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Letters from Hong Kong: Bamboo and umbrellas

Together with Tammy Ho Lai-Ming of Hong Kong Baptist University and co-editor of the the literary journal Cha, The Asian Review of Books is starting a regular column for original, creative pieces—poetry, narrative non-fiction and perhaps reportage, prose vignettes, as well as illustrations and photos—that capture the voices and zeitgeist. Please send questions, ideas, etc. to the editor.

Letters from Hong Kong: Bamboo and umbrellas


“Bamboo in Repose”

Tammy Ho Lai-Ming


[caption id='attachment_0' align='aligncenter' width='100%']Photo credit: Sammy Wan[/caption]

These pictures, taken by Sammy Wan and posted by Real Hong Kong News on Facebook, show a group of construction workers building a bamboo “matrix” at Admiralty, replacing the iron barricades that the police had cleared earlier the morning of Monday 13 October.

Hong Kong has long been known as a forest of cement buildings (石屎森林) and bamboo scaffolding is such a common sight in the city that residents no longer pay much attention to it. For example, when I was living in Sheung Wan some years ago, there was bamboo scaffolding just outside of my window for months.

What hit home in these pictures was the sight of these bamboo sticks in repose, a position that is not meant to be—they are meant to be erected—and how the battle for democracy has forced us to be creative and resilient, to the extent of changing the nature of things.


Tammy Ho Lai-Ming teaches at Hong Kong Baptist University and is co-editor of the journal Cha.


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“Indoor Umbrella”

Peter Gordon

I am asked from time to time why I do not write more about the current electoral reform debate. I was just reminded why. In spite of my having lived here for almost 30 years, I still feel that I am a guest and—while this doesn’t mean remaining disinterested and unengaged—guests should nevertheless exercise some discretion when their hosts are trying to sort out a deep-rooted family problem.

At a National Day reception the other evening, when Carrie Lam stood by the Consul-General to deliver the requisite affirmations of goodwill—an exercise in diplomatic courtesy that nevertheless has real benefits in improved personal relationships—an expat unfurled an umbrella. We were all guests of the country in question at this event; it struck many, including me, as being in questionable taste.

What matters taste, one might ask, when liberty is at stake? But the umbrella is a symbol for the Hong Kong people. It is not for (us) expats to appropriate and deploy at our personal whim. Regardless of what one feels about Lam’s role and the appropriateness of confronting her, doing so at the National Day celebration of a third country, thereby impinging on that country’s hospitality, degrades the symbol. This was not this particular guest’s choice to make.


Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books.