aware of this uncomfortable hybrid feeling as I read the piece (which is, of course, nothingness that doesn’t, couldn’t possibly, cater to all of the women who will read it). The feeling simmers within me for the rest of the day, until I realise what it means. We are losing control, I say to my boyfriend when I get home. Yup, he replies. During dinner, I think about extreme click-bait headlines that most companies now employ, and how much I despise them. Yet I click on them. I click on them and they infuriate me because the piece beneath is some not at all the thing I was promised, and it happens all over again the next day. Of course, this is not every linked tweet or post – some …

The Photographer’s Stories

This week, I went to an early preview showing of the Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century exhibition at the V&A Museum. I wasn’t familiar with Strand’s work, but it wasn’t long before I found myself thoroughly immersed in his life through the lens. It wasn’t just the beauty of Strand’s pictures that astounded me. Sure, they were lovely to look at; the quality, the composition, the light. To the eye, they were aesthetically pleasing. But to the heart, they were something much more. New York-born Strand travelled extensively during his career, photographing his way through America, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Africa. While he was a modernist photographer, he didn’t specialise in one type of photography, but rather captured the things that interested him, whether it was an intimate portrait of his first wife or a close-up of cabbages. He also didn’t flit between places and people, snapping fleeting experiences as photographers often do, instead choosing to spend anything between a few weeks to a few months in certain places to understand …

Being English Abroad

There are very few places or situations that English people (that is, native English speakers) can’t deal with or work around. This makes us lucky – but it also makes us lazy. The lack of necessity means that most of us don’t even think about learning another language. English is the second most spoken language in the world but is considered to be the planet’s lingua franca and according to the New Scientist, even predicted to be the language we will one day all speak (thanks to English similects developing around the world), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn certain words in a foreign language out of respect and appreciation for others, if nothing else. Last week, I found myself reeling as I watched chef Rick Stein eat his way around Shanghai. He was meeting people who could speak English (such as a food blogger who translated very specific, food questions), and locals who couldn’t speak English. He was invited into their kitchens, their workplaces and even their homes, yet he could not say …