Hula Hooping


Photograph by Oliver Farry

by Tammy Ho Lai-Ming

I don’t want to be like a fruit that is small, round and has a bland taste. I like being written into poems but when someone does that I feel shy but also ridiculously euphoric. I have been using the same perfume since I was sixteen years old. One of the flats I rented in Hong Kong had a leaked ceiling and tropical rain came through the cracks like drizzles of piss. I want to have good taste in music but I don’t know where to begin. I like the Irish songs The Wind that Shakes the Barley and An Poc ar Buile. I don’t like hearing my voice rippling on Skype. I studied Buddhism for nine years and I am fearful of the concept of reincarnation. I don’t remember how many times I was photographed in my old school uniform. My first “jeans” weren’t made of denim. I have never arranged to bump into someone. The countries that I have visited twice are Finland and Poland. As I grow older, I try to moderate my desire for things that won’t happen. I want to write about Hong Kong like Guy Maddin wrote about Winnipeg but before I do that I have to love my city more. My sisters are twins. I would like to have a spare room so I can spread out unread books on the floor to form a small labyrinth.

My favourite professor can translate Baudelaire and Lorca. I think the best way to annoy an editor is to not address her in an email, as though you are writing to a void and have never learnt to be polite. Photos of embryos fascinate and frighten me. I was amused that John Alexander Bryan said “The existence which we name a shadow, possesses more natural oneness than the existence which we name gold.” I question authority constantly, secretly, timidly. After someone has told me a ghost story I would remain upset for days because the ghost would stay inside my head. My first and most favourite Dickens novel is Great Expectations. If there’s a Magwitch in my life I would treat him very well. My passport photos are ugly but the urgency of having them taken means that one can’t be too fussy. I have never been to Spain. I have never planted orchids. I have never seen a river full of supermarket trolleys. I have never really understood the Euler circuit. I think Joshua is a beautiful name. I believe you have to thoroughly understand something in order to subvert it in any meaningful way. I ask myself, “How much of history is lost to illegible glances?”

I have been mistaken as Southeast Asian several times in my home city. In Cambodia, the locals thought that I was Cambodian and spoke to me in their language. Sometimes my shadow is eaten by whatever that walks before or behind me. I imagine Robert Creeley is talking about me in his poem “The Woman.” There is no particular hour in the day or in the night that I like best. I like the hour in which I have done something useful for myself or something kind to others. I can be quite selfish and I don’t want to elaborate on that. I harbour strong emotions towards the moon, especially when it’s deceptively large and I feel lonely. I never recline my seat on the plane; I hate it when others do. I was bitten by a dog once but no one else remembers the occurrence. I was dismayed to learn that human beings have a third pair of eyelids. I have noticed that if you smile to an unfriendly shopkeeper, her attitude will soften. I think it’s arrogant of me to try to convert people with friendliness. I often forget to put on body lotion after showers. I wish I didn’t occasionally think my grandfather walked too slowly on his crooked wooden cane.

A sofa that can comfortably accommodate me and him makes me happy. When I was younger I collected stamps. I particularly treasured those with the Queen’s silhouetted head. I am drawn to Richard Brautigan’s poem “To England”—“There are no postage stamps that send letters / back to England three centuries ago.” I’m afraid of holding babies in my arms or touching their soft heads but I must learn how to do these. I like the letter “O.” I find it hard to be warm to people who make fun of others. In Luxemburg, a Chinese chef made me a vegetable soup that reminded me of my deceased grandmother. I am not sporty. I am not musical. I don’t balance well. I like phrases that are difficult to translate into another language. A certain thickness of beard is very charming. The universe is indifferent. I want to have a balcony in my final home so I can leave it open when I am dead. I wonder why we often forget about a pain when it subsides. Same with love. Every sigh that another person makes certainly doesn’t diminish mine. I believe in attraction only when there is a mirror in the room and we pay no attention to it because we are too engrossed with one another. I believe in attraction only when there is a mirror in the room and we are too engrossed with our reflections in it looking back at us.

I agree with Borges that each of us is a caricature copy of oneself. I agree with Nabokov that curiosity is a pure form of insubordination. I agree with Johnson that to prove something exist one might as well kick it. I don’t have exaggerated ideas about things I don’t know. I may have prejudiced or romanticised ideas about things I do know. I think “love” said in a certain way can be chillingly passive-aggressive. Instead of a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes, I am happier to receive some lines for possible inclusion in my next poem. I think the intellectual, poetic and sexual itch are one. My sisters and I believe that playing with a hula hoop will give us slim waists (it doesn’t work on everyone). A famine survivor wept before me some years ago. I don’t like the buzzing sound of an iPhone in my presence, untidy sugar cubes in a broad-brimmed cup, ink stains on leather jackets, not having my English corrected when I make mistakes, poems that are titled “Untitled,” the texture of liquorice and the taste of non-alcoholic beer. I can be a little judgemental, even though I keep most of my judgements to myself and nurse them until they become irrevocable. I wonder which is more arousing—being ejaculated upon the face or in the mouth. I have been to three funerals; I wore black two times, white once. The dead body of a loved one leaves an everlasting impression. Sometimes, late at night, I imagine sleeping next to my dead beloved and that I, too, were dead.

My father is getting old fast. My mother is getting old too but at a slower pace. I believe freedom is first but as Cohen says, “Old Black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton.” When I am flying on a plane, I often look outside the window to see all these stars, stars and then below, a magnificent galaxy of city lights. I wish I could sing opera or draw or tap dance. I am hurt if someone says I am competitive. I want never to become a female Casaubon. What I like from Geoff Dyer’s Paris Trance: “on the outskirts of a kiss,” “unfettered potential,” “Her English deteriorated quickly when she became angry,” “There could never be another you,” “Time has run out.” I love eating oysters with the right and appreciative person. I am amazed by the idea that we are ancient; we are stardust. I like giving myself a kind of heightened sensation that only I myself can conjure. I have never held a ribbon for too long. Twice I was moved to kiss the pages of a book I was reading. I feel sad about the conflict between Hongkoners and Mainland Chinese. I like imperatives, old encyclopaedias, small apples, temperamental kettles, cutting price tags on new dresses, a sweetheart’s handwriting, a sunny and lazy afternoon. When I read literature on the Tube I felt I was in the right place. Many Chinese New Years ago, I dreamt of my deceased grandmother. In the dream she asked me to ask my mum to burn her some new paper clothes.

My best girl friend has a boy’s name. My own name is a dynasty and a whore. I sometimes self-censor. Some of my favourite films are Brief Encounter, Make Way for Tomorrow, Solaris and Topsy-Turvy. I like to be silent together with a man and be perfectly content. I like gulping water from a huge plastic bottle. I would like to have an audience to see me do that. I used to share a bunk bed with one of my sisters. Sometimes people bore me but I bore myself too. I don’t like watching someone walk away. I don’t like walking away either. I found the view from the Centre Pompidou of ancient buildings congregating at dusk spectacular. My toenails have a perpetual sad look no nail polish can brighten. I played table tennis in secondary school. I like science fiction stories that include time-travel elements and paradoxes in general. I am never quick enough to come up with a wish when there is a stray eyelash. I want to see at least one great natural phenomenon in my lifetime. When I am lonely I imagine I am alone in a vast and still desert. I remain scornful of those who use “LOL.” I take photographs of objects that have once seen more glorious days. I have never jumped into fountains. I don’t think it’s as hard to pass from people kissing to people eating one another as Voltaire conjectured. I suppose I am likeable. I want to be multi-talented, multi-lingual. When I look at a fat pigeon I think of evolution.

Writing this for days exhausts me. It is a good kind of exhaustion, like what Hemingway said about finishing a short story. I wish the friends and family I have mentioned or alluded to will continue to love and admonish me. When I die I want somebody to close my eyes and make sure my horny feet are not exposed at the funeral. I sometimes think of hula hooping with my sisters but I don’t really remember much. I wouldn’t want to revisit my childhood. I wouldn’t want to go back to any period of my past. I imagine it’s more cinematic to part with someone at a snow-covered train station than a provincial airport. If I am to write a book in my senile days it will be The History of the Clock. I am in a seizure of love. When I read this back in a few years’ time I will probably find my current self unbearably pretentious and naïve — “hard to believe I was ever as bad as that.” I want to be happier. And I want to believe that my best days are still ahead of me before I belong to the ages.

About the Author:

Tammy Ho Lai-Ming is a Hong Kong-born writer currently based in the UK. She is a founding co-editor of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and an editor of the London-based Fleeting Magazine and the academic journal Victorian Network. She edited Hong Kong U Writing: An Anthology in 2006 and co-edited Love and Lust in 2008. Her own work has been widely published in print and online and she has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times and the Forward Prize. She is finishing her PhD thesis on Neo-Victorian fiction at King’s College London.