[EXCLUSIVE] “The Year Made Famous” (Tuesday 4 August 2020) by Chris Song, translated by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho

[Chris Song’s Mobile Diary]

The Year Made Famous
by Chris Song, translated from the Chinese by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho

{{{ Hong Kong—Tuesday 4 August 2020 }}}

The number of COVID-19 cases today is 80, the same as yesterday’s. The security guard in my building is a kindly, courteous woman. She stands with her back straight no matter what time of day; I think even master tailors, so used to having people stand rigid as they measure them up, would be put to shame by her impeccable posture. She is a principled, scrupulous person and she takes her job seriously. Neither overbearing nor self-effacing, she inspires a profound sense of respect in me. As the pandemic has worsened in recent weeks, food delivery people are not allowed to enter the building, let alone go to the floors above. They must instead drop the food off at the front door. The security guard is very firm about enforcing this rule; she doesn’t let delivery personnel set one foot inside. Today when I was leaving the building, she was talking to someone—a new delivery guy unaware of the rule. Through the glass panel, she was explaining to him, with some exasperation, that she wouldn’t open the door for him, not to conserve the air-conditioning, but for hygiene reasons. She entreated him to be understanding. The fellow, who showed no sign of leaving, was getting impatient. So she went upstairs to fetch the person who had ordered the food. This person was much taller than the security guard but his back was hunched like a camel. Next to the tall man, she looked more like a great mountain with her perfectly straight back…

On Saturday, I didn’t get a chance to have a cup of lemon coffee in the cha chaan teng on Gilman Street. Today I did! I usually only order it when I feel a cold coming on. Like another drink invented by Hongkongers—a combination of lemon and coke, boiled with aged ginger—lemon coffee is folk medicine, believed to help you recover from flus and colds. There’s not much scientific proof of their medicinal value, of course, but even so, they are soothing and comforting. Our city is sick, and those in power suggest myriad measures to cure it. But their prescriptions are baseless and inefficacious, wreaking havoc in the city, torturing in particular its restaurants and eateries. I could see the deepened wrinkles on the face of the boss, even through her mask; but she’s still as pleasant as ever—giving every customer a bit more choy sum with their lunch. I didn’t actually have a strong urge to have lemon coffee, but I did miss the friendliness and a sense of community in this cha chaan teng. The taste of bitter sour on the tip of your tongue, a knotted bundle of emotions in the heart. The understanding between the boss and her customers and their smiles reminded me that the human touch is something that is grounded, provable…

As night fell, I walked passed Chater Garden. People were in a hurry because of the rain. In that fleeting moment, life seemed to have returned to normal. A gust of wind shook the small trees; raindrops fell from the despondent branches. The illusion of normality was immediately snapped. I looked at the leaves in the trees and can’t help but wonder: When will life truly be again like before? Next year? Or the year made famous by Wong Kar-wai? Perhaps there will no longer be normality. Perhaps there was never normality. What is normality, anyway? I lost myself in thought….

I was back home. The sky was completely dark. The stargazer lily I bought yesterday had begun to blossom a little—perhaps that is the meaning of normal…





Coffee by Oliver Farry


How to cite: Song, Chris. “The Year Made Famous.” Translated by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho. Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, 4 Aug. 2020, chajournal.blog/2020/08/04/the-year/.


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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