Category Archives: diaries

Pet Sounds: Victoria Ip

Pet Sounds: A series in which teaching staff and students from the English Department reflect on a piece of music or song. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Headspace” series.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]

I Want You.jpg
Cover art, Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”

The first time I listened to Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” was in 1995, when Madonna did a cover of it with Massive Attack for her tribute album. I used to listen to this beautifully haunting track about unrequited love on repeat on my Discman. While I didn’t have a clue what unrequited love was—there was no reason I should have; I was 12—the sadness in her voice was as addictive as her dance moves.

Inspired by Dorothy Parker’s short story “A Telephone Call”, the black-and-white video (see below) is also beautifully haunting, with the queen of pop waiting docilely at home, clad in a figure-hugging leopard dress, for her lover to call. The phone does eventually ring but she chooses not to answer, probably because she comes to the painful realisation that her lover shouldn’t play with something he will cherish for life and she should just let go.

I didn’t listen to the original version of “I Want You” until my mid-twenties when I really got into Marvin Gaye—I still listen to him every day; life is sweeter when he’s around. At that time I had recently experienced unrequited love so it particularly resonated with me. The song opens with “I want you the right way”—his lack of repentance for being recklessly in love is familiar territory.

To be a moth that leaps into the flames while other moths tell you not to—that’s what “I Want You” is about. And that’s why it’ll always be my favourite song by Marvin Gaye, he who burned magnificently.


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

Pet Sounds: Lian-Hee Wee

Pet Sounds: A series in which teaching staff and students from the English Department reflect on a piece of music or song. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Headspace” series.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]


I know there is Impressionist music like Debussy etc which I enjoy, but there’s something else too, more like an impressionistic ear worm (Ohrwurm).

Non-specific, non-descript tunes I think I hear in my head, spiriting me straight into the lazy afternoons of the 1980s where I might be waiting my turn in a barber shop that smells of stale talc with cigarettes, skirting past an old provision store fragrant with aged wooden shelves, grains and sauces, or nodding along a bumpy bus-ride. Above the trees, there’d be huge white clouds cut through by rays of sunshine that reach the cool grass beneath my feet thinly protected by cheap slippers. The musical sounds of my carefree-est years with my favourite-est people indulging in meaningless existence. I seek often to capture these tunes that surface in my mindlessness, and they could have been any of the many songs on radio or TV.

Whichever song/tune I replay in my head, a brain neuron probably lights up and electricity races through at the synapses. But at the same time, each song seems only to capture a bit of that impressionist ohrwurm. Frustrated, I let the Amygdala go straight to the vocal folds and commanded the prefrontal cortex to a secondary, assistant role as notetaker.

The results? I won’t perform them for you, but here are two sheets of music. The handwritten one is for the Ukulele and the other one is really just a skeletal tune that awaits instrumentation and lyric. I doubt anyone would ‘steal’ my creative work, but if they bring you entertainment, I state hereby formally: As the creator of the two works, I give license to anyone who wishes to use them under the terms of “Creative Common, -BY, NC”.


Lian-HeeLian-Hee Wee is Associate Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature. [Click here to read all entries by Lian-Hee.]

“The Dark Room” by Leo Lau

(Part of) the proud production team

*’Ethnic Minority’ refers to a group within a community with different national and cultural traditions from the main population. In Hong Kong, the term ‘Ethnic Minority members’ refers to citizens whose origins are in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and other subcontinental Asian countries.

The phrase ‘dark room’, linguistically speaking, is polysemous—a literal ‘dark room’ filled with unpleasant darkness, or a ‘dark room’ where photographers produce marvellous polychromic pictures.

For me, this analogy best describes the relationship between the majority of Ethnic Chinese and Ethnic Minorities (EMs) in Hong Kong—gloomy like a literal dark room because of the bitter hatred that stems from inadequate mutual understanding, but at the same time also enchanting, inspired by the exotic cuisines and exciting dancing moves shown in Bollywood films.

It seems that most of us have put the emphasis on the excitement, while neglecting the colourlessness of the struggle minorities face in their everyday life. One of my former students, who is now a very good friend, came up with this idea, along with her friends, of a ‘social experiment’—instead of us spoon-feeding people on the difficulty of the everyday lives of members of Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong, we want participants to experience it themselves.

Eventually, we agreed on the composition of a ‘tour’ with four scenarios where Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong find it difficult to cope with, namely language education (Chinese/Cantonese), job hunting, choosing appropriate food, and language discrimination. A discussion takes place after the completion of the tour, allowing the participants to share their views on the issues raised during the experiment and thus, prompting them to reflect on how we may take an initiative to help this somewhat isolated group integrate to the city.

Judging from their reaction, the part that struck the participants most was the one relating to language discrimination. Ah Cha (呀差) is a colloquial expression most often used to refer to Ethnic Minority members from South Asian Countries. The cha (差) is perhaps an allusion to their sense of inferiority, presuming that all citizens under the tag ‘EMs’ are low in status and ability. Many in the majority are unaware of how hurtful this slur might be for members from the minority groups, however tongue-in-cheek it might be intended, and this deepens the misunderstanding between the two groups.

To let our Chinese participants experience the scenario, we thought of addressing them Kong Charn (港燦), a comparably similar quip, belittling the status of Hong Kongers. As expected, the participants all took offence, showing an outraged expression, questioning ‘why did you say this to me? I have never done anything against you!’

You might say we are overly politically correct, absurd maybe, in promoting ‘correct speech’—Come on! It is just a joke after all and don’t take it personally. Perhaps we all consider such ‘jokes’ offensive because they are not at all accurate. Put ourselves into the shoes of others, we don’t feel right with bombardment of ‘jokes’ describing something that we are not on a daily basis. Even if we don’t feel accused, we don’t feel good either—it is just too annoying to have someone repeatedly making fun of you over the same notion.

We all are grownups. Even when we were young, our parents always taught us to think twice before passing comment on others. We can promote civility in society only if we all pay attention to the real meaning of the words we say, bridging the gap between one group of people and another. After all, we were all born equal, without boundaries.

To make the minority in our society feel wronged in a dark room, or to fill our friends’ lives with flying colours, nothing but being mindful of what we utter, will make a huge difference.

Rubina, host of the experiment, gave an overview on the everyday
life of Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong.
Hassan, one of the tour participants who got insulted
during the tour badly, shared his bittersweet experience
of being offered a row of seats on the MTR because of his
skin colour.
A snapshot in the ‘classroom’ scenario,
where participants are taught Urdu, the
official language of Pakistan in an
unreasonably fast pace, portraying the
absurdity and outrageousness of language
policy in Hong Kong in the eyes of Ethnic
Participants engaged in the discussion after
the tour, sharing their feelings on their
verbally-shamed experience.


LeoA self-proclaimed ‘ethnic minority activist, Leo Lau is completing a BA in English & BEd ELT. [Read all entries by Leo here.]

“More of How You See, Less of Where You Be” by Nicola Chan Oi Ching

Dear “Insert Your Name”,

Once you have left home, nothing will ever be the same. You will experience many of your first times. You might be wide-eyed or excited, homesick or disappointed, but you will probably taste them all. It was three years ago when I first left home for Turku, Finland, for an exchange semester. It is a peaceful residential city of not many happenings – a comment, not a fact – as my view of the other land is always relative to my home, Hong Kong – The “City of Life”.

Dating back to New Year’s Eve 2013, my first cultural shock upon my arrival in Helsinki, arose from the no-diners-are-phubbers phenomenon. My heart danced a little at seeing almost everyone’s eyes focussed on either their food or the person with whom they shared the meal. Never a screen-obsessed, I was heartened to learn that my living preference, anachronistic and incomprehensible in the eyes of many Hongkongers, was nothing but a norm in another part of the world. What a lovely relief to have my firm yet unpopular “Live in the Moment” belief justified. Eureka!

“Aha” moments have come one after another since then. I remember: the maybe-honesty-is-not-merely-a-Finnish-stereotype suspicion I had studying the frowns and embarrassment of my Finnish mentor, Mila, while she was learning Cheat – a card game of deception – which she had never heard of, let alone played before. The generosity-improves-everyone’s-mental-health reawakening I experienced after some daily practice of bus-driver-and-rider greetings – a piece of Turkuan social etiquette. The why-hasn’t-there-been-a-global-Asian-lingua-franca question that popped up as I was communicating with a Korean in English, feeling ineffably strange. The “Why pass judgments? Speak and make mistakes!” learning mentality I acquired after my Finland-Swedish literature course began: instead of listening to the lecturer’s monologue, my outspoken international peers and I were asked to voice our thoughts and discuss for two and a half hours – yes, two and a half hours! I felt like a timid guest speaker of City Forum, yet I was proud, and am still, to have stepped out of my comfort zone.

Living in a white spacious room in a white spacious country was not always easy. In the cold, dark and snowy winter of five-hour sunlight, there were nights when my room was filled with the aroma of white rice; sometimes to avoid people, sometimes to avoid washing the shared kitchen’s utensils. Some nights were worse: two slices of Nutella-pasted toast or a bowl of sugary dried-fruit muesli. Only then did I realise that, on top of the distasteful Chinese herbal soups, the only kind my mother would make for its “healing power”, I have also taken for granted the ten-to-twelve-hour working sunlight at home. Do not even try to remind me of the laundry I had to do at 8am on my days off. However, kicking myself out of the thermally insulated bedroom was such a royal privilege on the days I had to struggle between spending the next day sockless or risking my public image for a vacant washing machine whose reservationist was late. I have never felt so strong an urge to take full responsibility for my life: trivial as doing laundry, big as shovelling my icy negativity.

In reminiscence, my stay in Finland was a life experiment and provided life-rewarding enlightenment. Very rarely in life have I been given conditions as such for my inner child to revive, and studying in a foreign land has provided me with all kinds of unfamiliarity, all at once, to retrieve my curiosity for exploring the world with wild eyes. I will never get over the aftertaste of some of the country’s favourite liquorice, salmiakki, nor will I forget the luscious summer strawberries sold at the Turku Market Square. The disorientation of cooking dinner in bright daylight has remained, so has the exuberance of witnessing the midnight sun. Slip resistant boots did not prevent me from stumbling on icy surfaces, but, all the same, I have survived ice swimming after a sauna. If only I could go back in time: I still regret choosing wintry inactivity over watching the ice hockey match.

If you are going to study abroad, Finland or not, keep your eyes, mind and heart open. Feel free to disagree with your international friends, but always respect the cultural differences. You will be amazed by how much you see, how little you know and how similar we all can be. And please do not repeat my mistake: “You will only regret the things you didn’t do.”

Yours cordially,
Chan Oi Ching Nicola

A bus ride from Turku can lead you to Moominworld in Naantali. There’s a myth that every exchange student in Finland ends up being a fan of The Moomins. I can testify.
Rather than screaming and posing like my friends, I was ice-swimming…against the stream.
A random decision with Anne from the Netherlands. A tedious hike. Legs stuck in deep snow a thousand times. A worthwhile and breath-taking sight on the peak of Levi Mountain, Lapland.


NicolaNicola Chan Oi Ching is a BA graduate in Stylistics and Comparative Literature (Class of 2015). [Click here to read all entries by Nicola.]

“Stress Caused by Unrealistic Expectations” by Lam Man Tsun

booksThe news reports of three young secondary school students committing suicide after the Lunar New Year holidays is alarming.

There have been a number of these tragedies over the past few years.

Some people put the blame on the education system in Hong Kong. As a teacher, I completely agree that students face too much stress in their studies. There are those who say this stress comes from the heavy workload and others who blame the fierce competition for an undergraduate place at one of our local universities, but I am not sure if they are right. Fewer students are now taking the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education and in recent years more university places have become available.

I think the real cause of the stress is that perceptions of education have changed and they have done so in a negative way.

We have high expectations of our children and, while there is nothing wrong with that, it comes a problem when these hopes are unrealistic.

Children may be encouraged to aim for the top tier academically when this is beyond their capabilities.

Many parents want their sons and daughters to become professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and accountants. But only about 18 per cent of these students annually enter university. And many undergraduate programmes do not train people to enter a profession.

Children are being told they must stand out, with the emphasis being placed on results.

We eradicate their individuality by telling them what they need in school are good grades. We still blindly believe that “getting good grades means getting good jobs means getting a promising future”, something which has not been proved.

When they face this sort of pressure some children cannot handle it.

When it comes to our kids, we need to ensure that we show more love and support. All stakeholders are responsible—schools, parents, the government and the friends of students suffering emotional problems.

[Editor’s note:
This was first published in South China Morning Post’s
“Letters to the Editor” on Sunday 19 February 2017.]


TsunLam Man Tsun is a graduate of the Department of English and Department of Education (Class of 2016).  [Click here to read all entries by Tsun.]

“The Ineffable” by Lian-Hee Wee


back-to-basics“Back to Basics” by Tim Kranz

You know, it’s like …,

but the blanks never get filled, even if the response were Yes, absolutely, I know it’s really, you know?

When I was growing up, I didn’t know what was ineffable, nothing was. I said anything I damned pleased except when I can’t find the words for it. Such incidents are common, but I rarely remember them, except the one time when I recalled a pleasant daydream near a side window at the landing of the stairs. The soft sun rays bounced off the green leaves rustling in the breeze and fell on the ceramic floor on which I sat, daydreaming. I was interrupted and called away as little children are sometimes obliged to by others in the house. When I was done, I went back to the same spot, but the window has become dim at dusk. I couldn’t make my mother understand that I needed to get back to that spot, not just in space, but in time. Then again, it was because I had no concept of time at that time, I don’t even remember how old I might have been then. I remembered that I can read the clock, but that was always a pointless exercise of just pleasing the adults who want me to read it. Half past two, if you please, so that I can get back to the sunlight and back to my day dream.

But how does one explain to another what time meant other than a bunch of meaningless numbers, like 7 August 1941, or was that 8 August 1941 because it depends on where you are on the dateline. And with changes in the calendar, correction for leap years and all, it isn’t really as easy as simply setting the date on the dial of your time machine. That’s just obvious, although many would say why bother with the specifics as long as you know what I mean. You know, it’s like …

Nothing much was ineffable, but the list grew with age. Things that are offensive must not be said, and must be said cleverly (or cunningly, if you will). Traditions, meaningless in the first place or have become meaningless, cannot be critiqued because it is taboo to hurt the feelings of others. I cannot give you examples, it is dangerous, but think of any tradition you hold dear, then ask yourself why that is not stupid. No cheating by saying you know, it’s like … or the like. State explicitly the evaluation matrix behind your judgment that the particular tradition is valuable. Here’s a strawman for an example: Lighting of fire crackers is a Chinese tradition in celebration of important holidays and it symbolically wards off evil.

firecrackersFire crackers are now illegal in Hong Kong, but of course people in the New Territories continue the practice, arguing passionately for their efforts in preserving tradition. Now, explain why this is a tradition that has any meaning and needs to be perpetuated. Like I said, this is a strawman, so it’s easy to defeat. Oh, what about stand and face the flag for the national anthem? Wearing fur and eating meat is a personal choice on a way of life? The blocks on our cognition are worse in every aspect of our way of lives, but no, they are to be ineffable; I cannot speak it because I must not speak it. I must not speak of the cruelty of our food, clothes, accessories, religions, education, … Oh no, I have said too much, because now I must be sure to be perfect and flawless. Exploring the ills of humanity is not allowed unless one is already transcended. If I critiqued proponents of hardcopies of books, then I must, by some invisible binary moral law, disprefer hardcopies myself. Really? Can’t one love extant ones without calling for the production of new ones? Can’t one miss the days of fire-crackers while realizing that we should stop all fireworks? Can’t I smile at my childhood memories of the fantasy in the zoo while realizing that animals belong in a natural habitat and we need to stop eating into their living spaces? Can’t I love the sweetness of honey while realizing that we should stop stealing their food and that they are in danger? Can’t I continue to have fear for snakes, while realizing that we are the problem, not them?

Ineffability didn’t use to mean things one is not allowed or is afraid to say. It used to mean things one cannot express with language. Increasingly however, I find ineffability being a better term for my cowardice so that I can avoid dialogue, and more fearfully, confrontation. I also find ineffability a better term for my laziness to find the right words or metaphor, citing inability rather than inanity. I also find ineffability to be a better way to make friends, who then nod knowingly and sympathetically assuming that what I wish to convey is what they wish to understand. Ineffable is a better adjective than taboo, coward, vain, … I can’t express myself, but I know what you mean, and I’m sure you and I agree 100%. As to the evil that one would have F-ed, they too therefore become in-F-able. So, here we have it, a Machiavellian strategy to resonance, sympathy and peace.

Nota Bene: Tenses in this piece may fail grammatically because of time.

Editor’s note:
“The Ineffable” was first published
in the newsletter of
Effulgence – HKBU English Language and Literature Society 1516.


Lian-HeeLian-Hee Wee is Associate Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature. [Click here to read all entries by Lian-Hee.]

“A Letter from Essen to Hong Kong” by Gary Lam


Dear Tammy,

Life here is full of love and wonder, as much as my life in Hong Kong. Thank you for your books, I just love them.

My work here is rewarding. My organisation is called Franz Sales Haus, a community for people suffering from mental handicaps. Some of them live in the centre, while the rest visit daily. My department is responsible for their entertainment. ‘Spaß’, happy, is our motto. We do art works with them for the preparation of Christmas; we play chess together, and sometimes we watch films too.

On Tuesday and Thursday, I work longer than usual. After the daily routine, my colleagues and I will take a walk with those whose conditions, either physical or mental, are relatively worse. On Friday, I work in the disco in the community. The inhabitants come to drink coffee, play games and dance.

At work we speak only German. Thank God my colleagues are all so patient and cheerful. We had a Christmas party last month and that was amazing. They were glad that I adapted so quickly. Despite this, from time to time, I think of myself as one of those ‘handicapped’, given the language barrier. This situation not only serves as a motivation for me to learn more German, but also a reminder for me to be more humble, and the significance to preserve my mother tongue.

dining room.jpgthe dining room of the centre

common room.jpgthe common room

I spent my whole Christmas with the priests who live under the same roof as me. The priests invited me to be an altar server in the mass ceremonies. It was an honour and I was pleased that I could help. The next day we went to this restaurant for lunch:



At night, we sat around the dining table, listening to stories and singing Christmas songs. Each of us got a present, and mine was a CD and, surprisingly, a bike. When I first arrived, I asked whether I could get a second-hand bike to travel around, and now my wish has come true!

crib.jpgThis is the ‘Krippe’ (crib) in my church. In every church there is one Krippe, although their sizes may vary.

Yesterday I went to Kevelear to visit the Poor Clare Monastery, with Pr. Georg, the manager of the Franciscan monastery where I am staying. He is fifty-four years old. An energetic and cheerful man who has served different important positions. During the trip he shared many of his stories with me. His kindness, as well as that of the other two priests and many others whom I met, makes me feel Essen is genuinely my second home.

Basilica 1.jpg

Basilica 2.jpg

The Basilica in Kevelear is astonishing. Although it has a dull and ordinary look, the interior design and artworks are simply first-class. I regard it an analogy to Germany and the people here. Germans are often stereotyped as serious. Yes, they are serious at work, but most of the time they are very friendly and smiley.

On Christmas Eve, I finished a manga series called Monster, written by Naoki Urasawa. The story is set in late twentieth-century Germany, the protagonist is Doctor Tenma, who rescues one of a pair of twins. They had come to West Germany from the East with their relatives, who were killed. Since then, Tenma’s acquaintances began to die one by one, and people suspect he is the murderer. On his journey to discover the truth, he unlocks the haunting past of the twins – a horrible experiment in an East German orphanage, the birth of the ‘monster’, the problem of naming and identity, and the eternal struggle between good and evil. After reading the synopsis of W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, it just reminds me of this manga. Certainly I will enjoy this book and the other one you sent me very much.

I wish you all the best, Tammy, and a peaceful, fruitful year. I will write to you again.



GaryGary Lam is a BA graduate in Stylistics and Comparative Literature (Class of 2015). [Read all entries by Gary.]