Literature can alleviate nostalgia as much as foodstuff does. The late Ping-kwan Leung’s poems bring alive Hong Kong that I was more once familiar with.
In the poem Images of Hong Kong, the narrator searches for a postcard to send a friend overseas. Yet he finds mostly “Exotica for a faraway audience / Entangled with what others have said / Why is it so hard to tell our own stories?”
Leung told Hong Kong’s own story through homely images of food, buildings, traffic, fish and much else, in poems with names like Papaya or In an Old Colonial Building. He spoke of how a city functions, of what is lost as it develops so rapidly. Of the human spirit that wanders, looking for its home, while finding welcome overseas. P.K. was both profoundly local and international; he was as likely to be reading something by a Czech writer as a Chinese poet. He studied in San Diego and traveled widely, liking Berlin especially. There, in the strange tale of East-West division and unification, he found echoes of Hong Kong’s own fractured identity and tumultuous political changes.
In Bittermelon, he compared the ugliness of the vegetable’s “lined face” with time: “Wait until this moody weather is over / That’s all that matters… / The loudest song’s not necessarily passionate / the bitterest pain stays in the heart. … / In these shaken times, who more than you holds / In the wind, our bittermelon, steadily facing / Worlds of confused bees and butterflies and a garden gone wild.”