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On charity & compassion

I have just received a Whatsapp message from a friend asking me to support her cause by sponsoring a fundraising walkathon for children with heart diseases and disorders. My first voluntary reaction,  I am honest to say, was irritation.

I do not profess to be a particularly kind or sympathetic person, but I know my reasons for my aversion against such appeals to donation, and I want to relate them here, since the incident has started off a chain of internal reasoning.

Firstly, I have nothing against charitable acts. I myself have kept a sponsored child in Laos through World Vision for 10 years. Sometimes I contribute a few coins on flag selling day. I work in charity organisations and have a deep respect for people in the field. I do believe that in a world of dysfunctional politics and unchecked neoliberalism, only kindness to one another can save humanity.

But what made me irritated was that this friend of mine, who is years my senior and runs a quite well-to-do structure marketing firm, should ask me, who, at 33 and still earning less than 150K per month, to support her charitable cause.

Now poverty is not an excuse for being uncharitable. But it is a fact I have less resources I can devote to charity, than a CEO earning four or five times my salary. And with that I have to be careful and only choose the causes most important to me. Of course I am happy someone is doing something for children with heart diseases and disorders, but please do not put that moral obligation on me and take it for granted that I will support because I work in a charity and look like a charitable person. At the very least, explain to me why it is important, convince me as to why I should join in the cause, instead of just sending me a Whatsapp message asking me for money.

Which reminds me of a recent article I read about western travellers asking for travel money on the streets from locals in Asian countries. The writer of the article, an Southeast Asian living in Hong Kong, criticised vehemently the insensibility and immorality of this practice. Her point is basically that historically most Asian countries have been, and probably still are, victims of western imperialism and colonialism, and it is utterly immoral that western travellers should ask money from Asians to fulfill their own selfish romantic dreams of travelling the world. If you want to do it, use your own money. Nobody is obliged to fulfill your dreams. If travelling does not make you more considerate and take you out of your Euro-centric mindset, then it is better you go back to your own country and not travel at all.

But I digress. What I want to say is that being kind and sympathetic and righteous (which apparently my friend thinks I am) does not mean that one is obliged to answer all charitable causes, and that if one refuses ones necessarily becomes a stingy, cold-hearted person. What I want to say is that, if you ask for money, ask someone with more resources and who are too busy keeping their million dollar jobs and are only too happy to support charities the easy way – giving money that they can easily spare in exchange for a clear conscience.

Do not mistake me here, I have no problem with the easy way – my sponsored child is one such gesture – a monthly donation (sent through auto-pay so you can even totally forget about it), perhaps a letter every two months if you feel like it, the greatest moral satisfaction at the least cost (and you enjoy charity tax deduction too). I share news and messages on certain issues and causes through Facebook and I sign online petitions, sometimes not having read through everything before I click. When it is easy, more people are likely to support a charity or a cause. Sad or not, it is in our lazy human instinct to prefer the easy over the difficult.

With me, charity, or compassion for that matter, is not the total sum of money you donate (to whatever cause) or the readiness to give money (to whatever cause). It is understanding the problems of the world, feeling keenly about them, and seeking the best solutions to them. There are both an intellectual and a passionate side to it. It is action, a way of life. So as there are ways of life, there are definitely distinctions between how one feels, thinks and acts regarding different causes.

Through a cash donation I support World Vision, dedicated to the wellbeing and education of children around the world, because I believe in the importance in education in the betterment of the world, and I believe that this organisation is one of the most christian of christian charities: always humble and ready to serve the least among us. I work in charities and non-profits in the arts not just for the petty wages that barely sustain me but because as a cultural practitioner, I strongly believe in the role of art and culture in human society. Instead of making a lot of money in some “immaterial” fields then giving the money to charities, I much prefer to engage in “material” fields and do “concrete” work. Because to me, money making businesses are much less material/concrete than the “conceptual” world of art and culture. Money is just a meaningless number, a means often mistaken as the ends;  but art is invaluable, and is the ends itself. Then occasionally, with what is left of my time and resources, I involve myself in direct actions and social interventions, concerning issues of human rights, civic rights such as freedom of expression, preservation of cultural heritage – all these, including the aforementioned, are the core values that make up my whole belief system. My charity and compassion may be limited, but are consistent and true to my beliefs.

I hope my friend who sees this will not be offended: it is not a criticism of your cause. I simply mean that with all due respect, yours is a charitable act. Just that it is not mine. And if I were to give support, I cannot do it unthinkingly and then feel good about doing a good deed. Hong Kong people are champions of charity donations, and we are too used to solving problems just by a simple click and think that we are charitable when we do not even understand what is at stake. But not me, I cannot afford this kind of indiscriminate compassion.

Quote from Jean-Paul Satre’s “Nausea”

The best thing would be to write down everything that happens from day to day. To keep a diary in order to understand. To neglect no nuances or little details, even if they seem unimportant, and above all to classify them. I must say how I see this table, the street, people, my packet of tobacco, since these are the things which have changed. I must fix the exact extent and nature of this change.

…… That’s what I must avoid: I mustn’t put strangeness where there’s nothing. I think that is the danger of keeping a diary: you exaggerate everything, you are on the look-out, and you continually stretch the truth. On the other hand, it is certain that from one moment to the next – and precisely in connexion with this box or any other object – I may recapture this impression of the day before yesterday. I must always be prepared, or else it might slip through my fingers again. I must never – * anything but note down carefully and in the greatest detail everything that happens.

—- Nausea, Jean-Paul Satre, p.9

Quotes from The Left Hand of Darkness

“The unknown,” said Faxe’s soft voice in the forest, “the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion. No Handdara, no Yomesh, no hearthgods, nothing. But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion…. Tell me, Genry, what is known? What is sure, predictable, inevitable – the one certain thing you know concerning your future, and mine?”

“That we shall die.”

“Yes. There’s really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer…. The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.”

—- Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness, chapter 5



New Year Reading: Madam Bovary

‘Whereas a man, surely, should know about everything; excel in a multitude of activities, introduce you to passion in all its force, to life in all its grace, initiate you into all mysteries! But this one had nothing to teach; knew nothing, wanted nothing. He thought she was happy; and she hated him for that placid immobility, that stolid serenity of his, for that very happiness which she herself brought him.’ (Part One, chapter 7)

‘Emma used sometimes to tuck the red border of his undervest inside his waistcoat, or straighten his cravat, or throw away a shabby pair of gloves that he was about to put on. She did these things not, as he imagined, for his sake, but for her own, in an outburst of egoism, a nervous irritation. And sometimes she told him what she had been reading – a passage in a novel, a new play, or a bit of society gossip retailed in her paper. Charles was someone to talk to, after all – an ever-open ear, an ever-ready approbation. She confided quite enough in her greyhound! She would have confided in the logs in the fireplace, or the pendulum of the clock.

And all the time, deep within her, she was waiting for something to happen. Like a shipwrecked sailor she scanned her solitude with desperate eyes for the sight of a white sail far off on the misty horizon. She had no idea what that chance would be, what wind would waft it to her, where it would set her ashore, whether it was a launch or a three-decker, laden with anguish or filled to the portholes with happiness. But every morning when she woke she hoped to find it there. She listened to every sound, started out of bed, and was surprised when nothing came. Then at sunset, sadder every day, she longed for the morrow.’ (Part One, chapter 9)


2015年頭,正式進入我留日的最後三個月。元旦那一天,我跟日本人朋友一同去了明治神宮參拜,迎來了東京的初雪。那時我仍不知道三個月後該何去何從,於是向神明祈了一個願,希望這一年我會遇上更多的美好事情。翌日我便又穿上厚厚的冬衣拉着行李箱,踏上白雪茫茫的青春18慢火車旅,十天的東北之行途經刧後餘生的福島及仙台、橫越宮澤賢治的銀河鐵道到了河童故鄉遠野、被大風雪淹沒了的奈良美智青森犬、太宰治孤寂的津輕國度,回程最長的一段九個小時火車旅後再轉通宵巴士回東京,弄得自己身心俱疲,開始質疑自己為甚麼要不停遊走之時,按捺不住竟又在一天內走了一趟川端康成《伊豆的舞孃》伊豆半島之旅,二月又再北上冰天雪地的北海道,在機場過夜時冷病了,帶着重傷風走在札幌雪祭的巨型雪雕之間,終於在情人節那天完了十多年來探訪《情書》拍攝地小樽的心願,可惜我還是來得太遲:藤井樹的家在幾年前已被失火燒燬,成了又一個《情書》永遠的遺憾。三月的越後妻有冬祭和雪國湯澤…… 馬不停蹄的總算在一年間環繞了日本一周,47都道府県叫做看了個九成。三月尾,我送出了上十件寄回香港的包裹,跟同屋的日本友人們去吃餞行sukiyaki風shabushabu。上野公園漫天櫻花,我們走在銀白長廊之下,路旁燈紅酒綠坐滿了賞夜櫻的人們,場景浪漫得有點非現實。我以為我不會喜歡東京,結果卻愛上了這個在上野公園旁的小小破舊的家。每次出門穿過點點歐陸風情的上野公園,成為我的快樂泉源。四月一日,我收拾了房間,把鎖匙扔進信箱,我拉着來時的同一個行李箱,穿過谷中靈園的櫻花大道往日暮里站途中,路上忽然一陣春風,捲起一地粉白花瓣紛飛亂舞,我多愁善感發作,認定那是日本送給我的餞別禮。一個人在日本流浪的一個年頭,有很多美麗的邂逅:日本的東南西北春夏秋冬、善良友善而堅忍的人們,無一不令我莞爾心醉。上了火車,看着車窗外已然見慣見熟的日本風景徐徐往後退,腦裡忽然響起警號:我在往哪裡去?不知不覺間,日本已經是我的家。

但是再不捨也不可能逾期居留;我一邊怨恨自己的理性務實,一邊回到了香港。有一段時間我無法跟日本的時空割裂,到現在我的手錶仍然是日本時間。而後雨傘運動的香港亦讓我感到莫名陌生,對於缺席者來說沒有經歷那歷史傷痛,那空白自是一種傷痛。我變得不懂理解這個我土生土長的城市,不知道自己該如何自處。又我第一次發現自己其實不願意把自己定性,任何形式的身份認同都讓我感到恐懼。我不想在同一個地方停留太久,在跟一個地方過度同化之前便得盡快離開。就像做藝術行政的工作,那一刻的我才發覺那並不是我的最終目標。流浪一年之後帶來了這許多心態上的轉變,也讓我對工作產生了新的想法。不急着找工作,一邊休息一邊趕着寫我未完的小說,一邊思索純粹勞動糊口以外的其他可能之時,讀了一本給了我很大啟發的書:Ayn Rand的Atlas Shrugged,釐清了很多一直纏繞不休的疑惑,尤其為之前一段痛苦關係提供了完滿的解答和解脫。只是我的長假沒能延長多久,很快以前的同事已找上門來,問我要否幫忙搞一個新的藝術空間。雖然我不肯定自己想那麼快投入於一個極度燃燒精神和肉體的工作,而且亦未清楚自己是否準備好在視覺藝術圈裡站那麼前方的位置;然而我還是答應了,除了體內不甘平淡的人馬座性格蠢蠢欲動,也因為我知道機會的出現也是上天給予的默示和緣份。

本來以為求求其其的回以前公司舒舒服服算了,儲夠錢便又再去一趟流浪。為了這個目的甚至還報讀了法文──那也有一部份是想要改正以住在中學時學法文的完全失敗紀錄。結果答應了營運這個唔知咩事的咩事藝術空間,跟兩名似朋友多於老闆的Chantal 和李傑工作,倒讓我發現到我一直尋找的那所謂工作的可能性。在要求極高的Chantal 的影響下懶散的我回到久違的turbo 全開狀態;而李傑對以藝術空間為方法,以重新分配資源和解構一貫藝術空間營運模式的視野亦令我深感慶幸自己是這三人團隊的一部份。當中有很多需要磿合的地方,現時我們三人仍在模索彼此的性格、做事方式以至對這個空間的各種想法,但這個過程亦是整個計劃當中有趣的部份。在嘗試擺脫一貫藝術生產和藝術機構營運模式的同時,我們也在思考藝術離地不離地的問題,再加上咩事租借了位於深水埗快將拆卸重建的唐樓單位這一事實,亦讓我們不得不直面有關文化藝術與士紳化關係這具爭議性然而卻不得迴避的現在進行式的命題。基於Chantal 和李傑的實力和名氣,還未正式動工,國際藝術界已聚焦咩事身上,我們似是有點太過順利的完成了頭幾個project。我告訴李傑其實我並不立志在藝術界有甚麼驚人成就,他卻說這樣正好,反正這空間就是要反一貫藝術機構的道而行,拒絶過度無謂的生產,從藝術家的角度重新理解時間和空間。如果咩事不是這麼一個只玩兩年的實驗,可能我反而會有點卻步。現在我不但可以有最理想的四天工作週,剩下來的三天可以休息看書還可以寫小說上法文課,沒有展覽時甚至不用回去上班,看書吹水還可以是工作一部份,同時也可藉工作之實跟有趣的人物接觸,人工不高但還夠使,老實說真的滿足了我所有對工作的願望。

總是有一些人,初初認識時你便覺得大家應該很啱傾,但基於種種原因沒有發展的機會。或者上天就是覺得時機未到;跟Chantal 和李傑之前不算熟,因為咩事才真正互相認識共事。不只是時機成熟,是我們大家因為各自的經歷都漸趨成熟了,故能開始一段更成熟的關係。這對我來說無疑是一種三十歲過後才能了解的緣份的奧袐。往後我大可不用再問自己為甚麼那個時候遇上或沒有遇上那個人,為某些錯過或失去而苦惱哀傷,因為所有的緣起緣滅都有其原因,而我的課業便是學懂擁抱珍惜一切緣份。只要我繼續忠於我自己,盡力做美好的事情,緣份自然會引領我找到對的美麗的人。又如果當初推掉了咩事的工作,就不會有接下來的各種美麗的邂逅和如斯豐盛的下半年。為此我很感激這個可遇不可求的機會,感謝這個時候及時出現的Chantal 和李傑,為我這兩年定下了方向目標。每次不知為咩事搞到夜深,李傑常常想趕我回家,但其實我正樂在其中,彷彿跟你們不務正業喝酒吹水至深宵才是我應該做的事。於是自日本回來後,我再次找回屬於自己的家。


在深水埗搞藝術其實很啱數,因為落街甚麼都買得到。第一個展覽開幕的那個早上,出展藝術家Chloe 仍在鴨寮街跑來跑去買配件;我在基隆街買布然後在隔離樓上店請人車成門簾前後只花了幾十塊幾小時,也漸漸認得哪一檔的電池燈泡最便宜哪一檔最多電線種類。很多人叫我一個人在深水埗上班要事事小心,我看深水埗那龍蛇混雜的表面中訴說了這個舊區的段段綜橫交錯的歷史;所謂的混亂其實都是非常有機人性的自然發展,盡現香港人的靈活和生命力。在這麼一個社區裡,最不合理的反是在周邊突兀聳立的越起越多的屏風樓,像一道城牆包圍了在市區重建計劃步步進逼下備受威脅的,香港所剩無幾的六十餘年歷史的唐樓群和那當中由深水埗街坊數十年努力建立的庶民社區。我常站在咩事的天台,離遠望着只是幾條街外的那些豪宅,想着不到兩年它們應該就會殺到埋身,就連我正身處的這棟六十年歷史的四層高唐樓都會不在了,便感到萬般無奈。由是想,在深水埗搞藝術,相比起在中上環的藝術界上流精英階級間搞藝術,不是理應更加在地;藝術又該如何更廣泛的連繫各路人士和論述,更為積極深刻、而不只是表面地去回應社會。

搬進深水埗不久,便傳來棚仔將在年底拆卸的消息。其實我沒有去過棚仔,說不上感情深厚,只是不屑政府盲搶地拿小市民開刀。看到很多市民急不及待的趕去憑弔,甚麼影相日寫生日的,令我感到很不妥。究竟從甚麼時候開始我們那麼熱衷於悼念?為甚麼我們非接受這些不合理的命運不可?難道我們不可以做些甚麼去帶來改變,而不是任由強權魚肉?有次閒聊間我跟Angela 研究為棚仔做些甚麼好,講下講下就話不如搞個深水埗版Project Runway ,仲諗埋找哪些藝術家行catwalk。那一陣子我剛巧看了Paul Chan 紀錄自己在New Orleans 災後為當地住民做的社區藝術計劃的書,受到很大啟發。以藝術形式介入社會議題,加上持份者的參與,再配合其他抗爭行動,要帶來改變也許不是不可能,也讓藝術不再離地。我們越講越認真,甚至約了棚仔布販何生見面,我們聽他源源不絕的講述由79年小販被臨時安置在棚仔到今年收到食環的收牌拆卸換居屋通知的前因後果,才漸漸開始有一種真實感。那之後過了一段時間,直到Angela 找到了同樣想為棚仔做點事的阿珏,透過阿珏我們又認識了Man-Wing 和小野,一拍即合,棚仔花生騷計劃正式成形,即時展開。由最初五個人第一次見面開會到正式出演,過程不足兩個月,而時間也實在不容許我們猶豫太多。


我們到棚仔拍攝多了,開始熟習那迷宮般的架步,哪幾家布販賣甚麼布都開始略知一二。布販們也開始認得我們,有次我在曾記的十字路口仆倒了,曾記的姐姐馬上扶起我,說:妳成日嚟都仲會跌!Tammy姐會請我們吃零嘴,又絮絮不休的告訴我們很多事情。及後知道我們並沒有跟其他利益集團掛勾後,更由開頭的點點冷漠懷疑轉變成友善熱情。我們一廂情願的去幫棚仔,為的是一種對社會公義的追求,沒奢求布販的感謝,計劃進行時也盡量不想打擾到他們的日常生活。因此跟布販們關係的轉變是一個累積的成果,不是必然亦來得不易。Man-Wing 本身是棚仔熟客,相比起我們這班空降下來的,他跟布販們的關係是貨真價實的,作為持份者之一,設計師和表演藝術家們的參與令我們的計劃更加合理。表演前一晚布販的年度團年飯,何生邀請了我們出席,正式視我們為他們抗爭路上的一份子。表演那一天,我們在咩事作出場準備,小野打電話給我說布販們都來了,正前往咩事呢。他才掛電話,十幾位年過半百的布販嬸嬸伯伯們已經陸續踩上了一樓,包括82歲的東叔。何生掛着特別為花生騷而設的橫幅出現;有姐姐看我們表演者的衣服縫得不好,馬上便拿來針線給我們幫補。我們完全沒有想到布販們會走出棚仔跟我們一同走上街頭,與有榮焉也非常動容。及後的街頭表演更加不用說,看到藝術在街頭所能引發的力量,沿路的街坊都被感染追隨,我激動得都快要哭出來了。

因為這樣我更加肯定我們所做的事情有所意義:對政府來說棚仔可能只是一組數字,但對我們來說是每一名布販的人情和關懷。小野和我初時到棚仔拍攝,都不慎中頭奬;抬頭一看,棚仔層層疊疊的鐡皮屋頂上一片茂密綠蔭,各種說不上名字來的小鳥兒枝椏間飛躍歌舞。及後我們聽說有的樹是何生種的,伴隨着棚仔和何生的兒子長大,在棚仔落地生根。棚仔拆了,這些樹也一定被砍伐掉,那些鳥兒也會失去家園。怎麼想鳥兒們也不會搬到隔壁豪宅的人工花園。棚仔不但代表了二十一個布販的生計,也代表了一個經年建立的小區經濟、人際關係網絡和知識寶庫。棚仔走了,影響的不只是布販,還有所有依存於棚仔的時裝表演業界人士和學生。又一個香港市井特色將死於政府偏倚高樓價和中產消費經濟的政策下。正如小野所說,如果我們仍然珍重這些事物,我們就更要站出來,不要緬懷道別,不是「別走那麼快」,而是「咪撚俾佢走」。花生騷完了,紀錄片仍會拍下去,我們仍要跟這班棚仔布販一同抗爭。小野說很少有紀錄片能真正影響政策,我學阿珏話齋:Try try no die。做咗無死,唔做一定死。我仍然不覺得自己是一個社運份子,只是我相信藝術可以更貼近社會和更顯人文關懷。這個跨年度跨界別跨時空的計劃,意義着實遠超於一個純粹的藝術計劃,也告訴了我藝術潛在的更大的可能性。




You appeared in my disturbed sleep and

You appeared in my disturbed sleep and I knew we were to meet up and that was what I kept telling myself because it was important since it would be the first time I could face you properly after that traumatic event which lasted four years and which I thought would be a life time. But I could not I kept being called upon and I kept running about and I always looked at my watch thinking that damn we should be meeting by now but all I did was to move further and further away from you so much that I began to wonder if some malicious force was at work to delay our meeting and if this force was actually my very self. I was delaying that long wished for moment when I could realize what I dreamed of when I was sober of how I could look you straight in the eyes and talk to you freely and smiling I would tell you that I did love you very much so lightly that the words would seem to float in the air and then disappear.