CONTRIBUTORS featured in the Neighbourhood Part 1 section in Issue 70 of Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine 聲韻詩刊 — Tammy Lai-Ming Ho (editorial) ◎ Shirley Geok-lin Lim (two poems) ◎ Sam Lang (one poem) ◎ Joshua Ip (three poems) ◎ PCardinal (one poem) ◎ Sushma Joshi (one poem) ◎ Carol D’Souza (one poem) ◎ Hongwei (two poems) ◎ Leanne Dunic (two poems) ◎ Ming Di (two poems) ◎ Elmer Omar Pizo (one poem) ◎ Anca Vlasopolos (two poems) ◎ Miroslav Kirin, trans. MK (two poems) ◎ Nikki Manzano Cabugao (one poem) ◎ Victoria Dialogo Cuevas (two poems) ◎ Mei Kwan Ng (one poem) ◎ Wendelin Law (one poem) ◎ Dennis Haskell (one poem)
by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho
Our flat is in a tong lau in Sham Shui Po, a predominantly lower-income neighbourhood. It’s one of the densest districts in Hong Kong, home to a mix of working-class families, senior citizens, and migrants from mainland China, and families of Vietnamese, African and South Asian background. Sham Shui Po is partly characterised by busy street markets, where you can buy vintage and modern electronic gadgets, fabrics, bargain clothes, and, depending on the time of the year, decorations for Lunar New Year, Halloween, Easter or Christmas.
Walking on the streets in my neighbourhood, I seem to be always failing at efficiently navigating around my fellow pedestrians, who walk with a sense of rehearsed purpose and who know when to speed up and when to slow down. I was the one out of tune in the controlled chaos. One time, on foot on the way home from the MTR, I saw some policemen guarding a fenced-off area; there was a big green tarp covering an object whose shape resembled the elephant-swallowing snake in The Little Prince. I wanted to stop and look but I knew I had to walk on, as did other people, who expertly maintained their gait, as if they had all reached a consensus as to a polite approach to this unusual sight. It turned out that earlier, there had been a car accident, and someone was killed.
There are five floors in my building and each floor has four flats—20 in all. Ours is on the top floor and has a section of rooftop, which we really enjoy. We have coffee up there, read, have friends over for barbecues, and my husband, a journalist, does his live broadcasts whenever the city is in the news. Our neighbours are generally down-to-earth and they keep to themselves. I can’t pretend everyone gets along, but it is a small building and soon enough you learn to accommodate some habits of others while others tolerate ours. How quickly understanding leads to a sort of love.
Downstairs, on the ground floor, there are several shops: one sells curtains and fixes garments; one does school uniforms; a former hardware store has been transformed into a stylish bar with large indoor plants, and a tiny hair salon where waiting customers can be seen sitting on the street, their wet hair covered in clingfilm. I have walked past the salon many times and had thought I would never have my hair treated there. But I ended up going there a few months ago. I had a simple haircut. The woman, who greeted me as though she had known me for ages, was eager to talk to me. “I know where you live and I know your husband does the grocery shopping. He goes to the wet market too—so impressive!” But how on earth did she know? “Oh we all know about you and your husband. He’s the only gweilo on this street, and the next five streets!” I sat there, half-embarrassed and half-proud about our unearned visibility in this small neighbourhood where people quietly observe us and where when we look back, it had always been another life.
Friday 3 February 2023