To promote expressive talent in English, RTHK Radio 3 joined with Hong Kong Free Press and PEN Hong Kong for the first time to co-organise the English writing competition Hong Kong’s Top Story 2017. From a record number of entries, the judges selected eight prize-winners in both the Junior and Adult Categories, with two more granted the Most Creative Award. An award presentation ceremony was on Thursday, January 11 at RTHK. Click here to view the adult category winner or here to view the junior category winner.
The awards were presented by Controller (Radio) of RTHK Brian Chow Kwok-fung, Co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press Tom Grundy, and President of PEN Hong Kong Jason Y. Ng. Head of English Programme Services of RTHK Hugh Chiverton mentioned that the competition had again attracted a lot of talented writers to take part, and that 550 entries from the community were received. He also praised the writers’ high proficiency in English and for turning creative ideas into effective words.
This year, the applicants were invited to write an original story based on a given picture taken by legendary photographer Fan Ho. Winners in each category were presented with books from Pan Macmillan and dining vouchers from the Lan Kwai Fong Group.
Adult creative writing category winner: Xunxin Zishi Zui by Nathan Lauer [explicit content]
The smoke is clearing. It seems less urgent now. They wouldn’t tell me anything. It’s bad it looks bad. What have you seen?
Picture the leader, not the current leader, probably, this is the future, exactly 12 years in the future, to the day, and if the current leader is still the leader in 12 years, then, fine, it’s him, but we won’t know until then and I’m not saying it is. Imagine this leader, whoever he is, picture a fat old man who looks like an old woman in a Western man’s blue suit, that’s probably right, imagine he stands one day in front of a national monument below the portrait of a former leader and, if it’s who I hope it isn’t, imagine one of himself up there as well. He stands in front of a packed square, a square packed with exactly the sort of people he’d wanted it packed with: he is absolutely certain that no one in this crowd will set themselves on fire. He stands there regarding the crowd that he approves of and he nods his approval. He stands and he raises a hand in a sharp, precise wave to the crowd, and then he repeats the gesture at a slightly different angle, addressing a different portion of the crowd. He brings his face closer to the microphone; at this movement, a watchful technician closes a circuit to broadcast. He speaks. “Eeogue-xoth’th is the key,” he says in English. The leader’s voice reverberates over the crowd, booming through the public address system and returning in echo off of the regal buildings that surround the square. A murmur grows throughout the crowd in the square; the turning of heads telegraphs a sense of confusion spreading amongst the members of the crowd as to why the leader is speaking now in English to the assembled crowd in the square in front of the hall of the people in this people’s republic in which the people speak a large number of mutually unintelligible languages but English they speak only in one small region administered by this people’s republic. The leader raises his hand as if in benediction and the crowd in the square is again quiet and gives him their attention; he nods once more into the microphone. He repeats, “Eeogue-xoth’th is the key.” The leader turns to regard behind him the assembled entourage of men in blue suits and olive drab formals littered with gold and ribbons. They nod in solemn agreement. He turns quickly back to the square and to the crowd and he throws his hands up to the sky and he cries ecstatically, “Eeogue-xoth’th is the key and the gate,” and the crowd roars in approval and the so-called men of the entourage rise and applaud as enthusiastically as propriety allows. The leader of the people’s republic brings his hands together over his head and shakes them in triumph. He shakes them to the assembled crowd in the square to his left. He shakes them to the assembled crowd in the square to his right. “Eeogue-xoth’th is the key and the gate and the guardian of the gate.” The leader bursts into flames. The microphone briefly captures the roar of the inferno for broadcast, but the technician is prepared for this turn of events and quickly cuts to an alternate transmission. The square is filled with the drone of an alien susurration, akin to a deafening chorus of cicadas only in so far as it is wholly unlike any other earthly sound but this. The leader continues to burn but is not consumed. The people are enraptured by the sound. His body swells beyond the confines of his blue suit to form a sphere of radiant ionized gas. The New and Greater Sun rises several meters above the podium. The lectern is rendered a pillar of charcoal. The entourage, with black talons jackknifing from their wrists and elbows, tear one another free of the fleshy confines of their man-suits and luxuriate in the cool air of the capital for a moment, stretching their tentacles and snapping their mouthparts, before taking to tattered fungal wings and entering a long orbital cycle of ecstatic communion with this, the greatest of Those Who Were And Will Be Again.
I’m sorry, Auntie, but I don’t understand what you’re talking about. Can I get you some tea? Or water? Something to eat? There are chairs here by the wall. Please, sit.
No, no. I don’t need anything. Listen, listen mister.
Auntie, are you telling me something about the fire?
No. I’m telling you the story of the New and Greater Sun, how these things will come to pass; how the members of the central committee and the central military commission will, in 12 years time – it’s entirely conceivable that no currently-serving member of the politburo or whatever would be numbered amongst them – will shed the pretense of humanity and reveal themselves as the teeming Mind-spawn of the collective god-thing Ti’nnn-shur4schthzxi, to begin the century-long orbital cycle in preparation for the Great Transit, calling forth the Others from across the Frozen Infinity Gate; and I’m almost to the important part but you’ve interrupted me.
I’m sorry Auntie; it’s just, the fire. My flat. Our homes.
Yes, yes, the fire, our homes. Just let me finish.
Well, yes, that’s what they’ll do. And the diplomatic service will have had announced the move ahead of time through official channels to the United Nations and through our embassies to the heads of every member state.
And that’s all. That’s the story.
And don’t you feel foolish for interrupting me when you did?
It looks to be nearly extinguished.
Do you think they were able to save any of the units?
I don’t know.
Did everyone get out?
I don’t know…. Oh! Oh, I forgot to tell you I forgot to tell you they’ll feed on human pineal glands.
The Mind-Spawn That Were Men, the Dancers At The Gate that is the New and Greater Sun, they’ll harvest and eat these teeny little glands in the middle of people’s brains. Lord knows they’ll have enough. Enough people, I mean. People with brains. And glands.
Auntie, which flat is yours?
Hmm? Oh, I don’t live here.
Oh. Just watching then? Watching the excitement?
I own it.
You’re Mrs. K███?
It was a very nice building.
Yes. Thank you.
I had a very nice flat. Top floor; rear west. I came back here to better see the damage. It doesn’t look good. I didn’t expect it would: how it looked from the street.
Your flat is an inalienable part of the fire.
5/F A. Mr. C████? Do you know me by name? Do you cash the checks?
No. My daughter does all that for me now.
I designed it, you know.
Yes. I trained as an architect. It wasn’t much, the building I mean, much of an accomplishment. It was a simple design. Hardly innovative.
I burned it.
I started the fire.
That’s not funny, Auntie.
I should say not. Empty unit ground floor B, my daughter’s been on me to get it renovated. Spent a week filling it with cardboard and fry-oil. Petrol cans in the first and third floor rubbish bins, spill some petrol down the stairs and into the open door to the flat. Woosh.
Why would you say such a thing, Auntie?
Mrs. K███, are you seriously telling me that you started the fire? You burned the building? You?
Did I say that or did I not say that?
Mrs. K███, I… you…. You stay right there, ok? I’m going to… you just stay here. Officer? Officer! Officer! It’s this lady here, she… [susurrsusurrsusurr]
No, no. Officer, I didn’t do anything of the sort.
I was just picking quarrels and provoking trouble, trying to relieve the tension, that’s all. That’s not against the law, is it?
Oh, well, my mistake, then.
K███ Kam Li, Judith…
Yes, here in my purse. Of course I live here. Born here.
2/F B, 37 H█████████ St., K█████ T█████, Kowloon.
††††, †††††††††††. ††††! †††?
Yes, yes, you do what you have to do, officer. I’ll expect your call, then. Thank you… F██k your mother’s smelly c██t you lousy grassing piece of s██t.
Me? I… The things you said! What did you think would happen?
I did do it, you know. Burned it all.
The fire is an inalienable part of the building.
I don’t believe a word you’re saying and I don’t know why you’d say it. You’re a nasty old… fall-down, if you want to know the truth.
I had a cat, you know.
It will be a recognized transfer of power, you understand.
The Mind-spawn of Ti’nnn-shur4schthzxi, and the New and Greater Sun – the Others, when they Transit – it will be an orderly transfer of power. Internationally recognized. Legitimate.
Will you submit?
Mrs. K███, please, I just, don’t.
In 12 years’ time–
Ow! Quit poking me!
In 12 years’ time when the New and Greater Sun ascends to Its rightful place at the centre of the square at the centre of the nation at the centre of the world, will you submit to Its awesome power?
No, you fall-down cross-wired old coot; no I will not submit to the power of your crazy storybook whatever-it-is.
You’ll rebel? Against Its terrible Authority? Secession is an option in your mind?
F██k your smelly c██t.
You’ll deny Its dominion over this land or you won’t. Which is it?
Ow! Stop it! I will, I will, for heaven’s sake will you leave me alone?
Officer! Officer, this man is advocating…
Junior creative writing category winner: Step away by Lorraine Cheng
I was only a few steps behind her.
But then, her footsteps quickened with a pace I knew I would never catch up with. There she quivered, wrapped delicately within the fold of smoky haze, darkness and light. It was as if she had changed only too much, the wrath of time seeming to have come against her.
The clothes that enveloped her were of an indistinguishably faded colour. A plastic bag filled with groceries was held in hand, a supporting cane in the other, wobbling unstably as she went by. Her fragile back protruded from her figure, strands of grey hair brushing its horizon occasionally. Wrinkles of time were woven onto her pale cheek, and the smile that once always beamed had long faded.
What happened to that youthful vibe, pumped through veins that glowed from her very skin? What happened to that radiating beauty, the imprint that once swore it would never leave her? What happened to the hope in her soul, the one that was willing to believe that the future was possible, that everything was possible?
Did I still recognise the young girl I once swore to love forever?
Yet those soulful eyes still flashed with life, scrutinising the surroundings. I could follow her thoughts, bouncing from the little swirls of gritty dust on the pavement to the sky above. It was the way she observed the smoky buildings and their skin peeling with age, the way she could appreciate every window hanging above dauntingly, no matter whether they were broken or untouched, the way she could almost reach for the 50th floor with her eager fingertips, reaching for the sky full of possibilities, grasping the future…
And she belonged there, I always knew. It was simply how her silhouette blended in with the shadows, the glass stains that hung above never shattering the tiny smile in her innocent voice when she spoke of the world, and she seemed so beautifully vulnerable amid the dull streets as it enclosed her in darkness. The strength inside her that made her boldly frail, I could never leave her behind.
She was so different, but deep down she remained unchanged.
Or was it just me?
No, it was just Hong Kong. It was the way the streets, despite their modern advancement, still carried trampled marks from ages ago; the way the bustling streets were jammed pack with signs of life, and tugged restlessly on your ends when you refused to join in the crowd; it was the way ordinary people never ceased to stop changing, and they continued to change the world, in their own special way.
It was what she always loved about Hong Kong, but that I never understood. These signs were unrecognisable now, perhaps. But maybe deep down, it was just like her, unchanged at heart. Maybe that was Hong Kong, underneath its skin.
Me? Alas, I had never changed. I was barely more than a ghost, after all, devoid of human experiences. Yet, I wanted nothing more than to breathe with her, to embrace her warmth, to reach out and capture her in my grasp and never let go.
Suddenly, snapping out of her daze, her footsteps regained the same quietly proud rhythm upon the pavement. I followed her relentlessly, down dodgy alleys and into a dingy building.
The first sight that greeted us was a suffocating box, with suspicious buttons and an air of claustrophobia. Still, I went along obediently, unable to stop glancing at the rusting metal, the distorted mirrors and its shabby condition.
Down the corridor we went, until we arrived at a jail-like metal door. It was exactly the way I imagined it, cluttered and piled with every possible household item, the checked floor having lost a bit of its vibrant impression. A fridge here, a fan there, and several dangerous positions were left unbothered. Some things did change after all, how neatness grew into a lazy, forgotten clump.
At the centre of it all though, there was something more precious than anything. And as her fingertips skimmed its decaying frame, we both sighed. A photo of youth, capturing the essence of love. A beautiful girl, wrapped in her favourite scarf. A handsome boy, wrapping his arms around the picture itself. And it seemed as if it were just yesterday.
But now, she needed to get out. I needed to get out. There were too many memories suffocating us; this home no longer felt warm.
Out the door, down the corridor, into the lift, out through the entrance.
Finally, the outside world came into view. We both wandered for a few steps into the neighbourhood park, catching a breath of air. All was tranquil, as we could shut the world out. Both with our eyes closed, we sat at two opposite ends of a bench.
Unexpectedly, she rose out of her seat, strolling into the sunlight. Underneath the sunlight however, I saw a surprise. There was the girl I remembered, the girl with the purest smile, her cheeks pale with blush, youth dancing in her eyes. Her skin was smooth, absent of any sign of time, giving off a sweet inviting scent. Her eyes closed, she seemed deep in thought, until they flashed open with what seemed like realisation.
With a turn of her head, her eyes passed through me. It was almost as if she could see me. It was almost as if she knew. As if she could reach her fingertips out to catch me, to claim me-
Then, I saw it happen, when her breaths became heavy. All it took was five seconds. Five seconds that lasted forever, and a distance I was doomed to never cross in the duration, as she slipped a little further away every millisecond. Five, four, three, two.
It began with her lungs. It started shouting, unsatisfied with the supply of air, its demanding tantrum causing her whole body to shudder with tension.
She collapsed to the floor. Her breaths were heavy, desperate, like empty bullet shots echoing through the deafening silence. Rage burned my lungs, tearing it apart with guilt as I could do nothing, even as I attempted feebly to claw through the space between. More shrills pierced the air unexpectedly, the desperate gasps for air faltering every now and then from her crumpled body, unsure of whether it could cling onto life.
I felt my own body gravitate to the floor. I was weak; I was helpless. Not for myself, but for her. I needed to save her.
But with my ghostly figure laid vulnerably on the floor, what use was I?
“Uncle, are you alright?” An unfamiliar figure wandered into my thoughts, stumbling upon me with his deep Cantonese-accented voice.
How did he see me? No, I was but a ghost. He needed to see her instead, her dying on the floor, helpless and lifeless!
Help her, I mouthed. Help her, I gestured. Help her, please.
Instead, the burly man lifted me up deftly and laid me gently onto the floor. An anxious expression crossed his face, scrawled with uncertainty as he fished out a funny rectangular device. Attacking it brutally with pressure from his fingers, he held it to his ear as if it were the most obvious thing to do.
Distant sirens alarmed my senses. Finally, help arrived! My thoughts screamed with bittersweet relief. But not for me, please. Do it for her.
Inhale, exhale. Survive.
Then, the concoction of sounds muffled my hearing; the screeching tires closing in nearby, the vigorous banging of doors, along with several violent murmurs accompanied by the presence of company. With closed eyes, I could even make out a faint whisper in the distance.
“His wife passed away 20 years ago. He’s been a little delusional since.”
“It was similar to this, an asthma attack. He saw her go just like that, and he’s been a zombie since. We all wondered when he would be normal again. Never, I guess…”
“It’s funny what life does to people, huh?”
She was gone. I turned my head to glance at the blurred figure, the girl who had always been mine, the aged woman who was unrecognisable at first…
Instead, there was emptiness. Emptiness, like the void that was opening up dark pits in my soul. Emptiness, like its friend darkness, came to rob me. Emptiness, like the space between us.
I was dying.
Death was here, kneeling against my lungs to rob me of air. Death was here, flaunting dangerously in my eyes to rob me of sight. Death was here, and there was no escaping it.
But instead, I felt relief cleansing my soul. I knew that it was all I wanted. To see her, stay and forever belong with her.
I opened my eyes, to let them absorb the sight of the sky above. The one that I once spent many dawns chasing, for the future and past. The one that I could now finally extend my grasp to, to reach the clouds with my own delicate fingertips. Despite the way it curled out of sight, tucked away in the folds of skyscrapers, it would always offer endless possibilities. This was Hong Kong, where we were fixed into the stars of fate.
If it wasn’t too late, we would fill in the gaps, for every moment we lost together. After all…
I was only a few steps behind her.