Spicy Fish Cultural Production Limited
“Floating Letters” – Letter Writing and Voice Acting Programme
Lockdown and social distancing can be stressful and monotonous. Dealing with a crisis different from anything we have experienced before, Spicy Fish invites writers to create “letters” and ask theatre artists to render them on air. The texts and recordings will be made available to the public via the website, echoing the idea of audiobooks and “message in a bottle”. Audiences can feel free to find the “floating letter” that resonates with themselves. This project hopes to make sense of these isolating times, as well as to bring solace, delight and hope back into our lives.
Spicy Fish Cultural Production Limited
Established in 2006 with the publication of Fleurs des lettres (字花), a literary bimonthly in Chinese, Spicy Fish is a literary arts non-profit organisation and publisher based in Hong Kong. Fleurs des lettres has been the most energetic and lively literary journal in Hong Kong. Spicy Fish has built an outstanding literary brand that influences writers and readers in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. In recent years, it has collaborated with online international literary magazine, Asymptote, in exchanging literary works for translation, with an aim to promote Hong Kong literature to international readership. The organisation also strives to promote excellent Hong Kong authors to overseas readers.
Write, Listen and Connect through “Floating Letters”
Twenty representative letters will be selected from the public submissions and read by professional theatre actors. While the selection covers an array of senders and recipients, the subject shares the common theme of individual observations and responses to life under the pandemic. The production team hopes that these “floating letters” will help connect the individuals who are physically or psychologically isolated by the circumstances and bring warmth and solace to them.
Hon Lai-chu has moved to another part of the city, bidding farewell to her usual dining place, which once was the answer to her years of “hunger”. From the chopping board to the table, from one person’s hands to another’s stomach, food creates a strange sense of intimacy between strangers. As far as distance and home are concerned, nothing has been easy before the pandemic either.
“The feeling of home lingers through the restaurant, although it is far from being a home in the usual sense. Maybe it is because each one of you – the owner, the waiter, the chef and even the washing lady – bears a balloon which contains a home on your back. Because of this, you bring with you a sense of home and radiate warmth onto the walls and floors of the restaurant.”
Ho-lok – a single mom whose only wish is for her son to keep smiling even under the mask. She believes there is light at the end of all adversity, unbroken even by the sea.
“It’s late. He rolls in bed, his little eyes trying to decipher the tiredness on your face. You realize the pandemic has imposed a kind of curfew in this city. But even the city sleeps, the virus still looms at-large. You woke up from your sleep and saw him sound sleep, and your heart eases at the sight.”
3. “For my students – Lessons without the bells” – Letter from Chan Yuen-shan | Voice actor: Chiu Chin-hei
With schools closed, the lunch and afterschool bells cease to sound. The commotion of students fades into the distance memory. If online lessons have become a lonely chore, Chan’s letter reminds us of the blessings – soon in the future, students will be able to sneak around notes in class, or to be awaken from their sweet slumbers by the sound of the thunderous bell.
“We seem to cherish photos, videos and voice memos even more so now than ever. The increasing number of exchanges, though miscellaneous seemingly trifle, brings instant reassurances to one and other, that we are all alive and well.”
Hung Hiu-han last seen her grandma before the increasingly unsettling times and the extended pandemic. She misses her favourite pan-fried sticky rice cakes and the woollen shoes grandma used to knit for her when she was small. So she decided to sew a tote and send it to grandma. Inside the tote were memories of the good old days and the anticipation to meeting one and other again soon.
“I am making fewer video calls these days. You asked why I chose the expensive long distance calls over free video calls. I hesitate to tell you it is because I cannot bear to see your white hairs (which you used to dye black to mask the passing years). Whenever I said I miss you and you responded “what a pity that we cannot meet in person,” I can hardly hold back my tears and the image of you becomes blurred by the weight of reminiscence.
We don’t need reasons for privileges nor homes, not to mention for a country. We are all prisoners before the pandemic. We were looked upon, defined and let down. The internet was first an escape, then a boundless sea, and now a trap. Yau Ching only knows, we will not surrender willingly.
“Look carefully around you and figure out how you can outsmart them, think outside the box if you have to. Gear up and shape up without compromising to the expectations of outsiders, I am sure you understand what I meant by that.”
It is never easy to comfort someone, not to mention to comfort oneself by counting the minutes and seconds in pain. But wait, have you eaten yet? Have you taken care of yourself first? No? Take a look at the watch and your handphone, they are more pathetic than you are. You don’t think so? Try imitating the phone alert tones or alarm …
Some friends like to set their watches early to kick the habit of being late. A timepiece is made to report time precisely, yet because of our erratic habits, it is forced to live a phoney existence. Does it need comfort or words of kindness ever? Yes, but you probably only think for yourself most of the time. Next time, when no one is watching, try going up to the clock on the wall and asks, “Have you eaten yet?” Or pick up your friend’s watch hand and gently whispers, “Have you eaten yet?”
When you are down, do you have a late night go-to place, where you can warm yourself up with a bowl of supersized instant noodles? Before we find the power to comfort others, we have all been at the receiving ends of someone else’s kindness.
“For someone touched upon by another’s kindness, the best way to express gratitude is to live your life well, so their efforts are not in vain.”
There are always people who would look down on you, or make plans for your future. Yet, your own suffering is unspoken and you can only walk your own path. To Chan Lai-kuen, as long as you haven’t given up your belief and still able to choose, that is actually something worth boasting. When life gives you lemons, why not make lemonade?
“You aren’t beggars. Yes, I want to write to you. A big chunk of your life has been taken away, but you know in your heart there is still something you want to do. You know what you want to do and what kind of life you want to live.”
Society, country and family all emphasise harmony, yet the body and soul have never been unified. Have you ever unreservedly felt the pain and disorientation of your body? When Cheung Hok-lam was still studying, he was particularly addicted to the state of being half-asleep and half-awake (it was so exhausting that it was dream-less). Why falling asleep submissively? How to sleep peacefully actually?
“We are still young: the alarm clock will go off on time the next day; the mould on the ceiling remains; online classes have to be attended all the same… This is the capital with which we consume our lives to capture the feeling of survival, a different way of cherishing life. Others wouldn’t understand the moment when the head hit the concrete, when brains and blood were mixed and splashed – you would wake up from your imagination, panting, to face the long, dull life.”
The days when my younger self had all-night phone calls and wrote letters to schoolmates from the next-door class swiftly passed. The burn wounds I weighed up at that time have been replaced by real-life fatigue and symptoms after joining the workforce. I wrote another letter to you who came from the class next door, hoping your heart would still be as resolute and gentle as ever.
“Despite the pointed questions, along with rage and silent treatment, about the world, the tender tree shoots would still be quietly amazed and be deeply grateful.”
When Wong Oi-wah was in Germany, she wrote to the little one in her belly, Dou Dou. When she left Hong Kong two years ago, she did not expect the trip home would be so difficult, not to speak of welcoming a new life in an increasingly absurd world where people panic-bought toilet paper in the pandemic two years later. Life is fragile yet strong, whenever she looks at Dou Dou, crying, struggling and striving to grow.
“Mum’s worries are nothing more than a ply of toilet paper, small and infinitesimal. But I still hope that when you grow up, the world will be wide and free.”
If Mum likes K-pop, would she also like Mirror*? At the most depressed time in Hualien, the dehumidifier is the salvation. So Long-yun recalled her increasingly haggard mother had also once stood next to a top load washing machine, staring at the spinning of clothes, water and foam.
“The salvation I talked about should happen a long time ago. It should happen when brother and me were still young and ignorant; someone should tell you: fear not, you can own yourself instead of just devoting yourself to the family, as if losing yourself.”
*a Hong Kong boy band
She remembered she wrote her first letter to her father in a nursery-like tutorial school. She wrote: I would never want to come to this place again. Yet, the father only complimented on her English. That summer, when blood, sweat and tears intertwined, he played a good Dad and called her “good girl”, which was harsh on the ear. I used to believe that time will dilute and all should be left unsaid but now it is better to admit that everything is irretrievable.
“Father, I finally understand it isn’t that I am not good enough; I was good enough to live without your apology and approval.”
As a physically disabled person with limited mobility, Lo Keng-chi understands the so-called quarantine and pandemic preventive measures are just an extension of his daily struggles. Compared with the intimacy of pain and illnesses, the chance of being infected might actually give him an excuse to embrace the blissful illusion of being in a community that shares the same destiny.
“Sealing all humans around the world in their houses, as if putting band-aids on wounds, is but another type of global harmony and an inevitably despairing form of egalitarianism.”
Late scholar Dr. Esther Cheung Mei-kuan had toil away at work during her lifetime. Her body gradually deteriorated, but she remained optimistic. She was at once an eloquent teacher and an empathetic listener. Lok Fung was convinced that if Esther Cheung lived to this day, she would still shed tears in the midst of the city’s absurdity. She would still wipe away her tears and walk into the classroom to place hope in her students.
“I joked about her latest look, ‘Cheung with a walking stick will become one-eyed Cheung, ‘ and she responded, “This body will continue to decline, but the possibility of two-negatives-make-an-affirmative will certainly become reality.” She even insisted on swaying gracefully in the wasteland – that was Chinese New Year in 2012. “
Man Hai-lam looks back on the encounters and departures just before and after 2014. She once complained that a friend only made friends with people from the same country in a foreign country. Yet, she later discovered, at a time she was too helpless to protect herself, that those who seemed to rely on people the most actually possess the regenerating ability that is indispensable to survival in this city.
The matters between lands and among people aren’t something can be accurately told by vacating or emigrating from the entire island.
It took me a long time to gradually understand the choice to leave or stay is equally hard, and in many cases, there is no choice at all. The frequent parting has unwittingly brought about the sight of a relationship’s end the very first time you meet someone.
The ravings and rant against the world, along with the hope of ending it all, during my secondary school years, didn’t persist when I entered university. However, so many things happened subsequently. Apart from thinking on her feet, Lee Wai-kwan also decided to write a letter to a secondary school classmate who is quietly pay attention.
“In the end, I didn’t go to the backside of the hill to burn books; my life hasn’t become comfortable as a result. Like me, you may gradually discover there is actually no shore after crossing the sea, but we have no other choice but to move forward.”
Or Or always remembers the scene when her grandfather picked her up from school in primary 4. He always arrived early and yet waited until the end. He waited for you to call him; he waited for you to visit him in Tin Shui Wai; he waited for to come to his birthday meal… Now the roles have switched, you wait for your grandfather to take you to have fun at a place where you don’t have to go to work or worry about anything.
“Even though destroying things and interpersonal relationships is the expertise I am most proud of, you had never been in those moments. I even consider you the only beautiful thing I have on earth.”
The repetitive daily life is a lake, making you feel safe and peaceful, but the lake encloses you unknowingly. Watching your friends swim in different directions, you feel like sinking…
“I am floating on this small lake called“the comfort zone”, writing this letter to you – the destined one. Kicking the water has enabled me to swim a little closer to the surface, where the water pressure is lower and I feel a little more comfortable. Such being the case, why not get out of here? Open your eyes, crawl and kick back to the surface to breathe in fresh air.”
20. “Double Virus – To Real People Who Cannot Be Comforted” – Letter from Poon Kwok-ling | Voice actor：Chan Ho-ting
Poon Kwok-ling understands the difficulty of consolation in this dark age, but consolation does not only come from philosophical thinking. How many people are overcoming difficulties? Flesh-and-blood stories are interwoven with our collective destiny. In this interwoven space, this is not fruitless.
“If embellishment is an essential part of consolation, it is understandable, and, to a certain extent, necessary even. In the dark age, when we light a lamp, it becomes an illusionary one.”
There will be a workshop on voice-acting, coached by Hong Kong professional actress Yuen Wai-ying. Using selected excerpts of correspondences as teaching materials, the participants will learn to convey various expressions with their voices, and to complement their voice-acting with movements of the torso and the eyes. They can also try out their voice-acting skills through their hands-on interpretation of the excerpts.