From Typhoon Mangkhut to Chinglish: Winning student poets on the challenges of writing HK stories for a global audience

We spoke to four wordsmiths, at a poetry writing workshop, about Hong Kong and what makes their writing better than the rest

Nicola Chan |

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The One-Day Literary Writing Lodge in Hong Kong Voices poetry writing workshop saw so many amazing work from Hong Kong students.

How do you sum up Hong Kong in a poem? Do you write about the destructive force of a typhoon, or the rise of the Umbrella Movement? Four students, Charlotte Fong, Kwan Cheuk-yin, Carrie Cheung, and Tommy Daniel Hicks wrote about these things and more at the One-Day Literary Writing Lodge in Hong Kong Voices on December 15, and were named the top four poets of the event as a result.

Kwan Cheuk -yin of Sing Yin Secondary School.
Photo: Suzanne Lai

Thirty talented student writers took part in the Baptist University-sponsored poetry writing workshop. They were tasked with creating poetry from a Hongkonger’s perspective, and encouraged to incorporate local elements, events, and vernacular – but to make it relatable to a global audience.

“Finding the Hong Kong ‘voice’ – and learning how to use our colloquialisms and the places that only locals would know – and trying to make it understandable to international readers was really interesting,” 14-year-old Charlotte told Young Post. The International Christian School student and YP junior reporter, who tends to write poetry about her own thoughts and feelings, said the workshop was useful as it encouraged her to step out of her comfort zone and write about something bigger than herself.

Winning student poems from the One-Day Literary Writing Lodge in Hong Kong Voices poetry writing workshop at HKBU

Her poem, All izz gkhut, focused on the various reactions that Hongkongers had to last year’s Typhoon Mangkhut. She wrote from the perspective of students enjoying the day off from school, workers struggling to get on the MTR, and those who offered to clean up the aftermath.

Charlotte Fong of International Christian School
Photo: Suzanne Lai

“I really admired the student volunteers, so I wrote a stanza in their point of view, about how the typhoon united the community.” In future, Charlotte added, she will try to write more about things outside her own thoughts and feelings.

Cheuk-yin, unlike Charlotte, approached poetry-writing as a complete newbie. “The lack of formal structure in poetry writing [at the workshop] surprised me,” said the 15-year-old student from Sing Yin Secondary School, who said that he had fun playing with the forms a poem can take. Cheuk-yin’s poem was set out in speech bubbles. In his first poem, Bridge Talk, he crafted a piece out of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge construction controversy by mimicking a conversation between two Hongkongers with opposing views.

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Cheuk-yin, who wrote his poem in Chinglish, weaving in localised English and Cantonese sentence final-particles like “wo” and “la”, said he hadn’t expected to win anything, but added that he will write more poetry in the future.

Carrie Cheung of Holy Family Canossian College.
Photo: Suzanne Lai

Carrie, 15, looked a little further back in Hong Kong’s history to 2014 for her piece, Yellow Flowers. She wrote about the hope and disappointment that people felt during the Umbrella Movement, through words and drawings.

“My mother took me to the protest site,” she said. “I remember seeing plants growing on the concrete. I imagined those plants would have grown into flowers, had the protesters been allowed to stay longer.”

The Holy Family Canossian College student said that it had been “really nice to learn about different writing techniques, how to find inspiration from everyday life, and the fact that poetry can be paired with photography”.

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Tommy was the only poet who wrote about something a little more abstract than a singular event. Having lived in Britain, Korea, and Dubai before moving to Hong Kong, The Traveller was about his search for a sense of belonging and feeling like a global citizen. “I spent a lot of my childhood travelling around, so I could tell how these places are different from – and, at the same time, similar to – each other.”

Tommy Daniel Hicks of Delia Memorial School (Hip Wo).
Photo: Suzanne Lai

The 16-year-old Delia Memorial School (Hip Wo) student said although he put a lot of thought into making the poem, he did not expect to win because there was stiff competition. He had also not written much poetry before, but had written short stories. The workshop had been a real eye-opener, he added.

“It’s very different from writing a short story or novel, in which a lot of effort goes into detailed descriptions. With a poem, it’s more about creating imagery that is open to interpretation.”

Edited by Ginny Wong