[EXCLUSIVE] “Being Born, Getting Old, Falling Sick, and Dying” (Wednesday 26 August 2020) by Chris Song, Translated by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho

[Chris Song’s Mobile Diary]

Being Born, Getting Old, Falling Sick, and Dying
by Chris Song, translated from the Chinese by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho

{{{ Hong Kong—Wednesday 26 August 2020 }}}

Twenty-four Covid new cases confirmed today in Hong Kong. The aircon in our building’s lobby has been temperamental; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, echoing the changeable weather. Finally, today, a sifu came to give the machine a full check-up. Its innards scattered on the floor, which was covered with flattened cardboard and a red-white-blue tarp. There’s also a small wooden ladder for the sifu to stand on to reach and clean the unit. He did this meticulously and attentively, undistracted by residents walking past him. The talk of the city at the moment concerns the misrepresentation of a protest event that took place last July—dubbed “pointing at a deer and calling it a horse”—and the sifu’s ability to focus on his task at hand was remarkable. The security guard, eyes sharp and stern, watched the sifu work as though she was a prison guard watching a ward. She complained about the bad timing of the broken aircon: the weather’s damp and hot, and she sweated copiously. Her uniform was soaked through—this is so dreadful it’s enough to kill me

Queen’s Road East in Wan Chai is quieter than Hennessy Road and less lively than Johnston Road. QRE is a two-way road lined with traffic lights and tailbacks are common. The pavements tend to be narrow, defined by steel fences. There’s also quite a bit of construction and scaffolding going on. Although shops are not sparse on Queen’s Road East, they give off a depressing aura. During the pandemic, the shops have closed down one by one: framers, furniture stores, grocery stores, cafés, bakeries, currency exchange shops, jewellers… It’s hard to keep up the counting. Renovation work has recently started in one shop—it looks like it’ll be a new café. Its neighbour is a fish-and-chip shop, which also serves beer. Before, the outside wall of the fish-and-chip place bore the English graffiti fuck the rich and the powerful. It has now been painted over. A formerly bleak feel is changed to hipster glamour. It’s hard to accept the sudden transformation, just like so many changes and events occuring in the city…

Today I was at Tai Kok Tsui Road, which was a lot busier than Queen’s Road East. At the eastern end of the road: parks, schools, basketball courts, a municipal service building, hotels, factories, petrol stations, churches, and funeral houses. To the west there are many clinics and all kinds of food-related shops. It’s all very animated and there seems to be no sign of businesses closing. People live their day as usual, except with a mask on their faces. I once heard someone say, “Being born, getting old, falling sick, and dying can all be done without leaving Tai Kwok Tsui.” But there’s a tinge of sadness in that saying …

When I returned home in the afternoon, the aircon on the lobby had still not been repaired. Concentrating on the tasks before us doesn’t always mean that the tasks can be done or done well. There are many things in this world that are beyond our control…


灣仔皇后大道東比軒尼詩道多了一分寧靜,比莊士敦道又少了一分生活氣息。皇后大道東只能雙線行車,交通燈又多,常常塞車,人行道較窄,街邊有鐵圍欄,工程搭棚相對較多。雖然皇后大道東亦可謂店舖林立,但是它們都給人一種頹唐的感覺。疫情時期,這條街上的舖頭此起彼伏地結業,畫框舖、家具舖、雜貨舖、咖啡店、麵包舖、兌換舖、首飾舖,幾乎數不過來。最近這條街有個舖位開始裝修,看起來像是咖啡店,它旁邊賣英式炸魚薯條加啤酒的頹唐小店。它的外牆原本是一句英文塗鴉「fuck the rich and the powerful」,但是現在被新的油漆蓋過了。頹唐感變成文青風,變化突然得令人難以接受,就像這座城市每天都在發生的事情一樣⋯⋯



Photograph by Chris Song

How to cite: Song, Chris. “Being Born, Getting Old, Falling Sick, and Dying.” Translated by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho. Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, 27 Oct. 2022, chajournal.blog/2022/10/27/being-born.

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Chris Song (author) is a poet, translator, editor, and scholar. 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 Assistant Professor at the Department of Language Studies, University of Toronto Scarborough.


Tammy Lai-Ming Ho (translator) is the Editor-in-Chief of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, an editor of the academic journal Hong Kong Studies, and the first English-language Editor of Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine. She is also a Junior Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities and an advisor to the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing. 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, including Voice & Verse 21/21 Anthology and 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).

(Header photograph © Chris Song.)

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