hEad Held HIgh

I’ve started a new routine.

I usually pick out my clothes without thinking too much about it, an old t shirt, the same pair of jeans. The eyeliner glides on effortlessly, I’d been doing that since I was five. I tie my long hair in a ponytail usually, this is the only thing that takes time. More so, because I simply liked gliding my fingers through my hair, and trying elaborate hairdos even if it always just ends up in a ponytail. All of this takes me less than twenty minutes, I change out of my uniform only reluctantly but everything else goes on fast.

Lately though, I take longer. The t shirt I wear outlines my body too well, the old jeans seem snug,too snug. The eyeliner seems too much. My hair is too long and makes me look older than I am. I haven’t started wearing a bra yet, I should really tell my mum it’s time I wear one. But it’s an uncomfortable topic. I’m not altogether sure why I should be wearing one. I didn’t want to be old enough and yet it would feel like an added protective layer.

I take off my clothes. I can’t seem to find bigger, looser clothes. Maybe I should borrow my sister’s? But I’d never be allowed out of the house wearing baggy clothes. I put my clothes back on and throw a jacket on top of it, this will have to do. I tie my hair in a tight bun, even as a few stray strands threatened to fall loose around the nape of my neck. I wipe off the eyeliner. I rarely see my eyes bare. I look plain.objectification

The walk to the tuition centre was becoming more painful by the day. When had I started noticing them? Everything seemed to happen all at once. The first time someone touched me I was much too young. Even now, I almost refuse to remember it the way it happened. The second time there was no escape from what was happening. The second time I learnt a new word:molestation. It didn’t come from the incident itself, I don’t think I understood what was happening even then. It was much later, in an old Reader’s Digest article that I read a story and learnt a new word. It’s the stupid word that caused trouble. It could have remained nothing if I didn’t know what it was. But then I did. And everything changed. Months after it happened, I continued having recurring nightmares. Every time I looked at pictures from that day, unsmiling pictures of me in front of famous monuments,beside my parents, I’d feel the desperate urge to erase myself from the pictures. As if that might mean that I was never there at all. I also wanted to get rid of the clothes, like from a scene of crime. They were new. They fit me well. I would keep staring at just how well. That morning I must have taken time in front of the mirror, admiring the new clothes on myself. I looked slim, I liked how I looked that day. That was the problem. I must have stood out.

I must look plain. I wouldn’t be noticed then.

I adopted this new way of life after I joined these tuitions too. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t inside school grounds, not inside a school van, not with my parents, not inside a car. I had to walk alone. It was a 15 minute walk. I walked ridiculously fast. It didn’t help. Even that makes me stand out.

They stand in groups by the street. They whistle and make low hissing noises. Everyone can see them. Everyone can see me. They ask me what my name is. Why am I walking so fast? Why wouldn’t I look at them? I would just walk faster, turning my head away from the questions hurled at me.

An auto whizzes past. The driver yells out something obscene at me. Everyone heard him. Everyone saw me. I sleepwalk my way home.

A scruffy young boy from the bicycle repair shop won’t keeps blocking my way. I can’t hear what he’s saying, the voices are becoming muffled now. He’s a hair’s breadth away. I keep my gaze lowered. My mum says my eyes are too wide, I look like a helpless child and people will take advantage of me. Why won’t you look at me? I look up at him and he grins and reaches a hand out. I swerve left and break into a run. Everyone saw him. Their eyes followed me.

When I reach home at night, my neck hurts. For more than four hours, my neck’s bent. I keep my nails short, very short. I clench my fist so hard, I’d still leave little indented marks on the inside of my palm. My parents remark on my naked eyes,my severe look. I look older and plainer. I don’t look feminine enough. I go back upstairs and put on some eyeliner and smile at my reflection. I breathe.


One Language Two Characters



He and I both speak Cantonese. It’s our mother tongue.
I’m from Guangdong, China. We younger generations, compared to our parents and grandparents, speak Mandarin fluently.
He’s from Hong Kong. He can barely speak Mandarin.
Last year, a British band called the Libertines did a video promo for Hong Kong music festival Clockenflap on Facebook. In the video, they greeted in Mandarin.
The following are the two top comments on the video:
‘It’s irritating and even insulting to speak Mandarin to Hongkongers.’
‘Speaking Mandarin to Hongkongers is like speaking French to the British.’
I disagree on the second one. Wrong analogy.

My friend yells at me: she has to get out of the crowd. Her family called.
I can’t barely hear what exactly she said. I am in fanatic.
‘The fire is out of control! We gonna burn the city! Burn the city!’ I jump with the band. I jump with the crowd. I don’t care the fact that I stand alone in the crowd, though I am aware of it. But I am not alone. I know I will know other people in the crowd and people going to festival will be very friendly.
The band pushes the atmosphere even higher. ‘Hong Kong is out of control! We gonna burn the city! Burn the city!’ And we the crowd goes even crazier. I can’t breathe. Maybe because I yell too much and too hard. And maybe just because the crowd keeps jostling and pushing.
After a while, I don’t know where I have been pushed through. I guess I will never meet my friend again. I’m a little bit sad. People are all around me, mostly western faces. I am here now without any company.
I keep on chanting, to overrun my feeling lost. I imagine I am the one on the stage, creating such a sensation at the seaside of a city whose language they don’t speak. And yet, we communicate through music.
‘This is such an amazing place! We hope we can come back very soon!’ The frontman said, ‘such an amazing stage!’ We scream even louder. I look up a bit. Layers and layers of skyscrapers surround along the whole West Kawloon Waterfront Promenade. Neon lights dazzle in the night. Music festival in this city is so metropolitan.
‘Burn the City!’
The chorus goes on again. Dancing with the music and the people, my body throws myself into the crowd. My body leaves my sentimentality behind.
Somebody’s arm on my shoulder. I turn my head. A Chinese man. He notices that I looking at him. He turns his head and smiles a bit. ‘Burn the city!’ he yells. ‘Burn the city!’ I follow. And then we jump and dance again with the music.
The song finishes. We clap.
He turns his head again, ‘you alone?’
‘Not really. My friend waits me outside.’
‘I’m Teddy. What’s your name?’
‘Hazel.’ I guess Chinese name is not that important. It’s too formal to bring it up for two strangers meeting at the first time, I guess. And no one will judge this. It is not a pretentious thing to use English name in Hong Kong.
Another song goes on. We scream and then look at each other with smiles. And then we throw our bodies into the music with the crowd again.
Finally the headline finishes. After two days of delirium, my body is exhausted but still hyperactive. Music goes out and the lights turns on. My sentimentality come back. I wish I can come here again tomorrow on Sunday. But I can’t. I need to travel back tomorrow in the morning. I can’t play too hard. I need to prepare for the next week’s work.
The crowd scatters around and heads toward the exits in different direction. Bottles are all on the ground that is soaked with lagers. I guess the aftermath of music festival is all the same around the world.
‘Hey, where do you live?’ It’s him again. I take a good look at Teddy. Dapper dress. Brown blazer and leather shoes. I like people wearing blazer and leather shoes. I am wearing blazer and leather boots.
Where do I live? I am wondering a bit. Sheung Wan? Guangzhou?
Somehow, my mouth mutters,‘Sheung Wan’. I guess it isn’t that necessary to tell a stranger where I really come from. And I don’t really know if I tell him I am a mailander will be ever a difference. For him, or for myself.
‘And you?’
‘Yuen Long. What do you do?’
‘I’m still a student. And you?’ We walk together with one of the divisions of the crowd toward the exit.
‘Er… It’s quite complicated. It’s something sort of related to advertisement.’
He must be a very tricky person. His word is so not serious.
‘Not much Chinese faces in this festival, right?’ I ask.
‘I know right. Last year even fewer. You know, Hong Kongers aren’t really into independent music and stuffs. You like Franz Ferdinand a lot?’
‘Yea, I basically own all their albums.’
‘Yea? I have their first album. Do you go to gigs or music festival often?’
‘Not really. The first time in Hong Kong. I am not really into Chinese bands, they are too melodic. Their lyrics are all too sentimental for my liking. And going for a western band gig is very expensive here. Also, only very few of them will go on tour in Asia.’
He nods. ‘Which film is your favourite?’
I start to think a bit. I never take this kind of ‘your-favourite’ question seriously. There is no such a thing as favourite. People keep changing. It’s just all about how much you have encountered so far and how do you feel at this very moment.
‘Well, I can’t say I have favourite. But I like Stephen Chow (周星馳) a lot.’ I do really like Stephen Chow. I like his senseless humour. Stephen Chow, all Cantonese knows and can fully appreciate his humour. You can read Stephen Chow’s films from a very artistic perspective, or in superficial way- just for a good laugh.
And I don’t want to give out some serious names or condescending answers for this question to a stranger.
He says he likes him too. I smile. He doesn’t explain further. I’m not going to take his reply seriously. But I guess neither does him.
But then he starts to recite loads and loads of Stephen Chow’s lines.
I laugh. I didn’t expect that. And then he continues to recite more. He is also amused by his reciting, laughing out loud. His laugh is so contagious. He laughs like a child who doesn’t care how others think of why he’s laughing so loud. ‘I have nearly all his DVDs.’
I nod.
My friend texts me. ‘I have to go. My friend calls. Nice to see you.’
‘Do you mind exchange our numbers?’
‘Sure.’ I suppose it won’t be much a trouble. If I don’t like him, his number and him will be just gone with my Hong Kong mobile number tomorrow.
We head home separately.
I am on my way to meet up my friend. Alone at the street, no accompany again. My mind is occupied with strange feeling. The contrast between the festival in Hong Kong and the reality in Guangzhou is too overwhelming. It’s only about 90-mins train between the two places though.
Back to my place. I mean, the place where I stay tonight. My grandpa owns a house in Hong Kong. So I guess technically it’s my place/home in Hong Kong?
My mobile buzzs. He texts me. I didn’t expected this, at least not so soon. He looks like some tricky person, like I said.
He asks if I will go to the festival tomorrow.
I replies him I can’t. I already bought the return ticket and I need to go back to university a little bit earlier to prepare for next week.
I should not talk to him too much, I tell myself. We are not in the same city. I won’t be in this place tomorrow. The festival is too good I know, but I need to go back to reality for work. I need to continue my life and do what I’m supposed to do.
I am a mainlander, which I still haven’t told him, yet.