About Refugees, By Refugees
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“I dream a lot about saying a proper goodbye to my family and the one I love before I leave Hong Kong,” says LK (pseud, 38), an artist/actress/journalist/human rights activist. Originally from Hong Kong, LK came to France as a refugee after her participation in pro-democracy activism put her family at risk. She left Hong Kong in a hurry, not knowing she would be unable to return. She feels uncomfortable confiding in her family back home because of security concerns and because “I want to show the positive side to my family and my friends. Because in Hong Kong already very depressing these days, and I don’t want to make them more.” This, she says, “is the feeling of refugee.” In France, LK has encountered anti-Asian xenophobia and feels that “France is not really a welcome country for stranger, especially during COVID.” Despite this, she is “happy with what I have now,” though ultimately she dreams of seeing “Hong Kong being liberated.”
So hello, LK.
Thank you very much for participating. Can you introduce yourself?
I was at theater… I was working theater… I have my own theater production, and also I join in some playwright work. Most of my work is writing about society reality…Then… And in the same time, I am very- I would say- I keep an eyes on human rights issues. For example, what happened in Malaysia about the elections… Of course, about Hong Kong movement… For example, I start to be engage in Hong Kong movement since Umbrella Movement, 2014. And… But in that time I’m not totally engaged like right now. So recently, right now, I am a freelance journalist and I mainly work for one Hong Kong online media.
OK, and how old are you? Where do you live- Not the exact place where you live – do you live in an apartment, in a house? Can you describe a bit your living conditions?
I’m 38 years old and I am living in my… I have a two-piece, two… “deux pièces” (one-bedroom), two rooms apartment in…In France, in a main city of France and quite main area in France actually… Yeah.
OK, are you happy with your living conditions?
Yes. I mean I’m lucky, in the way. I’m very lucky to have this and… And I’m happy that I have kind of income to maintain my living. So, yeah, I’m happy with what I have now.
So how how do you spend your days? You said you were working, right?
Yes. So… I mainly spend my day watching news from all over the world, like different country. I go on Twitter, I go on… the news websites. I grab information and… Because one of my main activities right now is I report the human right movements here, and also the protests here. One of my main target is I want to report what’s going on in Europe and what the people who have a struggle in other countries really think, to the Chinese speaker. So, mainly what I do is: I search information like today we have… There’s going to have a protest so I need to get ready to go to film. And this is my main thing going on.
And how does it make you feel, the state of the world and when you read all of this?
Sometimes very depressing (laughs). For example, the situation in Myanmar… Even the situation in Thailand, even the situation in France! Which is… For me is kind of surprising because before I never think about the… The police brutality and all things can be that serious in Europe, too. But… You can barely read in the newspaper. But when I arrived here, when I start to… Really on the protest sites, when I see how the journalists are being beaten up- because I don’t know if you know that one of the in one of the national… global security law protest, there was journalists being beaten up by the police and his nose was broken, actually that happened in front of me. I saw it, like…They, they…He already show his press card, but they just do it. I don’t want to condemn anything, I just feel the whole situation is kind of make me feel like “oh, I seems…. it seems the world is going in the in a kind of depressing direction,” but in the same time I find that… it’s true like more and more people start to have… Awakened, I can put it like awakened. They start to… More and more people start to have more idea about what the world is going on, which is good. So…
So how do you see your role in this?
I remember when I was doing theater. I was… How I say… When I was still an actress, I was have a kind of depression too. But I… Because I don’t know what art can do or what I can do or what I can do in this world, because I can change nothing. And then I read… Then I watch a video which is a pianist who playing piano on the floating ice break, just playing piano like… Just some kind of like, playing music of the melting North Pole. And… And I suddenly realize even I can really make a change, but as an artist or as myself… I should be the… I can, I can and I’m interested in telling a story, and existing, but also telling a story. Giving kind of voice to the people who deserve a voice. Even my voice is very little, but yeah… I think it’s interesting. And besides your work, you work here, is there anything that makes you free yourself from from this? Like a hobby or a passion that you have? Umm, Playing video games (laughs).
Tell us about this, you like video games?
Yeah I love video games. And manga.
And animation. Ok, a
nd when when you play video games you like, how do you feel?
When I play video games, I feel like I don’t… I put my mind in aside, which is good. And one more thing is… Sometimes I go to my friend’s wine field to help. I like physical work because I think it’s a kind of like when you play video game, you don’t really need to think so much but you just need to react and just need to do things by your hand. So I love it.
OK, your friend has a vineyard?
I have a friends who have a vineyard.
Interesting. And what kind of video games? I am curious.
There’s two kind. One kind is the really shooting game, like GTA or something like that. And the other kind is… Kind of like… You like open a restaurant and then you just take care of all this.
Okay. Interesting. And did you used to play games, watch anime back then in Hong Kong also?
Oh yeah. Yeah. I think it’s… Yeah, most of my life.
Is doing that, yeah.
So can can you speak to us a bit more about Hong Kong? How were you brought up there and what happened to you? You were speaking about theater, so I trust you, you studied theater?
Yes… Since I’m in high school, I already love theater. I write script , and after… After I graduate, I work in a movie company as a playwright- not really a playwright, but work in as kind of internship in a playwright department- so my main work is reading and I need to present idea to the director and playwright. And then after I feel I really, really love theater, so I… I quit the job and I… I get into… There’s only one performing arts university in Hong Kong, so I was in it’s- it’s called APA. So yeah, I studied APA… Usually you should study five years but on the third year I…I… I feel like I can’t stand anymore because it’s so intense, and the main thing why I feel sad is I really don’t have time to read news. For me is very important. And I feel… This is not really my, how I say, it’s not really what I feel as an artist, because I always think artists should be somebody who reflect what’s going on in the world. If I cut my connection with the society because of studying theater and art, I feel kind of nonsense. So… I quit.
And then I start to… I start to work for a theater education. I take some course of theater therapist and I start to have training of the puppetry. I love puppetry because puppetry is a… is a tools, which is very easy to reach no matter the adult and the children. And with puppetry, you always can say something even more, how to say, more realistic. Because you have the… You have the cover of imagination. So this is…. yeah, because for example, I remember I would make kind of a little scene, which is about… Which is about a psycho killer, like killing the kids. So what I do is I put all the candy, so there are kids and the psycho come and they just take off…. Just take off the wrap paper all from the candy, and everyone already get the idea. I don’t need to really have a cool, like, horrible bloody scene. I just simply with… Taking candy out of the paper, and people get it. So I love this kind of magic. So that’s why I started this. And then I also work in the giving workshop and therapies for the people, for the teenagers in Keep House- not really a jail, but jail for teenagers. The people also… Yeah because I…. I really want to try to help people. And then after, I feel my limitation in Hong Kong, I want to have… Better explore, so I’ve come to Europe. It was 2010. I started traveling Europe seeing people… And then I studied in Paris for theater, three years, and then I go back to Hong Kong because of the Umbrella Movement.
OK, can you tell us about the movement and how you started getting involved in the movement?
In the beginning, I…. When I was in… When the movement started, actually I’m still in Paris and it was like actually even before, because before the Umbrella Movement was the anti brainwashed education. Because in that moment, Hong Kong government trying to have a new subjects for the high school and primary school, is how teaching you how to love your country. Like… Like if you see the flag, you need to feel proud or something like that. So… I was in Paris and I….I start to organize assembly of all this. It was the first ever I… I being organized this kind of team. I mean, like protest.
How does it make you feel?
It is… First because before I organized the movement- no, the protest- I know no….I know no….I don’t know any Hongkongers in France. What I do is, I just wearing black, I put on the slogan, I just take myself a photo and I just keep sending to different groups. I say “I’m….Woohoo, I am in France so I hope… If anyone want to do something with me, please contact me.” I just do this. And there was one Hong Kong newspaper, I think they grabbed my photo from Facebook and they put on the newspaper, and then eventually more people recognized. So people really come to me! So we organize it. But it was a kind of short time, like very, very rush so… It’s quite tiring… Not negative way, but like… And then… And then after the rally, we were sworn to have further actions. However, I start to find that… How to say, there’s a kind of power struggle between people and especially because I’m the one who started. So they say “oh I, we don’t want anyone to be a star.” I was like “yeah, but I don’t have to!”. And when the things being more more complicate, and also because of my school- I have my examination. So I say “yeah, OK, you can…You can manage it, I can quit. I mean, I will be happy to support in any way, but if you feel like it’s better you do it or you guys do it, so do it.” So I just quit like that, and then yeah, eventually this is… Eventually it’s a kind of end, but I still have the network. So that’s why when it’s like…When it… Just within one year- when it comes to 2014, when there was Umbrella Movement- I was preparing a show and we were having performance in Hong Kong and Taiwan. And I’m happy because there was something happening, and I want to go back badly because it was when I… It was the first time I saw tear gas in Hong Kong, on September. After I saw that was like “oh, definitely, I want to go back”. And the performance is a good excuse for me to go back to stay long. So I… So in the same time, I have a bit organized the ral- the assembly in Paris too. But my myself personally, I already go to Hong Kong. So we… In the beginning I have- because some of our performances is in Mong Kok- so… I go to Admiralty because Umbrella Movement actually is we occupy three area of Hong Kong for nearly three months. So I…I… finished a rehearsal in Mong Kok and then I go to Admiralty to… To talk with people. Is more like chill, like you talk with people, you see what’s going on… And then, after…I…After the show, I kind of really occupy in Mong Kok. I live there, on and off living there, like talking with people… There’s several fights between police and protesters. I was there too. Yeah… And I…In that moment I already start a page which is talking about Hong Kong in French- trying. So I take a lot of photos and videos and I just posted on the page, I send it to my friends in France… Yeah, in that moment it was not only me, so we have somebody, like, translate the situation in French to… The situation in Hong Kong in French so that people in France can read it.
Okay. And how how did the whole situation make you feel at the time?
Umm… During the movement, it was quite… It’s feeling quite nice, because you feel hope, you feel… Especially in the Occupy zone, it seems like I’m going back to my home, Kowloon Walled City. Because Kowloon Walled… I born in Kowloon Walled City, which is a place which is kind of self-governing uh. We… Everything is based on trust. Even you rent a house or you buy a house from somebody, is… The contract is just by hand writing contract. Also because the law cannot… Cannot cover in that area. So you can see like how people really, really trying to help each other, and this is the way and how you create your own system in your area. This is what I really interest is topic is: what’s mean by society, what’s mean by a city. So for example, in the Occupy Zone, in Mong Kok, people build a church, a little church, and in front of the church is a little temple. And then we have a little library. We have a place to collect materials. We have a study room for the people who study. We have… We have organize a place for people to live and we even have our door number. So, during that moment, if you post a mail, you write “on Nathan Road, which tent”, you really go to the official post office, you can send it. The postman will really give you the letter! Yeah… It was a very interesting period of time for me. However, how it’s end is… It’s like a… It’s like a punch for us, because in that moment I’m… People still depends on a leader, and leader like Joshua Wong and… People like them. However, of course, if you just obey to the leader and you can’t start your own idea, the… You will always have a kind of angry moment, because you always think “OK, why you don’t do that? Why? Your decision is so stupid”. Even Mong Kok is not so directly respect or obey the… The… How you say, the decision of the leaders. But still, you can feel because everyone is supporting the leader. So if you do something out of the decision, your… Your action can be… Can be… How to say, if you don’t got the support, usually it die down even before it start… So at the end, we don’t get the… We don’t get what we want, which is universal suffrage for the election of the chief executive. We didn’t get it. And… And the occupied place being crashed by police. Yeah… And it was a couple of years, like nearly three to four years, like a bit depressed, I have to say. But… But something changed. Something changed because – that’s because of the movement – a group of people, including me, start to think about what I can do within the society. What I can… Yeah, what I can change. So… During that moment, I think a lot about identity, what is Hongkonger? And in that period of time, I start to go back to where I born, Kowloon Walled City. I do interview with the people who were living there. I studied history and I trying to find… Yeah, I trying to find who am I? And also what is Hong Kong? So during these four years, I kind of using this to… To get away from the disappointment about the movement, the Umbrella Movement. OK. And how did it evolve then, after, and why did you leave Hong Kong at some point? Hmm. As I said like… I always travel, even there was not Hong Kong movement, I always travel. I… Within these four years, I made shows in Indonesia, I make shows in Malaysia… Like I travel around and I have friends in many countries. So… When I have the… So when there is… Actually it’s during the movement, I stay longer in Hong Kong. Because I start to involve and… And after I have a chance to come to Europe and we call that… So I… I have a chance to… I was being invited to by Amnesty International in Italy so I can have a talk, to talk about what’s going on in Hong Kong in that moment – it was 2019. And then… I being able to reach to more politicians and people in Europe, so I start to tell the story. I start to share what’s going on in Hong Kong to the people, like… And try to gain their attention… A lot of people in another country too. A lot of Hongkongese in another country too… So I on and off doing this, and… And then, when the last time I come to France, which is on November, I was come with some reporters and… Yeah, so we start to… Journalists, like sharing news during that moment.
OK. And at what point did you realize it was dangerous for you to come back to Hong Kong?
Umm… During the… I think first it’s about the national security law. And… But still, I feel maybe not that dangerous. However, when it’s going on even more, we see a lot of people get arrest, the situation get worse and worse. So I feel, yeah, I can’t… And of course, I have some… Yeah, there’s some… Something happened in Hong Kong to my family too. I think this is kind of possible, if I go back maybe they will have some problems. So I just… I decide not to, and… Yeah.. And how does it make you feel? Because you used to travel, and you used to come back to Hong Kong, and then you… You love Hong Kong, right? Yes. Yes. It was kind of… Surprised. I mean no, not surprised, sorry. I can’t put surprise on it like… I never thought that I will feel sad like this. I’m sad. I dream a lot about saying a proper goodbye to my family and the one I love before I leave Hong Kong. Because it was… I don’t think I can go back. I never thought about that. But of course I can’t see them also because of COVID, they can’t really travel. But yeah, I… I… In the beginning I feel “it was fine because I’m not always staying Hong Kong anyway”. But I suddenly… In some point I suddenly realize it is so important to have a place to go back… Even you just… Maybe you will see them like… Like for example, before I just stay like maybe even less than three months in Hong Kong, or a year in total, but before. But if you find that you can’t, and can’t say a proper goodbye to people you love and the place you love is a huge, huge regret for me. But because I remember… I start like… There’s a one period of time, especially when I start my asylum seeking process – I remember when I send out the dossier – I… I don’t know, I can’t help myself, I just keep thinking what I did on the last day when I was in Hong Kong. But I was in a very rush, I barely have time to take out my luggage, because before I was doing something else for the… For the movement thing, so it was… I just say bye to my mom for, like, very fast, and yeah, my brother drive me to the airport. I didn’t even really hug my dog and… And all the thing. And thus I… I didn’t really take time to really look… Really look Hong Kong, I don’t know how to say this… And… But in the same time, what I also learned is how to not share all your worriness to your family. Because before, even I have a lot of problem, I always can talk with my family. But now, because we don’t want to be spied, and lots of things need to be hide, and sometimes you don’t understand and I don’t really want her to know. And we kind of have the feeling like, yeah, we don’t talk that much. We talk, but… And I’m trying to, and eventually I find… I want to show the positive side to my family and my friends. Because I… Because in Hong Kong, already very depressing these days, and I… I don’t want to make that more for them. Of course, somebody is like “no, they will be happy to share, blablabla”, but… You know, at the end, it’s not like this. So, yeah. So this is the the feeling of a refugee. Thank you very much. It was very, very sad. Is there anything here that you can do to overcome this feeling, that makes you feel better today? Ummm. Well, I have friends here, like really good friends, but this is… For now, I can’t really see to overcome because… First actually France is not really a welcome country for stranger, especially during covid. I was being…. I remember the first day when Macron said we are going to have a curfew, it’s after the first confinement (lockdown). It was the last day the… After the confinement there was like, there was the last day the restaurant opened. I remember after I ate in the restaurant with my friends. And when… On the way I go back home, there’s two guy, they come to me and say “you’re…”, say – even if I so sucks in French, French but I still can understand it – say I’m the one who create virus. And I was being pushed on the street, and they tried to bit me. Luckily there’s somebody shout and stop them. So… Yeah, I mean. Honestly, frankly, France is… I’m not saying everyone, but yeah, there’s… Sometimes you get the feeling is you are not belong here. I mean, we’re just… I can’t, I… I don’t know what to say but… Yeah, so there’s something happened like that. And of course, sometime when you’re on the street, when you go to some area… People, some guys would just come to you and ask you “how much?”. All this… All this kind of remind me… Yeah (laughs).
..that you’re not from here.
I’m not from here, and if you want to live in here, you need to be geared up. Really geared up, so… So no, basically it’s not… I still search, in a way. I think one of the way why I keep… Why I… Doing, making videos of the place we have a protest or struggle, I think is a kind of reflection of my… Because of doing this, I can feel… Still feel the moment when I was in Hong Kong, first. Like tear gas – which is so weird, I know, but yes – and… In that moment, I don’t need to think. I don’t need to think, I mean, I just need to react and this is… And excitement maybe.
So this is the kind of thing.
Like when you work in the vineyard or when you play a video game?
Yes, it’s kind of similar. But of course, it’s more dangerous. But yeah, I’d say like this.
Or when you play on stage also, as a comedian and actress, do you feel the same also? The relationship?
Umm… For me, acting is different. Because acting is… Is a moment super present, you very present. Of course, when you take video in the in the protest, is also present, very present. But in the same time you’re doing communication with the audience, you breathe with the audience. I would say this is… More… How to say, it’s a kind of different thing for me. But yeah, sometimes when I do live stream and I talk with people…
Protest is also present, very present. But in the same time you’re doing communication with the audience, you brief with the audience. I would say this is more how I say is as a kind of different thing for me. But yeah, sometimes when I do live stream and I talk with people who. You were speaking about acting and how you felt?
So for me, acting is… And actually, acting is also for me a kind of meditation, because acting is something you repeat. You do rehearsal, you repeat a lot when you do the… When you perform, you repeat. This is acting, like not improvising but acting, so which means you… You are doing the same thing, but you improve every moment. Yeah. For example, if I feel like this time, maybe I had the timing, different… I feel with the audience, I will change my movement but slightly, the… I don’t how to say, it’s a more like internal thing.
You still do it today or did you pause?
I paused for a long time, but I…
I mean with the COVID, right of course yeah?
Yes, but I… I’m… Especially this year, I’m looking forward to create my own project so I can perform. I hope I can do it in summer or something, like… But it’s kind of scary for me at the same time, because doing… Making creation is… Which means you need to unleash yourself and open the box of your mind, and I find that I already have so much thing inside and I don’t want to face. I mean, older, yeah…. So I don’t know. I will try.
OK, well thank you very much. LK. Just a last question on the dreams. So what were your dreams before the protests started in Hong Kong and then all this movement?
Before, my dream is I want to virtually rebuild Kowloon Walled City.
Because this place is already being crushed… And is become a park. But I think all the story there is so valuable, so I always want to rebuild. It was my dream, and I was working on it.
Can you tell it as a quote like before the movement, before the protest?
Before the movement, before the protest, I would like… I would want to rebuild – virtually rebuild Kowloon Walled City.
Virtually Rebuild Kowloon Walled City.
OK, great. And now today, what what would your dream be?
Nowadays I wish… I want Hong Kong being liberated.
It’s a very beautiful dream.
Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.