Jennifer Wong, Diary of a Miu Miu Salesgirl, Bitter Melon 苦瓜, 2019. 20 pgs.
Life is a series of memory fragments that piece together a story, and no story is ever complete without an audience. Jennifer Wong’s Diary of a Miu Miu Salesgirl, is one such story. It is memory contained in a stunning collection of seamless rhymes that encompasses delight and frustration, confusion and confidence, of a woman living in the space between.
The poetry collection follows Wong’s joy as a child and how quickly the childhood amusement turns to obligation in the backdrop of the changing city—Hong Kong.
I wonder how a city—Jennifer Wong, Diary of a Miu Miu Salesgirl.
can outgrow a country,
if going home is still an option
Hong Kong is an omnipresent, yet an unspoken force, driving the poems. The chapbook’s opening features a photograph that gives a literal window to the setting of the collection, yet it is the lines’ emotions that let the reader feel the tethered divide that runs throughout it. It is a statement of the serious problems and prejudices surrounding us that give the collection its authoritative voice.
Above, it is the absence of a period; on the next page, it is the space that leaves us hanging before we read the word, ‘lonely’. Yet again, further on, it is the divide that Wong feels in the poem that gave her collection a name, “Diary of a Miu Miu Salesgirl”:
I am rather good at this smiling game,—Jennifer Wong, Diary of a Miu Miu Salesgirl.
speaking Mandarin to the customers.
The trick is to flatter them, flattered as they
already are, being wives of the nouveau riche
from a changing China.
The powerful and purposeful nonexistence of the city through the comparison and the people that surround Wong may give the city a role, but her poetry is also a greater account of the world we live in.
The poetry flows and shines light on upbringing, immigration, racism, sex, class divide, but most of all, it gives a voice, not just to Wong, but to all of her muses. Wong’s fly-on-the-wall approach to poetry is nothing short of a watchful journalist’s eye as she explores her own story in relation to others. In a way, it is once again proof that to be a poet, one must love people. Wong’s poetry is full of emotions that leave you unable to stop turning the pages:
I know who that Chinese girl is outside
Canary Wharf station, handing leaflets
to passers-by, on a weekend, for a few quid.
She studies management by day
and in the evening swipes meats and fruits
at the counter, but she’d stoop for any
job in this country, if she can stay.
Why does the Uber driver tell me
his story? He works seven days a week,
has never been to the theatre.—Jennifer Wong, Diary of a Miu Miu Salesgirl.
In Pakistan, his father is dying.
Among the lines, we also find Cantonese. There is no need to translate the characters to understand their overall meaning, and if their understanding is beyond your reach then it is a simple lesson of the cultural gaps that we fill, day to day. We don’t need to speak the same language to tell our stories, and Wong’s poetry is a reminder of that. It really is a skill like no other to express such emotion in language so simple, yet so divine:
You never finished high school / because your father said / he couldn’t tolerate the idea / of excessive schooling, a sign of / moral corruption or 嘥錢 / The day I was accepted for the school / at 1 Jordan Road, where the school drive glittered with Mercedes, we knew / we were moving beyond our league. /—Jennifer Wong, Diary of a Miu Miu Salesgirl.
In just eleven poems, Wong manages to entice the reader, get them fall in love and break their heart. Just like all of us, Wong is carefully shuffling through her memories to find answers to questions that seem to rot in our conscious. What makes a home, a home? What does our heritage mean? What is success? What is love? And then at the end, she finds herself answering them all with one final line: ‘now your warm hand is the only thing I’ll miss’.
Finally, on the last page we see it, a one-way ticket, Hong Kong to London. The first and the last time we see the city written. It rests in the poetry and in the memories.
Prepare a napkin, a good cup of coffee and all other means necessary to get you through this incredibly thoughtful collection in one single breath. You won’t put it down, and you will never regret it. Wong’s voice will stay with you, and she will prove to be a poet you will love beyond this collection—‘a woman much loved / for her writing, her fortitude’.
How to cite: Goncharova, Anya. “In-between the Inbetween: Jennifer Wong’s A Diary of a Miu Miu Salesgirl.” Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, 12 Nov. 2020, chajournal.blog/2020/11/12/salesgirl/.
Anya Goncharova is a literary agent working for Peony Literary Agency and Tender Leaves Translations. Prior to her agenting role, she was the Editor heading the English-language list at Penguin Random House North Asia. Previously, she also had her own China-based podcast, BaeJing, and has worked with Cosmopolitan, BBC Radio 3 and BBC1 Television. Born and raised in Beijing and now based in Shanghai, she works with international and local authors to connect them with publishers and readers all over the world. Anya speaks English, Russian and Chinese.