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.
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