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

靜,冷靜,沈靜。
思憶,思念,回念。
深呼吸。
音樂,如冷風清新的聲音。

如陽光伴我 心中更明亮

閉眼。
在深呼吸。

(中文不好,要練習,請大家見諒)
感謝楊德昌導演的牯嶺街少年殺人事件。
感謝 博群計畫
感謝如陽光伴我一起看電影的朋友。

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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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a letter to my eight year old self

January 22nd, 2017

dear eight year old lokman,

you have no idea what is awaiting you. most of it will be good. things will get better. life will get better. trust me. im the older you.

not everything will get better, of course. but many things will get easier. things won’t always be as difficult. and even then, there is honor and strength in overcoming difficulties. believe, for you will build up a small body of work you can and should be proud of. trust yourself, even when others don’t always understand you.

you will find shelter in the thoughts, feelings, voices and imagination of others – not necessarily those physically close to you, and this will frustrate you for a while, but you will find it in those from the past, long gone or from far away, preserved in books, songs, movies, and you will find it in those of the future, through this thing called the internet that will change your life for the better.

you will love the library, where you can freely roam, freely explore, what you like, what you don’t like. you are eight, but you will soon start branching out from the children’s section to the adult section. you initially will have no clue what most of these books are about, but don’t for a second let others tell you you are “not ready” or “too young” to read them. it will come. have patience. the library is your friend.

at home, you will have comics, and computer games. you will love these too, but because they are at home, they are not as free. at some point, you will get a bad grade and mum will tell you you can no longer play computer games freely. at some point, your mum will threaten to burn your comics, and you will haul all of your comics in plastic bags to your locker in elementary school. forgive your mum. later when you have left home, you can read all the comics you want, play all the computer games you want. your love for them is true; you will keep reading them as far as the future where i’m writing from. it’s curious though: people ask whether you still read comics, play video games. but people don’t ask whether you still watch movies or read books, do they? again, trust yourself.

don’t think less of yourself, even when others might. at some point, you will go to university, and you will decide to study “china studies”, even though everyone else will try to convince you not to study it. you will learn how to read and write chinese. learning a language is not just that, it is getting access to a whole new world of books, movies, songs, even friends. at some point, you will travel to a far away country called taiwan, you will set foot in this bookstore called eslite, and you will be amazed, amazed that there is this vast universe of books that you never had access to before, and you will be touched, touched that there is a place where people care so much about books that they can treasure, cherish and sustain a bookstore like this. however, learning chinese won’t be easy. not because the language is difficult, even though it is, but because many others will convince you not to study it. be prepared for opposition. stay strong, trust that you know what is right for yourself. you write your own story; don’t let others write it.

but don’t only trust yourself. you will find allies. you will find friends. there will be this amazing thing called the internet. you will not only build websites, but also communities. you will build a home, not just for yourself, but for many others like you around the world, who otherwise wouldn’t have a home, and it will be one of the best things you will do. but also don’t be afraid to let go of it when the time comes.

lokman, your life is your story to write. and it’s gonna be awesome.

love,
the thirty nine year old lokman

eight year old self

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why i am in hong kong

January 1st, 2017

why hong kong, of all places?

i get asked this question sometimes, and sometimes i wonder it myself.

“do you consider yourself from hong kong?”

“are you planning to stay in hong kong?”

“why would you want to stay in hong kong?”

many young people are (thinking of) leaving: 57 percent of people under 30 would emigrate if given the opportunity. so, not only a simple question of residence, or even of identity, of belonging, but also of dreams and hope: is there a future here?

i grew up in holland, born and raised in amstelveen, a suburb just outside amsterdam. i went to high school in amsterdam and lived a big part of my college life in amsterdam. growing up, i would semi-frequently visit hong kong. a place we would go to for holidays. a place where we had many relatives who would buy me gifts and spoil me. a place with good food, cool movies. to be honest, i don’t have that many happy childhood memories, but i cherish my childhood memories of hong kong.

so when i had an opportunity to “come back” to hong kong for work, i seriously considered it. this was unexpected. i thought i would find a job in the states. i never imagined let alone planned coming to hong kong. if it wasn’t for that initial job offer, i probably would not be here right now. but here i am, in hong kong, six years going strong.

maybe this surprises you, but i don’t feel that strongly about “going back” to holland. when i say that, people often give me curious looks.

“wouldn’t you want to go back to holland?

“don’t you miss it?”

“didn’t you grow up there?”

“don’t you miss your friends and family?”

“isn’t amsterdam super cool?”

yes, amsterdam is super cool. yes, i spent most of my years of my life in holland. but no, i don’t really feel strongly about “going back”, at least not right now.

christian morgenstern, a german poet, once said that “home is not where you live, but where they understand you.” i never really felt that holland was that much interested in understanding me. i am grateful i was allowed to grow up there, i am grateful for the good public education i got there, and i am grateful for the many people, including friends, who i connected with and built long lasting relationships with. but as a place, i always felt like i could only be “dutch” in holland. that i had to, what law professor kenji yoshino calls, “cover up” my otherness. and i got good at covering up. i joke that my superpowers is invisibility. but covering up also means covering up an important part of who you are. limiting yourself. and considering the growing backlash against immigrants, not only in holland, but in europe and now also in the united states, there is little reason to stop covering ourselves up. heads down. safety first.

in contrast, hong kong is not only the place where i am better understood, it is also the place that allows me to become myself. in hong kong, i think i can become the better person i believe i can be.

the better me makes a difference.

the better me helps hong kong be free and stay free.

the better me helps students to realize their own potential.

the better me helps the world understand why freedom and freedom of expression are important.

the better me is part of and helps build a community of friends and peers who have in common this aspiration and hope for a freer world.

a war of ideas on the values of freedom and democracy is going on (more on this in a later essay). i know i can make a difference in this “war”. it is hong kong where i think i can best do that.

but is there a future here? well, let’s not forget, the future is open. it is not set in stone. we don’t know what will happen. and because of this, there is hope. as leonard cohen said, “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.

i am grateful hong kong is (still relatively) free. i will fight to make sure hong kong stays free, becomes more free. i also believe there is much we can learn from hong kong, that hong kong plays a critical part in the larger struggle for freedom globally. this is why i am in hong kong. this is why i want to stay here.

onward.

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soul mate (2016) a review of some sorts

October 27th, 2016

today was one of those days where i was just not feeling it. but i dragged myself out of bed, got myself a hair cut, and wondering what to do next, decided to say fuck it, and went to watch a movie, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week.

i ended up watching an amazing movie. i can tell you “soulmate” is a coming-of-age story about the friendship between two girls. that it is based on a web serial that was super popular on the chinese internet in the 1990s. that it is the solo debut of hong kong film director derek tsang. that the two actresses are amazing and deserving of every award they are nominated for.

but what i really want to tell you is that this movie made me feel very very alive again; that it also made me very very quiet. wondering, about the life choices i have made, the person i was, and the person i am now. wondering also, about people i deeply cared for, where they are now., whether they still remember me. heart wide open, life a little bit too much right now.

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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