Two Poems by Tammy Ho Lai-Ming


Hong Kong Public Etiquette

Do not wave your arms so much when walking
on a crowded street; your hands should not intrude
the personal space of a bald man. Those who dress smartly
should all the more keep their arms to themselves;
they already get attention from their crisp, white shirts.

When a lorry driver stops his vehicle and waits for you
to cross the road, where there’s no traffic sign,
make an effort to look him in the eye and smile. You may
give him one of the best moments of his dreary day.
In turn, that will be one of the best moments of yours.

In a café, when you are alone, finger your phone.
When your girl friends half run to arrive at your table,
switch that thing off completely, immediately.
Ask them how come they’ve aged so much, and so quickly.
It must be the city’s somber air.

At a bus stop where there are no clear queues
for different lines, only make your way to the very front
if you are petite and unnoticeable.
If you are tall and scramble to the front,
everybody will frown and give you a dirty look.

What to do if you are very sweaty? What to do if
you sneeze? Just ignore the sweat and keep sneezing.
Everybody has something unpleasant about them.
At the end of the day, you are not so different.
Except when you are home, in your own bed.


Dispatches from Sawbridgeworth

They moved to the only noisy street in a sleepy village.
On the local bus, pearl-haired grannies watched her intently.
The foggy canal could be China, she thought.
In the first week, she argued with the butcher

and read the church registry: more deaths than births.
There were six pubs, three bridal shops and a seafood truck
that parked near the graveyard on the weekend, selling
her favourite oysters, propped up on used books.

Once, the couple stuck their heads out of the window
to see the faraway setting sun while listening to the Lucksmiths,
her dress still dripping with Vietnamese fish sauce –
the dangers of vodka and a small kitchen.

At first, she heard hooves twice a week,
on the cold cobbled street. Sometimes it was only someone
in heels. Later, she learnt that a century ago,
horses were sold on the street every October and April.

Then she heard the horses no more.
Now, a fast motor bike could set off the alarms of idle cars
late at night. The women wandering the streets
had had too much ale and knocked on her door.

About the Author:

Tammy Ho Lai-Ming is a Hong Kong-born writer currently based in the UK. She is a co-founder of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, an editor of Victorian Network and the poetry editor of Fleeting Magazine. 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 twice and the Forward Prize. She is finishing her PhD thesis on Neo-Victorian fiction at King’s College London.