Turbulence by Mukyu

Catherine Xinxin Yu

Photo by Sara Richer.



A few years ago, I had to interview a poet from Hong Kong for a cultural event in Taiwan. There wasn’t much room for creativity, and the word count was limited, so I just prepared a bunch of wishy-washy standard questions: What’s special about the poems you’re presenting? What brought you to write poetry? Which topics do you gravitate towards when you write? Et cetera et cetera. The poet scanned the list of questions, and then looked at me, like looking at a shit stain in the toilet.
– When you write poems about Hong Kong, do you ever think about presenting Hong Kong characteristics to foreign readers?
– Mate, does an Egyptian poet have to write about pyramids in every poem?
I haven’t been back to Hong Kong for so long that I’ve nearly forgotten what characteristics it had. I have the memory of a goldfish, and I, too, spit bubbles when I babble. But nowadays you can hardly talk about ‘returning’ to Hong Kong. It’s like returning to the table after going to the toilet halfway through a buffet. By the time you’re back, the food has changed, the conversation has moved on, and even the people sitting beside you are different. Nowadays I drink with my friends over video chat, beer in hand. They’re usually at home or smoking downstairs, leaning against a lamp post in a park. Home is the strictest place when it comes to banning smoke indoors.
Nobody toasts.
And if someone gets drunk and asks a stupid question like, What are you gonna do from now on? We’ll all say, Mind your own business.
When we drink online, everyone rants about how we can’t travel because of the Pandemic. Everyone wants to go to Japan. They know the sights in Osaka Kyoto Tokyo Kyushu Hokkaido like the back of their hands. The Chinese author Bi Feiyu said, in the contemporary world, Japan is not a country or a race, but a sort of metaphysics. To put it plainly, Japan is a spiritual home. It’s well worth the return ticket just to see the blue sky as you exit the airport. Back when I used to work in an office, I left early one Friday, dashed off to the airport, pigged out in Osaka for two days, and then flew back to work. That was probably a travel addiction.
According to content farm articles, travel addicts can’t stand being pinned to any single city; they somehow get grouchy and frustrated if they don’t stretch their wings regularly. If you go by this loose definition, over half of the population in Hong Kong suffers from travel addiction.
I’m a Hong Kong writer. All my articles are about elsewhere.
Mate, does a Hong Kong author have to write about rooftops and subdivided flats in every work?
Hongkongers want to travel, buy real estate, buy cars, emigrate but still be considered Hongkongers. They want to have at least two unilaterally monogamous partners, insult others at whim without being insulted in return, and look down upon all living things except fur babies. They want to unite for a revolution and fill their lives with orgasms, no foreplay or aftermath, just orgasms. They want their stories to soar in the Good Fortune quadrant alla Vonnegut, a red line straight to the right.
Nobody knows what to do afterwards. Confucious and Jesus said, First love is sublime. Leslie Cheung said, How about we start over again? So everyone starts over again, headed towards orgasm.
On the internet, it barely takes a minute to come again, enough to play a few steamy clips on YouTube or TikTok.
Time is money.
Online, a gwailo said that shouting ‘Parkour!’ when you parkour is like shouting ‘Fuck!’ when you fuck. It’s pointless. And stupid.
– Hong Kong!
Still, I crave Japan. Once the travel ban is lifted, I think many Hongkongers abroad will travel first, and then decide whether to go back to Hong Kong. And I will probably say to friends and family back home, Just book your flights, we can meet directly at the airport. See you later. Online, someone in the Japanese AV industry divulged that a male pornstar’s work is tougher than what you’d ever imagine. For instance, when they shoot the cowgirl position, the male star has to lie supine and let the female star squirm on top of him. But he must stick his thumbs in icy water to distract himself from ejaculating. At the same time, the cameraperson would squat on him to shoot close-ups of the female star. In other words, he has to stare at the camera guy’s arse and stay hard without cuming.
You know what he’d be thinking? See you later.
During the Pandemic, I found out on social media that a friend had been elected as a district councillor and he wanted to pull his weight for Hong Kong. He used to be a bookish twat spouting French critical theory and literature, and he’d rattle on about Deleuze and Guattari when we ate in dai pai dong food stalls. He later followed his political calling and became a Great Man, his hands stuck in sewage water, the Epoch squatting on his face, the Regime’s balls swinging above him. There is a Bulgarian saying that goes, ‘They say our government is hanging by a thread. A goat’s balls dangle too, but they don’t fall!’
Before going to prison, my chum said to the rest of us: See you later.


A few years ago, back when I was still living in Hong Kong, I often went drinking in roadside pubs in Mong Kok East until three or four in the morning. The friend who later became a councillor would always promise to come and then stand us up and leave us on read. Back then, Ting Cheung, Ngo Tzi, Matthew, and Ah-Geet were still safe and sound. We would sit on bar stools outdoors, smoke and talk shit about this and that, dropping ash all over the table, as if our moral judgement on anything mattered. This bloke was a loafer, that one was a cheater, someone was cheap, someone else greedy, or daft, or a grass, et cetera et cetera. You can call it bitching when women do it, or you can call it gross when men do it.
The gays in our group usually self-identified as bitches.
You see, when gender is involved, even gossiping is not necessarily bad.
Mind your own business.
When we used to drink together before the Pandemic, there was always someone who had just hopped off a plane from Japan, and they’d share the cigarettes brought back from the trip. Seven Stars Menthol, Winston, Caster, et cetera et cetera. According to customs regulations, each person can only bring nineteen cigarettes into Hong Kong, but it’s about as binding as the warning that you must be 18 or over to enter a website.
After Ting Cheung graduated, he became an air steward without much trouble. He said the most satisfying thing about this job was catching Chinese smokers who couldn’t resist taking a drag in the toilet. When the smoke alarm rang, he would knock on the door and say, ‘It’s not allowed to smoke onboard.’ ‘Iammeh naught!’ He would then request the passenger to open the door and tell them, The toilets onboard don’t shoot waste out of the plane; there’s a storage tank, and we’ll have no problem finding your cigarette butt if we open it.
According to the law, offences onboard are under the jurisdiction of the destination country. The passenger was taken away by the American airport police as soon as the plane landed.
All smutty, Ting Cheung said: See you later.
Nobody has any doubt about Ting Cheung’s sexuality. There isn’t a single cell in his body that would possibly make him fancy a woman. He’s a queen that calls himself ‘this bitch’, a wicked mess who delights in turning straight men gay. There was one time when he went too far and leaked on the metro on his way home the next morning. Apparently the Hong Kong poet I interviewed was exactly his type.
I told him the poet looked at me like looking at a shit stain in the toilet.
He said, This bitch wouldn’t mind showing him my shit.
All the happy days are gone now.
When I later came back to Taiwan, the Hong Kong protests erupted, the Pandemic erupted, why do all these vile things take ‘erupt’ as a verb? Can’t someone stick the fingers of Our Times into icy water and sit on its face to calm it down?
The Bulgarian goat testicles are still swinging, day in, day out.
– Hong Kong!


No one has a clue what to do after a revolution. No one even knows what to do after each protest. To scatter or to stay, attack or defend, push through or blossom everywhere. Only the first few hours were orgasmic, the aftermath was prosaic. But it was the prosaic part that took away – including but not limited to – Ah-Geet’s pulmonary function, Matthew’s left eye, Ngo Tze’s right leg, and Ting Cheung’s little brother, Ting Fong.
At first, Ting Cheung believed that his brother was just lying low and they’d get back in touch eventually. No one knew what happened in the two months afterwards. Ting Cheung’s brother didn’t come back, and we didn’t dare say anything. Same old shittalk in our chat group. This bloke was a loafer, that one was a cheater, someone was cheap, someone else greedy. Not a peep from Ting Cheung.
That was the time when Ah-Geet inhaled too much tear gas. One day he vomited clumps of blood while smoking. He went to see a doctor and found out that his lungs were permanently damaged. Meanwhile, Ting Cheung was in the Red Square in Moscow, queuing to see Lenin’s Mausoleum, where the mummified vanguard of communism had been lying for nearly a century. He thought, not everyone can die with their body in one piece.
That was the time when Matthew got shot in the left eye by a rubber bullet. Lucky he was wearing goggles and glasses, or else his brain would’ve been blasted too, probably. Meanwhile, Ting Cheung was in Auschwitz, Poland. The Germans destroyed most of the evidence when they retreated, but they didn’t have time to clear away a pile of Jewish hair meant to be turned into haircloth. He thought, when he got home, he must carefully check whether his brother had left behind any hair.
That was the time when Ngo Tze went into a public toilet to change his gear and found it packed with plain cloth officers. They stuffed him inside a cubicle and beat the pulp out of him. Lucky a big group of protesters also went inside to change, otherwise his body might have been sunken into the sea. Meanwhile, Ting Cheung was in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which detailed how a little girl got leukaemia due to radiation. They wrote on her memorial, ‘If there are no more wars, then tragedies won’t repeat themselves.’
Et cetera et cetera.
Ting Cheung’s brother didn't come back, not then nor later.
The Regime plunked down its balls. Everyone was plunged into icy water.
That winter, Ting Cheung and I drank for a night in Japan. He got leave to stay an extra night in Osaka, and I flew in from Taiwan. I first went to Shinsaibashisuji to stock up on vitamins and stomach medicine. Around ten at night I found Ting Cheung in Dotonbori; he had just had a crab meal set, and we picked a random place for drinks. We made a big mistake to assume that all ‘upstairs bars’ in Japan were as refined as the Japanese bars on Mody Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong.
We pushed the door and went inside. A few blond hoodlums were singing, a dodgy couple was groping one another in a corner, and the staff were throwing darts. One of them walked towards us and was shocked that we didn’t speak Japanese. We were even more lost than he was, and blurted out ‘beelu’ a few times.
I don’t know why, but the waiter insisted on joining us for a drink. He asked where we came from. Ting Cheung and I exchanged a glance and said Hong Kong. Is Hong Kong China? No. Is Hong Kong Taiwan? No. How big is Hong Kong? A bit smaller than half of Okinawa. He stared in surprise. I asked whether he knew where Hong Kong was. He shook his head, わかんない.
I barely got a chance to speak to Ting Cheung that night, and we were even billed for the waiter’s drink. He nodded at us, 3Q3Qありがとう.
To me, he looked like a shit stain on Japanese culture. Metaphysical shit is not merely shit, but also the Platonic ideal of shit.
Ting Cheung said as we were leaving, ‘I’ll have to come back often from now on.’
‘You’ll come back again?’
He lit a cigarette glumly, ‘I’ll visit as many places as I can.’
A Soviet joke from the Cold War goes like this. Say you’re in a bar and a stranger next to you starts sighing. What should you do?
The answer: Put an immediate stop to such anti-communist propaganda.


My councillor friend is charged for ‘Violation of the National Security Law and Inciting Subversion of State Power’. No one knows what these words mean. I do though. You could translate them as a warning: Mind your own business.
I keep feeling that I should write to him, but I never know what to write about. Showing concern seems fake, sharing worries seems heartless, and as for updating him on the latest news, must every Hong Kong author write about protests and pandemics in every piece?
But I guess I can write about Ting Cheung. He did end up going back to that Japanese bar a lot. Not just that. He also kept going back to Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, the concentration camp in Auschwitz, the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima. He kept skydiving in Melbourne, kept revisiting the grand Torii Gate in Itsukushima. All orgasms, no foreplay or aftermath, just a redline straight towards the right.
The Polish author Olga Tokarczuk wrote, ‘All over the world, wherever people are sleeping, small, jumbled worlds are flaring up in their heads, growing over reality like scar tissue. There might be experts who know what each of them means individually, but no one knows what they all mean collectively.’1
Collectively dreaming, faat mung, meant Violation of the National Security Law and Inciting Subversion of State Power.
My friend Ting Cheung suffered from stress travel addiction. As soon as his brother disappeared, his symptoms erupted and kept worsening, posing a threat somewhere between metaphysics and a shit stain. Whenever he closed his eyes and let his thoughts drift, he would be taken back to every destination he visited after his brother went missing. He said, had I known, I would’ve visited fun places only.
Had he known, my councillor friend would still have decided to run for office and get arrested.
No ifs.
– Hong Kong!
Nowadays I drink with my friends over video chat, beer in hand. They’re usually at home or smoking downstairs, leaning against a lamp post in a park. Nobody toasts. Ting Cheung doesn’t join us. He’s getting treatment.
No, not for his travel addiction. He got covid. His family, too.
Not his brother though, he hasn’t come back. Apparently Ting Cheung travelled to that place once, in the throes of his addiction. It was the only time he visited somewhere he’d never actually been to. I said, then that’s not obsessive travelling, it’s just a nightmare. Ting Cheung said his brother’s last words were LET DOGS ARSEFUCK COPS. I said, well of course Popos should get fucked by dogs, otherwise who else would do it, you?
Whenever Ting Cheung closed his eyes, he would get sucked into past trips. He had no choice in the matter, whether they were good or bad experiences. Some mysterious power commandeered him, made decisions for him, compelling him to revisit past destinations again and again. Ticketing, boarding, jolting on the way, arriving, sightseeing. Then start over again. He had just come back from Auschwitz right before talking to me.
– What’s different between Hong Kong and Auschwitz these days? I asked him.
– At least the Nazis waited for passengers to get off the train before executing them.2
Time is money.
Afterwards, when I drank with the others, we’d still ask what Ting Cheung was up to. No one knew. But I suppose you wouldn’t know where most university coursemates ended up either. They might linger in your life for a while after graduation, and then the ripples fade away; if they showed up again, they’d be completely unrecognisable. The food in the buffet has been changed. Hey, the girl who used to sit next to me in first year Creative Writing even became a Miss Hong Kong.
Mind your own business.
Ting Cheung didn’t stop travelling. From the moment his brother went missing, he paused time and loaded a new file. For him, any trip can be triggered easily, like a video playlist on shuffle. I kept wondering whether he was trying to find his brother this way. But Ting Cheung’s brother can’t possibly exist in the foreign countries he was visiting – not in the serene air and exotic attire, nor in the remains of Great Men and ordinary citizens, nor in catastrophes and reconstructions, all growing over reality like scar tissues. There might be experts who know what each trip meant individually, but no one knew what they all meant collectively.
I hope my friend in jail won’t regard this piece as a shit stain when he reads it.


Counting down to 2020, Ting Cheung closed his eyes and he was immediately transported to Melbourne. It was a half-hour drive from Box Hill to Yarra Valley, on his way to skydive. It’s the largest wine region in Melbourne, and Ting Cheung couldn’t figure out what skydiving had to do with wine, but maybe some folks need to be high before they can jump out of a plane. The car crossed a big field and drove around a golf course, and then he saw some Chinese people and instructors waiting in the distance. Just as he was about to wave at them, he opened his eyes, and it was three in the morning. His feed was flooded with HAPPY NEW YEAR and LIBERATE HONG KONG. Tired, he closed his eyes, and let himself be taken to the Torii Gates in Itsukushima.
He was like a Youtube video full of travel ads asking every two minutes, Have you booked your flight and hotel yet?
Online, someone took the piss out of YouTube: A drama series was inserted into my ads, what a surprise.
Hong Kong is a disaster film infested with ads, both of which are directed by the same institution.
1993. Lam Ting Cheung was born in Queen Elizabeth Hospital. When he first saw the light of day, he had no idea what was coming. He didn’t think he’d be the last generation to sit A-Levels in Hong Kong and have to choose between being Chinese or being Hongkonger. He didn’t know he’d feel Chinese in 2008, swerve to team Hong Kong in 2014, shout VINDICATE TIANANMEN in 2015, and then be told in 2016 that the Tiananmen Massacre had nothing to do with Hongkongers. He didn’t expect to be gay, nor his friends to be ‘rascals and delinquents’, nor his whole family to be hospitalised for covid.
He kept asking, Did I agree to come?
2000. Ting Cheung was seven. He left Hong Kong for the first time, on a trip to Thailand with his parents. A few pre-adolescent girls in the group picked on him when the adults weren’t paying attention, just because he was young. They jabbed him, pulled out his hair, pinched his arms until they were black and blue. At night, Ting Cheung hid under the blanket and cried. His parents asked why he was upset, did he not like Thailand? He asked, Did I agree to come?
2001. Ting Cheung was eight, his brother Ting Fong was born – it took Ting Cheung years to figure out what his parents did every night in Thailand after sipping all those coconut cocktails. He wasn’t sure whether his brother agreed to come into this world, nor whether he wanted to. All he thought was that the newborn looked like a monkey. It also took him years to understand that it was racist to call Hongkongers monkeys, an offence that could cancel out your whole life.
That didn’t sound so bad. He’d like to erase his past, present, and future.
2009. Ting Cheung was sixteen, Ting Fong eight. Ting Cheung realised that he had a crush on a popular guy in his class who played the guitar and sang and told jokes, just like a manga character. Hmm, how should I approach him? Smartphones were beginning to sweep through the world, so Ting Cheung found the guy on Facebook and they chatted a little. Then he didn’t know what else to do. He was confused about things not taught in school, and he didn’t know who to ask.
The same year, his parents decided to bring the children to Thailand again, as if short trips were a rite of passage for Hong Kong kids. Now you know why there are always brats wailing in Cantonese on every flight; if a politician suggested strapping kids to the cargo hold with leather belts, they’d sure get elected.
There were still bullies in the group, but this time Ting Cheung was old enough to shield his brother from these repeated, pointless, and hysterical outbursts of malice. When they reached out from behind, Ting Cheung turned around and almost snapped a girl’s finger. At night, he told his kid brother, ‘If you come across people like that in the future, you must fight back.’
– How?
– With your hands, or with your words. You have to hurt them.
Later on, he and the popular guy got together for two months and then broke up, because it hurt. But he gained enough experience and confidence to call himself ‘this bitch’ from then on. A blessing in disguise.
2012. Ting Cheung was nineteen, Ting Fong eleven. Ting Cheung began to live in university dorms, where he met Ah-Geet, Matthew, Ngo Tze, and me, who took care of bringing beer. We’d drink on the campus bridge until we were woozy, and then piss as much as we wanted over the night buses that ran on the highway below. Ngo Tze once shook his thing and asked Ting Cheung: Hot stuff, ay? Ting Cheung licked his lips and laughed: I’d rather go to a public toilet if I wanted to look at that, the uncles are bigger than you.
Back then we used to get drunk everyday, from the skywalk to the park, from classrooms to the dorm. I learned that I’d collapse after downing four shots of vodka, Ah-Geet would chain smoke when he was drunk, Matthew would grope for his glasses on the ground even though they were actually sitting on his nose, and Ngo Tze would mumble how much he wanted his first love, completely forgetting that he had gone out with a dozen girls since. As for Ting Cheung, he would always play with his phone quietly, chatting with his kid brother. We asked him what was there to talk about. He shook his head, Mind your own business.
2014. Torrential rain fell on Hong Kong for 79 days. Ting Cheung was 21, Ting Fong 13. Some people camped on the streets, some marched, some were jolted into the realisation that they weren’t Chinese after all, while others were shocked to learn that Hong Kong had always been a Sacrosanct and Inalienable Part of China since The Dawn of History. Ting Cheung felt that it wasn’t up to him to choose. When he moved back home from the dorm, he picked up the habit of watching TV with his brother after dinner and then let the conversation drift.
– What are the people with umbrellas doing in the streets? Ting Fong asked.
– They’re doing the right thing.
– Why do they wear masks when they’re doing the right thing?
– Because you might not succeed even when you do the right thing, and failing comes with a hefty price, so we have to protect ourselves very, very well.
– We?
– They.
2016. The fire of protest ravaged Mong Kok. Ting Cheung was 23, Ting Fong 15. By then Ting Cheung had already become an air steward. We all agreed that it was a ‘pretty fitting job’, but we would’ve said that to any graduate who became a flight attendant anyway. Aviation was the miracle of our century. No one knew when it grew so prosperous, and by the time we realised, the ethos of our city already revolved around it.
Or so I thought before the Pandemic. Thank goodness I didn’t have money to invest in airline stocks.
Online, someone said the greatest contribution of the Pandemic was to confirm that Hongkongers wouldn’t die even if they didn’t fly to Japan for a whole year. Immediately cease such anti-Japanese propaganda.
One day, Ting Fong was gaming on the sofa. Ting Cheung dragged his suitcase home and slumped beside his little brother without even changing out of his uniform. Ting Fong finished a game and turned to him: Goh, I’ve got something to tell you.
– What?
– Do you fancy guys?
– Mind your own business.
– Me too.
2019. Ting Cheung was 26, Ting Fong 18. Starting from July, whenever Ting Cheung got home, he would smell his brother’s reeking clothes, so acrid that it made him tear up. They sat on the sofa and Ting Cheung asked: Did you go?
– I’m doing the right thing.
– Did it go smoothly?
– A classmate is missing, another one fled to Taiwan, now me and my boyfriend are turning to guerrilla tactics.
– What about your uni entrance exams, all ok?
– I’ll know at the end of the month.
Ting Fong did get into university, but he barely went to class. When the clash happened in September, Ting Cheung was making an announcement on a flight: We are about to experience some turbulence. For your safety, please remain in your seats and fasten your seatbelts, and do not use the toilets onboard.
The next day, his parents asked in the family chat where Ting Fong was. The day after, they asked again.
2020. Ting Cheung was 27, Ting Fong 18.
2021. Ting Cheung was 28, Ting Fong 18.

1 p.89, Olga Tokarczuk, tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, House of Day, House of Night, Northwestern University Press, 2002
2 A reference to the Yuen Long Attack on 21 July 2019, when armed mobs sanctioned by the authorities attacked civilians, protesters, and journalists in Yuen Long Station. The police arrived almost an hour late and made no arrests.

Mukyu is a writer from Hong Kong now living in Taipei. His works include the short story collection Perhaps in the Smoke (2022) and the essay collection Underdog Years: I Would Prefer Not Can Do (2024). He has won major literary awards in Taiwan, including the 2022 Openbook Award and the 2023 Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE) Award for Fiction. He holds a BA in Creative Writing from Hong Kong Baptist University and an MA in Taiwan Literature from National Tsing Hua University, and is not planning to pursue a PhD – thanks for asking. His works have been translated into English, German, and Japanese. An excerpt from his short story, ‘The Shapes of Stories’, is published in The Oxonian Review.

Catherine Xinxin Yu

Catherine Xinxin Yu is a literary translator working with English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Italian. She is interested in literature from Taiwan and Hong Kong, especially works that explore ecology, gender, indigeneity, and diaspora. Her translations appear in Asymptote Journal and The Oxonian Review. She also works as an assistant fiction editor at Asymptote.

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