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    Top Story Winners 2019

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    We had a fantastic response to our annual English-language writing competition, Hong Kong’s Top Story 2019, with a total of 317 entries! The judges selected eight prize winners – four in the junior category and four in the adult – with the results announced on the 123 Show on February 14, 2020. The aim of the exercise, which is held every year, is to encourage and promote writing talent among the public. It was clear from the standard of the entries that talent and love of writing exist in abundance!

    The competition was open to secondary students aged 12 to 17, as well as adults aged 18 and over. This year, entrants were invited to write an original story with the theme of “Festival”. The winners in both categories were rewarded with book vouchers, and the First Prize winners would also receive a one-hour consultation with renowned British author Paul French.

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    22/11/2020

    Family Dinner by April Fung; Read by Noreen Mir

    The September heat in Hong Kong is stifling. As Ah Ying walks on the streets teeming with impatient pedestrians, she begins to feel foolish for saying yes to the family dinner tonight. It never ends without some kind of drama. Last year, the dinner took place not long after Ah Ying’s grandfather passed away, and Second Uncle and Third Uncle had a row about the will. Her grandfather was by no means a rich man, but for some reason, his meagre earthly possessions, namely a stainless-steel cooking pot older than herself and a kitschy ceramic vase, became highly sought-after in that family dinner. Finally, the vase was claimed by Second Uncle since he was ‘the oldest rightful heir now’, and the cooking pot by Third Uncle—there was nothing else left so he ‘might as well take it’—then taking the lead, he stormed out of the restaurant with his wife and three sons in tow. Ah Ying’s mother, the youngest and the only female among the four children of the Lo Family, simply looked on in silent resignation.

    This year, Uncle Three has declared in their family’s Whatsapp group with a curt ‘we will be busy’, so the five of them will not be joining the Lo Family’s annual Mid-Autumn dinner. Nobody has bothered to ask what keeps them busy and the subject has been quickly buried by an oncoming tidal of messages— Second Uncle has the habit of forwarding them tonnes of typo-infested messages ranging from ‘Alert!
    Eating abaleon will cause cancer’ to ‘Make quick money while sitting at home in you’re coach’. He claimed they were ‘extremely important’ when Ah Ying’s father asked him to stop spamming their Whatsapp group with junk.
    A large bead of sweat is rolling down Ah Ying’s face. She wipes it with the back of her hand, and her elbow accidentally hits somebody from behind. ‘What the—out of my way!’ The man curses aloud while impatiently manoeuvring his huge cart of mooncakes amidst the sea of pedestrians, all seeming to be moving forward with a sense of purpose. Perhaps they all have a family gathering to attend on this Mid-Autumn night. Perhaps half of them are unwilling and yet, using up their excuses, are obliged make their presence known. ‘Go with us this year again,’ Ah Ying’s mother had urged some weeks ago. ‘Your grandmother will be happy to see you. She doesn’t have much time left.’ That left little room for argument.
    Ah Ying’s grandmother lives in a nursing home, but truth be told, it is her own little world that she lives in. Ever since her first stroke when Ah Ying was studying in secondary school, her physical condition has been deteriorating year after year. Now the ghost of a formerly fiery matriarch of the family, she sleeps, eats, stares into nothingness, and repeats the same process the next day.

    Even when her sons were fighting each other over her husband’s will in last year’s dinner (as in the previous ones), she remained like a goldfish, her eyes unblinking, foamy spittle gathering at the corner of her droopy mouth. That night, while studying her wheelchair-bound grandmother, an idea struck Ah Ying: it wasn’t so bad to be her grandmother, after all. In that dinner, she helped herself to glass after glass of the cheap house wine—was it to celebrate her discovery of an inconvenient truth? Was it to hide herself from the family drama behind the wine glass? She could not say for sure.
    Smiling wryly at the memory, Ah Ying thinks to herself: what drama will unfold this time? She takes a look at her watch: 6:08pm. Picking up her pace, she walks briskly to a mooncake shop; now the eldest among all grandchildren attending this year’s family gathering, she has been tasked with buying the mooncakes they always share at the end of the dinner as a ritual. Squeezing herself into the crowded shop, she snatches a box she manages to reach, pays, and leaves.
    ****
    The restaurant looks like it is about to collapse as mobs of families swamp the place. There is a long queue already when Ah Ying reaches the restaurant; meanwhile, those who have come early enough to secure a table frown at the slow waiters and the slow waiters agilely tiptoe around demanding patrons’ profanities. Gathering at this old Chinese restaurant has been a family tradition the Lo Family have kept for many years, so even with the deteriorating food quality and the unpleasant service, no one has ever suggested a change of place.
    Nor have they bothered to. Over the years, they have been too busy bickering with each other to notice the suckling pig shrinking miserably in size, the lotus seed bun becoming soggier, and Grannie Lo growing bonier. Last year, the tension hanging over the dinner table was thicker than the runny shark fin soup and Ah Ying stopped eating the remaining five courses entirely.
    Weaving her way through the crowd, Ah Ying soon spots her family huddling at a small table for seven among the larger ones in its vicinity. Great, her parents have not arrived yet. One hand still clutching the box of mooncakes, she fixes her hair as best as she can, runs through possible small talk openers, and rehearses answers for the imminent interrogation about—
    ‘—Ah Ying!’ Hollers Second Uncle in his booming voice. His teenage son grimaces next to him. ‘Look at you, girl! So skinny, tsk tsk, starving yourself to fit in that wedding dress, eh?’
    ‘Hello uncle. No, I have no such plans yet.’ As an afterthought, ‘And my appetite is thriving, thank you very much.’ She chances a glance at her cousin, who is now smirking. Unable to think of something else to say, she looks around, pretending to search for her parents. She asks no one in particular, ‘Where are my parents? They should be on their way…let me text them.’ Busying herself, she lets out the breath she has been holding and sighs in relief behind her phone.
    ****
    It is half-way through their Mid-Autumn dinner and Madam Lo is trying her very best to follow what the family are talking about. Locked up in the nursing home all year round and stuck in a body well past its prime, she is no longer the matriarch who used to make most decisions for her children. Her strokes have reduced her to the shell of a body that only gurgles and drools; now, her children only talk to her in that singsong voice as if she were a toddler.
    She hates that.
    They think she is old and senile, and maybe she is, but her condition might be a blessing, though, when the family break into a cacophonous mess. No one expects her to step in when they are fighting over money matters, and certainly no one remembers what she used to say all the time: leave your disputes elsewhere and be thankful for the food on the dinner table. Her four children would then share the mooncakes she would buy with her small allowances from her husband.
    She presently watches the soap opera unfold: her second son, as usual, is talking over the table and her only daughter, demure as ever, is deflecting the questions shooting her way with half-smiles and half- truths. Meanwhile, her granddaughter is trying to suppress a yawn.
    ‘Well, Ah Ying, you haven’t once brought any boyfriend home. It’s about time! Now where have you hidden him?’ Her second son probes again with a conspiratorial expression on his face. Ah Ying’s mouth opens and closes like a goldfish. Leave the poor girl alone, Madam Lo wants to interject;   unfortunately, the only sound she manages to make is a small whine that instantly dissolves into the loud clattering of wine glasses—the table next to them is now occupied by a merry family of fifteen and at least half of them look inebriated.
    Still, the attentive Ah Ying catches the slight contortion of her grannie’s face and swiftly comes to her side. ‘Gran, you ok? How ‘bout I get you some tea?’ Without waiting for an answer, the girl puts a silicone straw into a cup of chrysanthemum tea, her favourite, and brings it to her mouth. ‘Easy, Gran, don’t burn your tongue.’
    Madam Lo takes a sip, appreciating the warmth and the aroma in her favourite tea. If only her sons were half as attentive and her daughter more assertive…Madam Lo wishes she had said something all those years ago when she was not yet paralysed, her voice still loud, her old man…where has that damn bastard gone? In her foggy memory, the family had said something about selling his things. What  things? She cannot recall, but the man hangs on to his possessions like dear life and certainly he won’t  let them, he couldn’t have…
    ‘Happy Mid-Autumn! Cheers!’ Another round of clinking of wine glasses from the family next to their little group pierces through her reverie. Madam Lo looks at the merry scene of adults flushed from drinking and the kids flushed from running around the adults, and then at the unopened box of mooncakes in the centre of the turning table: printed on box are smiling adults and children, each of them holding a mooncake that is too huge for her paralysed mouth to take in.
    ****
    After ten courses, three bottles of wine and a hundred grilling questions about her love life, the dinner has finally ended. Ah Ying breathes a sigh of relief. At least no one stormed out of the restaurant mid- dinner this time, she thinks as she manoeuvres her grandmother’s wheelchair in the street. Since the night is still young and most people are still having family dinners, the streets are not as crowded as before. Her mind still reeling from the commotion in the restaurant, Ah Ying welcomes the cool night air and the silent company of her grandmother, whose head is bobbing sideways due to the bumpy road. They are trailing behind her parents and Second Uncle who, for once, is not paying her any attention.
    Sometimes Ah Ying wonders what the embattled old woman is thinking: does she know her husband is gone forever? Behind her emotionless façade, does she cry about his absence in her solitary confinement in the nursing home? Did she feel an ounce of sadness at all, when her oldest son, and now her third one too, distanced themselves from the family?
    The adults walking in front have stopped walking and Ah Ying follows their gaze to look at the night sky. She stoops down and speaks softly, ‘Grandma, you see? The moon tonight is so beautiful.’
    Madam Lo complies and cranes her neck as best as she can. Yes, the moon is very beautiful…its calming, silvery hue softens her loud-mouthed son’s hard jawline while her daughter has a placid expression on her face. In that moment, no one in the Lo Family makes a sound, all of them captivated by the eternal beauty of the full moon.
    Once again, Madam Lo is reminded of their good old days, the six of them and a few close relatives gathering in their modest little home and enjoying her signature dishes on this night every year. Her four kids would then play with the paper lanterns made by her husband well into midnight, and the rest of the family would sit in a circle to trade anecdotes until one of them yawned and called it a night…
    The moon tonight is indeed the brightest, the most magnificent Madam Lo has ever seen. 

    22/11/2020 - 足本 Full (HKT 18:45 - 19:00)

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    Festival: Reflections of a Newborn Dragon by Jocelyn Tsang; Read by Hugh Chiverton

    The water has always been a constant comfort to me. The gentle, rhythmic lullaby of the warm waves lapping against my sides was the only mother I needed. Yet, the cogs of time cease for nobody; all children must fly the coup someday. Then, one’s heartbeat would stutter and fail, finally descending into the eternal silence nobody has come back from.
     
    The Dragon is the only mystical creature in the Chinese zodiac, revered for its mastery over the heavens. Be it rain, sleet or snow, whether the clouds gathered in lazy wisps or angry clump, the dragons bent the weather to their fancies. The Duen Ng Festival is a tradition that persisted through the ages; from the times when the majority of people still relied on a more agrarian lifestyle, wishing for a merciful rain for a bountiful harvest, to mourn the betrayal and despair of the loyal minister by his country, to remember the loss of a brilliant man. I plan on carrying out this legacy proudly.
    Sshhhhhh……
    Ssshhhhhhh…
    The carefully crafted boats are vessels for a dragon’s spirit; only when the eyes are completed, will the dragon truly descend and propel the year forward with good fortune  and cheer. I could feel the shallow incline of sand rubbing against the extended length of my sides; I could almost taste the white-fringed lace of sea foam rolling relentlessly, playfully splashing my snout. Murmurs of excitement and anticipation from the surrounding crowd rose to a roar as I heard the telltale plodding someone in front of my face. The people fell into a revered silence. My teal wood heart seemed like it would burst out of the front of the brow of the boat.
    The wet slurp of the naiads grabbing at the heavy garments of the figure became unbearably close. A huff of tired breath, a creaking of bones that gave away his age became apparent.
    ScriiiitttchhhscritchscrithscrEEEEEEEE-
     
    Infernal itching and scratching on both sides of my eyes, a sudden bright beam of light piercing my vision – I could see! For a brief moment of narcissism I couldn’t help but admire the azure, slightly metallic paintwork. A lovely gradient encompassing what looked like every shade of blue in the universe covered my chest, presumably painstakingly done with eternally patient, gentle brushstrokes. A pair of heavy, silver horns curled elegantly back. I imagine them framing the drummer – my ‘heartbeat’ – in a halo bestowed upon him by the gods. Little red ribbons trailed in the water as whiskers. Amusement bloomed up in small puffs. Such mischievious beings, humans. I felt the urge to preen (even though I didn’t have limbs), observing that I had stolen the brunt of the attention of the crowd. The eyes of a dragon could also see the hue of emotions. Never have I ever seen such an array of vibrance worthy of challenging the Aurora.
     
    The minutes blurred into hours as I took in my surroundings slowly. Before I knew it, a rude sort of burping sound shattered my wonder into fragments of surprise and indignance, and my replacement legs – paddles, drove into the bay with a steady, determined beat. They propelled me forwards, my slimmer body slicing through with an incomparable elegance. Cutting through the water so smoothly, listening to the unceasing drumbeat, my blood was boiling, bubbling with the desire to show off my crew, to win this competition. As a dragon, momentary victory seemed trivial to any of us, but being plunged into the midst of the action, it was hard not to be riled up. Streamers in a myriad of colours trailed from the railings, preventing a number of the overenthusiastic audience from keeling over into the water. Local fishermen and hawkers were grinning from their own boats; the sweat gleaming on their suntanned mugs dripped into the glimmering unknown, disrupting the tiny sparkles of sun. Life had not been merciful to these people, yet the hardship of toiling in the ocean had licked them into hardy, tough people, with a sense of wisdom that was lacking these days. Simple phrases that conveyed more about respect, mindfulness and gratitude were much more effective than the elaborate prose and useless posturing of the so-called ‘educated’ sector.
    Yet, the closer I looked , the more questionable side of things rose to the surface. I could see dulled, tired eyes of a pair of parents standing behind their squalling children, melting, red-faced in the sweltering heat. The children were hollering, spurned on by the flashy appearance of the boats. One of the little girls tottered too close to the side,  teetering on the worn rocks. If I had facial expressions, my face would’ve been drenched un immediate alarm. But her mother merely yanked her back unceremoniously, pushing her face close to her child’s and shrieking about her ungratefulness, her carelessness. Her frayed temper lashed out again and again, hurling needlessly cruel words at the pour soul. Dark, violent black from the adult struck chords of navy in a small field of white in the child. As I watched, a tiny bloomed of blood welled up in the child’s heart.  That stain would only grow……
     
    I shook off the image vigorously, trying to get it out of my mind. But the bout of unpleasantness had only begun. A sweet old woman whose age was belied by the folds and wrinkles in her face and hands was selling a small pile of rice dumplings. Her frail form trembled with the effort of pushing the cumbersome wooden cart forward. A dim glow of violet stemmed from her. Numb, stagnant grey tinged with revolting swamp muck revolved around her in a suffocating ring. Bystanders were deliberately looking away, disgusted by the doddering figure stripped of her dignity. Miraculously, a flower of pink blushed in the old woman’s mind. This was a stripling of hope, stubbornly hanging on despite the ugliness around it. Lead weights, the heaviness of Atlas holding up the sky – what was this feeling? Exhaustion? Despair? These words are too superficial, unable to put a finger on the exasperation that such beauty could only be seen against a backdrop of thorns.
    A flash of crimson distracted me from the depths of these dire musings. The finish line was near! The desire to win, the accumulated apprehension at the prospect of winning gave me one last boost of energy. I willed the winds to propel us forward, for the multitude of celestial beings to take away the rowers’ fatigue. An air chrysalis separated us from the rest of the world – the only thing that mattered was the nearing goal. One last surge, and the deafening roar of the crowd gave us all a definitive answer. The bugle of victory sounded, and my visage was the face of triumph.
     
    As a horde of fishermen rushed forward to haul my salt encrusted torso back onto the shore, the residual shot of euphoria crawled sluggishly through my mind. The whirl of overwhelming information I gleaned had thrown me into a kind of sensory overload. My tired eyes landed on a pair of polished designer shoes. Dragging my view upwards, an impassive face with a wide forehead stepped casually onto the pebbles. He leaned forward, allowing me to get a clear view of his greasy pompadour, accentuated with tacky bright slacks and an appalling polka-dot shirt which didn’t do much to conceal his lardy middle. Rage and indignance churned unpleasantly in my mind, but the fat hand overwrought with rings extended to the drummer. A handshake of congratulations, I suppose. Perhaps I’m paranoid from the race.
     
    There was a crackly, crinkling sound next to my ear.
    An ungodly amount of bank notes was shoved into the captain’s awaiting hands.
    Sniffing, snuffling. Grisly snorts of murky chuckling among the men. Suddenly these weren’t the honorable companions who had brought us to victory. The true driving force was a sour shade of citrine and piss – greed. Greed was the lever and greed had set the rhythm of my stale hear.
    If I could see my own emotions, the blank white canvas would seethe with a rioting field of red hyacinths would’ve been smothered in a bed of dead autumn leaves, finally giving way to yellow carnations. 

    香港電台第三台

    18/10/2020 - 足本 Full (HKT 18:45 - 19:00)

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