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.
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
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.