英文

Coming Up for Air:That time of day

【明報專訊】This was supposed to be my last ''Coming Up for Air'' column. For a while now at the end of most days there comes the time. The time when I am often tired, sometimes drunk and inevitably fed up with everything that's going on in Hong Kong. The gaslighting, the sadness, the oppression. It is the time when I throw up my hands, let out a stream of expletives, and decide this will be the last day. The last day for the bookshop, the last day of school for the kids, the last day we call Hong Kong home.

And so there was the day when that time came again. I wanted to call it quits. I texted with my editor at Ming Pao late one night and told him I would stop writing this column once my contract ended. He asked why. I said because I am thinking of moving away.

The next day I messaged my editor again. I told him I gave it some more thought and wanted to keep writing for Ming Pao.

But I find myself wondering why I even felt the need to broach the subject of ending this column. I love to write. And Ming Pao has given me complete freedom to write what I like since day one.

So what is the reason? Maybe I'm tired. Tired of politics and politicians. Tired of being in the thick of it. Tired of forcing myself to say something relevant and useful when all I want to say is ''leave us the f*** alone''.

Maybe I'm scared. Scared of that ''knock at the door''. Scared of being taken away from my family. Scared of being rendered helpless and a burden to others. In short, scared of suffering the same fate as the many tender-hearted, stubborn souls who also couldn't keep their mouths shut and as a result now find themselves behind bars for who-knows-how-long.

Maybe I'm also worried. Worried about what my kids are learning, and not learning, in school. Worried about when the government will force my wife, a university professor, to take a loyalty oath. Worried about when we will ever be able to leave and return to Hong Kong, a place we still call home, without having to spend three weeks in quarantine.

At the time when my wife and I decided to leave the United States for Hong Kong we did so because we too had concerns about political dysfunction and violence. Unlike in Hong Kong today, however, the violence that concerned us in the States had less to do with state-sponsored violence — mass arrests, unchecked police power, ''boot in the face'' diktats — and more to do with violence committed by the many ordinary Americans that the state has given up on.

These days I find myself conducting a balancing test of sorts: which kind of violence is of the less acceptable variety? Systemic, state-sponsored violence that is constant, all-consuming, like a cold rain shower that refuses to go away, or sporadic, random, eye-popping violence that starts and ends in a matter of minutes, sometimes seconds, but that leaves behind a trail of blood and bullet holes?

Perhaps in today's world the ideal home is one that is not free of either form of violence — since no such place like that exists anymore if it ever did — but one with mild versions of each. Which is another way of saying that one should not expect too much from the world and from humanity anymore. A sobering thought, yes, but maybe a liberating one as well.

◆by Albert Wan

Albert is the co‑founder and proprietor of Bleak House Books, an English language bookstore in San Po Kong.

(Email: albert@bleakhousebooks.com.hk)

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