a sparkle of hope

July 4th, 2023

she said she told them.

i veered up a little. a moment of silence, burdened with a sparkle of hope, and layered with layers of fear, of having any hope at all. scared to be disappointed again.

i was waiting for her to say more. maybe she could sense that. what i did not say, but what i wanted to say was, “how did they react?” in my head, im telling myself to not sound too eager or hopeful. almost as if im ashamed to have any hope at all.

instead, i didnt need to say anything. she seemed to know what i was thinking. she paused a little, as if she was trying to figure out how to tell me what happened next.

“they were surprised”, she said. she said they asked her, “thats all it takes?”

she looks at me, perhaps wanting to know how i would react. i think i looked maybe a little bit puzzled. im not sure what i was expecting, now that i come to think of it. i hadnt actually played out the scenario in my head. i think i was too scared, perhaps, to imagine any positive outcome, because i could not imagine this having a positive outcome. that they would suddenly get it. like suddenly getting an insight after receiving a koan from a zen master.

she started bowing down her head, lightly shaking her head. “they still don’t get it” she continues. she tells me how she tried to tell them, that they can say that sentence, but that they have to mean it. and then she looks at me, and says “they really don’t get it. they have no idea what they have done”.

this makes sense. i dont know why i was expecting anything different. i guess this was another effort to try, to reach out, to extend them a hand. but they’re still so far away.

we continued to have a long talk about my relationship with my parents. how it has broken down. what its history is. how much of it is intergenerational. i learned new things about my grandmother, and her relationship with my mother.

oh, that sentence? i told my cousin i was willing to meet with my parents and sit down with them, if they would write me one sentence.

“im sorry i hurt you”.

this is what i want to hear from my parents. this is what it would take for me to sit down with them. this is still so far away.

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the loneliness of public holidays

October 1st, 2020

its mid autumn. meaning this is the day when people go back to celebrate the holiday together as a family. its like the chinese xmas or thanksgiving. i was trying to get a foot massage today, because i have been running so much lately but all the foot massage places were under capacity, because everyone went back home. and when it was finally my turn, she asked how long i wanted the massage for, and then i realized i was standing between her and her family dinner. which made me feel bad, a little. for her and for myself.

as i left the foot massage place, the streets were empty, and most restaurants were empty. i realized it would be awkward for me to have dinner by myself, even more so than usual. i generally have no issue with this, not anymore, at least, but tonight, it is hard not to feel like a loser, or being concerned that maybe people will look at you as a loser. i went to this japanese small hole in the wall that serves amazing fried pork, and it was almost empty as i got in. it was still happy hour. i got a glass of umeshu that was strong and sweet, being exactly what i needed. i took a few sips, and my body started to feel warm. next to me was a couple, speaking mandarin. i was the only person by himself in the restaurant. but the food was good. i tried to eat slowly, tried to enjoy my food. the miso soup was warm and flavorful and gave me some comfort.

walking home, the streets were quiet, the lights were yellow and seemed like they had seen it all. like they have been around forever, shining their lights on our existence. in the bars, some foreigners. peel street, a handful of expats. at some point, i found myself strangely drawing nearer towards a couple that was ordering a bubble tea, and i realized i was doing that just so i could get close to another human being. i stopped myself. and i slowly started walking home.

on the way home, i usually go through square street. but suddenly i remembered, this one time i went through there, i bumped into celia, on her way to her family dinner. and suddenly i imagined a scenario where i again bumped into her, and we make small talk, her gesturing to me she is on her way to family dinner whereas i tell her i had dinner already, secretly and silently hoping she would not ask any further. so … instead i took a bit of a detour so i would not run into her. and took a turn at a dark and damp alley instead on my way back home.

sitting in the park, suddenly, a text from alison. asking how my day was. im touched. but im also thinking, do i tell her how i feel? or do i pretend im ok? i feel like ive already given her so much baggage. and im afraid she will find me annoying, or emo, or that she might even think less of me. but i remind myself i promised to be honest, so i write that i feel a little bit lonely because its a public holiday where you are supposed to have dinner with your family, but that i enjoy the book im reading. sitting in a park.

the sky is clear. some clouds. through the twisting banyan trees.

it’s been over four years. every public holiday is like this. survive is my middle name. im back home, in my quiet apartment, im going to make myself a warm cup of tea. and i am about to survive yet another public holiday.

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what tennis has taught me in the past few years

January 3rd, 2020

im a little bit nervous, because tomorrow i’m playing in the semi-final of the men singles tennis tournament of the central western district. this is organized each year by the local (district) government. i’m hoping not necessarily that i will win (although that would be nice) but that i can at least play my own game, meaning the other has to beat me, and that i am not losing to myself. in that regard, i wanted to tell you a story, and also an important lesson tennis has taught me in the past few years.

i’ve picked up tennis in the last few years, after i joined the school of journalism and communication at the chinese university of hong kong. little did i know that the school boosts a vibrant tennis community! i played tennis for a few years when i was in high school, but stopped once i graduated, and hadn’t played tennis for more than twenty years. initially, i was completely out of shape. some of my muscle memory was still there, but to say i was rusty would have been quite an understatement. as a matter of fact, i remember when i was playing for the first time after so many years, i twisted my ankle and injured myself (kids, always warm up properly!).

but it wasn’t just my fitness or my technique that was rusty, it was also my mindset. simply put, i would constantly criticize and be angry with myself. i guess i was raised with relentless criticism that nothing i did was good enough, and subsequently, that i wasn’t good enough. at some point i just internalized all this crap, and i’m still working hard to unlearn most of it.

it took me some time to learn that giving myself shit isn’t helpful. a super helpful book in this regard has been tim gallwey’s book “the inner game of tennis”. what tim taught me is that i needed to be kind to myself. trust my own body. stay relaxed. and i will play better tennis. tim talks in an almost meditative way about how to approach tennis. but meditative in this sense doesn’t mean it isn’t real. tennis is really practical in that regard: if the lesson works, you get immediate feedback on the court, you play better tennis, and you win more points.

sometimes you play tennis with someone, and they are amazing in training and in rallies. they’re hitting winner after winner, and are super consistent. you’re like, holy shit. but the second the match starts, their shots suddenly lose power and consistency, sometimes up to 50% if not more. this difference is mental. maybe you’re like this. i certainly was. this is what i meant earlier in the essay when i talked about being able to play my own game, not losing to myself. a healthy mindset is something you can work on, like fitness and technique. tennis has been a great teacher for me in this regard.

so here’s the story that i promised. earlier last year, i got invited to play in a tennis league. that was super exciting to me, because i was looking to play more competitive matches. but after a few weeks, i was asked to leave the team. guess why. some of my friends guessed: “because you’re too old!” others were like “because your tennis sucks!” a nicer, kinder friend guessed “because your tennis is too good!” but the answer is that i got kicked off the team because of … (drum roll) political differences. i was surprised, because i don’t exactly talk politics when i am playing tennis. but apparently, one of the team members came across my name on the internet.

so when someone asks me how yellow i am, i can now answer “so yellow they dq’d me off a tennis team”. in all seriousness, this surprised me. and it made me sad. and i hope i will have the temperament, the patience and the wisdom to be a better person when i am in a similar situation, say next time i meet someone from the other side of the political spectrum. at some point, all of this, the protests, will end, it really will, but at that point, we still have to (learn to) live with each other.

ps i know this is easier said than done, to be honest, but hey, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and all that …

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and i still feel i dont do enough

October 26th, 2019

a rare, relatively quiet, saturday night in hong kong: listening to the newly released cigarettes after sex album “cry” and reading, savoring a moody, evocative fantasy book, “under the pendulum sun”.

i was talking with a friend from out of town, who mentioned that “between fighting for democracy, standing up against authoritarianism, and movies, being occupied with movies seems really silly”.

i wish i had answered: “no, it’s not. it’s exactly what we are fighting for.”

i love movies. i love books. i love music. they are my safe spaces. they are what make life worth living for me. but right now, every one of these feel tainted, compromised and corrupted. to be free, to live a free life means (in part) a life free of having to worry about politics. so we can do the things we love and care about. pursue our dreams. create, express and share, leaving the world hopefully, just a tiny bit, a more beautiful, better place.

talking to a student the other day, i pointed to her mask and asked if she was feeling sick. she: “im wearing this mask because i feel i need to keep up the resistance, everyday. we cannot even let up a little. but im so exhausted. and i still feel i dont do enough.”

i told my student: “there is always something to feel guilty about. if im not in hong kong, i feel guilty for not being in hk. if i am in hk, i feel guilty for not being at every single protest. if im at the protest, i feel guilty for not being at the frontline. it’s never ending.”

i was hoping to tell her self-care is important. that we can only help if we are not burned out. as im trying to tell her that, i realize i need to practice what i preach. so here i am. and if you’ll excuse me, im going back to my book.

give someone you love a hug, please, if you have read all the way to this. good night.

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on not being able to write

October 5th, 2019

i havent been able to write for a long time now. i havent felt free, or safe, to write for a long time. i used to feel freer, and safer, when i was younger, more unknown.

i wonder if im cut out to “be a writer”. self doubt. but i know i can write. or i have done so in the past. moments, rare. but i know i feel deeply, intensely. i know i have things to say.

but im scared. i doubt myself. its not even that i consciously do that. at least, not most of the time. because, sometimes, i just sit here, i have made my cup of tea, i have cleaned up my desk, even my room. it’s all quiet, except for the sound of the fan, the rumbling of the washing machine. i sit there, and i just don’t write. i have even blocked my social media. i think to myself … “come on, lok. no excuses.”

the longer i freeze, the more i can feel the pressure build up inside of me. i start to feel shit. i give myself shit. “productivity shaming”.

there are of course good days, and bad days. but i give myself so much shit for having a bad day, while i take a good day for granted. what am i thinking? that i will actually start enjoying writing, start writing, if only i give myself enough shit? is there a more stupid idea? except that this is what i have been doing to myself for ages.

mum, you would be so proud of me. i have internalized all your lessons. that im never good enough. that i need to give myself even more shit. shame myself. make myself feel bad. or even hurt myself. discipline myself. so i will listen. listen, listen, listen.

“you don’t want to write? i’ll beat you until you do.” or “look at how all these other people are writing. look at how much more productive they are. why can’t you be more like them?”

all this time, i haven’t moved. i am still sitting at my desk. and i still haven’t written a word.

there’s of course all this external stuff. “if only i didn’t have to do this, and that, _then_ i would finally be able to write.” and while that might play a role, so much of our ability to write is simply inside our hearts.

can i sit down, for the next five minutes, can i sit down quietly. listen to my heart. and “just” write?

i sometimes can. sometimes i just listen and don’t write. and sometimes i get distracted by all the noise around me. but sometimes, i can. like just now. and because of this, i write. i have written. i am a writer.

let’s say those words again. i am a writer.

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do you have someone to think of, when you stare at the clouds?

August 31st, 2018

i am on the plane, on the way back to hong kong. i reserved a window seat. and because it’s a late afternoon flight, this means i get the luxury to see the sunset from the plane. a few minutes after take-off, we are flying over a sea of clouds. for a few moments that is all we see. a sea of white and grey clouds, stretched everywhere. but then the sun sets. and the sea of clouds is punctuated by a soft glow of gold, illuminating the hues of blues of the sky that gradually grow darker.

calm and quiet, i marvel at this moment of beauty. calm and quiet, i cannot help but think of you. i wonder why you are not here with me. i wonder why you never got back to me. whether i should reach out to you again. stuck, scared to get hurt again but also scared you’re really gone. i hope you are doing well, that you found some peace, and hopefully even some happiness for yourself. i am alone, but i console myself with the thought that, at least i have you to think of, when i look at the clouds and the sky.

in tempting heart, a movie about falling in love and growing old, sylvia chang finds herself on the plane. it’s the final scene of the movie. we know now that she, a quiet, shy but also whimsical girl fell in love with a boy at high school (played by takeshi kaneshiro). they might be young, but they recognize the magic of this connection. of finding not only someone you like, but also someone who likes you back. there is “sparks” between them. real magic in a world where most people have grown cynical and stopped believing in magic. her parents, for example. chastising her for being young and immature, her parents do everything they can to break them up. because he comes from a poor background, because he amounts to nothing and only wants to play the guitar all day, and this is the killer, because it is “for her own good”. despite these efforts, or maybe because of this, their love nevertheless remains pure and intense. i’d write, pure and intense as only a first love can be. but what this movie shows is that their love survives, transforms, but does not disappear over the years. it leaves a scar.

decades later, both married to another person, they meet again in a cafe. as fate would have it. few words are exchanged; few words need to be exchanged. i’d say both have moved on, but it is clear they still have reserved a special space for each other in their hearts. a space that has remained empty all these years, except for silent memories, and maybe some feelings of regret and resignation.

as the plane takes off and is air born, sylvia chang finally opens this box, his final gift to her. she opens the small box, and it is filled with photographs from clouds in the sky. each one of them meticulously dated over the years, taken from all around the world. and then she remembers, a long time ago, when they were still so young and stared at the sky together, when he asked her: “do you have someone to think of, when you stare at the clouds?” she sees all these photos, breaks down and cries.

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thank you, dolores

January 15th, 2018

High school for most people is an awkward time and place where you try to figure out how you fit in. It wasn’t that different for me, growing up in Amsterdam. But when you hear that right piece of music, and it feels like it just speaks to you? That was Dolores and the Cranberries for me. Hearing her voice, I remember feeling, relieved and confident, yes, this is what I like, this is who I am.

Years later, I would buy tickets for their concert on two different occasions, and on both occasions they would cancel the concert. I guess I will never have the chance to hear her live.

Rest in peace, Dolores.

Thank you for helping me get through high school.
Thank you for helping me figure out who I am.
May you wake up in heaven and smell the coffee.

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“me too”

October 16th, 2017

i’d almost forgot about it. it was long ago. an abandoned memory buried somewhere in my subconscious.

i love film festivals. i stopped going regularly a few years ago, but for a significant part of my life, film was my church, my home. to be at a film fest was like magic to me. a moment to disappear, to visit other places, to hear people’s stories, to travel in imagination. to be at home and to not be alone.

i was 16 when i first started going to the rotterdam film festival. i’d watch three, sometimes four movies a day. it begins in mid january and lasts about ten days. this meant i was skipping the first two weeks of classes, every year. oh well, priorities.

this one year, fallen angels was supposed to premier at rotterdam. at the last minute this changed, and the premier went to berlin instead – the bigger shinier more prestigious film fest. however, chris doyle, the famous cinematographer, was already in town. and he was giving a talk. i went, had a chat with him, tried to explain i was a fan and was running a website for wong kar wai and his movies. he told me he had a photo exhibition a few days later, gave me a vip ticket. star struck, exhilarated, i went back home.

did i go to the photo exhibition? hell yeah. i remember i was the only one there with a backpack. everyone seemed older, everyone seemed to know what they were doing. im pretty sure i was the only student. when chris saw me, he walked over, chatted with me and introduced me to some of his friends, explaining they were working for the now defunct fortissimo. at some point, we went for dinner, a bit odd, with a group of people i just met, but two people stood out. one was an asian male, and was not giving me good vibes. the other was also an asian male, and seemed friendly in a big brother kind of way, making sure i was included and that i didn’t feel out of place. he even said that he had a gift for me. “for me? wow ok”. he asked me to go with him to get the gift. we started walking, and before i know it, we are inside his hotel room. he got his gift, gave it to me, and i remember thinking .. “ok? this is what you made me walk all the way for?” but ok, a gift is a gift. it’s at this point that i’m sitting on his bed, and he started putting his arm around me. and he is starting to touch me. and i remember just feeling confused, wondering what was going on. wondering what he is doing. but i also remember moving away, instinctively. feeling uncomfortable. it didn’t take too long before he gave up, and we went back to the table. i remember the other guy winking at my “friend”, a wink that didn’t make sense to me until after we got the bill and i left.

at the station, waiting for the train, i am trying to figure out what had happened. i remember that it felt wrong. sometimes it takes the mind a bit longer to realize what your heart, body and bones already know. i called a friend. asked the friend to swear to keep this a secret. telling my friend, that something had happened, to convince myself it was at least somewhat real, that i wasn’t making this up. i didn’t know what to do otherwise.

i was reading this yesterday: “all touches change. and no touch can ever be taken back. remember.”

alyssa milano is asking people to tweet “me too” if you had ever been sexually harassed, that if all who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. copy, paste and share.

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“i live inside my own heart”

April 21st, 2017


如陽光伴我 心中更明亮


感謝 博群計畫

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breaking up with lies

January 30th, 2017

im not talking to you unless you first acknowledge what i feel is real.

i dont want to deceive myself anymore. 

you’re asking me to lie to myself. to smile. to be silent. to pretend nothing happened. to even pretend to be happy. 

you are willing to lie to me for this. god knows this wouldn’t be your first time. you can even continue to lie to yourself or uncle. and here you are, tears in hand, asking me to join you. but no, it stops here. im not going to live the rest of my life in denial of myself or my feelings. 

i want to live a true life. if that means a life without you, then i will live my life without you. you’re free to join me once you’re ready.

“this is what happened. this is what i feel.”

no longer silence. never be silent.

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book and sword : gratitude and revenge

is the first novel written by Jin Yong. The protagonist is Chan Ka Lok, who is the leader of the Red Flower Society. The book title refers to Ka Lok being famous for being well-versed in culture and martial arts, but also for having to make a difficult ethical decision. My father named me and my brother after him.

The subtitle is from a poem Desiderata