[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…
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今天香港80宗新冠肺炎確診病例,與昨天的新增個案數目一模一樣。樓下看更是一位和藹可親的女士,無論什麼時候,她的腰板都挺得很直,大有連做西裝的師傅都自愧不如之勢。她十分敬業,也很守規則,還很講原則。看著她不卑不亢的樣子,敬重之心油然而生。由於疫情愈演愈烈,從兩個星期前開始,外賣員最多只能送到大廈門口,不能進入大堂,更不得上樓。看更女士說什麼也不讓外賣員踏進大堂一步,今天估計是來了新的外賣員不知道規矩,我下樓時剛好看到他們在交談。她隔著玻璃門無奈解釋說,倒不是吝嗇冷氣,為了公共衛生,只好讓外賣員委屈一下了。她看外賣員等得不耐煩,就親自上樓去找住客下來。這名住客比她高許多,卻像駱駝一樣弓著背。旁邊看更女士一如既往地挺直腰板,讓人感覺更像一座挺拔的高山⋯⋯

前天沒有機會在機利文街的茶餐廳喝檸啡,今天終於有機會了!我通常即將要感冒時才會去喝檸啡,檸啡和香港人發明的檸樂煲薑一樣,說這些偏方能治感冒,估計沒什麼科學根據。雖然沒什麼根據,但是至少會讓我感覺舒服一些。城市病了,負責治療的人開出偏方,好像也沒什麼根據,設想是張弛有度,結果是進退失據,把整座城市的食肆搓圓按扁,隔著口罩也能看到老闆的法令紋深了幾許,但是每位顧客的碟頭飯都多了幾條菜心。今天倒沒有很想喝檸啡,只是想念這間茶餐廳的人情味,舌尖上是酸苦,落下心頭竟是百般滋味。又看到老闆和顧客之間的默契和笑容,人情味這回事總是有根有據的⋯⋯

傍晚時分走過遮打花園,由於下雨,每個人都行色匆匆。有那麼一剎那,有種生活恢復正常的錯覺。一陣風吹過,花園裏垂頭喪氣的小樹灑落清涼的雨滴,幻想瞬間便破滅了。抬頭看了看它的葉子,不禁想問,究竟要到什麼時候,生活才真正能夠恢復正常呢?明年?還是王家衛電影中的某個年份?也許不會恢復正常,也許從來都不正常。什麼是正常?思之惘然⋯⋯

回到家,夜幕已經完全落下。昨天買的荷蘭百合,今天才開了一點點,也許是正常⋯⋯

Coffee by Oliver Farry

Coffee

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/.

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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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