Dinners with poet Leung Ping Kwan a cultural delight

Poet remembered as bon vivant who revelled in the cultural richness of his city

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 January, 2013, 6:36am

Having dinner with late Hong Kong poet Leung Ping-kwan (or PK, as we usually called him) was one of the most pleasurable cultural feasts in town.

PK loved eating, and wrote a number of excellent poems about food. He liked to bring together friends from various cultural fields to all kinds of places and fed us with good food, as well as light-hearted but profound discussions on anything relating or not relating to the arts.

The uninhabited atmosphere always generated interesting conversations. In a city too busy for any engaging discussions on arts and culture, PK's dinners were rare cultural events we all hungered for.

After he fell ill, we met more often. PK was more than an outstanding poet. He was a learned man with a broad range of artistic interests.

Chatting with him was like swimming in a boundless sea of creative ideas. One of these fanciful ideas, about the distinctiveness of Hong Kong ghosts, were later turned into a real festival on ghosts, held at Lingnan University in November.

During the early 1990s, we were on the committee helping to set up the Arts Development Council. Friendly, humorous and creative, he was always a delightful working partner.

It was, however, one particular topic that drew us together. Both PK and I were frustrated by the lack of appreciation of the richness of Hong Kong culture. The ignorant but frequently used description of Hong Kong as a "cultural desert" drove us crazy.

After 1989, Hong Kong fell into a collective hysteria and there was massive migration of people moving out of the city. PK, along with a small group of concerned individuals, found it necessary to nurture a sense of Hong Kong cultural identity, and an identification of Hong Kong as home. It was then we started a long partnership promoting Hong Kong culture.

PK loved Hong Kong and its culture, not just literature, but also performing arts, films, visual arts, popular culture and, of course, food. Endlessly he wrote, curated and researched to prove his point.

Over the years, he conducted a lot of research into Hong Kong literature, telling Hongkongers to take a serious look at themselves, instead of always looking at somebody else.

He was well aware of the connectedness of different art forms within this small city and refused to look at one art form as a singular development. His study on the adaptation of literature in local Cantonese movies was an impressive achievement, and a convincing argument that a literary house should be integrated into the West Kowloon Cultural District.

Hong Kong lost an important cultural figure, and I lost a good friend, someone with whom I could talk about anything over dinner.

At our dinners, one question kept popping up among the various topics: "How can we tell Hongkongers we have a rich, vibrant and colourful culture we should be very proud of?"

I wish those bigwigs up there within the infrastructure knew what PK was talking about.

Oscar Ho is director of Chinese University's cultural management programme