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Through the Lens: To a Child Yet to Be Born

Poetry and photography in motion.

To a Child Yet to Be Born


You miss the heavy heat
in summer
and the hasty traffic honks,
the hearts that ache
because of you,
and hundreds
of unappreciated songs.
You miss the change of
our writing script
in schools and restaurants,
and the frisson
of protesting in the streets.
You miss the ease of
streaming films,
but most of all,
the thrill of dreaming.



The fierce nonchalant afternoon sun
has driven most to moor themselves indoors.
In chilled rooms, women welcome
the illusion of winter and put on
elegant cardigans.
The street is a different setting,
exposed to the elements.
Those who physically labour
(like other intelligent organisms) – 
construction workers, sweepers,
movers, and more – have learned to adapt
to the scorching concrete environment:
covering their whole bodies
for protection from the sun
(save their eyes to see and nose to breathe)
or tying their shirts up to their chests,
proudly cooling their bellies.


Domestic Worker Abstract

Every year, thousands of
Southeast Asian women
leave their families to come to
work in Hong Kong.
In the news
you read about the abuses
(verbal, physical, sexual) they suffer.
They mind others’ children,
while peering at their own,
stored on phone screens.
Some sleep in unconventional spaces
that exhaust prepositions:
under stairs, on balconies,
between shelves, in closets.
They now number 380,000 in Hong Kong,
and steadily increasing, just as the city’s
average age rises. One hopes
that not all of their stories are grey,
entirely about hardships
and trying to make their exile pay.

For, after all:
I’ve seen their striking faces, Sunday beams,
and dazzling dancing silhouettes.
I’ve heard their singing, animated conversations,
Laughter that propels you to also seize the day.
I’ve felt their collective energy rigorous life   
moving this city forward
in their unique, significant way,
no less noble than the moneyed.



Hong Kong is a dot
(Tiny, in the pale blue dot)
Seven million
And more of us: heads
Mostly held high and hopeful
We intersect, smile
To one another
Or don’t. Each confined
In the human frame
Both natural and frail
Not divine, but immortal
Like schooling of fish
I catch bright glimpses    
People, living the moment
Not borrowed, before
A typhoon city
Awash in breathtaking rain
Almost whimsical
Is there room for us?
Humble dot south of China
Breathing Hong Kong air



I see familiar shapes of seniors
gather in parks, playgrounds,
open spaces. Across the city they perform
their quiet rallying cry through practised, unhurried
morning exercises.
The message: I’m alive.
Other equally elderly and early risers start work
on flattening flavourless soda cans
under their feet, origamiing cardboard boxes
marked with bright brand logos
into widths that fit their sturdy makeshift carts.
The message: I’m alive.
In that housing estate or this, those left behind
by married children now pass the time    
alone, with friends in modest air-conditioned malls
or on time-worn benches, picking their remaining teeth
expertly with a toothpick after breakfast.
The message: I’m alive.
Then there are the unseen,
in caged cubicles, subdivided flats, coffin houses.
The beginning of the day lets in little light or lightness.
Yet they also rise, awake forlorn in the city
they know to be their only home.

About the Contributors

Tammy Ho Lai-Ming

Hong Kong poet Tammy Ho Lai-Ming is a founding co-editor of the Hong Kong-based international publication Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, an editor of the academic journals Hong Kong Studies and Victorian Network, and the Vice President of PEN Hong Kong. Her second poetry collection Too Too Too Too and her first collection of short stories Her Name Upon the Strand are forthcoming. 

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Pen Hong Kong

The mission of PEN Hong Kong is to bring together writers, editors, publishers, booksellers, translators, journalists, academics and others working in the field of the written word to celebrate and promote literature and creative expression.

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Joan Monis Pabona

Joan Monis Pabona is a Filipina street photographer and domestic worker based in Hong Kong who captures the throng of street life and experiences of women and foreigners. She is currently a Fujifilm Philippines influencer and was first runner-up in the National Geographic Wheelock Properties Youth Photo Competition 2017 for her shots in the “People and Happenings in Hong Kong” category.

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Founded in 2013, Lensational is a social enterprise that empowers women in marginalised communities around the world by arming them with professional photography and video training. For each photograph sold through to partner agencies through Lensationals’ online platform, students receive 50 per cent of the revenues. 

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