on the ditch at Dachau

On the edge of Dachau concentration camp is a concrete ditch, about 6 feet across and 6 deep, steeply angled. Two barbed wire fences separate this ditch (which in turn separated the rest of the camp) from the outside world. One imagines a fearful night where a prisoner, desperate for escape or wanting it all to just end (or both), hurls himself across the ditch, scrambling up, only to entangle himself on the wire. Then comes the alarm’s banshee wail, angry shouts, frantic barking, then the crack of rifles, then nothing.

And while it seems some of the prisoners did this just to end it all, clearly the vast majority of prisoners didn’t. I can’t presume to know why, but I would say this at least affirms human life, even if one is forced to live it in hell on earth. Even living through daily torture, suffering, and humiliation, the prisoners treated life as if it were the most important thing. One more bite of stale bread. One more attempt not to get another beating. One more resigned but brave climbing into the cramped bunks at night, ready for the next day. Despite it all, life was treated by the prisoners as precious. And given that this is how most people in most places at most times treat life, it is probably true.

So it really boggles the mind when any ideology, any group, or any system treats life, or certain people’s lives, as if it weren’t precious.

on the truth in Hong Kong

Hong Kong, my home, has seen better days. Protests, demonstrations, street violence, bomb plots, conspiracy theories of all shapes and colours, have shaken us all.

One side claims to fight for human rights and freedom, the other claims to fight for stability and order. I haven’t committed myself to either side despite the horrors of the last month or so, but here is what I make of it all:

We are, all of us, focusing on the wrong fight. Continue reading “on the truth in Hong Kong”

on the naturalness of death

Growing up in the 90s first in Canada, then in a westernised bubble in Hong Kong, I heard this idea a lot: death is natural, it’s just another stage of life. It sounds sage, it sounds nice, and reliable people say it – Mama Gump and Mufasa among others.

I heard it again tonight at a funeral service for a family friend. ‘We know that death is just another part of life,’ the priest told us. It’s ok, please feel better.

My buddy didn’t. The deceased was his uncle. He looked down at his feet as he told me ‘He got baptised before I was even born. I’ve never heard him talk about church even once. What am I supposed to feel about this?’ Continue reading “on the naturalness of death”

on give and take

Achilles is the best of the Greeks in the Iliad: the fastest, the strongest, the most warlike. He fights like a god (Zeus is his great-grandfather, after all), he excels at winning, he excels at taking – men’s lives and their booty. He is the best his world has to offer.

But he cannot handle loss. When robbed of his spear-won prize Briseis, the best he can do is cry out to his goddess mother, and sulk, hopefully robbing Agamemnon of his victory. And when he loses the great love of his life Patroclus, he flies into murderous rage: he slays horse-breaker Hector in revenge (fair enough), but also horribly abuses the corpse, and even burns alive 12 Trojan boys in his bereavement. When he loses, when things are taken from him, he responds the only way he knows how: double down and take right back. Continue reading “on give and take”

Cornelius

A reimagining of the biblical conversion of Cornelius set in occupied China during WW2.

 

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