IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE SO BY JEANNETTE NG
11 months ago
When first approached about the idea of writing a postcolonial response to Kipling, I was excited, but I was also worried about how much we allow these old white voices to define us. Is this not simply further ingraining him into our canon?
But then, the spectre of he and other colonial writers like him already haunt our literature. They cannot simply be ignored. For all that I loved Disney's live action JUNGLE BOOK (2016), it is but one is a seemingly endless slew of adaptions. This year will see another in MOWGLI, directed by Andy Serkis. And that is just in the world of cinema. Birmingham Central Station boast a restaurant named "Mowgli" and there's stage adaptions, as well as volume after volume of JUST SO STORIES from the beautifully illustrated to the cloth-bound hardbacks.
For all that I was going to try and mimic Kipling's voice, that almost poetic storytelling tone, I wanted my own story to be rooted in something wholly mine. Or at least, wholly belonging to where I grew up: Hong Kong.
The Wishing Tree is a real tree with a real history. It is relatively near where my father lives and he loves to bring it up when we drive past. We even went there once for the festivities around Lunar New Year. I am hardly the first to observe that Hong Kong has wishes its tree to near death, the poetry of that is catnip to any writer, but I wanted to do a little more than that. I wanted to extend that allegory and bind up the history of the tree with the history of Hong Kong. In order to do that I had to fudge a couple of dates, but not as many as I thought. As it happens, there are worse microcosyms for examining that patch of history.
I borrowed a lot of phrases my mother and my aunts, which I translated and embellished. Many of the flourishes are theirs. And somewhere along the way it became a story stating very sincerely a worldview that is not often seen in English, one that sees authenticity not in the ancient trappings of the past but in what it has left us, what its descendants have mixed anew. Other have written love letters to dying cultures, fading dialects and ancient temples, but I thought I should write mine to celebrate continuity. We are still here, after all. This is my own solution to the question posed by the Ship of Theseus.
Modernisation and westernisation may have been used synonymously by all when I grew up, but it does not have to be so.
Not So Stories is out in April 2018 from Rebellion.