[EXCLUSIVE] “The Human Touch Relies Firmly on the Human Factor” (Saturday 1 August 2020) by Chris Song, translated by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho

[Chris Song’s Mobile Diary]

The Human Touch Relies Firmly on the Human Factor
by Chris Song, translated from the Chinese by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho

{{{ Hong Kong—Saturday 1 August 2020 }}}

124 confirmed COVID-19 cases. The No. 3 Typhoon Signal remained hoisted for much of the day; it’s more manageable than the measures against the pandemic. Typhoon weather: at times sunny, at times rainy. These meteorological conditions were more like the moods of restaurant owners than the fluctuating stock market. There’s a cha chaan teng on Gilman Street in Wanchai. It is a place of warmth and humanity: the proprietor remembers the favourite dishes and drinks of regular customers. Sometimes, when she’s feeling particularly happy, she will even make special snacks for them. When out shopping for groceries for dinner, I made a point of stopping by. After less than a week of dealing with the new measures for restaurants, she already looked haggard. Even so, when she saw me, her face was lit up with smile. The cha chaan teng opposite is famous for its lovely and chubby cat. I wonder how it is doing under the pandemic? Although people are allowed to eat in restaurants again since Friday, there are few customers. If I hadn’t already had zongzi for lunch, I would have stayed and ordered afternoon tea to give that nice woman some business. Black coffee with a slice of lemon—bitter and sour—a flavour speaks well to the taste of fighting the pandemic.

The wet market is known to be better than the supermarket when it comes to human interaction. Never mind how capitalism leads supermarkets to sell three bulbs of garlic for HK$21.5, the human touch relies firmly on the human factor. There’s a supermarket on Queen’s Road East; when the place is not overrun with people, the hardworking manageress likes to chat a little with customers. Though citizens are not panic-buying toilet paper or rice after the latest rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, her mind is no less troubled. Under normal circumstances, she often helps customers with all sorts of problems at the self-check-out counters. Today, she told everyone, once they had paid, to take good care during the pandemic, and that we must all add oil, and that together we would overcome these difficult times. She was entirely sincere and you could tell these words are hers, not those of the big company she works for. Many of the customers smiled when they heard her; maybe in some cases their only smile of the day. The pandemic situation in Hong Kong is really severe, and if everyone harbours deep discontent and rancour the whole day long, how can we expect to pull through?

On the way home, I passed the Hung Shing Temple on Queen’s Road East; its façade faces the zebra crossing. Thousands walk past the temple every day, but the place isn’t suffused with incense and offerings. Because the pavement in front of it is narrow—broad enough only for two people—pedestrians are rarely tempted to enter. Today, however, there was someone inside, kneeling in worship. A housewife carrying an empty shopping basket also quickly bowed before turning in the direction of the Wanchai wet market. Perhaps she didn’t want to get in the way of others by lingering, or maybe she was in a hurry. Hongkongers can be enthusiastic and zealous, but they are also capable of being cold and practical…

At night, the Observatory announced a No. 1 Typhoon Signal…Gold-dividerx

今天香港124宗新冠肺炎確診病例。三號風球在日間大部分時間維持,比防疫措施更容易把握。颱風天,時晴時雨,甚至比股市升跌更像食肆老闆的心情。灣仔機利文街有一間很有人情味的茶餐廳,老闆娘都記得熟客常點的碟頭飯和飲品。她心情好時會做一些獨創私貨小吃,請相熟的食客嚐鮮。我去買餸時故意繞路走過這間茶餐廳,只是一個禮拜的功夫,老闆娘就憔悴了很多。她看到我時,仍然喜笑顏開打招呼。這間茶餐廳對面是另一家以養貓聞名的茶餐廳,不知那隻可愛的肥貓在疫情期間是否安好?雖然今天允許食肆恢復日間堂食,但是茶餐廳裡人還是很少。要不是中午吃了粽子,真想留下幫襯,來吃個下午茶,喝杯檸啡,酸苦正是抗疫時期的味道⋯⋯

通常來講,街市比超市更有人情味。如果不去考究資本主義大財團開的超市三個蒜頭竟賣港幣21.5元,人情味也許只取決於人吧。皇后大道東上的這間超市有位幹練的經理,人不多時總會和顧客聊兩句。疫情捲土重來,雖然顧客不再搶購廁紙和白米,但是她的煩惱一點也沒有減輕。她通常在自助付款處幫助顧客處理各種問題,今天她囑咐每一位完成支付的顧客在疫情時一定要保重,大家都要加油,共度時艱。她說得很真誠,看得出肯定不是大財團要求的指定動作,許多顧客聽到頓時就笑了出來。對於很多人來說,這可能是一天裡唯一的笑容。疫情的確很嚴峻,若是整天苦大仇深,又怎麼度過這個難關呢? ⋯⋯

買餸回家經過皇后大道東上的洪聖古廟。這座古廟的門口剛好對著斑馬線,每天都有不少路人經過,但是香火不算鼎盛。由於人行道大概只容兩人並排經過,多數路人都沒有施捨眼神。今天裡面有位香客,虔誠地跪拜。有位師奶帶著餸籃經過時,在人行道上站著迅速地拜了一拜,然後向灣仔街市方向走過去,既怕擋住其他路人,也可能的確在趕時間。香港人可以很熱心虔誠,也可以很冷酷實際⋯⋯

晚上,天文台改掛一號風球⋯⋯

Picture by Oliver Farry

Trams in Wan Chai

How to cite: Song, Chris. “The Human Touch Relies Firmly on the Human Factor.” Translated by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho. Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, 1 Aug. 2020, chajournal.blog/2020/08/01/human/.

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chris copy (1)Chris Song (author) is a poet, translator and editor based in Hong Kong. He has published four collections of poetry and many volumes of poetry in translation. Chris received an “Extraordinary Mention” at Italy’s UNESCO-recognized Nosside World Poetry Prize 2013 and the Young Artist Award at the 2017 Hong Kong Arts Development Awards. In 2018 he obtained a PhD in Translation Studies from Lingnan University. More recently he won Haizi Poetry Award in 2019. Chris is currently Editor-in-Chief of Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine and Executive Director of the International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong

tammy-lai-ming-hoTammy Lai-Ming Ho (translator) is the founding co-editor of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, an editor of the academic journals Victorian Network and Hong Kong Studies, and the first English-language Editor of Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine. She is an Associate Professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, where she teaches poetics, fiction, and modern drama. She is also the President of PEN Hong Kong, a Junior Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities, an advisor to the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, and an Associate Director of One City One Book Hong Kong. Tammy’s first collection of poetry is Hula Hooping (Chameleon 2015), for which she won the Young Artist Award in Literary Arts from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. Her first short story collection Her Name Upon The Strand (Delere Press), her second poetry collection Too Too Too Too (Math Paper Press) and chapbook An Extraterrestrial in Hong Kong (Musical Stone) were published in 2018. Her first academic book is Neo-Victorian Cannibalism (Palgrave, 2019). Tammy edited or co-edited a number of literary volumes having a strong focus on Hong Kong, the most recent one being Twin Cities: An Anthology of Twin Cinema from Singapore and Hong Kong (Landmark Books, 2017). She guest-edited a Hong Kong Feature for World Literature Today (Spring 2019), the Hong Kong special issue of Svenska PEN’s PEN/Opp, and an e-chapbook of Hong Kong poetry published by Cordite Publishing. Tammy is also a translator and her literary translations can be found in World Literature TodayChinese Literature TodayPathlight: New Chinese Writing, among other places, and International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong volumes (2015, 2017 and 2019). Her own poems have been translated into Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Latvian, and Vietnamese. She is currently co-editing several academic volumes in addition to 2020: A Bilingual Anthology of Hong Kong Poetry.

(Header photograph © Oliver Farry.)

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