Adventures with rogue lit journo Jen: Covering the HKU Open Forum on ‘How, What & Why Do Writers Write?’

“How do I write? Why do I write? What do I write? This is what I am writing: I am writing Mr. Potter. It begins this way; this is its first sentence: ‘Mr. Potter was my father, my father’s name was Mr. Potter.’ So much went into that one sentence; much happened before I settled on those eleven words.”

-Jamaica Kincaid, ‘Those Words That Echo… Echo… Echo Through Life’ (1999)

Two weeks ago, I went to a writer’s open forum hosted at the University of Hong Kong, titled ‘How, What and Why Do Writers Write? A Conversation between David Tang, Hannah Rothschild, Simon Winchester and Wilbur Smith’.

hku open forum shot

(From left to right) Simon Winchester, Hannah Rothschild, David Tang, Wilbur Smith

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What I learned from one year of being ‘Miss Jen’

“The word ‘education’ comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.”

-Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1999)

In the past two weeks, I’ve clocked a total of 60 teaching hours.

In a month’s time, I will have reached my one year anniversary of being a teacher.


In hindsight, it doesn’t feel like that much time has passed, which I guess is a good thing. Time flies when you’re having fun and all that. If anything, I find it scary how quickly time flies by these days.

Every morning, as I make my way up a semi-slope that leads to my workplace, I feel like a walking locomotive chugging a brainload of stuff, some useful, others confused, but mostly just mush.

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An Interview with Tammy Ho, founder of ‘Cha: An Asian Literary Journal’

Stop all the clocks, Hong Kong people.
That which we hold dear about this city

is likely to end in 2047.
But if we do not recognise the objective

passing of time, might we stay
in the present?

– Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, ‘2047’ (2016)

If Hong Kong poets writing in English are few and far between, then female Hong Kong poets writing in English would be the human equivalent of unicorns here, given how uncommon a species they are in this 7.3 million-people city.

But if you think they’re rare, then you’ve not met Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, who is not only a locally born and bred prize-winning poet, but also a Dickens scholar, an English professor, an academic editor and a literary journal co-founder. Prior to completing her PhD in English Language and Literature at King’s College London, Tammy gained a First Class Honours degree in English Studies and Translation at the University of Hong Kong.

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A Portrait of My Father as a Practical Man: Introducing Papa Chan

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

– Robert Hayden, ‘Those Winter Sundays’ (1966)

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Jungian psychometrics.

MBTI chart

Basically, this means I’ve been bugging everyone around me with requests that they take the Myers-Briggs test, after which I’d compare their result against my prediction of their ‘type’. I’m sure it’s just another one of my passing fads, but apparently this fascination with clinically profiling psychoanalysing people is a very ‘INTJ’ thing to do (my Myers-Briggs type).

Yesterday, I sent my dad a link to the test, and was not surprised when he told me he got ‘ISTJ’, which is exactly what I had expected his type to be.

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Stop looking at me! What I learned from having a swollen eye

We shall not attempt to give the reader an idea of that tetrahedron nose – that horse-shoe mouth – that small left eye over-shadowed by a red bushy brow, while the right eye disappeared entirely under an enormous wart – of those straggling teeth with breaches here and there like the battlements of a fortress – of that horny lip, over which one of those teeth projected like the tusk of an elephant – of that forked chin –

– Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1833)

I woke up this morning with two red, saucer-sized welts under my left eye. Swollen and sore to the touch, I grabbed the nearest reflective surface in alarm.

After ten minutes of microscopic self-inspection before the mirror, the first thought that crossed my mind was:

I might as well go back to bed.

If I sleep for long enough, maybe there’s a chance that I could sleep these Welts Brothers away.

Wanna be back in bed

Uh, fat chance, more like.

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Falling in love with dead white men

We read fiction because it makes us less lonely about being a human being. We read about what other human beings feel – what they are driven to do, how they often work for their own destruction, how they are in the grip of appetites that are beyond them and they can’t control or harness.

– John Updike, ‘The Post’, 1998

I’ve come to notice that a lot of people don’t read fiction.

To each his/her own and all that, but I can’t help feeling a bit sad about this. Not trying to convert any Freakonomics fans into Frankenstein buffs here; it’s just that those who ignore what imagined words and worlds can offer are missing out on a whole other dimension of human experience. Long story short, your life becomes all the richer for having read fiction, for you having ‘lived’ multiple lives, ‘inhabited’ multiple landscapes, and ‘stepped into’ multiple pairs of shoes.

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A series of uncanny events: on the relationship between 2 recent reads and 2 current students

Passion is the privilege of the insignificant… You are insignificant because you are finite. Yet the more finite a thing is, the more it is charged with life, emotions, joys, fears, compassion… So try to stay passionate, leave your cool to constellations. Passion, above all, is a remedy against boredom.

– Joseph Brodsky, ‘In Praise of Boredom’, 1989

“So who’s heard of Charles Dickens before?”

“I’ve read his stuff.” One of my favourite students pipes up. “Like, Oliver Twist and Huckleberry Finn.”

“Ah, well done on the Twist, but Finn isn’t by Dickens. Does anyone know who its author is?”


“Here’s a clue. His first name is Mark.” I put down ‘Mark _________’ on the whiteboard.

4 blank stares v. 1 blank space; 4 Generation Z teenagers v. 1 Generation Y teacher. Just as I’m about to answer my own question, crestfallen, another student calls out in a tone that suggests he’s reached an ‘Aha’ sort of epiphany:

“Oooh I know!” Yes – I think to myself, score! Let’s have it! Let’s hear the names of literary greats trumpeted loud and clear in this classroom! Hail to the American novel tradition! Hail to the Victorian realist canon! Hail to –

“It’s Mark Zuckerberg, amirite??!!”


There’s an uncanny link between what I do for a living and how I live.

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