Representations of Home Creative Journal

ROAM - Spring/Summer 2021 - ROAM 1

Christelle Davis

“Hong Kong Days”

My home is slipping away from me, even while I am still here.


Morning. Thumping through the ceiling as 30B starts their day with a set of extremely slow jumping jacks. Usual mild panic and an immediate reach for the phone to check what terrible things have happened during six hours of disrupted sleep. When I have a measure of how bad things are, I can get on with reading blind gossip websites to check for paedophilic celebrities, spending too long on an unsolved mysteries Wikipedia page, adding vitamins to my iHerb basket but not proceeding to the checkout.


Some kind of pre-noon haze. I teach a freshman class on Zoom, which is really a 45-minute monologue interspersed with answering questions in the chat window. No one turns on their cameras. After that, I walk the nine steps from my bedroom desk to the kitchen for filtered water every 20 minutes. I am regularly intercepted by a small child who usually wants to show me something unimpressive she has made with playdoh. Sometimes I answer questions about why the pool is closed and if there is still crime scene tape blocking off the playground. Her world has shrunk to 1,000 square feet on the 29th floor and a weekly Zoom show and tell . She doesn’t care. She spends a lot of her day planning access to the ‘big scissors’ in the drawer under the TV.

At Chinese New Year I left the university campus where I had worked for six years for a week-long holiday and never went back. The emails from friends in other places were sympathetic and anxious. I had masks sent to me from a veterinarian in Australia. I whined… why is this happening to us?

There was a rumour that the virus was part of a much larger plan to destroy Hong Kong while the world was distracted. I heard this from the mouths of sweaty cheeked expat bankers as they gulped down pints in Peel Street. I saw this written on Reddit in a post answering the question ‘What conspiracy theory do you actually believe?’. And I even said it to my husband, while we sat on the upper deck of the 681 bus, travelling across the city to meet friends for a socially distanced wine crawl.

It didn’t just happen to us of course.

Except we have two ‘lockdowns’ to deal with. The one that keeps us mostly indoors and the one that means we can be arrested for wearing a black t-shirt or holding up a piece of blank paper, because of the potential for what could be written on that paper.


Lunchtime. On the couch, watching whatever version of Masterchef is playing on repeat, I mutter knowingly at Gordon Ramsey’s frustration when the contestants mess up. I have one hand on my iPad, endlessly scrolling… searching… for… distraction.


Before this new version of Reality, we lived in a video game. We’d spent eight months dodging police, tear gas, water cannons, road blocks and ‘suicides’ around the city. This could mean turning a corner after lunch and told by an old lady to ‘turn around, not this way!’ or having that cold feeling of ‘we must leave’ when twenty riot police in full gear walk into a shopping mall that is otherwise bustling and full of Sunday shoppers. From my office window I watched the students march through campus wearing gas masks and hard hats with their graduation gowns, chanting ‘Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times’. Students would enter class and hold up six fingers in salute to one another (five demands, not one less) and I’d smile at the sheer performance and passion of the ritual. (For the record, they were serious, overthrowing your government is not a Hunger Games parody). One Tuesday, I left for work as normal and sat on a bus for two hours while Operation Dawn Action (a city-wide blockage of roads and MTR stations) came into effect. The next night, I watched from our balcony as small dots of fire flew through the sky as the students set fire to their own campus in the Battle of Bridge No 2. I watched terrified, yet impressed, as they used the bows from the Archery Club to shoot flaming arrows at the police and launched petrol bombs from a slingshot made in the Engineering lab.


During those months, I watched a lot of the local live news channel, that showed small groups of protesters facing off against large groups of police and vice versa, all followed by puffing journalists lugging camera equipment. I watched as people were beaten, and shot with rubber bullets. I heard them scream out their names to the journalists as they were arrested, followed by a haunting declaration of ‘I will not commit suicide!’ When I saw a single, skinny boy break free and run, his face covered in black, a cardboard shield in one hand and a Molotov cocktail in another, I would feel proud. One Sunday, when I got caught in the middle of a storm of tear gas, after attending a matinee performance of Peter Rabbit, it was a group of teenage boys who gathered around me where I stood frozen on a street corner with my daughter in my arms. They shouted at me, ‘Keep moving! Are you okay? Keep going!’ One kid (for he really was just that) ran up and said, ‘Do you want me to take her? I’m fast.’ I clutched her even tighter, but nodded gratefully. I trusted him.


Mid-afternoon. This is the longest, heaviest time. Child is hungry, but cannot articulate for what. Husband spends an hour playing Candy Crush in the bathroom, the cheerful ‘dings’ spilling out into the hallway. At the four-thirty daily press conference the kind, helpful voice of Dr Chuang Shuk Kwan tells us the daily infection count and gently explains why playing mah-jong is not allowed, but two people may kayak together without masks. I take a walk along the promenade, getting a hint of ocean through the triple layer mask. I see a baby in a hazmat suit. I see a shirtless old man swinging a shiny silver sword around his head. I see the ancient neighbourhood turtle waddling by a plastic sheet of sun-dried chillies spread out on the bike path. I stand next to a lady who is slapping her limbs with open palms for improved circulation. Across the water, I can see the university spilling down the mountain, empty and still.  If I was on campus the air would be oily, sweet and vinegary as the canteens fried up char sui noodles for the dinner rush. I would walk out of my office building and take a bus down the mountain and hold on tight as we took the hairpin turns. I would be contemplating a long weekend in Hoi An or Bangkok. I’d shyly smile as one of my students offered me a seat. I’d scroll through my phone checking reviews of Montessori kindergartens that cost more than my undergrad degree. I’d be a little bit bored.


In January, the students flooded back onto campus where the roads had been repaved, the graffiti painted over and the hijacked shuttle buses replaced with bland replicas. The ‘Lennon Walls’ of colourful post-its bearing notes varying from encouragement (Add Oil!) to despair (If we burn, you burn with us) were gone.There were students and staff missing. Our IDs were checked at every gate. There was a lot of tense whispering at the start of each class. The lack of posters and signs and activity was more unnerving than anything that happened before, as if it was now all happening in a darker, more secret place.


It got worse, of course it did. No protesting. No singing. No flags. No slogans.

Nighttime on the balcony. The sky is clear because the Guangzhou factories are still dormant. You can almost see actual stars. It is still warm, but the air is no longer heavy and thick like it used to be. I hear the buzzing radar of my childhood memories, I’m craving Australian sunshine, vinegar on chips, the steady rhythm of beach and ice cream. I know that this unsettled nausea when I think about being unable to leave, is not unique. I want red wine, I want friends, I want connections, I want conversation. I want the tug of creativity and exploration. I want adventure. I want to hear my mother’s voice, in person. I want to be, always thinking about somewhere else, something else. The years we called Korea and Japan home are slipping further away. We have been stuck in this apartment for so long that I cannot pull up any nostalgia for here, for this weather, these smells, this place.


What will happen to Hong Kong? Everything went so slowly and now it is all too fast. How did it get so fast?

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