Through the Lens: To a Child Yet to Be Born

Poetry and photography in motion.

You miss the heavy heat in summer and the hasty traffic honks, the hearts that ache because of you, and hundreds of unappreciated songs.   You miss the change of our writing script in schools and restaurants, and the frisson of protesting in the streets.   You miss the ease of streaming films, but most of all,

the thrill of dreaming.


The fierce nonchalant afternoon sun has driven most to moor themselves indoors. In chilled rooms, women welcome the illusion of winter and put on elegant cardigans.   The street is a different setting, exposed to the elements. Those who physically labour (like other intelligent organisms) –  construction workers, sweepers, movers, and more – have learned to adapt to the scorching concrete environment:   covering their whole bodies for protection from the sun (save their eyes to see and nose to breathe) or tying their shirts up to their chests,

proudly cooling their bellies.


Every year, thousands of Southeast Asian women leave their families to come to work in Hong Kong.   In the news you read about the abuses (verbal, physical, sexual) they suffer. They mind others’ children, while peering at their own, stored on phone screens. Some sleep in unconventional spaces that exhaust prepositions: under stairs, on balconies, between shelves, in closets.   They now number 380,000 in Hong Kong, and steadily increasing, just as the city’s average age rises. One hopes that not all of their stories are grey, entirely about hardships

and trying to make their exile pay.

For, after all:   I’ve seen their striking faces, Sunday beams, and dazzling dancing silhouettes. I’ve heard their singing, animated conversations, Laughter that propels you to also seize the day. I’ve felt their collective energy rigorous life    moving this city forward in their unique, significant way,

no less noble than the moneyed.


Hong Kong is a dot (Tiny, in the pale blue dot) Seven million   And more of us: heads Mostly held high and hopeful We intersect, smile   To one another Or don’t. Each confined In the human frame   Both natural and frail Not divine, but immortal Like schooling of fish   I catch bright glimpses     People, living the moment Not borrowed, before   A typhoon city Awash in breathtaking rain Almost whimsical   Is there room for us? Humble dot south of China

Breathing Hong Kong air


I see familiar shapes of seniors gather in parks, playgrounds, open spaces. Across the city they perform their quiet rallying cry through practised, unhurried morning exercises. The message: I’m alive.   Other equally elderly and early risers start work on flattening flavourless soda cans under their feet, origamiing cardboard boxes marked with bright brand logos into widths that fit their sturdy makeshift carts. The message: I’m alive.   In that housing estate or this, those left behind by married children now pass the time     alone, with friends in modest air-conditioned malls or on time-worn benches, picking their remaining teeth expertly with a toothpick after breakfast. The message: I’m alive.   Then there are the unseen, in caged cubicles, subdivided flats, coffin houses. The beginning of the day lets in little light or lightness. Yet they also rise, awake forlorn in the city

they know to be their only home.

About the Contributors

Tammy Ho Lai-Ming

Hong Kong poet Tammy Ho Lai-Ming is a founding co-editor of the Hong Kong-based international publication Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, an editor of the academic journals Hong Kong Studies and Victorian Network, and the Vice President of PEN Hong Kong. Her second poetry collection Too Too Too Too and her first collection of short stories Her Name Upon the Strand are forthcoming. 

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Pen Hong Kong

The mission of PEN Hong Kong is to bring together writers, editors, publishers, booksellers, translators, journalists, academics and others working in the field of the written word to celebrate and promote literature and creative expression.

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Joan Monis Pabona

Joan Monis Pabona is a Filipina street photographer and domestic worker based in Hong Kong who captures the throng of street life and experiences of women and foreigners. She is currently a Fujifilm Philippines influencer and was first runner-up in the National Geographic Wheelock Properties Youth Photo Competition 2017 for her shots in the “People and Happenings in Hong Kong” category.

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Founded in 2013, Lensational is a social enterprise that empowers women in marginalised communities around the world by arming them with professional photography and video training. For each photograph sold through to partner agencies through Lensationals’ online platform, students receive 50 per cent of the revenues. 

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