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remittance Few things vanish so completely as to leave no trace of themselves. In our Residue portfolio, we will take a look at these remnants — the unwanted, the dregs, or simply the unerasable. To start us off, two poets from Hong Kong, Mary Jean Chan and Rosemarie Ho, show how language — among other things — lingers, after the colonizer is gone. 

 

 

 

Hybridity
by Mary Jean Chan

The reader stares at my 皮肤
and asks: why don’t you write

in 中文? I tell them: 殖民主义
meant that I was brought up in

your image. Let us be honest –
had I not learnt 英语 and come

to your shores, you wouldn’t be
reading this poem at all. Did you

think it was an accident that I learnt
your 语言 for decades, until I knew

it better than the 母语 I dreamt in?
Is anything an accident these days?

Dear reader, you are lucky to have
been the centre of my 宇宙 for so

long. My country is called 中国
because it had equally grandiose

notions about its reflection in the
漩涡 of humanity. A taxi driver

in Shanghai told me that my lover
is from 大英帝国. How does that

make me feel? Can you tell me
what it is that I should do next?

 

 

 

Excerpts from The Hongkong/Xianggang Cookbook
by Rosemarie Ho

Take these beads of rice into the mouth, dry with
expectation. There is no meal that hasn’t been repeated
before, the teeth gnashing and smashing these pearls into
a digestible pulp yet to be dissolved. It sticks to the palate,
the tongue weighed down by chow. Say thank you. Realise
you said that with words taken from the coloniser’s
language in an accent you never asked for. Fang kiu.
Panic. It is no longer 1997. KFC has been selling rice
topped with mushroom gravy for years. Retract the
tongue, mortar grinding, mush, excess liquid, milky water
no dairy, try on other words like dentures, 唔該.

What are you thankful for? What is return when mother
chews on thoughts like Oriental pearl in the dental mode
that the motherland does not accept? Your ricepaper veins
cannot not withstand the bite of a speech more coercive
than common (cf. lingua franca, 普通话). Bare your teeth,
say xie xie nin. In the olden days people starved as they
fortified the Great Wall with sticky rice mortar. If it goes
down right it foments and ferments. Parboil the re-marks
and let them settle.

Funny how it ends up that you’re the leftovers. Your
parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were
thrown onto Lantau and d(r)ied like salted fish, they
pulverised them, your mother and father and
grandparents, brittle bone nothing more than topping on
congee, they feed you your parents, how full of flavour
they are, you keep stuffing them down, at least they are
now yours, take heritage as a laxative for the next round of
(in)digestion, the separation process, the acid, the slow
burn, the eventual choke by colonisers’ tongues, die in a
pool of your own vomit, sticky starch.

(誰知盤中飱
粒粒皆辛苦.)

The Transpacific Literary Project is a platform for writing from across East and Southeast Asia. Read work from our most recent project folio, Residue.

Mary Jean Chan (b. 1990) is a poet and editor from Hong Kong who was shortlisted for the 2017 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. Her work has been published in The Poetry Review, PN Review, Ambit Magazine, The London Magazine and Callaloo Journal. She is a Research Associate and PhD candidate at the Royal Holloway Poetics Research Center at the University of London, and is a Co-Editor at Oxford Poetry.

Rosemarie Ho (何晰璿) was born and raised in Hong Kong, but is currently an undergraduate at the University of Chicago. More of her work can be found at rosemarieho.com. She wants to be a writer and an academic when she grows up.

Onejoon Che has been working on the trauma of the military regime through photography, short films, and archival installation. Recently, Che has been working on monuments and statues of North Korea. The Townhouse series (2008-2010) is a project about the environmental issues of the five U.S. military camps in Paju that were left when the army was sent to Iraq in 2003. The ruins of U.S. Army camps have been left untouched for the last ten years due to the pollution of oil spills and the cost of restoring. The problem has not been solved until recently. This work shows the history and present of the U.S. Army in South Korea and reveals the hidden images behind the war. Che's photographs and videos have been shown in major museums and biennale, including the Taipei Biennial at Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei (2008), Les Modules at Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012), The Korean Peninsula at the Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, Italy (2014), Surround Audience at the New Museum Triennial, New York (2015), and Accelerated Urbanism in Africa at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (2016), among others.

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