To promote creative talent in Hong Kong, RTHK Radio 3 has joined hands with Hong Kong Free Press and PEN Hong Kong for the second year in a row to co-organise the English writing competition Hong Kong’s Top Story 2018. Judges selected eight prize-winners in the Junior and Adult Categories, with two granted the Most Creative Award. An award presentation ceremony was held on Tuesday, December 11 at RTHK. 

Photo: RTHK.

The awards were presented by RTHK’s Acting Deputy Director of Broadcasting (Programmes) Kirindi Chan Man-kuen, Managing Editor of Hong Kong Free Press Sarah Karacs and President of PEN Hong Kong Jason Ng. Chan mentioned that the competition has again attracted a lot of talented writers, and that almost 400 entries from the community were received. She also hoped that, in promoting literary activities, Hong Kong’s cultural and artistic scene will grow and benefit all English speakers, young listeners and readers.

This year’s theme was “Sounds of Hong Kong.” Participants were invited to find inspiration from familiar tunes, chatter, beeps, clangs and clatter that remind us of a moment, evoke a memory of a person or prompt an echo. Winners were presented with books from Pan Macmillan and dining vouchers from the Lan Kwai Fong Group. 

Today, HKFP shares the Junior category first prize winner. Click here to view the adult category winners.

Junior first prize winner: Yellow Bauhinia, by Diana Marie N. Gamboa

4 April, 1999 Qingming Festival

The rustles of the mourning yellow bauhinia filled the empty space with melancholic melodies while the crackles of the dead leaves and thin twigs gave way to subtle staccato notes. Tenderly, the evening quietly danced with the luminescent moonlight to the rhythm of Beethoven’s sonata. Soon, the sun awakened from its deep slumber and the tree sparrows and magpies began to lead the main choir of the morning’s early symphony. The vast Hong Kong Cemetery is always lonely, but the sounds make me feel less alone. For the past couple of years, the majors and minors of Hong Kong’s music have been growing fainter and fainter as time passes. Nevertheless, every soul’s piece seems to be in a perpetual state of repeating choruses, refrains and bridges.

Not mine though.

The mid-day came. Mouths moving, feet shuffling, arms flailing, facial expressions of mirth, grief, nostalgia and inattention. All are notes to the quiet orchestra I am the audience to. Every spirit in this graveyard is the composer of their own curated music tailor-made for their listeners to appreciate and pay respect by visiting them every year. Every grave in this cemetery has a small and unique concert which plays throughout the day. Every soul possesses their own spirit.

Not me though.

A lone composer. An empty auditorium. Silence. That is my music.

“Mama, can we leave early?” questioned a petite girl sitting beside the grave in front of me. Her mother gently placed a woven basket filled with chrysanthemums next to the tombstone.

“No, you have to respect your nai nai or she’ll lose her ancestor hearing,” her mother replied with a mellow tone.

“So, she can’t hear? That would be really sad.” The little girl perched her round head on her mother’s shoulder and silently yawned.

“Huh, maybe. Hopefully your nai nai can hear well…” Her mother softly chuckled at her child’s thought.

Huh, now, I remember why my concert hall is empty. The prospect of losing your “ancestor hearing” is never spoken amongst souls here. It’s shameful, they say. Your children have lost their values, they say. Though, the real reason no spirit talks about it is because of one thing: fear. Inevitable and everlasting, souls lose their intimacy through caressing their loved ones, or smelling the fragrance of burnt incense in the morning, or tasting the zest of sweet tangerines. All that’s left is sight and sound. With no sound, one form of mortal feeling is eternally lost. Some say the spirit dies along with their hearing. That is why every being in this cemetery fears it.

Not me though.

After all, why fear something I’ve been losing?

I listen to the muffled sounds of their feet stumbling across the rough path. Their traipsing feet and wandering hands clanged against the feeble but sharp sounds of the wind. The cacophony of rings and chimes were all from afar, but soon, the depths of the moonlight hushed the tinkerings of the mortals.

4 April, 2000 Qingming Festival

My tomb was separated from the clattered noise of the cemetery’s entrance. The whittled petals of the yellow bauhinia entwined with the faint breathing of the dawn air. Then, the dried leaves rattled with the green grass below. The notes of Hong Kong’s symphony have arrived. Subtle and sweet, the orchids and sparrows and poppies and magpies orchestrated their soft song under the daylight.

“Ma, do you think nai nai. Do you think she can still hear us?” The delicate notes of the lanky girl’s voice hung in the air.

“Perhaps. It’s been a long time since we visited her. Actually, she used to do tai chi every morning near this cemetery just to look at the flowers. Poppies and chrysanthemums, she loved those.” reminisced her mother.

With skidding slippers and trekking sandals slamming against the concrete path, the pair slowly faded out of my vision and visited their nai nai. As I gaze upon the daylight, I see how I am only with flowers to embrace and caress. Flowers of yellow and white to comfort me as they did with their nai nai.


Tsk. Tsk.


Oh. Not again.

As per usual, the bangs and clinks of the front streets interrupted the tunes of the mourning flowers. The yellow bauhinias were replaced by the screeches of car wheels on the rocky streets, the birds by the honks, and the leaves by the high-pitched gusts of wind from passing cars. Subtly and sorrowfully, the quaint and quiet melodies were being replaced by the monotonous and sharp screams of the Hong Kong streets.

“Wei! Ugh! Hm?” The mortals shouted on the rough concrete pavements.

The spirits’ auditoriums were slowly being suffocated by the squalls and squeals of the new and improved “Honk-Kong”.

Like autumn to winter, the leaves have fallen for the last time to deliver their final piece.

Oh, yellow bauhinias. It’s been a pleasure attending your concerts.

4 April, 2001

Clink. Clonk. Tsk. Tap.

Dilapidated and destitute, my tombstone was cleared out.

Clink. Clonk. Tsk. Tap.

My soul is now passing with the once full-bloomed bauhinia.

Clink. Clonk. Tsk. Tap.

Muffled and muted, the sounds of Hong Kong have come to a silent denouement.

Clink. Clonk. Tsk. Tap.

The birds have flown their last flight and the final petals have fallen.

Clink. Clonk. Tsk. Tap.





Winner Diana Marie N. Gamboa and PEN Hong Kong’s Jason Y. Ng. Photo: RTHK.

Judge’s comment: Bauhinias, the flower that represents Hong Kong even on its flag, are put to use in this dreamy tale in a way that enhances their symbolism and turns them into the mirror of a deep, and sorrowful, love for Hong Kong. A touch of surrealism and an ability to play with the language made this short story a clear favourite.

This is a boldly unusual and highly evocative piece, centred in a graveyard and told from the viewpoint of a resident spirit. In beautifully descriptive and carefully constructed prose, the writer invites us to consider how the departed become further and further estranged from the living world with the passage of time. The author displays an excellent range of vocabulary and command of sentence structure and variety.

Hong Kong Free Press

Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.