The Sadness of Hong Kong

“You need to visit Hong Kong” my parents would say. They were wont to go there; a waystop between the obsidian totalitarianism of Harbin and the nihilistic desperation of Nagasaki before heading into the ancient rotting darkness of Irian Jaya. “You should go there, before its too late.”

Because my parents knew about China, and they understood that the Middle Kingdom could not allow something so glorious, so precious and precarious – a half-opened clam pearl dangling on the edge of an underwater abyss – no that could never be allowed to last. It is too much of an affront – one country, they say, two systems – as if that could ever be tolerated. For if it were so, like osmosis, why wouldn’t Hong Kong fill up, or worse contaminate the rest of the backward empire of Uighur-hair rugs and underground organ-extraction tubs with that tantalizing scent of possibility. Possibility, options, choices – those are the great testament against which it is difficult to oppress.

“You should go to Hong Kong!” but I never did – I always thought there would be a tomorrow, a day after tomorrow and I continued on my own affairs. But the day after arrived, catching us all unawares. But not the umbrella kids – they knew this fight was their last.

I once wrote a play. It actually started out as a short article while I was 30,000 feet over the Atlantic and I was bored wading through the detritus of un-examined minds on the little screen before me, so I pulled out my laptop and I wrote. One sentence, another, and another and still another; page after page of pure dialogue until I realized with surprise and some consternation that I had a play. Now what was I to do? Give it a title I suppose, a play with no title – written for the future – “Dreams of the Defeated”, for the umbrella kids, it turned out.

The play is about a movement, a September 7th movement it was called which dared to challenge their despotic overlords. And how they were destined to fail. How their dreams were not only ephemeral, but were in fact themselves tools of the regime to exert control. I published it, sent it to a few friends, a few people who follow with sadness the North Korea cricket-eaters or Hong Kong umbrella-kids or Cuba’s doctor-slaves. But it was never performed – is a play that has never been performed in a theater in fact a play? Probably not. But who would perform such a play?

Certainly not the unexamined minds – plays are boring, too many words – not enough blowing up. And September 7th? The defeated children of the oligarchs? Their dalliance with what could come, what might be? As they say in Venezuela “con que se come eso” (what do you eat that with?) I just finished reading William Saroyan’s play “My Heart’s In The Highlands”; and was amused to find that in an act of wicked contempt he had printed at the end of the 1939 copy which I purchased used for a few dollars all the bad reviews received from – you got it – Newsweek, New York Times, mind which it turns out have been unexamined for 80 years. I suppose I don’t feel so bad, in that case, except at least Saroyan was worthy of a bad review. They’ve learned, the blank minds have, better yet – no bad review, for controversy stokes debate and discord. No, a collective gaping yawn. A pearl that was never known, not a “I wonder what Hong Kong was like” but instead “Who the hell has ever heard of ‘Dreams of the Defeated’?”

And that is sad – but not as sad as the millions seeking refuge in Canberra and London and New York. Without knowing somebody told their story, even before they lived it – for to be born defeated holds no shame, but only if you dream.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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