永久性香港 Forever This Hong Kong
TFP guest essayist Xu Xi 許素細 longs for—and mourns—her 'forever' home. 'Too soon, too soon,' she writes, 'our city is becoming a removably moveable feast.'
By Xu Xi 許素細
永久性居民forever citizens neither leave nor return. Covid, we suspect, is just a fortuitously convenient excuse to let us go forever. A three-week quarantine is only the beginning. A National Security Law can morph into policies and procedures for myriad Conditions of Forever-ness. This government on steroids can define further prohibitions to prevaricate our lives. Fees will be the least of our worries.
What is the real meaning of right of abode, this right to be in our city? The longer we are away, the less we will be re-collected, re-visited, re-called. Too soon, too soon, our city is becoming a removably moveable feast. How long must we, unwillingly, suspend disbelief?
“May I return to my rightful abode to see Sister, to pay respects to Uncle, Aunties and visit Cousins, to dine with friends, hike the hills and walk the streets of my city? To simply be? Or has the sky already fallen, so that to write and remember is seditious?”
As one of the city’s chroniclers, let me tell you my story by yet another lucky-unlucky one born into Britain’s last colony. This cosmopolitan haven, my forever home, managed to stay afloat despite its uncharted course, ravaged by undercurrents of the South China Sea. Poseidon, like Pooh, is a figment of our collective imagination. Of Poseidon we beg for mercy, but what should we ask of Pooh? To take his snout out of that honey pot? To keep trucking with Tigger-Obama? To grow thicker skin? The real Pooh has had his right to be in China revoked. If I persist with this forbidden comparison, will I too be similarly erased, my books all removed from my city?
Who chooses to live, colonized? Not I, said the pig; not I, said the cow. I will then, said the Little Red Hen to negotiate a compromised existence. Or is the correct utterance Chicken Little’s: because the sky is falling, was always falling even though we knew it really wasn’t? Little wonder the arrival of Avian Flu. One morning, the markets on Staunton Street were chock full of chickens, and the next emptied, all birds culled. Now, Staunton is emptied of markets, and further west, even of hungry ghosts, while PDQ transforms its cross street, Aberdeen, the street where I lived before Pooh.
But gentrification is a given in global centers! In Asia’s World City. I’ve borrowed this place, this “home” for too long, and perhaps my borrowed time is coming due. Wait, wait, wasn’t 永久性-ness forever? Or was it a bad bargain, another unequal treaty, an opium fever-dream? Wasn’t that other colony, Portuguese, the city of broken promises? Not mine, never mine.
Should this rapid transformation into China’s forgotten city also be a given?
I’ve been a good forever citizen, worked hard, paid taxes, given blood, donated to the Community Chest, participated in cultural and social life, contributed to the economy, wrote my forever this Hong Kong stories. Last week, Inland Revenue traced me through Covid lockdown with a reassessed 2015-16 salaries tax bill. I have paid but can I stay? May I return to my rightful abode to see Sister, to pay respects to Uncle, Aunties and visit Cousins, to dine with friends, hike the hills and walk the streets of my city? To simply be? Or has the sky already fallen, so that to write and remember is seditious? Will I, like some hungry ghost, be consigned to forever-ness with Chinese characteristics, afloat but forgotten, a mere figment of our collective imagination?
Martin Luther King Day, January 2022, New York
Xu Xi 許素細 is Indonesian-Chinese, born and raised in Hong Kong. An author of 14 books of fiction and nonfiction, she is one of Hong Kong’s leading writers in English. Recent titles include This Fish is Fowl: Essays of Being (Nebraska, 2019), Insignificance: Hong Kong Stories (Signal 8, 2018), Dear Hong Kong: An Elegy for A City (Penguin, 2017) and the novel That Man in Our Lives (C&R, 2016). She has also edited or co-edited five anthologies of Asian writing in English, including The Art and Craft of Asian Stories: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury, October 2021). Forthcoming is Monkey in Residence & Other Speculations (Signal8uk, 2023). She is a co-founder of Authors at Large and recently established the Mongrel Writers Residence™ as a hideaway for “mongrel” writers like herself. She currently occupies the William H.P. Jenks Chair in Contemporary Letters at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. A diehard transnational, she now splits her life between the state of New York and the rest of the world. Follow her @xuxiwriter at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
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