February 1997, my birth-month; July 1997, Hong Kong’s handover; July 1997 and onwards, the Asian financial crisis. What do these events have in common? I desperately sought answers to this question while taking my second creative writing class in college. 

In my sophomore year, I learned about the process of deletion – erasing failure, heartbreak, death. Deletion equated to power. Writers who utilize erasure act as “authoritative hands,” controlling and manipulating the words of others. I adopted multiple methods in writing poetry, including erasing others’ words and rewriting them as my own. Such acts function as means of self-expression, empowerment, and censorship. By construing what someone else has said in a unique manner, both the reader and writer have the opportunity to reiterate the erasure process until the original authors’ text is imperceptible. I use erasure in this collection to generate a narrative about origins, family, and identity.

Before I dive into the content of this selection, I must give credit to the creatives, Lo Mei Wa and Sara Howe, for crafting letters voicing their perceptions of Hong Kong. I began writing this collection to understand my role as an Asian-Canadian returning to the “East.” I started by reading Hong Kong government texts; later, I decided to read personal accounts, as the content produced was politically-charged and not conducive to the narrative I originally envisioned. I also read a novel called “Hong Kong Noir” by Feng Chi Shun that highlighted the grit and history of Hong Kong. After reading these texts, I knew I was to select excerpts of the authors' writing to feature. I deal with the following interconnected themes in my anthology: a country's handover, riots, several government crackdowns, the mainland, the meaning of home, and the notion of paradise.

The entire collection is titled, ASTRONAUT. This name reflects how many East Asian fathers are “astronauts,” always in transit between their families and businesses. Within many traditional Chinese families in Vancouver, the father is the breadwinner while the mother functions as the housewife. He is forced to juggle family and business commitments, while his children and wife operate as a separate family unit. Such is the case in my family. I wanted to parse the struggles of first and second generation Asian-Canadians and Asian-Americans, many of whom have had family or friends relocating from Hong Kong to the West.

The first section, the letter, is from the perspective of an Asian mother who emigrated to Canada. She is tenacious and well-versed. The mother speaks directly to her son, the writer of the following series. The second collection, some thoughts on climate, is related to her child's experiences of living in Hong Kong. ASTRONAUT ends with two poems encapsulating what it means to be the only child of an astronaut family. 

I hope this collection resonates with you. Please feel free to critique my work, as I am always looking for ways to improve and tweak my creative endeavors. If you enjoyed reading, please give this post a like or a share. Thank you!  



composed by david zhang

a brief table of contents

i. the letter

ii. some thoughts on climate

iii. an essay

the letter

inspired by lo mei wa

dear son,

i grew up with

eastern south china

sea from my window


a cluster of towers rose–blocked my sunrises


hong-kongers have lost

more than their sunrises



your birth-year, the

return of hong kong

from the british to

the chinese


hong kong;

special administrative

region with basic



one country

two systems




two plus two equaled four


fifty years hong kong has to

learn two plus two equals anything


some have embodied this new logic

some resist       protesting against

white elephant projects


workers buried people

people bankrupt indigenous

villages destroyed endangering

chinese white dolphins


the only time i saw a dolphin was

while i travelled on a ferry;

perturbed forces playing

with a floating corpse

iii days before your father proposed, a riot

broke time in fifty years, right in the heart

of mongkok; mecca of the lion rock spirit

intersecting triad activities, prostitution, hawkers


tough-spirited locals made their own lives

billionaires rose from nothing

poor kids turned wild

dangerous, dirty, lovely

the essence of

yau tsim mong


8 february 2016

day one

lunar new year

fire pervaded


son, i grew up poor

buying skewers from hawkers

the very same people who began the riot;

street-sweeping–a lunar new year ritual

going stall to stall, after dinner

bursting stomachs


hawkers, unlicensed

dollars earned, unearned

government crackdowns

sham shui po, no more

retreat to mongkok

flock, support, protect

police formula

tear gas skirmishes

hurling bins streets

bins afire firing

shots into the night

illegalities turning into legalities



father, chinese-born,

finding a home,

for us, staying-in-tandem


your birth,

chinese-canadian, not

relevant to our summer home


cannot show you turtles

fed in ponds, frogs losing

their skin in wet markets


cannot teach you autumn’s arrival,

the color of winter’s sunlight, or

feeling lost in a big city


standing over footbridge,

watching cars pass by



under neon lights

watching strangers kiss



old cantonese songs, all

cannot be experienced;

no more existing







want to raise you in hong kong



want you to feel your home there



want you to lose with me


i am crazy

for not wanting you

to start life in “paradise”


my parents, though

they arrived in “paradise,”

fled from china to hong kong


you, though

born in “paradise”

left for a distant island






no way exists to

bring back everything

i have seen

scratch bubbles saying

“i am very unhappy”


draw darkness bombs death

in art class, attempting scisso–

suicide by six to avoid

attending school




an un-rare phenomenon in hong kong;

youth work eighteen hours

daily going nowhere,

hang themselves before ten


last night,

a commercial encouraged

parents to give children

an hour of play;

yet, park is a

foreign concept


last year, tens of

thousands of youth

sought counselling


cutting hospital budgets for rails;

the government subscribed

new mental health patients to

three-year waitlists


one was i, sitting

alone in a waiting room

surrounded by blank faces

hollowed eyes, waiting

to be restored to happiness


driven crazy, despised

by the city, taking three

years to be sent home

with generic green–grey pills

we were young; your

father & i used to hang

out at the airport, travelling

two hours via shuttle

to get there


this is the real border;

entire nights spent in

the liminal zone between

hong kong and the

outside world


just a flight away;

the old saying is

hong-kongers are

cockroaches, anywhere

can survive, no problem


we are nobody;

we can become anybody

obsessed with the

backstreet boys;



speaking in aloof english


certitude in daily




dreamt of wandering

paris without

underwear on

in college




in art history

class: hegel, kant,

nietzsche, marx, heidegger



hong kong is a place without

gravity; the airport, the furthest

we could go in its dead orbit, was

neither here nor there, not knowing

or caring who we were

we have our first riot;

violent actions in

mongkok were not just

directed at police;

no looting or excessive


damage caused;

the only option

is not to go gain

ground but to stand

ground, to resist;


our mongkok

burning injured

furious                         shaking

off its desperate



sky-high is

the price for


hong kong’s

status quo

after futile years of

marches, hunger strikes

come over



pre-screening candidates

for our election.

our chief executive


the umbrella movement

erupts, students

protest beijing



occupying admiralty

causeway bay mongkok


teargas fired, children

sister, ferrying me

over with fruits


vitasoy, cartons

as weapons

of choice



never attended



no fear,

only fury

standing in front


of police shields

like prisoners

shoved around


until round two;

tear gas

running at riot police


crying hysterically

throwing fruits

pulling away


holding up umbrella

ready to fight

pressed down

i am not not not pro-violence

but i am am am pro-defense


i want to protect the kids

in the street, protect our future

our hong kong


son, this is why i

developed asthma;


the umbrella protests

started peacefully rationally

ended infernally


joining umbrella

comrades was easy





valid reasons turned mad

by our crippled


as the movement evolved

things changed


small stages constructed

public speeches


diarrhea blush

tremble celibate


never imagined

speaking on the street


i stood up–spoke

fighting for you

before protest camps

were cleared, there

was one last clash

on lung wo road


at daylight

riot police charged at

front-line protestors

sitting peacefully


fled like no tomorrow

first time taking flight

was from triad members

second, riot police


looking back, saw

friend beaten with batons

ran back, grabbing him

shoeless, holding him, screaming


“fuck you,

he’s fucking injured

we are leaving

are you fucking blind?”



by late morning

police smirked, standing on

a footbridge, after

gaining their territory


middle fingers raised,

snickers and vulgarities overheard,

lives below accounted for by

the ruthless acts of the police

after my master’s in deutschland

did i realize friends did not feel

anyhow about their passports


for them, the airport

was only a functional place

for going out, for us


coming back; that

crevasse was



i only want to be a

hong-konger & swear

in cantonese


i must teach you this

language before the day

i may be harassed


or arrested for

speaking it;

i need to show


you what was

beautiful in my

world, before


it’s gone; our

fishballs & hawkers

are already losing



have become



a freshman




convicted of 

insurrection with

ten years’ imprisonment


how does this matter

after all; we are only

another disappearing

idyll on planet earth


our pain is the same

as the places forgotten:

homeless hawaiians,


roaming their

lost land;




hong kong

scorpio city


learning to




this time

it matters


our lives are


in historical

wheels of



a hand of destruction

forms our identity

the biggest horror

is life like your grandfather’s


not that he is poor

but rather, boorish


wholeheartedly believing two

plus two equals

whatever he is told


viscerally enthused to see students

killed by tanks at tiananmen


he loves us, but polarized

is our sense of good

amidst the umbrella

protests, my

brother said


“if you want to side with mobs

earning dirty money, beating up

protestors, i will be waiting at the front line”




to your grandfather

i do not want to give

you a split home to resist in

which standing on a side

means insanity vs. dementia


identifying, true–false


this is not innate


it can be taken away anytime;

grandfather’s logic is one


take my wallet clothes

tongue freedom

but not two plus

two equals four;

my dignity


requires vigilance;

to have it is to stay awake


i fight to protect

it until my death

to pass onto you


should you be angry

i want you to feel anger

should you be sad

i want you to feel sadness


be full, be free, but

never forget this


i promise to provide

you a shelter of dignity

against the world


this, i promised

when i stood

up that night

in mongkok

i look out my

window; a

crepuscular sky




permanently foreign

my heart filled with

indifference to all good




around me i

return to a place

beyond landscape i




to miss home where the

toughest enemies are

invisible; a system




an ideology, i write

this under an old

cedar by the pacific




the breeze is with me

the lawn trees park

sky not mine




belonging to canada;

indigenous peoples

have lost everything




my home, too, disappears

an ocean away in

a permanent disarray

forced to choose

between the pain of

fighting in hong kong

& watching her

suffer with you


i chose the latter;

my parents left china

to give us a start in

hong kong


i left hong kong

to give you a start

in canada


i chose hope


you are

my hope

some thoughts on climate

inspired by sara howe

jason ng, the hong kong state of mind

            perennial bestsellers:

            fortune-telling, feng shui

            manuals, investment how-tos,

            exotic foreign cities’ guidebooks


            any tourist stumbling into local

            bookstores conclude hong-kongers

            are superstitious money-grabbers

            leaving town at our first chances

such is a wry glance of our countrymen’s habits

landing in summer home

plane door hisses open

greeted by sea-drizzled

diesel damp black hair


late july, less a fragrance

than oppressive humidity;

three months coinciding

with the hottest days


attending another book fair in

hong kong–beginning as

an effort to boost the

city’s cultural microcosm


during the dead lull of heat

more than 106 visitors cross

its threshold over the week, diving

into thick stacks of books


snaking their way between metal

barriers, queues longer than those

of disneyland; a decantation of

busses chugging on the forecourt


annual classfuls of

uniforms taking turns

to enter revolving doors

of the wan chai convention centre:


a vast construction of glass

steel shaped like stacks

of temple roof tiles,

commanding panoramic

views across victoria harbor


the structure, completed after

my parents left for canada in ’96, in

time to serve as the backdrop for

the iconic handover ceremony

marking the end of colonial rule

within these walls, underneath

two national flags: chris patten

robin cook tony blair prince charles

mournfully line up opposite

the beijing delegation on

30 june 1997

watching the footage with my

parents, taped, time difference,

on the vr, in our living room

inside the yvr

my mother; a hoarder,

worst with books lining

her bedroom walls


four-deep: a habit attributed

to scarcity in an impoverished

1970s hong kong upbringing


watching crowds throng

book fair’s stalls, one would

think today’s hong-kongers

suffer the same pang


families turn out

across generations

filling up suitcases

with abundance

the fair’s chinese offerings dwarf

the overly-modest english-language aisle:

stacked displays of commercial

fiction & celebrity cookbooks;

…nigella & jamie oliver are

too big in hong kong


thwarted, a couple of circuits

after my plan to browse

the english poetry section

for local titles, realizing

it never existed


disappointed, having hoped

to stock up on the backlist

from hong kong’s main

independent poetry publisher,

chameleon press: jennifer wong,

tammy ho-lai ming, etc.

a little boy (6)

trundles past

with miniature

wheelies, soon

to be loaded up

with school exam



mom (32)

shadows his figure,

left arm straddling

magazines on

high fashion

home décor fine art

right arm holding

british and american

college preparatory



father (41)


hong kong’s lit scene

crevasse, nic wong

i am capitalism – plastic

has taught me

about empires

spotted getting on

a ferry leaning too

closely to a man

into my tee; people

like us, travel a lot


wong’s restless pieces:

lyrical experiments

collide with luxuriance;

phrasing, ferocity of witness,

new amongst hong kong poets


wong’s american polaris

not wholly attributable, thanks

to colonial literary education;

never a choice – a poet

like him writes in a language

other than his mother tongue.


think of samuel

beckett switching

to french, hobbling

his fluency


wong explained; english

writing in asia is writing

on the edge; a

peripheral vantage

leaving you gazing

across oceans for

wider readership;

creating postcolonial, queer

hard-to-pin-down poems;

oh, the pleasure

of occupying

an edge


– margins are now less margins than blunt blades to the throat –

abductions, alarm bells

cry as fear mounts

over the erosion of

freedom of speech

& the press


regarding feverish speculation,

the incident’s larger significance

swirled around one man, lee bo–

spirited across the border;

a british citizen


the bookseller, tammy ho-lai ming

puncturing the local populace’s

initial complacency,

booksellers seldom make

the news, then one

day this all changes;

five go missing,

one by one

hong kong poet:          

the currency of

constitutional uncertainty;

the former colony’s poets

find politics unavoidable


student placards adorned

the umbrella movement,

covered in poetic forms

like those of tiananmen

my mother’s anxieties stemmed from

five causeway bay

‘disappearances’ in 2016


men abducted to

mainland detention cells

records tracked of

publishing & stocking

books banned in china, including

scurrilous sexual exposés ­of xi jinping


she spent most of this

year imagining me

bundled from my hotel lobby

into the back of a white van

in an opaque black bag

people cared a little,

but not too much

about the first four;

after all, they vanished

to someplace else–

so long as the fire

does not burn closely,

it is alright


                       –ignorant hong-kongers

the defiance of the vanished, lee bo

some remove books banned

across the border, closing their doors;

others, trepidatious yet defiant,

continue to sell-print-write


the fortnight before my july visit

the last of five resurfaced; lee

wing kee, emerged sensationally

from solitary confinement telling

journalists of months of interrogations

forced confessions suicide watches


fleeing his mainland captors, lam

claimed he had been temporarily

permitted to return to hong kong

to bring back a full list of customers’

names from his causeway bay bookshop


the store’s shut-up frontage hangs messages of support

prayer: come home safely

warning: mainland public security roam here

pledge: freedom of speech never dies

hong kong is brought to a standstill

where disappointments of

pro-democracy have given way

to frightening political turmoil

frustration anger developments


one country, two systems

guaranteed hong kong fifty

years of freedom from 1997;

under threat, by heavy-

handed authorities

the encompassing nature of

being a hong-konger stretches

further than i had thought


hong kong is transformed–

enriched by people

moving through it, whatever

their backgrounds or ancestral

connections may be


words of welcome,

vouchsafed emotional

connection, hugs from those

who grew up overseas

of hong kong descent


my conjured fears of hostility &

rejection melt away: this is how

it feels to come home

i once heard a cantonese pop song

while eating at tsui wah with my parents–

the tunes of affective lust, subtly lining

the edge masking 1980’s hong kongers &


the promiscuity of my young parents

when they were still authentic;

life ran abysmally along

the crevasse, love which once was

succulent felt seemingly grimy yet

lucid, evaporating after distance became

a player in this supposed rendezvous;


youth evolved into adulthood

a development marked by spaces–

liminalities where realities became unrealities–

& gravity, which once brought love

together, lost its force to two

equidistant terrestrial bodies, one

an astronaut, another a satellite

drifting away, one slightly

faster because of unamendable

forces, where the satellite propelled

the astronaut back home; astronaut


a married man

eating fishballs, living

the lifestyle of

a bachelor



the only time astronaut

communicated with

satellite was over

a bowl of fishballs

; as


time moved on, fishballs

no longer tasted the same, like its food,

hong kong no longer remains authentic

becoming a master’s puppet; an astronaut

fakes history to create his-stories, setting up

bases in places he revolves around, circling

the earth, never finding a permanent home


; a


lumpy fishball in a bowl infinitesimally large–

a contradiction within itself