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The HK International Literary Festival 2012: Part 1

October 11 – Dr. Hari Harilela Lecture Theatre, Shaw Campus, Hong Kong Baptist University

Between Europe and China: Fostering Cultural Creativity and Inter-cultural Dialogue: A Roundtable Discussion on Hong Kong-European Dialogues in Literature and Culture

Yeah, that’s a mouthful. Bit of context here, “intercultural” is a big buzzword in Hong Kong and “exchanges” and “dialogues” abound. Personally, judging from the ones I’ve attended, these events tend to feel like marketing stunts to me. The questions are just some sort of variation of these: 1. What it feels like to be (or whatever more specific verb here) in Hong Kong, and 2. How is it different from your home country. It’s not typical to progress far from that, so let’s just say I normally don’t set the bar very high.

The panel was chaired by Angela Mackay from the Financial Times and the panel members were the following: poet Jennifer Wong (Daisy’s friend, actually, who was raised in HK and is now based in London, had dinner with her before), UK poet and novelist Simon Armitage, Irish novelist John Boyne (he wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – I only watched the movie though) Prof. K.L. Chua from Hong Kong University, and Prof. Hans Ladegaard and Prof. Lo Kwai Cheung from Hong Kong Baptist University, where I work.

Most of the discussion was about how the writers’ respective countries encourage creativity VS how HK does it (or how it should anyway. Let’s not forget HK is still incredibly neo-colonial and has a huge insecurity complex when it’s being compared to Europe). It was largely very PC and there was really nothing you haven’t heard before, until John Boyne mentioned, hey, but what about the big elephant in the room when it comes to HK arts and culture? Money?

And I thought, that’s a good attempt, Mr. Boyne, there is an elephant in the room, but it’s not money that’s the biggest one. It’s race and class. Because when I hear white expats complaining about how there seems to be such a dearth of cultural events in Hong Kong, more often than not, they’re talking about the dearth of white cultural events in Hong Kong. I know because I used to think that way too and hung around similarly-minded expats, until I started to make friends with local artists. Then I went to their events (not to mention worked with them for the stage performance of my play) and realized that hey, there is actually a lot of local culture in HK. Most white people just tend not to go to these events and just assume they don’t exist. The money being poured by wealthy, commercial companies into cultural events and which people complain is against the spirit of art? Tend to be white cultural events.

And as my friend T would say, I told you three times but only in my head. Then at one point, Prof. Lo Kwai Cheung, in a burst of frustration, said that the things they were talking about in this panel were all from the white person’s point of view, who either aren’t living in HK or who live in their little expat bubble here and have no idea what it’s like otherwise. Even this literary festival, he said, isn’t this pretty much catered to white people in the first place?

That was the highlight of the evening for me. Someone applauded from the back of the room. The next time I bump into Prof. Lo on campus, I’m going to tell him that.

Next post! The Writers Symposium at HKU and the afterparty at Hullett House.

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