Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Quotes that speak to me and touched my heart from Karen Cheung's The Impossible City

Karen Cheung's photo of her book, The Impossible City:
Back in February, despite the fifth coronavirus wave seriously raging in Hong Kong, I made a trip to a bookstore to get myself a copy of a book by a local author whose works I'd previously read in publications such as the Hong Kong Free Press, Mekong Review and the excellent Holmes Chan edited volume, Aftershock: Essays from Hong Kong (2020).  Karen Cheung's The Impossible City: A Hong Kong Memoir is so brilliantly evocative and thought-provoking that I decided after going through the first few chapters that I needed to slow down to savor the reading experience.  And after I finished reading it, I immediately knew that I wanted to re-read the tome and, indeed, am in the middle of doing so.

More than by the way: earlier this month, I passed the 15 year mark in terms of coming to call Hong Kong my home.  So here's going ahead and commemorating that anniversary by picking out 15 quotes that particularly speak to me from a book written by someone who, like me, was not born in the Big Lychee but has grown to f**king love Hong Kong:-
When I was four, my small city went from being a British colony to Chinese property.  At the time of the historic event, known as the handover, literature and media depicted Hong Kong as at the intersection of clashing identities, but the truth was worse: We had no identity. (Page viii)
I had bought into all the cliches that the adults told me about my city: that it was an apolitical cultural desert inhabited by go-getters who have no real values except becoming rich.  But I did not know yet that this is a place where parallel universes coexist, and you could live your entire life here without ever pulling back the curtains on the other Hong Kongs.  (Page x) 

It takes work not to simply pass through a place but instead to become part of it.  (Page xii)
Even before the national security law and subsequent government crackdown, Hong Kong had been a difficult place to live in, with its high rents, inaccessible mental health care, and intolerance for nonconformist arts.  This is all by design: If you could not survive here, perhaps you would never have time to make this place feel like home.  But maybe this is what it means when we say we love this place -- we recognize all of its imperfections, and still refuse to walk away.  (Page xv-xvi) 

Maybe you can't save this place; maybe it isn't even worth saving.  But for a moment, there was a sliver of what this city could have become.  And that is why we're still here.  (Page 22)

The people of Hong Kong had been stripped of the right to self-determination, with no seat at the table when the negotations for our fate took place.  You are Asia's world city, an international financial center, an inalienable part of China, the government tells us, the foreign press tells us, Beijing tells us.  But if we cannot rewrite our origin story, can we at least reimagine our future? (Page 32-33)

What is considered secession or subversion?  The crimes cover a wide spectrum, from writing a piece that criticizes the Communist Party's rule to actively plotting an assassination.  Where is the arbitrary line where something becomes illegal?  That uncertainty is the fear. (Page 91)

I remember the half million people [who protested against Article 23 on July 1st, 2003] who bought me seventeen years of freedom and delayed the inevitable.  They made it possible for me to grow up in an environment without fear.  It would have been much easier to leave, but they stayed.  They marched.  And because of them, once upon a time, we were fearless.  (Page 93)

Karen Cheung quoting Hsiuwen, a friend who's originally from Taiwan but now lives in Hong Kong: I truly want a place to call home, a place I can always go back to and feel safe at.  But this doesn't feel possible, at a moment like this.  This idea that there's a place that is 'forever' and 'un-changing' -- I don't think I can find it.  It's especially impossible in Hong Kong, given all the uncertainties.  (Page 119-120) 

Each generation has faced its own set of social problems or political turmoil and, in turn, mental health crises.  In 1989, the June 4 massacre in Beijing triggered a wave of grief in Hong Kong; in 2003, the SARS epidemic and the subsequent economic crisis led to a historically high suicide rate.  Decade after decade, the people in Hong Kong have learned to live with fresh disappointments that are more devastating than the last. (Page 174)
After the [2014 Umbrella M]ovement, Hong Kong identity became intertwined with political activism, especially among the younger generation.  Apolitical people are sometimes regarded as not true Hong Kongers, because only those affluent enough to leave would be able to ignore the most significant political movement in the city to date.  (Page 182) 

The narrative has always been that Hong Kong is a transitory city.  People come and go, move on in search of better lives.  I would have tried to do the same, if I had not found my people in Hong Kong. (Page 195)

Writing is not activism.  Writing about a place cannot keep it from disappearing, and writing cannot replace the work of mutual care we have to do in the communities we inhabit.  All the same, these documentations are all acts of resistance, of remembrance.  Someday, when they tell us otheriwse, we will revisit these accounts that challenge what they want us to believe.  We will know what we cannot unknow. (Page 224)

We knew that it was only a matter of time before the crackdown began.  We knew the script that the Communist Party followed.  But for a brief moment, we let ourselves believe that we could bring about change so long as we kept going. (Page 270)

Hong Kong is dead, the new law wiped out the resistance, everyone said, and yet.  Across the harbor, the lights are still on. (Page 292)

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