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Tang Siu Wa On Going Home

The "On Going Home" series offers a glimpse of what returning home means for authors who have spent three months in the U.S. as part of the International Writing Program's Fall Residency. This week's installment comes to us from Tang Siu Wa. Read this entry in its original language by visiting Tang Siu Wa's blog.


I've heard that travel is a good time to get rid of stuff. Take old clothes, wear them and throw them away so as to free up suitcase space for some additional surprises, and general rebirth. For the three-month residency in Iowa, I took two old dresses and planned to throw them away. One was a TOUGH Jeansmith black turtleneck sweater hoodie, good for my self-defense during demonstrations: I had worn it for the WTO protest in 2005. Hit by water cannons, soaked in salty water, it shrank and turned lumpy and ill-fitting. The other was a REPLAY yellow and green plaid crumpled softshirt, which I bought my first year of high school. It's been near twenty years since then. I wore it to the Star Ferry Pier protests to stop its demolition. Recently it had become something to add a scent of unkemptness.

Hanging on to clothes is remembering. In my hesitation to throw things away, I can't help feeling nostalgic. During the IWP residency, I spread out my clothes around my hotel room. Over and over, I tried to give myself reasons to throw them away. In his Tune: Partridge Sky (鷓鴣天), Yan Jidao (晏幾道) writes, "Tipsily I caress the spring clothes, reminiscing about the past from their fragrance / Willfully the gods oppose me, evoking remorse to sting my ignorance." Nalan Xingde's (納蘭性德) Tune: Spring in Princess Qin’s Garden (沁園春) says “Tangled in love / Yet my struggle perishes with your sudden death / Packing up your old clothes, their fragrance lingers in the past.” These are two cases of stubborn love, ending up with sad stories.

Reminiscing about what? Revolutions in Hong Kong are never written about, if at all, in the city’s official history. The official history (if there is one) always says that everything is a top-down gift from the authority [powers-that-be]. The processes and results of revolutionary action are only remembered in one’s words, or in one’s body. The Taiwanese writer Fang Hueizhen (房慧真) described herself on Facebook as stinky and smelly, after occupying the building of the Taiwanese Congress all day: “But in those exhausted bodies, pairs of eyes shone bright like fire… it’s the real moment ‘to live’… people gave up their bodily boundaries to build a human wall against the state apparatus. Once you’re etched by that feeling, you’ll never forget it. Ever.” This is well said. She fully captured the feeling of being addicted to protesting.

My attachment to the revolution was both spiritual and physical. The exhausted glamour of people seemed to never have been found anywhere else. After the protest, memories would find a host, either a monument or in clothes, and in small things. Back in my home in Mong Kok, I looked at people at the protest site (and one in Admiralty/Central), thinking, what had kept them there on such a bitterly cold night must be the same fundamental affection.

I told my plan to my best friend, the German poet Anja (IWP '14). German people tend to be emotionally restrained; Anja leads an austere life. She said she’s a person who often throws stuff away: "But these two--don't." I knew that I couldn’t give them up.

Who was it who said that love is like climbing a mountain -- if you get to the top, it will be hard to come down? Is it because people will cling to the astonishing view at the top of the mountain? I know: it's because of the commitment, the will and the state you are in when you climb. You are afraid that you aren’t going to be that absolutely perfect person. Climbers all know that it’s easier to get up a hill than down, because it’s easy to get hurt while descending. Those who climb for the first time don’t have the skill to help them get down safely.

It is said that if a person gives his heart away, a part of his soul also leaves. When the time of farewell came, the Argentine writer told me this would be for good. In order not to have an overweight luggage, I got rid of twenty-three pieces of clothing but brought back those two. On the flight back I tried, over and over, to get online, looking for the other writers on Facebook. I am back now, and ugly news is waiting for me. Protest sites are like painful love: too much attachment makes me want to go back to the beginning every now and then, to cancel out all the mistakes, to start over again. Maybe it is to prove that I have the ability to leap into this world. Maybe I’m attached to the endorphins in my brain, and to the fearless parachuting into this world.

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