Category Archives: creative

“Routine Application” by William Ng

Office

The printer, sheet after sheet, roars off another batch of applicants in the Pre-Interview Processing zone. For the first time a full-screen dialogue box pops up on the screen of his laptop – COLLECT FORMS. He floats down the grey-carpeted corridor past the cubicles of others, retrieves his ream of ivory-coloured forms, and retreats to his minimalist desk. How many times, he thinks, will I have to reincarnate as trees for this ream? But that’s too soon for him to count, for it is only the second week of his probation period as a Global Business programme assistant.

    Enough. Pinch two papers; staple left corner. Pinch; staple; pinch; staple… From the reflection on his monitor he notices that his stapling hand has fallen into a clapping rhythm. Every two pages an applicant – names, results, disabil special needs – that’s all the currency GB needs to know. Twenty interviewees today, he is assigned to receive them in the waiting room on the first floor .

    Clock ticks thirteen. “Hello,” he again reproduces the guidelines with his rehearsed lips curling up like a smile, as the final applicant of the pile materialises in RM101, “ID card, transcripts, and other certificates for verification please.” How many Johns and Chans are there under the neon signs, his high school teacher’s words to him reverberate in his mind, dying for their folder of top-notch certs. “Thank you, John, please wait.”

    “Sir, may I know if I’m… sorry,” John apologises as the vermilion INTERVIEW IN PROGRESS sign flashes to silence and signal that the interview room is ready.

    He presses 13/F as John follows into the lift full of WE WANT YOU posters.

    “Leadeur Camp, Bildungsociety,” John murmurs while exploring the surrounding notice boards, “are they for freshmen?”

    “Yes, please do…” he replies, “learn skills and have certs.” Pause. He feels the gaze of John, which anticipates something more than the guidelines. “I joined them back then.”

    “Oh,” John lights up, “did you make friends there?”

    “Not many, since most of them were busy with their extracurricular interests,” he hesitates with a faint grin, “more like curricular… but yes, mine had the time of our lives together.”

    “It’d be nice if I get in and meet my buddies,” says John with a cheerful crescendo.

    “Right, you’ll be fine,” he looks up at John. That promising countenance is not unfamiliar.

    “Thanks,” John nods with the decelerating lift, “hope to see you again.”

   He smiles. “Yes, I’m…” yet, his muffled voice joins the open door that reveals  the oblong corridor, “the third room, please.” He remains in the lift, for John will be then followed up by the post-interview team.

    He returns to the PIP zone and slips into his partitioned square. His cheeks are warm, perhaps due to the dazzling LED sun. The photocopied pieces lie on his desk. He holds these paper applicants and checks. Again, he looks, for three stapler claps longer than usual. Through these papers, his gaze seems to converge on something more tangible. Clock tocks. AC moans. However, the data light flickers green and green the printer grunts. He stamps a tick on their faces, puts them into the out-tray slot and resumes. The printer, sheet after sheet, roars…

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williamWilliam Ng is a graduate of the Department of English and Department of Education (Class of 2016). [Click here to read all entries by William.]

“The Broken One” by Naterlie Ip, by Christy Leung, Leo Lau and Charis Yeung

GlassEditor’s note:
This is an excerpt
from a longer adaptation
of Tennessee Williams’s
The Glass Menagerie (1944).

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(Laura stands at the centre of the stage. Tom and Amanda enter the stage and stand at either sides of Laura. All three solemnly face the audience. Amanda is spotlit.)

Amanda: It was the first and last time Tom swore and erupted… with such piercing hatred in his eyes that sliced right through my heart (places her hands upon her chest as she speaks). And he left (pauses to stifle the onset of tears)—as how I always knew he would. But never had I envisioned such an abrupt and disheartening departure. Gone like a tornado, leaving behind an old, dying soul… and his helpless sister—oh my poor Laura. What have I done to deserve this? A broken marriage and a broken family. Dreams – they can be intoxicating like a drug, clouding our priorities. (To an imaginary Tom and her absent husband) Why do you dream such brutal dreams? Why—oh why isn’t a wholesome family, a lovable companion worth dreaming for? What is more tormenting than having to live a life without company and die a lonely death?

(The spotlight on Amanda goes off. Tom is spotlit.)

Tom: (relieved, finally breaks free) Looking back, I have realised I lived, lived as if I were a mannequin, lived how Mum had wanted to shape me, lived in what she’d always wanted me to do. Yeah! I’ve lived for her… twenty-fucking-one years! I’d lived as if I had been some sort of walking dead, praising, pleasing whatever Mum desires. Sometimes, I question “where has my voice gone? Where has my lost soul been?” (Pauses) I didn’t go to the movies—I went much further. And now I get to see the world, without it always coming upon me unaware, taking me altogether by surprise… Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, Laura. (pauses) Break through Laura… Break through! Go search what you desire! … So goodbye… Laura… goodbye…

(The spotlight on Tom goes off. Laura is spotlit.)

Laura: (her face lights up with a glimpse of hope, subtle but unmistakable) I tried, I really did try—though ultimately failed to make Mum proud. (Pause with silent remorse, but quickly dethroned by hope) But I am thankful. Thankful that all these had happened. Thankful that Tom has finally set himself free. Mum says he is selfish—“like father, like son” she says. But I reckon he has found his inner voice—a voice buried deep in the hefty folds of his subconscious, a voice that sings the invigorating tune of ambition. I might have one too—I think I do. It is soft and delicate, unlike Tom’s. But it speaks, as unapologetically as can be, of the dreams I have, and of the wishes I make. Ppp… perhaps—maybe one day, this lovely melody that I have been composing in my head—one that I have been rehearsing hundreds and thousands of times, will just be loud enough—just loud enough to be heard. To be heard by somebody—absolutely anybody… (turns off cell phone)

(Lights on)

(Music)

The Broken One_Members

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Natalie.jpgNaterlie Ip is a BA ENG and BEd ELT Student.
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Leo.jpgA self-proclaimed ‘ethnic minority activist, Leo Lau is completing a BA in English & BEd ELT. [Read all entries by Leo here.]
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Christy Leung is a BA ENG and BEd ELT Student.
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Charis.jpgCharis Yeung is a BA ENG and BEd ELT Student.

Announcement: Tammy Ho Lai-Ming will be co-editing Twin Cities, a collection of poetry from Hong Kong and Singapore

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Perhaps Hong Kong is a city of cinema. From the neo-noir neon stylings of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, to the stylised longing of early Wong Kar Wai, through the boom years of Cinema City and larger-than-life film stars, she has played host to countless cinematic moments with her cosmopolitan beauty.

And perhaps Singapore is a city of form. Structure drives everything in this rigidly planned city-state—traffic lights and electronic road pricing and meters and out-of-bounds markers; a system that runs like clockwork; and a citizenry nominally cultured in conformity. The city contains multitudes from every race and creed, yet in our lives we strictly colour inside the box, queue wordlessly around the block and stand behind the yellow line.

Combine the two, and what do you get?—The twin cinema.

The twin cinema is a rigid, yet spectacular poetic form that mixes constraint with possibility. Its twin columns can be read vertically down as discrete poems, yet you can also hop across the space between skyscrapers and find meaning that bridges the gap horizontally for each line. It can be used to contrast two opposed points of view, or find a common bridge across a seemingly insurmountable gap—juxtaposition, after all, is at the heart of modern cinema. It was invented by Singaporean poet Yeow Kai Chai.

Tammy Ho Lai-Ming will be co-editing the collection with Joshua Ip, founder of Sing Lit Station, Poets from the twin cities, Singapore and Hong Kong, will tackle the challenge of the twin cinema form in tandem with their own interpretation of the ties that bind or divide the two. The two cities share some links of cultural heritage, postcolonial history, rich financial centres and trading ports with the hectic life that follows, and also the sense of a hinterland yawning just across the water. Yet they also rival each other in numerous fields, and are divided by language, by geography, and political affiliation and situation. This is fertile ground for poetry—and may it grow cities.

The closing date for submissions is Saturday 3 Jun 2017. Submission details are available here.

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ABOUT THE EDITORS
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Tammy Ho Lai-Ming is a Hong Kong-born poet, editor, translator and academic. She is the founding co-editor of the first Hong Kong-based online literary journal, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and an editor of the academic journals Victorian Network and Hong Kong Studies. She has edited or co-edited several volumes of fiction and poetry from Hong Kong, including Hong Kong U Writing: An Anthology (Department of English, HKU, 2006), Desde Hong Kong: Poets in Conversation with Octavio Paz (Chameleon, 2014) and Quixotica: Poems East of La Mancha (Chameleon, 2016). She has published essays on, among other research areas, Hong Kong literature, culture, and politics and Chinese literature and translation, while her translations of others’ writings can be found in World Literature Today, Chinese Literature Today and Drunken Boat. Her first poetry collection is Hula Hooping (Chameleon, 2015) and in 2016, she was awarded the Young Artist Award in Literary Arts from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council for her poetry and contribution to the local writing community. She is an Assistant Professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, where she teaches poetics, fiction, and modern drama. She is also an Executive Committee Member of PEN Hong Kong, relaunched in November 2016. sighming.com

Joshua Ip is the author of three volumes of poetry from Math Paper Press. His debut collection, sonnets from the singlish (2012) won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2014. He won the Golden Point Award for English Prose in 2013, was runner-up for English Poetry in 2011, and received a Honorable Mention for Chinese Poetry in 2015. He has co-edited six poetry anthologies: A Luxury We Cannot Afford (2014), SingPoWriMo 2014: The Anthology (2014), SingPoWriMo 2015: The Anthology (2015), SingPoWriMo 2016: The Anthology (2016), A Luxury We Must Afford (2016), and Unfree Verse (2017). He is currently working on his first graphic novel, Ten Stories Below (2016). He is the founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary charity that runs multiple community initiatives, including SingPoWriMo, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and several workshop groups. He also writes an irregular column, Ipster Cafe, for The Middle Ground. joshuaip.com

(April 2017)

“Comics and Graphic Narratives; or, The Art of the Matter” by Jason S Polley

The fourth-year English course “Comics and Graphic Narratives”, a title as ambiguous as, say, “Short Stories and Novels”, and even the more equivocal “Prose Fiction”, is organised into several unstable thematic groupings: underground comics (or comix), revisionist narratives within the mainstream, memoirs & confessionals, new journalism, and auteur comics. The texts most recently selected for the course are based on historical impact, verifiable influence, and general popularity with readers worldwide, as well as with an eye to comics that experiment and expand the boundaries of the medium. So, while students do recognise some familiar names and titles, less well-known texts and artists too are represented.

In the fall semester of 2016, we read the following texts, texts I’ve loosely qualified in terms of blurred or blending genres, for each destabilises subgenre conventions, not to mention the traditional (artificial) boundary between ‘fiction’ and ‘nonfiction’.

  • Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (auteur memoir, 2006)
  • Crumb, R. The Complete Crumb Comics Vol. 3 (auteur comics, 1965)
  • DeLisle, Guy. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (auteur new journalism, 2006)
  • Zwigoff, Terry. Crumb (quasi-mockumentary film, 1994)
  • Seth. It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken (auteur faux memoir, 2011)
  • Liew, Sonny. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (auteur revisionist memoir, 2015)
  • Matsumoto, Taiyo. Tekkon Kinkreet (auteur revisionist, 2007)
  • Moore, Alan and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen (mainstream revisionist, 1987)
  • Yang, Gene Luen and Sonny Liew. The Shadow Hero (auteur revisionist, 2014)

Tellingly, the critical text for “Comics and Graphic Narratives” similarly resists classical categorisation. Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1994) is at once a comic and a textbook. Understanding Comics is a self-reflexive critical comic that simultaneously traces the history of graphic representation and presents an analysis of different graphic strategies as it legitimates the graphic medium by deconstructing the comparatively recent historical privileging of words over images while expounding on the processes of closure or the invisible art of connecting discrete images. McCloud places a graphic version of himself in the text, thereby, among other things, elucidating the roles of the artist, educator, critic, and student: he’s in the text discerning, evaluating, and creating.

What is the most compelling aspect of this course (for students and instructor) is what I simply label on the syllabus as “Final Project”. I ask the students, in the mode of McCloud, or of any or all of the authors we study, or that students have introduced in their group presentations, to come up with their own creative final work. I offer only a few key—if also indefinite—caveats: the creative final project should be as time consuming as a 10-12 page research paper, should address texts and themes germane to the course, and should include a critical self-reflection of the project itself. In short, the projects ought to combine art and criticism, not at all unlike all worthwhile theoretical, literary, and artistic production/activism.

As when I first instructed a version of this course in Fall 2015, assessing my students’ final projects left me, well, uncommonly moved, if I may be as understated as possible. I decided to photograph what I saw as the most compelling portions of these pieces. These submissions, not unlike our genre-blending course readings, arrived in multiple forms, including, memoir, appropriation, adaptation, auto-fiction, poster, board game, and blog. References to Hong Kong will be obvious to most local readers; references to the works listed above will be more familiar to contemporary comics readers. I realise that the images below offer only single snapshots of the work of my students. I hope, however, that these brief glimpses help to convey the academic, critical, and creative possibilities of the comics medium—and how BU’s senior undergraduate students can exploit this and other media.

Student contributors of the selections that follow (in no particular order) are Blue Bell-Bhuiyan, Stephanie Chan, Brenda Cheng, Ariel Fang, Fenton Fong, Erin Fong, Tiffany Ku, Aaron Kwok, Blaine Lam, Pansy Lam, Xanthe Lau, Cecilia Lee, Isabella Lui, Christy Ngan, Crescentia So, To Chang, Sampson Tse, Liz Wong, and Katie Wong.

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jspJason S Polley is Associate Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature. [Click here to read all entries by JSP.]

“Red Butterfly” by Victoria Ip

Leslie Cheung.jpg
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Son of the tailor to old Hollywood heartthrobs
Every performance of yours was
The most precisely made suit
Like the rouge lipstick Fleur meticulously put on
 
Starched collars protected your suggestive voice
All buttons fastened like your best-kept secrets
The bow-tie was your red butterfly
Unashamed of her beauty
She gently landed on our hearts
 
On every April Fools’ Day
Our hearts open like
The fan of Cheng Dieyi
All flowers on it
In full bloom

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Victoria.jpgVictoria Ip is a Hong Kong Baptist University graduate (Class of 2005). [Read all entries by Victoria here.]

“The Sun and The Moon On October 25” by Jeff Chow

Jeff Chow.jpg

On 25 October my grandma passed away and I remember the sun felt peculiar.

Sitting at a computer finishing up my essay, I received a call from an unknown number. It was my father calling on my cousin’s mobile.

“Your grandma passed away just now. She left in peace,” he said with his usual calmness.

I wasn’t sure what to say. The last few days I had been visiting my grandma at the hospital. We all saw it coming.

A bridge of silence between the two phones.

“So, should I come home and have dinner?” I asked, initiating a conversation – wanting to make sure if he was truly calm, perhaps I would hear him choking up with sobbing.

“Yeah. Come back for dinner. Same time, be back at eight,” he replied.

We said our goodbyes like in every phone call, only to ask if I would be back for dinner. Some yeses and some noes without asking anything much.

I hung up and looked around, only to see students buried in their work at their computers. Each keystroke, each insert and backspace counting down to a deadline for an assignment. Counting down and counting down.

At that moment I suddenly realised the world simply does not stop for death; rather, death only accelerates life with torturous speed. Death somehow disguised as the teeth of a wheel, grinding your delicate face. And when death touches you, you mistake it for the polluted air.

I walked out of the dim computer room, my face instantly stung by the blazing sun. Where do the deceased go? For I had never heard grandma say what she imagined the afterlife would be like. Hence, I could not equip myself with sufficient imagination.

I imagine my grandma lingering in the all-consuming sun, watching me. I could not make sense of her rays, whether they were blessing my skin with warmth or roasting me with curses.

Like they say, “I wish she is now in a better place.” A silent better place where her life story is played backwards, each second, each frame. Every frame only to celebrate and commemorate her once infinite youth. Her vitality will soothe her wrinkles and her loosened skin.

The dark freckles on her cheeks will undo themselves and burn brighter than the sun that I was staring at. The sun ray stung me again but brought me back to my presence. I paused to ponder if she is, the sun or just the toxic dust shrouding it, blocking my vision.

The traffic light turned to green, signalling me to walk towards the MTR station heading home.

***

The metal gate to the flat was left half open to air the place. I knocked on the gate, peeking through the slats—the table, just next to the door, was already set. We had a tiny but sufficient flat.

“I’m coming. Wait a second,” my father shouted from the kitchen. I heard a bunch of vegetables sent to the heated wok, the sizzling sound quickly silenced by the moisture and steam it released. My father opened the gate. I said my greetings to my father, suddenly recalling my grandma lecturing me on manners while twisting my ears.

I stole a quick glance at my father’s expression to see if my greeting him induced any sadness. It was just his ordinary stern expression. He quickly drew his back to the kitchen—the vegetables on the stove top were burning.

It was a dinner for two—my father and me.

I sat at my usual spot as my father served stir-fried broccoli with beef slices. A dish of tomatoes and scrambled eggs with diced spring onion. Small dishes for two people. Just enough.

I turned on the TV and switched to the cooking show. We started eating—never critiquing my father’s cooking, we just ate while we watched the competitors of the cooking show produce their delicate dishes within the one-hour limit but condensed into five minutes of screen time.

I scooped a little hill of rice into my mouth together with some scattered pieces of scrambled egg—pretending it was a delicate dish I was tasting. Often, we turned on the TV, let the judges’ merciless commentary override and fill up the silence.

It was an unspoken agreement between us not to talk about life or anything in general. There’s an old Chinese saying, “No speech while eating, no talk while sleeping”—a Chinese virtue of keeping silent. But the TV was loud.

But my grandma passed away today: how could I succumb to this silence? His back turned to me, with his bowl in his hand, eating in front of the television. I could not see his face.

Was he grieving, mourning? Or was he like me, trying to make sense of “death”? The TV screen had a glitch for a brief second, creating a momentary gap of silence. I envisioned the ghostly spirit of my grandma returning and joining us for dinner. Her blurry limbs now charged with the exact silence that conjured her. She sat across from me, silent like a woman with no name, wielding her chopsticks in mid-air, asking me to return her voice and story. She became only visible to me. Staring at me, she signalled me to ask my father.

“You’ve never told me anything about grandma, really.” That was not technically a question but an accusation borne out of fear. I was suddenly aware of the bluntness with which I caught my father off guard.

“I just assume you know. Like… you feel things,” he quickly responded. I could feel—but only his wish to shut out any “unnecessary” conversation. He pushed a few buttons on the remote; the TV howled louder. My grandma’s gaze was dead set on me, her mouth murmuring something with weak emotion. I could not read her dead lips but I knew she wanted more from me, more from my father, more from her son.

“I know, but how were you raised? Did something happen?” I pursued. Saying this I realised I had nothing but a blank page, not even a random scribble of my father’s history.

He did not stop eating. He then told me a brief story, but he told it in a way that did not give it any unwanted weight and moral.

“Your grandma lived a double life—to her four children, she was the dragon lady; but to your grandpa, she was the subservient wife. The fact that I was the eldest boy in the family meant I was the successor. Your grandparents gave me most of their resources—education, travel, even later when your grandpa died he passed on the fabric company to me. It was the most reasonable thing to do, in a Chinese kind of way. The other siblings’ resentment and jealousy grew throughout the years. They hated me for being the eldest son, for having taken up most of the family’s resources.”

He quickly summarized, then swallowing a mouthful of rice, continued eating.

“Your aunties, uncles are crazies. Especially your auntie Kuen. Even back in the days when girls were not allowed to go to school, I remember your grandpa trying to provide her with an education. But she messed up. She didn’t cherish what was given to her and later dropped out of school and grew more hostile and distant to the family. She got an accountancy job, married someone but divorced three months after they moved in together. She has been single ever since. And she blames everything on me, just like your uncle. After grandpa died, they fought like dogs over you’re his will and heritage. Bunch of crazies.”

“Do you think you are part of the reason Auntie Kuen is now the way she is?”

The question rushed through my lips, and part of my mind immediately regretted I asked it. I was also enthralled because, at last, I was restoring history from my oblivious childhood. A hungry void finally being fed.

My father hesitated with a look of surprise.

“Why should I feel guilty? I said she has messed up. Your mother and I have always kept your crazy aunts and uncles away. There was simply no need to know or to make contact with such people.”

I could feel my father wanted to keep a distance.

I wanted to keep asking, but suddenly I became aware I was interrogating my father at the dinner table, for answers he was trying to hide. Perhaps I was still too young to comprehend things. I wanted to ask if he thought grandma and grandpa were good parents or if he thought of himself as a good father.

Though truth at times hurts but when you set it aside, the wound will no longer hurt but it will still sting you with immense curiosity. A confused curiosity torn between healthy mourning and pure melancholia. Was I doing the “right” thing? To fix the incurable history? To look at the other side of the story and return their voices? Or am I trying to befriend ghosts and enemies or to simply destroy this peaceful silence between what is distant and me?

I wanted to stop asking myself.

***

After picking up the plates and the leftover food, I tied the black apron around my waist and took a good look at the dirty dishes, almost admiringly. Through the stained pan and wok, one could have guessed what was served at dinner. Don’t get me wrong, I rather enjoy washing dishes for therapeutic reasons. I had a clear memory of my mother holding my hand to remove the gunk blocking the water. “Every dirty thing can be cleaned,” she said, and now I could see the bubbly water creating a gentle swirl.

Strangely I always relate washing dishes to my gay identity—the common gay jargon “it gets better” equates to my mother’s lesson, as if to agree being gay is dirty. To my family, it indeed is.

This dirty big secret stained the plates with red ketchup, yellow mustard, chunks of green celery—left unconsumed, wasted, swirling in the bubbly water. I put my hand in the greasy water and purged the blockage into the thin plastic bag with subtle disgust. For I have a secret story that had been shackled by the white-noise of the cooking show, waiting to burst out at any moment, with pride. It then transformed into a pickled side-dish served along with other dishes as a topic of concern, of love and of friendship. Yet I could only see them flushed to waste by my own hands.

Using the wire brush, I scrubbed the pot with brutal force. “Will truth ever be revealed to me? Will my story ever be revealed, told and retold to my children, to my closest ones?” I thought to myself. The blurry silver moon hung low as I viewed it from the wide kitchen window. Yet I saw the sun.

My grandma was there, tracing the outlines of the globe, veiled by a silky silver fog. She has gained her voice and intelligence over the moon and incarnated into a silent warning. Her grey fog danced a riddle for me to guess. No more guessing! Grandma, what is the answer? What is the moral you are trying to teach?

I untied the black apron and hung it on the back of the door, only to see my father napping on the couch in the living room, possibly dreaming. What was he dreaming about? Seeing the edge of his lips moving, I couldn’t stop myself wondering if he was haunted by grief.

I realised I have always been asking myself these questions that have at last re-emerged and broken the water surface. But at the same time I have so many prepared answers to be questioned, to be revealed.

Editor’s note:
This is a slightly edited version of the award-winning original, available here. The story won the Most Creative Award in Hong Kong’s Top Story 2016 competition.

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Processed with VSCOJeff Chow is a third-year student at the Department of English Language and Literature. When not reading, he is busy making puns. [Read all entries by or about Jeff.]