(I stood there) mildly confused about what just happened. But a long-overdue sense of consolation and the temporary release from anger and malcontent forbid me to investigate.
(An edited version was published on Heathyish).
In a sweltering, Hong Kong summer afternoon only slightly tempered by the torrential rain that had just begun to batter the island, I stood in my kitchen trying to figure out the golden ratio for brewing a cup of silky Hong Kong-style milk tea, a legacy of course left by the city’s British colonial past, while on TV across the room, a black blanket of soaking wet protesters numbering in over a million stretching as far as the eye can see, were marching for Hong Kong’s future.
Democracy, is what’s on their table.
I felt a sense of commotion creeping up my chest as I tried to drown it by scorching the tea leaves with my screeching kettle, watching them tumble and twirl inside the tea pot in a hopeless toil. But it did little to distract me from realizing, once again, what a familiar predicament I am in. Because the very reason that I am in Hong Kong, is precisely because I was determined to leave the place that Hong Kong is becoming in its current trajectory – and fighting not to be – China.
In 2008, after the titanic economic crash that would later come to be know as The Great Recession, I left New York with my husband who was offered a job in Hong Kong and later moved to Beijing for its more stable market. Little did I know, the following six years would become the most turbulent, if not emotionally destructive period of my life. Under China’s increasingly heavy-handed authoritarian rule, the very act of living in a place clashed violently with what I was brought up to uphold, however naïve, as a principle for democracy and civil rights. It’s a place where the personal surrender of liberty is made painfully apparent every day, where you are required to be okay with what you’re allowed to watch listen or say, where even the access to VPN (virtual private network to bypass the great firewall) is closely administered under the moody mercy of the Chinese government, which is difficult if not unreachable most times of the year.
Surely, as many would argue, that if you just take it lying down that the daily functions of life can go on like any other places, but I couldn’t just take it, this constant psychological bullying, and the worst of all is knowing that by accepting this oppressive reality in exchange for economic gains, I was in some way, complicit.
But leave… I did not; I stayed; I made dinners; I abided.
Then one night, as mundanely miserable as any other, as if something had snapped, neurologically almost, perhaps prompted by the salted sting of happier people living happier lives in Rome on TV, I hovered into my kitchen in an eerie silence. I laid out my subjects in a pathological orderliness, unbleached flour with 9% protein, free-range egg yolks, water and salt. I can still remember plunging my hands into the wetness of this flour mixture, in a trance almost, squeezing choking and tearing it until this unruly and sordid coagulation slowly transformed into a shiny globe of supple, silky and harmonious cohesion. After impatiently allowing it to unwind, I then force its unsuspecting body through the cold, revolving steels of a pasta machine, watching silently its malleable mass extruded and aligned under the unnegotiable pressure into a pristinely edged and sleek sheet of silk. Oh the jitters, I paused only momentarily to relish in this anticipated gratification, before I robotically drove repeated incisions into its surrendered body until its severed parts laid in uniform strands on my bare countertop.
For a while I stood there, looking down on my hands encrusted with dried fluids, mildly confused about what had just happened. But there, a long-overdue sense of consolation and the temporary release from anger and malcontent forbid me to investigate.