Dewey Punk Pickles: The Infamous Globe-trotting Cat

Dewey when she was a little tiny baby.

In 2008, I had just moved to Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. During my second week in the new country, my employer moved me from my temporary housing to my permanent one in the heart of bustling Bur Dubai. On my second day in my new neighbourhood, I took a short walk to the nearby bank to open an account. That’s when I walked by and saw a dirty, skinny tri-coloured cat sitting on the side of a dusty street on a warm December morning, watching a group of brown-skinned boys play a game of football. When it saw me, it turned her head and looked at me with its yellowish-green Cleopatra eyes. I bent down, “Hi kitty,” I said, petting its head. I promised myself that if the cat was still there when I finished at the bank, I was going to take it home.

At this time, I didn’t know a single person in town, except for this random girl who had called me up from the security desk the night before. “Hi, my name is Kat,” she had said, “I am wondering if I can come up and see your flat as I am hoping to move into your building with my cat.”

“Sure.”

Within minutes, I opened my door to a smiley, red-headed girl with sparkling green-blue eyes. Kat was about my age, an American who had grown up on a compound in Saudi Arabia. Laughing, she gave me a hug. I was immediately drawn to her larger-than-life presence and contagious excitement. We walked around my furnished, two-bedroom apartment that I had just moved into the day before. By the end of the tour, we became fast friends. We exchanged numbers and promised a night out in the near future.

It turned out that I was only in the bank for a few minutes– I was missing a chop on my paperwork, so I couldn’t open a bank account. Defeated, I walked home, hoping that the kitty would be where I had left her. She was. Is it normal to pick up a cat off the street and take it home? Not knowing what to do, I called up my new friend. “Hey Kat, is it weird if I picked up a cat on the street and take it home?”

“No! You should totally do it!” She yelled into the phone, “I will take you guys to the vet!”

I picked her up the little cat. It put up a fight, digging its little claws into my arm. I didn’t care. I took her into my arms and walked into my apartment building. “New friend?” The security guard grinned.

I smiled and nodded my head as entered the elevator.

Kat came by and took me and the kitty to the vet. After a quick inspection, we learned that she’s a little girl-cat and judging by her teeth, about four months old. The doctor gave me some deworming medicine and basically gave her a clean bill of health.

After a few days of agonizing what to call my new cat, I finally settled on “Dewey.” She is a librarian’s cat, after all. Weeks later, I picked up a book about Dewey, the boy-cat who actually lived in a public library in the United States. Everybody assumed that I borrowed the name from the real-life library cat, but I didn’t–I came up with her name all on my own!

Dewey Punk Pickles surveying her land.

Dewey grew up to be a mean, feisty little fucker. She would bite me, scratch me, and was generally an asshole of a cat and not always the best pet. A good friend once told me, “You can take a cat off the street, but you can’t take the street off the cat.”

Despite it all, I love her to pieces. For the last 11 years, she’s been with me in Dubai, Vancouver, Bahrain, and now Hong Kong. Five years ago, we met the love of our lives, Derek.

Derek and I started dating in late 2014. Shortly after, we were engaged. We started to call each other ‘punk’ as a term of endearment. I call him ‘Honey Punk Badger” and he calls me ‘Punk Bunny Fufu.” We’ve become a family of punks.

One night, Derek slept over. In the middle of the night, he jumped out of bed screaming with a crazed cat latched onto his arm. Apparently, Dewey had a nightmare and attacked Derek, who was asleep next to her. When Dewey finally let go, the damaged was done–there were deep puncture wounds on his forearm plus deep gashes where she scratched the shit out him with her hind legs.

“She’s dead to me,” Derek howled while I handed a towel to clean up his bleeding arm.

Derek had never been a fan of cats and Dewey just put herself in the red with her vivacious and brutal attack. Regardless, the woman he was about to marry came with the cat and he tolerated her existence with disdain and disgruntle. While cuddling on the couch one night, we watched an adult cartoon, “Mr. Pickles.” The show is about a pickle-loving family dog who seems like a normal, friendly dog. It was only the grandfather of the show that knows the true nature of the dog–his thirst to kill and mutilate. While we watched an episode in which Mr. Pickles tore open a man’s stomach and dragged out his guts and bit off the legs of a prostitute, Derek shouted, “That’s Dewey!”

Since that day, Dewey was christened with a full name “Dewey Punk Pickles.” She also goes by Dew, Dewzy-Dew, Punk, Punkles, and Pickles.

Over the last five years, Derek had given her rules and boundaries. From a mean, feisty little fucker, she turned into a mellower version of herself. She gives plenty of warning before she attacks but these days she’s content hanging out on her perch next to the window, watching the world go by. She’s still not the cuddly of cats, but when she sits next to me as I watch T.V., I feel like the luckiest human in the world.

Happy 11th birthday, Dewey Punk Pickles!

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Duty-bound

We are in riot gear and armed with full-body clear shields, facing thousands of young protestors. These kids—clad in black, carrying umbrellas, and covered in face masks—should be at school or at work. Instead, they are using their sweaty bodies to block a major road in downtown Hong Kong, preventing lawmakers to enter the Legislative Council building to read the controversial extradition bill.

As a law-abiding person, this bill has no effect on me. But my wife says that if the bill passed, activists, journalists, and even business executives—anyone Beijing deems unsavory—could be extradited to mainland China, in a justice system known for its lack of human rights and a 99.9% conviction rate. Last Sunday, my wife joined the one-million strong march where people were chanting about this “evil law” that will erode Hong Kong’s freedom of speech. I did not participate—My duty is to protect and serve while maintaining order.

As I stand in the middle of the wide boulevard in my soaked-through uniform, I see a woman approaching, eventually standing between the protesters and us. She is bespectacled, middle-aged and wearing a t-shirt with a towel draped around her neck. “I am a mother, and I am sure some of you have kids,” She wails. “Why did you attack our kids like this?”

She, like many mothers on the streets today, are protesting on behalf of their children who have been shot at with rubber bullets, beanbag rounds, and tear gas when the Commissioner gave us the directives to disperse the crowd. Our duty is to protect and serve while maintaining order.

 “I am not here to attack you. I have no weapon.” She unloads her small backpack and stretches out her thin arms. “I have been smoke-bombed by your tear gas so many times. Can you please stop?” She pleads.

As she steps nearer, I feel tears trickling down under the clear visor over my face— this woman could have been my mother, who also drapes her towel the same way when she practices Tai Chi in the park. I cry for my divided city. While my colleagues on the force want nothing more than the protesters to go away, the pro-democratic students behind the woman, like my wife, are resisting the tear gas with open umbrellas and face masks, demanding the scrapping of the extradition bill.

Then, out of nowhere, a colleague comes dashing behind me. With a beanbag round, he shoots at the woman who is only inches away from my shield. My ears ring as I watch her topple backward. Luckily, a bystander catches her fall and leads her away. Instantly, my eyes start to burn—the same colleague has also fired tear gas into the crowd.

The crowd scatters within seconds. I dab away my tears with my handkerchief. Then I return standing in line with my shield up. My duty is to protect and serve while maintaining order.

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The Nikah

Hello dear reader,

Today, I am sharing “The Nikah” which was originally published and featured in the March 2019 issue of Sunspot Literary Journal. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Tears rolled down my powdered face, dampening my makeshift lavender headscarf. I bit my lower lip and cried without making a sound. I could have said no to Gökhan and walked away from the nikah, the Islamic wedding ceremony—but my conditioning would not allow it. Growing up in a Taiwanese family, the concept of “losing face” was ingrained in me. I understood how unforgivable it was to humiliate someone in public. I felt compelled to submit to the conditioning that I have willfully fought against my whole life, to maintain my future husband’s honor in front of his entire clan. But the obligation to compromise my integrity, whether it was real or imaginary, was crushing me. I hated having to pretend to believe in something to please my future mother-in-law.

Gökhan’s mother was a gregarious Turkish woman. Short and squat in stature, she was the matriarch of the family. She had moved to Denmark with her husband in the ’70s, and all her children had been born and raised there. However, she held onto the customs from the old country and behaved very much like a traditional Turkish wife and mother. I never saw her without her headscarf, even in the middle of summer. Gökhan’s father, on the other hand, had adapted to Denmark. He was a quiet man with a handsome, honest face. He owned a grocery store in the neighborhood, and when he found out that I loved strawberries, he’d bring some back from his store every day during my visit. He was the type who would go with the flow and let his wife take care of all the traditions and rituals.

I had just arrived in Denmark a week earlier and had met Gökhan’s family for the first time. We slept in separate beds because his mother thought it was improper for us sleep together until we perform the nikah.

            That summer, Gökhan and I were in-between places—we had just left Dubai and in the autumn moved to Bahrain where I would start a new job. My new employers instructed me to move to Bahrain alone, or marry Gökhan so I could sponsor his dependent visa. Since we did not want to break up, we decided to elope in Canada. We made a pitstop in Copenhagen on our way to Vancouver to see his parents before we legalized our union.

Even though Gökhan’s mother and I did not speak the same language, I wanted her to like me. I understood that the nikah was pivotal to his pious mother. I was not against it, but I also did not want to give her the impression that I was willing to convert to Islam. I am proudly secular, which caused major friction when Gökhan and I first started dating.

“If you want to be with me, and be accepted by my family, you will need to convert,” he said—it was the only time I remember Gökhan being adamant about anything.

“No.” I stared at him as if he had warped into a goat. Converting to Islam was unthinkable. Being secular is my mode in life, and I was not willing to change it.

He explained that all I had to do was to pretend, to do it for a show, which was what he had done his whole life. I still refused. He called me spoiled, stubborn and selfish. I cried but persisted. It was a battle of wills that lasted the whole day.

“If you love me, you will accept me for who I am,” I argued, my eyes blazing. “You wouldn’t ask me to compromise my integrity.”

Eventually, I broke him down with a combination of persistence and tears. “You won’t need to convert,” he said, hugging me. “I will talk to my mother.”  

It was no surprise that Gökhan yielded—I was the girl who always had her way. “Don’t smoke in the mall,” Mama used to glare at me when I was on my way out of the house when I was in high school, “someone might see you.”

You don’t want me smoking in the mall? I did just that with abandon. Don’t want me dating white guys? I did, just to make you cringe. Oh, you would disown me if I got a tattoo? I did, just to test you.

Gökhan was right: I was spoiled. Mama relented, and Gökhan did too.

My initial experience with Islam was when I moved to Dubai for my first job as a librarian, about ten months before meeting Gökhan. My first impression was that it was strict and conservative. I had to abandon wearing skirts to work because it was indecent to show my knees. The religion forbade many things that I enjoyed, such as alcohol and pork. During Ramadan, even non-Muslims could not have a sip of water in public. However, I kept an open mind. I wanted to be involved with my future husband’s traditions.

When Gökhan told me about nikah, I knew nothing about it. He described it as an engagement to tell Allah that he, Gökhan, had chosen me, Kayo, to be his wife. That did not sound awful—it seemed like a symbolic ceremony. I agreed that I was willing to take part in the nikah, as long as I did not have to convert to Islam. He talked to his mother who agreed that I would not have to. Overjoyed that her son would no longer live in sin, she invited the whole extended family, prepared an elaborate spread, and summoned the prestigious imam, a religious leader, who would officiate the ceremony.

I had no idea what I signed up for.

On the day of the nikah, I was in the center of the room wearing an ivory, ankle-length, cotton maxi dress with grey embroidered flowers at the hem. I’d bought the dress a few days before because it was long and covered my legs. However, the top portion was too revealing for Islamic taste, so I wore a grey cardigan, buttoned-up all the way, which hid my tattooed arm and immodest cleavage.

Gökhan’s three aunts were fussing around me, trying to pin a lavender pashmina over my head as a temporary headscarf. His little sisters, aged 11 and 13, whose room had turned into a bridal dressing room, stole curious glances at me. When I returned their stares with grins, they gasped, turned their heads and looked away. His boisterous aunts laughed and chatted in a combination of Turkish and Danish. They clamored and made animated gestures with their hands and clapped as they giggled over some anecdote I couldn’t understand. I stood amid this commotion with a dumb smile on my face and nodded my head as Gökhan’s only English-speaking aunt asked me if I was doing okay. Despite the chaos in the room, a part of me was having fun, soaking up his aunts’ contagious excitement. I felt euphoric and found myself smiling more as time passed. I was putting the finishing touches on my makeup when Gökhan poked his head in the room, “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute in the next room?” he asked in a quiet voice, avoiding my eyes, his thick, dark brows furrowed.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

***

How did I, my mother’s rebellious and stubborn daughter, ended up participating in nikah with a Danish-Turkish guy she had only dated for less than a year? The truth was that the defiant teenager who continually stretched boundaries and pushed her mother’s buttons found herself a lost and scared 26-year-old woman in the Middle East.

I was born in Japan to Taiwanese parents and grew up just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. I always prided myself on being an adaptable third-culture kid—I was fearless and foolish. Fresh out of graduate school, I moved to Dubai to start my first job as a librarian, even though I would not have been able to find the city on an atlas. 

When I first got on the transport bus to the terminal of the Dubai International Airport, I burst into tears—the warm and humid air tinged with dust reminded me how far away I was from home. Homesickness was only one of the many challenges I faced in Dubai. For the first month, I tried to get an internet connection in my apartment to stay in touch with my faraway family and friends. I spent all my free time going to Etisalat, the national internet provider. Each time, I spoke to an indifferent woman at the counter who wore a black headscarf and emitted an intense frankincense perfume. Each time, she told me, “two weeks, in’shallah.” Each time, I left the building defeated and depressed. Before I knew any better, I was convinced that ‘in’shallah’ meant ‘go away.’ It took over two months for me to have an internet connection at home.

On the weekends, I would roam around the city wide-eyed, trying to absorb this strange, desert landscape filled with glitzy shopping malls and imposing skyscrapers surrounded by endless construction sites. As I walked by in my short-sleeve t-shirt and knee-length skirt, South Asian workers gawked at me with their unblinking, saucer eyes. I ran away to divert their gaze. I was confused, misunderstood, and isolated from everything and everyone I knew.

Within days of arriving in Dubai, I cried on the phone to Mama. After three days of crying, Mama broke down and came for a visit. She cooked for me, helped me settle into my new apartment, and we explored the city together. We shopped in the souk, went dune bashing in the desert, and had afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab. However, after she left, I was even more homesick and lonely, which drove me to go out to meet new people. Eventually, I made friends with other expatriates, young women close to my age who had also moved to Dubai for their careers. But they did not ease my sense of alone-ness. What I wanted was someone to come home to and wake up next to every morning. Someone who would understand me, someone to go on adventures with, someone who would take me away from this loneliness and despair. After dating Gökhan for a few months, I thought he could be that person.

The truth is, my definition of a good relationship was simplistic and naive. I did not know a thing about a healthy relationship—as a teenager, I watched my parents struggle with their marriage. At the tender age of fifteen, I found out that Baba, my father, had been cheating on Mama.

Baba was a travel guide and was often away from home. At this time, Mama was in her mid-30’s, but she dressed and acted like a much older woman— a dedicated mother whose husband was away for long periods. Since Mama spent her days cleaning and cooking, she paid little attention to her appearance. Her clothing of choice consisted of dowdy, faded sweatsuits. Her world revolved around Baba, my younger brother Davis, and me.

Before school one morning, I was eating my eggs sitting on the high stool next to the kitchen counter when I heard Mama scream Baba’s name. I am not sure what business Mama had poking around Baba’s black nylon side bag— maybe she was putting something in there, or perhaps she was looking for something for him— either way, she pulled out a love letter in Baba’s handwriting, addressed to another woman. 

Mama lost her mind with this discovery. She wanted answers. She needed reassurance. She demanded Baba to explain himself. He could not. He ran out of the door with his luggage to catch a flight and left behind Mama who had turned into a wailing mess. I do not remember how I got to school that day.

After school, I found Mama standing disheveled in the middle of the kitchen, wearing her frumpy, pale pink cotton nightgown even though it was three o’clock in the afternoon. With tears streaming down her face, she wailed and screamed that she wanted to die. She clutched a crumpled-up letter in one hand and with her other hand, made slashing gestures with a kitchen knife as if she was going to slit her wrist. I was terrified.

Several days later, I came home, and the house was silent. Before this whole fiasco, Mama always had a snack ready by the time I came back from school, like a brothy bowl of Taiwanese-style beef brisket noodle soup, savory braised pork with rice, or flavorful soy-sauce marinated chicken wings. But that day, when I wandered into the kitchen, she wasn’t there. She was not at her usual station in front of the stove, engulfed in tantalizing steam coming out of a bubbling pot that she was stirring, telling me that my snack would be ready soon.

The eerie stillness was a stark contrast to what had happened in the kitchen only a few days before. I began to search the house to make sure Mama had not hurt herself. At the entrance to my parents’ room, I held my breath, turned the doorknob, pushed open the door and tip-toed inside. I entered the room inundated with the stale, feminine odor of unwashed hair—the scent of desperate sadness. Mama was asleep and snoring loudly even though it was the middle of the afternoon. Her jet-black hair matted on the cream-colored pillowcase. Her usually smooth forehead crinkled with despair—even in her sleep, she was in agony. On the nightstand, I saw bottles of pills. Sleeping pills, seductive, secret sleeping pills that promised peace and a pain-free slumber. I picked up a bottle and rattled it—it was almost empty. I gathered every bottle in sight and took them. I rushed into my bedroom and threw them in the bottom drawer of my nightstand where I had stashed all the knives in the house a few days earlier.

At an impressionable age, I learned that my parents were not gods—they are flawed human beings. Watching my mother’s meltdown caused by my father’s infidelity, I discovered the dire consequences of being emotionally dependent on a spouse. I told myself back then that I would never want to be in her position. I would never allow my love for a man to turn into ammunition that he could use to maim me. I also learned the importance for a woman to be financially independent—with no economic means, Mama could not leave Baba even if she wanted to. She was an old-school, conventional Asian housewife who had never worked a day outside of her home.

During this dark time, I was overwhelmed and did not know how to process my conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I was angry. How could Baba betray Mama when she dedicated her whole life to us? At the same time, as a Daddy’s Girl, I was confused. Baba was indulgent, showering me with his affection and bringing me trinkets from his trips. When I needed help with my chemistry homework, he was attentive and patient. He was also a fun-loving father who took me and Davis snowboarding on the weekends. I knew he loved Davis and me, but his affair broke Mama’s heart and spirit. I did not understand how such an amazing father could be such a shitty husband.

I developed unhealthy relationship patterns around this time—I worried about men cheating on me or leaving me, but I also desperately dreaded being alone. My strategy was to become infatuated with a person and charm him with attention—the goal was to have him fall hopelessly in love with me, so he would not cheat or leave. At the same time, because I never wanted to be dependent on a man for my financial well-being, I moved around for my education and career. I never stuck around for anybody.

On the surface, I seemed accomplished and strong, but underneath, I was insecure and lonely. The tough girl who smoked and defied her mother was just a façade. Since having my first boyfriend at seventeen, I had not been single for more than a few months at a time. Like a rabbit chased by an unknown assailant, I dashed from one man to the next, looking for someone to validate me, to calm the nagging, neurotic voice inside my head: I would never find someone who would love me because I am always “too” something. I am too fat. I am too emotional but also too ambitious. I am too crazy, too free-spirited. I talk too fast, think too much, and has too many feelings. I am too strong-willed, and at the same time, too needy. Over and over again, this voice whispered to me throughout my relationships. With every failed relationship, it confirmed that I was unlovable.

When I met Gökhan, the nagging voice subsided. We connected on OkCupid and hit it off. He was living in Copenhagen and seemed like a reliable and attentive man. He was cute too, with wavy, dark brown hair, deep-set mahogany eyes, a straight nose, and a thoughtful demeanor. He quieted my anxiety with his patient, soothing voice. We fell asleep talking to each other on Skype many nights. I felt safe having him in my life.

The start of our relationship was a sweet and romantic internet fairy tale that spanned continents. After chatting online for three months, we met in person in Istanbul. On our second night together, Gökhan and I climbed several flights of creaky stairs to reach the rooftop of one of the budget hotels in the Old City. Opening the door to the terrace, the twilight before sunrise greeted us. Gökhan draped a blanket around me when he saw me shivering in the chilly, pre-dawn gust. Then, groping his way in the darkness, he led me to the shabby lounge on the far side of the terrace. We shuffled in our flip-flops, trying to suppress our giddiness. I looked up, enchanted by the constellation above me. As my gaze followed the horizon, I saw the flickering white lights from the boats and ferries dotting the Bosphorus, the strait that functions as a border between Asia and Europe. The twilight was misty, making it hard to see where the sky ended and the Bosphorus began. Over the railing of the terrace were the muted shadows of the shops, homes, and hotels of Old City, peacefully asleep. All around us, the shutters were drawn, the lights dimmed, and it was quiet. We sat bundled up on the lounge in the blanket. I was snuggling up next to a man whom, days before, I had only seen on a computer screen. He bent down and planted a kiss on my lips.

“Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Ash hadu an la ilaha illal lah…” the muezzin called out the first stanza of the haunting and melodic adhan at the crack of dawn to remind all Muslims it was time for the opening prayer of the day. My eyes flew open. To my surprise, my surroundings had transformed. Twilight had receded, and in its place, the sun emerged. The first pink and orange rays illuminated the sky, chasing away the stars. I rubbed my eyes as the sunshine warmed my face inviting me to crawl out of the warmth of Gökhan’s arms. At dawn, the Bosphorus was no longer shrouded in a mysterious mist– it was bustling with ferries and ships moving back and forth between Asia and Europe. The city below was no longer sleeping; it was buzzing with horns and chatter as people arose from their beds to begin a new day. I was in awe of Istanbul’s transformations between night and day. Looking at Gökhan’s handsome face on this brand-new day, I kissed him before we headed back to our room. I was happy and in love.

***

Less than a year later, we faced a conundrum.

I followed Gökhan out of the room and closed the door as his aunts and sisters giggled behind us. We entered the next room, which was his parents’ bedroom and he sat me down on the edge of the bed. Averting my quizzical eyes, Gökhan said, “When the imam asked me what your religion was, I couldn’t tell him that you didn’t have one. So, I told him that you were a Buddhist. He said since you are of the Book—neither Christian nor Jewish, you would need to convert.”

             His words took a few moments to sink in. Once I understood the gravity of the situation, I started to panic. Did he know this was going to happen before talking me into the nikah?

“This is not part of the deal,” I shouted, shaking my head. The pins keeping my lavender headscarf in place pricked my scalp. “You promised that I didn’t have to convert if I go through the nikah!” I glared at him; my gaze was accusatory.

“I’m sorry I didn’t know,” he muttered, “You don’t need to go through with it if you don’t want to. It’s completely up to you.”

Is it up to me? No, it’s not up to me! I started to cry. Gökhan looked at me with his thoughtful eyes. He handed me a tissue. I dabbed my eyes, blew my nose, and shed more tears. I looked up and saw myself in his mother’s vanity mirror. The rebellious teenager inside me mocked my puffy face and smeared make-up—but I could not stop crying. Gökhan fidgeted next to me, occasionally patting me on the shoulder and repeating the phrase, “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

Don’t you fucking understand? I shouted inside my head. From now on, we can never be truly happy together. If I don’t convert, your mother is going to hate me forever, and I am going to feel lousy making you choose between her and me. If I do convert, I will resent you for as long as I live. I kept my head bowed because I could not stand looking at the helpless expression on his face. I could not utter a word because if I tried verbalized my feelings, I would start wailing. The teenaged me would have walked out of the door without looking back. She was, however, overpowered by the decent Taiwanese daughter who did not want her future husband to lose face.

Looking back, I realized that I put myself in this messy situation on an impulse and deeply rooted fear. I was in love with the idea of being in love. I also loved having an exotic boyfriend who had grown up in a set of cultures that were vastly unlike mine. I bragged to friends that between the two of us, we had four passports. At the same time, it was my fear of being alone that drove me to this irrational decision to go through with nikah. Knowing what I know now, I should have walked away—coercion and compromised integrity are not a good foundation for marriage. However, as a third culture kid, I have been crossing borders and adapting to different cultures my whole life. I thought I was ready to cross a new one with Gökhan.

I was wrong.

I wept for an eternity, shed enough tears to fill the Bosphorous. The girl with a cigarette dangling between her fingers, dated white boys and covered herself in tattoos had turned into Gökhan’s bewildered bride. On the other side of the door, the imam was waiting for me to change my wicked, wayward ways and Gökhan’s entire clan was expecting us to profess our undying love and commitment to each other. I cried and cried like a lost child. I did not know how to get out of this mess.

Out of nowhere, Gökhan’s father walked into the room. He was smiling. He closed the door behind him and started laughing. I gave him a look of bafflement as he spoke rapidly in Turkish. He paused and nodded his head. Gökhan looked at me and interpreted what his father had said, “My dad said you are taking this whole thing way too seriously.” 

His father grinned at me, said a few more words and nodded again. Gökhan translated, “He said it’s totally fine if you don’t want to go through with it. But you could also put on a show by pretending to convert, which would make everybody happy.”

I stared at his father, shocked that he had just asked me to go out there and tell a lie in front of the whole family. He chuckled, nodded at Gökhan again and left without saying another word. What his father wanted me to do was what he had done, and what Gökhan had done his whole life: pretend and go through the motions to make peace. I felt defeated and exhausted. I forced my gaze back to Gökhan. Oh, what I would do just to make this awful situation go away!

 After taking a couple of deep breaths, I asked Gökhan to fetch my makeup bag from the next room. I cleaned my face with fresh tissue and wiped away the black smudge under my eyes. When Gökhan returned, I smeared a thick layer of foundation and powdered my face. Then, I applied a sparkly lilac eyeshadow that matched my lavender headscarf. Staring at my reflection in the mirror, I grinned. My eyes were still puffy; my smile looked pathetic but convincing enough to those who did not know me. I smiled again and knew that my mask was secure. I reached for Gökhan’s hand and led him out of the room.

Sadly, Mama’s rebellious Canadian daughter did not have big enough guns to fight the rebellion in Denmark. After all, I was only one young woman trying to keep my integrity abreast in the face of a conservative, cultural tidal wave.

I followed the imam, who told me to repeat the Shahada, the Arabic script that would declare me a Muslim. “La ilaha illa Allah wa-Muhammad rasul Allah,” which translates to “I testify that there is no other God but Allah, and Muhammad is God’s messenger.” The imam said it slowly, pausing after every few syllables to allow time for me to mimic the foreign sounds. Afterward, I signed a piece of paper that the imam had prepared. Shortly after, he declared us husband and wife. 

From that day, I resented Gökhan. I never forgave him for putting me through a conversion.

Our union did not last long. Four months after we arrived in Bahrain, the Arab Spring broke out. A series of protests swept across the Arab world. In Bahrain, the government cracked down on the demonstrations, which created an environment of fear and uncertainty. The turmoil made it difficult for Gökhan to find work. A year and a half later, when he finally secured a job in Dubai, our marriage crumbled. Instead of following him, I got a job in Hong Kong to be closer to my parents in Taiwan. We broke up.

Many years later, I found the lavender headscarf in my wardrobe. I am still in Hong Kong, but now married to a wonderful man who loves and accepts me just the way I am. Though painful, I learned so much from wearing the headscarf that day, like communicating expectations, and accepting the people I love for who they are, instead of trying to change them.  Even though going through nikah and living in Bahrain was challenging, I would not trade that experience for anything else. Without it, I would not have learned how to be in a loving and equal partnership. Taking one last look at the headscarf, I put it in the trash bin. I have come a long way— the girl who smoked in the mall has grown up and learned how to love herself. I now know that I am strong enough to be the person that I have become.

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The Rosewood Sofa

Dear Readers:

As some of you may know, I’ve been working on a collection of memoir-essays titled In the Shadow of the Middle Kingdom. I’ve used the thread with the same title on this website as a sketchbook to craft full-length essays. Today, I would like to share one of my essays with you. The piece I am sharing, The Rosewood Sofa, is close to my heart–it’s about my grandmother and a partial story about my family. It’s also about women’s body, what society expects from us, and strong women who had to make tough choices. Though I’ve worked on it for a while, I don’t think it’s quite ready to be published yet. I am putting it out in the world for some feedback. What can I do to make it more enticing? Feedback in the comment section or to my email would be much appreciated: helloatkayochangblackdotcom.

THE ROSEWOOD SOFA

“Whoa, Kayo,  how did you get so fat?” Ama asked in her dramatic, judgemental tone.

This was how Ama, my paternal grandmother, greeted me during my yearly Chinese New Year pilgrimage to Taichung, Taiwan. Although I hadn’t seen her for a whole year, she never seemed to have anything nice to say to me—the only grandchild of hers who regularly visited her during the holidays. I wanted to shrug off her harsh words, but I couldn’t. She had always made me painfully self-conscious about my body. I stormed off.

“What’s she so angry about?” Ama asked, knowing I was still within earshot.

When she was still able to walk, she used to meet my parents and me in the dining area of her house when we arrived from Taipei. In the center of the dining room was a large rosewood round table with eight matching chairs. Along the walls, Ama had a collection of stone paintings depicting classic Chinese motifs – birds, deer, and flowers made of jade and coral. But in the corners of the room, Ama stored stacks of stock market magazines dating back to the 80s, next to layers of flattened shopping bags from famous bakeries and department stores in Japan, along with folded paper bags made of old magazines, used for discarding pumpkin shells, a popular teatime snack in Taiwan. The clash of luxury and hoarding never ceased to amaze me.

If Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant and author, came to Ama’s house, she would say, “Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.” In Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, a Netflix’s hit show, Kondo helps many cluttered and messy Americans organize their homes and make them happier. “Does it spark joy?” she often asks.

The truth is, Ama has little joy in her heart and no desire to change her lifestyle.

Ama hasn’t spark joy in my heart for a long time, but I couldn’t just dispose of her like old, unworn sweaters in my wardrobe. Baba, my father, justified his mother’s behavior as “the way of the older generation.” Apparently, her calling me fat was supposed to demonstrate her concern for me. She was trying to be nice, he said—but the way she expressed her sentiments didn’t make me feel nice.

 “Ama is very old, and she isn’t going to change.” Baba sighed, “She’s lonely. You should spend more time with her.”

When it comes to matters regarding Ama, I always obeyed Baba. As with any pilgrimage, I took my suffering in stride.

Bracing myself for the moment when she would say something mean, I sat next to her in the living room while she watched a Taiwanese soap opera. Ama’s living room, like her dining room, reflects her twin sensibilities of having the best of everything and never parting with any of it. Shortly before my family left Tokyo and moved in with her, she had renovated her house. Back then, it had brand new, top-of-the-line everything, but that was over thirty years ago. Now everything is dated, dusty and depressing.

Ama’s living room is also cluttered with junk and contains furniture made from polished, dense rosewood that glistens in the fluorescent light. With mother-of-pearl inlay in the shape of sparrows and cherry blossoms on the backs and the armrests, the furniture is grand—reminiscent of Qing Dynasty royalty. If I could find a more appropriate word for the three-seater ‘sofa,’ I would. Normally, I associate ‘sofa’ with something to relax on, something soft, padded with a cozy quilt on top to curl into. Not this one. Like Ama, the sofa felt like solid steel—unbending, unrelenting, and uncomfortable. Ama had placed thin Japanese-style cushions as a buffer between the sitter and the hardwood. These cushions are greenish brown—maybe at one point they were gold, but now they are the color of a half avocado a few days past its prime.

Throughout the living room, Ama displays her collection of artwork, statues of Chinese gods, and old photographs. Between faded bouquets of dried roses, mismatched candles, and other junky knickknacks, Ama hangs the family photographs. There is a professional studio portrait of me when I was about twenty-two. I am wearing a form-fitting red t-shirt and a striped knee-length skirt in pink, red and white. It cinches in a way that shows off my tiny waist. My long, shiny black hair is in a high pony, my smile wide and confident.

“See, you used to be so pretty,” Ama mocked me as she pointed to the photograph. “How did you ever get so fat?”

I shrank deeper into my uncomfortable seat.

There is also a family portrait of all of Ama’s children and grandchildren, taken when I was about eight. Ama, all smiles, sits next to my grandfather, Agon, in the front row. He was an obstetrician and an aspiring artist, who had collected many of the paintings in Ama’s house. The picture captures a time when my relationship with Ama was easier. When my family and I moved in with her, she lived on the third floor of the house, and we lived on the fourth. On weekends, my younger brother Davis and I used to have sleepovers with her. She would gently clean our ears with a Q-tip until we fell asleep. The next day, she would take us to a 7-11 for a Slurpee and a hotdog, which were rare treats. During the week, I hollered at her door to say hi before I went to school.  She always handed me a few coins to buy candies—I had the best treats in my class. On the days when Mama yelled at me for misbehaving, I’d go running to Ama.

“Your mama is so mean,” Ama said, standing between Mama and me. There was nothing Mama could do when I used Ama as a shield. As a child, I noticed that Mama and Ama had an uneasy relationship. I exploited it to my advantage.

Ama was my favorite person for a long time, until we moved to Vancouver when I was 10 years old.

Two summers later, my perception of Ama changed forever. I was 12 when Baba introduced Davis and me to our ‘cousins’ visiting from California, Frankie, Tommy, and Michael. Baba said they were children of his brother, my Uncle Steven. We hit it off right away. Baba took all of us around the tourist attractions in Vancouver, like the aquarium and the suspension bridge. We went to Stanley Park, and Baba bought us ice cream cones. We had a great day.

Despite the fun, I harbored a nagging question: If they are our cousins, why didn’t we meet them sooner? I decided to talk with Tommy, also 12. We established that we had the same last name, Chang. When we started to share our memories of Agonand Ama, I realized that we call different women ‘Ama.’

How could this be? Even as a child, I knew my burning question pointed to something bigger than me. There was an air of taboo about it. Before the age of 12, I didn’t realize there was another branch of the Chang family. However, I always knew something was amiss. When we still lived in Taiwan, I wondered why Agon didn’t live with us. On Sundays, he would come by the house and take all of us—Ama, Baba, Mama, Davis and me out for lunch. We would spend the afternoon in a department store or a park. My favorite was when he took us to Baskin-Robbins. To this day, when I taste the tangy sweetness of Rainbow Sherbet, I think of Agon.

I have fond memories of those Sunday afternoons. But I noticed he never stayed for dinner, let alone spent the night with Ama. When I was about eight or nine, I asked Baba why Agon always left.

“Agon is a very busy doctor. He needs to go back to his clinic to see his patients,” Baba said, eyes downcast.

When I made my discovery at age 12, instead of confronting my parents, I talked to my Aunt Christine, who also happened to be visiting us from Taiwan. She is Mama’s brother’s wife, my favorite aunt, and an adult I trusted.

“Why do Tommy and I have different Amas?” I asked her in private.

“You are too observant and smart for your own good,” she said. “You are right. You and Tommy do have different Amas.”

She didn’t explain why we have different grandmothers, but I pieced together a partial story of the open secret: For most of her adult life, Ama was Agon’s mistress. They met at the Taichung Hospital where he was an accomplished obstetrician, and she was his young, pretty nurse. Despite the 13-year age gap, and the fact that he was already married with children, they fell in love.  Over the years, Ama bore him three children. Baba is the middle child—he has an older sister and a younger brother.

When Ama and Agon were young, it wasn’t uncommon for accomplished men to have mistresses. Though he couldn’t give her the legal status of a wife, Agon took care of Ama bygiving her stocks, jewelry, and property. Ama became a wealthy woman. In the upper society of  Taichung, people gossiped. Back then, Ama was known as a beautiful, cunning man-stealer.

 Despite her reputation, she raised her three children with the best of everything.  When Baba finished college, he moved to Japan for his master’s degree—where affluent Taiwanese people sent their children to be educated. There, he met Mama. Soon after, I was born in Tokyo. When I was six, we moved in with Ama in Taiwan. To prepare, she renovated her house, furnishing it with the best of everything—she bought many expensive things that sparked joy for her at the time, like the opulent rosewood furniture.

In many ways, Ama did well for herself—she had a house, money in the bank and three successful children. Though I have spotty knowledge of Ama’s upbringing, I know that as a baby she, along with a few of her older sisters, was left in Taiwan while her parents took the younger children and moved to Vietnam. A kind, childless widow, a friend of her parents, adopted Ama and raised her. It couldn’t have been easy for Ama to grow up knowing her parents had left her. I don’t know what kind of resources her adopted mother had, but it couldn’t have been easy for a single woman to raise a child. And I can’t help but wonder why Ama chose a married man over other eligible bachelors. She was pretty, educated, and clever—she probably had a lot of suitors. When Agon presented Ama with the prospect of a more comfortable life, she took it in order to better take care of her aging adopted mother—at least that was what I was told. Or maybe she was desperately in love. Either way, it must have been agony to be with a man and watch him leave for the arms of another woman. What did she tell herself to live this way? I think there was genuine love between Agon and Ama, but at the end of the day, Ama chose financial security over love. It’s something unthinkable for me as an educated 21st-century woman.

A couple of years after I unearthed the secret, Agon passed away. Shortly after, Baba moved to Taiwan for work, and Mama soon followed. They visited us regularly in Vancouver, but Davis and I hardly ever went to Taiwan. I only visited Ama once or twice through my teenage years. When I was a senior in high school, she came to visit us—the only time I saw her in Canada. When I was a sophomore in college, I flew to Taiwan when Baba told me that Ama was dying of colon cancer. The doctor snipped a big chunk of her intestines, and she survived. The following summer, I was told to visit again because she was dying of breast cancer. The doctor removed both her breasts, and she survived. She was one tough lady. While Ama was sick, Mama took care of her—cleaning her surgery wounds, bathing her, feeding her. In Mama’s eyes, it was her filial duty as a daughter-in-law to take care of her husband’s mother. She made no complaints, though Ama wasn’t always kind to her. 

It wasn’t until I finished graduate school and started working abroad as a librarian that I began to visit my parents and Ama regularly. By then, my relationship with Ama had been changed by years of neglect. I started to see a side of her I hadn’t when I was a child, and how unkindly she treated Mama. After Ama had recovered from her second cancer, and was well enough to eat with us during Chinese New Year Eve dinner, Ama always held her nose and grumbled about Mama’s cooking.

“How does she expect me to eat this overly salty fish?” she complained, while Mama sat next to her. “Does she want my cancer to return?” Mama never said anything at the table, but her face was distorted with anger.

 One year, I happened to be in Taiwan during Mother’s Day and we all went out for dinner.

“Your mother’s father didn’t like to study and he only became an anaesthesiologist,” Ama said to me while I sat with her in the backseat on the way to dinner, “unlike your Agon, who was a famous doctor.”

I didn’t reply and she continued her monologue, “Just because her family has money, doesn’t make him a good man.”

The dinner was ruined before we even started.

Around this time Ama started to be hostile towards me — I am my mother’s daughter, and I look like her. Calling me fat was her favorite insult, and it was effective in ruining whatever tender feelings I had towards her. If it weren’t for the fact that she was Baba’s mother, I would have had nothing to do with her. There were times I wish I could have used the Marie Kondo method on Ama—I wanted to abandon her. Not only did she not spark joy, she was hurting me. I resented having to visit her year after year, but I continued my pilgrimage. If Mama stuck around Ama after all the years of emotional abuse, surely I could too.

Lately, as I get older, I have begun to see Ama in a more humane light, and try to see the world from her point of view. Maybe she called me fat and complained about Mama’s efforts to take care of her because she had spent her youth vying for the attention of another woman’s husband. In that situation, I suppose I would have become bitter too. 

In more recent years, instead of suffering in silence, I have started to pipe up when she calls me fat.

“Ama, if you are so mean to me every time I see you,” I said with a forced smile, “I won’t come to visit you anymore.”

She pretended she didn’t hear me, and started to fuss about how much luggage we had brought.

The closest I’ve come to having an open conversation with Ama was years ago, when she still had her wits. I don’t remember what prompted her, but she brought out a box of old photographs, containing pictures dating back all the way to her childhood.

“My Mama and Baba.” Ama pointed to a black and white photograph of a couple. I don’t remember what they look like now, but I remember feeling a little connection with Ama—she was, after all, somebody’s daughter.

There were images of the young and beautiful Ama, smiling with other young women in nursing school—the Ama with whom Agon had fallen in love. I love the pictures of Baba and his siblings when they were young, dressed in fancy western-style clothing that must have cost an arm and a leg. Baba and his siblings look like any other happy children playing together. There were pictures of me, Davis and our cousins as babies—her grandchildren. All of her memories were inside that box. She didn’t speak much as she shared its contents, just who’s who. I was transfixed. Touching the fading yellow-hued photographs, I didn’t ask any questions. I wish I had.

The photos were a contrast to the rosewood sofa of the latter part of Ama’s life, captured in endless awkward family portraits taken over the years. Each year now, after Chinese New Year Eve dinner, Ama, Mama, Baba, my Uncle and Aunt gather to share pleasantries and force a smile for another portrait, under the gaze of our younger selves, forever frozen in time. I have a loving relationship with my parents and younger brother, but Baba never shared a close bond with his siblings and neither of them took care of their mother. Except for the fact that they look like each other, there is little evidence that they are related —just forced smiles and visible distance.  The Changs are an extended family by blood, yet our relations are as rigid and uncomfortable as the very sofa on which we sit.

Time has been unkind to Ama. From a strong-willed matriarch, she has been reduced to a feeble 90-year-old woman who can no longer take care of herself. Her body has shrunk and confined to a wheelchair. She has lost all her teeth and has trouble eating. Her razor-sharp tongue has dulled. She hasn’t called me fat for a couple of years now. I do my best to see her through a lens of compassion. Part of me feels sorry for her. After all, if she hadn’t done what she did, I wouldn’t exist.

Now, instead of greeting us in the dining area of the third floor when we arrive in Taichung, she lies in bed. Last year, I went to see her at her bedside and held her weathered but soft, cool hand. When I turned her hand around to look at her thumb, it was like seeing my own. She is family, I know. I wish I could put aside my childish resentment and ask her: Why did she choose to be with Agon? Does she regret her choices? If she could do it all over again, would she choose differently? I have no idea if my questions would upset her. I don’t know if my shame—for her and for myself for wanting to know—should even be vocalized. Maybe next year I will work up the courage to ask Ama for her stories—but I probably won’t. I can only try to be at peace with what little I know.

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Okay, I’ve got (another) Master’s Degree. Now what?

Left: Masters of Library and Information Studies, 2008
Right: Masters of Fine Art in Writing, 2019

When I showed my counselor two side-by-side pictures of me, one on graduation day in 2008 when I earned my Master’s degree in Library and Information Studies, and the other taken 11 years later, when I completed my Masters of Fine Arts in Writing, she pointed to the one of my younger self and asked, “What were her hopes and dreams?”

I replied without hesitation. “To work as an academic librarian at the University of British Columbia (UBC) or my alma mater, Simon Fraser University (SFU). The plan is to have my university eventually support me in earning my doctorate in communications or a related field. In the future, I want to be a selfless educator who help troubled kids not only academically but also humanely, like my mentor Roman had done.”

However, my hopes and dreams were dashed, and the plan derailed when I realized 2008 was a terrible year to finish grad school. With the looming financial crisis, it was impossible for a new graduate like me to find library work in BC, let alone in Canada or the US. To stay afloat, I wrote invoices for a plumbing company, barely making enough to pay rent. Four months after graduation, when the Dean of Libraries at Zayed University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, offered me the Reference and Instruction Librarian position, I leaped on the opportunity. I left behind a boyfriend, my friends, and a fully furnished apartment. I promised myself that I would return home after one year.

Eleven years later, I am still abroad. Though Vancouver will always be home in my heart, I’ve settled in Hong Kong for the last seven years. I’ve almost forgotten about my Ph.D. dream and instead, earned two more master’s degrees. From 2008 to 2017, I no longer strived to be a professor–instead, as a librarian, I taught classes on research skills and creating citations in different styles. I was tired of teaching the same boring classes and worn out by the politics of wherever I worked.

In the summer of 2017, started to transit from a career in librarianship to one in writing. After ten years of libraries, I found the work uninspiring. I started taking e-Learning classes at SCAD, and after a couple of writing courses, I decided to pursue writing full-time. I wanted to tell unique stories, document the vastness of the human condition, and connect with readers and other writers around the globe. During my studies, I explored different writing careers. I thought about becoming an editor for a literary magazine or be the founder of my own publication. Then I applied for numerous jobs as editors and staff writers. At some point, I even considered looking for work as a copywriter. However, there was always a nagging voice inside my head: I didn’t want any of these jobs.

For the last two years, as I sat at my desk working on freelance projects, writing my thesis (a collection of memoir-essays titled In the Shadow of the Middle Kingdom), and applying for writing jobs, I started to miss the community aspect of librarianship. Freelance writing is a lonely job and I began to miss having colleagues and students around me. I miss building collections and organizing events. I miss making a difference in people’s information literacy and reading habits. I also recognized, that as long as I am at the mercy of my clients, I may not have the mental and emotional bandwidth to pursue my own writing projects. At the same time, I also came to the conclusion that I would earn more working as a librarian than as a junior editor or writer in the publishing/media world. That’s when I decided that working at the library and writing on the side would be the best option for me.

I didn’t know as a 25-year-old that hopes and dreams could change. Back then, I couldn’t imagine being anything but an academic librarian and eventually becoming a professor. I didn’t anticipate that 11 years later that I would be able to look back not only to my 25-year-old self but go back even further–to revisit the hopes and dreams of my 22-year-old self. Back then, I wanted to be a writer but I never articulated this thought beyond my journal because I thought my aspiration was not practical or feasible. Through a lot of soul searching in the last couple of years, I started to take my 22-year-old self more seriously and gave her the space to hope and dream. Today, as a 36-year-old, I’ve gathered all of my hopes and dreams and begin to execute them: To write, to be paid to write, and eventually become a writing professor in a university.

Zadie Smith at SCAD Show in Atlanta, Winter 2018.

In addition to Roman, who I have admired and respected since meeting him as a troubled 19-year-old undergraduate student, my role model is Zadie Smith. I had the pleasure of meeting her in Atlanta when she was touring for her collection of essays, Feel Free. Her talk was engaging and afterward, she chatted with every single person who lined up to have their books signed. I want to be like Zadie Smith, a gracious and genuine individual, an accomplished writer, an admired professor, and an inspiration to many. As for my plan? I am going back to the library. At the end of this month, I will be the Library Manager at Discovery College, where I hope to mentor students, organize fun and educational events, and help the next generation to be critical and independent thinkers. After work and on school holidays, I will write, I will edit, I will submit my essays and stories far and wide. I know it’s a tough road ahead, but I welcome the challenges with open arms.

Now, I know that I am strong enough to be the kind of writer I want to be, on my own terms and chosen path. It took a long time to get here, but I sincerely hope that I can be an inspiration to those of you who have hopes and dreams that you’re afraid to pursue. I have been fortunate to have resources and opportunities, but without the soul searching and hard work along the way, I couldn’t have been where I am today. For those of you aspiring writers, artists, designers, and creative types, I want to tell you (as an older recent graduate): Hope and dreams can change and plans can divert. But I urge you to follow your heart, create (and update) your plan, and always be your best self.

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The Abortion Conundrum: Murder or Women’s Right to Choose–A Review of Leni Zumas’s Red Clocks

Red Clocks (2019) by Leni Zumas

Ladies, can you imagine standing trial for medical malpractice because you helped out another woman? Perhaps you may have taken a niece to the pharmacy to purchase topical cream for a yeast infection. Or, you might have given your friend some Advils for period cramps. To be potentially prosecuted for helping to ease the discomfort and pain of another woman may seem absurd to you, but in Leni Zumas’s new novel, Red Clock, this scenario has become the new normal.

Red Clocks takes place in the fictional town of Newville, Oregon, in the not-so-distant future. Zumas, in her poetic language, tells the stories of four women in a society in which the lawmakers overturned Roe v. Wade and fetus gained equal rights as full-fledged humans. In this world, abortion is illegal in all 50 states, and IVF has also been banned because the unborn fetus cannot give consent to being born. Additionally, under the “Every child needs two” act, a single parent can no longer adopt a child.

The laws affect the four women in the novel in different ways. Ro/The Biographer is a history teacher who desperately wants a child but could not conceive, Mattie/The Daughter is a promising high school student who is seeking an abortion. Gin/The Mender is a mysterious woman who lives in the forest and provides alternative health care with her knowledge of herbs and roots. Susan/ The Wife is an unhappy housewife and mother who desperately wants to flee. All their stories interconnect to paint a devastating picture of womanhood in a world where women have no reproductive rights and the rights to their bodies.

When I was younger, I enjoyed dystopian novels like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951). To me, these books describe scenarios that could happen in a technologically advanced but ambiguous future or some imagined post-apocalyptic world that would never be realized. My favourite books are more metaphoric than literal, a way to illustrate the consequences of unchecked power or greed. Either way, the scenarios described in these books are relatable in a far-stretched kind of way and comfortably removed from my reality. They are more like tell-tale signs of the demise of humanity if we as a species aren’t more careful. Red Clocks, on the other hand, is not so removed from our reality–it is grounded in the United States of America in the year 2019.

This novel is poignant in a time when lawmakers are making strides in abolishing abortion rights across multiple states. There are clashes between those who identify as pro-life and those who are pro-choice. Neither side will listen to each the other because abortion, more than anything, is a moral question. Is it an act of murdering an unborn child, or a choice a woman could make for her body and her family? The answer to this question depends on what one might think is a human, or rather, when a group of cells becomes a human. Some people believe that it happens right at conception, while others at the time when the fetus exits the woman’s womb. Then there are the people in between who think a group of cells become a human at some undetermined point between conception and birth. No matter how you slice it, the abortion question is a conundrum: It’s a battle between life and choice. Whose belief should rule the court of law?

There are people who argue that killing an unborn life is unnecessary when the child can be given up for adoption or cared for within the community. It is true that there are women who ended up finding good homes for their unplanned babies. Others may come from supportive communities with resources to take care of them and their babies. However, for many, especially those from less privileged backgrounds, many of whom are women of colour from a lower socio-economic class, this is not an option for them. Yes, carrying a baby full-term is an option for many women, but it is also the least beneficial option for many more. Banning the right to abortion effectively become a punishment for women: for their promiscuity, or their lack of education or for their ethnicity or social economic class.

Recently, over the phone, my mother shared a piece of news about one of our pregnant family members. Her pregnancy seemed normal until she went for an ultrasound during a routine check-up. Afterward, her physician informed her the fetus appeared swollen and give her the diagnosis of hydrops fetalis. According to MedlinePlus, hydrops fetalis “occurs when abnormal amounts of fluid build up in two or more body areas of a fetus or newborn.” It is a symptom of underlying problems, and the survival rate of the fetus is low. According to Healthline, “Only about 20 percent of babies diagnosed with hydrops fetalis before birth will survive to delivery, and of those babies, only half will survive after delivery.” With these facts in hand, my relative made the painful choice to end her pregnancy at 16 weeks.

Though my heart broke for my relative who ended her pregnancy for the health of herself and her family, I am more thankful that she has the ability to make that call. I am a firm believer that abortion should be an option, regardless of one’s idea about human-ness and at what stage a fetus is considered a person with rights. At the end of the day, I want to live in a society with fewer moral judgments where we have the space to have our beliefs. I want all of us to be free to make choices that may be contrary to the beliefs of others. Most of all, I want to live in a more compassionate world where we have dialogues, rather than tearing each other down to prove that one’s belief is more superior. My question is, how do we get there?

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30 years After the Tiananmen Square “Incident”

The phrase “Tiananmen Square” is blocked in search engines in China. The date June 4 has become synonymous with “Sina Censor Day” as Beijing intensifies its censorship efforts to block its citizens from accessing information about the Tiananmen Square Massacre–a tragic day in 1989 in which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fired at peaceful demonstrators and innocent bystanders. To this day, Beijing tries to hide the truth: There was no massacre, just an “incident.” The death of thousands of citizen is not mentioned in any history books; the Great Firewall of China blocks any words or phrases associated with the event, and to this day, Beijing has never acknowledged, let alone apologized, for their brutal tactics in suppressing the amicable democracy- seeking protesters. Every year on June 4th, Beijing watches closely, ensuring no trouble could be stirred up within China. However, across the border in Hong Kong, thousands of people have gathered for a candlelight vigil every year since 1990 to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the hands of the PLA.

Partial view of the crowd at the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre.

This year, for the first time (after living in Hong Kong for seven years), I finally attended my first vigil with my husband Derek. From our home in Wan Chai, we walked to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, which took us about 20 minutes. It was an incredibly humid night; my phone pinged with ceaseless thunderstorm warnings from the Hong Kong Observatory. It took us a while to get through the crowd to finally enter the park, but it was evident that despite the imminent bad weather, spirits were high. Thousands of Hong Kong people gathered for the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre and to protest against the proposed extradition legislation. If this legislation becomes law, it will be problematic as it could allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong lacks a deal, including mainland China. Basically, Hong Kong people can be extradited to Mainland China to be prosecuted under Chinese law–a frightening thought indeed, especially for activists, journalists, and other vocal folks Beijing deems “criminal.”

The vigil was a humbling experience. On the surface, I blended in with the thousands of Hong Kong people around me, but as a Taiwanese Canadian living in Hong Kong, I am an outsider-insider. Though I didn’t understand many of the speeches in Cantonese or receive one of the white candles that the organizers were handing out, I was in awe. Looking at the serene faces lit by the soft glow of the burning wicks, I admire Hong Kong people’s resolute and determination to memorialize those who lost their lives on June 4, 1989. I respect their perseverance to defy Beijing by gathering each year, refusing to let go of the past. I feel a sense of affinity with the people of Hong Kong at the vigil and they gave me a little glimmer of hope: Perhaps with the international community watching, the Hong Kong people’s effort to preserve their autonomy will not be ignored. This leads to me think: Perhaps Taiwanese people can take a cue and organize a vigil next year in Taipei? A vigil not only to commemorate those who died but also as a gesture to show the international community that Taiwan is a democratic society, and should remain free of Beijing’s control.

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The Forgotten 30 Houses

Originally published in Photography is Art, Issue 12, December 2018, pp. 118-125.  Photography by Johnny Gin

The original emerald windows are one of the unique features of tong lau from the post-war era. They give us a glimpse of Hong Kong’s past.

Tucked behind the trendy restaurants and bars on Staunton Street in the Central District of Hong Kong is a piece of history the rest of the city has forgotten. I climbed several sets of steep steps behind the Police Married Quarters (PMQ) to find a quiet, shaded neighbourhood of low-rise buildings, “tong lau,” arrayed around a network of granite steps, airy terraces, narrow lanes, ancient trees, and quaint little shops. Tong lau –literally “Chinese buildings” –were built in the late 19th century to the 1960’s. They were used as tenement housing in southern China, Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

In the middle of the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, 30 Houses is a charming neighbourhood that is only accessible by foot. The area’s core is Shing Wong Street, named after the guardian god of cities whose temple once stood on the current site of the PMQ. There are tong lau on both sides of Shing Wong Street, most being two or three storeys tall. Facing Staunton Street stands a taller grey building. Between Staunton Street and Caine Street are many small lanes that consist of tong lau and vacant lots. Once upon a time, tong lau stood in these lots. The ground floors were used as storefronts for print shops and other small businesses while the shop owners and their families lived in the upper floors.

Folding gates made with corrugated iron emblazoned with floral patterns is a common feature of tong lau in the 30 Houses neighbourhood.

The name “30 Houses” likely originates from an earlier 19th-century development destroyed by bombing during World War II. After the war, the government and local landowners redeveloped the area, and it became a vibrant working-class neighbourhood. Over the years though, the tong lau were torn down to make room for modern high-rises. As these new residential developments sprung up in the area, the “kai fong,” the neighbourhood residents started to move away.

I learned about this alluring and nostalgic area from Katty Law, a neighbourhood activist serving as the convenor of the Central and Western Concern Group. As a kai fong, she grew up on Caine Road and has watched her home neighbourhood transform.

“I’ve lived in the neighbourhood for over 40 years,” Ms. Law mused. “When I was young, there used to be a lively street market on Staunton Street. Now people see little trace of it.”

Not only are the original grocery shops, and dai pai dong, traditional open-air food stalls, have gone years ago, many of the remaining tong lau have also become dilapidated shells of their former glory. The Hong Kong Urban Renewal Authority (URA) has been planning to tear down the tong lau to build luxury apartments. But 30 Houses isn’t just any neighbourhood: with 19th-century layout and building orientation and early 20th-century architectural style and construction techniques it represents something unique in the city. The tong lau are rare examples of the post-war urban residential neighbourhoods built between 1948 to 1958. They make a striking contrast with the surrounding high rises, built in the more recent years. Once these historic structures are destroyed, a part of Hong Kong will be lost forever.

Human memory is faulty and ephemeral; it only remembers what the eye sees. Once a building is gone, it fades away and eventually disappears from the collective consciousness. Fortunately, photography has been a medium to document and preserve buildings and communities in the brink of disappearance. In 1967, American photographer Danny Lyon made images to give testament to the transformation of lower Manhattan. He was able to record the process of turning an abandoned mid-19th-century working district of markets, warehouses, showrooms, and hotels, to complex high-rises that eventually became the heart of the financial district, where the World Trade Center once stood. Lyon’s work was turned into The Destruction of Lower Manhattan (1969), which seized the rare moments before the disappearance of a neighbourhood.

The curved balconies of 88-90 Staunton Street can be seen while climbing the steps on Shing Wong Street. They add to the structure’s old-timey charms.

Johnny Gin is a Hong Kong-based photographer. His interest in buildings, and specifically, how the built environment and vernacular landscapes inform the identity of a city led him to photograph the 30 Houses area.

Gin’s lenses captured various stages of development and decay in the area. Wing Lee Street, made famous by the 2010 film, Echoes of the Rainbow is one of the few to have escaped demolition. The tong lau on this street have been restored by their owners but are missing many of their original details, such as emerald iron balcony fences, matching window frames, and folding gates made with corrugated iron emblazoned with the name of businesses.  They now look uniform, stripped away of the eccentricities that made them intriguing.

Behind the tong lau on Wing Lee Street is a massive retaining wall—another marker of Hong Kong history. Since the original City of Victoria –the colonial name for Hong Kong –sits on a steep slope, 19th-century engineers dug an “L” shape onto the side of the hill to clear flat land to build on. On the long end, they used locally sourced granite to construct a sturdy retaining wall, matching the flagstones on the neighboorhood’s stairways. Trees have sprung up in the gaps in the wall, their unruly roots stretched out like spider webs across the wall, leading locals to call them “wall trees.” (石牆樹)

Wah In Fong West is a narrow street, one side facing a row of tong lau across from a stairway. This arrangement reflects the original orientation and plot size of first and second-generation tong lau in the Tai Ping Shan area, a densely populated zone struck by the plague of 1894. Nowadays, it is the only remaining two-storey tong lau built alongside the granite steps in Old Central. Tragically, these unique homes are among the most deteriorated structures in the 30 Houses area. Their facades obscured in bamboo scaffold and mesh, the upper floors are barely perceptible from the street. Even so, remnants of their past are still evident: the emerald balconies with their original plant holders and the storefront signs mark what once was a print shop near the top of the alley.

This concrete building features the ventilation shafts in the staircases, providing airflow in the hot and humid summers.

My favourite building in the area is the imposing four-storey concrete building at 88-90 Staunton Street. Rusty metal gates obscure the store sign, but the ground floor might have been a “Cha chaan teng,” a traditional café that served affordable Hong Kong style western food. I imagine this is where the kai fong gathered for breakfast before work. One of its most striking features, common in neighbourhood buildings, are the long vertical ventilation shafts carved at the front of the building. These provide much-needed airflow through the staircases, especially during the hot and humid summer months. Rounded balconies, visible from the Shing Wong Street steps, add to the old-timey charm.

The best-preserved tong lau can be found on Shing Wong Street, three-story structure split through the middle with ventilation shafts. The owners kept all of their original features through recent restorations, including balcony railings, window fixtures, and folding iron gates. Storefronts occupy ground floors, while upper levels are reserved for rental properties.

As a long-time resident of Hong Kong, I probably walked by this hidden architectural wonder hundreds of times on my way to the bars and restaurants in the area. However, the tong lau, sitting halfway up the hill, are very easy to miss. They have been tucked away, decaying while their surrounding areas develop rapidly. With photographic evidence created by Gin, it is easy to see that though the tong lau are in a terrible and potentially dangerous condition, they embody the passing of time and tell the stories of Old Hong Kong.  Even though they can be seen as an eyesore to those who don’t understand their history, there is a potential to restore and repurpose these old tong lau and turn them into social housing that Hong Kong desperate needs, artists’ residences to allow creative pursuits, and retail spaces to attract tourists. Ms. Law and her group are advocating to preserve them as part of Hong Kong’s history.

“It is so important to keep the original character of these buildings, as they are a culmination of history,” Ms. Law said, “Perhaps Shing Wong, the guardian god of the city, is protecting our area. After all, the buildings still stand today.”

Notes:This text is based on the research done by Katty Law, Charlton Cheung, and Sjoerd Hoeksta for the Central and Western Concern Group.

The author has read The Life and Death of Buildings: On Photography and Time by Joel Smith (Princeton University Art Museum, 2011) to learn about Danny Lyon’s work in The Destruction of Lower Manhattan (1967).

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Wan Chai Grammatica: Past, Present, Future Tense

Studying an acrylic painting of green shrub and concrete, Dewey Punk Pickles knows right away what she’s looking ata pathway in Wan Chai she passes by during her morning runs to Victoria Harbour. Yeung Tong Lung’s brush strokes remind her of Cézanne’s obsessive and repetitive dabbing of paint. However, unlike Cézanne,  who took up to 100 work sessions to complete a still life, Dewey doubts this artist had put in as much effort.

Dewey is at Wan Chai Grammatica: Past, Present, Future Tense, an exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Wan Chai Arts Center, Hong Kong. Lately, she has attended many shows and openings to enhance her skills as an art writer. For a Hong Kong-based writer who doesn’t want to work in finance or PR; art writing is her best bet.

As a Wan Chai resident of almost seven years, Dewey is interested in how artists see Hong Kong from the past, present, and future. Looking at an acrylic painting by Galylord Chan, she recognizes that this is an image of Vicotria Harbour of Old Hong Kong the low-rise, not-skyscraper buildings, the old-timey clothes hanging to dry, and the airplane flying near the mountains on the Kowloon side where the old Kai Tak airport used to be. Though she wasn’t alive in Hong Kong during that time, she’s seen enough of Fan Ho’s photographs to get a sense of what Hong Kong was like in the past.

Chan’s painting looks as though the viewer is viewing at the harbor from the mountains, and the artist uses child-like lines to render the cityscape, evoking a sense of innocence. However, there is a depth to it too, like the way the artist illustrates the stacking of concrete buildings in Kowloon to show its population density. Also, by placing a ferry in the middle of the painting, the artist highlights the importance of ferries in Old Hong Kongbefore the MTR (the reliable and inexpensive transportation system of Hong Kong), people relied on ferries to get from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and vice versa. These days, the Star Ferry that takes passengers from Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui has become a relic from the past. Although Dewey thinks it’s romantic to ride the Star Ferry, she only does so when she is not in a hurry.

Harbour (1969) by Gaylord Chan.

Dewey looks at an ink and acrylic painting by Luis Chan that reminds her of classic Chinese ink paintings.  She’s always enjoyed the serene mountain scenes created by the elegant strokes of a calligraphy brush. This one before her is a modern take of an old form, a painting of hilly Hong Kong Island with the sea and Kowloon in the backdrop. There are a few buildings in the picture, but the hills are mostly bare, except for a crazy tree with blue, yellow, and red leaves. In the harbor are junk boats with crimson sails, and at the foot of the hills are some obscured figures they look like they are carrying something.

Other objects that remind Dewey of traditional Chinese landscape paintings are over-the-top dioramas created by MAP Office.  She stops before a snow-capped mountain made of mini plastic palm trees covered in glue. All around the hills are soldiers wearing green uniforms and white helmets who have climbed towards the top using ropes secured by divers down below. The diorama depicts a scene of an invasionthe soldiers are storming around the Godzilla-like monster on the top of the mountain, trying to destroy it. Dewey thinks that this work shows the transition between old Hong Kong moving to a more contemporary Hong Kong.

Dewey’s favorite diorama is the landscape of seashells, fan-like corals, and a sand dollar covered in shiny pink beads, plastic palm trees, faux pearls, and female figures performing lewd acts. Some of them are lifting their skirts to show their asses; some are standing around naked sticking out their tits, others are sitting on the ground, submitting themselves to the male gaze. This glittery, pink world reminds Dewey of the neon lights on Lockhart Road, where young women from southeast Asia in short short skirts holler at Gweilos to entice them to stop for a drink.

Close-up of Wanchai Islands: Wanchai Colonies (2018) by MAP Office.

Dewey stands before Xyza Cruz Bacani’s photographs of street scenes of Wan Chai. They are typical scenes of the neighborhood: Laborers hanging out on the steps of the Southorn Playground, a Gweilo (Cantonese slang for a light-skinned European descent) passed out on the infamous Lockhart Road, (Wan Chai’s red light district), and a couple kissing on the crowded sidewalk off Johnston Road. The image that captured Dewey’s attention shows the closing of an iconic Wing Wah Noodle Shop in Wan Chai. The store sign made up of four Chinese characters were covered carefully with characters printed on white paper, “gloriously finished business.” Wing Wah had been serving tantalizing wontons noodles and mouthwatering braised pork knuckles for the last 68 years. She’ll miss Wing Wah’s wonton noodles, especially after a night out.

Dewey enjoys these images because it’s fun to identify the locations in her neighborhood. They are current, like something she’d see in her day-to-day life. However, in her mind, they lack that unique little details that make her love the photographs. Or, perhaps she’s too fixated on identifying the locations to find the details.

So far, Dewey has explored the past and the present of Wan Chai. However, the only object in the show that reflects any inklings of Wan Chai in the future tense is MAP Office’s aquarium tanks stacked on top of each other. There is nothing special about the tanks, except when she bends down to take a closer look.  Upon seeing at the construction projects outside of the window through the tank, Wan Chai has been turned into an underwater world inhabited by fishes. If the government and corporations don’t stop with the reclamation projects, Dewey thinks, we’d all have fishes as our neighbors.

Close up of Wanchai Islands: Wanchai Island (2018) by MAP Office.

There were a lot of artworks in the three-level exhibition space. There are photographs of Hong Kong skyline floating over a pint of beer by South Ho Siu Nam. There is an installation of leftover Indian food on banana leaves by N.S. Harsha, its realistic qualities grosses her out a little. There are more paintings, installations, and photographs, but after a while, her mind checks out.

Thinking back, Dewey wonders if Wan Chai Grammatica was an exhibition of quality. As a budding art writer, she needs to be analytical of her observations. She likes many of the objects in the show, though she is aware they are the ones she can relate to based on her own experience. She wonders if she would have enjoyed them if she didn’t live in Wan Chai. Also, she is also keenly aware that she hasn’t paid attention to everything in the show—there are just too many damn objects.

Yes, the exhibition makes an effort to show Wan Chai from the past, in the present, and what the future might hold, but, but Dewey’s not sure if the show has cast a new light on how she sees the city she calls home. Many of the objects illustrate Wan Chai’s multi-cultural identity and its colonial past. There are also some reflections on its seedy reputation and over-consumption. Many of objects also evoke a sense of nostalgia while documenting Wan Chai frozen in time. None of this is revealing or challenging though, Dewey thinks to herself. She’s not quite sure what deems revealing or challenging, but she’ll let you know when she comes across it.

 

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Dewey Visits Cao Fei’s “A hollow in a world too full” at Tai Kwun, Hong Kong

Dewey Punk Pickles doesn’t understand art. She’s never studied art in school though she was a librarian at an art and design university. She goes to art exhibitions because it seems like the cool thing to do. All the cultured, intellectual, creative types, the type of people she associates with, are all going to drink wine at the art opening.

Dewey goes to the JC Contemporary at Tai Kwun to see Beijing-based artist Cao Fei’s show, A hollow in a world too full. Tai Kwun used to be a prison complex back in the colonial days of Hong Kong. The Jockey Club spent a fortune restoring and renovating the previously abandoned space. Dewey thinks it’s ironic that the institution that makes its bucks luring Hong Kongers with horse racing and gambling is now the city’s peddler of art and culture.

The entrance of JC Contemporary and its lobby is full of pretty, well-dressed people.  They stand in clusters, chatting while sipping on their wines and beer. Dewey stands with her husband, Mean Dean, while drinking a glass of white wine. For free wine, it isn’t bad at all, she thinks to herself. She says hi to some friends, people she knew when she was a librarian. Then, with Mean Dean, she walks up to a grand staircase leading to the exhibition space. The place still smells like fresh paint. She has no idea what to expect.

Rumba (2015-2018). Video capture from the exhibition. 

The first things Dewey encounters are some seemingly mindless yet hyper-aware disc-like robot cleaners roaming on a minimalistic landscape. They navigate the narrow passageways from one island to the next without aim but always swivel at the edge of the raised platform.

“I don’t get it,” Dewey thinks to herself, “what are these Roomba vacuum robots supposed to say?”

She keeps these thoughts to herself as she doesn’t want the people around her to hear her stupidity and ignorance. She clutches her exhibition catalog, hoping to glean some insight from it. But she has trouble reading while walking, and Mean Deans has already moved on to the next room.

The next room is a darkened theater. On the wall outside, it has a sign indicating that only those over the age of 18 are allowed to enter. The film shows a post-apocalyptic fantasy world filled with miniature architectural sets and figurines. Dewey sees the derelict golden arches of MacDonald’s restaurant and abandoned Porsches. There are people in this film too, and they look scared, in pain, or like zombies.  Then, the scene changes and a man and a woman start to have a conversation in French. Dewey feels a little voyeuristic at this point as she stares at a pair of figures fucking on the screen. The woman is on the top riding the man. Dewey can’t help but notice that it looks like the woman is riding a metal rod, the rod is the man’s dick. Riding a rod doesn’t sound like a pleasurable experience.

Dewey is not bashful or anything, but while the film is fascinating on some level, it lacks plot. It doesn’t have a beginning or an end, and things are happening randomly. Sitting there in the dark room, she starts to feel sleepy. She curls up next to Mean Dean and falls asleep.

Prison Architect (2018). This is a close-up of one of the installations.

She wakes up when Mean Dean stands up to go to the next room, which has distressed walls with grey, peeling paint. Close to the back wall is a desk with an old-timey lamp on it. The lamp is on. Dewey sees a black rotary phone, a glass ashtray with two boxes of matches, and a file on a prisoner open for all to see. Behind the desk is a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II hanging crookedly on the wall.

“Ah,” Dewey thinks to herself, “this must be one of the offices when Tai Kwun was still a prison.” This she understands and thinks is interesting. She feels that she understands culture and history better than art.

At this point, the exhibition space has closed. Dewey Punk Pickles and Mean Dean leave the exhibition, having seen only half of it.

A week later, Dewey returns to the JC contemporary. This time, she reads the exhibition catalog before going to the show, so she has some vague idea of what to expect.  After seeing the vacuum robots, the film with the zombies and the fucking couple, and the prison room, she finds herself on the top floor.  There are two screens flashing with animations. She looks at one of them for a while. It looks like a city in China but like a Chinese city on crack. It has a crazy, over-the-top color palette, and the perspective spins as if we are seeing the city from a drone.  At one point,  Dewey sees Tiananmen Square. In the place where Mao’s portrait should have been is a picture of a panda. She chuckles.

She doesn’t bother to look at the other screen in the same room. Instead, she climbs down the grand staircase and continues the exhibition.

Prison Architect (2018). This is the space where the film is shown.

The next exhibition is another film, and according to the catalog, it is called The Prison Architect, a newly commissioned work. The film is only a part of the work, as it also includes installations that span three floors. The film takes place in Tai Kwun in the past as Victoria Prison and in the present as Hong Kong’s hub of art and culture. The protagonists of the film, a female prison architect and a male poet-prisoner, exist in parallel realities–she lives in the present while he stays in the past. Cao creates illusions in the physical space by installing prison-style bunk beds, the same ones from the film, in the theatre, which allows Dewey and the other people watching to immerse themselves in Cao’s imagination.

Dewey recognizes the prison office where the poet-prisoner is getting yelled at by a crude, mango spewing guard. She becomes excited that the exhibition is coming together through this film. The open file she saw during her last visit must belong to this poet-prisoner.

In another scene, she notices that the prison architect is slicing her mango carefully in her modern Hong Kong apartment, and placing them in a bowl. Later on, there was the poet-prisoner, holding a half-peeled mango.

She wonders about the mangos.

Dewey has her Eureka moment in the scene that takes place in a starkly white room that looks familiar. There are three ghost-like prisoners with painted faces that are spinning around the poet-prisoner as if trying to suffocate and swallow him.

“Oh! That’s in the same room where the Roomba cleaners are!” She shouts inside her own head, “the robots might be a representation of the prisoners prowling in a random yet cognisant way.”

Dewey feels pleased about making this connection.

The rest of the exhibition doesn’t interest Dewey Punk Pickles as much, now that she feels like she’s figured it out. She walks down the grand staircase and notices fake mangos dangling.

At home, Dewey tells Mean Dean about the exhibition and what she figured out. Then she remembers the mangos.

“What is up with the mangos?” She asks.

Mean Dean tells her that there used to be a massive mango tree in the Victoria Prison complex, and the guards used to eat the sweet, meaty fruit from it.

How does Mean Dean know this? Dewey has no idea.

A Solo Exhibition by Cao Fei, A hollow in a world too full @ Tai Kwun, Central, Hong Kong. On view until December 9, 2018. 

 

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