英文

Coming Up for Air : Hello, Goodbye

【明報專訊】For the few people who read this column regularly you might recall that I expressed uncertainty in my last piece as to how much longer I could continue writing for Ming Pao. My contract with the newspaper had just expired and the space for press and artistic freedom in Hong Kong had also then suffered a debilitating blow with the forced closure of Apple Daily, a move that the editorial board of this newspaper seemed to endorse; in my view, wrongly so.

That you are reading this piece now means Ming Pao has given "Coming Up For Air" a new lease on life. So this, I suppose, is a piece of good news, certainly to me and perhaps to the folks who read and follow this column.

Yet because this is Hong Kong in 2021 there is also some bad news I need to share with everyone. In the coming months my family and I will be leaving Hong Kong and I will be closing Bleak House Books, my bookshop in San Po Kong. I have already written elsewhere about my family's decision to relocate, the closure of Bleak House Books, and my reasons for taking this route, so I will not go into any of that here.

Like everyone who has already left or plans to leave Hong Kong I too have many conflicting emotions and feelings about leaving this city and closing the bookshop. Certainly this is one of the hardest and saddest decisions I've ever had to make. But I am also confident it is the right decision.

It is right not because it will lead to the best, most idyllic outcome. If I wanted that I would move to a country with better politics, fewer guns and far fewer preventable deaths. At the very least, I would choose a place that isn't on the brink of total self-implosion as the US seems to be every other week.

Instead, I believe it is the right decision because the US is, for better or worse, home. To me, home is a place with which one has an innate sense of familiarity. It is a place one can love but also a place that, at times, and for reasons big and small, one can hate with a passion. But most of all home is a place for which one has the compulsion to defend and make better, for one's own family, of course, but also for friends, neighbours and complete strangers.

I have not lived in Hong Kong long; in December 2021, it will be five years. But Hong Kong is home too; it has been so since day one. And for that reason I have always had that same compulsion to do what I could for this city and the community — as a bookseller, an occasional writer, a dad, a neighbour.

That I can no longer do what I've been doing for this city the way I've been doing it is perhaps a reason for leaving. But only as a means to an end. Because no matter where I might be or what I might be doing with my life, Hong Kong is home, and the "compulsion" I have to make Hong Kong a better place will always be there. Not just for myself but for my wife Jenny too, and hopefully, one day, for my two children as well. This I know.

Before I end this piece, there is one person I want to mention who is the reason that I have had the opportunity, space and freedom to "come up for air" in this newspaper. His name is Vincent and he is an editor for Ming Pao's English-language page. I first met Vincent when he visited me on a Saturday at the bookshop, back when I was the only one working Saturday shifts. Vincent came in person to extend to me an invitation to write for Ming Pao's English-language page, an invitation which I, of course, accepted. The other day Vincent visited me at the bookshop again. This time it was to tell me that he would be leaving Ming Pao.

When my wife Jenny and I talk about what makes Hong Kong so different and special we always end up talking about its people. She and I have a shorthand way to describe many of the Hongkongers we've met over the years, which is the "sincere Hongkonger". It's a term of endearment and respect, and I think Jenny would agree with me that it's one that would describe dear Vincent to a "T".

Thank you Vincent for all you have done, for myself, for Hong Kong and for the cause of press freedom. I wish you nothing but the best in whatever it is you decide to do next and have confidence that you will do it 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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