Low Burning with a window view (quarantine diaries 02) 窗外有景,室內慢燃 (隔離手記 02)

Low Burning with a window view (quarantine diaries 02) 窗外有景,室內慢燃 (隔離手記 02)

Linda Chiu-han Lai 黎肖嫻

Linda Chiu-han Lai 黎肖嫻

發表於: 24 Oct 2021

黎肖嫻《隔離手記》二。天南地北,其實都是斗室裡發放出來的微溫和希望,繼續活著。Now the second of her on-going quarantine journals, Linda Lai turns her room of confinement into a node of connectivity. Many possible conversations.

**Chinese version follows after English version 中文版在英語版之後, updated 2021.10.25.


Tout va bien!

Would you frown if I tell you “all is well” in my quarantine? Right into the second half of the 21-day confinement, my daily routine is more or less 70% structured and rather straightforward: preparing for teaching, teaching, commenting on assignments, online meetings, student consultation, responding to work and personal emails, temperature-taking twice a day, a PCR test-visit every four days, interspersed by the hotel’s 3-time meal delivery schedule plus a special snack on Friday afternoons. The rest, carefully packaging waste and litter before discharge to save unnecessary trouble to the cleaning staff, idling by the window and keeping a few snapshots so as not to forget, occasionally a 15-minute nap, catching up with news commentary programs on the internet in the late afternoon, and so on. Our evenings are filled with supplies from our Mubi and Netflix subscriptions. Just like that, one day after another – solid, with substance.

Of course, I’m fully aware of the fact that we can afford more decent quarantine hotel accommodations than many economy packages, and there is nothing to boast about. Out of serendipity rather than by careful planning, we are lucky to end up with a hotel that is overall fine in terms of environment and sanitation management. Plus it was really not up to us to “select”: options were limited and there was a long period of waiting until one day in the second week of September that our travel agent informed us about this package. (By then, we have turned down several offers, including one with a tiny room with super horror reviews, another that costs HK6000 per night.) We couldn’t wait to jump onto this offer and continued to appreciate another month of peace and sunshine in LPA – the reward was good experiences with students in both courses.

As soon as we confirmed our quarantine hotel booking (– and imagine how difficult it is to secure 21 consecutive days in one hotel when everyone is rushing), I curiously checked on-line comments left by guests for this hotel. I found a video by a young, most likely European, musician who uploaded a fun video of the first 7 days of his 21-day quarantine. But that was all and no more. I was wondering: something went wrong, perhaps, and hopefully not.

Please don’t frown. Truly we have enjoyed not having to worry about what to have for the meals and how to have them ready – what a big relief! You need to understand us as working people who have not for a single time enjoyed the conveniences of domestic helpers. We do not mind being “offered” food – even if we don’t get excited about it. We feel focused, even with change of moods as things happen to us through our basic activities, no climaxes of the classical 3-act structure, but enough ripples and waves. Our mild guilty sense was calmed one day as a colleague told us that she, too, quite enjoyed the super-efficiency of her quarantine days in a place without disturbances. I know, the Ah-Q inside me is grabbing the chance to speak.

It’s been more than 11 days since we landed in Hong Kong; we have already received four PCR tests and presented one self-reported deep-throat saliva sample. The sensation in my nostrils often stays several hours after each test. Honestly, it never occurs to me that I could be tested positive, but strange to have to prove myself every day that I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I worry? That would be a tedious theory. In short, I have a very intimate relation with my body and am sensitive to minute changes, always so. It wouldn’t make sense if my body is seriously ill and I do not sense anything. A pathological condition or getting sick is a process. Well, that would make me go into the defence of oriental paradigms holding very different understanding of how our body is a “cybernetic” communication system constantly striking for balance, and therefore what it means to be ill – and I wouldn’t over-emphasize it, to avoid geo-politics. It is important, however, that I believe in science – the sciences and the experimental nature, precarity and evolving discoveries and revisions that go with them. I had no hesitation in receiving my 2-dosage vaccination; I wanted to learn more about my body. I also appreciate, for example, the antibody counts I was required to pay for: the 4000+ count was an interesting representation of my condition that oriental medicine would not give as concrete evidence, not to mention the little triumph I enjoyed as the SAR requirement was 500 only. Why was the antibody count abandoned (starting 20 August) and, in place of it, multiple PCR test and 21-day quarantine? How would I know since the rationale was not stated at all? But a common-sense assessment could be: the number of anti-bodies probably varies too significantly among the different vaccines. Having been vaccinated may not mean one is properly protected …

I don’t have much to say about hotel food. I suppose we have been lucky: the hotel where we stayed offers 3-4 options for every meal. In fact, I neither need a lot of food nor am picky about how tasteful food is. I look at a meal box, I see nutrients. Balance is good enough. I prefer to eat light and just enough since there is limited physical movement. I am surprised, though, on teaching days I do feel hungrier: my brainwork needs food. I do stretching for minute adjustments of my muscles and tendons, and I run in place for 5 minutes per day just to make sure my whole body gets the chance to be in motion. I would not want to over-exercise; that is to avoid wanting to eat more. Moderation and slow burning is the principle.

Day 10 – Overcast. Work as usual. Started early 天陰,工作如常,晨早就開工。

The micro processes of daily life

I said I wouldn’t want to focus on food and yet there is more. Two different friends insisted they would like to bring us something, having known others who have gone through quarantine. It was sweet of them and we like such connection with those outside the hotel. So, we asked for a bit of luxury beyond the basic – drip coffee (in place of the mini Nestle instant coffee packages), ginger tea (to keep warm and facilitate metabolism in a full air-conditioned environment), and a plastic orange grinder (to properly make good use of the big fresh oranges the hotel gives us per day).  Grinding orange juice every day is also a good exercise for both arms; my left arm needs more training.

The only one special request I made of my family was to have one dozen of eggs hardboiled in tea leaves, which my brother delivered on the third day of our quarantine. They are rich in iron and calcium, and useful on days when the hotel daily does not provide enough protein. As for every meal we got, we always saved good things we couldn’t finish, such as tofu, barley, seaweeds, carrots and beans, for possible side dishes in the next meals for variety, and then discharged them in two days if we still couldn’t finish.

The one thing that troubles us is waste and environmental pollution. In the three packaged meals per day, only the containers for lunch were made out of bio-degradable material. I suspect that the hotel has outsourced meal supply to more than one kitchen. So much plastic! Besides, food waste is inevitable for packaged meal boxes; to some they are too small and to others too much food. I also wonder, would the left-over food be turned into pig’s food? I recall one summer many years ago, as a graduate student in the mid-West of the US, my part-time job was to collect unused food on student canteen tables, and to separate food from uneatable objects such as paper napkins. The food I collected in a pail would be sent to a team of kitchen staff who would cook the left-overs into a thick gruel to be collected for farms as pig’s food. I was told that if, for example, paper tissues were mixed into the gruel, pigs might choke or suffer from indigestion and get sick. I don’t know where the food I couldn’t finish will go. Half ignorant and half caught up in my prior knowledge, I “dutifully” spend time to separate food from non-food after every meal before leaving them outside my room on the floor. That’s just what I do and the least I can do. It was also a strange coincidence that one day I found in my quarantine emails one message from the Food Bank; I rescue the message and hopefully would continue to be connected with them.

Bit by bit, I find myself collaging many fine details of everyday life practices and proclivities accumulated over many years, like drawing them under a microscope for a strange gaze, or as if I am laying out in front of myself a map of the spatiality of time with a focus. This is what I have known always what Foucault refers to as “self-techniques,” a manifestation of biopolitics, a specific mode of discipline and control characterized by voluntary subjection to power structures. “Self-techniques” is an intense, inescapable form of power control as it involves discipline and practice, which demand ethical commitment, value beliefs, self-motivation, and rationalization that draws from moral reasoning for self-perfection. “Self-techniques” is to subject oneself to a given framework or a specific paradigm, with volunteered consensus, and especially without coercion or violence.  Here, we see the most powerful form of domination. Quarantine is an artificial situation. The way it is imposed on us is one out of many approaches; and the singular and singled-out measures draw from science, human compassion and the good for the community to make it necessary and inevitable. I have been “taking good care of myself,” albeit fully conscious of my volunteering and subjecting myself to a discursive frame. But then, do I have a choice in a top-down situation?


Outward connectivity: histories, other spaces, alien geographies

It is naturally an endless tug to be disciplined without failing to inscribe a sense of agency onto one’s quotidian space. Our evenings, well provided by our Mubi and Netflix subscriptions, find us to be more playful gamers. On our carefully curated movie program, we have re-watched The Truman Show (with Jim Carrey), wondering what it’s like to wake up one day from the presumption of “all is well,” to find that it is in fact a total disconnection from reality; after that, we watched a 1989 episode of Twilight Zone, called “Special Service,” which some critics claim to be The Truman Show‘s prototype.


We watched several Soviet films from the early decades of the completed political revolution and the well known experimental period of Russia’s cinema history. Whereas Girl with the Hat Box (1927) and sci-fi Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924) are silent, Outskirts (1933) shows early experiment with sound which manifests a indicative approach to the isolated sound of specific objects (dialogues, a horse, the striking of a hammer, ambience of a bar etc.) as if the purpose is to mainly “show off” what technology was capable of doing. I want to call it “cinematic sound of attraction,” after Tom Gunning’s “cinema of attraction” for Early Cinema. Subject matters of these films vary, but they are always about the success of the revolution and the working class being exploited. Here and there, I noticed references to the intricate relations between Russia/USSR and Germany.

We also watched two USSR-produced works on the lost identities of Ukraine and Georgia as permanent absences, which can only be articulated as highly aestheticized fiction, allegories and rituals. The lavish visual spectacles and soundscape function almost like a camouflage to protect pathetic lamentation. Playful, extravagant, absurd and theatrically exaggerated, The Legend of the Suram Fortress (on Ukrainian past, 1985) is a string of tableaux vivants and frontal experimental theatre using actions, speech and dance to transform a natural landscape with long still shots, each autonomous in style and content, and together they form a discursive argument. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (on cultural roots of Georgia, 1965) is a moral tale with a surrealist approach to sight and sound and fluid mise-en-scene, a mockery as much as nostalgic sentimentalism for old moral values rooted in the Eastern Orthodox religion.


It was also a deliberate project of ours (especially for me) to dig into the events and aftermath of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) in connection with the rise of Francisco Franco to his 40-year dictatorship over Spain, for which he exploited the support of Hitler and Mussolini in the earlier days of his advancement. Franco said of Hitler after meeting him in person: Hitler wishes to rule the world for a thousand years; I think he is rather short-vision. But more intriguing to me was the complex multi-camp scramble for power: the Marxists hated for their belief in equality and democracy, the republicans seeking to save Spain from the monarchists, the military conspiring with the religious power core, and so on. … We finished the 3-episode Franco: The Brutal Truth about Spain’s Dictator (2017) and was disappointed with its over simplification. We appreciated much more the 1983 mini-TV series by Granada Television, The Spanish Civil War, which is of a totally different and superior level of documentary, which we are still pursuing.

The “worlds” described so far and many more walk through our hotel-box every evening. Opening our “window” to have these worlds passing through is a precarious experience. Yet the inscription of these cinematic discourses onto our mental and psychological space is non-erasable. These worlds fuse with our system and augments what is already there, evolving, germinating and generating. A famous quote from Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations returns to us two fervent collectors of cinema: “the life of a collector manifests a dialectical tension between the poles of disorder and order.”


Back to Normal?

On the day we landed in Hong Kong, 13 October, there were a total of 839 HK residents returning by air for quarantine, as documented by the Immigration Office (which did not include flight service staff and those quarantine-exempted, such as CEOs, and certain personnel from the banking, insurance and legal sectors). Published statistics (Passenger Traffic: HK Residents, Airport) [1] shows that in the past 10 days (Oct 13-22), a total of 7876 HK citizens arrived in HK by air, and this 10-day total has been rather stable in the past two months every since 20 August when quarantine rules tightened. Imagine a rough total of 23628 arriving in the past 30 days who each needed quarantine hotel rooms for 14-21 days …

Taking a different perspective, the new quarantine requirement produced a regular and slowly rising supply of guests to participating hotels (which is not to say that this would take them out of financial crisis), and subsequently package meal supply, delivery, packaging services and garbage disposal services. The 7-day per week multiple-time PCR tests may have sustained more jobs for the survival of all the participating outsourced laboratories outside the SAR health care system. (Each test that visited me involved two testers pushing along their check-visit a ventilation machine.) I assume this is one example of “internal circulation” the sustains an economy when outside-domestic factors are unfavourable.

Based on Legislative Council’s Research Brief 2020-2021, there are more business types that have “grown” through the COVID time [note 2, p. 14]. For example, of the “four pillars” contributing to HK’s economy, “trade and logistics” saw the sector “postage and courier services” grew by 30.2%. In “finance,” financial management and property management both grew, by 9.4% and 5.9% respectively. We now also know in the 6th round of quarantine arrangement (1 Dec 2021 – 28 Feb 2022), the number of approved hotel rooms would rise from 10000 to 11500. Is our administration planning on more and more perfected plans for more and sustained quarantine? To make quarantine more bearable is also to say that quarantine is a long-term measure.

When the COVID-19 situation eases (– but hey, hasn’t it been easing for a long time?), what would happen to individual servicing professions? What would the next set of statistics look like? What would hotel business look like in 2021? Where would be see the facts of prepared food and packaged lunch boxes when these are all massively outsourced by hotels? Are we able to see details of discharged food treatment and if that would ever be reflected in stock statistics? Or, do we really defend on statistics to have peace? What does stability rest on other than numbers? What other figures should we look at?

While burning slowly with my window view open, French Annales School’s historian Fernand Braudel said something that seems to make more sense. To his days and his generation, he asked, and I paraphrased… How do we approach our economic history as a historian?  Instead of analysing finance institutions and high-level commercial activities alone, what about the moonlighting situation of the ordinary individuals? Well, there are many more questions to ask.

It’s a sunny day today, alas!


To read the full journal series: Linda Lai’s quarantine journal […]

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窗外有景,室內慢燃 (隔離手記 02)


如果我說一切如常,會有人睜瞪著眼要回應嗎?剛剛過了隔離令的一半日子,教學備課網上會議,再加上每天兩次的體溫紀錄和每4天一次的上門的PCR檢測,都已經自動給我編好了時間表的 70%。餘下來的,回電郵,好好整理每天的垃圾,包裹妥當免給勞工們額外的不便,久不久站在窗前遠望,清潔思路,留下三數個影像檔案,小睡十五分鐘,黃昏時追看一些時事評論的節目,晚上就打開 Mubi、Netflix。一天接著一天的過去,紮實,不乏內涵。當然,我完全意識到經濟能力讓我們不用熬經濟套裝的隔離住宿,該是沒有甚麼可誇耀的。環境、酒店的衛生管理不錯,都是我們碰個好彩,並不由於我們的明智選擇。基本上沒有太多選擇餘地,也是等了這麼久才拿到這21天的房單可以上機。記得九月初得知成功訂房後,立刻上網查看這個酒店的住客評價,看到一個也要21天隔離的年輕非華裔音樂家拍了七天的錄像去分享日子不太難過。可是七天後就再沒有下續,心想:情況不妙?

請不要罵我說風涼話。每天不用再愁三餐要吃甚麼,如何令餸菜出現,對我們這從來不僱用家務助理的人來說,真是一種釋放!要知道,這實在省了我們多少心思和時間啊!對於這沒有預期而得到的安舒,我們暗裏開心,也不想唱高調。後來,有一位同事告訴我其實她也頗享受隔離期間的高效率工作,我們便會心微笑了。當然,這也是一半阿Q精神自說自話。落地香港至今11天,已分別接受了4次PCR檢測和一次自行檢測。基本上,我沒有想過自己會「中招」。雖說不少陽性結果的人是沒有病徵的,我和自己身體的關係長時間是微細而親密的,我沒有可能身體出了毛病一點感應也沒有。身體出事也是一個過程。再下去就煩膩而不好說了,不想隨便說服別人東方人可有另一種完全不同的對身體機能的理解;只想說,我也全然擁抱科學,包括它的實驗性、可變性和非確定性。兩次防疫注射我也沒有任何掙扎,而且知道自己的抗體數目在七月份時有四千多,遠超過政府規定的500,這也是一種東方醫藥不擅長的證據依憑。(註:七月份我們離港前的政府規定是自行找合資格的化驗所自費150港元去數算體內COVID 的抗體數目再發紀錄證明,作回港的必須驗證文件之一。到八月中,遊戲規則全變,抗體數目證明不再中用。至於為何取消抗體點數?我猜大概是不同疫苗的功效差別明顯吧。… …)




說不談吃的卻寫了一大段。兩個朋友分別堅持一定要給我們送點東西。她/他們盛意拳拳,於是我們要了一點超乎基本需要的奢侈品 — 咖啡(不用再天天只喝房間內的小包裝雀巢即沖咖啡)、薑茶(整天坐在空調房子裡這可以暖身)和一個可用來搾橙汁的塑膠工具(去好好享受酒店每天定時送來的橙,或稱橘子)。而且,搾橙汁也是手臂運動,左右手要平均訓練。「微調、慢燒」是個重要的原則,所以,每天拉筋柔軟體操以外,會加五分鐘的原地跑,給內臟作一點震盪,這就夠了。

唯一不安的是無可避免的浪費。三餐的可棄置盛器,只有午餐是用「生物降解材料」(bio-degradable material ) 造的,我猜酒店用的是多於一個的膳食工場。而外判的三餐是設定的大小,可以想像有人會不夠飽有人會不能全吃下。吃剩的食物會用作豬食嗎?不得而知。但記得從前在美國中西部唸研究院時的一個夏天,我在校園食堂兼職,專收集餐桌上的剩菜,可吃的和別的(如紙手巾)要嚴格分開,要不然下一步專人把剩菜煮糊變豬食時,紙張會拖留在豬的咽喉裡令它們嗆。此刻,知道與猜想之間,我總是身不由己的在每餐把垃圾放到門外地上之前,把剩菜和別的廢物分開來放。

這樣一點一滴的,我忽然對自己經年累月模塑出來的生活習慣和原則作出了高度的凝視,像放在顯微鏡下,又如展開在聚焦的時間的空間地圖上。米契福柯 (Michel Foucault) 對「自我技術」(self-techniques) 和「生命政治」(biopolitics) 作為權力操控的體現,我密集的經驗了一次。「自我技術」為何與操控有關?有,因為自我技術是一種操練;操練,是需要投入、信念、自我激勵、道德高度的情理化去自我完成的,也就是把外在的準則、要求,結合個人的道德情操,再內化為個人擁有的價值,以實質行動去持續。「自我技術」就是「就範」,自願的;這比強暴下的權力使用更具操控的效用。隔離是人為的 (artificial) 的處境,動用了人情和科學還有為社群的好而出發,可多選項卻變成單項目且唯一而必須的,怎會不是操控的落實?我慶幸自己安然處之,也全然意識到自己的甘願「就範」。其實,從上而下,也沒有別的選擇了。



「就範」與竭力騰取自主空間是無休止卻有趣的角力,你只能「參與」,「玩」下去。晚上,我們的電影觀賞編排便變得至要了。我們看過的計有 The Truman Show (想起關禁的快樂可與現實無關,要是一天醒起 …),幾部默片和最早聲片實驗的蘇聯電影如 Outskirts (1933,有聲) 、Girl with the Hat Box (1927) 和科幻片 Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924),然後配上了俄文但仍可聽見烏克蘭語言原聲帶的 Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) 和有關格魯吉亞的The Legend of The Suram Fortress (1985),都以超唯美、超現實的手法,開發運用劇場文法去申述喪失了卻仍活存於民間神話風俗習慣的歷史身份。我們也找了一些討論西班牙二十世紀內戰 (1936-39) 前後獨裁者佛朗歌(借助希特拉和米索尼利)跋起以至強權統治西班牙四十年之久的紀錄片,尤其是內戰時期的多元多派系的角力;這包括略嫌簡化的三集的 Franco: The Brutal Truth about Spain’s Dictator (2017) 和 1983年 Granada TV 的迷型電視劇集 The Spanish Civil War,還在追看中。



window view overseeing the (artificial island of the) Hong Kong Boundary Crossing Facilities 窗前景:港珠澳大橋香港口岸人工島



按統計數字,我到港的那天(10月13日),飛回來的香港居民共839人,這不包括機艙工作人員、海員和幾類獲得豁免不用隔離的專業行政人士(如保險、銀行業、大企業的CEO等),他們都是即日立刻入住特定隔離酒店的。可參考公開數據。[註1] 過去十天,即10月13至22日為止,共有 7876香港居民航空抵港;依據過往的紀錄,這是今年8月20起政府向從15個國家回港居民設立21日入境隔離令後的頗穩定的每十日的總數,應該和隔離酒店房間的容量有一定關係。算算看,每十天就有7876人,三十天就有23628人需要酒店房間,而每人的住房日數是14-21天。… …

從另一角度看,這不單令酒店可以持續生存,也許準備現成便當的需求也忽然飆升,製造了一些做熟食、包裝製造和運送的就業機會。這,連帶化驗所的服務和一週七天遊走於全港的PCR 檢測人員,也算「內循環」的一種經濟上的生存吧。新一期 (第六期,12月1日只2022年2月28日) 的隔離酒店房間數目將由現階段的一萬間增加至 11500 間。因疫情而保持增長的不止上述這些可見的。即就2020-2021年的各行業情況而言,立法會的研究簡報 [註2, 14頁]顯示本地經濟四大支柱之一的貿易和物流類別中,郵政和速遞增長率為30.2%,財經類方面,財務和產業管理增長率分別為9.4%和5.9%。


今天,終於陽光普照,我的肌膚感受不到,看著卻心中暖和。聽說,冷風將臨。看來,站在玻璃窗幕後面,我正狠狠的錯過了今年香港的炎夏,或趕得上初秋的柔和吧。天南地北,… … 繼續活著。

To read the full journal series: Linda Lai’s quarantine journal […]


[1] https://webb-site.com/dbpub/hkpax.asp?t=1&p=1 (Passenger Traffic: HK Residents, Airport) – figure from the HK Immigration Department; this does not include quarantine-exempted persons; 13 Oct – 839

[2] Legislative Council Research Office: Research Brief Issue no. 1, 2020-2021: https://www.legco.gov.hk/research-publications/english/2021rb01-challenges-and-economic-impacts-arising-from-coronavirus-disease-2019-20201214-e.pdf


window view: a construction site for a housing estate that is still blank on Google Map 窗前景:Google Map 上尚未命名的新屋村

Floating Projects Collective 2024