NOMADIC BEGINNING I was born in Sri Lanka and my family moved to Hong Kong when I was one. My father had a business that was based here and we went back and forth, spending six months here and six months there. One of my earliest memories is riding the Star Ferry. It was back in the days when there were lots of hawkers and we'd always get egg waffles. That was my entertainment as a child.
IN A CLASS OF HER OWN Mine was a typical Hong Kong expat upbringing until I hit my teen years. Due to circumstances out of my control I found myself out of school. I became involved in an online art community, and that helped draw me out a bit. That's when I started to write seriously. We had a couple of meet-ups and I ended up being a co-administrator of Hong Kong DeviantArt. I wasn't at school but I was out meeting other budding artists and doing fun stuff. When I was about 15, it suddenly hit me, "Oh, all your friends will be doing their GCSEs soon. What are you doing?" I ended up going to the public library. I didn't really know what I was doing but I started drawing up timetables for myself and studying. As it's Hong Kong, I started tutoring children in English - despite having no formal training. With the money I earned from that, I got myself tutored.
LIVE POETS SOCIETY Wandering around Central, I found a cute little blue bar called Joyce Is Not Here (owned by interior designer Joyce Peng) on Peel Street. There was such an eclectic bunch of people there; teachers, journalists, surfers, tennis instructors. It was very Cheers-esque.
I would go there during the day to do my homework and I'd meet the most interesting people. No one knew I was just a teenager, they all assumed I was much older. It so happened that another regular, Keith McMullen, and I started talking about poetry. He said, "Look, you write and I write, why don't we show each other our work?" We decided to meet the following Wednesday. That was 10 years ago, and on most Wednesdays since, people have gathered at either Joyce, which has closed now, or in another space, to read their work - all because of that first meeting. After the two of us met, Joyce put in one of her ads: "Wednesdays are now poetry nights", and people started coming. It turned into an open-mic night. It's really grown, it's amazing. Our current emcee, Henrik Hoeg, has breathed so much life into it. Peel Street Poetry performed at TEDxWanChai this year. And we've done a bunch of charity events. We're at Orange Peel, in Lan Kwai Fong, now. It's actually a music bar but on Wednesdays it turns into a poetry place.
BLUSHING BRIDE Along the way I had two kids. I met my husband, Angus, at a poetry meet. He had a few friends who dragged him along. We discovered we were expecting when I was 18 and doing the whole writing, studying and working thing. So I got married at 18. Everyone thought I was mad but, from day one, I saw us sitting next to each other and talking about our day and that's exactly what we do. He still remembers to bring me my cookies! I'm not fluffy and sentimental, despite the poetry, and I'm not a big believer in soul mates, but I am prudent enough to know when something's different, and Angus is different.
HONG KONG GAL I did not live a normal teenager's life but I've always lived in a very Hong Kong way, where you can be a little bit of this and little bit of that and dabble in all sorts of things. It's the entrepreneurial undercurrent that drives Hong Kong. Today I balance a career in media with being a mother and still doing all the other side projects I always say yes to, but I've never gone a stretch without writing poetry - it's the way I express all my different roles. There are so many definitions of what Hong Kong is but the great thing is, we all co-exist very nicely. Some people might call that indifference but historically Hong Kong's always been a port town. There's always been influxes of immigrants and it's always attracted an eclectic group of people. As a mother I feel the stress of having to provide for a family here, given rising rents and schooling fees. It can feel like doom and gloom but there is magic here. There's been so much serendipity to my life, which I credit this city for.
SLAM DUNK To mark the 10th anniversary of Peel Street Poetry, we're holding a poetry slam. That's like a "spoken word-off" competition. There will be one topic which will come out of a hat and participants get five minutes to write about it. I'll be one of the judges. We'll be finishing with an incredible Hong Kong band, The Anello. We're also putting together a Peel Street Poetry anthology. We're going to hunt down the people who have come and gone over the past 10 years and, because Hong Kong is so transient, this means going to people in the Philippines, in England, Scotland, America, Tasmania.
I love that I have this place where I can go to, where you're just sitting in a room full of people - some of them straight from work, some having just woken up - and everyone is listening. It's a great equaliser. This is part of why Peel Street Poetry has been running for so long; it has become a haven for our diverse audience. It goes to show, whatever stage of life you're in, art is necessary.
For details on Peel Street Poetry open-mic nights or to participate in the 10th anniversary slam, go to www.peelstreetpoetry.com.