“Batshit Seven” by Sheung-King

Sheung King Sheung King

If Wong Kar-wai were to write a screenplay for a post-Handover story, along the same lines as his classic films set in the 1960s and 1990s, it might look like Sheung-King’s new novel, Batshit Seven. The pen name of author Aaron Tang, Sheung-King writes a raw and gritty story of a twenty-six year old called Glue—the amalgamation of Glen Wu—who has recently returned to Hong Kong after spending seven years in Toronto to studying acting at university and starting, but not finishing, an MFA in program in creative writing. 

Upon his return, Glue lives at his family’s old home in Tung Chung on Lantau Island and tries to readjust to a place he left almost a decade earlier. Rents are so high that Glue has no choice but to live in his family’s home, which he shares for a number of months with his sister Gwen.

He feels lost in both his career and his identity. His mother suggests he teach English as Second Language (ESL); after some thought he decides to follow her advice, but wonders if he can do this forever. Nor does he feel completely at home in Hong Kong because he and his family and friends speak English. But neither is he a Canadian Born Chinese (CBC) because he wasn’t born there and didn’t move to Canada until he was in his late teens. Gwen is herself dating a CBC named Lester, who barely speaks Cantonese. Glue’s mother has her own ideas about CBCs after having spent a number of years in Canada before settling in Macau.

 

She thinks they’re too privileged, too used to being able to say and do whatever they want, and that they use that to distinguish themselves from the Chinese Chinese. Back in the 2000s, Glue’s mother would complain that Glue’s cousins in Canada grew up under too little pressure. She also thinks CBCs are too simple-minded. They don’t understand the “complex workings of Asia,” she claimed: “Everything is either left or right, blue or red, good or bad in the West,” she used to say. “Here, it’s different, more complex, more history.”

 

Batshit Seven, Sheung-King Penguin Canada, February 2024)
Batshit Seven, Sheung-King Penguin Canada, February 2024)

Glue’s love life is certainly complex. Back in Toronto, he dated a Singaporean student named Elle, but they break up and it’s very tough on Glue. When she moves back to Singapore, Glue feels alone;. It was Elle’s departure and Glue’s sister Gwen’s return to Hong Kong that inspires Glue to return, too.

Once back in Hong Kong, Glue jumps into a relationship with a Cantonese woman named May. They drink and smoke pot a lot and are romantically involved, but Glue still thinks about Elle and May starts to talk about moving back to England, where she went to school. Still, the two drive around Hong Kong, watching planes take off and land at the Hong Kong International Airport. At some point, Glue wonders if May has told him her real name. He wonders if he even knows her at all.

 

As May’s return to England seems imminent, Glue starts to feel more settled in Hong Kong.

 

Glue notices that, since he decided to become an ESL instructor, he had stopped trying to call Elle. He stopped stalking her social media accounts as well. Glue has realized something about himself: he has the tendency to make himself feel more trapped than he actually is. This is why he did not become a writer. When he tried to become a writer, back in Toronto, back when he felt inspired by Elle, when the two spent weekends devouring films, this was when he gave Elle hope. This, perhaps, made Elle feel free as well.

 

Glue was born three years before the Handover and came of age in Canada in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Most of the story takes place in 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic began. While Glue is trying to settle back into life in Hong Kong, he thinks about what it means to be from Hong Kong and that his broken relationships may be more a part of his identity than he first imagined.

 

Being Hong Kongese means dealing with the desire to find narratives to contextualize your sorrows. It is difficult to articulate the feeling of existing on borrowed time, between being a colony of a former empire and becoming a city in one of the largest countries in the world.

 

The book’s marketing literature places it during the 2019 protests, but this seems but a quick distraction in only a few parts of the story. Sheung-King spends more time discussing the exorbitant property prices in Hong Kong and how low taxes only benefit the super wealthy and foreign investors. Glue’s Hong Kong relies more on connections with China than had been seen with earlier generations and that the future of Hong Kong may not be perfect, but it is home.


Susan Blumberg-Kason is the author of Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong.